Long before Hell in a Cell became an annual stand-alone PPV, it was an often used match by the WWE that created some memorable moments and spectacular spots. With Hell in a Cell 2015 just around the corner, thanks to the WWE Network, we go back in time and watch the first ever Hell in a Cell match pitting WWF European Champion Shawn Michaels against The Undertaker.
The first Hell in a Cell bout and the one that set the standard for the many that would follow. Sure, the spots have been bettered since but this is a fantastic match – on an otherwise unremarkable card – that raised the bar. A great feud going into this one and HBK showed how great he was at selling throughout. Two stars in their prime within the confines of a new hellish looking structure made this a classic even to this day.
If anything, I’m talking up Badd Blood which is a rubbish event. Sure, a lot might be to do with the passing of Brian Pillman that very morning but unless you are particularly keen to see The Headbangers vs The Godwinns or Bret Hart & The British Bulldog face Vader and The Patriot then you can probably bypass the entire undercard.
But whatever was lacking in the opening matches, the same can’t be said for this main event where both Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker bring their a-game.
Before we kick-off, let’s take in the background that led to this match.
At SummerSlam 1997, Shawn Michaels was the referee for the main event that saw The Undertaker defend his WWF title against Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart who, in real life, was having a great amount of issues with Shawn Michaels – and vice versa.
In an interview with Vince McMahon ahead of SummerSlam, Hart said that if he did not win the title at Summerslam, he would not wrestle on American soil again. The next week on Raw, Shawn Michaels requested Vince McMahon to be a part of SummerSlam – due to the issues he, too, had with The Undertaker. It was announced he’d be the referee but if he didn’t call it right down the middle he, too, wouldn’t wrestle in America again.
Towards the end of the bout, Hart was standing in front of the Undertaker and spat at Michaels. Michaels grabbed a chair and swung for The Hitman but he ducked and The Undertaker was laid out. Hart covered him and became the new WWF Champion.
That set up a match at the next month’s ‘In Your House’ titled Badd Blood. The event gave birth to the Hell in a Cell match. A structure that instead of just surrounding the ring at the ropes, was larger and took in some of the ringside.
The European Champion made his way out first led by Triple H and Chyna, his fellow D-Generation X members and followed by Ravishing Rick Rude, Michaels’ “insurance policy”, according to Vince McMahon.
Undertaker then follows, taking what feels like forever to get to the ring. Once inside his pyro goes off and Michaels looks completely spooked. He can even sell pyro…
This is only the second ever one on one match between the pair. The first occurred a few months prior at ‘Ground Zero: In Your House’ and ended in a no contest after both men attacked various officials.
Officials and then Commissioner Sgt Slaughter lock Michaels and Undertaker in the cage and Triple H, Chyna and Rude outside of it.
Once they’re locked inside, Undertaker stalks Shawn Michaels, who hits the ropes and straight into a big boot prompting Vince to state: “this is not going to be pretty.”
Michaels is able to get a couple of shots in on the Undertaker but is then simply thrown about by his opponent and takes his trademark corner bump. For want of a better phrase, Taker proceeds to beat the piss out of HBK throwing him into the cage, hitting big clotheslines and shots to the ribs.
Another attempt is made to drive the European champion into the cage but it’s reversed and it’s the Undertaker who is thrown into the steel mesh. Michaels is now able to get in some offence with a suicide dive and then climbing the inside of the cage and dropping an elbow.
Michaels proceeds to slam the steel steps into the Undertaker’s spine before piledriving him onto them. He then cuses out the cameraman who gets too close to the action. A steel chair shot to the back keeps Michaels in control but Taker starts to mount a comeback.
HBK is backdropped onto the cameraman, who he proceeds to beat up. The commentators sell this as Slaughter comes down, opens up the cage in order to get the cameraman out.
Shawn is able to connect with Sweet Chin Music but Taker sits straight back up. Michaels flees out of the open cage but is caught and slingshotted into the cage. Michaels is then thrown face first into the cage, busting him out.
This prompts him to climb to the top of the cage in an attempt to fleet but he is followed up. With both men on the top, Michaels is back bodydropped and has his face grated on the cage. Shawn takes a gorilla press slam spot up on the top of the cage and makes another attempt to escape but is caught trying to climb down. Taker steps on each of his hands, sending him hurtling through the announce table below.
Taker drags him back into the ring and the cage is locked again. Undertaker nails a chokeslam from the top rope before grabbing a steel chair and clobbering Shawn with it. He signals for the Tombstone but the lights go out.
Music hits and the arena is sent into darkness before being lit by an eerie red light. Paul Bearer is walking out with a man in a red and black outfit who the announcers claim is Kane. He rips the cage door off its hinges and goes face to face with his brother. Pyro explodes from the corner and he tombstones The Undertaker and leaves. Michaels crawls on top of the prone Undertaker and that’s all she wrote to get the win a fraction shy of thirty minutes.
This is an absolute classic. As I said in the previous piece I wrote about Hell in a Cell matches, this sets “the standard for the many that would follow. Sure, the spots have been bettered since but this is a fantastic match.”
Both guys brought all they had and gave all that they had. Michaels uses every piece of attack he can think of but The Undertaker shakes everything off. The psychology of Michaels here is fantastic, absolutely awesome storytelling from the opening bell until the finish.
Don’t bother with anything else on this show, skip to the main event and watch in awe.
You can read all previous ‘Matches from History’ here.