– Compare and contrast time, kids. Since the only real point of comparison for the Mankind-Undertaker match was the last match involving Hell in a Cell, let’s set the way-back machine for October, 1997…
– Live from St. Louis, MO
– Your hosts are Vince, JR and the King.
– Opening match: Rocky Maivia, Kama Mustafa & D-Lo Brown v. The Legion of Doom. Scheduled partner Ken Shamrock is injured, so the OLD go 3 on 2. Tentative “Rocky Sucks” chant near the beginning, which gets louder as we go along. Crowd isn’t really responding positively to the OLD, however — it’s all negative reaction to Rocky. Really, really dull segment with Hawk and Kama follows, but Rocky DDTs Animal (drawing more chants) and the Nation takes over. The crowd is silent when D-Lo or Kama is in, and gets on Rocky as soon as he comes in. Wild. Rocky debuts the BALLSHOT OF DOOM here. Kama misses the Ho Train and Animal makes the false tag, which allows D-Lo to frog splash him for two while the ref escorts Hawk out. Hot tag for real and a brawl breaks out. LOD goes for the Doomsday Device, but Faarooq comes out to draw Animal’s attention, and Rocky hits the Rock Bottom (not called as such) for the pin. 1/4*
– Vince announces the cancellation of the Pillman-Dude Love match due to Pillman’s death.
– Tarantula & Mosaic v. Max Mini & Nova. You might know Max Mini better today as current ECW champion Taz, while Nova went on to become Chris Candido. Yeah, I know, if in doubt, go for the midget joke. They seem to be blowing a lot of spots here, possibly due to lack of preparation. There’s a few nice spots, but the rest of the match has zero flow. Max pins Tarantula after an armdrag-into-crucifix move that probably sounded better in theory than it ended up looking in execution. **
– WWF Tag team title match: The Headbangers v. The Godwinns. Sunny the Crack Whore does ring intro duty. This was during the Uncle Cletus (the Dirty White Plumber) period for the Godwinns. Crowd couldn’t give a shit about the Godwinns. The Bangers, bless their souls, try really hard, but the magnitude of suck is just too much to overcome. If only Mark Canterbury and Dennis Knight weren’t such good company men, maybe Vince wouldn’t feel the need to reward them with the tag belts on every repackaging. The champs dominate the Godwinns with double-team moves, but a cheap shot on Thrasher turns the tide. This is *such* an unspeakably horrible and boring match. The crowd might as well be at a Thunder taping for all the noise they’re making. After about 18 hours, Mosh gets the hot tag and the Bangers wake up the crowd with more double-team stuff. Mosh comes off the top with an ugly rana attempt, but Phineas catches him with an ugly powerbomb for the pin and the titles, which was the decision NO ONE wanted to see. The title reign would only last two days, before the OLD won their last tag title. 1/4*
– Review of the series of announcer-stunnings that added the last element to Steve Austin’s character that was needed to put him over the top as the authority-hating rebel.
– St. Louis legends segment, which is very classy and well-done, and also helps to eat up time that was supposed to be used by the Pillman angle.
– Intercontinental title tournament final: Faarooq v. Owen Hart. For those wondering why there’s a heel v. heel tournament final, it was supposed to be Owen v. Ahmed Johnson, which actually would have had intrigue and stuff, but Ahmed got injured or injured someone (it’s hard to keep track after a while) and was on suspension or injury leave or whatever, so Faarooq got stuck back in there. Steve Austin comes down to ringside and commandeers the timekeeper’s table. He does color commentary and improvises a little routine, but sounds like he’s on the verge of breaking down and crying, which he disguises with bluster. Owen just looks totally out of it, too. Faarooq throws Owen around for a while, but Owen comes back and goes to work on the knee. Meanwhile, Austin terrorizes the various announcing teams. Faarooq misses a legdrop and Owen goes for the Sharpshooter. Faarooq escapes and gets a powerslam for two, which draws Jim Neidhart to ringside as a spinebuster gets two. Faarooq leans up against the ropes and Austin smacks him in the head with the IC title belt, and Owen gets the pin and his second title. See, Austin wanted Owen to get the title so he could win it from him. Match was a total yawner.
Wanna know how nicely some things end up where you least expect it? Because of this match, Faarooq started making challenges to Steve Austin, leading to a sort of unspoken feud between Austin and the Nation. After Survivor Series, Rocky Maivia made the first challenge to Austin’s title, and that was the feud that launched the careers of Austin and the newly dubbed Rock into the stratosphere.
