"What he calls 'hell' I call 'home' because I'm going to love every minute of it!" Those words were spoken by Mankind (Mick Foley) leading up to King of the Ring 1998 which took place on June 28, 1998 in "The Igloo" the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Twenty years ago as of this writing. It is one of the most famous WWF/E matches ever. One of the most famous wrestling matches ever and even if you haven't watched it, you've likely seen famous images of it such ass Mick Foley's tooth hanging out his nose as he smiles for the camera with a mouth full of blood and most famously the throw off the top of the cage, through the announcers' table.
Hello and welcome. You've landed here on Planet Kayfabe and I'm here to talk about your favorite childhood scarring match and offer my own personal feelings as well. Not just now since the match has grown into legendary status, but how I felt in the summer of 1998 when it took place. If you're one of the few who haven't seen it, I suggest you look it up. The actually match bell-to-bell was 17 minutes, but some of it's most memorable imagery happened before the match even started. So, let's take this stroll down memory lane together. A beautiful time known as the late 90's where pretty much anything goes and TV was rife with programs intended to piss off your parents. The World Wrestling Federation was no different and here we are with the Attitude Era in full swing.
This would be the 2nd Hell in a Cell match in history. The first being Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker in October of 1997 at In Your House: Badd Blood. Also, famous for the debut of Undertaker's kayfabe half-brother, Kane. The cage descends with that familiar thudding bass line and the camera zooms in on a mustachioed fan holding up a sign that says "First Blood" with drawings of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Kane... Uhh... Okay. That's the next match, WWE. Cool artwork though. Mankind enters.
Howard Finkle announces Mankind to the ring who breaks the curtain holding a chair with his hair tied back in a pony tail. I always wondered why his hair was tied back, but I guess it makes sense knowing that he would be getting tossed off the Cell and didn't want his hair in his face when executing this high risk spot. Mankind stares down the cell before throwing his steel chair on the roof of the structure and climbing to the top where the lights go out. Enter: The Undertaker.
"On this warm, summer's night in the Igloo there is a chill in the air that signifies the arrival of the one-and-only, The Phenom of the World Wrestling Federation." A great introduction by Jim Ross on commentary as The Undertaker makes his way to the ring. Shit, why can't today's commentary be half that good? The Undertaker removes his stage attire to climb the Cell. You can hear a fan clearly yell sarcastically, "don't fall on me!" After some brawling on top of the Cell and a point where it almost breaks (a part of this match even more scary in later viewings knowing what would come later) Jim Ross hits us with one of his most famous calls ever.
"What's gonna happen here?! Undertaker fighting back! He's fighting back," J.R.'s anxiety rises, "They're right above us, folks and I don't like it a damn bit!" King cuts in almost sounding out of character with his normal tone almost gasping, "oh my God..." before J.R. yells "look out!"
At that point Mankind is thrown off the cage onto the Spanish announcer's table. Jim Ross continues and caps off his classic call with "Good god almighty! Good god almighty! That killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!" Along with the table, the audience exploded while Mankind remained motionless on the floor and Undertaker stood still on top of the cage. They would air the replay of the fall a few times while Jim Ross would call for help from backstage. The first person who arrived on camera was close friend of Foley's, Terry Funk. Soon after their backstage doctor at the time, François Petit, on-screen commissioner Sgt. Slaughter, a few referees and a concerned looking Vince McMahon would arrive at the scene.
Years later before Wrestlemania 18 in Toronto, The Undertaker, more accurately, Mark Calaway did an interview on Canadian television, TSN's 'Off The Record" with Michael Landsberg where he would describe this portion of the match as an "out of body experience". Once he threw Foley off the Cell time stopped, he could see himself standing over the center of the arena watching Mick fall. We've seen the replay a thousand times and Calaway swears that you had to be there to truly get the feel of the impact. He says the sound of the table breaking on TV doesn't do it justice and describes it as a very violent impact.
Foley would say on his 2003 DVD "Mick Foley's Greatest Hits and Misses" that in this one moment everything he had accomplished in 15 years of wrestling became instantly obsolete and this would be the thing he's most remembered for. The cage would eventually start to rise with The Undertaker still on top of it who manage to both avoid getting a nose bleed and shitting his pants. Impressive. This was to allow the EMT's to bring a stretcher to Foley while JR and King have accepted that this match was over to the home audience. Someone who didn't accept that the match was over was Mick Foley. Over in the ramp way, Mankind shakes off the officials with a smile on his face and climbs back up the cage to meet The Undertaker who slaps his hand on Mankind's throat and Chokeslams him THROUGH the roof of the Cell.
