August 18, 2004
Sheldon Kane III
BloodBath: Wrestling's Most Incredible Steel Cage Matches
A PERSONAL NOTE
I love steel cage matches. Period. Always have, always will. I have ever since I saw my very first one on television in 1983, and to this day, no other type of match catches my eye quite like the steel cage match does (well, Hell In The Cell could give it some competition). I have always loved the concept of the match: two men enter the ring, surrounded by a solid, unforgiving, 15-foot-high structure made up nothing but steel bars or fencing. The two men battle it out despite the great risk for permanent injury, spill one another's blood, and fight until a definitive winner is decided upon. The man who does walk away (or carried out) is the first one who can either go through the cage door and reach the floor, or climb 15 feet into the air up one side, down the other, and reaches the floor with both feet. That is, if they can leave their adversary in a weakened enough state in order to complete this task.
So, you can imagine my excitement when word first circulated about a two-disc DVD set devoted to the greatest steel cage matches in the history of professional wrestling. I know some fans were disappointed in this collection, but for me, there was no way I could go wrong here. Not when you have a collection featuring names such as Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Stan "The Lariat" Hansen, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, and so many others, tearing into one another inside the ultimate battleground to settle a feud. I didn't care if the feature consisted entirely of clipped matches, and there were only 10 complete matches (plus one clipped match) amongst the DVD extras. This was a set that seemed custom made for yours truly, SK3. And you know what? It has become one of my all-time favorite WWE DVD releases. Let's step inside the deadly realm of the steel cage, shall we?
After getting through the opening advertisements which includes a nice promo ad for Trish Stratus 100% Stratusfaction Guaranteed (look for my review on this site), and of course the WrestleMania XX and "Don't Try This At Home" ads, the production was under way. Let me tell you, the feature alone is unbelievably good. It clocks in at 2 hours, and it is STACKED. Yes, they are all clipped highlights, but for the most part, they are clipped highlights worth checking out, including all the best moments of each match. We start off with some words from Gerald Brisco, Howard Finkel, and of all people, Spike Dudley (?). The feature is hosted by our favorite Coach, reverting back to "announcer" mode on this program. He explains what a steel cage is, then we kick into our first match, Bob Backlund vs. Pat Patterson for the World Wrestling Federation Championship, 9/24/79. I had seen this one years ago, and today it STILL holds up. At one point, Backlund and Patterson are straddled atop the cage, with the two of them fighting over a pair of brass knux. Backlund finally tumbles out the door, the fans pop huge, and Patterson throws a tantrum.
The next chapter is one of the three flaws in this feature; we go to the legendary 1980 feud between Bruno Sammartino and his former pupil, Larry Zbyszko. This chapter is annoyingly short (which also sees Coach annoyingly misidentify Ivan Koloff as Nikolai Volkoff???), with an abbreviated recap of the feud itself, and a few scraps of the cage match itself from Showdown At Shea (8/9/80). They blow through this much too quickly, which was a letdown, but not enough of a letdown to ruin the overall enjoyment of the feature (though you would think the full match would have been included amongst the extras, considering the match is clipped to death on the feature). Also, it seems as though Gerald Brisco had absolutely no conception of what he's talking about when it comes to the Bruno-Zbyszko feud. Well WWE, that's what one gets when they interview people who weren't even there at the time! Another one of the three flaws on this program is minor, but still kind of a nuisance. They totally miss the date of Bob Backlund vs. Jimmy Snuka. I assure all of you, this match did NOT take place on May 19, 1980. The actual date is June 28, 1982. How they blew the date by over two years is totally beyond me.
Anyways, we now go to Backlund-Snuka for the World Wrestling Federation Title, 6/28/82 at Madison Square Garden. EXCELLENT footage seen here of this brutal and bloody battle, one of the greatest matches in WWE history. Not just as far as steel cage matches go, but one of the all-time best overall. Snuka attempts his leap off the steel cage for the first time, but instead eats canvas. Backlund escapes through the cage door and leaves New York with his Championship intact. The Coach then introduces the next match, Snuka vs. Intercontinental Champ the Magnificent Muraco, MSG 10/17/83. Aside from the great match footage, we also see some cool buildup footage as well, including a classic promo inside an empty arena where Snuka completely flips out and starts throwing chairs all over the place, with one nearly hitting Vince! This promo is also one of my earliest wrestling memories. In this match, Muraco wins on a fluke; Snuka executes a flying headbutt and the Magnificent One goes tumbling out the cage door. After the match, Snuka drags Muraco back inside, and executes his "Superfly" splash onto Muraco, and the place POPS like crazy!
