Looking back over two decades-plus of Hell in a Cell matches there have been plenty of brutal, harrowing moments, though they've mostly petered off as the years have ticked by. Looking back at quite a few of those matches from the past, you see how the maw of fans even today salivates at the thrill of life-altering chaos, even as today's cell matches don't quite satiate that hunger.
Picking the 10 most brutal moments in cell match history is difficult because you're not looking for eye-catching showmanship - you're looking for genuine cringe. Falling from a great height is one thing, but some falls are more carefully controlled than others. And some falls just don't match up to the bone-rattling blows to the head and body that have been a fixture in these matches. Here are 10 of the most truly inhumane moments that Hell in a Cell has given us.
10. Silent Game (2005)
Watch enough old school WWE and you'll come upon this trope: a heel goes to the middle rope and attempts some sort of jumping vertical strike on a downed babyface. The hero counters by lifting a solitary leg, catching the fiend in the mush with the sole of his boot. It's as classic as Hulkamania and three-layer ice cream bars.
Batista and Triple H introduced a truly painful variant on that spot at Vengeance 2005, as The Game descended from the middle rope with the intent of delivering a blow. Instead of raising his leg, Batista instead held up a nearby sledgehammer, catching Triple H in the throat with the steel maul. A bit contrived, perhaps, but as far as violent spots go, it was a pretty clever counter.
9. Bleeding Boy Wonder (2006)
The cell match pitting D-Generation X against The McMahons and Big Show at Unforgiven 2006 had the feel of Attitude's Greatest Hits, with some irreverent comedy interwoven with some truly inspired violence. While Vince McMahon having his bloody face shoved deep into Show's puckered starfish is brutal on its own merits (if that's the word), an adjacent moment involving son Shane may have been a little ickier.
The DX 2.0 version of Shawn Michaels could play it comically aloof, which made his moments of focused sadism a little more jarring. One such assault came when Shane lay prone on the canvas with a chair wrapped around his neck. Michaels sprung from the top rope, delivering a flying elbow smash to the contraption, clamping down on Shane's throat. Some well-timed stage blood spilled from Shane's lips, giving the impression that Vince's daredevil son was now Shane O'Mute.
8. Planking Goes Too Far (2015)
Tearing apart the ring canvas in order to expose the wooden beams has been made en vogue in 2018 by Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, but it was pretty gnarly a few years back when Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker pulled the same stunt. Their surprisingly-bloody cell match came equipped with a pretty emphatic ending sequence, thanks to the uncovering of the support beams.
Lesnar endured a Chokeslam and a Tombstone onto the unguarded planks, but would come back with a fragmenting F5, dropping the 50-year-old Undertaker onto the pine to secure the victory. The entire match was a nice middle finger to watered-down brawling that had become standard in the sponsor-friendly times, and a sequence like that to end things was a nice smooshed cherry on top.
7. Keep On Trucking (2000)
Thanks to the 1998 Undertaker-Mankind melee, the standard for cell matches seemed to be that one major fall was required. That tradition thankfully ended with the somewhat-simpler Chris Jericho/Triple H match at Judgment Day 2002, because really, how would you keep topping that? At Armageddon 2000, WWE went to some rather convoluted lengths to send somebody other than Mick Foley off of the Devil's Duplex.
It was the rather rotund Rikishi that took the spill. Vince McMahon authorized the backing up of a truck toward the cage, the story being that he wanted to undermine Commissioner Foley's sanctioning of the match in the first place. How the truck was supposed to drag the cage out (or why the bed was filled with wood chips) still confounds the mind, but it gave Rikishi a convenient landing spot for when Undertaker Chokeslammed him backward off the cage. Still, a 400-pound man dropping more than 10 feet blindly into the back of a truck, regardless of the cushioning (and wearing a thong, no less) is brutal in its own right.
6. Human Bulletin Board (1998)
You know the cell match from the 1998 King of the Ring was barbaric when this was only the third most brutal spot of the entire spectacle. The reasoning for its lower ranking compared to the stunts it shared space with is because it featured the shortest fall of the three. Still, there's nothing fun about getting hundreds of tack holes in your flesh.
