19 years ago today, WWF presented King of the Ring (WWE Network link) from the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 17,087 were in the arena, with 310,000 homes watching on PPV.
The event is famously and infamously noted for Mick Foley, then wrestling as Mankind, thrown off the Hell in a Cell cage less than two minutes into the match, then chokeslammed through the cage ten minutes later. The match, arguably the defining moment of the Attitude Era, as recapped by Geno Mrosko in 2013:
"Instead of starting the match in the ring and working their way out of the cage, as Shawn Michaels had done with Undertaker in the first Cell match, Foley wanted to up the ante. So he (or Terry Funk, as he tells it) came up with the idea to start off by climbing the cage and beginning on top of it. This would also serve to set up a spot Foley had planned that would provide one of the most famous clips in pro wrestling history.
The two battled back and forth along the top of the cage. There was a bit of foreshadowing, though no one could know it at the time, when they walked over an area of the cage and it nearly collapsed underneath their weight. That should have been warning enough of how bad of an idea this was, but this is Mankind we're talking about here.
Eventually, they worked their way over to the edge of the Cell with Mankind teasing a fall. No one ever thought he would go through with it, though, nor did they think Undertaker would be willing to actually send him off, considering if made even a minor error in judgement, it could result in paralysis or, worse, death. But this was before Owen Hart's fall at the Kemper Arena and the wrestling business was in a different place at the time.
So they did it. Suddenly and without warning, 'Taker grabbed Mankind and sent him flying off the cage onto the Spanish announce table some 16 feet below, which separated his shoulder. This prompted Jim Ross to deliver one of his many famous calls.
"Good God, almighty. Good God, almighty; that killed him. As God as my witness, he is broken in half!"
Ross and his partner, Jerry Lawler, immediately started calling for medical assistance from those in the back, struggling to toe the line between keeping kayfabe and getting help for a friend who had just taken one of the most insane bumps in the history of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
Unbelievably enough, it didn't end there.
A whole gang of personnel came out to check on Mankind, including Sgt. Slaughter, Vince McMahon, Terry Funk, and a medical team. They raised the cage with Undertaker still on top in order to get a stretcher out to ringside to get Mankind to the back. As they were wheeling him out, the cage came back down and "The Deadman" started to slowly climb down it, even slower than normal thanks to a broken foot he was dealing with coming into the match.
But then there was some commotion in the entrance way and by the time cameras cut back over to see what was going on, Mankind was back up. And not only was he back up, he was heading back to the ring to continue the match. And not only was he back up and heading back to the ring to continue the match (with a smile on his face, no less), he was heading back to climb the cage again.
Undertaker, still hovering on the side of the contraption, climbed back up to greet him.
When they met again, 'Taker delivered a few punches before setting Mankind up for a chokeslam. When he picked him up and slammed him down, the top of the cage broke and Foley went crashing down to the hard mat below with a chair following right behind that cracked him in the face when it hit.
Lawler on the call: "That's it, he's dead."
Ross right behind him: "Will somebody stop the damn match?! Enough's enough!"
Mankind was knocked out by the fall and the chair had dislodged one of his teeth, which ended up coming out through his nose. Undertaker would later say he thought Foley may have been gone for good at this point and that he was extremely uncomfortable with continuing the match. He didn't show it, though, not while medical personnel rushed back into the ring to check on Foley, who was completely laid out and suffering badly at this point.
But still, it wasn't over.
Undertaker jumped down through the opening in the cage, an incredibly painful task considering his foot but nothing compared to what the man lying in a heap of flesh right next to him was going through, and the ring cleared out. Funk stayed in so Undertaker could attack him and deliver a chokeslam while Mankind recovered.
He managed to do so, too, standing up and taking a punch just minutes after suffering a concussion. The match would continue on for a few more minutes before Mankind went under the ring and found a bag full of thumbtacks. He brought them in the ring and poured them out on one side of it, leading to several big tease spots that either 'Taker or Mankind would take a back bump on them.
In the end, Mankind ended up jumping on Undertaker's back only to have "The Deadman" walk over to the thumbtacks and drop down. He missed the majority of them and it looked like Foley had been saved from having to absorb yet another painful spot.
But, again, we're talking about Mankind here, and he's legitimately a crazy person.
After getting back up from this, Undertaker chokeslammed Foley directly onto the big pile of thumbtacks. All that was left was a throat slash to signal the end and a tombstone piledriver to get the three count to mercifully bring to a close one of the most grueling matches in WWF history.
By the time all was said and done, the list of Foley's injuries was long and included but was not limited to: one and a half missing teeth, 14 stitches below his lip, a concussion, a dislocated jaw, a bruised kidney and a dislocated shoulder."
The bout was voted Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated and finished second in the same category by Wrestling Observer Newsletter. The two falls were selected in a 2011 list as the biggest OMG incident in WWE history.
