The History Of The Steel Cage
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“I hope to never have a real-life comparison to draw on. To be on, in, around and through the cell is like hell.” Mick Foley
Although in the modern day, pro wrestling has it’s fair share of detractors for a whole host of valid and equally ridiculous reasons. The world of spandex covered grappling and glamour still has a lot to offer, which keeps fans like me, of this spectacular mix of sports and entertainment coming back for more.
Some fans continue to watch because they are attached to a particular wrestler, willing them on to success through defeat and trials of combat.
Some prefer the over the top, soap opera storylines and the interactions between some of entertainments most exaggerated characters.
Other fans watch wrestling for the athleticism and spectacle of seeing world-class athletes leaping from the top rope and slamming their opponents with precision and power.
Then you have the small section of fans who enjoy pro wrestling on a much more visceral level. Fans who watch for the brutality of a feud ending battle. They watch to see two wrestlers who hate one another battle seemingly to the death in a blood-soaked bout for the ages.
All of these types of fans of pro wrestling are entirely valid in their opinions and are justified in appreciating any number of these reasons and engaging with the sweaty world of grappling in anyway they see fit.
However, in today’s fast paced world of constant streaming and endless broadcasts, it can sometimes be a struggle for pro wrestling companies to deliver a product which can satisfy the needs of all of these different types of audience.
The moments when a wrestling company can combine fan favourite characters, in storylines which lead to memorable and purposeful matches are some of the most engaging and entertaining in any form of media in my opinion.
And in WWE and the wider wrestling world, so many of these moments where all elements have aligned in order to tell a captivating story have taken place inside one of the businesses most brutal and unforgiving constructs.
The steel cage. In this video, I want to discover the origins of the steel cage in pro wrestling and it’s evolution through 80 years of chicken wire fences and bright blue bars into what we see in the modern day of the elimination chamber in WWE and All Elite Wrestling’s take on the War Games stipulation with their Blood & Guts cage match.
I want to see why this match stipulation has been considered so important to the history of pro wrestling, through some of the most memorable cage matches of all time. And hopefully through this video, we will see if there is a place in the modern day for the steel cage match and what the future may hold for this controversial construction.
1937 was a simpler time in the world of professional wrestling. Long before the age of the enormous dastardly Hell in A Cell, The utter brutality of the 8 man elimination chamber or heaven forbid the ridiculous Punjabi Prison match.
On June 25th of 1937, one hot Atlanta night, rabid Georgian fans were shocked and enthralled by a true spectacle. The first place we can track records back to of one of wrestling’s most barbaric ways of settling a dispute.
In the library of congress, the records of the Atlanta Journal newspaper show a innovative fight between two fierce men. Jack Bloomfield defeated Count Petro Rossi in a ring surrounded on all sides by 6-foot-high chicken wire fencing. And so, the cold, hard history of the steel cage match begins.
For almost 80 years the steel cage in its many variations has been a place where two or more enemies can put a definitive end to their rivalry. A place to settles scores when all other options have been explored to no avail. The original idea being that there would be no escape from one another, leaving for only one option, a fight to the bitter end, with one clear winner, undisputed in their triumph through such adversity.
In September 1942, John Katan defeated Ignacio Martinez in a 6-foot steel cage as the match stipulation started to spread to the North.
Canadian fans at the time reportedly jubilant with the chance to indulge in a more vicious form of their beloved pro-wrestling.
In February of 1954 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada Tony Angelo defeated Frank Marconi.The match type becoming popular, seeing the likes of Whipper Billy Watson defeat Antone Leone is another Canadian province of Vancouver.
When the mid ‘50s rolled around, wrestling was changing and so did the format for these types of matches.
A sturdier connected cage started to become the preferred choice for surrounding the ring. Using higher, interconnected steel-chain fencing.
Some companies constructed the cage in a way to have a roof.Some were just large enough to contain the ring, and some, as was the case In Memphis Wrestling, opted for larger structures that allowed space around the ring, more akin to a Hell in A Cell match in WWE.
Tito Montez was arguably the 1960s most dominant athlete inside of cage matches, defeating Don Kent, Bearcat Wright, Don Arnold and Kurt von Steiger In the course of a decade.
The fences became a thing of the past by the 70s, but the idea of the steel cage match started to be explored further, with ‘Indian Death’ matches taking place across the country, with the likes of Fritz Von Erich making a name for himself in such matches.
This structure often consisted of spiked fencing poles lined side by side around the ring.
This is where the dreaded, modern-day Punjabi prison match takes it’s inspiration from.
In December of 1975, Bruno Sammartino defeated Lou Albano in Boston to retain the WWF world title inside a cage which was shaping up to be a lot more similar to that of todays.
