Ranking the 20 Best Steel Cage Matches in Pro Wrestling History

Ryan DilbertWWE Lead WriterApril 19, 2013

Ranking the 20 Best Steel Cage Matches in Pro Wrestling History

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    The confines of the steel cage have produced some of pro wrestling's best, most violent and most dramatic matches.

    It's a structure designed to have two rivals settle their differences in brutal fashion and to keep outside inference at a minimum. It evokes images of fighting gladiators.

    To compile the best bouts the cage has had to offer, one has to pull from the archives of WWE, WCW, WCCW, TNA and AJW. Many of the cage match's variations are included here; cages with roofs, with Plexiglas pods or with multiple rings inside it.

    The greatest cage matches are ranked here based on how compelling the story was inside the steel, on their violence and intensity and how impossible they are to forget.

20. Showdown at Shea 1980: Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko

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    The protégé turned on his mentor in one of WWE's most compelling feuds. After historic reigns as world champ, Bruno Sammartino took the younger Larry Zbyszko under his proverbial wing.

    This classic cage match at Shea Stadium is how that relationship finally ended.

    After Zbyszko turned on Sammartino, smashing him with a chair, their feud took them inside of a steel cage. The two men brawled, Zbyszko gaining the advantage early. He attacked Sammartino's arm relentlessly, leaving it limp.

    The drama of the match is somewhat deflated by an anti-climactic ending when Sammartino simply walks out of the ring.

    Watch the full match here.

19. All Japan Women’s Wrestling 1992: Bull Nakano vs. Akira Hokuto

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    Two of AJW's most intimidating women clashed in a loud and violent cage match.

    It may appear to be a David vs. Goliath matchup because of Bull Nakano's size advantage over Akira Hokuto, but it quickly looked more like a battle between desperate, snarling animals. Hokuto and Nakano evoked banshees as they howled during their attack.

    They traded piledrivers and missile dropkicks. They smashed each other with sticks.

    Nakano and Hokuto's display of violence is as disturbing as it is enthralling. Plenty grueling, it's not as bloody as the matches above it here and not quite as emotionally stirring.

    It ended when Nakano missed a leg drop from the top of the cage, and Hokuto took advantage for the escape. She collapsed outside the ring, spent from their fight.

18. Lockdown 2010: Kurt Angle vs. Mr. Anderson

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    Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson's fiercely personal feud drove them inside a steel cage at Lockdown 2010.

    Anderson had used Angle's dog tags to choke him, a move taken as disrespectful to the military. Angle took his revenge in a bloody and intense fight.

    The key to the cage door became a dramatic narrative device. Anderson had won the right to have the key going into the match after beating Angle in a ladder match. He wore it around his neck proudly, at one point calling it his "precious."

    Anderson was defiant until the end, even after Angle tossed away the key and beat him down. Hatred fueled this, but it is most remembered for Angle performing a moonsault from the top of the cage.

17. Madison Square Garden 1982: Bob Backlund vs. Jimmy Snuka

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    Jimmy Snuka may be best remembered for his performance in a cage match against Don Muraco thanks to a spectacular dive from the top of the cage, but his Madison Square Garden match was better overall.

    Snuka and WWE champ Bob Backlund kept the crowd hot, forcing the drama to stay afloat from start to finish.

    Backlund was at first wary of Snuka as "Superfly" prowled outside the cage. He was soon pounding on Snuka, clubbing his ribs and departing from his usual mat wrestling offense.

    Each man smashed each other's heads into the cage. Each man fought viciously in a match that could have ranked higher had it gone on longer or had the violence elevated even higher.

    Snuka did climb to the top of the cage like he would do three years later with Muraco, but this time Backlund was only playing possum and rolled out of the way.

16. Wrestlemarinpiad II 1990: Bull Nakano vs. Aja Kong

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    Fallen streamers at their feet, Bull Nakano and Aja Kong put on a match marked by wildness and brutality.

