‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series. It is dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker | Hell In A Cell is that match.
On October 5th, 1997, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker fought in WWE’s first-ever Hell in a Cell (HIAC) match. This match set the standard for all future HIAC. And now, after twenty-three years, it has yet to be surpassed in terms of quality or memorability. And that isn’t just because it was a great in-ring match; but also because of how awesome the story was.
For this match also included the best wrestling debut in WWE history. It marked the debut of Kane, and started one of the best feuds in wrestling history.
Today we look back at this legendary match from twenty-three years ago to see just how good the HIAC stipulation used to be. It’s the first-ever Cell match featuring two of WWE’s biggest stars ever, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
A convergence of stories
Badd Blood 1997 was a convergence point between several storylines. First, there was the war between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. These two men despised each other, both on camera and off.
Yet they briefly put that aside at SummerSlam 1997, when Hart defended his WWE Championship against The Undertaker. Michaels was the special guest referee in that match and played a key role in the finish. After Bret spat on Shawn, Shawn swung a chair at Bret. But Bret dodged and Shawn hit Undertaker instead, costing him the match.
Unfortunately for Undertaker, Shawn never went anywhere alone. He was accompanied by his DX buddies, who interfered in his matches and helped him whenever possible. So whenever Undertaker sought revenge, DX would screw him over.
Thus, even the odds, a new, never-before-seen stipulation was introduced: Hell In A Cell. This was a steel cage on steroids: a monstrous structure with a roof and extended space by the ring. There was no escape once the door was locked shut. With this, Undertaker would finally get Shawn alone without interference or shenanigans.
But this wasn’t the only story the Undertaker had to deal with. While Shawn and DX were his immediate problems, there was another, more distant yet enduring problem. Paul Bearer had been taunting Undertaker for months claiming ‘Kane’, his younger brother, wasn’t dead as ‘Taker had presumed.
Bearer claimed Kane had survived the fire that had burned their childhood home and that it was ‘Taker that had started it. Week after week, Bearer warned that Kane was coming, but no one knew when. Yet by Fall 1997, that story took a backseat to Taker vs. Michaels because both of them were two of the biggest stars in the company that wasn’t the champion.
Hell In A Cell | Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker
The war begins
The usually-cocky Shawn Michaels came in with a nervous look on his face. After failing to find an escape, Undertaker began to exact his revenge. And since none of Shawn’s flunkies could help him, ‘Taker could take his sweet time, which he did. ‘Taker was methodical in pummeling Shawn, moving slowly and without urgency. And anytime Shawn tried to mount any offense, Undertaker used his power advantage to stop him dead in his tracks. Of course, Shawn was a hated man at this point. So much so that some fans yelled ‘make him bleed’ at Undertaker because they despite Michaels that much. Luckily for them, they’d get their wish later on.
Shawn tried his best to find an escape, mostly with punches. He knew he couldn’t out-power The Undertaker, so he resorted to his typical underhanded tactics by landing quick counters and surprise attacks. But those tactics didn’t weaken the Undertaker at all; if anything, they just made him angrier.
Undertaker’s advantage came to an end once Shawn started using the Cell as a weapon. He dove into ‘Taker, sending both of them crashing into the cell wall. He landed a diving splash by climbing the cell. Then he used another steel weapon – steel steps – to demolish the Undertaker’s back just like how ‘Taker had done to Shawn earlier in the same match.
But that wasn’t enough for Shawn, he brought out a steel chair – the very same item that started this feud – and smashed it into the Undertaker’s back. Hard. But not even that was enough to keep the Undertaker down. With no other option, Shawn resorted to even more villainous tactics: he attacked someone that wasn’t even in the match, the cameraman.
In doing so, referee Earl Hebner, who had locked the cell door earlier, now had to unlock it. He had to think of the safety and well-being of an innocent bystander that was the victim of Shawn Michaels’ vile behavior. And so, the cell door was unlocked, allowing Shawn to escape.
Hell In A Cell | Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker
Making the most out of the cell
With both men free of the cell’s confines, it was time to really make the most out of the Cell as a weapon. Within seconds of escape, Undertaker catapulted Shawn face-first into the cell wall causing him to bleed. Not satisfied, Undertaker javelin-tossed Shawn face-first into cell right afterward, much to the delight of the audience. But Shawn managed to avoid further punishment by landing a low blow. He thought he could escape the Undertaker by climbing onto the roof of the cage.
He was wrong.
