Since the event named after this type of match takes place this Sunday, today's list is all about the most demonic of wrestling gimmick matches, Hell in a Cell. Introduced by the WWF in 1997, HIAC expanded on the traditional Steel Cage match by surrounding the entire ringside area with the volatile mesh structure. They also covered the whole thing with a roof, trapping the combatants inside but giving them enough room to utilize the numerous unforgiving surfaces and weapons found outside the ring. The result was one of the most brutal recurring stipulations in the history of the business, where only the most personal and heated of rivalries would be settled. 2009 saw the creation of a Hell in a Cell-themed PPV, which undermined the severity of such a gimmick match by making it an annual tradition instead of a feud-ender. Regardless of its recently history though, Hell in a Cell still remains one of the most intriguing special attractions in WWE.
Here are my picks for the ten greatest HIAC matches of all time....
10. Batista vs. Triple H - Vengeance - 6.26.05
After two rather lackluster efforts at WrestleMania 21 and Backlash, Hunter and Big Dave finally delivered a classic inside the hellacious cage. This was a bloody, grueling fight that ran over 26 minutes and finally solidified Batista as Triple H's conqueror. These two made innovative use of weapons, as well as the ol' cage walls to create a shockingly good Cell bout. When it was over, the torch had finally been passed to Batista, who along with John Cena became one of the faces of the company.
9. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose - Hell in a Cell - 10.26.14
After multiple years of underwhelming HIAC matches two young, hungry stars took the gimmick back up a notch at last year's event. Mortal enemies Ambrose and Rollins followed up their unruly SummerSlam Lumberjack match with this brutal, chaotic fight that kicked off atop the structure. After about ten minutes of crazy brawling leading to both men falling through announce tables (the first spot like that since the Mick Foley years), the match officially resumed inside the cage, and 13 minutes later Rollins took advantage of Bray Wyatt's (hokey) interference to win the bout.
8. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho - Judgment Day - 5.19.02
This rematch from WrestleMania was slightly overshadowed on this show by a Kurt Angle-Edge classic, but Triple H vs. Chris Jericho was still a helluva good HIAC match. They completely one-upped their 'Mania bout, delivering a violent fight that climaxed with the two battling on the roof. This would be the last time for such a scenario until 2014. Hunter fought through a Walls of Jericho and hit the Pedigree for the pin on top of the cage (This match also introduced the falls-count-anywhere-in-or-on-the-Cell rule).
7. Undertaker vs. Triple H - WrestleMania XXVIII - 4.1.12
The second consecutive WrestleMania clash between Taker and Triple H (and the third overall) took place inside the monstrous cage and involved Shawn Michaels as a special referee. This match oddly didn't make much use of the Cell itself but still told a pretty great story of Hunter being willing to use any methods to destroy Taker, and Shawn begging Taker to just give up. In terms of pure drama this was a brilliantly executed match and even employed a little bit of blood to up the ante. While I don't have the love for this match that most others did (Punk vs. Jericho from this show was better), Taker vs. Triple H was still one of the best Cell matches of all time.
6. Randy Orton vs. Sheamus - Hell in a Cell - 10.3.10
Something of a forgotten gem, this WWE Title match pitted the recently-turned-babyface Viper against new top heel and former Champ Sheamus in what was strangely only the second match of the night. Despite not being able to utilize blood in the PG Era, Orton and Sheamus got very creative, using both the cage and the ring steps liberally to create a harshly contested war. After nearly 23 minutes of strongly executed action, Orton hit the RKO on the steps to retain the gold.
5. Edge vs. Undertaker - SummerSlam - 8.17.08
Considering the PG Era basically began here (translation: no blading allowed), Taker and Edge managed to have a pretty brutal and dramatic Cell battle by breaking out some TLC-style highspots. Some blood would've added a good half-star to this, but it was easily in or approaching the four-star territory and on par with their WrestleMania clash (I'd say that match was just slightly better). Edge's spear through the side of the cage was a great, painful-looking-but-pretty-safe spot in an era where the Mick Foley-type stunts were definitely no longer prudent. Great work by both guys here, and this match boosted SummerSlam '08 into the realm of Thumbs Slightly Up.
4. Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker - No Mercy - 10.20.02
No Mercy 2002 included two of the five best matches of the year in my opinion. The show's main event is one of the most brutal matches I've ever seen. Without relying on high spots or gimmicks, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker locked themselves in a cage and beat the snot out of each other for over 20 minutes. This was the first good Hell in a Cell match where the combatants didn't escape the cage and wind up on top, but it didn't stop this from being one of the very best Cell matches of all time. By the end Taker was gushing blood, and after having a Tombstone Piledriver reversed into an F5 (in a breathtaking display of power by Lesnar), The Dead Man fell to The Beast.
3. Undertaker vs. Mankind (Hell in a Cell) - King of the Ring - 6.28.98
There's not much more than can be said about this one. Simply the most infamous match of all time, aside from the Montreal Screwjob. In 1998 Taker, and especially Mankind, wrote a new chapter in pro wrestling brutality. After two death-defying falls from the top of the Cell (one planned, one frighteningly accidental), Mick Foley delivered a superhuman effort in going another 12 or so minutes and completing the best match these two ever had together (Keep in mind also that Taker was working on a broken foot). Concussed and delirious, Foley famously approached Taker backstage when it was over and asked "Did I use thumbtacks?" to which Taker replied, "Look at your arm Mick." It's an uncomfortable match to view now, but at the time it probably exemplified the WWF Attitude more than any other single bout.
2. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack - No Way Out - 2.27.00
This war of attrition had almost all the brutality of the infamous Taker-Mankind bout, but was executed in much safer fashion. In early 2000 Triple H earned the respect of fans and wrestlers alike as a tough-as-nails villain, in no small part thanks to his work with Mick Foley. At the Royal Rumble the two had a hellacious Street Fight, and this Cell bout made a perfect companion piece to that match. Full of violent action, crazy high spots, and heartbreaking drama, this match ended Foley's official career with a bang (bang!). Foley came out of retirement only one month later but we won't speak of that right now. Or ever again.
1. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - Badd Blood - 10.5.97
It was the match that redefined the Steel Cage as we know it, introduced the world to Kane, and embodied one of the best feuds of all time. The first-ever Hell in a Cell match was an absolutely epic war. The early minutes focused primarily on good traditional wrestling, while the second half became a cage-heavy bloodbath. Shawn and Taker slugging it out on the roof of the cage was unlike anything ever before seen in the industry. Kane's interference costing Taker the match normally would knock the match quality down a peg, but the match was so good and Kane's introduction was so well-handled that it didn't matter. To this day Shawn vs. Taker is still the greatest HIAC match in history, and I don't think it will ever be topped.
There's my list - did I leave out any of your favorites? Comment below!