25 years ago, the WWE was RED HOT during the Attitude Era while in the early months of 1999. Stone Cold Steve Austin was obviously the #1 star, Vince McMahon was an incredible heel (years away from paying out $20 million in NDAs/settlements), the Rock was the top heel, and an unlikely Mick Foley found his footing as a Main Event. I shouldn’t say “unlikely”, as many fans of Foley’s thought highly of him for years. However, him joining the WWE allowed him to experiment with character development and have freedom to express within the 3 characters he had (Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack).
Foley had a very interesting 1998 year… He started off by teaming up with Chainsaw Charlie (obviously Terry Funk) but once that was over, he became a corporate stooge for Vince McMahon. Steve Austin’s first feud, fresh off of his Wrestlemania 14 title win, was against Foley. He became a corporate stooge and dressed the part as well. After that feud, his Mankind character became confused and kept wearing the white dress shirt.
Two major pivotal moments happened to really push Foley to the moon during 1998:
(1) Introduction of Mr. Socko. Wasn’t so much the sock, but the moment of Vince McMahon being in the hospital and Foley was there to entertain him. Foley would then begin using the sock for the mandible claw and it reduced the intensity of that move. Perfect babyface move, too, and WWE sold extra merchandise as well.
(2) King of the Ring 1998 match against the Undertaker. Nobody and I mean nobody has ever taken a beating like that in a wrestling ring. Foley not only got tossed from the top of the cage (which separated his shoulder), but then was tossed through the roof of the cage and landed on a steel chair in the ring. That destroyed him, as it gave him a massive concussion and knocked out teeth that would be later showing from his nose! Crazy enough, Foley actually finished the match with Undertaker and later came out to interfere in the main event.
But then, the masterstroke… Survivor Series 1998, which in my opinion, begins this incredible storyline arc that takes us all the way to Wrestlemania 15.
The WWE Title was up for grabs and Survivor Series 1998 was a single night tournament for the vacant title. Foley was playing up his corporate stooge stuff again, and it appeared he would be the McMahon pick to win the tournament. This was further enhanced by referee Shane McMahon screwing Steve Austin HARD during the semi-finals match between Mankind and Austin. Shane was playing a babyface, back then, who was demoted to referee by Vince… But it was a plot to screw Austin, as Shane began to count 1, 2, but then flipped off Austin. Brisco and Patterson then interfered with a chair and Shane counted Mankind for the win.
Thus, it was thought that Foley was the one that the Corporation was hoping would win the Survivor Series 1998 tournament. After all, the Rock was RED HOT during this period of time and getting away from his heel ways… Rock, himself, made it to the Finals of the tournament to face Mankind for the WWE Title. It was thought that the Rock had the decks stacked against him, but that was not true… Rocky was about to join the Corporation, as Vince McMahon ordered the bell to be rung after Rock had Mankind in the sharpshooter. Rock was the new WWE Champion and celebrated as being the new “Corporate Champion”.
This screwjob gave sympathy to Mick Foley who again, had significant events happen to him throughout 1998. The Rock, for his part, was a vicious heel. If you think that the Rock was cold and calculating during last Thursday, he was a bastard during this time especially to Foley. With Wrestlemania 14 months away, the Rock needed someone to feud with to help him get used to the Main Event and to toughen him up as champion. Foley was perfect, as he could make Rock’s offense look great while again, gaining major sympathy as a babyface character.
But then, one of the biggest title changes ever happened. On Monday, January 4th, 1999, it was a TAPED WWE Monday Night RAW (they taped every other week) versus a LIVE WCW Monday Nitro. Because RAW was taped, WCW used that opportunity to reveal to viewers the results of the Rock vs. Mankind match that was going to main event RAW. WCW expected fans to stick with Nitro and watch the Kevin Nash vs. Hulk Hogan match, but instead, they flipped it to RAW to see Mick Foley win his first ever World Title. Like I said, 1998 built major sympathy for Foley. The viewership switch was massive and proved to be highly disappointing to WCW who were putting their WCW Title back on the aging Hulk Hogan and reforming the NWO once again.
After years upon years of blood, sweat, and tears, Mick Foley made it to the very top of the wrestling mountain. It was a proud moment that not only put over Foley, but made Austin an even stronger babyface wrestler by helping Foley win the title. Thus, it created a great link for the transition for the Rock of feuding with Foley to begin feuding with Austin later during 1999.
Rock vs. Foley’s rematch happened at Royal Rumble 1999 which was an “I Quit” match. If you watch the RAW after the January 4th, 1999 edition, you’ll see the Corporation demanding a rematch but Foley wouldn’t budge until the right stipulation was added. This Royal Rumble match was VIOLENT… It is quite cringeworthy, as Rock handcuffed Foley’s hands behind his back and smashed his head with at least 20 chairshots. The documentary Beyond the Mat captured the brutality of this match and Foley’s family reaction to it as it happened, but then the aftermath backstage. The Rock won back the WWE Title at this match thanks to a recording of Foley saying “I quit” playing in the arena.
