This Sunday will feature the ninth iteration of the Hell In A Cell PPV event, which became it’s own show in 2009. The specific match itself has been a regular highlight of WWE’s gimmick matches since it first debuted back in 1997. When a feud is too heated for any normal match to hold and the time of the year is right, you send that rivalry into the demonic structure where it can’t come back the same.
Since 1997, there have been 36 total Hell In A Cell matches, though that does include several that were featured as dark matches (not televised, only for the live crowd) on Raw. There are about to be two more on Sunday when Kevin Owens takes on Shane McMahon, and The New Day will face the Usos with tag team championships on the line for the very first time inside the cell.
Naturally, there are matches that just can’t fit on the list, and there’s no way for everyone to be happy about it, so here are a few honorable mentions. Arguably the biggest match that I left off is the clash between Brock Lesnar and Undertaker from No Mercy 2002 (I’m also not including their 2015 cell match). It’s hard to say for sure if Lesnar would’ve become the entity he is now without the amazing work that Undertaker did in this early run. Another cell match that helped to crown a new main eventer is the Batista and Triple H match from Vengeance 2005, which ensured The Animal’s spot on top of the card for years to come. The 2011 Hell In A Cell card saw the first triple threat cell match where John Cena defended his WWE Championship against CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio, which deserves recognition as well.
I would also like to point that since I included it on my Top Ten Summerslam Matches list, the Hell In A Cell match between Undertaker and Edge from 2008 will be left off this list to keep things interesting.
10. D-Generation X v. Legacy: Hell In A Cell 2009
The duo of second generation superstars in Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. had been running amok across the recently reformed Triple H and Shawn Michaels for quite some time. It was only a matter of time before things escalated to the level of the cell.
Legacy attacked DX while they were still making their way down the entrance ramp. The vets are savaged before they even reach the giant cage. Triple H eats a Cross Rhodes on the steel ramp while his partner is dragged into the cell by himself. Cody and Ted take turns trying to destroy the knee of the Heartbreak Kid, hoping to remove the kicks from his arsenal. Shawn gets a few bursts in, but ultimately succumbs to the numbers game. After trying to break into the cell with a chair, Triple H appears to leave the arena while his partner is demolished. He eventually returns with bolt cutters and begins to even the odds. DiBiase is hit with a Pedigree and left outside of the cage as Hunter relocks the cage, leaving Cody outnumbered. He falls to a tandem Sweet Chin Music and sledgehammer shot, giving the veterans the win.
I didn’t mean to discuss the entire plot of the match, but the plot is the main reason I included it. It’s really basic storytelling told on an elevated level and done VERY effectively. Plus, that kick/hammer is such a great and underrated moment all by itself.
9. Sasha Banks v. Charltote Flair: Hell In A Cell 2016
Before I even get started, this match deserves consideration based solely on how important it was. The first ever cell match with women wrestlers? Hell yeah.
Now, I’ll admit something. As much as I love Charlotte and Sasha (which is a lot, by the way), I do think that the importance and the historic quality of this match does end up outweighing the actual match work by a little, but the story is more than enough to sell it.
Charlotte and Sasha were the real rivalry highlight of WWE in 2016. Their back and forth series, while perhaps not great for the belt, produced some of the best women’s matches the company had ever seen before. Sasha as the arrogant boss, entering the cell with the championship. Charlotte as the dominant queen, who still hadn’t ever lost a one on one match at a PPV. Their offense is innovative, starting with a beatdown before the match begins, a powerbomb through the announce desk, and fighting off the medical staff to properly start the match. It does feel like they wanted more spots than they actually got, perhaps due to Sasha being too small to break a table on her own, but what they did manage to land was monumental to say the least.
8. Undertaker v. Randy Orton: Armageddon 2005
I honestly don’t know how other people rank a lot of these matches, so this might be where some of my bias comes into play. Early Orton is one of my all-time favorites, and his Mania match with Undertaker is probably in my top 5 matches of The Streak. That was the beginning of the feud; this match was the end.
