The evolution of the steel cage
There are few contests in WWE that are more treacherous than those held within the confines of a steel cage. For more than 50 years, the steel cage was a domain where rivalries were put to rest, whether it was Bruno Sammartino battling his arch nemesis Ivan Koloff in 1975, or Magnum T.A.’s historic victory over Tully Blanchard in a Steel Cage “I Quit” Match in 1985, scores were settled definitively. ( PHOTOS | WATCH VIDEO PLAYLIST)
The match type dates back to the 1930s with variations ranging from a relatively small — by today’s standards — 6-foot-high cage to a structure made of chicken wire. In 1982, however, WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka changed the landscape of sports-entertainment and jumpstarted the continuing evolution of the steel cage. During a battle with his nemesis, Don Muraco, Snuka ascended the steel cage and leaped from the top to the delight of the awestruck inside the WWE Universe.
Following that legendary moment, the Steel Cage Match began to change. Superstars looked at it as more than just an unforgiving structure and variations beyond the height of the four walls confining the squared circle began to take shape. And, for as long as the cage itself has evolved, Superstars have done whatever possible to escape its diabolical clutches. Presented by "Escape Plan," in theaters now, WWE Classics examines the most prominent structural variations of the cage, how they took on a life of their own and how Superstars have tried to claw their way out from these metal monstrosities.
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The most notable change in the structure of the steel cage came at WrestleMania 2 when Hulk Hogan defended the WWE Championship against King Kong Bundy. The battle took place inside the confines of the steel cage, but the cage was drastically different than it had been in the past. The structure sported thick blue bars — a unique deviation from the past. The wide bars and higher structure were necessary to contain the titans that clashed on the inside for the WWE Championship. The traditional rules of a Steel Cage Match remained in effect as pinfalls and submissions were not allowed, a competitor has to either climb out of the cage or leave through the door.
The steel cage that debuted at WrestleMania 2 became the norm for more than a decade. In the late 1990s, the blue bars were painted black and the cage took on a darker, more ominous look. The effect was purely psychological, stripping away the bright colors of the structure and making it — at least in appearance — a more menacing construct. Sparingly used, the most famous match inside the black cage was at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 1999 when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin battled Mr. McMahon. The contest was also the memorable debut of Big Show, who entered the cage through the ring canvas and powerfully tossed Austin through one of the black-barred walls.
In the past decade, the steel cage has returned to a construction more in line with its traditional makeup. Rather than thick steel bars surrounding the ring, the cage is made of walls supported by large steel support beams with chain-link fencing between. Make no mistake, this variation is no less dangerous than the fan-favorite blue-barred incarnation, and a Superstar’s main goal is still to get out.
The steel cage is meant to keep combatants confined to the squared circle with no chance for assistance from the outside — unless, of course, someone climbed over the top of the cage. The chain-link fence is arguably more effective in keeping a contest in line because it fixes a major flaw of the blue-barred variation. The construct used in WWE through the 1980s and 1990s had gaps in between the bars. This made it easy for any Superstar’s supporter to put a foreign object in play, but with the current chain-link cage closing any gaps, outside interference requires more direct action.
Hell in a Cell
Hell in a Cell was introduced in 1997. A major evolution of the steel cage, the new structure came into play at Badd Blood in a WWE Championship Match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. Hell in a Cell took the traditional chain-link walled idea of a steel cage and multiplied it exponentially. The cell nearly doubled the height of a traditional cage and the space between the ring and the cage walls were expanded to include a ringside battleground. Though the most jarring addition to this incarnation was the roof placed over the cell.
Hell in a Cell was much more unforgiving structure than the traditional cage — and if there is any doubt about that, just ask Mick Foley. At King of the Ring 1998, The Undertaker unceremoniously tossed Foley off the roof of the cage onto the announce table below. Foley refused to quit, ascended back to the top of the cell and was then chokeslammed through the roof.
Anything goes inside the treacherous assembly, making Hell in a Cell one of the most daunting incarnations of a steel cage in sports-entertainment history.