Ric Flair had several stellar matches inside of a cage in the mid to late 70s, standing out for impressive in-ring work in matches against Wahoo McDaniel, a classic against Ricky Steamboat and losing the NWA tag belts with Greg Valentine against his future team-mates Ole and Arn Anderson.
The 80s began with an era defining moment, when in October 1982 in a match against Don Muraco, inside of a steel cage in WWF Jimmy Superfly Snuka earnt his nickname.
Mick Foley: “Jimmy Snuka created that moment for me – a moment that was about so much more than just an athletic dive from the top of a steel cage. It was professional wrestling as art.” Foley recounted, having been present on that famed night.
For the first time on television a wrestler had ascended the metal sides of the cage and stood 10 feet above the ring, the crowd gasp as Snuka postured and posed from his position aloft the cage, before taking a giant leap and making wrestling history.
Flying through the air to the cheers of the now astonished crowd, Jimmy Snuka landed on Don Maroco for the 1,2,3. This moment opened up a whole world of possibilities and laid the ground work for the modern day steel cage match.
Another key aspect of any modern era cage match is it’s propensity for violence. I mean, if you’ve paid for your seat and are seeing bitter rivals battle it out inside a barbed wire cage , chances are your looking for something a little more graphic than your average one on one singles match.
Dusty Rhodes, with his everyman, son of a plumber character was one known for bringing the gore levels up in his matches.
One look at Dusty Rhode’s battle scarred forehead will tell you how Inside the steel cage was where Rhode’s penchant for blood really shone through. Around this time in 1983. The King Of Memphis, Jerry Lawler was adding to his tally of memorable steel cage matches, in his most iconic against a young Macho Man Randy Savage, in December for the Southern Heavyweight Championship.
In 1985, the steel cage underwent huge changes both in the construction of the cage itself and the aesthetic.
The excitement of climbing to the top of the cage and out to the floor or diving down onto your opponent caused a change in WWE’s approach to steel cage matches.
At Wrestlemania 2 in 1985, King Kong Bundy faced off against Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship inside the newly re-designed blue barred cage. WWE at the time heavily favoured larger men as their top heroes and villains.
The much sturdier cage, which would allow the even sturdier King Kong Bundy at least a fighting chance of ascending it without complete catastrophic failure. As was necessary with WWE changing the rules of the steel cage match to allow victory only when a combatant exited the cage either by climbing over the top or through the door.
Legenday wrestler and commentator Jesse Ventura explained on the night: “This isn’t exactly a normal steel cage, usually it’s a cyclone fence but in the case of King Kong Bundy, he’s about 450 pounds, he needs a reinforced cage.”
Since Wrestlemania 2, there has only ever been one other steel cage match in it’s original form at WWE’s biggest show of the year.
However, this didn’t stop WWE from releasing a video game for the NES and Sega Master System which saw every match up taking place at Wrestlemania inside of a steel cage.
The much forgotten WWF Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge which released in 1992, featured wrestling icons such as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels & The Undertaker in match ups consisting entirely of simple punches and kicks and basic slam moves.
The gameplay is repetitive and has not aged well and it doesn’t seem as if the games was received especially well by either fans nor critics at the time.
One thing that this vide game does go to show, is the widespread appeal of the steel cage and the fact that even if WWE were not going to be featuring the match type at Wrestlemania as the title suggests, the wrestling giant still understood the marketing power of those vicious looking bars and the fact that kids would want to buy a game purely to experience their favourite grapplers inside of a steel cage match.
WINNING IN THE CAGE
At this point, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the way in which a wrestler can win within the confines of a steel cage. A rule in wrestling, as is the case with so much in the world of the squared circle, which I’m sure I will never fully understand.
The whole point of the steel cage match up until this point in history was centred around confining to opponents who hated one another, in a manner which meant escape was highly unlikely if not impossible, a match type where the sole aim was to end a bloody feud and put to rest a hate filled history.
Promotions started to explore new ideas with stipulations such as ‘I Quit’ matches being added to cards including Bruno Sammartino, forcing one combatant to lose the fight by exclaiming that they can no longer compete. However this was extremely rare and only used a least early on, in a small handful of matches.
During this entire time, the only other ways to win in a steel cage match was to pin, submit or KO your opponent leaving them unable to continue. It was a fitting way to enclose a feud in a cage which means that nobody can escape and that the score was guaranteed with one man standing victorious over his hated foe.
But then, WWE changes their minds and decides that the only real way to settle such a hefty score, is for one man to run away and flee from the confrontation. A new way in which during this all or nothing contest a combatant can obtain a victory.
Escape the cage. A simple idea in theory. One that would surely lead to many a wrestler clambering up the side of the fencing with their opponent incapacitated, over the top towards the glory of the crowd.
