Featured Image credit: Mick Foley/Facebook
"AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!"
- Jim Ross
The events of 28th June, 1998 will be forever scorched onto the memories of wrestling fans everywhere, and will have doubtlessly been thought about every day since by The Undertaker and Mick Foley, the two men who took part in what has been described, rightly or wrongly, as "maybe the most famous match ever" on that Summer night at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Eighteen years ago, the Hell In A Cell concept was only nine months old and, before Mick Foley decided to wipe years off his life inside (and on top of) 'Satan's structure' (God bless Jim Ross and his way with words), the cage had only been seen on WWE Pay-Per-View once. Yet despite the steel and mesh prison only being in it's embryonic stages in the late '90s, it had already earned itself a gruesome reputation, thanks in no small part to The Undertaker's brutal, bloody mistreatment of Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood in October 1997, where a certain 'Big Red Machine' also introduced himself to the world.
Almost two decades removed from the barbaric, halcyon days of Attitude Era cell matches, the cage has now lost a lot of its lustre, no longer captivating audiences as it did in the late '90s, due in no small part to the fact that the WWE now runs an annual show designed around the gimmick itself, offering numerous cell matches in a single evening, rather than having just one marquee match a year for bloodthirsty fans to anticipate.
While this Sunday's Hell In A Cell pay-per-view does present us with the first ever women's match inside 'The Devil's Playground', between Charlotte Flair and defending Women's Champion Sasha Banks, there was a time when only blood feuds were given the rite of passage inside the steel, y'know, before DX started shoving peoples heads into the Big Show's arse crack in there.
So, to set the mood for this Sunday's annual cell based festivities, here's the top five most blood curdling moments in Hell In A Cell history. Yes, JR losing his shit on a regular basis does feature pretty prominently.
Setting The Tone
Badd Blood '97
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker
As memorable as 'Taker and HBK's christening of the cell was, it wasn't the cell's debut that everyone would be talking about when Badd Blood went off the air. In the opening 28 minutes of the bout, 'Taker took great pleasure in serving Michaels a Texas size battering, bouncing his preening, pretty boy opponent off every wall of the cage, no doubt enjoying the fact that his night's work involved punishing a bloke that, in late 1997 no one in the WWE locker room could stand.
Then, just as The Deadman was signalling for Michaels' death knell via the tombstone piledriver, off went the lights and here came Kane, emotionless slasher movie monster walk, mask and all. Remember when all Kane did was set blokes on fire and talk through that electric voice box? Absolute magic, that. In what was probably the most perfectly executed WWE debut of all time, The Undertaker's burned alive behemoth of a brother ripped the cell door of it's hinges and dropped big mad Mark with his own tombstone. The Brothers Of Destruction would finally meet in a cell match at 2010's HIAC PPV (drink those abbreviations in, maaaaan) but quite frankly the less said about that match, the better.
Jump (For My Love)
The Undertaker vs Shane McMahon
Shane McMahon's bum clenching 25 foot leap from the top of the cell at this year's WrestleMania may have been as pointlessly stupid as the premise and aftermath of the actual match itself, wherein he had to defeat The Undertaker in order to gain control of Monday Night Raw, only to be given control by Vinnie Mac anywaydespite losing the bout, but fucking hell fire, was this a lot of fun.
What was not fun was the roughly NINE HOURS of this match that seemed to precede the spot. Shane and Taker rolled around for an eternity, seemingly killing time until they were allowed to escape the cage and execute a moment that brought 101,763 people inside the AT&T Stadium in Dallas to their feet. However, snide condescending critique of the quality of the match itself, this stunt deserves it's place on the list and in every WrestleMania montage from hereon.
The End Of An Era (For a bit)
No Way Out 2000
Triple H vs Cactus Jack
While their street fight a month earlier at the Royal Rumble was the better match, Triple H and Mick Foley ramped up the emotion and maintained the same amount of leathering each other with steel chairs and barbed wire, throwing some fire into the mix for good measure, for their 'Title vs Career' match that would prove to be Foley's final match in a WWE ring. Well, before he came back a month later for the WrestleMania 16 main event. And then as a part time special attraction for various matches between 2004-2009. But at the time, this retirement match was a big fucking deal and helped cement Vince McMahon's future heir as the top heel in the business.
There Will Be Blood. Fucking Loads Of It
No Mercy 2002
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker
Forget beating Hulk Hogan and The Rock clean within your first four months on the main roster, if you really want to convince people that you're genuinely 'The Next Big Thing', leave The Undertaker looking like one of those poor fuckers Negan caved in on the Walking Dead in the Season Seven premiere.
Brock Lesnar was still a few years and a massive fucking sword tattoo away from becoming the UFC conquering, WrestleMania streak ending lunatic who opened up Randy Orton's dome like a hungry cartoon bear breaking into a beehive, but even so, his performance in this cell match with everyone's favourite undead Sons Of Anarchy extra, 'American Badass' era Undertaker was career defining. Seven years later an even angrier Lesnar would be leaving a regret filled Frank Mir looking much the same way inside a cage during their UFC Heavyweight Title bout at UFC 100.
Learning To Fly
King Of The Ring '98
The Undertaker vs Mankind
We've all watched it a million and one times. We can all imitate Jim Ross' iconic calls of "Good God! GOOD GOD!", "Will somebody stop the damn match?! Enough's enough!" and of course "The poor sonofa- HE'S BROKEN IN HALF!" but no passage of writing can do this match justice better than Foley's own words from his 1999 autobiography 'Have A Nice Day!' in which 'The Hardcore Legend' recalls the aftermath of his unintended second descent from the cell roof:
"It was the only time in fifteen years that I have been knocked out cold. I had been knocked goofy countless times. I'd seen stars and rainbows and black patches as a way of life for a long time, but this was the first time that a period of time elapsed and I wasn't aware of it. ... I later asked the Undertaker what he thought when he looked down at me from atop the cell. His answer was chilling in its simplicity: 'I thought you were dead.'"
For better or worse, the match somehow continued, despite Foley being borderline unconscious, with a tooth sticking out of his nose and the Undertaker suffering from a broken foot. However, gratuitous thumb tack spots aside, the in ring action is an afterthought to the two most memorable moments in cell history that immediately preceded it.
Can Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Charlotte, Sasha, Rusev and Roman Reigns write their names into Hell In A Cell folklore this Sunday?