While the idea of seeing the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar settle their WWE feud in a Hell in a Cell is exciting, it is not the first time the two have entered the devil’s playground. 13 years ago these guys entered the cell and had one of the bloodiest and most violent matches in HIAC history.
The rivalry between Taker and Lesnar leading up to the match was about as hit and miss as you could get. This particular time period in 2002 is often overlooked as it was about this time WWE interest started to decline. The WCW invasion was long gone, the Rock and Stone Cold were officially out, Undertaker was in the position to get the next big star ready, and the company was grooming Brock to be the franchise player for years to come.
Brock Lesnar defeated the Rock for the WWE world title at SummerSlam 2002 in what many observed as a changing of the guard. Lesnar was dominant during this time, raw on talent, but extremely dominant, more so believe it or not than he is today. Going into No Mercy, Lesnar had never lost a WWE match. The Undertaker would be Lesnar’s first challenger and without Rock or Stone Cold, it was on these two to carry the company.
The stage for Hell in a Cell was set at Unforgiven for these two. Lesnar and Taker battled to a double-DQ in the main-event, Lesnar’s first as WWE champion. Following the match, Undertaker crashed a steel chair over Lesnar’s head, threw him through the stage area, and laid him out. It was the first time that Lesnar had shown any real vulnerability since entering the main roster.
The month between Unforgiven and No Mercy saw some of the strangest booking at the time from the company. There were some real hits and some real misses. Matt Hardy was involved in the finish at Unforgiven. Undertaker wrestled him on SmackDown twice, losing once in a Falls Count Anywhere match after Lesnar hit the F5 on Taker. As Heyman and Lesnar were gloating, Stephanie McMahon ordered a Hell in a Cell match at No Mercy, scaring the daylights out of both.
In hindsight, it seems incredibly odd that the WWE would hot shot this after one match. Unlike the current series which saw them each get a win, nobody had a win on the other at this point. It would seem with Survivor Series coming up that they’d at least save the match for a big event. I can only speculate that the pressures of declining interest in the company sparked the hot shot match. Lesnar also broke Undertaker’s hand with a canister after sneak attacking him backstage.
The biggest miss was the company’s own Claire Lynch angle as Heyman brought out “Tracy”. Tracy claimed that she was having an affair with the Undertaker while his wife at the time was home, seven months pregnant. As a fan, I remember groaning about how stupid the angle was. Keep in mind that the RAW brand was booking its championship feud on the Katie Vick storyline. Welcome to the WWE in 2002. And you thought it was bad now? It just seems ridiculous in hindsight, yet I had no idea that this kind of angle would become more commonplace in the upcoming years.
Undertaker told Lesnar and Heyman that they made his life a living hell as a result of the Tracy reveal. He wanted revenge! He attacked Lesnar with his new cast. The angle got even stranger as Undertaker lied about knowing Tracy and then admitted the next week that he knew her but hadn’t seen her in a while. I am no Eddie Graham, but I can’t imagine any babyface garnering sympathy over this situation, especially with female fans after admitting that he lied about her. Undertaker assaulted Lesnar again with the cast, bloodying up the champion. Stephanie refused Heyman’s attempts to get the cast banned from the match.
Even with the corny angle, the match at No Mercy was nothing short of great. I was on the fence originally, but upon watching it again for this article I really liked it. It’s a different match than I’d expect today as Undertaker was in far better shape while Lesnar was still a little green. The match was also one of the bloodiest you’ll ever see, another aspect which is likely to be much different than the sequel.
The match started off slow with Lesnar working over the broken hand, even hitting it with a steel chair at one point. It really picked up about 10 minutes in and the Undertaker was a machine, even delivering a dive through the middle ropes onto Lesnar. I wouldn’t expect that this year. Something else you probably won’t see this year is both guys bleeding. The match started out slow but midway through it really picked up with blood pouring all over the Undertaker. Brock used the steel steps on Taker, laying him out on the floor. Taker was covered in his own blood by the end of the match, probably one of the reasons you haven’t seen clips of the match.
The match helped set Lesnar up for big things. The Undertaker passed the torch by not only putting Lesnar over but putting Lesnar over in his match. The irony to all of this is that with all of the momentum Lesnar had coming off of wins over Rock and Undertaker, he would suffer his first pinfall loss less than one month later at the Survivor Series to…the Big Show. Lesnar was originally scheduled to wrestle Hulk Hogan on the show but Hogan balked at putting at Lesnar over. Vince McMahon refused to change the result yet for some reason saw this as an opportunity to put Show over. Show defeated Lesnar (Heyman turned on Lesnar) to win the match, continuing a pattern of questionable booking.