Some people remember where they were when JFK was shot. I remember where I was the night Mankind/Mick Foley was thrown off the Cell by the Undertaker — not watching the PPV. In 1998 the Attitude era was in full swing, and I was ordering every WWF PPV my caddying cash could pay for, but I didn’t care about the King of the Ring. I never did. Secondly, I didn’t like cage matches. Yes, I was a little fifteen-year-old wrestling hipster in 1998. Back then they were called ‘smarks,’ for smart marks. Maybe that term is still being thrown around, I don’t really know, I don’t follow wrestling anymore and haven’t since 2001, but that’s a different story for a different time. We’re focusing now on the anniversary of one of the greatest moments in pro wrestling history.
Frankly, I thought that Shawn Michaels and Undertaker pulled off the best cage match outside of a Jimmy Snuka highlight when the first Hell in a Cell match went down the prior year, and the Mankind/Kane vs. Stone Cold and ‘Taker on Raw two weeks prior didn’t light my world on fire.
So I skipped it.
The first PPV I didn’t order in months turned out to be the show that held arguably the single greatest spot in pro wrestling history, and all roads lead here to me admitting this to the world fifteen years later. I remember devouring Mick Foley’s book; Have a Nice Day, a few years later, and Foley pulled the curtain back on the days leading up to the match with the Undertaker, and thinking how he could do what I thought was impossible, and one-up The Heartbreak Kid and Undertaker’s first HITC match. Strategy sessions with Terry Funk went down, and Foley recalls how the decision was made to go off the top of the cage with a goofy series of escalating jokes about dangerous spots, even about getting thrown off the cage:
“Yeah,” I shot back, “then I could climb back up – and he could throw me off again.” Man, that was a good one, and we were having a good time thinking completely ludicrous things to do inside, outside, and on top of the cage. After a while I got serious and said quietly to Terry, “I think I can do it. – Mick Foley”
The Monday night after Foley went off the cage I didn’t expect much. A recap of whatever went down on Saturday. I didn’t even bother calling my friends for an update, I don’t think any of them got the show either, and it wasn’t like I could just check social media for an update in those days, and I didn’t bother looking on the internet for results. I could wait. Then Raw opened up with still-image recaps of just exactly happened at King of the Ring ’98, and my jaw hit the floor harder than Foley’s body.
“As God as my witness he’s broken in half! – Jim Ross”
I thought Foley was dead. I thought all kayfabe was broken and something went either horribly wrong, or pro wrestling suddenly decided to take it to another level. I mean, I was a fan of Foley, I knew he took crazy bumps, but just what the **** was I seeing here in the still shots? The picture showed Mankind in mid-air, his shirt flapping in the wind like wings that could never manage to carry him to safety, then him crumpled in a pile of debris that used to be the Spanish announce table. The Funker wobbled out to the ring from the backstage area with medics, bow-legged and almond-eyed, grasping at Foley’s arm trying to make sure he was OK. Then the stretcher comes out. I remember thinking at the time as I tried to process what they were showing me, that it had to be serious: they took off his mask. They wouldn’t abandon plotlines if it was a work.
And then… And then he gets up with a smile on his face and starts climbing back up to the top of the cage?
The vignette continued, following Foley’s awkward climb up sagging chain link. Then the **** got real. A chair shot and a half-assed chokeslam puts Foley through the cage and inches from death. The cage breaks, Foley falls through like a rag doll. The chair on top of the cage takes the journey to the mat with him, but falls on his face first, knocking his teeth through his nose. A picture on my tube TV shows Foley laying on the mat unconscious. For the second time in a minute I thought Mick Foley was dead.
But, Mick gets back up after Terry Funk buys him some time in the form of getting slammed out of his shoes. Then, dazed and bloody, smiling with a tooth up his nose, Foley continues on. I repeat: smiling with a tooth up his nose. The dude was smiling from his nostrils. Technically, the rest of the match is a mess. It’s the Undertaker working with a half-conscious Foley, who had a dislocated shoulder and concussion, but they somehow pulled out a back and forth that would lead to another first for the WWF. Yep, Foley’s night of pain wouldn’t soon end; a bloody Undertaker would chokeslam him into a pile of thumbtacks before saying goodnight.
I ordered the replay of the PPV during the Tuesday night replay slot.
Since missing it the first time, I’ve made up for watching the match dozens of times, and today is the fifteenth anniversary of that milestone in sports entertainment. It’s telling that Foley has a Wikipedia entry that’s longer than his first ten years in the business just about this single match. Fifteen years later, and Foley is still good.