In a scenario that has been far from commonplace throughout WWE history, the steel cage is set to be a crowded battlefield.
When The Hardy Boyz defend the Raw Tag Team Championship against Cesaro and Sheamus at Extreme Rules pay-per-view on June 4, it will be a departure from the norm. Cage matches have long been a part of WWE lore, but usually, the collisions are of the one-on-one variety.
Thanks to the way a showdown ended on Monday's Raw, fans will soon see an infrequent sight: a tag team cage match.
Matt Hardy defeated Sheamus to earn the right to name the bout's stipulation. He then stood atop the entrance ramp and proclaimed their bout would be held inside a cage.
The Hardys are familiar with the format. The brothers are among a select group of WWE squads who have stepped into the steel enclosure on multiple occasions. They are a notable part of a history that took a long while to get going.
Late to Join the Fun
The WWE had its fair share of battles inside the steel as the Italian powerhouse and reigning world champ Bruno Sammartino took on rivals like Ivan Koloff, Stan Hansen and Superstar Billy Graham in cage matches in the '70s. Hulk Hogan took over the top-dog mantle a decade later, battling his own monsters in the steel confines.
But tag teams and steel cages didn't mix for a long time for the company.
Fans had to venture to other promotions to see those types of bouts. Tag teams collided in those ominous enclosures in Saskatchewan as far back as 1954. The Memphis territory and World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas dabbled in these matches, as well.
It was the NWA (later WCW), though, who embraced tag team cage contests.
The Andersons and The Road Warriors competed in these matches in the late '80s. In both 1985 and 1986, The Rock 'N' Roll Express took on rivals in cages at the marquee Starrcade event.
And the late Dusty Rhodes eventually invented a match with two rings side by side surrounded by a steel cage—WarGames.
From 1987 to 1989, fans saw 17 WarGames bouts unfold. Rhodes and The Road Warriors looked to take down the gangsters of the squared circle The Four Horsemen in many of these.
WWE, meanwhile, clearly preferred one-on-one cage matches at the time.
Aside from The British Bulldogs competing inside the steel a handful of times, the company didn't usually venture down that path. Former world champ Dolph Ziggler was blown away by one of those rare trips into the cage for Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid:
It wasn't until the '90s drew to a close that the WWE began booking more bouts like that.
The Attitude Era
The Road Warriors (known as Legion of Doom while with WWE), brought a taste of WCW with them when they switched companies in 1997.
The face-painted bruisers didn't engage in any WarGames, but they did take on The Godwinns in a cage match in 1997 and teamed up with Undertaker against Shawn Michaels and The New Age Outlaws in another in early 1998.
These weren't televised events; they were special attractions at house shows.
It wasn't until the renaissance of the tag team division beginning in 1999 that the company began to spotlight tag team cage matches. The Hardy Boyz were front and center of that change.
Matt and Jeff battled in four of those matches between 1999 and 2001, per CageMatch.net.
Their rivalry with Edge and Christian and The Dudley Boyz famously featured the infusion of Tables, Ladders & Chairs. The three duos emphatically put themselves on the map with a series of dangerous, high-octane TLC and ladder matches.
The steel cage was also briefly home to their collisions.
The Hardys dethroned Edge and Christian at Unforgiven and fell to The Dudley Boyz at Survivor Series 2001 as the WWE merged its tag titles with WCW's. Attitude Era staples The New Age Outlaws also clashed with Matt and Jeff in the steel in 1999, the raunchy, crotch-chopping squad taking down the brothers.
The height of the cage offered The Hardys another means to thrill, to take a daredevil approach to wrestling, as we saw when Matt leaped off the top to nail The New Age Outlaws with a moonsault.
As the '00s unfolded, the WWE again moved away from the tag team cage match.
The burgeoning TNA promotion was far more proficient in that kind of contest that decade. America's Most Wanted and Triple X put on some memorable battles in the company's six-sided steel structure.
The PG Era
Joey Mercury and John Morrison were among the rare pairing to enter a steel cage for the WWE in the '00s. The flashy, cocky duo held off Batista and Rey Mysterio in January of 2006 to remain champs. A year later, they failed to take down John Cena and Michaels on Raw in March.
The tag team cage match remained a rarity, a trick the WWE mostly kept in its bag, even if you count the Hell in a Cell. The Devil's Playground has only thrice featured tag matches and none since 2009.
A resurgence of sorts occurred a few years back, though.
In the span of 11 months, the WWE gave fans four tag team cage bouts. The first of which came at a live event at Madison Square Garden. Cody Rhodes' final swing against The Real Americans that night created a buzz well beyond the New York area.
Rhodes moonsaulted off the top of the cage to put Cesaro away.
A number of other team battles in the cage soon followed:
- The Usos vs. Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt: Raw Jan. 13, 2014
- Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. The New Age Outlaws: Raw Feb. 3, 2014
- The Usos vs. Goldust and Stardust SmackDown: Nov. 7, 2014
That first match is more famous for its aftermath than the action itself. Bryan had appeared to give in to Wyatt's spell. He briefly joined The Wyatt Family before striking back against the cult leader that January night.
The cage acted as a metaphor for Bryan being trapped in this faction, and after he broke away, he sat atop it in celebration, leading one of the loudest "Yes!" chants you'll ever hear.
Aside from allowing six teams to clash in the Elimination Chamber at the PPV of the same name in 2015, the WWE has not often gone back to that steel well. That is, until now.
The Hardys will turn back the clock and re-enter a battlefield they know well.
History says that the cage will be the launch point for some brave soul. It also says that the crowd should savor what happens between Cesaro and Sheamus and the Raw tag team champs. It may be a few years before the tag division marches back inside the steel.