This match gets bloody almost immediately, as Undertaker attacks with a chair and Orton attacks with steel steps. The carnage continues as Cowboy Bob Orton tries to help his son via distraction, until Undertaker attacks his arm and kicks him through the cage, causing the elder Orton to begin bleeding as well. The Legend Killer is able to dodge a punch that ends up knocking out the referee, and he takes advantage when the cage is opened to bring in a new ref. Cowboy Bob comes in with the urn and attempts to blindside Undertaker, but that plan doesn’t work either.
The psychology isn’t quite as strong as their WrestleMania 21 match, seeing Orton reverse the Tombstone into one of his own certainly helps it to be a worthy successor.
7. Kurt Angle v. The Rock v. Triple H v. Undertaker v. Stone Cold Steve Austin v. Rikishi: Armageddon 2000
By this point, there were several massively important Hell In A Cell matches, but I believe that this Armageddon match deserves a lot of credit for making this match the mythical beast it has become.
It’s not easy to fit this much of your main event talent (and also Rikishi) into one match and have it work out, but this works because it becomes a brawl immediately. There are times when a match needs psychology and storytelling to work, and there are times when it just needs spots and memorable moments. With six men in (but mostly out of) a cage, it’s hard to focus too much on stories, but we do luckily instead get Stone Cold devastating Triple H on top of a car on the entrance ramp. There’s a lot of great back and forth in the ring between Kurt Angle and The Rock, but the real obvious highlight is seeing Undertaker chokeslam Rikish from the top of the cell onto a convenient truckbed filled with hay. Does the reason for the truck being there make much sense? No, not really, but there’s no time to care about that. Hell In A Cell is about moments, and that is one that will live on.
6. Batista v. Undertaker: Survivor Series 2007
Another feud that began at WrestleMania, much of the story was around Batista working to finally overcome his rival. After winning the first match, Undertaker missed a bit of the year due to injury. In this time, Batista was able to finally win the World Heavyweight Championship that he couldn’t get earlier. Batista was able to defeat the returning Deadman in a regular singles match, but an overall tie was no possible way to end this rivalry.
This match features not only the revenge story, but several memorable spots as well. Batista puts Undertaker through a table via powerbomb for one of his nearfalls, which the Deadman answers by landing a Tombstone Piledriver on top of the steel steps for another nearfall. The key to the match happens when the ref is pulled out of the ring just before he hits the three-count by one of the cameramen, who happens to be Edge in disguise. Another former champion returning from injury, the Rated R Superstar takes out his aggressions on Taker, including a few steel chair shots to the head, and finally drags Batista’s arm onto the lifeless body of the challenger.
5. Seth Rollins v. Dean Ambrose: Hell In A Cell 2014
Several of these matches have been from the best rivalries of their respective years, and it’s always tough to declare something an “all-time great” when it’s still relatively young, but I firmly believe that the Rollins/Ambrose feud from 2014 (and beyond) will go down as one of the best rivalries in WWE history.
Many times, the best rivalries come from a history of teamwork and friendship. When one of them stabs the other in the back, that’s where the true aggression really comes from, as seen with on-again-off-again frenemies Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Dean and Seth had just that; the Shield had been a dominant force in the company since their debut in late 2012. They collectively had tag team championships and a record-setting United States Championship run. All that ended in the summer of 2014 during their feud with a reunited Evolution, when Triple H executed his Plan B and had Seth attack his brothers with a chair. Ambrose chased down Rollins all year long, which naturally culminated inside Hell In A Cell.
Being the Lunatic Fringe that he is, Dean chooses to climb straight to the top of the cell immediately. Alongside his “security” lackeys, Rollins heads up as well and the brawl begins. After countless kendo stick shots and the start of a climb back down, a swift headbutt sends both men falling into separate announce desks. The crowd is going crazy and the match hasn’t even started yet. The action doesn’t slow down once they finally get in the ring, though it does confusingly end with a surprise Bray Wyatt attack. Regardless, few long-term feuds in the past few years have come anywhere near the Rollins/Ambrose feud, let alone dreamed of topping them.
4. Triple H v. Cactus Jack: No Way Out 2000
With these last four, I assume three of them are at the top of everyone’s lists, and one of them I’m just trying to make sure that it holds a place down near the top like it should. This match isn’t the surprise, but they all honestly deserve to be #1 in some fashion or other.
Triple H offered the hardcore Mick Foley a chance for his WWF Championship and even allowed him to set the stipulation. Foley chose Hell In A Cell, but Triple H added that if Cactus lost, he would have to retire from wrestling. You attempt to force a beloved character to retire, and you’ve got the audience hooked already.
