Lee Maughan: Hosted by Jonathan Coachman. Oh, brilliant. He patronisingly explains what a cage is, before declaring that the only ways to win a cage match are to climb out over the top or go through the door, rules which will be contradicted with staggering regularity over the course of this DVD. “No one knows exactly when steel cage matches first appeared,” he adds, because apparently nobody on WWE’s production staff could be bothered to do any actual research. Houston promoter Paul Boesch is generally credited with inventing the concept, while Freddie Blassie came up with the idea of “escape the cage” rules for use in his blowoff matches against the likes John Tolos and The Sheik at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Mike LeBell’s Los Angeles-based promotion in the late 1960s. There is, however, evidence of a match in Atlanta on June 25, 1937 between Jack Bloomfield and Count Pietro Rossi which saw the ring encased with chicken wire.
Gerald “Overstatement” Brisco kicks things off by saying, “I still think it’s the most violent form of sports entertainment today”, suggesting that he’s yet to dig into his pile of CZW Tournament of Death DVDs. “You know somebody’s gonna get busted open out there,” he adds, which wasn’t always the case in WWF/WWE cage matches, and certainly not after the promotion went PG in 2008. Howard Finkel recounts that, “Cage matches in the early days were designed to settle a feud, and to settle the score once and for all,” which became a notion tragically lost on WWE once they started running themed pay-per-view events headlined by Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber matches, gimmicks that far too often needed matches finding for them rather than WWE building matches that necessitated those gimmicks. Jerry Lawler thinks cage matches are special because they’re, “the ultimate confrontation. There’s two opponents with no way out,” which would be fine if not for the fact many of the WWF/WWE’s cage matches over the years were built around the idea of escapology. “It’s supposed to be as violent as you can possibly get,” chips in Spike Dudley, whose tone makes it sounds like he’s already lamenting that PG course change, even though it’s still a good five years away as he records this, while Tommy Dreamer talks about the danger of actually being inside a cage, noting how easily you can get cut on the steel and how little give there is to it. Brisco rounds things out by suggesting that cage matches have become more technical, which is another way of saying WWE have really pussied out over the years.
The action kicks off in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, more than forty years after that aforementioned Bloomfield-Rossi bout, with Bob Backlund defending his WWF Championship against Pat Patterson. Brisco puts his Stooges colleague over as an innovator who was one of the first guys who actually incorporated the use of the cage into his ring style, even dropping a knee off it at one point. The following year would see the legendary Showdown at Shea battle between Bruno Sammartino and Larry Zbyszko that Zbyszko built an entire career on, but just a scant few clips are shown. That’s followed by Backlund’s WWF title defence against ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, which Coachman claims took place “two weeks” after the August 9th Sammartino-Zbyszko clash, but the on-screen graphic lists it as May 19th, 1980, some three months prior to the Shea Stadium card. That’s some truly awful quality control, especially considering the match actually took place almost two years later, on June 28, 1982. Backlund wins it, but the bout is notable for being the first time Snuka did the Superfly Splash off the top of the cage, which he missed when Backlund rolled out of harm’s way.
Keeping with Snuka, it’s onto his more famous cage match with Don Muraco next, an event for which Mick Foley, Bubba Ray Dudley and Tommy Dreamer were all in attendance. The way this has been presented on WWE television over the years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Snuka actually won the bout (he didn’t) and that it was some kind of all-time classic (it wasn’t). This time, he actually hits his foe with the Superfly Splash off the top of the cage, a spot which would be played to death over the next thirty years as a legendary moment (it was). Snuka would later jump off the top of the cage again, onto Jeff Jarrett on the January 10, 2000 edition of WCW Nitro, although that isn’t mentioned here. And speaking of WCW, we move over to Jim Crockett Promotions and the famous “I Quit” cage match at Starrcade ‘85 between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A., complete with rare footage of Blanchard winning the United States title from Magnum to set it all up. Magnum sticks a splint in Blanchard’s eye to get him to quit, and then it’s onto something completely different as “perhaps the largest audience to date” tunes in to Saturday Night’s Main Event for the climbing contest between Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff. Famously they hit the floor at the same time, resulting in the match continuing and Hogan winning, a finish that was designed to keep Orndorff strong enough to challenge Hogan for the title again at WrestleMania III had Andre the Giant been unable to perform. As vague as Coachman’s line about the viewership of the show was, in terms of ratings, the 10.6 the match drew was the highest in Saturday Night’s Main Event history to that point, although it was actually bettered with the 20-man battle royal on the very next episode in March 1987, which pulled an incredible 11.6 rating, the highest number for any show in the 11:30pm Saturday night timeslot on NBC, beating out any episode of Saturday Night Live you could care to mention.