Next up is a match from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a steel cage "I Quit" Match between United States Champion "Superbrat" Tully Blanchard, and his challenger, Magnum T.A., from Starrcade '85. Very physical contest here, lots of blood spilled. The "wooden stake" spot is, to me, a defining moment for "hardcore" wrestling. It really looked as though Tully had murder in his eyes. Of course, Magnum turns the tables, and one of the sickest visuals in wrestling history is the result. Magnum pulls out the win at the end, and becomes United States Champion. We then go to the year 1986, and the feud between World Wrestling Federation Champion Hulk Hogan, and his former friend and partner, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. We see some quick clips of Orndorff turning on the Hulkster from Championship Wrestling in August 1986. This leads into, in my opinion, Hulk Hogan's greatest face promo, one so emotionally charged it seems as if this feud goes beyond the parameters of a storyline. The cage match takes place on Saturday Night's Main Event (airdate January 3, 1987, a match I watched when I was just a nine year old Hulkamaniac), and it is easily one of the Hulkster's best performances. This is the match with the infamous "tie", with both Hulk and Orndorff hitting the floor simultaneously, setting up for the match to continue. In the end, Hulk thwarts interference from manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and climbs out of the steel cage for the win, brother! Unfortunately, Hulk's post match beating of Bobby Heenan and subesquent post match celebration are not shown here. Also, Hogan's legendary WrestleMania 2 cage match with King Kong Bundy is, shockingly, not included in this collection, not even in the extras. That was a shocking omission.
We mosey on back to the NWA now, a cage match from Starrcade '87 featuring NWA Champion Rugged Ronnie Garvin against the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. This match took place the same night as the inaugural Survivor Series. Flair gets his gold back in this match. Whoooo! Up next, some great coverage of the famous feud between Bret "Hit Man" Hart and his brother, the late great Owen Hart. This takes us into the cage match from SummerSlam (8/29/94), and an excellent cage match at that! Little known factoid about this match; Bret performed that night with a bad case of strep throat. This did not stop Bret, a total professional in every sense of the word, from going tooth and nail with Owen, with many Hart family members present. 10 minutes of this 30-plus-minute match are seen in the feature, with Bret coming out on top in a finish that must be seen to be believed. Our next segment, well, is the third of those little flaws I mentioned earlier. We go to a cage match from RAW (10/15/95) featuring Bret Hart against Isaac Yankem, D.D.S. Instead of focusing on the fact that Yankem went on to become Kane (which is what I thought they were going to do here), they make no mention of this, and instead they focus on Jerry "The King" Lawler's involvement in the bout and turn the whole segment into a comedy bit. If you want to watch Jerry Lawler discuss picking at a scab in his nose, this segment is for you. Otherwise, you should just skip this waste of time and head into the next match...
...which features the Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley! And some other guy named Hunter Hearst Helmsley. This comes from SummerSlam (8/3/97), and stands to me as one of Foley's greatest matches. Here, Mick is competing as Mankind (pre-shirt/tie/Mr. Socko), and he turns in an awesome performance. Late in the match, Mankind catapults Helmsley into Chyna, who is standing on the outside of the cage bars like a total idiot, apparently unable to see Hunter coming straight at her. The fans pop big, even though it was rather stupid to have Chyna standing there when she could clearly see she was about to get smacked off the cage. This match ends with Mankind emulating his childhood idol Jimmy Snuka, when he leaps off the top of the cage onto Helmsley, though he actually used a flying elbow instead of a "Superfly" splash (Randy Savage must have smiled). Mick escapes over the top for the win. Up next, we head into the "Attitude" era, complete with blurred logos galore. That "other guy" named Hunter Hearst Helmsley is by this point, World Wrestling Federation Champion Triple H, defending against The Rock, in a cage match from the U.K. Rebellion PPV (10/2/99). A bit too clipped for my taste, but still fun to watch. Rock climbs out first, but referee Earl Hebner is KO'ed and doesn't see it. Interference from the late British Bulldog and from Chyna help Triple H keep his Title in this match.
