This week marks the 10th anniversary of one of the defining moments in wrestling history. On Sunday 28th June 1998, during the WWE King of the Ring event held at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Undertaker battled Mankind (Mick Foley) in only the third ever Hell in a Cell match to be held in the WWE. It was a continuation of the feud between the two great competitors, which had been on hiatus following Foley’s programme as Dude Love against ‘Stonecold’ Steve Austin. In his 1999 autobiography, Have a Nice Day, Foley explains that the original plan was for Mankind and Austin to compete inside the Hell in a Cell match at the King of the Ring. However, WWE management felt that, after doing battle at both Unforgiven in April and Over the Edge in May, a third consecutive pay-per-view match between the two was perhaps a step too far. So, plans were made for Austin to defend his WWE Championship against Kane, and Mankind would instead get reacquainted with The Undertaker.
What unfolded that night during the Hell in a Cell bout changed sports entertainment forever. The match is perhaps so famous, so well known, that a move by move recount of events is unnecessary. But for the uninitiated; Mankind and The Undertaker began the match on top of the cell and battled for several minutes, with the steel panels below their feet straining and splitting under the weight. Getting the upper hand, ‘The Dead Man’ suddenly grasped his opponent and launched him from the top of the cell to the arena floor below, via a quick stop through the Spanish announcers table. This initial fall by Mick Foley, from a height of 16 feet, is one of the most famous and most repeated moments in wrestling history. After several minutes of understandable attention from doctors and concerned onlookers (Vince McMahon included), Foley rose from the stretcher he had been placed upon and scaled the sides of the cell again. Foley’s second plunge moments later, following a chokeslam by The Undertaker, through the top of the cell to the hard canvas below was less spectacular but a far worse fall. In Have a Nice Day, Foley says that this was the only bump he had ever taken in his wrestling career that had knocked him out cold, and the folding steel chair that followed him down and hit him square in the face couldn’t have helped much either. Battered and bloodied by ‘The Phenom’, Foley admits that the remaining minutes of the match were a blur. The bout ended with the almost crushed Mankind taking two more horrendous bumps onto the mass of thumbtacks that had been brought into play, before being ‘tomb stoned’ and pinned by The Undertaker.
10 years on, and the match still makes you gasp every time you watch it and while Foley rightly takes most of the plaudits, it is worth noting that The Undertaker wrestled the match, climb the cage and performed his own spots on a broken foot. When you add the intense and emotional commentary from both Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler (even today, JR’s “Will somebody stop the damn match!” still gives me goose bumps when I hear it), and the phenomenal reaction of the 17,000 plus crowd in Pittsburgh that night, you have probably the most dramatic and affecting match in World Wrestling Entertainment history…
So affecting, in fact, that the entire WWE landscape literally changed overnight. Through the years, World Wrestling Entertainment had slowly transformed itself from comic-book style characters and simplistic storylines, to a more rebellious and defiant style, that was to be embodied by D-Generation X and ‘Stonecold’ Steve Austin. It was the ‘Attitude Era’ and the WWE was aiming their product at a more mature audience. Post-King of the Ring ’98, they began embracing the ‘hardcore’ ethic that was the foundation of ECW and the WWE took the lead in promoting violent, stunt-filled wrestling to a bigger audience than the Philadelphia outfit could ever reach. And this gave way to moments and matches on WWE pay-per-view events that were unthinkable in the days of The Bushwhackers, The Ultimate Warrior and Doink the Clown. The WWE had dipped its toe in the ‘hardcore’ waters before; Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon set the standard for Ladder matches after their historic contest at WrestleMania 10 (1994). Bret Hart had been sent plummeting through the Spanish announcer’s table by Diesel during their No Holds Barred contest at Survivor Series 1995, the first time this had ever happened on a WWE pay-per-view (and an omen of things to come), and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ continued to push the envelope in the original Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at In Your House: Badd Blood (1997). But the match between Mankind and The Undertaker at King of the Ring in 1998 had set the bar so high, most doubted that it could ever be beaten. But that hasn’t stopped many from trying…
And the first competitor to take up the challenge of producing a superior ‘hardcore’ classic came from a most unlikely source. Shane McMahon had quietly edged his way into the WWE spotlight, after positions as a referee (as Shane Stevens) and a Colour Commentator on WWE Heat. In 1999, he stepped inside the squared circle as a competitor to face Test in an excellent Street Fight match at SummerSlam. At the same event a year later, during a WWE Hardcore Championship match against Steve Blackman, Shane O’Mac took an insane 40 feet fall off the TitanTron and through the staging area below and he performed the same crazy spot at Backlash ’01. His match against Kurt Angle at King of the Ring ’01 was pretty memorable too. During their Street Fight in East Rutherford, New Jersey (what is it with Shane McMahon and Street Fights? Is life really that hard in Connecticut?), Angle attempted to hurl McMahon though a glass plated section of the stage set. Unfortunately, the belly-to-belly suplex that the ‘Olympic Hero’ used didn’t get the job done and McMahon simply bounced off the pane of glass and thudded head first onto the concrete arena floor. A second attempt was more successful, but both McMahon and Angle sustained multiple lacerations in the process. Angle tried to punish Vinne Mac’s baby boy again by launching him though a second pane, again utilising the belly-to-belly suplex, but failed with his first two efforts. It was third time the charm though, as Kurt Angle took to simply grabbing Shane McMahon and throwing him through the glass head first. It was pretty brutal stuff and another marker set down in the WWE.