Back to the NWA next for a potted history of Ric Flair’s World Title cage matches, as he beats Harley Race to win his second title at the first Starrcade in November 1983, loses it to Dusty Rhodes on The Great American Bash tour in July 1986 (intermittent title switches between those dates are not mentioned), unexpectedly loses it to unfancied contender Ronnie Garvin at a house show in Detroit in September 1987, then takes it back from Garvin at Starrcade two months later. Things then zip ahead about seven years, and it’s all WWF/WWE footage from here on in, at least as far as the documentary goes, beginning with the brother vs. brother battle between Bret Hart and Owen Hart at SummerSlam ‘94. Sticking with Bret, it’s onto the dark days of 1995 where, according to Coachman, “Sports entertainment was going through a revolution.” Not quite. Anyway, Lawler returns to recount the story of Hart’s RAW cage match with evil dentist Isaac Yankem, DDS., namely his getting placed in a shark cage and hung above the ring, leading to him getting a nose bleed. The secret to it was that Lawler suffered a broken nose years earlier, leaving him with a deviated septum that occasionally scabbed up and which he could make bleed on command. Lovely.
Having covered enough silliness with the last segment, it’s on to the full circle of the Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley SummerSlam ‘97 match next, and Foley coming off the top of the cage with a picture perfect Superfly Splash in tribute to his idol Snuka. Actually, he couldn’t stomach going all the way to the top and came down like a sack of crap being unwillingly shoved off a piece of scaffolding, but it’s the thought that counts. Coachman claims the bout “made” Triple H, and that leads into his lesser-seen WWF title defence against The Rock at the UK-only Rebellion pay-per-view in October 1999. They actually do a Dusty finish of sorts here, with Rock getting out of the cage first but only after the referee has gone down, leading to The British Bulldog coming out and beating both guys up. Rock gets the door slammed in his head by Chyna, and the resulting confusion allows Triple H to escape with the title. There’s some really weird audio issues on the footage here for some reason, but there’s no time for that as we end the 90s with the Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon collision from St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, complete with the hilarious show-opening promo package, McMahon’s insane bump through the Spanish announce table off the side of the cage, and the debut of the former Giant and future Big Show, Paul Wight.
The documentary wraps up in the new millennium, beginning with The Hardy Boyz finally winning the WWF Tag Team titles from Edge and Christian at Unforgiven in September 2000 after spending most of the year chasing them. Next it’s the June 11, 2001 cage match from RAW between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, featuring Angle’s truly insane missed moonsault from the top of the cage, as well as Benoit blasting Angle with nine rolling German suplexes and a ridiculous diving headbutt off the top of the cage. Why yes, Benoit did need emergency surgery on his neck that kept on the shelf for an entire year not long after this bout took place, why do you ask? The match is also the third time on this DVD (after the Mankind-Helmsley and Triple H-Rock matches) where the cage door gets slammed in somebody’s head, in this case Benoit’s. Finally to the May 28, 2002 television taping, where Edge defeated Angle in what was actually their fourth caged collision that year (including house shows). “Edge and Kurt Angle in a steel cage match to remember!” declares Coachman of a bout mostly forgotten thanks to its placement on a throwaway episode of SmackDown!.
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