It was October of 1997 when we saw the first. The WWF’s Badd Blood pay per view that year hosted the first ever Hell in a Cell match. Since then the demonic structure has become the match to end all feuds in WWE. The company has even started an annual pay per view with a Hell in a Cell theme. After several matches in what Jim Ross has call the “ominous” structure, two Cell matches in particular stand above all the others as the most memorable. The first being the original between Taker and Michaels, and the other being Undertaker’s Cell match with Mankind at the 1998 King of the Ring. Today these two matches still define what we expect to see when the Cell is lowered.
When Undertaker and HBK first met in the Cell in 1997, it was a perfect setup. HBK had cost Taker the WWF Championship at Summerslam, leading to an HBK heel turn and the first ever pay per view encounter between Taker and Michaels at the 1997 Ground Zero show. Marred with interference, the bout was declared a no contest with a rematch slated for Badd Blood. In the natural progression of things, a cage match was set for the stipulation for the return match. This time, WWF would do away with the big blue ice block of a cage they had been using and go back to the mesh style, complete with a top and room for the combatants to fight on the outside of the ring, yet still be inside the cage. Aside from the freedom the extra room allotted the participants, it also allowed the TV audience to catch camera angles from inside the cage. On top of the tremendous program Taker and Michaels had together that year, the winner was slated to get a title match at Survivor Series, and it also marked the debut of Kane, whose presence had been hyped for months. The first Cell was a success and se the bar for future contests.
It was a completely different set of circumstances when Mankind and Undertaker faced off in the Cell. While they had fought many times before on per view, their war had been over for several months. Taker and Mankind now seemed to be fighting more out of obligation than part of a natural progression of a storyline. Even though they had fought many times before, their rivalry this time around hardly warranted the Hell in a Cell stipulation. That night Hell in a Cell would mean something even more devastating than what it had so just a few months prior. That night Mankind took two devastating falls off the top of the Cell that could his career, even his life, if his landings had gone slightly differently. Replays of his falls would be shown over and over again. The images of Mankind falling form the cage burnt itself into the minds of wrestling fans. As much as the memory of Mick Foley falling means to so many, one undeniable fact remains: the match was not great.
Allow me to digress for a moment. As a teenager I had friends that liked wrestling and we all worshipped Foley. I also had friends who did not like wrestling who I wanted to show how great it truly was. I tried to convert others, even my girlfriend. How did I do this? I showed them footage from matches such as the TLC series, or from the Undertaker-Foley ell in a Cell. I don’t know about those of you out there who have tried to convert others to professional wrestling, but if you have tried, you probably know that the last thing that is going to convince them to become a wrestling fan is to show them footage of a man killing himself in front of thousands of fans. Wrestling is at its best when a story unfolds and captivates the fans, all despite the fact that it is “fixed,” which is the oxymoron of the Taker-Foley HITC.
What I mentioned above may insult some of you who truly believe that the Taker-Foley match was great. It is not my intention to insult your taste in wrestling. On the contrary, those of you who believe it was a great match exemplify a point made by Mick Foley and prove that even though he was put his body through hell for this match, he was very smart about how to structure it. In his first autobiography, Have a Nice Day, Foley tells of his feelings leading up to HITC. Undertaker was injured at the time and Mankind’s character was in a type of limbo. With the original Cell match to live up to, Foley knew he had to drastically alter the format in order to make the match succeed. It was his belief that he could make the audience believe the match was great even if it wasn’t. And therein lays the truth about the Foley-Taker HITC. It was not a great match, but people believe it was because of the two giant falls, the use of thumbtacks, and Foley’s bravery to continue, when in fact it was him having been knocked silly that made him continue. Foley would go on to admit that the legend of the match is bigger than the match itself. In fact, it is a shame that HITC would be Foley’s most remembered match when he had so many great matches that the very fans who had praised his Cell efforts had overlooked.
This Sunday WWE hosts their second Hell in a Cell pay per view. With WWE’s PG rating some fans hate the idea of a Hell in Cell concept pay per view. That is understandable given the legacy that these matches have. What the crowd seems to forget is that blood, big bumps, and weapons do not make the match. Sure the violence is a way to convey the intensity of the hatred between the participants, but all of it is just add-ons. Before us lies what could be a classic HITC encounter between Undertaker and Kane as Taker steps back into the Cell on more time and just like the first Cell match, it makes sense to put them together in there. Hell in a Cell matches today still have one heck of a legacy to live up to, especially considering the epic story told by Taker and HBK, and the violent bombshell of a match between Taker and Foley. This Sunday comes the opportunity to add to that legacy.