Last night saw the return of War Games to professional wrestling after a 20 year absence, while this weekend marks the 15th anniversary of the debut of the Elimination Chamber in the WWE. Alongside Hell In A Cell, they mark three of the most revered variations of the legendary steel cage match, one of pro wrestling’s most daunting gimmick matches – and surprisingly, one of it’s oldest. With that in mind, here’s a brief history of the use of cages in pro wrestling, with it’s multiple variations throughout the ages.
THE FIRST CAGE (1937 to 1960s)
The first recorded steel cage match was on June 25, 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia, in a match-up between Jack Bloomfield and Count Rossi. Back then, the “steel cage” used would be unrecognizable to the ones we’re used to today, as the “cage” was constructed of chicken wire (or often times hog wire) around the ring. The use of this wiring was the standard for most of the next 30 years, with it often being 6-foot constructs to house the wiring. They looked more like crude versions of MMA octagons within the ring itself rather than the ominous constructs of today that encompass the entire ring altogether.
THE CAGE EVOLVES (1960s through 1970s)
The cage’s construct would continue to grow bigger and bigger, eventually containing the ring as we know today, but the actual “cage” would remain closer to the wiring of the older era constructs. Throughout the 1970s, the cage’s wiring would be replaced by chain link fence-type material and get higher and higher.
EXPANDING THE FLOOR, MEMPHIS IN THE 70s
In Memphis Wrestling, they expanded on the steel cage concept by making the steel cage sit further outside on the floor. Up until this point, the steel cages were snug against the ropes and ring, with no room for movement except inside the ring itself. But in Memphis, the cage sat further out on the floor, allowing wrestlers to perform outside the ring as well.
THE GAME CHANGER: JIMMY “SUPERFLY” SNUKA
Up until the 1980’s, cage matches were rather simple plot devices. The cage kept the competitors inside and two brutes would battle it out inside, with one trying to incapacitate the other long enough to escape through the door to victory. But in 1982, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka changed the way cage matches were perceived and set a new bar for cage match innovation. In the infamous steel cage match against Don Muraco, Snuka climbed to the top of the cage, but instead of climbing down the other side, the high flyer proceeded to use the top of the cage like the top rope turnbuckle, and launched the Superfly heard around the world. From that day forward, the more athletic competitors to enter the cage would find new and exciting ways to use the top of the cage to create bigger spots (and even bigger bumps).
CHANGING OF THE BARS, 1986
At WrestleMania 2, WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan was set to face a new monster to the WWF, King Kong Bundy, inside a steel cage for the WWF World title. That year, the WWF debuted a new steel cage, the “Blue Bars”. Replacing the chain link fencing with new thicker metal bars, the larger pattern was most likely due to the fact that Hogan and Bundy were two of the largest men to take part in a cage match and someone of Bundy’s size may have encountered problems trying to climb simple chain link fencing. Regardless, it set a new standard for steel cage design. It continued as WWF’s main steel cage design, even throughout the 1990s and Attitude Era, although the blue bars were painted black to give it a more ominous appearance.
WAR GAMES, 1987
War Games made it’s debut in 1987 in NWA’s Mid-Atlantic territory at the Great American Bash on July 4. Designed by Dusty Rhodes (after watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), it was specifically designed for battles featuring the Four Horsemen (hence the original rules of 5-man teams, featuring the Horsemen plus manager J.J. Dillon) – The Four Horsemen where the principal opponent in 16 of the first 18 War Games matches (they frequented house shows as well). While the WWF had moved to their new steel bar cages, NWA would continue to use the chain link fencing cages, combining two steel cages together over two wrestling rings, and adding a roof to the cages. War Games became an NWA (and later WCW) staple, running from 1987 to 2000. From 1993 to 1998, it was the feature match of WCW’s Fall Brawl PPV event. Following WCW’s demise in 2001, War Games as a concept was shelved by the WWE until last night at NXT Takeover, the first time it’s been used since WCW’s final War Games in 2000.