The classic St. Valentine's Day Massacre cage match follows from 2/14/99, with Stone Cold Steve Austin taking on the chairman, Mr. McMahon. We even get to see the little pre-show video package set to "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. This match is, to me, one of the all-time best steel cage matches. Vince takes a sick bump off the cage through the announcers' table, busting his tailbone in the process. Almost the whole match is seen here, with Austin dominating the boss. The Big Slob ,er, Show makes his WWE debut here, throwing Austin into the cage, but accidentally throwing the "Texas Rattlesnake" so hard he goes THROUGH the cage and onto the floor, giving him the win and his shot at The Rock's Federation Championship at WrestleMania XV. Next, we move on to Unforgiven, from 9/24/00; a World Tag Team Title cage match between Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz. This is an excellent contest, with lots of high spots, including an awesome "Whisper In The Wind" off the top of the cage by Jeff Hardy. A ladder comes into play, which Lita uses to perform a sweet Litacanrana on Christian onto the arena floor. The Hardys get the duke here, as both Matt and Jeff climb out after giving Edge a "Con-Chair-To" of their own at the top of the pen. It looks as if Lita hurt herself performing the Litacanrana on the floor. If only she knew what was in her future in 2004, I think she would rather re-visit that painful Unforgiven night than go through this Kane "pregnancy/wedding" angle she's involved in today.
Our final two matches feature the great Kurt Angle. First, the steel cage classic with Chris Benoit from the 6/11/01 RAW. We start right off at the point where Angle goes for a moonsault off the top of the cage, only to miss his prey at the bottom. This match is a hard-hitting battle, with 10 German suplexes by Benoit, and a flying headbutt of the cage to boot. Then-Federation Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin, playing the crazed heel at this point in history, interferes and allows Angle to climb out for the victory. We follow up with the finale, a cage match between Angle and his nemesis at the time Edge, from SmackDown! (5/30/02). The one and only Hulk Hogan is ringside for this match. Angle's sporting his goofy headgear wig here. Solid match, not a lot of it is shown on the feature, but we do see the spectacular spear off the ropes from Edge, which helped him pick up the win. We don't get to see the Hulkster's post match beatdown on Angle here. Oh, well, brother.
The feature itself is an excellent look at the history of the steel cage match. Any fan wanting to learn more about it should definitely check this out, they will see some truly classic battles unfold. I can't recommend this collection enough. And the best part is, we haven't even reached the extras yet!
The DVD says "11 complete matches", but this isn't exactly true. There's 10 complete matches, with an 11th match being clipped to death. Let's take a look at what we have here:
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION CHAMPIONSHIP:
BOB BACKLUND (Champion) vs. PAT PATTERSON (Challenger) (9/24/79)
The copy of this match seen here comes directly from Coliseum Video's 1987 release Inside The Steel Cage. I am assuming the original master tape of this match is either lost or destroyed. As a result, this match is clipped, clipped and clipped. Great action seen here, Backlund and Patterson finally settle their war, which stretched over a four-month period at Madison Square Garden. As I mentioned earlier, the spot on top of the cage where Patterson and Backlund struggle over a pair of brass knux is the highlight of this match. Backlund slides down the steps and out the door to win this one.
WINNER: BOB BACKLUND
BRUNO SAMMARTINO (Champion) vs. IVAN KOLOFF (Challenger) (12/15/75)
This match is complete and presented in its full glory here. This match is historic for being the first cage match ever seen in Madison Square Garden (or as the newspaper ad called it, a "fence match"). Bruno dominates in this contest, whipping Koloff from pillar to post. Again, another match which settled a long-standing MSG series. Watching this match, it's hard to believe Koloff actually beat Bruno for the Championship nearly five years beforehand. Bruno walks out the door after just under 10 minutes of action, leaving the "Russian Bear" swinging at the air like Tony Altimore. There have been more competitive Bruno Sammartino cage matches, but this match still has a lot ot historical significance.
