There are moments that as wrestling fans stick with us forever. They’re the things that sit in the back of our mind when we think we’re fed up with the product. They’re the reason we keep tuning in each week hoping to see a history made. So, we can say, “I saw it happen…” or “I remember when…” These moments connect us to our fandom like nothing else. The mood and emotions we felt made it all so personal and real. Then, there’s THE moment. The most iconic moment in WWE history since Hogan slammed Andre took place 20 years ago today in Pittsburgh, PA at the Civic Center. In the third ever Hell in the Cell match, Mankind and the Undertaker not only set the standard for every cell match, but ushered hardcore wrestling into the WWE.
This match, more than any other, endeared Mick Foley to the WWE Universe. You may argue that his death match with Terry Funk was more brutal and violent, and I’d be hard-pressed to argue that point. Or maybe that losing his ear while fighting Vader was more physically devastating? Or that the Rock’s repeated chair-shots in front of Mick’s children was more irresponsible? All valid points. Good job, you guys really know your stuff. However, the bumps Mick took in this match (one willing and one by mistake) humanized the monster almost as much as Jim Ross’ famous interview with Mrs. Foley’s deranged baby boy.
If there are any truths in the WWE they are these: No matter how far removed we are from 1996 John Cena will still rock the jorts and fans LOVE the Undertaker. The Undertaker was the original unstoppable monster for many of us fans. So, when they introduced the monster in the boiler room to fight against the monster the graveyard, it genuinely looked like ‘Taker had found his match.
In 1996, before Kane would debut a year later, Mick Foley debuted as Mankind, a deranged freak in a mask who would pull out his own hair. Immediately, Mankind began feuding with the Undertaker, costing him matches, including an Intercontinental Championship Casket Match against Goldust at In Your House 8.
Watching the Deadman fall victim to the Mandible Claw was frightening. Nothing should hurt ‘Taker yet here he was seizing and foaming as this lunatic latched onto his jaw. This first feud even saw Paul Bearer betray the Undertaker and side with Mankind and the ‘Phenom’ being buried alive.
The feud ended ended in a blow off at In your House 14. During that time ‘Taker had other feud and had even won the WWE Championship from Psycho Sid at WrestleMania 13. For a while it seemed like one of the hottest feuds of the era was at a close. Had it ended here, it would take it’s place amongst other great rivalries and only be talked about when we made the inevitable “Top Feuds of the 90’s” list.
However, after Kane’s debut and initial rivalry with the Undertaker, Mankind would join back up with Paul Bearer and his “son” Kane. The group challenged ‘Taker and Stone Cold to a Hell in the Cell match that ended in no-contest. As a result, Steve Austin and Kane were booked in a First Blood match for the WWE Title while ‘Taker and Mankind were set to meet inside the cell once more at King of the Ring 1998.
Mankind came out first and climbed to the top of the cage after tossing a steel cage up ahead of him. ‘Taker came out and immediately followed Foley up the cell, but Mankind would the upper-hand with a few chair shots. Mankind gets the Undertaker up, and they start to walk across the cage. After only a few steps, part of the cell gives way and they nearly fall through; an ominous sign of things to come. It appears the ring is held together by zip-ties, because busted ones are seen falling from the cage.
Foley goes for a suplex, but the Deadman fights out. As Foley is staggered, ‘Taker comes from behind and chucks Foley off the top like a hay bale onto the announce table below. Jim Ross has often said that he and Jerry Lawler preferred not to know exactly what was going to happen in the ring beforehand. This way their reactions would be much more natural. So when Foley hit the floor and Jim screamed, “Good God almighty! That killed him! As God as my witness he is broken in half!” it wasn’t a scripted. That was Ross’ genuine reaction to what he thought was a very likely a homicide.
The thing we forget was that the camera was in too tight on the shot and we missed the impact live, but they rectified that quickly with a close-up of Mick swan diving through particle board. Notice, too, ‘Taker just stares down hoping for signs of life before glancing over his shoulder toward the ramp. Whether he was looking for EMTs or making sure the cops weren’t coming to arrest him for mankind slaughter is open for debate.
Terry Funk was so scared for his friend, he broke kayfabe and came to the ring dressed like everyone’s nearly senile grandfather to check on Mick. When Foley hits the table, the crowd starts to throw their hands in the air to cheer then drops them as they realize how serious this is. Foley does a stretcher job, but only makes it half way up the ramp before hopping off. The look of determination in his eyes as he looks back to see the Undertaker descend was intense.
Foley shrugs everyone off and emphatically grabs the cell and hauls himself back to the top with grim determination. The Undertaker climbs back up to meet Mankind. After only a few punches, ‘Taker hits a chokeslam and send Foley through the top of the cell to the hard mat below.
While it was less a chokeslam than Mick falling backward, the ceiling giving out was not planned and only the result of shoddy workmanship. The Undertaker stood there thinking that he had surely killed Mick this time. Foley was out, had bitten clean through his lip, and a tooth came out and lodged in his nose.
Luckily, the paramedics were still close at hand, and doctors and Funk hit the ring again to check on Foley. ‘Taker dropped through the ring after a while and cleared the ring, even giving Funk a chokeslam for being there.
Mankind would finally mount some offense once he regained his senses. The end came after Foley was dropped onto thumbtacks twice and given a Tombstone to mercifully end the evening for Mick. I don’t know why but the thumbtack sticking out of his elbow always looked like the most painful. You can see tacks falling out of Foley’s body when ‘Taker hits the Tombstone. And with a crimson mask, Undertaker pins Mankind and ends one of the most epic and talked about matches in wrestling history.
This was one for the ages and we’ll never see anything like it again. Even Vince told Foley to never do it again. This was a man giving everything and more to the sport and to the fans. Mick Foley will forever be the greatest hardcore legend, and this match along with the Terry Funk Death Match are the reasons why. Happy anniversary, gentlemen. thank you for everything you’ve given.