Introduction - Seeing as it's the end of spooky season I figured I'd review the first PPV with a Hell in a Cell in it to keep the spirit of ghouls, ghosts and monsters alive. . Also, if you were an older kid from Saint Louis and you attended the show, you were instantly way cool to the younger wrestling fans at the time like me. Let's see if it lives up under the microscope.
Opening package - AWESOME! Movie announcer guy tells us how cruel DX has been to the Undertaker, and how this resulted in Michaels vs Taker in a "Special Steel Cell". I guess Hell in a Cell was hastily slapped on to the branding
3-on-2 Handicap match
The Legion of Doom vs The Nation of Domination (The Rock, Kama Mustafah, and D'Lo Brown) - 5.5/10
Shamrock was supposed to be LOD's partner, but he got fucked up by a Farooq spinebuster. Hawk says at much in a coked up, rambling promo. He calls Shamrock spitting up blood "real cute." What Hawk fails to mention is that Ken also wrestled Vader in a house show at Kawasaki Stadium earlier in the week, poor bastard.
The LOD spend the first part of the match motoring through the heels, but in this, the Nation get their characters over, D'Lo is the inexperienced youngboy, Kama is the moose, and Rock, for someone who had turned heel a month earlier, is BUBBLING with charisma, and has a savant-esque understanding on how to work a crowd. The heels eventually cheat and use the numbers game to work over Animal, D'Lo really gets to shine as a mouthy, cocky asshole during this. The Nation even gets a triple team in when the ref doesn't see the hot tag. The crowd buys this as a finish and pops when Animal kicks out at 2. Hawk gets tagged in and runs wild. Farooq distracts Animal, allowing Hawk to get kicked (barely) in the head by Kama, and Rock Bottom'd for the three.
This reminds me of the worst of modern WWE where the heels just get heat and win. The finish was a little bit contrived, and Hawk essentially took four moves and got pinned. That aside, this was an exceptional tag team match for 7/8 of it.
Sunny and Dok pimp the Superstar Line - bad. The music is playing so loudly you can barely hear them.
Vince McMahon informs us of the death of Brian Pillman - Sad for obvious reasons, but also utterly despicable. What I didn't mention is that this is now the fourth time this has been mentioned. Once on the Free-for-All (which, honestly, should've been the only mention of it, and I don't buy that people didn't get the memo, because if you're watching something on PPV, you have the Free-for-All queued up). He then mentions it TWICE during the show opening (pivoting away from an awesome show opening promo from Lawler about Hell in a Cell) and snapping back to it when JR tries to divert him, literally saying "certainly we don't have to belabor that point" and obviously here. What I find most disgusting about this, especially with hindsight, and knowing how the Melanie Pillman interview goes, is that Vince says "we'll give you more information as we find out more". During one of these pitches, he goes as far as to say, "We won't have anymore information till at least tomorrow" This is literally a pitch to tune into Raw to find out more. Of all the rotten, down low things Vince has done outside of kayfabe, this ranks pretty high up there.
Mini Nova and Max Mini vs Tarantula and Mosaic - 1/10
The minis' wheelhouse seems to be overselling big strikes and missing moves. This is Harlem Globetrotters type stuff, where they know you know it's fake so it's played for yucks. But it's not like, clever yucks. It's has no basis in creativity, like the hypnotizing dance spot. or The Colony getting the pause button used on them, this is super basic slapstick. What makes this ultra unfortunate is that if they put a serious division forward, they would've had a lot to work with. Max Mini is a star, and Tarantula is crazy strong for a dude his size. He walks from the apron to the announce desk, military pressing Mini the entire way there. That would be the equivalent of Ryback marching around the ring with Mark Henry, if you look at it as "pressing the equivalent of your own body weight". But alas that isn't what this is. The faces win. Nobody cares
Steve Austin t-shirt commercial - Pure 90s cheese, excellent
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Headbangers (c) vs The Godwinns (w/Uncle Cletus) - 3.75/10
We start out very in a very 80s, plodding house show style with the faces clearing the ring. Then we get two of the slowest huricanranas from The Headbangers, including an apron dive one from Mosh. Phineas takes a gnarly flapjack. Now the heels are in control. The faces get back in and we reset, and the crowd loves this for some reason. Some wacky double team moves and the heels do some old school cheating to get back into it. Lawler empties his "You Might be a Godwinn" jokebook to get through this slog of a match. A Headbangers pin missed by a distracted ref wakes up the crowd. We get a batshit insane deadlift wheelbarrow facebuster from Henry. The Headbangers hot tag in, but a sloppy catch powerbomb nets the win.