Dave Meltzer remarked what the bout could mean for wrestling’s future in the July 6, 1998 issue of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (text via The Dirtsheets on Reddit):
So the question becomes, where does the business go from here? For Foley, sure, there's a one-way ticket right into every mythical pro wrestling Hall of Fame and in one night he turned himself into a bonafide all-time pro wrestling legend, a status he was pretty well close to anyway.
Several hundred thousand people saw the match live around the world, and through the magic of videotape and endless replays, those bumps will be viewed by tens of millions before the end of the week and exponentially more before the end of time. Foley got up, and while to say he emerged unscathed would be far from the truth, but he didn't break any bones and didn't even wind up with a long hospital stay from blows that literally could have ended his life if he'd been a few inches off on landing the first time. The scary part is not what we just saw. But what we will witness next.
As is the case with the business, a whole bunch of guys will try to emulate what is permanently etched in their mind, just as Foley one-upped the memory of Snuka from his own childhood. We'll see more balcony dives that nobody will remember. We'll see minis take bumps off skyscrapers which will fade from everyone's memories within hours. And one day, someone will suffer a terrible fate. Of course pro wrestling is dangerous and the injury rate seems to grow by the week even without people trying to up the ante. But realistically, this business has been very lucky. While wrestlers talk about literally risking their lives, and they definitely are risking their bodies, whenever they do suicidal stunts, when we talk about deaths of active young wrestlers, they are from overdoses or auto wrecks.
With all the wrestling held nightly in Mexico and all the young inexperienced guys doing crazy moves, I can only recall one or two deaths in the ring over the past 20 years. There has only been one in-ring death in the history of Japanese wrestling and that appears not to have been from a dangerous move as much as a pre-existing condition. The few deaths in the ring in the U.S. were legends from the 60s and 70s, generally older guys who hung on past their prime and whose hearts gave out.
But my last impression of the Undertaker-Mankind match was that as long as I live, I can stay with certainty that I will never forget the performance and there isn't a lot about wrestling that I'd make that statement about. Mick Foley will be linked with the Hell in the Cell more than Shawn Michaels will ever be linked with the ladder match just as Bret Hart will never escape the link of the most disastrous night of his career no matter what he did before hand and what he'll end up doing for the rest of his career.
And whether it wins match of the year or it doesn't, and in some ways it probably shouldn't and in other ways how can you even argue against it because of the impression it created, when it was over it was the greatest match ever that left me sad when it was over. I really wish I had never seen it. Not because it wasn't entertaining or that it wasn't a great match. It was both. Until the thumb tacks, it was dramatic as all hell. It's funny, because I'm happy for Foley, because he probably on this night finally accomplished what he set out to do with his life as a child and that is give millions of people a memory that they'll always remember, and very few people in the world are fortunate enough to be able to live out their true dream.
In that way, it's a wonderful thing. Whether that euphoria is worth the pain he'll suffer from this and all the other beatings in later life is something only he can decide and he's a grown up who is intelligent enough to make his own value judgements. Maybe when he's 70 he'll be living with so much pain that he'll think he was an idiot, and maybe he'll think back and the feeling inside will be that it was all worth it.
Terry Funk is still doing moonsaults off balconies long after logic would have told him to stop and in his own soul there must be a reason because his friends and family no doubt wish he'd stop. I've talked with enough older wrestlers who didn't try anything of the sort and felt what they did wasn't worth it, and others who no doubt would gladly go through it all again without being asked twice.
But I'm sad and afraid. Not for Foley's future. Not for the business which will survive the next set of tragedies a lot easier then the last set because fans are so desensitized. But I'm sad and afraid for someone, and nobody even knows who, that was watching this match on television this weekend and in five or even 15 years will try to live out the dream etched in their memory and won't wind up being as lucky a man as Mick Foley.
Here are the full show results.
King of the Ring Semifinals:
- Ken Shamrock defeated Jeff Jarrett by submission.
- The Rock defeated Dan Severn.
King of the Ring Finals:
- Ken Shamrock defeated The Rock by submission to win the King of the Ring tournament.
Non-tournament matches in order of occurrence:
- The Headbangers (Mosh and Thrasher) and Taka Michinoku defeated Kaientai (Funaki, Men's Teioh, and Dick Togo).
- Too Much (Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor) defeated Al Snow and Head. Jerry Lawler was the special referee.
- X-Pac defeated Owen Hart.
- The New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn) defeated The New Midnight Express (Bombastic Bob and Bodacious Bart) to retain the WWF Tag Team Championship.
- The Undertaker defeated Mankind in a Hell in a Cell match.
- Kane defeated Steve Austin in a First Blood match to win the WWF Championship. Per pre-match stipulations, had Kane lost, he would have set himself on fire.
Share your memories of that infamous night in the comments below.