But their rematch after the Rumble match is what we’re discussing today, as today is SUPER BOWL SUNDAY.
WWE tried something new during early 1999, as they taped and had an empty arena match between the Rock and Mick Foley as a “Falls Count Anywhere” match. The show was called Halftime Heat and the first one was held on January 31st, 1999 and was just over 25 years ago. For those who boldly watched it live at Halftime of Superbowl 33 (Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons), do you feel old yet?
The show was actually recorded on January 26th, 1999 before the RAW taping held to air on February 1st, 1999. The match was preceded by Mick Foley being dropped off by a random car, while the Rock enters by limo. The Rock was continuing to wear the track pants and the shirts as a look during this time, covering up the pectoral surgery that he had at the time (he was almost ready to lactate!). Foley, on his end, is wearing a bandage to sell the Royal Rumble match that happened on January 24th, 1999. Rock was accompanied to the ring by Vince McMahon, with Michael Cole hosting the match while Kevin Kelly and Shane McMahon were on commentary (Vince joined them and took over duties).
What was great about Halftime Heat is that it was DIFFERENT than anything tried by the WWE before. And they took a major chance by having an actual WWE Title change happening here.
The match was quite violent, as it heavily incorporates and innovates much of the brawling techniques, outside the ring, that you see today. Brawling in the crowd (but nobody was there), fighting around the announcer’s table, throwing someone through barricades, etc. All before their time. What made the match especially great was Rocky trash talking during the ENTIRE match. Without crowd noise, it was silent but the Rock more than made up for it. On the other end, Mankind was full of aggression and selling that he was legitimately pissed due to the Rumble match chairshots.
I still cringe when I see Foley rolling down the arena stairs… They went all over the arena, including the kitchen and using a big bag of popcorn as a weapon! They fought in front of the WWE crew in catering, fought through an arena office (where Rock famously answered the phone), through hallways, before making their way to the loading dock. They made their way to around the forklift where Mankind took the upper hand with the mandible claw and then took over the forklift from the operator. We then get this hilarious sequence where a camera is shown on Rock’s face as the kids with kegs on them are lowered onto the Rock from the forklift. Mankind sits on the kegs, on top of the wooden skids, that trapped the Rock and the referee counted 1, 2, and 3 for Foley to win his 2nd ever WWE Title.
Foley would actually survive the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Pay Per View match between the Rock, as their “Last Man Standing” match resulted in a draw. However, he lost the Ladder Match with the Rock later that month. From there, they’d go their separate ways as Rock would fully begin his feud with Steve Austin that headlined Wrestlemania 15. Foley had an OK rest of 1999, but his luck would turn for the better as Triple H needed an opponent to “toughen up” him as WWE champion, too.
The best thing about the Halftime Heat match was that it’s unique and hasn’t been tried again. WWE had “Halftime Heat” during 2000’s Super Bowl, but it was just a progress report interview on a recovering Stone Cold Steve Austin. During 2019, the NXT brand tried Halftime Heat on the WWE Network and YouTube featuring a 6 man tag match.
But to see the Rock and Mick Foley brawling in an empty arena was awesome. It was another great chapter in their feud that helped build up the Rock further as the top heel in the company. The amount of trash talk that Rock had here is peak level stuff. Many consider his 2003 “Hollywood Rock” stuff to be his best heel work, but the early 1999 Rock was something exceptional and probably the most violent his character ever was. It was quite convenient to have Mick Foley be that punching bag, too, but to the Rock’s credit, he sold anything that Foley threw at him.
If you’ve never seen this Halftime Heat match between Foley and the Rock, someone posted it to YouTube to enjoy while it lasts.
In my opinion, PEAK WWE is from Survivor Series through Wrestlemania 15. It was when the top wrestlers were in peak form, while the storytelling was in peak form as well. Rock, Foley, and Austin were amazing character who were highly entertaining both in the ring and on the mic. Meanwhile, you had all kinds of side characters from Vince, Shane, Patterson, and Brisco while Vince Russo was killing it at this point as lead writer. Furthermore, it was FUN… Rock and Vince were complete bastards as heels, but they always “got theirs” in the end. There were always big anticipated payoffs to great storylines, as wrestling should be.
Yes, Vince McMahon is heavily displayed during this Halftime Heat match, along with much of the Attitude Era. I don’t condone the monster he apparently became, but I’ll forever praise the accomplishments that he, the wrestlers, and supporting WWE crew did back then. You cannot erase my memories of enjoying these times, as it would be a crime for Peacock, Netflix, or future owners of the WWE Network to go back and censor Vince. The right action was performed by having Vince McMahon resign from TKO/WWE and that’s the end of it. Rock and Foley worked their asses off in this Halftime Heat match, so why ruin the finished product by censoring any moment involving Vince? It’s a slippery slope… Just don’t mention Vince McMahon, moving forward, but keep the past video recorded moments of the WWE in tact.
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