Chambers of Horror: Wrestling’s Forgotten Cage Matches
If you think about it, the success of the Elimination Chamber format is actually pretty amazing. As high concept matches go, it’s right up there with the Reverse Battle Royal, the Bra and Panties Match and the Judy Bagwell On A Pole Match. A bunch of cages inside a larger cage, each containing a wrestler, which open in a random order as dictated by a timer. It’s pretty wacky, yet, somehow, it’s worked and has gone on to be one of the WWE’s premier gimmick matches along with the career shortening Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, and the fat-men-falling-off-a-cage-a-thon that is the Hell in a Cell match.
But, for every Elimination Chamber, there’s a whole bunch of wacky cage matches that didn’t work out quite so well. Here, we’re going to be looking at some of the enclosed match formats that the WWE, the WWF and WCW would like you to forget, and we’ll be measuring their ineffective wackiness in the only sensible way, through the renowned “Vince Russo Scale of Idiocy”, which we will be measuring using Wrestling 101’s own personal Russometer. Let’s begin;
The Ready to Rumble Cage Match
The Rules: Strictly speaking, the Ready to Rumble Cage Match wasn’t a new concept; it was just a new name for the old Triple-Cage Match. It’s effectively three Hell in a Cell cages stacked on top of each other, with a prize of some sort, usually a title belt, suspended in the upper most cage (similar to a ladder match). The object of the match is to, starting in the ring, ascend through the various layers of cages and retrieve the object.
The Idea: As any of you who haven’t been able to repress the memories yet will remember, Ready To Rumble (which I just found out was seriously called “Head Lock! Go! Go! American Wrestling!” in Japan, which is amazing) was a film co-produced by WCW, starring various WCW stars, but centring on the careers of fictional wrestlers. The finale of the film saw one of the film’s stars, played by Oliver Platt, winning a Triple-Cage Match to save his wrestling career (which the film portrays as being a 100% authentic sport, which, ironically, pays far more respect to wrestling kayfabe than WCW itself did at the time). In a mind-blowingly short-sited publicity stunt, WCW bought in one of the film’s other stars, David Arquette, and made him World Champion. Obviously, a champion as mighty as David Arquette couldn’t possibly drop his belt in a one on one match, so in an event so horribly self-referencing that it made Earl Hebner blush, the main event of the film become the real main event of Slamboree 2000, as DAVID ARQUETTE defended is WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP against Jeff Jarrett and Diamond Dallas Page.
The Result: Other than no one possibly being able to take anything with David Arquette in it seriously (see: Scream 4), there was another problem. Mankind and the Undertaker’s Hell in a Cell match will go down in history as one of the greatest, or at least most iconic, gimmick matches of all time, but it had it’s negatives, namely, it proved that walking on the top of a Hell in a Cell cage is really awkward. It’s even more awkward when almost half the entire match takes place on one. It didn’t take long until everyone was stumbling around like a bunch of back-yarders on a trampoline. Bad logistics aside, the match was also horribly booked, with David Arquette actually effectively winning the match, but then choosing not to bother (because even he didn’t care about the title) and then turning heel for absolutely no reason. Oh, and Chris Kanyon did a bump off the top of the thing just to prove that it’s impossible for main stream fans to care about Chris Kanyon no matter what he does. Thankfully, WCW didn’t exist long enough for this match to get a second outing.
The Rules: The match takes place outside the ring in a separately constructed octagonal cage similar to the traditional UFC “Octagon” cage. The match was conducted under something relatively similar to MMA rules, with matches ending by submission or knock out.
The Idea: The entire concept was a cash-in on the real life MMA experience of Ken Shamrock, who was trying his luck as a professional wrestler at the time. It became his signature match, taking place several times against opponents like Owen Hart, Steve Blackman and even Vince McMahon himself.
