One of the most fan-appealing ways for wrestling superstars to settle a score is inside the confines of a steel cage. The match has changed much over the years, varying in structure, material, and stipulation. The popularity arguably has not.
Many cages have been put forth, some standing the test of time and others, well... not so much. Here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) overview of the cages that have housed some of wrestlings greatest moments.
You'd have to go back a lot further than I am willing to in order to get a true overview of the history of the cage.
However, in the modern wrestling era, the four-sided, open roofed, chain link fence cage really started things all off. This very cage housed Flair vs. Race, Snuka vs. Muraco, Blanchard vs. Magnum, and the list goes on.
Matches were fairly consistent in how they ended; either by a pinfall or submission, or by BOTH feet touching the arena floor. Occasionally, the pin/submit would be ruled out for one or both competitors requiring a cage escape to claim victory.
This classic cage has returned to be the current staple of the cage match in both the WWE and TNA, though their have been and still are variations to the original concept.
To shake things up (and make the climb a bit easier), WWE introduced a new cage in the late 1980s. This one had big blue bars instead of mesh wiring and looked a bit more intimidating.
The blue steel set WWE apart from it's competitors and could be seen at WrestleMania II (Hogan v Bundy), Summerslam '91 (Rude v Warrior), SummerSlam '97 (HHH v Mankind), and various Saturday Night's Main Events and other live shows.
The bars were turned black and brought in for Austin v McMahon at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre PPV in 1999 though would scarcely be heard from again. Many wrestlers complained because the steel bars were a great deal more bruising to the body then the wire.
So one ring wasn't good enough for you, huh? Well, how about two. And this time, we're gonna put a roof on top of the cage. Satisfied, you sadist?
War Games was a team vs. team cage match starting at 1987's Great American Bash, pitting Dusty Rhodes and his allies against Flair and the Horsemen. It would persist in WCW throughout the 1980s and 1990s with inconsistent popularity, with the final War Games match pitting the Flair and some new Horsemen against members of the NWO at Fall Brawl '97.
The match not only came with a new structure but new rules. Team members would enter one after another in intervals until all members were in. This time became known as the "Match Beyond" and could only end in submission.
Before the Cell, there was the Thundercage. WCW took the notion of the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie and made it into a wrestling match in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
What made this cage different was that it surrounded the ring and it had a dome-like roof. Matches were still under regular match rules though the notion of a count-out or disqualification was out the window. The bars on this particular cage were not as thick as the WWE blue bars but were more similar to those than the mesh.
This cage bout would get an added element when it was put on with an electric chair in the middle of the ring at 1991 Halloween Havoc's Chamber of Horrors match. Abdullah the Butcher was the unlucky victim of the chair in this one.
In 1997, WWE introduced arguably one of the most popular stipulation matches in history, Hell in a Cell, to the delight of many fans.
The cell surrounded not just the ring but the ringside area as well, giving competitors room to really get each other going before slamming the opponent into the mesh wire.
The roof added another element of warfare and led to one of the most iconic moments in WWE history- Mick Foley being thrown off and then thrown through that very roof by the Undertaker, losing consciousness and some teeth along the way, narrowly escaping death only to return and wrestle a descent match. Yeah, that's right, both of those tosses happened at the BEGINNING of the match.
The Foley moment would attempt to be recreated several times, by himself in the 2000 No Way Out HIAC against HHH and by Rikishi in the 2000 Armageddon 6-man HIAC. Both of these spots were heavily staged and while they certainly were less risky, they were also less incredible.
The match has been used to settle many a feud, with some classics along the way- namely HHH v Jericho at 2002 Judgment Day, HHH v Michaels at 2004 Bad Blood, and Batista v 'Taker at 2008 Survivor Series.
The Cell has also had it's share of embarrassing moments- the two most notable being the rather uninspiring WMXV match (Undertaker v Bossman, with Bossman getting "hung" at the end) and the laughable Kennel in a Cell match at Unforgiven 1999 (Al Snow v Bossman) where barking (and crapping) Dobermans surrounded the inside ring (the return of the blue bars) and the competitors had to escape both that cage and the cell to win.
