Today is the 20th anniversary of one of the most famous matches ever, Hell in a Cell from King of the Ring 1998 between the Undertaker and Mankind. The story of the match has been chronicled so much that one of the men involved is on a speaking tour talking about all that he can remember of it. The match itself was only the second Hell in a Cell match in the WWE, but it can be argued that this is the one that raised the bar to make this particular match type a spectacle.
I’m not going to recap the match since many others have done so over the years, but I can give you my history with it, thoughts about the match, and the aftermath. The match happened before my family had the internet or even cable at that point. The only way I even knew about the match was a write-up in WWF Magazine. The magazine didn’t go into specifics, but made the match out to sound like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It sounded like a lot of hyperbole. When I finally did get around to renting the tape from a local video store I couldn’t have predicted what I was about to see. It was the first time I’d seen a match that blurred the line between reality and fantasy. It was the first time I’d ever feared for the safety of one of the performers in a match. What Foley put himself through to entertain the fans is nothing short of astonishing. Both of Foley’s falls and the thumbtack spots are some of the most memorable in WWE’s history.
This match was also the one that got me fully invested in the Attitude Era. I wasn’t necessarily a lapsed fan or anything like that at this point, but I was 18 and busy working and attempting to plan for the future. I remember going to a Media Play store not long after I had seen the match and they actually had the tape for sale. I had never bought a full wrestling event on tape before and they weren’t exactly cheap (about $35-$40 at the time). I ended up going back and buying everything from Royal Rumble 1998 to the King of the Ring and absorbing as much as I could. It made it tough to keep up with Raw, but I still had the magazines and we had gotten the internet not to long after this so I could follow the results. I also remember buying the Three Faces of Foley videotape where he talked about this match out of character with Matt & Jeff Hardy. It was one of the first times I remember a wrestler talking about their career out of character and Foley seemed nothing like the deranged characters he portrayed. He seemed like a very humble, self-deprecating human being and I could relate to that far more than any of his three personalities. Those qualities would start to show in his promos as Mankind later on.
In an interesting bit of “What If” does WWF still win the Monday Night War without this match? Foley rode a wave of goodwill after this match that ended up with plans being adjusted to give him a World Title run. When he won the title Tony Schiavone over on Nitro made the infamous “That’ll put butts in the seats” comment which caused people to switch the channel to see this respected wrestler finally get his due. It’s also hard to speculate how much more of a career Mick Foley would’ve had without this match happening. It was also several months, almost a year actually, before Foley would take time off to fully heal from his injuries. It’s possible that we could’ve had Foley for a few more years, but we’ll never really know for sure.
A lot of the wrestlers from the Monday Night War era gave so much of themselves for the fans and for their respective companies. Foley was one that always made sure that you left whatever show he was on entertained. Either with a spectacle of a match, intense promo, or even a bit of comedy he always tried to entertain you. The fact that this match is still talked about 20 years later is incredible. It’s so much more than spectacle. It’s the story of a man doing everything he can to make sure that you’ll be entertained. I may never meet the man, but thank you Mick for everything you’ve given over the years.