The Result: These matches weren’t half bad actually. The problem with the Lion’s Den wasn’t the content; it was the presentation. Firstly, at the time these matches took place, in the mid to late 90’s, the UFC and MMA in general was no where near the level it is today, and was vastly inferior to pro-wrestling, which was the number one pop-culture phenomenon of the age. The result of this was that, whilst the MMA references were cool, most people simply didn’t care, or even really understand. The matches also did away with some of pro-wrestling’s flashier aspects, attempting to put on more realistic matches which, whilst a fine idea in another situation, created a weird clash when it took place in the middle of normal pro-wrestling shows, where this was the only mildly realistic thing on the card.
The other problem with the presentation was the location of the match. As I said, unlike the other matches on this list, it didn’t take place inside the ring, but instead in a totally separate structure tucked around the side of the audience, near the stage, so hardly anyone could actually see it, resulting in a crowd that not only, for the most part, didn’t care and couldn’t understand the match, but also couldn’t see it; an interesting concept that was in the wrong place (quite literally in some cases) at the wrong time.
The Chamber of Horrors
The Rules: This was yet another cage-match-with-a-twist, this time a Hell in a Cell with an electric chair in the middle. The object of the match was to place your opponent in the electric chair and then flip a switch, killing them or something, I don’t know.
The Idea: This match took place in the early 90’s, in child-friendly WCW, where nonsense like this was perfectly acceptable. In it’s debut (and, as far as I know, final outing), the match pitted the babyface team of Sting, Rick Steiner, Scott Seiner and El Gigante against the heel team of The Diamond Studd, Cactus Jack, Abdullah the Butcher and Big Van Vader in a four on four clash.
The Result: The match itself was the kind of schlocky silliness you’d expect from WCW in 1991, and the fact the match took place at the yearly Halloween Havoc pay-per-view just added to the acceptability. Plus, with talents in there, like Sting, the Steiners, Mick Foley and Vader, a genuinely fun little garbage match took place.
That was, until the final spot.
The end of the match was booked to have Abdullah place Rick Steiner in the electric chair whilst Cactus Jack went to flip the switch. Whilst Jack’s back was turned, Rick would spring up, belly-to-belly suplex Abdullah into the chair, and Cactus would accidently fry his own tag partner.
Shockingly, it wasn’t the part that involved Abdullah the Butcher taking a belly-to-belly suplex that went wrong. It has to be said that, long before WCW’s famous creative collapse in the late 90’s, even in ’91, there were still plenty of people who had no Earthly idea what they were supposed to be doing. As a result, the prop department had set up the ring so badly that, during the match, the switch flipped itself, simply dropping down. Due to the switch being no more than a prop, nothing actually happened, and the chair didn’t spark into life, which was probably a good thing, and it’s hard to imagine many people noticing something like that.
Except it wasn’t just the props department who weren’t pulling their weight that day, the camera team, apparently unaware what the entire point of the match was, zoomed in on the downed leaver, highlighting the mistake. Thankfully, a consummate professional like Mick Foley was on hand to power through the whole thing by just holding the leaver up and pretending nothing had happened until the time came for the finish, which involved an obese man wobbling around in a chair and then pretending to die.
The Punjabi Prison
The Rules: The ring is encased in two bamboo cages. The first cage is a four walled cage fitted tight against the apron of the ring like the classic Cage Match cage. This inner cage is fitter with four doors, one on each side, and each door is manned by a referee who is responsible for opening and closing it. Each door may be opened upon the request of one of the wrestlers in the match, and will remain open for exactly one minute, after which point it is shut again, this time permanently.
The second cage is a large octagonal cage, similar in proportion to the Elimination Chamber’s outer cage, but with no roof. The area between the two cages contains a variety of vaguely Indian themed weapons.
The object of the match is to escape both cages. The inner cage can be escaped either through the doors, or by climbing over the top (which has spikes on it, whatever), whilst the outer cage can only be escaped by climbing.