THE TOWER OF DOOM, 1988
NWA Mid-Atlantic, who by this time had become the ruling territory for the NWA, expanded on it’s War Games concept a year later at the 1988 Great American Bash, by introducing “The Tower of Doom” in a match that saw The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal), “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin and Rugged Ronnie Garvin face Kevin Sullivan, Al Perez, Mike Rotunda, The Russian Assassin and Ivan Koloff in a steel cage pile-up. The rules, according to Wikipedia, were as follows: “Two wrestlers started the match out on top of the cage for a two-minute period. After that period, a trap door in both the top-tier cages opened for fifteen seconds which allowed a locked wrestler to get down into the cage below with all the other wrestlers. The object of the match was to unlock the door and escape out to the floor.” It’s dangerous standing made this an absolute rarity in NWA/WCW, with a variation of it being used near the end of WCW as the Triple Decker Cage Match.
WCW continued to mine the Mad Max franchise for ideas, and in 1989 at Halloween Havoc, they created the Thunderdome Cage Match. The variation this time was that the top of the cage curved into a domed top so competitors couldn’t leave from the top.
EXPLOSIVE BARBED WIRE STEEL CAGE, 1994
Over in Japan, hardcore icon Atsushi Onita was pushing the boundaries of what hardcore wrestling could be in his promotion, Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW). In 1994, he faced Genichro Tenryu in an Explosive Barbed Wire Steel Cage match, where the ropes were replaced with barbed wire that would explode at will.
HELL IN A CELL, 1997
WWE finally created a new variation on the steel cage with one of it’s most infamous creations, Hell In A Cell. Created by Jim Cornette during his time on WWF creative, he combined the floor access of earlier Memphis Wrestling cages, with the top cover of WCW’s War Games cage to create one of the most recognizable and infamous cage match variations of all time. It debuted in 1997 with Shawn Michaels facing The Undertaker (which featured the debut of Kane) and is best remembered for Mick Foley‘s fall from King of the Ring 1998, but it continues to be used by the WWE today, having it’s own PPV event since 2009.
CAGE OF DEATH, 1999
In 1999, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) created the Cage of Death, a steel cage that was littered inside with weapons and dangerous devices, as well as similar lethal contraptions on the outside awaiting those who fell. It’s been an annual event for CZW every year since, with Cage of Death XIX coming up on December 9 of this year.
ELIMINATION CHAMBER, 2002
The WWE’s next foray into steel cage innovation came five years after the Hell in a Cell, with the introduction of the Elimination Chamber in 2002. It was officially introduced by Raw GM Eric Bischoff and debuted at the 2002 Survivor Series as a new battleground between the Raw and Smackdown brand split. The cage features loose hanging chains, with a domed cage structure similar to WCW’s Thunderdome cage, as well as containment boxes that released individual competitors into an elimination style match at random. The last Elimination Chamber match was this past February, where Bray Wyatt last defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship.
SCRAMBLE CAGE, 2002
Upstart promotion Ring of Honor started off early with their own steel cage variation, called the Scramble Cage, in 2002 at the event Scramble Cage Madness. In order to accentuate the high flying of their indie stars, ROH added wooden platforms on each corner so that wrestlers could take bigger risks and execute more aerial moves on their opponents below.
6-SIDES OF STEEL, 2004
When TNA created it’s Lethal Lockdown steel cage themed PPV, it created it’s 6-sides of steel match. In essence, it is just a standard steel cage match, but fitted for Impact Wrestling’s 6-sided ring.
DOMO DE LA MUERTE, 2007
In AAA, they took the WCW Thunderdome cage and expanded on it to create the Domo de la Muerte in 2007 at TripleMania XV. A year later, TNA would do a similar style cage called the Steel Asylum.
PUNJABI PRISON MATCH, 2007
Debuting in 2007 as a gimmick match featuring The Great Khali, it made it’s return this past summer when Jinder Mahal faced Randy Orton in one for the WWE title. An open cage, using bamboo enforced steel rods, it’s perhaps the least popular cage variation of all time.
What are some of your favourite steel cage matches of all time? What variations do you like? Let us know in the comments below!