And yes. Seeing a man who is more than double my size, show such athletic prowess, and make it out of the cage can be a sight to behold, but as soon as you dig a little deeper and look into what this rule change meant for the feud at stake and the emotional impact of the match, we see that allowing a victory by escaping the cage, completely undermines the entire event.
Some have even simply left the cage by opening the door and walking out. No real struggle or dramatic climax.
What happens next?
Does the wrestler left in the ring just concede their loss to the opponent, agreeing they have clearly been beaten and bettered by a superior athlete because their opponent managed to sneak through the cell door?
How does this change in stipulation add to the definitive nature of a steel cage match?
Simply put, it doesn’t.
In some cases, these cage matches are the result of rivalries which have stretched over years.
Originally designed as an ultimate end point. But with the way in which WWE handles cage matches in the modern day in regard to allowing victory within these matches, I believe that the steel cage match has lost it’s power.
A steel cage match in WWE feels no more definitive than any other special match type. Feuds which have featured a battle inside of a cage have often continued long after one of the wrestlers has exited the cage.
I believe a way in which WWE could reinvigorate this stipulation is a straightforward one. Keep the door locked and only allow for victories within the cell to come by pinfall, submission or knockout and allow for that feeling of 2 enemies being trapped in together to settle the score, come back to this once great match type.
The blue bar cage became the de facto used for steel cage matches for more than a decade from this point.
Where some historic battles too place including Magnum T.A’s brutal victory against Tully Blanchard in an I Quit variant of the match in 1985.
Hulk Hogan defeating (obviously) Big Bossman in 1989 at Saturday Night’s Main Event.
The Ultimate Warrior battling against Rick Rude at Summerslam to retain the World Heavyweight title.
Bret Hart And Shawn Michaels fought in a technical and exhilarating match in New York City.
As well as a whole host of other memorable moments from within those thick blue bars.
Thick blue bars that obscure the view for anyone not in the cage. The thick blue bars that were so far apart, cheaters could easily pass through a weapon and interfere with the match.
The same thick blue bars that brought about the most drastic change to the rules of the steel cage match to date.
In the ‘80s, NWA tried having two and three rings in a single cage setup for a couple of pay-per-views and even a small number of times where NWA and later WCW swung wildly in their attempts to drawn in fans, with the fondly remembered War Games.
Dusty Rhodes has the idea for the War Games Cage design after watching classic action film Mad Max 3, Beyond Thunder Dome.
Another insight into just how far wrestling companies were willing to push the boundaries at the time to gain an upper hand on their rivals. The first use of the war games cage appeared during NWA’s Great American Bash in 1987 and again the next year at the same event.
By 1991 and 1992 WCW began to use the War Games cage and in 1993 the match stipulation became an annual event which traditionally took place at the Fall Brawl pay-per-view.
The match was as over the top and spectacular as you’d expect from not only the ridiculous nature of the cage’s design but also the top-level athletes who stepped between it’s doors. However, the structure never lived up to the same excitement of the films that inspired its design.
Current fans of NXT will be more than familiar with the War Games match type. In his later life the creator of the match Dusty Rhodes spent much of his time passing on his wealth of knowledge in the WWE developmental brand NXT. After Rhodes’ passing his most iconic idea has been immortalised. WWE revitalising the War Games structure at their now annual pay-per-view of the same name.
AEW BLOOD & GUTS
Dusty Rhode’s two sons, Cody and Dustin spent their early careers in WWE. Both men have now gone of to become founding members of All Elite Wrestling and seemingly have taken inspiration from their legendary creative father.
Alongside a cast of performers who clearly have huge respect for the athletes who came before them, the Rhodes brothers helped to bring the War Games format to AEW in the form of the Blood and Guts Match.
A gory night of mayhem and magnificent story telling, the inaugural pap-per-view saw Chris Jericho plummeting from atop the cage at the hand of his much hated enemy MJF in a moment which took what Dusty Rhodes had created in the late 80s and p[ushed it firmly into the modern era.
Based on WCW war games, this steel cage megalith is designed to give 10 wrestlers a platform in order to go out and destroy one another. The name blood and guts is all you need to know, in order to understand the shows main themes and so far, the event has lived up to the title.
Weapons, beat downs and falls from great heights are all possible within this hellish structure, so it is of no surprise to anyone that most who walk between it’s construction, end up gushing blood before they can leave.
In 1988 WCW had started its first real push towards the evolution of the steel cage match, adapting a ‘Doomsday Cage’ OR ‘Tower of Doom’ for Great American Bash.
A step too far perhaps, WCW decided to stack cages on top of one another and have some of the industry’s most iconic superstars climbing around like children on a jungle jim at the park.