Mankind introduced thumbtacks to the WWE landscape for the first time, pouring hundreds, possibly thousands, of the sharp objects onto the canvas in the final stage of his match with Undertaker. Of course, irony reared its ugly head, as Mankind was not only sandwiched onto them, but subsequently Chokeslammed onto the tacks. But it could have been worse. And, actually, it was.
5. Take A Seat (1997)
This one might seem pretty tame compared to falling into the bed of a truck from a great height, getting dropped on thumbtacks, and having your larynx crushed in the crook of the steel chair. But for my money, it's one of the most lethal chair shots I've ever seen, and it's a good argument for why chairs to the head are mostly extinct these days.
Shawn Michaels had been beaten senseless by Undertaker in the midst of a truly brutal cell match (the maiden one, in fact), and while many are likely to remember Michaels' fall from the side of the cage more, the chair to the head was sicker. Watch Undertaker wind up and just bash Michaels right on the frontal lobe with an unpulled strike - by comparison, the Oberyn Martell head crushing was a wet willie.
4. Raining Blood (2002)
There wasn't a precise strike or blow in this entry that earns the distinction of being shuddersome, but it was the prolonged manner in which Undertaker just kept bleeding. Taker and Brock Lesnar's original cell match at No Mercy 2002 was easily the bloodiest of the bunch, almost entirely due to Undertaker being down about seven pints of his own life essence.
It's been said in other lists, but it was truly repulsive to see Undertaker, face redder than nWo Sting, rolling over Lesnar's prone body, whilst inadvertently dripping blood into Lesnar's open mouth. For even squeamish fans, the sight of blood doesn't always bat their eyes, but even the hardcores saw Undertaker's fountaining wound and felt a little uneasy.
3. You Know The One (1998)
It's been replayed more than that Vine video you couldn't get enough of. It's the death-defying equivalent of Hogan slamming Andre, in terms of indelible folklore with a visual element. Minutes into Undertaker and Mankind's Hell in a Cell match at the 1998 King of the Ring, the entire showcase went from zero to 60, with very little forewarning.
After exchanging a few strikes, all of a sudden, Undertaker grabbed a teetering Mick Foley and sent him falling 16 feet through the Spanish announce desk, prompting screams of shock and horror from the crowd, as well as a legendary call from a volcanic Jim Ross. Foley suffered numerous injuries from the landing, but his night was far, far from over.
2. Head Over Heels (2000)
Every cell match following the 1998 King of the Ring was trying to follow The Beatles or Johnny Carson, an untoppable gold standard to which all successors owe their oxygen, as well as the right to be called rip-offs. It's a little unfair to what was nominally Mick Foley's retirement match at No Way Out 2000, when he took one of the scarier bumps you'll ever see in (or above) a WWE ring.
Cactus Jack and Triple H brawled atop the cage late in the match, and it was Foley that would be Backdropped through the roof, sending him falling down into (and through) the ring in a tenuous seated position. While the fall was at least somewhat controlled, it was still a dangerous stunt with little margin for error. And while the ring was certainly gimmicked to allow an easy breakthrough, it still looked mighty painful.
1. Unexpected Encore (1998)
The spiralling fall through the Spanish announcers' table gets all the glory, but it was the bump minutes later that was truly frightening - because it wasn't supposed to happen. When Mankind, running on adrenaline and otherwise faint fumes, re-ascended the cage in a dramatic moment, he was supposed to be Chokeslammed onto a loose partition by Undertaker, which would've allowed Foley to crawl through the opening and jump down into the ring as a means of escape. That, as you know, didn't happen.
Instead, the Chokeslam broke the chain-link panel, sending Foley dropping down about 14 feet in a mostly-uncontrolled horizontal dive. Foley admits that had he not steadied himself into a latent bump-taking position before the impact, he very well could have died. When Jerry Lawler squeaks "That's it, he's dead," that wasn't exactly salesmanship.