Edge & Christian and The Hardy Boyz had been a welcome addition to the WWE tag team scene and had taken the notion of the Ladder match to new heights (literally). Both teams had battled each other in the first ever tag team Ladder match at No Mercy ’99, a bout so good that the 18,000 plus crowd in Cleveland, Ohio gave them a standing ovation. When The Dudley Boys were added to the mix, the Triangle Ladder match was born and we witnessed the subsequent carnage at WrestleMania 2000. This gimmick match was eventually renamed Tables, Ladders and Chairs as the three teams did battle again at SummerSlam ’00. This awesome TLC match was won by the boys from Canada and the masters of the ‘Five Second Pose’ would triumph again at WrestleMania 17 (2001). Recent WrestleMania events have seen the introduction of the Money in the Bank ladder match, but as good as some of these have been, none have ever been quite as thrilling as the trio of terrific pay-per-view tussles that these great tag-teams managed to construct.
Having been branded the new WWE ‘Golden Boy’, Randy Orton earned his ‘hardcore’ stripes during his stunning brawl with Cactus Jack at Backlash (2004). When the sack of thumbtacks was brought into play, we all believed that it would be Foley once again risking his body for our entertainment. But it was Orton who astonished us all by taking the bump after Jack blocked his attempt at an RKO. Foley would continue on his apparent quest to maim and mutilate the WWE’s best and brightest two years later by brutalising Edge in a vicious ‘Hardcore’ match at WrestleMania 22 (2006). ‘The Rated R Superstar’ also gritted his teeth and survived the thumbtack bump (anything Orton can do, and all that…) before spearing Foley off the ring apron and through a flaming table. I think it’s worth noting that, despite putting his body on the line against The Undertaker, Orton, Edge and Triple H (at Royal Rumble ’00 and No Way Out ’00) by subjecting himself to thumbtacks, barbed wire, flaming tables and 16 feet falls, the records will show that Foley lost every one of these matches. He never even got the glory of having his hand raised for him at the end, probably because he was too battered to do it himself. But Mick Foley is a master at being able to make his opponents appear much better than they could ever make themselves look, a skill that only a select few have and one that, it seems, is sadly beginning to die out. For him, ego never got in the way of producing a stellar match, and Foley knew that if the bout was a success, then everybody won.
Whatever name you choose to give it, ‘Stunt’ wrestling has become a huge part of the WWE ethic, and there are so many other matches that I haven’t even mentioned. At one time, we would have only seen a single match on a special occasion. Now, we have an entire pay-per-view (One Night Stand) dedicated to it, filled to capacity with First Blood, Singapore Cane, Last Man Standing and TLC matches. I would have never believed that the very embodiment of the art of wrestling, Ric Flair, would ever come within 100 feet of a bag of thumbtacks, but his match against The Big Show in an ECW bout in July 2006 proved me wrong. However, there is one gimmick match that the WWE hasn’t touched upon. It’s the pretty self-explanatory ‘No Rope, Barbed Wire, Exploding Barbed Wire Boards & Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match’ that emerged in Japan in the mid-90’s. What a main event that would be for WrestleMania 25! And if Vince can find someone to ‘job’ to John Cena, maybe it could even happen.
Actually, we better not give Mr McMahon any ideas. I think poor Mick Foley’s suffered enough…
Comments are closed.