Two combatants start in the central bottom ring with all the rest of the competitors locked inside other rings above.
After a set amount of time, which was explained to be 2 minutes, one of the upper cage doors would be unlocked and allow for one of the team mates to enter the fight. In time, all doors are unlocked for the upper cages and it becomes a complete mess with 10 men who had no experience in this newly created match type struggle to put on a spectacle beyond the ludicrous aesthetic of the cage set up.
White knuckles clenched around the fencing, the wrestler’s were clearly not confident in the skills of the cage’s construction as they tentatively bounces around three levels, with fans in attendance unable to see a single thing that was happening and television cameras barely able to follow the nonsensical action.
This triple cage setup made a return in 1996 at WCW Uncensored, seeing Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage fight from the top cage, all the way to the bottom against members of Dungeon of Doom and Four Horsemen.
The American wrestling scene wasn’t the only place to witness a revolution within steel cage matches in the 90s. As with so much in the world of entertainment in 1994, Japanese wrestling was changing from a colourful and fun-fuelled show for children, into something darker and much more violent.
EXPLOSIVE BARBED WIRE STEEL CAGE, 1994
In Kawasaki, Japan in front of 52,000 fans inside of the Kawasaki Stadium, Atsushi Onita faced off against Genichro Tenryu in a match which saw both these Asian hardcore legends pushed to their limits.
The promotion which put on the show, spearheaded by Onita, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was aptly named. The company was truly at the forefront of what was thought possible and indeed morally acceptable within the confined of a wrestling ring.
What became known as an Explosive Barbed Wire steel cage match has a name which even if you aren’t a fan of pro wrestling, surely would grab your attention. And for better or for worse, that is exactly what these two vicious men achieved in this ground-breaking contest.
A moment which is now looked back upon as somewhat of a turning point for hardcore wrestling, the ring ropes were replaced with explosive barbed wire, which would ignite upon contact from a fighter. The match being sighted by the likes of Mick Foley in the West and is credited with bringing new levels of popularity to this kind of violence in America at the time.
BRET VS OWEN
Back in the US and in 1994 WWE were sticking to their guns and were at the height of their child friendly neon lit period. Far from the ideas of hardcore matches and barbed wire, the steel cage in WWE saw a classic match between brothers Bret and Owen Hart at Summerslam in August.
With the WWF title on the line in Chicago the Hart brothers brought their feud to new levels, through an incredibly well told story which explored Bret’s skill as the more successful sibling and Owen as the younger brother, desperate to escape Bret’s shadow.
The wrestling which took place was of the highest calibre on display anywhere in the world at the time. Two men who know eachothers moves in and out, allowed for fast-paced exchanges full of clever submission escapes and seamless reversals.
Bret went on to win the match and retain the title, however both men deserve praise for showing that even though the wrestling world in 1994 was about to change forever, their form of pure wrestling skill mixed with well told stories can stand the test of time.
After all, this match is a 5 star classic with the WWF title on the line and it didn’t even main event the show.
This did. Undertaker Vs Undertaker in a match which most would be hard pressed to remember any of aside from the fact that it merely happened. I know which of the two matches I would rather re-watch in the modern day.
However, back in 1994, fans wanted change. They were sick of the cartoonish presentation style within WWE at the time and pay-per-view buys and show attendance began to dwindle.
BLACK BARS IN WWF
Heading in the complete opposite direction, thankfully WWE decided to paint the blue bars black in the later part of the ‘90s. In fitting with their brand becoming more adult focused, less colourful and taking a step away from the perceived neon ‘90s, the black barred version of the WWE steel cage, although only used sparingly, has a real nostalgia to it looking back, and is perfectly fitting with the feelings of change present in the attitude era in WWE.
A famed moment inside this black cage happened at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view, during a steel cage match between Vincent Mcmahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1999. The match also saw the debut of the Big Show who burst through the ring canvas and threw Stone Cold powerfully towards the steel cage wall.
The force of the throw sent Steve Austin through the cage, landing both feet on the floor and in a moment emblematic of why I love wrestling, won the match and foiled Vince McMahon’s plan to have the newly signed Big Show change the tides of the bout.
The late ‘90s really were the wild west of modern-day pro wrestling on television. WCW and WWF were competing in a winner takes all battle for supremacy on Monday night’s, the 2 wrestling titans both airing their weekly main show at the same time as well as a whole host of performers quiting from one company and joining the other.
This led to real innovation in wrestling, at a time which for better and for worse, changing the course of grappling history forever.
One of these changes came in the way the two companies delivered their steel cage matches. WCW known in part for it’s taste for the clinically insane stories and over-the-top match stipulations, brought in the advent of the domed cage.
A bird-cage like structure designed to prevent any escape from the match and return the steel cage match to it’s roots.