These two men had a brutal rivalry throughout 2000, and they brought the weapons out quick. There’s a lot of work with chair shots and Cactus’ special 2×4 wrapped in barbed wire (that would later be set on fire). After the steel steps get thrown around a bit, a hole is actually formed in the wall of the cell, and Foley escapes. He lands a piledriver on the announce desk before they move to the top of the cell. Here’s what you’ve been waiting for.
Cactus attempts another piledriver, but Triple H flips him over his head. He falls through the cell roof, which is expected, but he also falls through the ring, making a Mick Foley-shaped crater in the corner. Triple H makes his way down, hits a Pedigree, and retires the legendary superstar.
3. Shawn Michaels v. Undertaker: In Your House- Bad Blood 1997
It’s hard to argue against the first ever Hell In A Cell match belonging on this list, especially when it’s still as good as it is. It is kinda funny to think that it was only a title contendership that was on the line, but most cell matches are just over grudges anyways.
Undertaker absolutely controls almost the entire match, Shawn can’t get any offense in for the longest time. In the midst of the brawl, one of the cameramen is injured, forcing the cell door to be opened. Undertaker takes Michaels outside and begins throwing him into the cell wall, causing the Heartbreak Kid to begin bleeding pretty badly. They climb to the top and fight, but as Shawn begins to make his way down, Undertaker steps on his fingers, forcing him to fall off the cage and through an announce table.
Back in the ring after a few chair shots, Michaels lay unconscious while Undertaker prepares to end the match. The lights go out, and when they come back, Paul Bearer is leading a mysterious red-and-black man to the cell. It’s the demon, Kane, Undertaker’s long-lost brother. He rips the door right off the cell, attacks the referee, and hits Undertaker with the Tombstone Piledriver. Michaels escapes with the win by crawling over to him and getting a one-armed pin.
2. Undertaker v. Triple H: WrestleMania 28
At WrestleMania 27, Undertaker defeated Triple H in a No Holds Barred match. However, he was in such rough shape that he needed to be carted out of the ring afterwards. He couldn’t let that be the lasting image of The Streak, so he challenged Triple H to a rematch. Hunter eventually accepted, but adding that would be inside Hell In A Cell, with special guest referee Shawn Michaels.
Just on paper, there isn’t a whole lot to specifically mention. This is my “surprise” match, though I’m not implying people don’t like it, but I doubt it has the same legacy as these others. This isn’t a match of high spots and vast danger; this is how you do a cell match focused purely on psychology. Triple H beats down the Deadman repeatedly with help of his trusty sledgehammer, demanding that Michaels call the match before he does something worse. Undertaker refuses to surrender, even though he can barely stand up on his own. After the Cerebral Assassin sets up Undertaker for a head shot with the hammer, Shawn takes the hammer and throws it out of the ring.
Undertaker survives multiple weapon attacks, a couple Pedigrees, and even a Sweet Chin Music from the referee, but won’t stay down. He’s able to hit one more Tombstone for the win, extending his streak to 20-0. The lasting image of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels helping Triple H up the ramp is iconic as Michael Cole calls it “the end of an era”.
1. Undertaker v. Mankind: King Of The Ring 1998
If you’ve seen at least one Hell In A Cell match, you’ve seen this match. I like to be a little divisive with lists sometimes, but there’s just no arguing with this one. It’s so iconic that even non-wrestling fans can quote Jim Ross’ top-notch commentary from the high spots during this match.
There’s almost nothing I can possibly say about this match that hasn’t already been said. I’ll let video do the talking for me.
Good God almighty, that killed him!
Will somebody stop the damn match?
As God as my witness, he is broken in half!
EVERYBODY basically knows those lines, and this is why. Hell, Foley lost a tooth falling through the cell ceiling and then brought thumbtacks into match. Mick was a supreme glutton for punishment, but he has an everlasting legacy because of it, and I thank him for that.
What is your favorite Hell In A Cell match? Any underrated matches that I missed? Do you think Kevin Owens v. Shane McMahon or New Day v. Usos will be able to add themselves to the list after Sunday? Let me know what you think in the comments, or on Twitter.