Leading up to Badd Blood 1997, D-Generation X was relatively brand new, containing then WWE European Champion, Shawn Michaels, alongside Triple H, Chyna and WWE legend “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Michaels had already accomplished tremendous feats in the company, and had just one a Grand Slam Championship a month before, defeating The British Bulldog at WWE One Night Only in England.
One month later at the In Your House pay-per-view, Michaels was brought forth into the Hell in a Cell Match against a future WWE Hall of Famer, The Undertaker, in a number one contender’s match for the WWE Championship. It would be the very first match of this kind, and in terms of in-ring wrestling, the mentality of both wrestlers and the many facets to take away in this match, it may not only be the best one in history, but one of the best matches in the history of the company as well.
Cage matches were nothing new, with memories of Jimmy Snuka jumping off the top of the blue steel structure onto Don Muraco in 1983, to Mankind emulating him at SummerSlam 1997, and dating back to the classic WWE Championship match between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff on Saturday Night’s Main Event in 1987, with both men touching the floor with their feet in controversial fashion. We can name dozens before, yet we had never seen anything like the intimidating construction of the Cell.
It was kind of like a mixture of the nostalgic blue steel, mixed with the same cage WCW used for their War Games matches, only it covered around the ring as well, a couple of yards away from the fan barricade. There was no escaping the Cell, and this was billed as the perfect match for The Undertaker (who had already had the Casket Match as his playground, too).
Early on in the match, “The Phenom” utilized the outside of the ring, physically battering Shawn Michaels from pillar to post – selling how dangerous it was to be inside, while “The Heartbreak Kid” took bump after bump. The way these men used the cage, which had not been seen before, was extra special because it took two great wrestling minds to come together and know exactly what to do – and where to be – at the right times.
Nobody could have called the spots in this match. Everyone in the arena were on their feet when both wrestlers climbed to the top of the cage, battling it out with the fear that one man would be tossed off. With Michaels trying to escape, the fondest memory of this match is when Taker steps on his hands and Michaels crashes down on the Spanish announce table.
The violence in this match was unbelievable as well. Michaels, wearing the crimson mask, was extremely bloodied by the conclusion of the bout. It was pretty surprising how opened up he was, as we had never seen Michaels that red in the face until that moment.
This match was monumental because it set the tone for the many historical and popular Hell in A Cell matches that preceded it, but it was also a learning process. We found out that Shawn Michaels was not only a versatile, high-flying athlete who accentuated the art of wrestling inside the squared circle – he was the ultimate entertainer and the biggest risk taker when it came to his own body. He was able to excel in a match where he took most of the lickings, and proved as he did many times before in the nineties that he was able to have great matches with men a lot bigger than him (Kevin Nash, Sid Vicious, Vader).
Michaels also lashed out and attacked camera men inside the Cell, which ultimately promoted his heel gimmick – which was out in full force a month later at Survivor Series 1997, where he and Vince McMahon were at the center of the infamous Montreal Screwjob against Bret Hart.
It was a special match for Michaels, which showed how he was able to adapt to any scenario, whether it be his performance skills or his personal contributions to pro wrestling.
As for The Undertaker, he let Michaels beat him up for a while and showed how dominant he was by using Michaels as a ragdoll for most of the contest. The man from Death Valley was an incredible worker for his size, and this match was only the beginning for these two – not only would they meet at Royal Rumble in a Casket Match three months later, but also had epic duels at WrestleMania 25 and 26, respectively.
It also helped build the feud of “The Phenom” with Paul Bearer, as his brother, Kane, made his debut and cost The Undertaker this match by delivering a Tombstone (which was pretty difficult on the eye). A masked Kane towered over his brother, and this was one of the most eerie situations in the history of WWE – the most feared competitor in all of the company looked soft besides his brother in red who looked straight out hell.
Let us face it, too, Vince McMahon had big plans for HBK and Taker put him over – twice, if you include Royal Rumble. Of course, Michaels did not do it alone and both those matches ended with help of others, yet he still won and he still went on to hold the title up until WrestleMania 14. The Undertaker was truly, “best for business,” as we hear those words quite often today.
It was simply a dynamic experience; something new and fresh, but something that we may have felt was too dangerous for the WWE – and we could not get enough of it moving forward. Not only was it gripping, it also had us on the edge of our seats. How much violence would we be seeing? And how much was too much for McMahon’s company?
Most of the fandom does remember this match and how dazzling it was. It is a shame that it does not get more recognition leading up to Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, however with the amount of gruesome scenes this battle had, and if young audiences need to be educated on how the promotion put on matches that we will never see ever again, this is a prime example.