(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31316311/?contentId=&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=in_your_house )
The inaugural Hell in a Cell match is one I could (and have) watched all over again. I’ve said this before during these reviews, but the general rule is that an original gimmick match is rarely better by its successors. Look at how far the Hell in a Cell match has fallen since the PG Era of the WWE began. Lack of ultra-violence and blood sanitised a match that promised buckets of claret. Nowadays, Hell in a Cell matches are ordinary matches that take in place an overly massive cage. Back in 1997, we had no idea what to expect. With Shawn Michaels and HBK involved, a good match was a surety. But what would happen? A match that, 20 years later, has not been bettered. We’ve seen plenty of HIAC matches since that time. There’s even a PPV named after the gimmick match. But none can match the original.
Back in 1997, HBK and ‘Taker were embroiled in a slow-burning yet very heated feud. HBK, acting as special guest referee, had cost ‘Taker the WWE Championship in a Summerslam match against Bret Hart. HBK accidentally hit the Deadman with a steel chair when The Hitman dodged the shot. Due to the rules, HBK had to count the pin. From then, HBK and the rest of D-Generation X assaulted The Undertaker. Their match at In Your House: Ground Zero ended in controversy. So a Hell In A Cell match was announced at the following PPV, IYH: Badd Blood. A chance to fight for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series 1997 was also at stake (yes, this match led to the Montreal Screw Job…)
HBK plays the scared heel brilliantly, looking in horror at the structure around him. He spends much of the beginning of the match being pummelled by ‘Taker. He takes a particularly nasty bump after being back dropped over the top rope to the floor. His legs hit the cell, and he falls right on his shoulder and hip. Taker’s the first to use the Cell as a weapon, whipping Michaels into and slammed him into it. HBK takes advantage after ‘Taker makes a mistake. Michaels chance at offence is brutal: he batters ‘Taker with the steel steps, and even executes a piledriver onto the stairs. A chair is introduced and a cameraman gets involved in the action. The action soon spills outside of the cell and on top of it…
One image that always stays with me is a view from under the cell roof, when ‘Taker and HBK are fighting on top of it. By this point, HBK is bleeding profusely from the forehead. ‘Taker grinds HBK’s face into the Cell, and blood drips on to the camera. The cameraman (not the same on involved in the match!) mutters in disgust. In the final five or ten minutes of the match, HBK suffers a hell of a beating. It almost engenders some sympathy for the heel, but it also feels justified. Who doesn’t love a babyface beating the living hell out of a cowardly heel? The final stretch of the match is a template for sustained brutality and violence.
At several points in the match, you think it can’t get any more violent. But another turn is taken, something else is introduced, and the violence ramps up accordingly. The use of the Cell is often surprising. Remember, back then, we didn’t know how it would be used! When the action spills outside, there are infinite possibilities. Why do you think Mankind and ‘Taker started out on top of the cell? Because they knew it would be hard to better the action inside the cell that Michaels and ‘Taker provided. Violence, brutality, drama, retribution, blood…the match has it all. Even a twist ending! This should be a lot higher on the WWE Network’s Best 100…List. ‘Taker and HBK would go onto have better wrestling matches a decade after the HIAC match. But none could hope to match the ultra-violence of this one. Few matches have, no matter how many thumb tacks or barbed wire bats are used.
VERDICT: 10/10. The original Hell in a Cell has yet to be bettered. It’s a violent spectacle that only increases in violence and brutality as it goes on.
Does this match belong in the WWE Network’s ‘ 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die’ List? Leave your thoughts/comments below!
Click here for my review of #38 The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (WWE Elimination Chamber 2014)