    The light kept going off as these two enraged women collided. They bit and clubbed each other. Nakano stabbed Kong with a sharp implement.

    Outside the cage, their allies desperately tried to get involved, climbing up the cage wall, tossing in weapons.

    Some of the matches above this one combine viciousness with a feeling of grandeur, theater and violence, but Nakano and Kong relied mostly on pure ferocity.

15. WWE Raw 2001: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

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    Put two of WWE’s best technical wrestlers inside of a cage, infuse animal aggression with their usual suplex showcases and you have one of the best matches in WWE Raw history.

    What opened with a rapid pace kept its momentum going with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit's near-perfect chemistry.

    Two big spots stand out amongst all the grueling grappling. The first is Angle missing a moonsault from the top of the cage. 

    The other was when Benoit was ready to escape with the cage, but Steve Austin stood waiting for him on the floor, a rabid dog with a steel chair. Benoit decided to turn around and deliver a headbutt off the cage to Angle.

    More time, a bigger stage and higher stakes might have made this one of the very best cage matches in wrestling history. As it stands, with how compelling Angle and Benoit were, it's not far behind the elite cage clashes.

14. King of the Ring 1998: Undertaker vs. Mankind

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    Break down the wrestling and the action between the famous spots of this infamous Hell in a Cell match and one finds things to nitpick.

    It's not as intense or well-worked as some of the greats. The dramatic power and the insanity of Undertaker and Mankind's biggest moments that night, however, overshadow all of that.

    When Undertaker tossed Mankind from the cell, it looked as if the match, if not Foley's career, was over.

    For him to rise up like a zombie and fight on was breathtaking. Taker and Mankind then upped the stakes when The Deadman threw his foe through the roof of the cell.

    This was a story of a dominant, merciless monster in Undertaker and a Rocky-like figure getting up off the mat when any other man would have given in to the restfulness of unconsciousness. Few matches have been as shocking and as unforgettable.

13. Nashville 2003: America's Most Wanted vs. Triple X

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    TNA nailed their first-ever cage match.

    Two hot tag teams went into this match moved by hatred for each other. Triple X had beaten America's Most Wanted several times, but in controversial fashion each time. Their steel cage battle provided a means to keep out interfering parties and to contain and heighten the intensity of their rivalry.

    Blood spilled everywhere as these four men delivered exciting spot after exciting spot.

    Elix Skipper leaped from the top of the cage. Christopher Daniels suffered a spear while walking on the top rope. Skipper tried to scale the cage, to get back in, but was knocked off from a great height.

    The desperation from both teams was clear here. It was hard-fought and intense, but slower and somewhat less thrilling than the match they followed this up with later.

12. No Mercy 2002: Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker

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    Two brutes bloodied each other in a battle that saw Brock Lesnar prove himself king of the WWE jungle against The Deadman.

    The gripping match featured compelling brawling and it used Undertaker's arm injury and cast as an effective narrative device. The cast became a catalyst for the escalating drama inside the Hell in a Cell.

    With Paul Heyman's ponytail flopping outside the cage, Lesnar tied up Undertaker with Heyman's belt and throttled his hand. When Lesnar tore off the cast and tried to (kayfabe) re-break it, the audience held its collective breath. 

    Eventually Lesnar survived. After delivering F-5 onto the blood-stained mat, he emerged the victor in their disturbing and moving bout. 

11. WrestleMania 28: Undertaker vs. Triple H

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    Undertaker and Triple H outdid their previous WrestleMania matches with one of the more dramatic pieces of storytelling told inside a wrestling ring in the last few years.

    Undertaker was dominant to open the bout, boxing Triple H in the corner. He soon fell victim to Triple H's relentlessness.

    This was a match that played up Undertaker's inhuman nature. How else do you explain him surviving the steel chair shots and the merciless punishment that Triple H doled out?

    At times, it seemed as if Taker might be legitimately hurt.