WINNER: BRUNO SAMMARTINO
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION CHAMPIONSHIP:
BOB BACKLUND (Champion) vs. STAN "THE LARIAT" HANSEN (Challenger) (4/6/81)
This match surprised me quite a bit. I expected a long, blood-splattered war between two wrestling legends; instead I get a blowoff. From what I hear, the previous month at MSG saw Hansen brutalize Backlund so badly he got taken away on a stretcher. Knowing this, I figured it would at least be competitive. Oh yes, Hansen got his licks in, but it's clear that Backlund is going to walk out the winner. And he not only walks out the winner, but he does so in a fashion that makes "The Lariat" look weak; yes, the very guy who broke Bruno Sammartino's neck with a bodyslam in 1976. I was not very into this match; though I do love Hansen's post-match fit, running around the ring screaming "Backlund!" and giving the sign of Texas.
WINNER: BOB BACKLUND
MAGNIFICENT MURACO (Champion) vs. JIMMY "SUPERFLY" SNUKA (Challenger) (10/17/83)
Historic match for so many reasons. Two immediately First, this match contains the most legendary "high spot" in wrestling history, one that so many of today's competitors point to as the moment where they decided they wanted to take on professional wrestling as a career of choice. Second, a young Mick Foley is seated ringside, and witnesses the defining moment of his life. The match itself? Not very long, but from bell-to-bell, a lot of action is packed inside. Muraco slingshotting Snuka into the cage still makes me wince to this day, and I still scream at the TV whenever I see Snuka accidentally headbutting Muraco through the door. It wasn't the first time a cage match ended this way (Superstar Billy Graham won several cage matches in '77-'78 in the same fashion), but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch. It did, of course, set up for the famous "Superfly" dive. If you ever get to read Rowdy Roddy Piper's book "In the Pit With Piper", his botched account of this match is hilarious to read. If you believe Piper, not only was he there, but this match somehow ties into Hulk Hogan's push to the top of WWE despite not even being back in the company yet! Hard to explain, maybe some other time.
WINNER: MAGNIFICENT MURACO (though he hardly looks it)
NWA U.S. CHAMPIONSHIP:
TULLY BLANCHARD (Champion) vs. MAGNUM T.A. (Challenger) (11/28/85)
I admit; I was not an NWA fan growing up. I'm a Northeastern boy, so WWE was what I was raised on. But if I were to pick a favorite NWA match, this would be the one. The bloodlust between Tully and Magnum is a sight to be behold; hardcore before "hardcore" became a common terminology in the business. The thing that makes this match so amazing to watch is the selling on both mens' parts; their facial expressions and their screams truly make one's spine tingle. And the broken chair which produces a wooden stake? Must be seen to be believed. It's a good thing this match appears in this collection, because the other two NWA matches just don't hold up in my opinion. Side note: a young Earl Hebner is seen wearing the stripes.
WINNER: MAGNUM T.A.
RIC FLAIR (Champion) vs. DUSTY RHODES (Challenger) (7/26/86)
I expected a lot more out of this match. I didn't think much of this one, probably one of two extras one could live with skipping over. This is surprising considering who is involved in this match. Rhodes regains the Title here, not much else to say.
WINNER: DUSTY RHODES
NWA TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP:
THE ROCK 'N' ROLL EXPRESS (Champions) vs. OLE & ARN ANDERSON (Challengers) (11/27/86)
Another match which didn't impress me much. Maybe I'm expecting all NWA cage matches to be on the level of Blanchard-Magnum. I hated how the NWA did their cage matches; they were held under traditional match rules but with a cage surrounding the ring. That doesn't cut it. WWE had it right (until they started allowing pinfalls too); let the two men fight it out until one man has the strength to exit the cage. The referee's only job is to open and close the door upon request from either wrestler. This match was okay, nothing that made me want to see it again. Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson retain. Maybe I'm just spoiled by WWE cage matches, I don't know.