– Bonus match: Los Boriquas v. DOA. Which one is Konnan and which is Rey Mysterio Jr? And where’s Master P? Off another tangent relating to that joke, you what would be the sweetest thing to see, ever? WCW trying to run the Master P angle in Sturgis at Road Wild in August. I would buy a f*cking plane ticket and front row seats to that show, just to see the reaction of the audience of bikers and shitkickers. And you know what the scary part is? I can see WCW actually attempting something with Master P as the babyface for that show! Anyway, back to this: DOA were always kind of political victims. Back when they made their debut as a gang in mid-97, DOA was hugely over, but because Vince’s braintrust thought it best to push the visible minority groups (Hispanic Boriquas, black Nation and retarded Truth Commission), the DOA inevitably got jobbed out in every match, until finally by this point any heat they initially had was gone. And the Nation didn’t get over until mid-98, when a feud with DX necessitated them all having personalities so DX could spoof them. Anyway, back to the match: …well, really I have nothing to say. It’s another horribly boring match in a series of them tonight. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, you’re reading this review for the Hell in the Cell match, just like I’m watching this show again for the same reason, and the only reason I’m even bothering to watch the entire show is to pay lip service to the review format and satiate the large number of people who bug me for this show. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: If you’re not reading this, I don’t blame you, because I’m not watching that closely. Crush gets a tilt-a-whirl slam on Jose for the pin, and big pop. See what I mean about DOA being over? Vince could have had something huge with these guys, at the very least a new form of Demolition with Brian Lee and Crush. Oh well, hindsight and all that… DUD
– Flag match: Bret Hart & Davey Boy Smith v. The Patriot & Vader. Funny thing: Go to the WWF’s King of the Ring site (www.kingofthering.com) and check out the photo gallery for 1996, specifically picture #10. It’s a picture of Vader doing a pump splash to Jake Roberts, and the title of the webpage will make you shit yourself. Big brawl to start here, as Hart and Smith use the flags as weapons. Match finally kicks off with Bulldog and Patriot. Bulldog gets dominated and tags out to Bret, who gets pummelled by Vader to a big pop. Vader was actually pretty over as a babyface, revisionist claptrap of Vader apologists aside. Patriot and Bulldog both get punked making a try for their flag. Pretty boring match so far. Bret tries a Sharpshooter on the Patriot, who reverses it for one of his own. Patriot tries to sneak up and grab the flag during a dogpile, but gets tossed off and into the Ricky Morton role. Doesn’t last long as Vader gets the hot tag and destroys Bulldog. The Harts nail him and go to work, however. Patriot comes in without a tag and it’s allowed for some reason. Harts kick *his* too, however. Man, this is a long match. Vader gets another hot tag and misses the moonsault on Bulldog, but lands on his feet and nails Bulldog anyway. Brawl breaks out and Bret clocks Vader with the bell. That enables more beatings from the Harts, until a fan charges the ring and gets the shit kicked out of him. Patriot hits Uncle Slam on Bret and Vader hits the Vaderbomb, but Bret reverses the Patriot’s rollup for the pin. Really long match at around half an hour, and pretty dull. **1/4
– Hell in the Cell: Shawn Michaels v. The Undertaker. This was the final result of Summerslam 97, where Shawn reffed the UT-Bret title match, and ended up f*cking up and hitting UT with a chair to give Bret the WWF title. They had a wild match at Ground Zero, and then Shawn was forced into a tag match with HHH, and D-Generation X was formed. After another couple of weeks of incredibly obnoxious antics on Shawn’s part, this match was signed. And the general concensus was that Shawn was dead meat. DX tries to accompany Shawn, but get sent back. Shawn tries to avoid UT, who slowly stalks him around ringside. He runs into the ring and right into a big boot. UT rams him to the turnbuckle, and again, which Shawn sells bigtime. He goes for the chokeslam but Shawn kicks him in the shin and hammers away. UT shrugs it off and reverses a whip, sending Shawn crashing to the corner. UT with a wristlock, and he slams into Shawn’s shoulder a few times, then does the ropewalk. Shawn oversells again. UT with a headbutt and choking. Slam and legdrop for two. Michaels is dazed, and UT backdrops him to the heavens. Shawn gets up so UT knocks him on ass several times, and then tosses him over the top rope in a wicked bump for Shawn. He chokes Shawn against the cage, prompting Shawn to try to climb out of the cage. UT pulls him down to the floor, another wicked bump. Front row starts yelling “Make him bleed”, thus demonstrating how much Shawn was despised at this point. UT whips him into the cage, and then tears his head off witha clothesline coming back. Again. Great bumping by Shawn. The announcers are totally selling the idea of UT taking his time and destroying Shawn bit by bit. Taker tries a piledriver on the floor, but Shawn flips up and hammers on his head. UT calmly smashes the back of his head into the cage and drops him on the floor. Ouch. To the steps. UT hammers away on Shawn, and rams him backfirst into the ringpost, then to the cage, then to the ringpost, to the cage again. Crowd eats it up. This, folks, is a shitkicking of the first order. Shawn tries to push UT into the cage, but UT simply clotheslines him on the way back. He smashes Shawn into the stairs. UT whips Shawn into the cage, but Shawn uses the momentum to nail UT on the way back, giving him the advantage.
