For 14 years now, Hell in a Cell has been one of the big stipulation matches in WWE. Take a giant cage that encompasses the entire ringside area, put a roof on it and put two (or more) wrestlers in it for a fight to the finish.
The first Hell in a Cell match, Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at In Your House: Badd Blood in 1997, was an instant classic. One of the best cage matches in WWE history, it features amazing performances from both men, with both playing their roles perfectly: Michaels is terrified by The Undertaker, who stalks him around the cage and picks him apart.
Hell in a Cell matches have changed over time depending on the nature of WWE when they take place. At one point they got very big bump/"stunt show"-heavy, then they became bloodbath old-school cage matches when WWE cut down on big bumps.
When WWE banned blood as part of going TV-PG, stunts were worked back in. Nowadays, they're somewhere in between style-wise, just without blood.
Unfortunately, with an annual Hell in a Cell pay-per-view event now on the calendar, the matches just...happen as opposed to being the culminations of major feuds. Still, they can be great, thrilling matches.
Like any wrestling staple, there's a bunch of interesting trivia about Hell in a Cell, and I racked my brain to think of five of those factoids that you may not know about.
This one has been mentioned on WWE DVDs, so you may be familiar with it, but hey, why not...?
When Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker tried to come up with a special cage, they thought back to one of the most famous cage matches of the '80s. Taking place on October 23rd, 1983, it was the climax of the long feud in Georgia Championship Wrestling between "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer and "Wildfire" Tommy Rich, who had been bleeding all over the territory for many months.
Dubbed "The Last Battle of Atlanta," what was lifted for Hell in a Cell was that the cage had a roof on it, so theoretically, nobody could possibly interfere. As you can see from the photo, it was an absolute bloodbath. Unfortunately, it wasn't taped by the promotion and if there's a fan-shot film, it hasn't surfaced.
While WCW used a roof for the two-ring "Wargames" eight- or 10-man tag team cage matches that started in 1987, it was uncommon in wrestling and stood out. This, and the sheer size of the cage, which was also rare, made the Hell in a Cell concept stand out from the start.
Taking place over 13 years ago at King of the Ring '98, the second (or third, depending on if an angle of a tag match on Raw 13 days earlier counts) Hell in a Cell match is probably the most famous. Mick Foley returned to his Mankind gimmick after several months as Cactus Jack and then Dude Love to restart his feud with The Undertaker, climaxing in one of the most famous matches in WWE history.
Foley took two ridiculous bumps off the top of the cage: The Undertaker tossing him off the side through the Spanish announcers' table; and The Undertaker chokeslamming him through the roof of the cage into the ring.
The first is the more memorable one, but the second may have taken more of a toll on Foley. To this day, there are still arguments about how much of it was planned, but a chair placed on the roof of the cage fell down and nailed Foley in the jaw, knocking him out as he smashed on the canvas.
At the time, WWE rings were much harder than they are now. This goes back another 13 years, back to the start of the Saturday Night's Main Event specials on NBC.
To prepare for the specials, a number of changes were made, most noticeably being the dramatically increased production values that blew away anything the company had ever produced before. NBC's direct involvement via producer Dick Ebersol led to another long-lasting change: The company's rings were made much harder.
For whatever reason, Dick Ebersol was not a fan of how traditional wrestling rings looked when wrestlers took bumps. He thought the standard ring, made for the best possible combination of stability and being a (relatively) easy surface to bump on, was too bouncy and "fake"-looking.
As a result, the WWF changed their rings across the board to be much harder without visible bounciness. This was not pleasant for the wrestlers and was finally re-evaluated after Foley's big bump, years after Saturday Night's Main Event was cancelled. The hard rings were out, and more traditional "good bumping" rings were in.
At the 1999 Unforgiven pay-per-view event, the Hell in a Cell cage was melded with another gimmick for the first time. To end the feud between the Big Bossman and Al Snow where Bossman killed Snow's dog Pepper, cooked his remains and fed him to Snow (really), Snow challenged Bossman to a Kennel from Hell match.
The Kennel from Hell was a double cage match with "attack dogs" (and their trainers) between the cages. The Hell in a Cell cage was the outer cage while the old big blue bars WWF cage was the inner cage. The first wrestler to escape both cages would win.
It was a terrible match, both for the "action" and for the sight of the dogs doing nothing other than going to the bathroom on the protective mats outside the ring. It has lived on in infamy ever since as one of the most notoriously bad matches in WWE history.
It was a terrible idea of an overly complicated gimmick leading to a terrible match near the end of the Vince Russo-written era of WWF programming. Surely it must have been his demented invention, right? RIGHT?!
Nope, it was not the first time that a double cage match with dogs between the cages had ever taken place in the history of professional wrestling. I swear that I am not making this up:
The first match was a "Doberman Cage Match" that took place in Portland, Oregon on April 16th, 1981. After a co-main event of "Playboy" Buddy Rose defeating Jay Youngblood in a double cage without the dogs, area mainstays Matt Borne and Rip Oliver battled it out with dobermans between the cages.
Aside from the specifics of what type of cages were used and how the winner was determined (the Portland match was won by pinfall or submission), it was essentially the same gimmick match. Borne came out of the bout as the winner, and the gimmick wasn't seen again for over 18 years.
By 2006, WWE had wisely made sure to educate fans not to expect big stunts (especially falls off the top of the cage) in Hell in a Cell matches. Instead, they had largely been old-school cage matches that were just violent, bloody brawls the previous few years.
With that in mind, it was interesting to see WWE debut a new, much taller cage in that year's one Hell in a Cell match—Shawn Michaels and Triple H vs. Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and the Big Show, the climax of the D-Generation X vs. McMahon family feud. Just why was WWE introducing such a large cage?
At the time, I figured it was an extension of the re-education process: With a cage that high, no sane person could reasonably expect a bump from anywhere near the top.
Instead, it had nothing to do with that; the old cage had become pretty broken down, so WWE just needed a new cage that would look better when shot in high-definition video. At the time, WWE was in the process of readying everything for a switch to HD in early 2008.
Similarly, this is why WWE now has multiple sets of belts that include an "HD" set that is only used for segments aired on TV so they stay in pristine condition.
They may very well have made the cage bigger because they knew nobody would ever take a bump off the thing again in addition to it looking more imposing, but it wasn't why they got the new cage.
I know what you're thinking. The Undertaker and Randy Orton had an excellent feud full of great matches, including the climactic Hell in a Cell bout at the Armageddon pay-per-view in 2005. I agree—I'm not talking about the match in terms of how good it was.
Orton's father, Bob Orton Jr., had been involved in the feud for months and in their Hell in a Cell match, he interfered. During the match, both Bob and The Undertaker bladed and they were bleeding pretty heavily.
Even though they were bleeding on each other, the elder Orton neglected to tell The Undertaker that he had Hepatitis C.
As was reported in the Pro Wrestling Torch and Wrestling Observer Newsletters at the time, Bob Orton Jr. had tested positive for the potentially very dangerous blood-borne liver illness decades earlier as a teenager. Since it can stay dormant for a very long time in some cases, he never became symptomatic and forgot about it until he tested positive while undergoing a WWE physical.
Talent relations department head John Laurinaitis was told about the positive test. In spite of his health status, Bob was cleared to wrestle and bleed—and nobody (including Laurinaitis) told The Undertaker. As you'd expect, 'Taker was furious when he found out after the match from the doctor, who was a friend of his.
Thankfully, The Undertaker didn't contract Hepatitis C. Bob Orton Jr. was fired a couple months later.