Undertaker chased Shawn onto the roof and then back body dropped him onto it. The audience screamed throughout this scene, not sure of what was going to happen next. The wrestlers were in uncharted territory. Nothing of this sort had ever been seen before anywhere. So the audience watched with bated breath at the tense, unpredictable action that was unfolding. Undertaker grated Shawn’s face into the cell as blood poured down onto the camera lens. Still not done, Undertaker then press slammed Shawn into the cell, hellbent on even more destruction.
Then, as Shawn tried to climb down, Undertaker cut him off again. He stomped on Michaels’s hands, sending him flying off the cell wall and through the announcer’s table. JR then screamed that Shawn was ‘broken in half’, which was fully believable given how badly Undertaker had demolished him.
Not the ending that everyone expected
Minutes later, a crimson-masked Shawn Michaels got tossed back into the ring and the cell door was closed again. Undertaker grabbed the same steel chair that Shawn brought out and smashed his head in, getting some sweet poetic justice in the process. Then, as he signaled for the Tombstone, everyone thought that was the end, that Shawn would be defeated.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the lights went out for a moment.
Then a strange quartet of notes on what sounded like a demonic organ played in the arena.
That was followed by an ominous red glow as two figures entered the arena. One was a gleeful Paul Bearer. The second, much taller than Bearer, marched to the ring, his face hidden by a red-and-black mask.
Then the iconic call left Vince McMahon’s mouth.
‘THAT’S GOTTA…THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE! THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!’
A gobsmacked Undertaker looked on as Kane ripped the cell door off its hinges effortlessly and smashed Earl Hebner into the cell door. Then Kane entered the ring and stood face-to-face with his brother. Then Kane summoned his hellfire and Tombstoned his brother.
As Kane left, Shawn Michaels – who hadn’t moved in minutes – crawled over to pin the Undertaker. He had a visual pin on ’Taker for a good thirty seconds, but it took Earl Hebner longer to get in and count the pin, given that he had been attacked by Kane. And Hebner made one of the slowest three-counts in WWE history, yet it was enough to give Shawn a technical victory.
Hell In A Cell | Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker
It’s often said that the first of any match type is usually the best, and this is no exception. This was the best HIAC match ever, bar none. This is because as a storytelling event, it was superb. It was the best WWE story ever executed in one single match. Everything made perfect sense here in terms of how the match unfolded, how the twists and turns were executed, and how the war concluded,
Everyone got something out of this match. The Undertaker got to exact his revenge on Shawn Michaels by beating him to a bloody pulp. The fans, who loathed Michaels, got to see the jerk get what he deserved while also witnessing history unfold with the first-ever Cell match. And their bloodthirst was complemented by insane risks and nail-biting suspense once the wrestlers escaped the cell and began brawling around and on top of it. And Shawn got a win for the history books thanks to the pro wrestling equivalent of divine intervention.
It was a perfect way to end the match and develop the intertwining stories perfectly. Shawn got his “win” over the Undertaker, allowing him to challenge Bret Hart for the WWF/E Championship. The Undertaker would have to put his championship aspirations on hold since he now had a new threat that was WAY higher on his priorities list.
Kane had THE best wrestling debut in history.
He came in at the perfect time. His first appearance was hyped up yet still unexpected. He came in like a wrecking ball (pardon the pun) and did more damage to the Undertaker with one move than all the damage Shawn had done since the bell first rang. One Tombstone from Kane basically put ‘Taker out for a full minute, such as Kane’s power. That benefitted both Shawn and Undertaker because Shawn got the technical victory and Undertaker was protected in losing because it took an act of incredible supernatural force to stop him from defeating Shawn.
With this shocking turn of events, more questions arose that left the fans guessing (and therefore, wanting more). How would Undertaker react to seeing Kane? How would the rest of the roster react to him, given how easily he destroyed the most powerful supernatural force in WWE? When would the Undertaker get his vengeance on Shawn and DX again, if at all? Was Shawn ready to face his archrival, Bret Hart, for the world title again?
To this day, this match remains a masterpiece. It’s one of the best WWE matches ever and still holds up well. Although there have been HIAC matches that’ve been longer, more shocking, had more people in it, and have had crazier spots, none of them hold a candle to this iconic contest. It’s incredibly rare for a wrestling match, much less a WWE wrestling match, to have all its storytelling elements come together so perfectly. Yet this match did just that, making it a legendary piece of wrestling history. Seek this out immediately.
Hell In A Cell | Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker From In Your House Badd Blood 1997