The Idea: This match was originally pushed as a gimmick match for the Great Khali. Unthinkable now as it is, Khali was, at the time, being pushed as a potential main event talent, with a feud against the Undertaker. The particularly weird kayfabe pitch for the match involved presenting it as some sort of bizarre Indian torture devise used on prisoners in the subcontinent, similar to Roman gladiatorial arenas.
The Reality: Vague racist hints towards the Black Hole of Calcutta aside, you have to admire the WWE for trying something so ridiculous in the year 2006. A cage within a cage is a tried and tested winner, but when you try and present it as being based on fact, and then throw in a bunch of legitimately deadly weapons, things go from “wacky” to “Medieval Times”.
It didn’t help that, despite the entire match being built around him, the Great Khali was completely absent from it’s first outing (actually, that probably did help quite a bit). Due to his *AHEM* elevated liver enzymes, Khali was forced to pull out, and the match saw the Undertaker and the Big Show both attempting to polish a turd.
At least Khali actually got to take part in his own match the second time around, facing Batista who, God bless him, wasn’t the guy you wanted when you needed to help carry someone.
After two poor matches and a lot of sniggering at just how silly the entire concept was, the WWE dropped the match, and after a short feud with John Cena, they dropped Khali’s main event aspirations too.
Russometer Rating: 8/10
The Electrified Cage
The Rules: This is a standard Cage Match (pins and submissions only, no escapes) with the added gimmick of the cage having an electric current running through it that shocks anyone who comes into contact with it’s metal bars.
The Idea: I’ll be honest, I have no idea who first came up with this, but it’s been done all the over the world for decades. God knows why. Due to the electrification of the cage, it ends up playing out a lot more like an Inferno Match than a Cage Match, with most of the match looking like a standard in-ring affair, with the occasional cage based high-spot, normally for the finish.
The Reality: I’m going to let you in on a little secret here; wrestling isn’t real. This is the main problem with the cage match. Because pro-wrestling isn’t part of a Japanese game show, the cage bars don’t REALLY have an electric current passing through them. The result of that little fact is that, when the wrestlers make contact with the cage, what they’re really doing is a silly, flappy dance. If you’re at a fancy show, they might play a sound effect, or turn the lights on and off a bit, but, in general, the second you see a man dancing about pretending to be being electrocuted, any hint of being able to take the match seriously is gone, and the only possibly reaction is laughter. This would be all well and good if these were presented as comedy matches, but, sadly, they don’t tend to be. Take, for example, LAX vs. Team 3D at TNA’s Lethal Lockdown in 2007, a match presented as an intense blow-off match to a big time feud that came down to four men falling into a cage and then doing a little shaky dance.
The Kennel From Hell
The Rules: This is your basic cage within a cage. It consisted of a plain old ring-hugging cage inside a Hell in a Cell cage. The object of the match is to climb out of the first cage, and then exist through the Hell in a Cell cages door, which was unlocked. Sounds simple right? No.
The Idea: Now, this is really unfair of me, because I have absolutely no evidence to support this, but, I’m telling you right now, I’m 100% certain that Vince Russo invented this match. It’s the classic Russo formula of taking an established match and putting a new ludicrous element into it. And what was that element I hear you ask? Dogs, real, actual, living dogs that patrolled the area between the inner and outer cages, threatening to savage anyone who tried to make the desperate dash from one cage to the next.
The Result: Somehow, the result was a thousand times more ridiculous than the original idea (which was already pretty ridiculous). For whatever reason, WWF’s creative team didn’t bother to actually get any sort of trained stage dogs for the job who might be able to growl and bark fiercely on command or anything like that, nope, they just got regular dogs who, being dogs, completely ignored the match, and spent the entire time urinating on the arena floor, smelling each other, and humping whilst Al Snow and the Big Boss Man desperately tried to make it look like these dogs where even slightly intimidating. Snow went on to win this match, resulting in one of the funniest sights in wrestling history, as he attempted to flee through the Hell in a Cell door as if his life depended on it, whilst a dog, about two feet away from him, nonchalantly glanced up before completely ignoring him.
Russometer Rating: 10/10