It has been 15 years since Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker faced off in the first-ever Hell in a Cell match. The Devil's Playground was born that October night in St. Louis, Mo., and it has grown, changed and enthralled many times over since then.
Fans have witnessed bent steel, broken tables, loose teeth and bloodshed in that structure.
What began as 16 feet and two tons of steel is now four feet taller and three tons heavier, a beast of a cage.
Inspired by "The Last Battle of Atlanta," Tommy Rich and "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer's bloody 1983 enclosed-cage match, Hell in a Cell has become the pinnacle of cage matches.
The metal prison offers no escape, no solace. Until recently, it was a bastion of brutality, a place to settle the most intense feuds.
Over the years, WWE has done an exemplary job of hyping the gimmick match, of creating a macabre lore around it with words alone. The cell's nicknames have added to its mystique—Satan's Structure, the Devil's Playground.
Announcers, especially Jim Ross, have created a compelling narrative surrounding Hell in a Cell. Ross once said of the match, "Expect pain and suffering, misery and agony."
There have been 25 Hell in a Cell matches thus far, and Sheamus vs. Big Show and CM Punk vs. Ryback will make 26 and 27.
Of the previous encounters in the cell, six of them have been all-time classics and several others have been great.
The match has suffered in the PG Era, though, and most of its shining examples are from early in its life. It has since been watered down and robbed of much of its violent nature.
Everything has its shelf life, and Hell in a Cell's seems to be rapidly approaching.
Can Show and Sheamus or CM Punk and Ryback recapture the cell's brutal magic? Will we see a return to the match's more violent past?
It's not exactly a smart bet.
Regardless, if WWE allows Satan's Structure to regain its sadistic core, there is plenty to celebrate when looking back at the 15 years of the match.
An Origin of Greatness
The show that Shawn Michaels,The Undertaker and Kane delivered earned a 5-star rating from the historically stingy Dave Meltzer. It is one of only five WWE matches to earn that honor.
At Badd Blood: In Your House in 1997, fans in the Kiel Center watched on with anticipation as officials locked Michaels and Undertaker in the massive metal enclosure.
What better apparatus to tell the story of Undertaker finally gaining revenge on Michaels? What better match to begin Hell in a Cell's history?
Michaels spent much of the opening action in retreat mode.
When The Undertaker finally caught his prey, he yanked him around, dominating the match. Michaels was left bloody, teetering and desperate.
The wrestlers used steel steps, steel chairs and the steel that surrounded them to tell their story of hatred and retaliation.
Michaels set expectations high for Hell in a Cell, not just in producing a classic match, but by taking a horrendous bump. He lost his grip on the cage and crashed through the announce table.
That bit of fearlessness surely had some fans asking what was next, how much further would they see wrestlers go in the cell.
To catapult an already fantastic match into the annals of WWE history, Kane debuted at its end, the greatest debut of all time.
How can you possibly top that vicious battle ending with Undertaker's brother storming in amidst a shower of flames?
Other wrestlers certainly tried their damndest.
Insanity Impossible to Follow
The most iconic moments of Hell in a Cell came from the same match, courtesy of one fearless man. Mick Foley took Shawn Michael's lead and turned himself into WWE's Evel Knievel.
The gimmick match will forever be remembered for Foley's fall off the cage and his later fall right through its roof.
Though Mankind vs. Undertaker was over 13 years ago, it is the moment that stirs in fans' minds upon hearing the words "Hell in a Cell." Type those words into a YouTube search and Mankind's falls will pop up as four or five of the results on the first page.
Those spots elevated Foley's folk hero status and gave the cell a pair of powerful, defining moments.
It didn’t matter that Undertaker won. It didn’t matter that Kane won the WWE Championship that same night. People were talking about those spots and still are.
Kudos to Foley for taking two falls that will live on forever.
If Michaels’ fall from the cage set the bar high, Foley’s spots tossed the bar into the stratosphere.
Fans now wanted career- and life-threatening moments in every cell match. Who else was going to take those kinds of risks, though?
Foley can rest easy knowing that his acts of insanity will never be topped, but there was no shortage of great matches in that structure both with and without him in subsequent cell matches.
The Majesty of Bloodshed
Hell in a Cell's match history is fat with classics.
Triple H sent Cactus Jack into retirement in a battle complete with flaming weapons and sick thuds. Brock Lesnar looked every bit the monster he promised he was in a bloodbath against The Undertaker.
In these matches, wrestlers made blood their paint and the ring their canvas.
If one wanted to initiate a new fan into WWE's most gloriously gory moments, its most intense rivalry climaxes, it wouldn't even be necessary to leave the realm of Hell in a Cell.
Cactus Jack vs. Triple H at No Way Out 2000, Triple H vs. Chris Jericho at Judgment Day 2002 and Lesnar vs. Undertaker at No Mercy 2002 are three of WWE's finest works of theater.
The Undertaker's Hell in a Cell wars with Batista in 2007, Edge in 2008 and Triple H at WrestleMania 28 were magnificent as well.
Undertaker and Triple H have dominated Satan's Structure’s history, a sign that maybe it will eventually go away like they will.
The question is whether we will see matches like these as part of Hell in a Cell's unclear future. The match stands now as a relic of a more carnal past.
Take away the blood, the barbed-wire bats, the jaw-dropping spots, and what's left? It's a cage match with a roof on it, a battle of gladiators with foam swords.
Fans long for more classics from the cell. Time will tell what they will see in the Devil's Playground with Hell in a Cell 2012 and beyond.
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