Hell in a Cell is a WWE institution, forged out of the match’s early classics and unforgettable moments—most notably The Undertaker’s iconic clashes with Shawn Michaels and Mankind. There have been a number of good to great Cell matches since then with big spots, innovative violence, and satisfying blow offs to major storylines.
However, after over twenty years, Hell in a Cell has understandably had a mixed history. Yes, there are classics everyone wrestling fan can point to, but there are also those matches that disappointed, or that didn’t feel as though they belonged inside Hell in a Cell from the beginning. On the flip side, there are those great matches lost to the sands of time now.
10 Forgotten Classic: DX Vs. Legacy
Long before AEW was even an inkling, and Cody Rhodes publicly teased heat by smashing a throne with a sledgehammer in a thinly veiled shot at Triple H, these two men had tag team partners and went to war inside Hell in a Cell.
In 2009, Rhodes teamed with Ted Dibiase against The Game and Shawn Michaels, in the culmination of a heated, surprisingly competitive rivalry that threatened to put Rhodes and Dibiase on the map. The younger stars locked Triple H out of the cage to torture Michaels two on one. Finally, The Cerebral Assassin fought his way inside for the equivalent of a hot tag, and was the proverbial house on fire. The match culminated in DX turning the tables, locking out Dibiase to finish off Rhodes with a tandem superkick and sledgehammer shot.
9 Wasn’t Worthy: The Undertaker Vs. CM Punk
In 2009, CM Punk started to truly come into his own as a WWE Superstar. His heel character allowed him to show his personality and take control on the microphone. Moreover, his charter feud as a bad guy, opposite Jeff Hardy delivered in the ring. However, when Hardy left WWE abruptly, WWE opted to go to a familiar face in the challenger role for Punk’s world title.
The Undertaker was certainly credible. Unfortunately, he was a little too credible for Punk at that stage of his development. Particularly when the two faced off inside Hell in a Cell, it underscored problems WWE was having in building up new stars as the arrogant young heel couldn’t well beat The Dead Man in this signature match. While these two would have a very good match years later at WrestleMania 29, they simply weren’t set up for success here, in a feud that never should have made it to the Cell at that point in their respective careers.
8 Forgotten Classic: Roman Reigns Vs. Rusev
By fall 2016, WWE made a concerted effort to rebuild Roman Reigns, after initial efforts at pushing him on top came up lukewarm. His feud with Rusev was a good one, putting two hard hitting big men against one another, and having their issue over the United States Championship culminate at Hell in a Cell.
While Reigns vs. Rusev didn’t have blood, it did have brutality, particularly with an engrossing spot in which Rusev applied his Accolade finisher with a chain add leverage and ripping at The Big Dog’s mouth. Reigns has had far higher profile matches before and since, but this one was quite arguably one of the best singles matches he’s ever been involved in.
7 Wasn’t Worthy: Triple H Vs. Kevin Nash
In the years to follow buying out WCW, WWE had a habit of trotting out top stars from yesteryear—and particularly guys who had peaked in WCW—to become part of the World Heavyweight Championship picture. Goldberg, Scott Steiner, and Booker T all had their spins. Perhaps the most ill-advised of all was Kevin Nash.
While Nash had tremendous look and personality for wrestling, he wasn’t known for great in ring performances. Putting him inside Hell in a Cell with Triple H—and particularly robbing him of his charisma in a vanilla face role—limited his potential. Nash vs. Triple H was a slog of a Hell in a Cell match—slow, without memorable spots, and ultimately predictable in The Game going over.
6 Forgotten Classic: Batista Vs. The Undertaker
In the mid-2000s Batista rose to become one of WWE’s top stars. Fans tend to best remember her is work opposite Triple H that put The Animal over as a main event level talent in the first place, and culminated in a respectable Hell in a Cell match of their own.
Batista had one other program that “made him” in the years to follow. He moved to SmackDown and became entrenched in an ongoing issue with The Undertaker. Their Hell in a Cell match at Survivor Series 2007, in particular, was a proving ground for the newer star as he held up his , end of the bargain in terms of in ring action, while picking up one of the biggest victories of his career.
5 Wasn’t Worthy: The Undertaker Vs. The Big Boss Man
The Undertaker is largely synonymous with the Hell in a Cell match type, and earned that recognition with some legitimately great matches. His match with The Big Boss Man at WrestleMania 15 did nothing to further his or the Cell’s legacy, though. On the contrary, the utterly lackluster match—which The Dead Man won in predictable and anticlimactic fashion—tarnished Hell in a Cell to an extent.
This outing was less about the match than what happened afterward—largely a set up for The Brood to help The Phenom hanging the Boss Man from a noose after the final bell had rung.
4 Forgotten Classic: Mark Henry Vs. Randy Orton
In 2011, Mark Henry found his footing long after most fans had given up on him as anything more than mid card talent. As he started inducting lesser men into his Hall of Pain, Henry went on tear as a dominant monster heel.
Randy Orton fell victim to Henry, first dropping the World Heavyweight Championship to him, then losing his rematch to the World’s Strongest Man inside Hell in a Cell. While Orton vs. Henry wasn’t a five-star match by any stretch, it was remarkably efficient in doing what it set out to do—firmly establishing Henry as a beast and a legitimate champion as he all but squashed the viper in an entertaining outing.
3 Wasn’t Worthy: CM Punk Vs. Ryback
In 2012, WWE faces an awkward situation when John Cena struggles with injury issues shortly before he would have presumably challenged WWE Champion CM Punk, whom he had been feuding with, inside Hell in a Cell.
Without any clear options, and in desperate need of a compelling main event, WWE drafted Ryback into the spot.
Ryback was getting over with his still-new dominant face character. Being positioned as a world title contender, however, both rushed his advancement up the card and exposed how ill-prepared he was as an in ring performer for that spot.
2 Forgotten Classic: The Usos Vs. New Day
Tag team matches have rarely gotten the nod for Hell in a Cell, and all the more rarely when it’s standard tag teams as opposed to star duos like DX. It’s a testament to both the quality of the teams involved and their rivalry that the Usos and New Day got the opportunity in 2017.
The resulting match was chock full of old school brutality with clever, fresh spots peppered in to deliver on every level, and arrive at a sleeper candidate for one of the top five to ten Cell matches of all time.
1 Wasn’t Worthy: Brock Lesnar Vs. The Undertaker
The original iteration of Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell added a worthy chapter to the rivals’ story in 2002. It’s understandable why WWE would want to go back to the well on this feud thirteen years later given both men’s star power, not to mention he hear they generated for their SummerSlam showdown. Extending the program to October 2015 was a misstep, though.
While the second Lesnar-Undertaker Cell match wasn’t terrible, it was plodding and far less exciting or heated than their SummerSlam match.