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20 Years Later: Looking at Foley vs. Undertaker

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Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the infamous HIAC match that saw Mick Foley, who portrayed his Mankind persona for that bout, plunge over 15 feet from the top of the cell through the Spanish announce table before his body sprawled on the concrete floor with his legs protruding underneath the guardrail into the front row of ringside.

The unbelievable spectacle shocked everyone that saw the force that Foley landed with and prompted the legendary Jim Ross to proclaim, “as God as my witness he is broken in half!,” one of the most iconic calls in the history of the sport. The dangerous bump was a part of the culmination of Foley’s feud with the legendary Undertaker, a rivalry that defined much of Mick’s early years in the WWF and introduced him to the main stream audience in the United States.

That June night in “the Igloo,” the Pittsburgh Civic Arena that hosted Penguins games for years before the current PPG Paints Arena was built, was the venue for the King of The Ring in 1998. Mick Foley started his journey into the professional wrestling industry 15 years previously, training under the guidance of former WWWF star, Dominic DeNucci. Without the traditional look of a star, Foley made a name for himself with a combination of passion and sacrifice. From a broken nose at the monstrous hands of the late Vader to second-degree burns after death matches in Japan, the Long Island native paid a tremendous physical price to make it to the stage of global television during the boom period of the Attitude Era, a time frame that saw record-setting ratings as Vince McMahon’s promotion competed to maintain the audience against Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.

As a result of the competition, the envelope was pushed, and Mick willingness to take risks suited the industry at the time. Despite his accomplishments prior to the King of The Ring, Foley’s famous flight in Pittsburgh cemented his legacy and remains a topic of discussion two decades later. Mankind crashed to the concrete just minutes into the match, prompting officials to rush to the ring to provide medical attention. With a dazed look in his eyes, Foley clutched his separated shoulder and was put on a stretcher to be taken backstage, as his mentor, Terry Funk pleaded, “Cactus, you need a stretcher, damn it” in a very real moment. With staff huddled around, the stretcher stopped mid-way down the aisle. Unbelievably, Mick was not only on his feet, but wanted to continue the bout and staggered toward the cage.

Incredibly, Foley began to climb the structure again just as he had done minutes earlier. The Undertaker, who climbed down as his opponent was being wheeled away, noticed and made his way up the other side of the cell to meet Mankind on top of the roof again.

After a brief exchange of punches, Undertaker set up for his signature choke slam and the impact of Foley’s 300-pound frame unhinged the panel of the roof, sending his body violently crashing to the canvas over 10 feet below. After he hit the mat, his contorted body froze when he was knocked unconscious from the unplanned fall. Again, the staff rushed the ring to check on him. This time, Jim Ross, who was an advocate of Mick’s work since his days in WCW, yelled, “would someone stop the damn match?!” with concern for Foley’s safety. Somehow he continued the match, including the memorable thumb tack spots that saw him pierced with dozens of tacks. With a tooth that went through his lip stuck in his nose, Mankind was pinned as the referee counted three for the conclusion of the bout.

Following the contest, Mick refused the stretcher again, deciding he wanted to walk from the ring. As the weary grappler walked backstage, the fans in attendance gave him a well-deserved standing ovation, chanting, “Foley! Foley! Foley!” in a show of respect.

The sum total of the sacrifices that Mick Foley made during his career can’t be summarized in an article or DVD set. Ultimately, the HIAC match led to an early retirement from full-time competition for the hardcore legend, but his passion for the industry inspired an entire generation. Did the famous falls from the cage define his career? No, but the willingness to sacrifice for the paying audience was a theme throughout his career, and that match at KOTR might be the most direct example of it.

Before Mick hung up his leopard print boots for the final time, he thrilled fans with several moments and matches, but that night in Pittsburgh in 1998 will always remain among the most memorable events in the industry. Ironically, beyond the brutality, that night saw things go full circle for the competitor that once jumped off his friend’s garage as a teen to emulate his wrestling heroes. A decade and a half before Foley sailed through the air at the Civic Arena, he was in attendance at Madison Square Garden the night that his idol, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka dove off the top of the cage onto Don Muraco to etch his own name into the history books. Foley credited that dive as the inspiration for his pursuit of professional wrestling after he hitchhiked to MSG to see it live, a story that he chronicled in “Have A Nice Day,” the first of several best-selling books he wrote as an author.

While an incredible amount of punishment carved a legacy, similar to the way scar tissue was carved into his left arm, it was actually Mick’s traits as a person that made him such an enduring figure through the years. Foley’s heart and dedication earned him the admiration of the audience. In many ways, there was a point that the fans didn’t want to see him take his trademark risks because they genuinely care about his health after everything he did to give them their money’s worth.

Even two decades later, watching the match will generate chills because hindsight allows for a complete perspective of the risks that took place. In many ways, the HIAC classic changed the standard of the business and while there were attempts to replicate the moment, nothing done with the HIAC match surpassed the organic reaction or had the impact that Mick Foley vs. Undertaker generated twenty years ago.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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