However, the cage design seemingly hampered the performer’s abilities to climb and dive within it and led to some fans at the time complaining that WCW’s version of the steel cage match lacked the excitement of the WWE’s tried and tested version.
Years later, Ring of Honor have held matches that have supports on the corners of the cage.
A great solution to the problems WCW had suffered 10 years prior. Small wooden platforms that add to the fact that in this promotion you cannot escape from the cage match to win, and thus the platforms only real purpose is to add space for the wrestlers do dive and grapple with one another.
But back to WCW.
AAA have since used a similar cage in their ‘Dome of Death’ matches which are much beloved by the Mexican fans, as are some of Impact (formerly TNA’s) Steel Asylum matches which utilised a cage not unlike that of WCW.
The WCW dome structure had fallen flat in the eyes of many fans. This led to WCW pushing the cage design further. In March of 1999 at Uncensored, Ric Flair defeated Hulk Hogan in a “first blood bared-wire” cage match for control of WCW.
As WCW changed, WWE at the same time were heading towards more gritty realism with their approach to pro wrestling. They took this outlook one step further, when yet again they adapted the design of their steel cage. This time, completely reverting back to the more flexible, wire fence designs of a by-gone era, being heavily inspired by cages used across the world which predated WWE’s use of the blue and black bars.
This fence version, which has been the steel cage of choice ever since, has a much better sense of visibility for fans throughout the match, whilst also allowing for high risk manoeuvres off of the steel beams which support the top of the cage but do not impair the audiences vision.
The clever design of this structure allows some give when an athlete is thrown or slammed into the cage walls whilst also being stable enough to support even the heaviest of competitors who are brave enough to dare climb to the top of this now even taller and more imposing cage.
In the years since we have seen the cage match evolve in an explosive amount of ways. We’ve had the infamous Kennel From Hell match, what was supposed to be a cage inside another. With aggressive guard dogs who would prevent the wrestlers from escaping. However the reality on the night hit home hard when fans were treated to a barely visible fight inside a naff looking set of poorly constructed cages and nervous dogs pooing all around the ring out of fear and shagging one another as dogs tend to do. Wrestling.
HELL IN A CELL
At WWE’s Bad Blood: In Your House in October 1997, the company decided to expand the size of the steel cage and add a roof.
The match between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker was dubbed Hell In A Cell and went down as an instant classic, especially amongst fans watching on television, the larger cage meant the camera person could be inside the cage, between the ring and the cage perimeter, meaning a much easier and more clear watching experience, without that pesky chainmail in the way.
From around the world of wrestling, we have iconic moments such as when Mick Foley plunged from the top of the newly formed Hell In A Cell cage onto the announce table. Or when Mick Foley was choke slammed through the top of the cage and onto the ring far below.
That’s right, those two moments which saw Mick Foley suffer from numerous and severe injuries happened in the same match. The same match against the Undertaker that gave us some of Jim Ross’s most iconic calls of the decade.
Since it’s inception there have been 50 televised Hell In A Cell matches, with each contest bringing with it new and interesting ways in which a wrestler may harm an opponent with help from the tons and tons of metal that surround them.
The structure being bigger and allowing much more space between the ring out the outer structure, lends itself to matches with more wrestlers inside of the cage.
And as the Hell In A Cell stipulation brings with it a larger cage, it also has slightly revised rules to the ones we see in the current steel cage match type. The big difference is that escaping the cell does not give victory to the escapee.
The only ways to win the match are to pin, submit or incapacitate an opponent within the ring or atop the cell. This means that the problems that have arisen with steel cage matches and the acceptance that escaping the cage ensures a victory, are not present in the Hell In A Cell match.
The Hell In A Cell match proved to be such a consistent draw for WWE that we now have a pay-per-view dedicated to hosting the monstrous cage.
Some fans comment on how having a dedicated yearly event built around Hell In A Cell, means that the storylines leading up to the event often feel forced and inorganically driven towards a match within the cell.
If you know that the pay-per-view is coming up then you know that in the month leading up to the event, there will for certain be at least one or two rivalries built around the idea that they will face off inside the confines of the menacing steel structure.
However, some fans, myself included believe that the Hell In A Cell match should serve as a way to end a long running feud, one which has no other options after exhausting every other channel to decide a victor. A last resort which is only used when the time is right. Not the other way around as we see in the current day WWE.
CAGE OF DEATH
By 1999, the wrestling world had undergone a full metamorphosis.
A change to the attitude era within WWE, brought with it a huge, dedicated fan base, the likes of which have since to be replicated. As the counter-culture became mainstream, the larger viewership for WWE and WCW meant other promotions had a chance to flourish too.
