A Hell-ish history in steel

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November 03, 2007

"Hell," religious convictions notwithstanding, describes a place of extreme pain or misery. "Cell" depicts an enclosed structure, one that's commonly associated with a prison. "Hell in a Cell"? Now you're talking about something that's altogether different, and actually far more frightening.

At Survivor Series two weeks from Sunday, our fans will surely apply terms like "epic" and "history-making" toward the menacing expression, and they'll be right to do so. However, for World Heavyweight Champion Batista and The Undertaker, labels like "bloody," "grueling" and "career-threatening" are more likely to weigh on their minds as the time for their fifth -- and possibly final -- battle nears.

Why this match, you ask? Why must The Animal and The Phenom try to settle their revered rivalry locked inside a 20-foot-high roofed structure composed of unbending steel? Because, quite honestly, both Superstars need to prove who deserves to wear the gold that currently surrounds Batista's waist. After tallying one victory apiece and two draws in their four previous encounters, Hell in a Cell is the definitive place for them to do so.

Throughout WWE's illustrious history, only 14 occasions have sanctioned this contest of barbaric brutality and widespread carnage. All have involved, to some degree, either Triple H or The Undertaker, who battled Shawn Michaels in the inaugural Hell in a Cell. More than a decade after October 1997's Badd Blood, fans still recall The Showstopper crashing through the Spanish announce table, and how The Phenom catapulted him face-first into the steel, practically turning HBK's features into grated red cheese. The blood-soaked battle would mark the debut of Undertaker's brother, Kane, who'd cost The Deadman the victory. However, many also believe this particular "Hell" was a major contributor to a broken back that cost Michaels more than four years of his career.

Like the padlocked structure itself, it's difficult to escape Hell in a Cell's history without referencing Undertaker's King of the Ring confrontation with Mankind. Then again, what transpired outside the apparatus made their June 1998 clash one of the most horrifically entertaining matches in WWE lore. Shortly after suffering a 20-foot drop from the Cell roof onto the Spanish announcers' table below, the manic Mankind was chokeslammed through the cage top, onto a thumbtack-covered ring mat. Not surprisingly, Undertaker picked up the win. Mankind, with his dislocated jaw and shoulder, two broken ribs, a cut lip that necessitated 14 stitches and a concussion, had to settle for picking up his teeth -- one of which exited through his nose.

After such a harrowing experience, it's downright disturbing that another of Mick Foley's three faces -- in this instance, Cactus Jack -- would voluntarily enter Hell in a Cell again. Yet he did so at February 2000's No Way Out, with Triple H's WWE Championship on the line. Besides enduring another broken Spanish announcers' table, thousands of thumbtacks, and blazing barb-wired 2x4's, Jack would take another express trip through the cage roof, and this time break through the canvas. Another loss accompanied a prearranged stipulation which forced Cactus to retire from the ring. Then again, one could argue that this was the only Hell in a Cell contest with an end result that may have prolonged someone's health.

Sadly, even referees are prospective victims inside "Hell." Some believe it's because the Cell, unlike traditional roofless cages, encase not only the ring, but all sides of the immediate surrounding area. That extra gap allows Superstars to viciously vent their aggression on the outside floor, find more potential weapons to use and ultimately create more mayhem. Former WWE official Tim White knows all too well what kind of suffering "Hell" can cause; during Triple H's contest against Chris Jericho at Judgment Day in May 2002, he was violently thrown into the unyielding enclosure, ending his career as a referee.

"There's going to be one winner, but everyone's going to get hurt and no one gets out until it's done," White told WWE.com in 2006. "Inside Hell in a Cell, there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, no one to save you…. It's the most brutal match WWE has."

While Undertaker may share the most journeys into "Hell" with The Game, his Survivor Series opponent isn't entirely unfamiliar with the structure. Batista first entered the Cell at June 2004's Bad Blood, though it was simply to help an exhausted Triple H leave after a grueling, crimson-drenched victory over Shawn Michaels. Two months after winning the World Heavyweight Title from the former Evolution leader at WrestleMania 22, The Animal would make his own hellish history at June 2005's Vengeance; by withstanding sledgehammers, steel chains and even a barb-wired chair to the skull, he'd become the only man to defeat Triple H one-on-one within the Hadean confines.

Of course, both Batista and Undertaker would do well to remember that a new level of "Hell" now exists, and it's more than a full man taller. Introduced at Unforgiven in September 2006, the 30-by-30 apparatus is comprised of 3,500 square feet of remorseless steel mesh and support beams. Its first inhabitants were D-Generation X-ers Shawn Michaels & Triple H, who needed every inch of the redesigned structure -- and every weapon concealed within it -- to beat Mr. McMahon, Shane McMahon & Big Show in the only Hell in a Cell Handicap Match. The sold-out crowd in Toronto may have delighted in seeing the WWE Chairman's face swallowed by Big Show's abyss-sized ass. Yet they -- and everyone who watched from home -- equally cringed at seeing skulls wrapped around, cut open by screwdrivers or pulverized by sledgehammers.

Normally, our fans would relish the idea of a beloved Superstar stepping into "Hell" to make a universally hated foe suffer. Conditions will be very different two weeks from Sunday, however. When Batista and Undertaker meet at this year's Survivor Series, it will mark the fifth time that two fan favorites have clashed in a single calendar year. That in itself must represent a WWE first, but it also poses a problem. During their four previous encounters, fans knew that regardless of whoever won, the World Heavyweight Title would be held by a worthy champion. However, inside Hell in a Cell, when one Superstar's victory could signal a very final defeat for the other…

Well, let's just say that we'll all be cheering if both men can exit the cage with their careers intact.

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