The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
WWF Badd Blood (October 5, 1997)
THE STORY has arrived full circle . . .
In Hell these men must come face to face with their demons.
An unrelenting steel chair shot from special guest referee Shawn Michaels to Undertaker’s skull cost The Phenom the World Wrestling Federation Championship at the SummerSlam PPV two months prior to the brutal finality of this event. That was the spark that ignited this blood feud.
The chaotic brawl at the Ground Zero PPV was uncontrollable, too many outside parties involved, and that’s why these two men are confined to a cell to unleash a vicious onslaught on each other. For Michaels, the match is not just about winning but to survive. For Undertaker, this is his opportunity to make Michaels pay for what he has cost him and take pleasure in showing no mercy as he gains his vengeance. Taker vowed that “Shawn Michaels would pay the ultimate price.” The cell hovered over the ring like an ominous chain-linked cloud. They were trapped with no escape from pure hell. RECOMPENSE is at hand in Hell in a Cell, not only for the sins of the Heart Break Kid but ultimately for the Deadman as well. No one leaves Hell unscathed – including a camera man and the referee.
Taker did not run after Michaels because there was nowhere to go. Undertaker was like imminent death closing in on its victim Shawn Michaels --he can be slowed down but not stopped in this battle, and he is overwhelming. That is how I would describe Undertaker’s dominance in this match. Enclosed terror personified. Taker methodically, deliberately punished Michaels. Taker made it his mission to make the pain memorable.
Shawn indeed did get his ass handed to him a plenty in this hell, but the man is still the pugnacious and resilient Showstopper and he did not go down without a fight. The match is largely one-sided with Taker punishing Michaels as it should have been. Nevertheless, Michaels capitalized on opportunistic moments to gain the advantage and showcase his destructive nature. So the match not a complete squash. How fitting was it for Shawn it crack a steel chair (the same weapon that caused this hell in the first place) across the spine of Taker to set-up a momentary decisive advantage. Taker getting bashed in the spine with steel steps and especially the piledriver to the stairs was sickening.
Still in the face of so much adversity in this match Michaels took time to show off his arrogance because it the attitude he carries unapologetically. That’s why he assaulted the camera man without a care in the world for his welfare (really a reaction similar to a scared animal backed in a corner), and he will “tune up the band” to his destroyer if he must.
I LOVE that Undertaker sits up immediately after getting hit with Sweet Chin Music. It is a defining moment for Undertaker because he had entered another (possibly otherworldly) form and at that point he was like a terminator on a mission to end this nuisance once and for all. Undertaker WILL BE DAMNED before he allows Shawn Michaels to put him down again!
The cell is not only used as a thematic device to showcase no escape-no interference but the torturous chain-linked steel was creatively used as a weapon e.g. jumping elbow off the fence, suicide dive into steel, the grating of flesh, etc. The spot when Taker rammed Shawn headfirst into the cage like a javelin is as memorable a spot in HIAC to me as any.
Shawn’s blade job here is remarkable. His crimson mask is an amazing visual of brutality. The blood flowed from his skull just as Taker had promised. Shawn’s beating on top of the cell and his fateful descent off the top through the announce table signified his Hell was inescapable in or out of the cell. What a classic moment built up so well to the big execution too with Taker stepping on Shawn’s hands before crashing down. The spot is fantastic because the bump looks brutal even though it wasn’t too complicated or dangerous to perform. Shawn’s fall took this bloodletting to an immensely climatic level toward an unforgettable finish that brought the story full circle.
Everything was amplified when they re-entered the cell, particularly Taker’s punishment of Michaels with the super chokeslam and the ULTIMATE PAYBACK spot with the steel chair shot to the skull! A just comeuppance for Shawn Michaels who awakened the beast through his actions with a steel chair. However, Undertaker would also have to pay for his past transgressions and the beast he had awakened too. Indeed Undertaker would be damned before allowing Shawn Michaels to gain another one over him. Damned to hell by the resurrected demon - his brother Kane in the greatest debut of all time.
“THAT’S GOTTA BE KANE!”
Kane making his debut is the perfect ending to this saga. It is the perfect ending because Paul Bearer threatened and teased for months that Undertaker's mysterious brother would come back to destroy him, and it is finally here in Hell where Undertaker had to face his haunting demon. It could not have been more fitting.
Shawn Michaels crawled out of Hell, drenched in his own blood to slither his way to victory and became #1 Contender for the World Wrestling Championship. How appropriate a reward after everything he cost The Undertaker, and the suffering he had to endure to earn it. The storytelling is absolutely exceptional. The unstoppable and defiant were both devastated by the end of this hellacious war: The legendary story of Hell in a Cell. This match hit so many marks and featured so many elements from a storytelling standpoint that make it a true contender for greatest match of all time.