Foley's HIAC Match With Undertaker Did Not Make Him A Big Star
The Hell In A Cell Match between Mankind and Undertaker is one of the most famous and talked about wrestling matches of all time. Mankind’s spectacular falls from the top of the Cell have been replayed on WWE programming countless times. Mick Foley certainly endured a great deal of punishment throughout that match and it was very much deserved when Mick was given the next night off. It was very powerful to watch Mick struggle to finish the match, wrestling at a very slow pace. And while Mick has said that calling it the greatest match of all time is like calling the Titanic the greatest cruise of all time, I feel it’s a match every wrestling fan should watch at least once. However, there are many people who point to this as being the match that made Mankind a big star in WWE. That claim is something I strongly disagree with.
When Mick Foley first joined WWE in 1996 he was an upper mid carder feuding with the Undertaker. From then on he went back and forth from the midcard against guys like Helmsley and the New Age Outlaws, the upper mid card with the Undertaker, and occasionally the main event, with Championship matches against Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, and Steve Austin. Going into King Of The Ring 1998 where he wrestled as Mankind in the Hell In A Cell match against Undertaker, he was fresh off two straight ppv main event losses to Steve Austin that no one expected him to win.
When Foley transitioned back into his Mankind character leading into KOTR 98, he was merely a pawn in the storyline between Austin, Undertaker and Kane. They were building a feud between Undertaker and Austin, and there was a conspiracy theory as to whether Taker and Kane had an unholy alliance. Those were the three wrestlers that were getting main event spotlight that summer. After the HIAC match Mankind was technically in the main event picture due to his alliance with Kane, but Mankind was pretty much an afterthought. He was basically an extra body to be Kane’s tag team partner to continue the storyline of Austin/Taker/Kane. He sometimes opened Raw with a promo, and he sometimes main evented Raw with a match. There was some attention on Mankind having problems with Kane, but make no mistake about it, the main event was mostly focused on Austin, Taker and Kane, not Mankind.
When he and Kane started wrestling as a tag team after KOTR 98, they would make their entrance together, coming out to Kane’s theme music, not Mankind’s. Normally when there is a make shift tag team between two stars who are big enough, they will get separate entrances for their tag matches. This is what was done for Austin and Undertaker that summer when they competed as a tag team. But if at least one star is not big enough, they will come out together to the bigger stars theme music.
Mankind was hardly getting the star treatment after his HIAC match with Undertaker. Right before they aired the main event at Fully Loaded 98 where Taker and Austin wrestled Kane and Mankind (who were the tag champs), they showed a video package hyping the match. During this video there are plenty of audio clips from Raw of Steve Austin and Undertaker doing promos, yet there is no audio of Kane and Mankind. Kane’s character didn’t talk yet, so that explains him. But Mankind’s character did talk, yet there was no audio of him in the video package. In fact the whole video focuses on whether Undertaker has a secret alliance with Kane, and whether or not Austin is going to have to face Kane and Mankind by himself. Mankind is a complete afterthought in the video.
In fact, during a Raw in August that year there is a four corners tag match featuring Austin/Undertaker, Kane/Mankind and two other teams. During the match Mankind tags in D’Lo Brown, and when he leaves the ring, instead of going back to his corner with Kane, he goes and stands in the corner with The Rock (D’Lo’s partner). Rock is seen yelling at Mankind, who is stupidly standing in the wrong corner. It’s actually quite funny, however, the commentators completely ignored it. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler didn’t even acknowledge this. You can believe that if Austin, Taker or Kane had done something outrageous like this, even if it wasn’t part of the main action of the match, the commentators would have noticed it and talked about it.
The version of Mankind that we saw that summer was still dark and wasn’t really marketable enough to be a consistent main eventer. And it was probably a good thing that Foley was taking a backseat to those other main eventers at the time. The Austin/Take/Kane saga was pretty interesting and Mankind contributed to it and played his role well, even if he was basically an extra body filling space. He was not yet a big star in WWE, contrary to what many people would like to believe was the immediate result of his HIAC with Taker.
I don’t know the exact moment he started showing more comedy in his Mankind character, but I always point to his pre match interview at Summer Slam 98 when he said “I got thirteen words for ya!. How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood??!!” From then on Mankind became much less dark and more of a humorous character. He developed an on screen relationship with Vince McMahon, and Foley’s humorous character had excellent chemistry with Vince, who was always bothered with Mankind’s annoying but well meaning antics. Hugging Vince after defending the Hardcore Championship, calling him Dad, trying to play Twister with Vince, cheering him up at the hospital with chocolates (“Vinny’s got a sweet tooth!”), a clown and a sock puppet, and so on. It was hilarious and fans were really connecting with the stupid yet good hearted version of Mankind. This caught the eye of Vince McMahon behind the scenes and at a Raw taping at the end of December that year, Foley finally won the WWE Championship. And back then, you weren’t a main eventer until you won the title, even if you did main event a handful of ppvs.
What the HIAC match with Undertaker did accomplish in the long term was that it cemented Mick’s reputation as the toughest hardcore wrestler in WWE history. We saw him take plenty wicked chair shots to the head and nasty bumps onto concrete before this, but the HIAC match showed fans a new level of toughness that we never before saw from Foley. However, that did not make him an instant star. For about two more months Foley was just a pawn in the Austin/Taker/Kane storyline. If hardcore violence was enough to make someone a big star, then Tommy Dreamer would have been one of the biggest draws in pro wrestling history and CZW would be competing with WWE right now. The Sandman and Balls Mahoney would have been signed by WWE a lot sooner than they were and would have gotten huge main event pushes. What really made Foley make the transition from an upper mid carder to a main eventer was that he found the right character for himself. Mick himself even said he felt like the Attitude Era was passing him by until he became a comedy character. If he stayed as the dark version of Mankind, then he probably never would have won the championship, even if he wrestled ten more HIAC matches that were just as brutal as the one with Undertaker.
As I said in the beginning of the column, Mick Foley’s famous Hell In A Cell match with Undertaker in 1998 is a powerful match that everyone should see at least once. A lot of people point to this as the match that made Foley a big star in WWE, and that could not be further from the truth. It was about two months later when Mankind started employing more comedy that we saw Foley start to surge toward super stardom. The HIAC match with Taker cemented Foley’s reputation for being able to take huge amounts of physical punishment, but that was not enough to make him a star. Foley did become a huge star, but that match did not put him on the path to become one.
Last edited by AliFrazier100; 07-12-2019 at 06:55 PM.