Since the beginning of time, there have been many epic battles contested in arenas, stadiums, steel cages and even in boiler rooms. But what the world would witness on the night of Oct. 5, 1997 in St. Louis would forever change the perception of fans around the world; the perception that the squared circle is the penultimate fighting ground for wrestlers around the world.
It’s been noted that steel cage matches have always captured the essence of the Roman Coliseum of the wrestling world where man would do battle with another until only one could no longer survive the punishment inflicted on one’s body not to mention the physiological scars on one’s mind.
The irony of the situation which presents itself is that cells are usually for those who must be kept contained; away from society so that they might not commit heinous, violent crimes against others.
In this case, the cell did not contain the rage and anger of the two men encased in it but instead unleashed unto the world a product worthy of Satan’s endorsement: Hell on Earth.
But how did it all come to this? Was it one man who sealed his fate or was it the four who inadvertently caused such a monstrosity to unveil its ugly head?
Fate dealt the world a cruel hand. But we, instead of recoiling from the sight of a man being broken to bits, cheered for more. What a sight it turned out to be, the gladiatorial games reborn, the insatiable appetite for blood and violence personified.
The signs were clear as the night time sky; the Undertaker had just come out victorious at Wrestlemania 13 with the WWF title now in his possession only to find his former colleague and manager Paul Bearer threatening to tell the world of the terrible secret the new WWF Champion had concealed successfully over the years.
The Deadman, who then stood in the ring, with his fingers wrapped around the throat of Bearer, had two options: to knock Bearer out knowing full well that when he would awaken he’d have a hard time keeping his mouth shut.
The other, of course, would be to submit to Bearer’s will; in short, it was a no-win situation for the newly crowned WWF Champion.
The following weeks would show the Undertaker as a weak, miserable champion who did everything requested of him, in order to keep his secret from the world forever.
But the agreement would end as quickly as it began; after the Undertaker teamed up with Vader to take on the Nation of Domination on RAW, Vader became victim to the Tombstone Piledriver and thus broke the pact between Bearer and Undertaker.
Meanwhile, an equally intense feud had been brewing within the bowels of the WWF as Shawn Michaels had, according to him, exacted revenge on the officials for forcing him to referee a title match between his arch rival Bret Hart and the Undertaker during which he hit the champion with a steel chair meant for Bret.
This caused Shawn’s nemesis, Hart, to take advantage and capture the title.
Not only did the Undertaker become incensed at the circumstances of his title loss, he put all of his focus on exacting revenge for weeks leading up to In Your House: Ground Zero, Michaels made it his mission to demonstrate his dominance over the Deadman by making him all too familiar with the dimensions of a steel chair.
The image of the Undertaker leaving the ring with blood gushing all over his forehead, without a trace of aggression or anger, would indicate that he already was devising a way to end the existence of the man who had caused him this much misery.
It’s said that a predator is at the height of his ferocity and is most dangerous just before he strikes; the Undertaker had a plan.
The sands of time began to fall at a rapid pace and at an instant, the two titans of the World Wrestling Federation met. The night of Sept. 7 would be marked as the first confrontation between HBK and the Phenom and also the beginning of the end of Michaels’ supremacy over the Undertaker.
“This might be a bad time to be Shawn Michaels.”
-Jerry “The King” Lawler commentating at IYH: Ground Zero
Their confrontation saw the referee get knocked out, and a determined Commissioner Slaughter force Michaels to get back in the ring. Their spar was so sensational that the bell had not been sounded until 10 minutes into the brawl; there was certainly bad blood between the two cornerstones of the WWF.
The trepidation painted on Michaels’ face was plain for everyone to see; he didn’t have any idea of what this confrontation would build to.
Fortunately, for wrestling fans around the world, the score would not be settled at Ground Zero as both men would attack the referees allowing the match to end in a no-contest.
The following night would begin with Undertaker addressing Shawn’s will to survive and that bad blood marks the beginning of the end for Michaels’ career.
The Heartbreak Kid retaliated by stating that he is the ultimate survivor and that if need be, he will take the Undertaker down with him.
“The reward I get is being stuck in a cell with DEATH himself.”
-Shawn Michaels speaking about the aftermath of Ground Zero while prancing around in his boxer shorts.
The Undertaker as well as the WWF broadcast team would continue to toy with the mind of Michaels, giving the impression to the fans in the audience and those sitting at home that the 16-foot cell would be the demise of the founder of Degeneration X.
But this did not deter Michaels from his goal, as he took on his cocky demeanor once again and he used it well to mask his fear.
Shawn was about to enter a 16-foot structure where he could not come in and get out of as he pleased; the idea of being trapped inside a cage, no less with a demon hell bent on destruction, is enough to make any man fear for his safety.
The night had finally come; as fans gathered to take their seats and the management was getting prepared to air the show, everyone witnessing the event knew that something special was going to happen.
They didn’t exactly understand what this feeling was, but history was about to be made and no one could deny that.
As Michaels stood by with Michael Hayes, Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude, he began to speak in a calm, cool manner. This affable conduct would leave no traces of ever being present once Shawn’s music hit and he began to approach the ring.
“I can taste the blood, you will look into the eyes of the Reaper and you will pay for your crimes!”
Could these have been the words that echoed through Shawn’s head as the cell began to lower and the bell began to toll?
It’s the simple yet effective pyrotechnics that puts doubt into Michaels’ mind as the cocky attitude disappeared and he rushed toward the cell door trying to dissuade the referee from starting the match.
The cell was alive; the crowd relished the sight of Shawn Michaels realizing that he was doomed. Michaels gasped for a brief moment as his newfound claustrophobia reached every fiber of his being.
No matter what offense Michaels seemed to muster up, the Deadman was one step ahead of him.
The spots took place in quick succession as the match progressed and an opening for Michaels is in place as the cameraman he injured was taken out of the cell.
The cell needed a sacrifice; blood would be spilled. Two men would climb the cell, only one would remain.
The dread washed over Shawn; no amount of technical skill could break his fall.
As Michaels’ body crashed into the announce table, the fans began to cheer for more. Michaels returned to purgatory and the tension rose to new heights.
As the Undertaker grabbed a steel chair, the announcers reflected on the ramification of poetic justice.
A blood drenched head connected with the steel chair as Michaels went down. This was the moment we were waiting for; R.I.P. Shawn Michaels.
But the lights have gone out and this signals the presence of a dark secret.
From the fiery depths of hell will Kane emerge!
The very structure that Shawn had so desperately tried to get out of had just become his best friend.
The very design that Shawn had tried to get out of was effortlessly ripped apart by the demented sibling of the Phenom.
The atmosphere electric; the climax point reached. The Undertaker had just been given a Tombstone Piledriver by Kane and the turning point was finally here.
A bloody Michaels pinned an unconscious man from the dark side. As the camera zoomed in and focused on Michaels’ face, the question that could be asked was: “Does any man deserve this kind of punishment, regardless of the crimes he’s committed?”
Michaels was dragged to the back by his foils, but once again Michaels proved that on this night, he had given new meaning to the phrase to hell and back.
It was Kane who got the last laugh. But no amount of swerves would take away from what Michaels and the Undertaker accomplished.
They had brought a whole new sadistic side of the world to light; they had, in a mere 30 minutes, unleashed hell on Earth.