For five years, Hell in a Cell reigned supreme as sports-entertainment’s most intimidating variation of a steel cage. In 2002, yet another incarnation was birthed that redefined the meaning of “cage” match. The Elimination Chamber was 10 tons of steel that tested the resilience of any Superstar brazen enough to enter its domain. There have been 15 Elimination Chamber Matches in WWE history, and every Superstar who competed in one left a changed individual.
The Chamber consists of four bulletproof pods containing Superstars who wait their turn to enter the unforgiving steel mass as two competitors begin the match. The structure is made up of massive chains and steel bars that make escape impossible and fast-paced offenses dangerous. Outside of the ring area is a steel platform that often changes the dynamic of the battles waged on the inside. The only way out of the structure is by elimination and, ironically, the goal of the Elimination Chamber is to stay in, rather than get out.
Triple Cage/Doomsday Steel Cage/Tower of Doom
One of the most bizarre variations of a Steel Cage Match was the Triple Cage Match. Also known as the Tower of Doom or Doomsday Steel Cage, the match was used only a few times in WCW. The first two times the Triple Cage was utilized, two teams of five competitors battled in three cages in ascending size from the top down. The object was to fight to the bottom cage — where the ring was located — so that pinfalls and submissions could come into play to ensure victory.
The third and final incarnation of the Triple Cage Match came in 2000 as WCW promoted their film “Ready 2 Rumble.” At the time, actor David Arquette was infamously the WCW Champion and the Triple Cage Match pitted him against Jeff Jarrett and Diamond Dallas Page. The rules of this particular contest were the opposite of the first two matches; the three competitors had to ascend the cages to reach the WCW Championship. The final Triple Cage Match was on Monday Nitro in 2000 in a WarGames style battle for the WCW Title. Bizarre and dangerous, the match was unpopular and never used again.
At The Great American Bash 2006, a new and strange variation on a Steel Cage Match played host to a battled between The Undertaker and Big Show. Inspired by The Great Khali, the Punjabi Prison Match wasn’t exactly a Steel Cage Match — mostly because of the lack of steel. Instead of a metal structure, the Punjabi Prison was made up of an inner and outer bamboo cage. As is the case with traditional cage matches, the object of the contest was to escape the structure to secure victory. The major variation, however, was that after escaping the inner cage, Superstars would have to climb out of the second cage to win.
Following The Undertaker’s victory, the match was only used once more at No Mercy 2007 where Batista defeated The Great Khali.
Hell in a Cell was not the first time a roof was placed over a steel cage. NWA and WCW featured a popular match called WarGames, which featured one long steel cage engulfing two rings. Two teams would wait on opposite sides of the structure and enter the contest after a certain amount of time. Entry would alternate between teams, usually giving a specific squad an advantage during the contest. Once every competitor from each group was inside the structure, chaos ensued and the only way to win the contest was by submission or knockout.
The major difference between Hell in a Cell and WarGames — aside from WarGames engulfing two rings — was the height of the cage. There was no room for moves off the top rope in the WarGames structure and competitors had to essentially rely on their brawling abilities and resilience.
The Lion’s Den
Named after mixed martial artist Ken Shamrock’s training center, The Lion’s Den was WWE’s innovative concept to combine the worlds of MMA and sports-entertainment where the only way to win was via knockout or submission. In 1998, Ken Shamrock faced off against Owen Hart in the first-ever Lion’s Den encounter at SummerSlam. The bout was contested in a unique circular steel cage that was 10 feet high and locked shut. Although SummerSlam was held at Madison Square Garden that year, the Lion’s Den itself was located in a separate theater in the entertainment complex. After Owen’s trainer, mixed martial artist and Shamrock rival Dan Severn, walked out on his pupil, The World’s Most Dangerous Man forced his opponent to tap out to his patented ankle lock.
The following year, Shamrock was shockingly defeated by Mr. McMahon in a Lion’s Den Match on Raw, thanks to interference from the no-good Jeff Jarrett. Shamrock, however, asserted his dominance in the Lion’s Den once again by defeating Steve Blackman at 1999’s edition of SummerSlam.