    When special referee Shawn Michaels questioned whether he should just ring the bell and end the suffering, Undertaker grunted in pain to Michaels, "Do not stop it."

    They relied more on in-ring theater than violence, producing one of the tamer Hell in a Cell bouts, but one that certainly entertained.

10. No Way Out 2000: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack

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    The third consecutive Hell in a Cell match earns a higher spot than its brethren on the strength of its barbarity. Two Hell in a Cell masters, Triple H and Cactus Jack, gave fans one of the most memorable versions of the match.

    Cactus’ career was on the line, so he of course did everything he could to win. The fight included barbed wire tearing into flesh, chairs smashing against bodies and flames searing skin.

    Few matches have been as intense or creative with its violence.

9. SummerSlam 1994: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart

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    The culmination of one of WWE's best feuds of all-time ended in the classic blue cage. 

    With metal clanging and the ring shaking, two brothers fought in an intense battle that topped every classic bout their feud had seen so far. 

    When Owen Hart clamped on the sharpshooter and looked in the camera and said, "I'm going to break his legs," it sent a shiver down many a spine. 

    Bret climbed over Owen, only for the latter to yank his brother down by the hair. After a superplex from the top, the two beaten men lay on the mat as drained and exhausted as the fans were at that point. 

    The only thing that hampers this is that the escape attempts came too often, taking away from the momentum of the match. They worked as stutters in an otherwise glorious symphony.

8. Turning Point 2004: America’s Most Wanted vs. Triple X

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    This match is more than Elix Skipper's stunning daredevil move, it is a match built on hate, chemistry and high stakes. The team that lost would have to disband, marking a definitive end to this feud.

    The cage didn't come into play at first as all four men wrestled in the ring. Soon America's Most Wanted smashed Christopher Daniels' face into the cage and the blood began to pour.

    Handcuffs, torn flesh and double teams were the key components of the action.

    Skipper and Daniels attacked James Storm in tandem after cuffing Chris Harris to a turnbuckle. Triple X came off as brilliant strategists, dissecting their opponents in front of the world.

    When Harris eventually escaped, the teams traded big spots. Double-team moves, a tower of suplexes and powerbombs from on high made for jaw-dropping action. No moment was bigger than Skipper walking along the top of the cage to land a kick.

    A blend of big moments and great storytelling, these two teams delivered that night.

7. WCCW Star Wars 1982: Ric Flair and Kerry Von Erich

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    Ric Flair and hometown hero Kerry Von Erich fought for the NWA World title inside a steel cage in a match that would ignite one of wrestling's greatest feuds.

    Michael Hayes served as a special enforcer and it was his partner Terry Gordy smashing Kerry in the head with the cage door that began that long and storied rivalry.

    A bloodied Flair survived, keeping his title despite how close he came to defeat throughout the match.

    The screaming fans watched as Kerry continued to fight and to rise when Flair tried to chop him off his feet. Kerry was fighting more than Flair, though. Hayes was a hands-on enforcer, at one point yanking Kerry off Flair while he had the champion in his famous claw hold.

    For its historical significance, for how much the action sucked in the audience, this has to rank among the best cage battles ever.

    Watch a higher quality clip here.

6. Survivor Series 2002: Elimination Chamber

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    The first Elimination Chamber Match remains the best.

    The recipe that WWE followed was first to construct a demonic metal structure and then to fill it with future Hall of Famers and then watch the sparks fly. 

    The match featured highlights aplenty; Kane throwing Jericho through the glass, Rob Van Dam's various daredevil stunts, Michaels being thrown the glass, blood gushing from half of the guys' heads. 

    Poetically, the match ended with Triple H facing off against his partner and enemy, Shawn Michaels in a great one-on-one battle.  Seeing Michaels win the title after his absence made the event that much more special. 

5. Starrcade 1983: Ric Flair vs Harley Race

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    Gordon Solie called the action as one legend's era ended and another began.

    Ric Flair and Harley Race began their battle for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship with an intense staredown and proceeded to deliver one of the finest matches in wrestling history.

