WWE.com interview (10/10/03)
Six years ago: the first Hell in a Cell
By Phil Speer

Six years ago this week, on Oct. 5, 1997 in St. Louis, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker battled in the first-ever Hell in a Cell.

“It was our first time doing a match that nobody had seen, which is always exciting,” Michaels told WWE.com. “I knew as we were doing it that it was a really good match. And obviously when it was over, I knew it was really good. We’d done something that was groundbreaking and special. I like being part of a really good product, and we definitely created one.”

Undertaker said, “I don’t think anyone really understood what a weapon it was going to be. And no one foresaw people getting out of it and going on top of it. I think even to this day, it sets the standard for when you’ve got a situation where there’s got to be a final close or a must-winner. I think it calls for a Hell in a Cell.”

Indeed, Hell in a Cell has become just that for WWE. The ultimate, brutal culmination of a rivalry that otherwise cannot be settled. For Undertaker and the Heartbreak Kid, for example, the match was ordered after weeks of ‘Taker trying to get his hands on HBK, but Michaels somehow escaping. But there was no escaping the Hell in a Cell, or so it was thought.

Their epic encounter, which lastly nearly one hour, featured Shawn Michaels falling off the side of the cage, one of the most memorable falls in WWE history at the time. (It also featured the debut of Kane.)

But the match was more than just “bumps.” Although subsequent Hell in a Cells may have featured more memorable specific instances, Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels was the best Hell in a Cell overall, the participants said. It also ranks near the top of both Superstars’ lists of their all-time best matches.

“That’s definitely one of my favorites,” HBK said. “The two of us in the ring, his presence and mine, the size difference, that huge structure -- it’s a match that, creatively, is set when you get in the ring. You don’t have to search for anything (and) you don’t have to struggle to get anybody to (get the crowd into it).”

Subsequent Hell in a Cell competitors knew there was no way they could outdo HBK-‘Taker in terms of match quality. Mick Foley has discussed that fact many times, saying that it’s the main reason he opted to climb to the top of the structure right off the bat for his Hell in a Cell with Undertaker, the second one ever, at King of the Ring ’98.

“When I saw Mick after that, he paid me a wonderful compliment,” Michaels said.

“He said, ‘Shawn, I knew I couldn’t go out there and follow the match that you and ‘Taker had. So the only thing I could think of was to go to the top."

Undertaker said that the first Hell in a Cell was the best “by far, although the one with Mankind in Pittsburgh was off the charts as far as the violence, the falls, throwing Mankind off the cage and chokeslamming him through it. Those were instances. But I think for overall match quality, the first one is by far the best. It’s going to be tough to top that one.” He added, “I would put that up there, probably, with my top five best matches of all, even though I lost the match due to Kane and all that. It was probably one of the finest hours for the Undertaker because of the sheer dominance that came across during the match.”

In all, there have been nine Hell in a Cells in WWE, including the infamous Kennel in a Cell between Al Snow and Big Boss Man at Unforgiven ’99. Most recently, Triple H defeated Kevin Nash at Bad Blood in Houston.

Undertaker has been in five of the matches, which he says is logical because the Hell in a Cell suits his style. “I’m the kind of guy that’s going to beat you until you can’t get up anymore,” he said.

It’s been said that matches like the Hell in a Cell, as well as the Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match and the Elimination Chamber, are career-shorteners.

“You’re trained and you’re conditioned to a lot of what happens in a normal wrestling ring,” Undertaker said. “But it’s virtually impossible to train or prepare yourself for the trauma that your body’s going to take inside the Cell. You’re going to run into things, and people are going to run you into things in that Cell that just don’t give. And now that the match itself is so famous, you lay a lot more of yourself on the line for that match because you know what people expect.”

More than one Superstar, the day after a Cell match, once the adrenaline has worn off and the muscles have tightened, has compared the feeling to being “hit by a bus.”

You might say Michaels paved the way six years ago during the first-ever Hell in a Cell. He was beat pillar to post and bled profusely.

“Ideally, you don’t ever want to bleed that much,” he said with a chuckle. “The cut wouldn’t shut. It slowed down a little bit, but then when I went in the shower and the heat hit it, it just started (bleeding) all over the place. So I had to go to the emergency room that night and get 15 stitches on the inside and 15 stitches on the outside.”

Undertaker says he probably lost more blood than at any time in his career when Triple H hit him with a sledgehammer leading up to their match at WrestleMania X-Seven, “but as far as a match itself, (the Hell in a Cell against Brock Lesnar at No Mercy ’02) was probably the most I’ve ever bled.”

Undertaker says he probably lost more blood than at any time in his career when Triple H hit him with a sledgehammer leading up to their match at WrestleMania X-Seven, “but as far as a match itself, (the Hell in a Cell against Brock Lesnar at No Mercy ’02) was probably the most I’ve ever bled.”

Both Michaels and Undertaker said that a competitor simply can’t think about how badly he’s going to be beat up after battling in a Cell.

“It’s kind of a given that you’re going to step into the Cell and you’re going to lose blood and break bones,” ‘Taker said. “That’s just how it goes. You know the ramifications before you step into the Cell. You don’t really worry about what’s going to happen afterwards.”

Michaels said, “Except for my (match at WrestleMania XIV against Stone Cold Steve Austin), I never once thought about coming out of a match and wondering how I was going to feel. You know getting into this line of work that it’s going to be hard, so that was never really an issue.”

Unfortunately, Michaels was forced to retire (not for good, it would turn out) beginning less than six months after the first Hell in a Cell, although he says that’s just a coincidence and that his four-year-plus hiatus had more to do with overall wear and tear.

“I never thought about the end of my career or getting hurt,” he said. “And that’s probably one of the reasons that, when it did happen, it was a little difficult for me to deal with.”

By the time Michaels wrestled in what he thought would be his last match – in March 29, 1998 at WrestleMania XIV – he had already solidified his legacy as one of the best. One reason for that was his performance on Oct. 5, 1997 in the first-ever Hell in a Cell – a match that started a trend, a match for which the Undertaker has become somewhat synonymous, and a match that fans still tell Michaels six years later is one of their favorites.

“Wrestling fans express that,” HBK said. “When people bring it up as being something they really enjoy … getting accolades and recognition from fans, I think anybody would be a liar if they said that’s not one of the reasons they do this job. That’s great to have. Nobody gets tired of hearing somebody say, ‘Hey, that was really great.’”

Added the Undertaker, “You never know what’s going to transpire, what’s going to happen. It was definitely not my motivation to start a trend, but I think for now and the near future, when you think of Hell in a Cell, you have to think of the Undertaker. Hell in a Cell is something that sparks a fire in people. When you’re name is synonymous with something like that, it’s a cool feeling.”

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