The night Undertaker and Mick Foley went through living ‘Hell’
When attempting to determine the "best" of anything in sports or entertainment, opinions vary and debate is usually the order of the day.
What college football rivalry is the "greatest?" Oklahoma vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Auburn, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Army vs. Navy? This year it may well be Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, but if your school is omitted in this conversation, then the debate begins.
Is there truly a right or wrong answer to what constitutes the "best" or "greatest" when it comes to talking sports or entertainment?
For me, I’d submit that John Wayne was the greatest movie star of all time while some younger folks would say, "Who’s he?"
So, what was the greatest match in WWE history? I have no idea. A valid argument can be made for countless bouts over the years but is there truly a right or wrong answer?
Not from where I’m sitting.
However, one can make a valid argument that the most memorable pro wrestling match in WWE history was the 1998 Hell in a Cell match, which featured The Undertaker tossing Mick Foley, as Mankind, off the top of the 16-foot-high roof of the cage.
The Spanish announcing table and the concrete floor of Pittsburgh Civic Arena "broke" Foley’s fall and came close to breaking the 300-pound frame of the future WWE Hall of Famer into multiple pieces.
This insane match wasn’t held at a Hell in a Cell pay-per-view event. It was part of the card on a King of the Ring PPV. Fans have largely forgotten that stellar card in the Steel City, which also featured Kane defeating Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWE Title in a First Blood match and MMA star Ken Shamrock defeating a young Rock/Dwayne Johnson for the KOR title.
Those two main events hold their own places in pro wrestling lore. They are largely forgotten because the HIAC match stole the show while impacting the wrestling world. It still does some 16 years later.
The idea for Foley to start the match on the roof of the cell was WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk’s. After Foley and Funk stopped off at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., to review the first HIAC match that featured Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.
The two hardcore legends quickly ascertained that topping HBK vs. ‘Taker in HIAC No. 1 wasn’t going to be easy.
"Maybe you should let him throw you off the top of the cage to start the match," Funk said, while laughing at Foley’s dilemma. Foley took Funk’s humor seriously and the tongue-in-cheek idea became a reality.
"I equated taking the bump off the cell to like dropping an elbow off a higher-than-normal structure," Foley told me recently. "I’d dropped elbows off the balcony of Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, so I thought starting the match on top of the cell with an elbow through the Spanish announce table would be memorable and that I could pull it off."
It was memorable all right, to the point that fans today can still recite many aspects of the commentary from those frantic moments where pro wrestling and reality meshed into near-disaster. Many fans have edited sound bites of that match to recent events from the world of sports and beyond.
Maybe you should let him throw you off the top of the cage to start the match.
"We did not rehearse anything, nor did I ever climb to the top of the cell prior to going up there the first time during the match," Foley told me. "Once I got up there, people looked like ants, and even though I rarely use any F-bombs, that word was racing through my mind over and over as I surveyed the crowd."
I asked whether Mick considered calling an audible while he was processing the situation, and he said, "Absolutely!"
We’ll never know what the audible would be because, according to Mrs. Foley’s baby boy, "I wanted to create a moment that fans would never forget and decided to take the plunge."
Indeed, Foley took the plunge — and for many of us it was the most terrifying moment we’d seen in a pro wrestling match.
My response while sitting at ringside to that moment was "Good God Almighty! Good God Almighty! That’s killed him. As God is my witness, he’s broken in half!"
I’m often asked whether I prepared lines for what was going to occur in the Hell in a Cell, and the answer is an emphatic "No," because neither Jerry Lawler nor myself knew it was going to occur. What you heard from us was organic and immersed in the moment.
I recently had a father of a teenage son come up to me in Morgantown, W. Va., where I was attending a Big 12 football game between West Virginia and Oklahoma, and ask for a photo. I was happy to oblige the father and son. As we posed, the dad started reciting my commentary from 1998 much to the embarrassment of his teenage son, who wasn’t born when the match happened. However, the son, too, knew the dialogue and had heard his dad’s impression many times.
When asked his thoughts after crashing through the announcers table, Foley said that he felt "pretty good" but that his shoulder hurt. It should have hurt … it was dislocated. After stumbling to his feet, Mick unbelievably began to climb back up the cage, which had no climbing footholds as today’s HIAC cages do.
Foley lost all feeling in his hands while climbing and blamed his challenging ascent not just on his dislocated shoulder but also on the fact that he was "bottom heavy" — and the fact that the most pull-ups he had ever done was four in the sixth grade.
Mother Nature and Father Time have not been happy with me.
The next brutal fall was through the roof to the canvas below, which was planned, but not in the manner that it occurred. It knocked Mick out.
"It was the first time that I’d ever been knocked out in a match," Foley remembered.
This is where I screamed, "Will somebody stop the damn match?!" It seemed impossible that any normal human being could or should continue.
As we now know, Mick Foley isn’t normal.
The Undertaker remembered that he mentioned to Funk, who had entered the cage after the second sickening thud, to "see if he’s alive," referring to the battered Foley. The legendary Funk shared this story while inducting Mick into the WWE Hall of Fame two years ago. ‘Taker also recalled that he was distracted by what he thought was a massive "booger" in Foley’s nose that in reality was Mick’s tooth.
Good God Almighty! Good God Almighty! That’s killed him. As God is my witness, he’s broken in half!
It’s hard to believe that this match actually went 17 minutes before The Undertaker prevailed over "Mankind," with both men receiving much-deserved individual standing ovations upon leaving the ring.
Foley told me that looking back on this memorable moment caused him to take a long look at the business and his approach to it and recognize his own mortality for the first time as it related to the squared circle.
"It opened up the door to lighter presentations such as the Rock & Sock connection," said the man who travels the world sharing the stories of his magnificent career with fans during his popular one-man show.
The 49-year-old Foley told me that "Mother Nature and Father Time have not been happy with me" since that fateful day in Pittsburgh.
There have been 28 Hell in a Cell matches in WWE history, with another HIAC event taking place Oct. 26 in Dallas on WWE Network and PPV.
Without question, the Hell in a Cell classic that occurred on June 28, 1998, will never be topped, and that’s likely a good thing for anyone who steps inside the "Devil’s Playground."
Watch all the carnage below:
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