    They infused snap mares and headlocks with the punishing violence that one expects in a cage match. Race rammed Flair's head into the cage and soon the ring became wet with blood. Race used his experience to maintain the advantage for most of the match, but in the end that was Flair's moment of coronation.

    Bodies flailing, tension rising between referee Gene Kiniski and Race, this dramatic bout pushed to a surprising climax. Flair nailed an awkward crossbody on Race and won the NWA title.

4. WrestleWar 1991: War Games

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    War Games could have turned out to be a crowded mess, but the cage variation produced two near-perfect matches.

    Brian Pillman was a pivotal figure in this one.  He began the match as the resilient face, fighting off his foe in spite of his taped and injured shoulder. He ended it flat on his back, legitimately unconscious thanks to Sid Vicious botching a pair of powerbombs.

    Barry Windham and Pillman displayed great chemistry and began the match with fake outs and a rapid, exciting pace. Soon Sting and Ric Flair's hatred set the match on fire.

    The eight men battled in both rings and in a match that may have drained the audience as much as it did the participants. This wrestling war finally ended when El Gigante rushed to ringside, leaned over a blacked-out Pillman and surrendered on his behalf.

    Watch it here.

3. Badd Blood: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker

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    The first-ever Hell in a Cell match remains the greatest of its kind, no surprise as it featured two of WWE's greatest performers ever.

    Undertaker yanked Shawn Michaels from the cage.  He tossed him around, dominating him for much of the match, until he was bloody and teetering. 

    Steel steps, chairs and an abused cameraman all helped tell the story. 

    Had the match ended with Michaels losing his grip on the cell and crashing through the announce table, this would have still been incredible. 

    The action went on though, and fans saw Undertaker chokeslam Michaels from the top rope as well as one of the biggest and most memorable debuts ever. 

    Fire bursting around them, Kane tombstoned his brother and helped Michaels to the win. 

2. WrestleWar 1992: War Games

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    Team cohesion, emotion and star power carried this match to unparalleled heights. If matches are rated on a five-star scale, this War Games gets a six.

    Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham faced off against Arn Anderson, Steve Austin, Bobby Eaton, Larry Zbyszko and Rick Rude. Paul E. Dangerously (now Paul Heyman) stood in the heels' corner, diagramming plays and barking orders.

    The intersecting feuds between all these stars made for action that grabbed our attention early and then began to put it in a headlock for the rest of the match.

    There are not a bunch of memorable spots to take away from this, but instead the overwhelming power of the hatred between all of these guys. The War Games stipulation proved a perfect showcase for that, an enclosure that helped amplify the violence and intensity of the battle.

    Despite the underhanded moves by The Dangerous Alliance, despite Zbyszko removing the turnbuckle in attempt to use it as a weapon, the heroes prevailed, getting revenge in front of enthralled fans.

1. Starrcade 1985: Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA

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    Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA's I Quit cage match is the Shakespeare of steel cages.

    There has never been a more dramatic and engrossing wrestling match between walls of steel. The story of revenge and of good overcoming evil is a familiar one, but Magnum and Blanchard made that narrative sing thanks to their intensity and the emotive nature of their performance.

    Darkness surrounding them, the cage rattling, the two rivals fought viciously.

    They rolled on the mat, grinding and fighting like two pit fighters. Blanchard used the ropes, his elbows or whatever he could to gain an advantage. Every move Magnum hit earned an enormous pop from the crowd.

    If one wants to learn how to create a climax to a match and to a feud, have a look at how this war ended. A bloodied Blanchard broke the leg off a chair and tried to stab Magnum in the face with it. The audience must have tightened up watching how close that spike got to his face.

    Eventually, Magnum turned the weapon on Blanchard and drove the splintered wood into his eye. Blood and screams soon made their way out. Blanchard could not hold on much longer, saying "I quit" to indicate surrender.

    Watch the full match here.