The title of "greatest steel cage match in WWE history" carries a lot of weight. Men, such as Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Triple H, Mick Foley and John Cena spent years revolutionizing the cage match, including the much more hyped Hell in a Cell, but it was two brothers in the much maligned World Wrestling Federation of 1994 that set the benchmark for what a cage match could be.
A benchmark that has yet to be met by any two other performers.
The sibling rivalry between Bret and Owen Hart dominated Vince McMahon's promotion at a time when the state of the company was in limbo. McMahon was facing charges of steroid distribution and was on trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The charges had brought about a change in the type of performer that starred for the company and, as a result, Owen was able to join his brother in the main event scene.
In March, the younger brother upset his older sibling, pinning his shoulders to the mat in a five-star classic to kick off WrestleMania X. Later in the night, Bret would put that loss behind him and defeat Yokozuna to capture the then-WWF title for a second time, celebrating with several babyfaces to close out the show while his jealous brother watched from ringside.
The stage was set for a rivalry that would dominate the spring and summer of 1994. Bret would be the proud and respected champion, taking on all comers while Owen had to fight for his chance at the title. In June, he would underhandedly become King of the Ring, thanks in part to his returning brother in-law, Jim Neidhart. With the crown came the opportunity to challenge Bret for the title and the match was made official for August's SummerSlam card.
In an attempt to keep out the entire Hart family, which would be seated at ringside for the emotion-filled clash, a steel cage would surround the ring. There would be no way in, or out, except over the top of the structure or through the door, which would be locked until it was demanded opened.
With the eyes of the wrestling world trained on them, and without permission to use blood to tell their story, the brothers delivered one of the finest examples of pure wrestling and drama in the history of McMahon's company.
Every attempt at an escape over the top of the cage or through the door was done so well that the fans in Chicago's United Center believed it could be the end of the bout. The brothers worked with one another to deliver a legitimate five-star match that lived up to the very lofty standards they had set five months earlier in New York City.
The bout proved to be brilliant in its simplicity. There were no death-defying spots or needless attempts at a move that would put either man in any real danger. Instead, a simple superplex from the side of the cage provided one of the loudest pops of the night. It was masterful work by two of the best in the industry and a match that proved to be their finest together.
In the end, Bret would fend off his brother's challenge by trapping his legs in between the bars of the cage and leap to the ground, successfully retaining the title to the joy and admiration of the Chicago fans.
The Hart family drama would continue on WWE programming well after SummerSlam but it would never again elicit the emotion from the family and fans as it did on that hot August night.