Jim Ross almost disgusted grunts, "Good god! Good god!" King interrupts with an almost flippant attitude, "that's it, he's dead". Ross continues, "Will somebody stop the damn match! Enough's enough!" This 2nd fall through the cell was not planned. This was also not a traditional Chokesalm. Mick Foley basically fell back off his feet offering no lift. Had he done otherwise, he may have actually died from this fall or broken his neck. It should also be noted that for this match the WWF decided to use an older ring that was less bouncy and offered less give to put over match's violence and make the bumps look harder. An odd decision considering since probably only the hardcorest of the hardcore fans noticed and even of them it was probably a vast minority who noticed the ring was a little stiffer than usual. Mick Foley sure noticed, though. This fall knocked him out in what he describes as the only time he had been knocked out in the ring. To make matters worse, do you remember that chair Mick brought with him and left on the roof? The chair fell right after Mick and hit him in the mouth damaging his teeth. Though the first bump off the Cell is the most famous, this may be the most brutal bump in WWF history and was the more painful of the two also considering the cage broke on accident.
Undertaker would make his way to the ring by climbing down the broken part of the roof and to buy Foley time Terry Funk got in The Undertaker's face and took a Chokeslam that knocked him out of his sneakers. Once the ring cleared, Foley got to his feet and took a punch from The Undertaker where he didn't so much "sell" it as much as he fell over and collapsed. Foley would describe this as the scariest part of the match. To further buy Mick time, The Undertaker would hit the top rope to do his signature walk move and Mick would hit the ropes to crotch Undertaker in what would pretty much be his first bump of the match, but is a spot that he could sell for a bit. The referees locked them inside the Cell and this where the cameras would catch another famous shot of Mick Foley without his Mankind mask (it was removed after the first fall) seemingly smiling for the camera with his tooth lodged in his nostril. I suppose this is where the match 'officially' began even though referee Tim White, shout out to the fellow Rhode Islander, never called for the bell. The rest of the brawling inside the Cell which involved steel chairs and steel ring steps seemed pretty tame to what happened earlier. Somehow Foley would continue before the final "high spot" of the match where Mankind would pour a bag of thumbtacks in the ring. Of course this would just lead to Mick getting chokeslammed on the tacks and Tombstoned for the finish. The Undertaker wins.
Jim Ross would say after the bell, "in 25 years I have never seen anything that comes close to what we have witnessed". The Undertaker would exit first as Mankind was left in the ring and officials and medical staffers would arrive almost instantly. Foley would be helped out of the ring, offered a stretcher but would mostly exit on his own power. Walking on his own two feet with the help of Terry Funk while a portion of fans chanted "Foley! Foley!" to show their respect. I remember once reading that Mick seemed a bit let down with such a mild chant from the fans after what had just happened, but I don't think he should be. Looking back, it seemed like 90% of the fans there were standing and applauding his efforts. To me it doesn't matter that only a small portion were actually chanting his name. It looked like the whole arena was showing their respect to him.
By my count during this portion of the PPV, they replayed the first fall nine times. I was honestly expecting more, maybe because I've seen this one bump probably more than any other bump in my time as a fan. Now with some closing thoughts.
Back in the day I was too young to really appreciate this match. I was in the mind-set that everything I saw on TV was planned. It was all just part of the show. No one was really (or seriously) hurt. However, I did feel like this match was "real" and felt like Undertaker shoot beat Mankind because there was no way Mankind could stand on his own. As an adult I think wrestling is more "real" to me now than it was for me as a kid. As a kid I never thought this shit was real... but I still loved it, obviously. I thought the ring was about as hard as a my mattress and I thought nothing ever went wrong. As I got older I would find out about how hard a ring actually is and how the fall through the ring was not planned and how Mick was really knocked out. Even as a jaded prick kid in 1998, I knew you couldn't fake all that blood and I knew you couldn't fake someone losing their f***ing teeth in a match.
Today I'd rate the actual match 4 stars which is higher than most I've seen rate it. The violence and drama is intense and is more violent than anything else you're going to see in a promotion like the WWF and you'll probably never see anything like it again. It may be uncomfortable to watch, but it is worth watching if you never have. It is the type of match every WWE fan should be able to say they've seen because it always comes up eventually in conversations about Foley or the Hell in a Cell stipulation.
Thanks for reading this edition of Planet Kayfabe I have good news for you loyal readers, you can now purchase your own "Kayfabe Candyass" shirt on Pro Wrestling Tees. Just go to nodq.com/shirts and I'd appreciate your support.
Also follow me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe and hit me up there or leave a comment below with your thoughts on his historic match in WWE's history. Thank you again for reading. For NoDQ, I'm KC, this is Planet Kayfabe saying good-bye for now. I'll see you here next time. Enjoy your weekend and enjoy your Independence Day, America. Take care.