To tie in with their wrestling-themed movie Ready to Rumble (starring future WCW Champion David Arquette), WCW borrowed the structure from the film and put on a few live events with this massive monstrosity in 2000.
The triple cage was originally used in the WCW at the Slamborree PPV. This fateful night would see the end of Arquette's title reign as he, Jeff Jarrett, and Dallas Page fought a triple threat match with the winner being the man who could get to the top cage first and retrieve the title belt. Arquette's only real presence in the match was turning on his ally Page and allowing Jarrett to get the win.
When the cage appeared again, this time on an episode of Nitro (named WarGames 2000: Russo's Revenge), the match saw two teams of 5 battle each other for the WCW Championship with victory being won by someone ascending to the top cage by going through the other two, retrieving the title belt, and then fighting off all competitors to exit out the bottom cage with the belt in hand.
The high-risk nature of the match coupled with the somewhat ridiculous means of winning made this particular effort a one-and-done affair.
While the Triple Cage match might fair well in video game play, it doesn't allow the competitors much stability to perform well and likely won't be seen again.
With TNA's efforts to break the mold of professional wrestling, they challenged every given, including the notion of a squared circle. Their six-sided ring gave competitors new challenges and opportunities but was ultimately done away with when Hogan came to town. However, it had quite a run, from 2004 to 2010, setting the organization apart.
With a six sided ring came six sides of steel. TNA's Lockdown PPV arguably led the way to themed-PPVs in WWE. The concept became that every match was a cage match, including the WarGames-style Lethal Lockdown match. .
TNA's X-Division became cage innovators with the introduction of the Asylum, a large-barred domed structure that surrounds the ring with a narrow escape hole at the top of the dome. Only the most agile of superstars can successfully ascend the cage, maneuver to the escape route, and get out before his competitors.
The Punjabi prison match was, among other things, a challenge for the viewer to watch. Instead of steel, the two cages in this match was made of bamboo and placed one outside another, requiring the victor to escape both. The match was showcased at the 2006 Great American Bash though the future Punjabi Playboy the Great Khali would not even participate in the match leaving Big Show and the Undertaker to battle it out with a theme that made little sense to them.
The match was as confusing as some other efforts at cage-iness, with wrestlers calling for doors in one cage and left to climb for themselves on the other. Ultimately, this version of the cage didn't fair that well and only made one other appearance, a poorly regarded effort by Khali and Batista at 2007's No Mercy PPV.
While this review of the cage match has not included matches outside of the main organizations in the US over the last 25 or so years, one match did give a bit of a shout out to some of the more extreme versions of the cage. At 2005's No Way Out, Big Show and JBL fought for the WWE title in a barbed wire steel cage match, in which the top of the cage was covered in wire and was seemingly the only method of escape.
This match presented a unique angle as Show would slam JBL through the ring and walk out to the floor after ripping the chain off of the door to assume victory. However, by getting slammed through the canvas, JBL would be able to assume victory even though it was through the ring he left and not through the cage.
Now a staple in WWE's annual PPV circuit, the Elimination Chamber first appeared in 2002 at the Survivor Series. The match pits 6 men against each other with 4 being locked in small chambers within the cage at the start only to be released at timed intervals and is won via process of elimination (thus the name). The chamber is unique in that it does stretch outside the ring, but instead of having superstars go to the arena floor, the ring level is maintained by steel flooring.
The match has had only one real variation, ECW's Extreme Elimination Chamber at the December 2 Dismember PPV in 2006 which saw each participant's pod include a weapon he would then bring into the match.
This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive. I have, however, attempted to capture most of the more recognized variations of the cage match over the past few decades of pro wrestling. Feel free to comment on which you think is the most impressive or let me know if I've missed any (as I'm sure you will anyways!).
Wrestling never gets too stale without needing to reinvent itself, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with next in the furthering evolution of the cage match