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Twenty Years Ago: King of the Ring 1998


Onyx2
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“Maybe you should let him throw you off the cage.”

Terry Funk’s innocent bit of daydream booking has created one of the most replayed pieces of WWE footage ever. From showing the derangement of Mankind, the brutality of the Undertaker or warning kids not to try this at home, Mick Foley’s fall from the top of Hell in a Cell to the Spanish announce table is an epochal moment in wrestling.

On 28th June 1998, the King of the Ring PPV featured a sub-main match between the Undertaker and Mankind in a Hell in a Cell match that was to be one of the most memorable of all time, with consequences rippling down to today.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In 1997 Shawn Michaels faced the Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match that was possibly the best WWF match of the year. The roofed cage that surrounded the ring felt like the perfect way to cement a Steve Austin v Mankind feud, following their Dude Love shenanigans which weren’t quite catching fire. A shakeup in the booking from Vince Russo giving Kane the main event nod, desperate to dangle the line "I'll set myself on fire!" meant that this was nixed. Instead Mankind was to face the Undertaker in the cage.

Foley was concerned. He was on a comedown, not quite catching on with the fans. Undertaker was nursing a broken foot. He knew they couldn’t follow the Shawn Michaels match at all. It was their sixth PPV match. Mick Foley just couldn’t figure how to make it work. Partly joking around with mentor and friend Terry Funk, he watched the tape of Michaels dangling by his fingers from the top and falling backwards to the announce table. Funk then suggested he start the match on top of the cage. And get thrown from it.

Foley laughed it off initially, but grew to appreciate that the spectacle would help fill the match with enough razzle-dazzle to obscure that neither man was in their best shape. He consulted Undertaker who didn’t approve, and Foley was left unsure as to whether Taker would play along or not.

Foley then took it to Vince. 

Quote

“Hey, what if I came off the top?” and Vince replied “absolutely not.” And I went into sell mode and I said, 'well, if I was going to drop an elbow off there and somebody's going to move, you'd probably let me do that, right?'. It's leading questions and he goes, 'I guess.' 'Well, it's the same thing. I'm in total control.”

So with no approval from Vince, and it being unclear whether Undertaker would go with it, 32-year old Foley set out to do it anyway. In the go-home Raw, Foley promises the audience “a show they will not forget.”

To the match in question. He made his way to the ring. The crowd was awash with black Austin 3:16 t-shirts. There was largely an apathetic reaction to his entrance. Mick makes what he calls one of his biggest regrets at this point: he takes a chair with him. He enters the cage, paces the inside, then leaves. He stares at the cage and tosses the chair to the top. He climbs the cage, to pretty much everyone's surprise. The first of many injuries occurs here: Foley loses feeling in his right index finger through pulling on the mesh too hard.

Undertaker arrives to a much more bold reception, because who has a better entrance in the business? Undertaker appears to have agreed with the plan, as he ascends the cage. They brawl briefly on top, with part of the roof giving way which should have given them pause for a later stunt. After a blocked DDT Undertaker slugs Mick a couple of times, and he teeters towards the edge.

Undertaker grabs Mankind by the neck and back, and tosses him from the top.

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Foley falls, hard, and fast into the Spanish announce table.

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“Good God almighty! That killed him! As God is my witness he is broken in half!”

JR has probably never had a more captivating call, as according to him he had no idea this was part of the plan.

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“It’s hard for me to believe that a wrestling match would produce a quote that has this lifespan. If you had told me that, even the night we had the show, I would not have believed you.”

The crowd pitch rises to a high shriek and gasp. Foley is not moving. Undertaker doesn’t quite look his chilling self, and remarks later to Foley backstage “brother, I thought you were dead.”

Carlos Cabrera was sent literally reeling: “There must have been hundreds of moments at that table, but that was the most incredible and horrific one,” he told WWE.com later.