As hardcore wrestling in ECW exploded in popularity, close behind them were Combat Zone Wrestling who, in an attempt to capture some more of this newly invigorated fanbase, created one of the most pro wrestling-y constructs of all time.
Simply named, The Cage of Death a barbaric combination of a raggedy steel cage, filled to the brim with violent and menacing weaponry, with all whom enter the cage being heavily encouraged by the fans to use them in horrific and often bizarre ways.
Lobo defeated Justice Pain to win the CZW Ironman Championship in a memorable match which solidified this match type amongst pro wrestling’s most die-hard crowds.
The Cage of Death has since become a staple for CZW and continues to feature at their yearly Cage Of Death show, with the last taking place in 2019.
MORE, MORE, MORE
As the popularity of the more extreme side of pro wrestling immerged. Fans were no longer satisfied with the simple steel cage match. Hell In A Cell was WWE’s response, but seemingly, that wasn’t enough.
WWE wanted more wrestlers to compete inside of the steel cage stipulation.
More danger. More steel. Thus, this monstrosity of modern-day entertainment was born.
On the 17th November at Survivor Series in 2002. Countless tons of steel beams, plexiglass and linked fencing is combined for the ultimate Steel Cage variant the Elimination Chamber. A space equally impressive in it’s feat of engineering as it is ludicrous. Designed specifically to bring out the most action and thus the most fans at an event.
Two men starting in the ring and 4 or 6 others pressed into reinforced pods around the ring. Each podded superstar being released into the match in a seemingly random order. Until all wrestlers have entered the ring and one combatant is left standing.
The now annual Elimination Chamber event in WWE has changed slightly over the years since it’s held numerous classic matches, but at it’s heart the core of the Elimination Chamber is the same as what the steel cage match has always been, brutal, a little bit ridiculous but always incredibly exciting.
THE CAGE AS A SYMBOL OF VIOLENCE IN POP CULTURE
Since this time, fighting within a designated area, confined by ropes or fences has continued to prove popular amongst combat sports fans around the world. As society has evolved, so have our tastes and morals.
These days, most people prefer their violence to come in some fictional form, on the silver screen in a marvel film – this type of violence is deemed safe for children and is widely accepted as family fun and natural.
The idea of seeing two young men coming to blows is a familiar scene which permeates all forms of popular entertainment media internationally. However, real life fights fall into a different category.
At the top end of society, we see celebrities and famous faces paying small fortunes to be ringside at the big Las Vegas boxing match. It is seen as morally acceptable for adults to enjoy a contest between two highly trained and consenting individuals.
At the other end of society lives a dark under belly in the world of unlicensed fighting. A sordid world of unregulated combat, often with little rules and a lot of illegal betting.
Over the years, pro wrestling has been influenced by and has in turn influenced all manner of different forms of entertainment.
Thus there is a whole manner of different film and television which includes reference to elements of the pro wrestling world.
The silhouette of this iconic structure speaks for itself. Those who have no idea about WWE or pro wrestling, would find it easy to understand the types of combat which takes place in such a steel cage.
As far back as the 1975 film, Hard Times, we see action hero facing off against Robert Tessier inside of a caged area, a gritty battle with loads of hard-hitting blows.
During the episode Fight Or Die from the series Walker, Texas Ranger we see titular Walker played by Chuck Norris facing off inside of a steel cage against pro wrestling icon Macho Man Randy Savage who goes under the marvellous name of Whitelaw Lundren.
There is an excellent fight scene which takes place in a fenced off area in Escape from New York, John Carpenter’s masterful post-apocalyptic film starring Kurt Russell. The movie sees Snake Plisken forced to fight within a caged area which reminds me somehow of Lucha Underground.
In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves has a title which lets you know you are in for some serious dome related antics.
WWE presented their weekly programming live from their version of the Thunderdome during the entire 2020 pandemic, with fans now coining that whole period as the Thunderdome era.
WCW had a cage heavily inspired by the the third instalment of the Mad Max franchise. The film sees titular Max, played by Mel Gibson facing off against The Blaster in a fight to the death inside this now iconic structure. Rick & Morty even did a parody.
The original live-action Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno put his bulging biceps into action when he starred in a film simply titled Cage, which features a cage fighting competition which feels somewhere between modern day UFC and old school WWF steel cage matches.
In 1994 Lou Ferrigno stared in the sequel, Cage 2 and faced off in an intergender match up on the Cage Cable Network.
References to steel cages in pop culture do not end there however. In the 2D world of anime we’ve seen a cage match between some hapless teenage girls and some mascots in the much beloved series Amagi Brilliant Park.
Pokemon’s detective Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds, has a battle depicting the titular tiny electric mouse facing off against childhood favourite Charizard inside of a large fenced off arena.