He wisely rolls back into the ring to escape the Undertaker. He nails him a few times on the way back in, but UT snaps Shawn’s neck on the top rope on the way down. Shawn comes back and knocks UT off the apron into the cage. UT keeps coming. Shawn tries a tope suicida, sending UT crashing into the cage, then he climbs halfway up the cage and drops an elbow to UT on the floor. UT keeps getting up, so Shawn clotheslines him off the apron. Shawn, getting desperate, grabs the stairs and rams them into UT’s back a few times. He piledrives Taker on the remains of the stairs and rolls back into the ring to escape again. He comes off the top rope with a double-axehandle to UT on the floor. Back in the ring, and Shawn finds a chair under the ring before returning. A shot to the back puts UT down again. UT gets up, so Shawn knocks him down again. It get two. Notice the story, as UT controlled for the first portion, while Shawn had to use his brain and every advantage possible to come back. UT tries to come back, but gets caught in the ropes and pummelled by Shawn. Shawn charges and eats a boot to the mouth, and charges again and gets backdropped over the top, onto a cameraman. He nails the cameraman (a local worker) and injures him. The medical crew opens the cage to give the guy assistance as Shawn hits UT with the flying forearm back in the ring. Shawn with the Randy Savage elbow, and he cues up the band. Superkick, but UT sits up. So Shawn runs out the door.
UT follows and they fight in the aisle. Shawn dropkicks UT, but on a second attempt gets caught and catapulted into the cage. If you go in slow motion, you can see Shawn rip the blade across his forehead in mid-air. It’s not noticeable, though, otherwise. UT rams Shawn into the cage a few times like a batterring ram. Shawn kicks him in the nuts to counter. Shawn climbs the outside of the cage to escape the increasingly crazed UT, and UT follows. They fight on the roof, and Shawn attempts a piledriver, reversed by UT to a big pop. UT grates Shawn’s face into the mesh as a neat camera angle from below lets us see it. Taker military presses Shawn onto the cage, then nails him, sending Shawn scurrying to the edge to run away. He starts to climb down the cage, so UT stomps on Shawn’s hands until he crashes to the table below. Like the Terminator, Undertaker follows and biels Shawn onto the French table, then press slams him to the remains of the Spanish table. Shawn is just bleeding all over the place. UT literally kicks Shawn’s ass around the cage, and tosses him back into the ring. Clothesline, then he puts Shawn on the top rope and chokeslams him off. UT finds his own chair and smashes it into Shawn’s face, then calls for the tombstone…and the lights go out.
The now-familiar music and red lights start, and Kane makes his first appearance. He rips the door off the hinges, does the pyro thing, and tombstones Undertaker, then leaves. Michaels pulls his blood-soaked carcass off the mat, rolls over with his last ounce of strength, and covers for the pin. D-X drags him out of the ring before the Undertaker can wake up and finish killing Shawn. Ending deducts 1/4*, but make no mistake: This is THE match of the year. ****3/4
The Bottom Line:
Okay, so why was this so much better than Foley’s version? First and foremost, the storyline and psychology was there whereas it was not in the second. In the first one, you could FEEL how close Shawn was to pissing his pants in fear every time UT no-sold one of his best shots and kept coming back for more. The psychology of the match itself was solid, too: Shawn’s signature moves (superkick, flying elbow) are shrugged off by the Undertaker, forcing Shawn to resort to foreign objects and timely running away, to the point where Shawn has to invent new ways of running away. Taking out a cameraman was a brilliant idea (straight out of a World War II prison camp movie, almost) in order to escape, for instance. The bumps, although less spectacular, are more numerous and have almost the same effect cumulatively on Shawn as the match progresses as the Two Big Bumps did on Foley. Shawn’s dive off the side of the cage was a couple of feet lower than Foley’s, but still earned “Holy Shit” honors from RSPW at the time. And there was no standing around waiting for the next move here like there was in the second one. Plus the interference (Kane in the first one, Terry Funk in the second) was much better utilized: In the first one, it’s to establish that the ONLY way Shawn could beat UT is to have his demonic half-brother do his own finisher to him…in the second one, it’s a way to kill a couple of minutes while Foley’s spleen moves back out of his throat.
Look, this is not some personal knock against Mick Foley. Hell, I said in the KOTR 98 rant that he SHOULD have won Match of the Year…just not for THAT match. I think if you watch Badd Blood’s Hell in the Cell and King of the Ring’s Hell in the Cell, it’ll become rapidly apparent who was able to carry UT to the better match, plus bump more consistently and tell the better story.
Anyway, the show is recommended ONLY for Hell in a Cell. Fast forward through the rest.