WINNERS: THE ROCK 'N' ROLL EXPRESS
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION CHAMPIONSHIP:
BRET "HIT MAN" HART (Champion) vs. OWEN HART (Challenger) (8/27/94)
Ahh, back to the WWE matches, a clean breath of fresh air. A SummerSlam classic! Bret competes despite suffering from strep throat. Bret and Owen go for thirty three minutes solid, and the drama level is pretty high here. There were times when it really looked like Owen was going to take the victory, but Bret was there at every turn to prevent Owen from winning. Bret's strep condition must have been pretty bad; his facial expressions indicated to me he was sick as hell. But it didn't matter; Bret was, and still is, a consummate professional who puts the match ahead of all else. Bret wins by climbing out, as Owen gets entangled in the steel bars. The Hart family, including brothers-in-law Davey Boy Smith and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, all get involved after the match.
WINNER: BRET "HIT MAN" HART
MANKIND vs. HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY (8/3/97)
SummerSlam once again. Believe it or not, this was the opening match of the PPV! Really seems like WWE didn't think much of cage matches back then. This match, in my opinion, is one of the greatest of Mick Foley's career. This was during the time when fans were learning more about Foley's life before wrestling, and saw the human side of a man fans only knew for being the crazed Cactus Jack and the demented boiler room dweller Mankind. He was alternating between competing as Mankind and Dude Love at this point of his career. This match is a joy to watch, but Chyna gets in the way a bit too much. She apparently didn't understand that her constant interference defeated the very purpose of a cage match. You have no idea how glad I am to see Ms. Joanie Laurer long gone from WWE. How she was not able to see Hunter come flying toward her when Mankind slingshotted him right in her direction is beyond me. Mankind wins with a spectacular flying elbow off the top of the cage. Strange moment after the match where the Dude Love music plays, and Mankind starts getting his groove on. OWWWW, have a nice day!
SHAWN MICHAELS (Champion) vs. MARTY JANNETTY (Challenger) (8/17/93)
White Plains, New York is the setting here, Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Polo (quoth the Raven, never more) are on commentary. This match was originally a Coliseum Video exclusive, presented on the second Bloopers, Bleeps & Bodyslams video. Why? I haven't the slightest clue. This match isn't bad, considering Jannetty was probably dancing on the snow-capped mountains of Peru beforehand. HBK looks a tad pudgy in this match also, but that doesn't hamper his performance. Listen to the commentary in this match and hear Gorilla echo my assessment on how steel cage matches should be done. HBK wins this one, no surprise here.
WINNER: SHAWN MICHAELS
EDGE vs. KURT ANGLE (5/30/02)
This match comes from a broadcast of WWE SmackDown!. Kurt Angle is still sporting the headgear and hairpiece in this match. Great action to be found here, these two had a very good chemistry in the ring together. Several times it seemed the match was about to end, but either Edge or Angle were able to thwart the other's escape attempt. Here in this match, we see an example of why referees should not be inside the cage; we get a ref bump, and Angle escapes the cage first, without the benefit of a referee to record the finish. Enter the immortal Hulkster, who lays a wicked beatdown on your Olympic hero and pitches him back inside the cage. Edge ends up winning later in the match with an amazing spear off the top rope. Unfortunately, Hulk's postmatch attack on Angle didn't make into the feature, and it gets cut here too. That's an unfortunate casualty here. As I wrote earlier: Oh well, brother.
Overall, I can tell you that is is a DVD that every WWE fan MUST have. While it's not completely perfect, it is still an amazing overview of some historic WWE (and even NWA) battles inside the 15-foot high steel cage. As far as matches that "shoulda been on there", I would say they could have stood to include Bruno Sammartino vs. George "The Animal" Steele (Philadelphia Arena circa 1970), Greg "The Hammer" Valentine vs. Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title (7/6/85), Bruno Sammartino vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper (Boston Garden 2/8/86), Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy for the Federation Championship (WrestleMania 2, 4/7/86), and Mankind vs. The Rock vs. Ken Shamrock from Break Down: In Your House (9/24/98). But that's a moot point. WWE Home Video should be applauded for putting together a DVD production featuring some of WWE's true all-time greats, to give younger fans out there a chance to see the Superstars who paved the way for today's great roster of athletes to earn a living off of bodyslams and pinfalls. And we even see some of today's Superstars doing battle as well, completing the picture. Fans, young or not as young, buy this DVD! You'll be glad you did!