This was slow, but we really picked up in the closing minutes, but a sloppy finish knocks it down a peg
Post match - The Hillbillies wack the Headbangers with a horseshoe and a Slop Drop, yawn. They tease a reversal if the heels don't leave, they get mad about it do. What was the point of this?
Stone Cold Steve Austin video package - Historic. Because he is injured, Stone Cold stuns non wrestlers over not being able to compete, ending in the iconic first stunner to Vince McMahon. We also find out that on the next Raw, Stone Cold will either get medical proof he can compete, compete, but absolve the WWF of any wrongdoing, or be fired.
Micheal Cole gives us an update on Steve Austin, but is interrupted by Owen Hart - We learn Austin will forfeit the intercontinental championship to winner of Owen Hart/Farooq. Owen Hart interrupts in a glorious Owen 3:16 shirt and cuts a typically great heel promo about the situation.
We get our usual location shot, in which someone clearly pulls over to pick up a hooker, and then we get
Saint Louis legends presentation - Gene Kiniski, Dory Funk Jr. Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Terry Funk Lou Thesz (who looks like he could've outwrestled HBK that night) and Sam Muchnick, are all represented with individual VTRs narrated by Kevin Kelly. This was nice.
The Nation of Domination interview with Doc Hendrix - Doc says that Farooq. has the advantage because of Steve Austin.
We get another update on Brian Pillman (#5) - They're concerned he OD'd, and Vince tries to explain it away. Ewww.
Owen Hart vs Farooq - No Rating, Bad Segment.
As soon as Steve Austin comes out to watch the match (and eventually present the title) we know what will happen. The crowd is completely silent for this dead match. Austin interferes costing Farooq the match, chucking the belt to Owen, presumably to set up a Survivor Series 1997 match between the two.
I think there are other ways this could've been accomplished that didn't involve a match that had such a telegraphed finish.
Post match - Odd, but not fitting for the segment. Owen looks confused but celebrates. Meanwhile, instead of Farooq.
Raw footage of The Hart Foundation beating up Vader and The Patriot - Awesome.
We then cut to the announcers, who tell us that both teams have agreed to a flag match in which you can pin or submit your opponent as well as capture your country's flag. This reeks of Vince Russo getting a say.
8-man tag team match
Los Boricuas vs Disciples of Apocalypse - 4.75/10
Vince brings up the death of Brian Pillman twice, once during the entrances and once randomly during the match (7). Jerry weirdly wonders how this effects the Goldust/Marlena goings-on. It's one thing to keep bringing it up, which as I said earlier, they should stop dong, but to try and tie a guy DYING into storyline, when you haven't even done so much as a tribute to him just feels classless
The story of this match is that the DOA are hotheaded, so they'll get in the ref's face at any instance of the Boricuas cheating, which leads to MORE cheating, which the Puerto Ricans have to do because the DOA are big and powerful. Chainz FINALLY makes the tag, and a big eight way starts, which the crowd is way into. They tease a distraction finish, but Crush hits a tilt a whirl backbreaker instead for the three.