When the worlds of WWE and Scooby Doo collided we were presented with the classic cartoon Wrestlemania Mystery in which we saw John Cena, Kane and Sin Cara facing off against legendary opponent Ghost Bear inside of a steel cage.
In another officially licensed WWE spin-off, we see a child entering into the world of pro wrestling under the moniker Kid Chaos. In the film Main Event, created in partnership with Netflix we see our main character facing off inside 4 sides of steel.
When WCW entered into a partnership with popular television show Baywatch, we got a chance to see Ric Flair face off against Macho Man Randy Savage before the main event, Hulk Hogan faces off again legendary big man Vader inside a steel cage in one of the nicest locations I’ve ever seen for a pro wrestling match.
Fitting with the nature of the Baywatch television show, the ring is right next to the beach with the fans and the shoreline surrounding the ring.
Police Story Lockdown starring Jackie Chan shows us a brutal fight inside of a caged area.
As does the magnificently violent Bangkok Knockout which features several well-choreographed contests taking place in a rather flimsy looking cage.
The first time we see Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman in the X-Men movie franchise, the director decided to show us the fan favourite comic character embroiled in a violent fight inside of a steel cage.
The battle is a way of showing the audience Wolverine’s physical power and fighting ability, but also with the scene taking place inside of a steel cage, allows the film’s creators to show the dark and gritty side of Wolverine.
In another mutant movie we see a fight inside of a cage. During the film X-men: Apocalypse we see Nightcrawler being forced to fight for his life inside of a huge electrified cage against fellow mutant archangel.
RANDY SAVAGE CAGE MATCH SPIDERMAN
Possibly the most memorable and my favourite instance of a steel cage match being shown in a film or television, holds a special place in my heart. As a kid watching watching Sam Raimi’s Spiderman film I was so excited when I saw the reveal of the wrestling match for the first time.
It is clear to see that the team behind the movie have a soft spot for pro wrestling themselves and went above and beyond to feature so many subtle nods to the wrestling business.
Peter Parker’s homemade wrestling gear is adorable and not far off what you will see if you watch some of the backyard wrestling on YouTube. The announcer gives Peter the now famous Spiderman moniker as his ring name and ladies trying to get a pre-match interview are exaggerated sure, but the feeling is the same.
The film perfectly encapsulates a certain type of the most over the top forms of this beloved sport and does so with a glint in it’s eye and a tongue firmly in it’s cheek.
As we see Bonesaw easily dispatch of his previous challenger Parker enters the ring, he realised he is trapped inside a lowering cage against a man who cannot stop appearing in pro wrestling spin-offs which feature a steel cage, Macho Man Randy Savage.
This time at the end of his career where you can clearly see the tortuous veins and bulging muscles have reached critical mass for the Macho Man.
Spidey uses his agility and new found spider skills to evade the attack from Bonesaw, using the steel cage to gain elevation from his aggressor. To even the score Bonesaw is chucked a chair which he proceeds to batter Spiderman over the head with before slamming the human spider into the walls of the cage.
Before Bonesaw can finish his opponent, Spidey delivers some swift kicks followed by a monkey flip which lands Bonesaw on his head and manages to survive inside one of cinema’s greatest uses of a steel cage.
ROH SCRAMBLE CAGE
In 2002, Ring Of Honor were a young wrestling promotion with a big heart and a desire to prove themselves. In an attempt to highlight the skills of their younger, more athletic and high-flying roster, the company officials created a variant on the steel cage match which would go on to be known as the Scramble Cage.
Wooden platforms were places atop the corners of the steel cage so as to support the performers better and give a greater area for the wrestlers to climb up and show off their daredevil antics.
A small change to the formula which proved to be popular amongst fans, but less so amongst performers who have said they felt a pressure to perform death defying stunts off of the scramble cage as that is what the fans had come to expect when they saw those big elevated wooden platforms.
6-SIDES OF STEEL
Thus when it came time in 2004 for TNA to create it’s very own version of the steel cage for the turning point pay-per-view, the construction needed to fit the abnormally sided ring.
The Lethal Lockdown stage, 6 sides of steel cage were constructed to confine the match between America’s Most Wanted and Triple X which was set to see the losing faction disbanded.
As the tag teams doubled up in a blood soaked affair, the most memorable moment of the match came when Elix Skipper made his way atop the hexagonal cage and to the gasps of the audience leapt through the air in a display in which he showed no fear, only a determination to stun and entertain the fans.
DOME OF DEATH
In Mexico in 2007, Triple A pushed the creation of the WCW styled cage known as the Thunderdome further and designed a battle arena referred to as Domo De La Muerte or Dome of Death for their Triplemania 15 show of the year.