Funk appears at ringside extremely quickly. Trainer Francois Petit is there. Sgt. Slaughter comes down. Even Vince McMahon himself appears, pretty much breaking character, appearing concerned.

Foley commented at this point he felt surprisingly OK. A sore shoulder and a dull kidney pain but not bad considering the ‘bump’ he took, if that word still applies.

The cage is lifted to allow the gurney round, Taker still atop. A fan can be heard screaming “finish the match.” Vince is still visibly concerned. JR is apologising for the match being over. The crows start chanting for Undertaker.

Perhaps on adrenaline only - Mick doesn’t really remember - he gets off the stretcher. Funk and others are clearly and honestly pleading with him to get back. Foley moves fairly fast up the cage for someone with a dislocated shoulder. Undertaker shrugs and rejoins him there. On his way he moves the chair to the middle of the ring.  After a few traded blows, Undertaker wraps Foley’s throat with a goozle, and executes a fairly weak chokeslam. The centre panel gives way.

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Undertaker said "That panel wasn't supposed to break loose. That panel gave way."

Foley added

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"It was going to tear a little bit. And then, Taker was going to stuff me through the hole. The big visual to me was I was going to be hanging upside down. Like my arms and flailing and this. And the bump itself, 'alright, I just have to be able to rotate, land on my hands and knees, maybe we'll risk your wrist, your knee, but nothing real major.' And I got approval for that.

(I'm not convinced by this. Undertaker throws him in an unusual way, and Foley's bump position is odd. I suspect Mick tells this story to keep his wife Collette happy. He greatly pissed off his wife as he didn't tell her what was happening, nor called home until quite a while after. Doghouse central.)

The worst part doesn’t come across in the camera angles. While Foley falls to the ring, the leg of the chair catches him flush in the face. It’s this that removes one and a half teeth, dislocates his jaw and punctures a space in his lip he can push his tongue through. Famously Mankind lolls at ringside to the camera, trying to show this trick, but most are shocked by the tooth clearly poking out of his nostril.

But the crowd are going batshit insane by this point. While the ring is flooded with officials, Undertaker hops down and lands on a clearly weak ankle, hobbling around for a bit. Terry Funk knows Foley needs more time to get back to his feet. He gets in Taker’s grill for a right hand and a chokeslam, which manages to knock his shoes off. Less than two minutes after falling through the cage, Foley is back on his feet, takes a worked punch and falls extremely slowly to the mat in a bump Mick has no recollection of.

At this point Undertaker throws Mankind a bone. “Let’s go home.” “No I’m OK,” replies Foley. And the match continues. Such is wrestling.

“Hell is in Pittsburgh tonight,” says JR gravely. The match continues for another ten minutes. The steps get involved. DDTs on to the infamous chair. There’s thumbtacks (Mick asks Undertaker backstage “why didn’t we use the thumbtacks?” Undertaker gestures at Foley’s pincushion arm.)

After the match, Foley is stretchered again. Foley says to Mike Chioda “have I been on a stretcher already tonight?” When Mick is reminded that he is, he asks for help to get back to his feet, Mankind leaves the arena to a chorus of “FOLEY” and his legend is cemented.

*

As a match, Dave Meltzer gives it 4.5 stars. It’s strange because it’s definitely the kind of match that breaks star ratings. It’s technically not good but in terms of being memorable, a spectacle, a specimen of performance and endurance, it’s outstanding. Dave says “despite anything Mick Foley has ever done or ever will do in this industry, he will always be remembered for June 28, 1998...for better or worse, I will never forget that performance as long as I live but I wish I had never seen it.”

I didn't even watch it in context first time around. I couldn't get PPVs at the time. I missed the Raw after too. I heard Vince say "what you did for us at King of the Ring... We will never forget." I ordered it on VHS from Amazon and watched it spellbound twice through. 