This wasn't as bad as I thought it was gonna be. but it wasn't as solid as the opening tag match
Bret Hart and British Bulldog interview with Micheal Cole - Bad. Bret Hart cuts a halfass heel promo, Bulldog bumbles through his very basic promos
Vader and Patriot interview with Micheal Cole - Better than the heels, full of fire, Vader gets bleeped
Tag Team Flag Match
Vader and The Patriot vs Bret Hart and British Bulldog - 4/10
The match starts immediately as a wild brawl all around the ring. Vader cuff Bret Hart in the side of the head with a flag pole which looks like it could shoot out an eardrum, at least by how Bret sells. When the babyfaces end up triumphant, and the bell finally rings, the babyfaces amble around. which Lawler rightfully calls out. The heels also amble. They do a distract the ref low blow when Patriot tries to climb the pole, despite it being stated earlier that it was no DQ. Patriot fights back and for some reason Vader is the one to take the heat, but then Vader gets his own low blow. Having tag rules in this match makes the interference spots super anti-climatic. Now we finally get the story of the match, that Bret is illegally working over Patriot, the only man capable of climbing the flag, legs. Patriot gets to reverse the sharpshooter, which is fucking HUGE. The heels work over Patriot though, who gets the hot tag to Vader. More stuff happens. VADER LANDS ON HIS FEET FROM A MOONSAULT. Bret wallops Vader with the belt and there's still more moves. Vader fights back. Even MORE stuff happens. Bret somehow reverses an O'Connor roll after getting Vader Bombed for the win.
This match is 25 minutes, barely a fourth of it I would describe as good. This was a match designed by committee, so it seemed like the stipulation was a mishmash. and as a result, the lay-out of the match, not to mention the wrestlers themselves looked terribly disjointed and confused, and the finish doesn't help matters.
Post match - The Americans clear the ring. We don't even see the winning flag fly high, so they can't even manage that right
Survivor Series 1997 commercial - Ow, the generic late 90's edge. You can get a free DOG TAG for GANG RULZ when you mail in your cable bill.
We get a lot of down time with the commentators building up the Hell in the Cell as it lowers.
DX Interview with Doc Hendrix - GREAT HBK is a cocky asshole even in the face of doom, even taking time to make fun of his own European Championship. Hilariously, Triple H gets cut off mid promo
HBK/Undertaker promo - We go from Shawn making light of how much of a jerk he is to turning heel on Undertaker at Summerslam. This was strangely not as intense as it should've been, and could be lumped in with any New Generation promo
Commissioner Slaughter inspects the underneath of the ring with a flashlight to prevent interference (great touch by the way) and we finally get
Hell in a Cell Match
Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker - 10/10!
I get why they wait to lower the cell until both guys are in the ring today, so that guys can do their full entrances, but having the cell lower on Shawn (the first person out) was a GREAT touch. Really sells how trapped HBK is. He also sells the sudden realization that "Oh shit, I'm actually in trouble" really well as well.
The story of this match is that. per the build up, Shawn is completely outmatched. They never lose sight of that thru line, and every deviation is presented in the most logical manners possible, (Shawn Micheals gets momentum initially because Taker runs into the cell wall during a corner splash, HBK escapes the cell because he injures a cameraman and escapes while he's being helped out of the cell, the wrestlers end up on top of the cell because HBK tried to run away from the Undertaker, HBK falls off the cell because he's trying to scale down to avoid the Undertaker). Once we do get back in the ring, we get a top rope chokeslam (!!!) that would put a tear in Akira Taue's eye, and a gnarly chair shot, as payback for Summerslam.
And then, Kane. The lights go out, then go red, Kane appears, and fire erupts as he walks. He rips the door away, and throws a referee into the cell like King Kong swatting at a biplane. We get a nose to nose, for a side comparison, then we get Kane's iconic fire summoning pose (to which the crowd goes "WOAH" when the fire appears). He then tombstones Taker to allow HBK to crawl over and get the three count.
This was the most perfect single gimmick match in WWF history. While other matches are more "spotty" so to speak, none of those matches have a a great flow, or such a great logical progression from moment to moment, and if they do have their spots justified it's usually done in the "'X wrestler' is crazy" way, that's a very lukewarm ambiguity. That said, Taker got all of his revenge out on Micheals so he can transition into his next feud with no business left undone, and the heel HBK can use worming his way to a win to hoot and holler in his next feud This is about as good as it's ever been done.
Until the main event, this was very much a WWF/E B-Show. Heels won to move along their feud for the "big" show, Survivor Series, and faces won in the matches meant to fill time. The Hell in the Cell is one of the greatest matches of all time...but I recommend watching it on a playlist on the Network. None of this other stuff is worth seeing.