For one generation of WWE fans, Hell In A Cell means Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley being brutalised by The Undertaker. For another, it’s Edge receiving the Deadman’s wrath at SummerSlam 2008. Or ‘The End of an Era’ at WrestleMania 28.
Nowadays, it’s the red-meshed monster that has become the norm in the current day. Across all 25 years of the ‘Devil’s Playground’s’ existence, however, one thing has remained constant: It has been the site of some of the most infamous matches in WWE history. But with so many to choose from, what are the greatest Hell In A Cell matches of all time?
There has been an undeniable shift in how cell matches are approached over the past few years. Initially, the cage was smaller in size but much more prominent in brutality. Buckets of blood were shed. In the past 13 years, the introduction of HIAC’s own branded show has meant the matches occur more regularly in the WWE calendar. And they can often come across a lot more low-key than their more claret-heavy predecessors.
Of course, the shift towards a PG product in 2008 made the utilisation of the cell more challenging. But even without crimson-soaked canvases being the norm, the cell has still delivered in spades over the last 14 years.
Now, before we go into our five choices for the greatest Hell In A Cell matches of all time, here’s a disclaimer: Undertaker vs Mankind from King Of The Ring ’98 isn’t on the list.
Yes, it’s the most iconic. Yes, it’s the most replayed. But outside of the initial insanity of Mick Foley almost dying twice, the match itself is a barely-conscious Foley struggling to remain on his feet against an Undertaker who breaks his foot before the action properly reaches the ring.
So, without further adieu, here are our top five choices for the greatest Hell In A Cell matches in no particular order.
Batista (c) vs Triple H – Vengeance 2005
Bringing the curtain down on one of the best programmes in WWE history was never going to be an easy task. Since Big Dave gave Trips the infamous thumbs down on the road to WrestleMania 21, the pair’s chemistry only grew more believable.
However, there were still the inevitable question marks over their match quality, with Batista still being a relative rookie to the main event picture as a solo star. Yet, their ‘Mania and Backlash main events were still acceptably good, even if they never became matches many people have revisited all that much.
The same cannot be said for their final act, however. The Game’s desperation to win back his World Heavyweight Championship led him to challenge his former protegé to one last rematch inside the structure where he had never lost. Cue chains, ring steps, sledgehammers and barbed wire wrapped steel chairs. Cue blood, guts and brutality on a scale that perfectly summed up how the pair’s feud had evolved over the previous six months. Trips and his Harley Race pork chops disappeared for a few months after this, some of his most important ever work accomplished in breathtaking fashion.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker – Hell In A Cell 2015
Alright, their No Mercy 2002 match inside the steel may be more memorable. But in 2015, given Taker’s limitations by that point, he had no right being in a match as brutal or impressive as this. This is also an encounter that feels as though it has been criminally overlooked by a lot of fans, so we wanted to give it its flowers.
Big Mark is well entrenched in his “alright THIS is definitely my last match” phase here, and unlike his missteps with Shane McMahon, Roman Reigns and Goldberg, this feud-ender with The Beast would have been more than deserving of the accolade.
Between the thundering terror of Lesnar’s elbows and fists raining down, unprotected, on Taker’s skull and the ripping up of the ring mat to expose the boards underneath, this bout had ‘oh s**t’ moments in abundance. Both men were well-versed in the other’s offence, refusing to stay down until drastic measures had to be taken.
Most importantly, it felt like a fight, rather than a stunt show. This wasn’t about plummets off the cage or roof top brawling. It was two old foes locked in with each other, just wanting to finally put the other one down for good.
Triple H (c) vs Cactus Jack – No Way Out 2000
By his own admission, Mick Foley should have allowed this match to serve as his retirement. Until his tremendous 2003/04 comeback against Randy Orton and ’06 programme with Edge, of course. Wall-to-wall bangers, there.
But the ‘Mania 2000 main event didn’t need his undoing of this emotionally charged classic. Taking the barbed wire, thumbtacks and handcuffs of their five-star streetfight at the Royal Rumble a month earlier, Foley and The Game upped the ante at No Way Out.
Introducing fire to his infamous barbed wire 2×4, Foley would lose his career in this blood-soaked battle. But in doing so, he essentially minted Triple H as the real deal in putting him over, clean, once again. While The King of Kings was already the top heel on the roster by this point, Foley’s work cemented him as someone who could take a horrendous beating, as well as dishing one out, in much the same way as the Hardcore Legend had done for The Rock and Shawn Michaels in previous years. Anyway, this is another classic from this pairing. Not to mention one of the most iconic matches of the Attitude Era.
Go out of your way to watch it.
The Undertaker vs Edge – SummerSlam 2008
The first cell match of the PG era deserves all the plaudits in the world. The finale of one of the greatest WWE feuds of the century. Undertaker and the Rated R Superstar had headlined WrestleMania. Gone through rematches over the World Heavyweight Championship at Backlash and Judgement Day. Then Edge sent ‘Taker packing in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at One Night Stand 2008. When Big Evil returned for their August endgame, there was no World Championship on the line.
But this was a rivalry that had gone beyond titles.
Unable to rely on blood, Edge and ‘Taker opted for as much pure chaos as their PG confines would allow. And they did it masterfully. Destroying the cell walls, announce tables and, once the bout had reached its conclusion, the ring itself.
A suitably bonkers final act for one of WWE’s most berserk rivalries.
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – Badd Blood 1997
The OG. The match that started it all. A trendsetting battle for the ages. One of the most iconic debuts of all time. No one could have predicted what an endearing legacy this match would leave. Not only did Michaels bleed an absolute gusher, bumping like a rag doll for his 6’10 nemesis inside the ring, outside and atop the cell, but we were also introduced to Kane. The Big Red Machine tears the cell door clean off its hinges, setting pyro ablaze and tombstoning his confused older brother to allow Michaels the most unlikely of victories.
What had come before Kane’s unveiling was a stone-cold classic. Violence of the like we were not accustomed to in a WWE ring at the time. A pre-cursor of the insanity that the Attitude Era would soon yield on a weekly basis.
Twelve years before the pair of Hall of Famers would kick off a WrestleMania one-two that have been discussed fervently ever since, they were dropping five-star stunners and blazing trails for future cage matches everywhere. There isn’t much that can be said about this match that hasn’t been repeated ad nauseam for the past quarter-century. So just finish reading this sentence and go rewatch it immediately. Then watch it again.
So those are our choices for the five greatest Hell In A Cell matches of all time. What are yours? Debate away…
Featured Image Credit: WWE