It’s arguably the most famous wrestling moment of all time, and a sure-fire way to nobble the ‘it’s all fake’ naysayers. I personally really enjoy the match as it spikes excitement in the way few other matches do. It still raises goosebumps, even as I watched it a couple of times to write this. Maybe knowing Mick was more or less OK afterwards helps. I know I’ve debated with some on here that it’s a difficult watch, but it’s hard to argue for a match that changed the business more, nor has been rewatched more. Mick Foley says himself “People say this is the greatest match of all time. To me, that is obviously not the case—I liken it to a cruise ship. Calling this the greatest match of all time would be like calling the Titanic the greatest cruise of all time. It’s not so much the quality of the cruise as it was the courage of the survivors…”

It patently isn’t a five star match. But it is legendary.

Watch the match here (hooky): http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x50cdbp

Watch the match here (legit): http://network.wwe.com/share/video/31289543

Edited by Onyx2
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Great stuff.

Apparently when Undertaker grabbed Terry Funk, the first thing he said to him was, "check if he's alive", which tells you all you need to know, really...

Like Onyx, I didn't see it in context - I wasn't watching wrestling in '98, and missed the majority of Mankind's run, only vaguely remembering him from when I had last watched, and mostly learning about him through the first Smackdown game on PS1, which is what got me back into wrestling. By the time I started watching again, Mick Foley was the goofy commissioner, but I read his book, and started tracking down as much of his stuff as I could - and as much wrestling as I could in general, so it wasn't long before I saw this match.

My brother only watched wrestling from 2000-01, but I once got a message from his then-girlfriend saying that she'd asked him what it was all about, off the back of a Facebook post I'd made about some event or other I was going to, and he showed her this match. To the casual or lapsed fan, it seems to always be the go-to "it's not all fake!" example, for good or ill.

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Wonderful post, @Onyx2. I didn't see the match at the time but it had a reputation at school, it featured at the key moment in the Don't Try This At Home videos, and then when I borrowed Foley's book from a friend, it was the first chapter I read. I had to know about this match that I knew about but had never seen. Don't think I saw the full thing until years later but it was this odd feeling of already being completely familiar with the match despite never having seen it because of the way Foley wrote about it. It's one of those rare matches that'll never be forgotten.

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Fantastic post, Onyx. 

I vividly remember getting up early and watching this before school. I was doing that back then. Getting up at about 5:30am the Monday after PPVs to make sure I saw what happened before everyone gave it away at school. That was the only drawback for me of wrestling getting popular again at that time. In 96/97 nobody would admit they were watching wrestling so you could go in the day after fucking WrestleMania and from the minute you got in to when you left at 3:30 you heard fuck all in the way of spoilers. By 98 though, those days were over. There was a period there, and KOTR 98 falls right into it, where you'd go in the day after a PPV and hear the whole card broken down by the end of morning registration. So that was it, I'd go to bed on the Sunday PPV night and my alarm would be set. The things we did as wrestling fans. I can remember walking to school in those days with images in my head of Mankind's fall off the Cell and his tooth sticking out of his nose, Butterbean wrecking Bart Gunn, Sable's tits etc. And some mornings just trying to make sense of what the fuck I'd just witnessed with the Montreal screwjob, Vince 'firing' Austin on PPV in 98 and Owen Hart dying. It's no wonder my school reports always seemed to include 'He doesn't give us any problems in class but he struggles with concentration during lessons'. No shit! Fuck your algebra, I wanted to get back and watch all 3 hours again. 

Anyway, yeah, KOTR 98 is one that really sticks out in the memory for me. Almost solely because of this match. Austin losing the title to Kane, just a few months after he won the thing, was a shocker at the time but it paled in comparison to Taker-Mankind in the Cell. 

Edited by wandshogun09
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I'd get a VHS of PPV's from a mate either on Monday or Tuesday after college. No-one in our A Level group liked wrestling so nothing ever got spoiled.

