Damien Barling: 20 Years of Hell

Twenty years ago this week marked the debut of WWE’s (WWF at the time) Hell In A Cell. Meant, at the time, to be a diabolical structure that was more dangerous than a cage match and was invented to keep Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker in the ring a month after they had brawled all over the arena at a PPV in Sept 97 (strangely and ominously titled, Ground Zero).

I watched this match in its entirety today and one of the more under appreciated aspects of this presentation was the job Vince McMahon did as lead announcer to build this match as, “the end of Shawn Michaels”. It was clear, from the very beginning, HBK was going to get the crap kicked out of him. Perhaps the only thing better then Vince McMahon was Shawn Michaels prematch “selling”. He reacted to the cell as if it was some sort of ghost. He showed fear when the cell lowered. He showed fear when he realized he couldn’t get out. He showed fear when the rest of Degeneration X left him alone with The Undertaker. From the beginning to the end, everyone did their part in putting over the Hell in a Cell as a structure to be feared.

Over the next 20 years the cell would lose most of its luster. While HBK and Taker is far and away the best Hell in a Cell match in history, aided by the incredible debut of Undertakers storyline brother Kane, it’s not the most memorable. That honor goes to the cell match that came some 8 months later.

When Mankind ascended the Hell in a Cell structure to begin his match with The Undertaker in June of 98 the parameter for Cell matches would change. Mankind took not one, but two, well documented, very scary bumps, off the top of the cage. After only it’s second appearance the psychological factor the cell provided in the Taker Shawn match would disappear in only its second appearance. Hell in a Cell became about big spots and lots of blood.

While there’s been a number of fantastic Cell matches since Bad Blood (Lesnar vs Taker, HBK vs Triple H, to name a few) none of quite captured the essence of what the structure was about like the first one.

With a PPV named after the structure coming up on Sunday I expect The Uso’s and New Day to follow in the footsteps of the inaugural match up and put on a psychological thriller. On the other hand, Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon will likely find a way to incorporate the big spots and the “holy s**t” moments were accustomed too when Shane McMahon gets in the ring.

Check back Sunday night for a full review of WWE’s Hell in a Cell.

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