The dome has proven to be extremely popular in the years since with many Mexican lucha legends facing off inside of it’s globed construct.
The matches which take place inside of Domo De La Muerte are often accompanied by hoards of weapons such as a 15 foot ladder or a flaming table or two.
TNA’s Jeff Jarrett famously borrowed the idea of the companies infamous 6-sided ring from Mexico, but what you may not remember is the Steel Asylum. A cage designed in direct response to AAA’s dome of death.
Also referred to as the Terror Dome, TNA used this bright red monstrosity to house several excellent X division matches with luminous rouge bars and a shape which is almost exactly taken from their Mexican counterparts.
The main issue with this type of cage is visibility, with the holes in the bars being relatively small and the bright contrast making it hard for your eyes to focus on camera shots taken from outside of the ring.
AEW CAGE RESSURGENCE
In 2021 the octagon of UFC is the world’s most popular fighting cage with millions of combat fans regularly tuning in to see the most modern iteration of a past-time which predates writing.
The Ultimate Fighting championship has brought high-level combat to a new generation and since the 90s has steadily become increasingly mainstream. A part of UFC’s success is its characters.
The personas of athletes such as Connor Mcgregor who has made hundred of millions of dollars with his combination of fighting technique and ability on the microphone, something which can be said is the same for most stars in the world of pro wrestling.
Fighters in UFC walk to the ring to the sound of their theme song, a battle cry similar to that which has been used in WWE for decades.
We see the popularity of MMA, feeding back into pro wrestling with the likes of WWE’s recent attempts at an underground fighting league which was explained to be the future of more mature WWE programming, bringing realistic and hard-hitting combat in a more unscripted and unregulated approach to it’s older fans.
However, in reality what we saw was a sweaty Shane McMahon attempting to bring some 1990s sleaze and fights which fell completely flat with a whole host of wrestling fans before the entire idea was scrapped.
All Elite Wrestling recently brought us an MMA style cage match between Bellator athlete and pro wrestler Jake Hager and long time rival Wardlow.
At first, as a fan of both MMA and wrestling, I thought that this match might have potential, with two big tough dudes willing to go out and have a hybrid match. The outcome was probably scripted, I thought to myself, but maybe they will throw a few real punches. But no. Somehow trying to bring the reality of the UFC into the world of AEW felt much more fake and simulated than the normal matches.
Trying to throw a punch which looks real and connects, without hurting your opponent, when you are a massive lump like these two men, proved to be almost impossible. Grappling reverted to the classic pro wrestling flaw which stands out if you watch a real fight.
That being, nobody in a real MMA fight would be able to get choked for such a long time without passing out. No real fighter can withstand an armbar or ankle lock for more than a few seconds without risking broken bones and other serious injuries. So when these things happen in a scripted style MMA wrestling match, it breaks the illusion further and for me makes the whole affair hard to get invested in.
I’d much rather see Jake Hager fighting in a well-choreographed wrestling match or see him smashing someone’s head off in a Bellator ring than I would watch a weaker combination of these two disparate elements.
The cage was put to good use with both AEW fighters smashing their opponent into the walls. But for me, I think I am in the majority when I say, fans of pro wrestling often don’t like to see the real violence in boxing or MMA and prefer to watch the fictional world between the wrestling ropes.
Fans of UFC don’t want to watch pro wrestling as they are fond of the technical brutality of mixed-martial arts and often struggle to get over the fact that to them pro wrestling is FAKE.
It’s like the XFL all over again. Some things are just better left separate.
A combination of spectacle, showmanship and outright animalistic brutality make the steel cage match and it’s many evolutions so appealing to long time wrestling fans such as myself.
After more than 2 decades of regularly consuming pro wrestling, I’ve experienced my fair share of forgettable singles match ups between two wrestlers who have been in televised matches over a hundred times.
Sometimes, you need a little spice in your life. And sometimes, for me, in pro wrestling – I think that wrapping some enormous metal fencing around the ring and allowing the performers to try out new and ingenious ways of hurting each other within it, is just the spice that I need.
The unforgiving nature of the metal structure itself has a presence to it. As soon as the enormous steel construction surrounds the wrestlers, you get a real sense that something special is about to happen.
Before the bell has even rung, just the visuals alone are enough to perk up my attention.
And perhaps through the use of some rules I don’t agree with, or the over saturation of cage matches in pro wrestling in general, fans aren’t as excited when those gigantic steel walls begin to descend and enclose the ring as they were back when a steel cage match was always the end point to a notable bloody feud.
However to me there will always be a place in the wrestling world for creative and innovative performers to evolve the very construction of the steel cage and in turn the action, which we as fans are so lucky to witness within it.
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Covert Affair - Film Noire by Kevin MacLeod
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