I got this one on a Monday. My Mam went out on Monday nights and my Dad would watch shows with me, chiefly to take the piss. I can't remember much from the card at all and wasn't interested in either Undertaker or Mankind at the time.

The moment Foley climbed the Cell I called my Dad from the kitchen because I knew I was going to see SOMETHING, I just didn't think I'd see the plummet. 

The second Taker grabs Foley I just started mumbling 'nah' then 'no' a bit louder before shouting 'WHAT!?'. When Foley went through the table I heard my Dad mutter 'Fucking Hell.......'

I can't remember hearing my Dad swear again until I dropped out of uni 3 years later.

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Remember at the time thinking it was going to be shit. The Undertaker vs Mankind matches started off blistering in 96, but the last few were quite shit. And after a great 97, Taker was back to his plodding self of the mid-90s during his "monster of the week" phase. Couldnt have been more wrong there. I put it up there with the night Owen Hart died, in the sense that there was a feeling you weren't ever going to forget that.

It's mad that he had another Cell match a month or two later with Kane and took a really nasty bump nobody remembers, when he completely missed the table and hit the floor. He said on his DVD that the bump in the Kane match actually hurt worse than the first bump in the KOTR match.

Edited by IANdrewDiceClay
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Incredible post, Onyx.

This is still, and will always be, the most spectacular (-ly stupid) thing I've ever seen in wrestling.

I watched the whole match back last and given everything that's happened since and the state of Mick Foley, I find it a really difficult watch. The first bump onto the table is quite perfect. The camera angles are phenomonal, the call from JR is incredible. The rest I find hideously gratuitous. I barely recollect the second drop - it's just so needless and far more dangerous. No-one in any situation would let Foley carry on after that first bump. They've told and incredible story already, people are stunned, Undertaker looks like a viscious bastard and if Foley just somehow gets up to leave barely under his own steam, the story of what a tough, crazy bastard he is is perfect. It's up there with the 1999 Royal Rumble in going too far and in hindsight, it's just so tough to stomach.

I can't recall how I first saw it. We didn't have SKY yet because I got it a year later when I was earning enough to pay for it. I definitely saw it unspoiled though so I guess a mate taped it for me. Watching it the first time, I thought Foley was dead twice.

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Weirdly, amongst Foley getting thrown off the cell, through the roof, on to thumbtacks, and every other bit of insane punishment he puts his body through in this match, the one moment that makes me wince every single time I watch this match is Undertaker jumping down from the roof into the ring, landing on his broken foot and hobbling for just a second or two.

It's weird that something so (relatively) minor is what gets me every time, but I suppose it's a mixture of it being more relatable, it being The Undertaker showing a very human moment of pain, and it just being a relatively mundane moment to stop and think, "fucking hell, why do they do this to each other?", when even the guy not taking the insane bumps is fucked up.

 

Taking Onyx's quote from the Post of the Year thread, so as not to get my wrestling talk all over off-topic;

16 hours ago, Onyx2 said:

Reading it back it occurs to me I never mentioned who won the actual match anywhere. 

 

Honestly, this match is probably one of the better arguments for "wins and losses don't count", as it's the loser everyone came out of it talking about, and still talking about 20 years later. No one remembers the finish, everyone remembers the "moments".

What's important isn't wins and losses, per sé, it's forward momentum. There's no problem with a wrestler losing a match if the circumstances of the loss still point in an obvious direction, or if he still gains something in defeat. "Wins" in wrestling aren't only the ones that go down on the record books. But Road Dogg's still wrong.

Edited by BomberPat
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Along with the arse on Trish Stratus, this is one of the few things outside of Austin/Rock that I know most non-fans of a certain age will definitely know about when it comes to wrestling.

I first saw it when a mate gave me a copy of his VHS tape. Even with all the playground Don King hype, it still was pretty mind blowing - and still is. It's probably more a stunt show than a proper match with a story, but nonetheless it's about as compelling as a match gets. His match with prime 2000 Triple H in HIAC is a far better contest, with one big bump, but it's sadly a bit ignored.

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7 hours ago, ColinBollocks said:

His match with prime 2000 Triple H in HIAC is a far better contest, with one big bump, but it's sadly a bit ignored.

To be fair that's probably in part because:

1) it was a month after the thier unbelievable RR Street Fight which is one of the, if not arguably the best, match either man has had

2) Foley returning for Mcmahon family bollocks™ at mania was a shit moment to take the shine off the HIAC match in people's memories. 

 

I got back into wrestling after giving up on Wcw in 99 because of catching the build to the 3 way ladder at mania and the Foley & H3 run. After that I wanted more of Foley and all I would hear about was RR99 & KOTR98.

By the time I watched the match (thanks to Ron's Tapes on Barmouth market) I had seen the clips so many times it would never have the impact it did for people at the time. That said it was still so amazing to see it in full and get more than a sliced video package. 

I got so desensitised over time to big bumps, head drops and blood it stopped feeling spectacular, which says alot about the wrestling business in the late 90's and early 2000's.

Now, after I'm far from the fan I was, reading this back it feels awe inspiring again. So much so I'm inclined to finally re subscribe and watch it again. 

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Oh 100%, dear @Tommy!, but it's still a bit of a forgotten classic, as sullied as it became. Nothing beats 98 for pure spectacle, but I think his HIAC war with Triple H in 2000 is just as good as the first classic HIAC match. One of my favourite moments/visuals ever is a possibly dead Foley lying motionless after that backdrop through the cage and the ring, Triple H kicking the cadaver's hand only for Zombie Foley to suddenly show signs of life. It was such a brilliant bit of storytelling that enhanced both men.

 

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Thanks for this write up. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

I remember the day I first saw this vividly. I had stopped watching wrestling a few years earlier, but had just started hanging about with a new set of lads and a few of them were into it. 

It was a warm Friday night and we sat in our usual hangout place (the old park) drinking cheap Lynx lager. Jonny Hunt told me Mankind had been thrown off and through the cell and I was refusing to believe it. My last memories of Wrestling were Duke the Dumpster Drosse and other such shite so I thought all this talk of brutality was just bollocks. Jonny insisted that it was legit and that we should walk down his house and he'd put the tape on. We walked and I watched and I could not fucking believe what I was seeing. This was not the stuff I stopped watching a few years earlier. What the fuck had happened? How did he not die? Did he have padding or something under his shirt to slightly break the fall? Camera trickery? Those thumb tacs could absolutely not be real. Jesus christ!

 

It's still such a crazy thing to watch 20 years later. What a moment.

 

 

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It's interesting that this night is mentioned in the same breath as the Owen Hart accident a few posts up, as in my mind one seemed to lead to the other in terms of outside perspective of what we were all watching in school at the time. Raw had already been racy for months and months in the build up to King of the Ring, but the cell was one of those watershed moments where the curtain pulled back. Our mums and teachers began taking more notice of what these lunatics on TV were getting up to and - ultimately - where it may lead to. To me from June of 1998 on, wrestling became a highly volatile American stunt show where someone was going to get killed sooner or later. The whole thing became a dark circus. Even now so many of the shows from that period have this weird, jittery vibe to them. 

It seems a bit audacious to pick niggles in what is the greatest spectacle in WWE history but lets not forget the one duff point of the match. Foley mentions it either in his book or the Greatest Hits & Misses DVD, maybe both: It's that point where both men scale the cage again on opposite sides after the first big bump. The crowd are popped like crazy but instead of both guys coming to frenzied blows once they meet at the top, they instead just club each other about a bit until the next bit bump. 

We'll never have that visual of fast flying fists with the crowd losing their shit - and whilst its somewhat narky to bring it up in light of what both guys must have been going through in their own way - it would have been phenomenal. 

Edited by Gay as FOOK
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