One Night in Pittsburgh - The 20th Anniversary of the Hell in a Cell Match

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most famous matches in history with the Hell in a Cell bout between The Undertaker and Mick Foley at the King of the Ring event in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The premise of the match didn’t include a ton of promotion; Foley was coming off of his heel run as Dude Love in Steve Austin’s first title program, while The Undertaker was being heated up to headline with Austin that summer. Foley had reverted to the Mankind character and served as the henchman to Vince McMahon’s heel authoritarian character.

If anything, the bizarre selling feature of the pay-per-view was the promise by Kane to light himself on fire if he failed to win the WWF championship from Austin, a title change that few expected.

The Undertaker was not completely healthy at the time, with a nagging ankle injury that was further injured during this match (a minor side note in hindsight).

June 28th, 1998 was the most impactful date of Foley’s career. As a performer, he had a solid reputation as a hard-worker who would go above and beyond to harm himself for the entertainment of others. By 1998, it appeared he had reached his ceiling as a reliable mid-card player in the World Wrestling Federation, a promotion that shunned him for years before his 1996 signing.

The cost for superstardom that came Foley’s way through this match was a heavy one. This single match did irreparable damage to the 33-year old, who had already put 15-years into the business.

It is hard to isolate one specific aspect of this match. It grew Foley from a cult favourite to a legend among those who witnessed the match live or was later told by a friend, “You have to see this.”

Foley being thrown off the top of the cage began as an idea from, of all people, Terry Funk.

This was the second Hell in a Cell match in WWF history, following the high standard set by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker from October of the previous year. The pressure was on Foley’s shoulders and he enlisted Funk for guidance. As he and Funk sat down to watch the original Hell in a Cell, Funk threw out the idea of the two beginning the match on top of the structure. This seed planted by Funk grew into the most violent match in a WWF ring up to that point.

Later that year, Foley would remark that the throw off the top of the cell was appreciated by the fans, but the accidental chokeslam that sent him through the top of the cell and onto the mat was the one the felt by the locker room. In 1998, the WWF still had a reputation for using much harder mats, a by-product of being a ‘big man territory’ dating back decades.

It’s impossible to envision a modern equivalent to this match occurring in a WWE ring. While outliers of irresponsible danger such as Brock Lesnar’s elbows to Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2016 exist, the company has taken great strides to minimize dangerous stunts that can be otherwise presented in safer fashion. Subsequent stunts involving the Hell In A Cell have seen the company use measures to cushion and prevent the level of risk originally taken in the 1998 match.

When you say, “Hell in a Cell from King of the Ring ‘98”, there are two visuals that come to mind: the low angle camera shot capturing Foley’s fall onto the announcer’s desk, and Foley laying against the turnbuckle with a smile. It is the former that made the match, but it was the latter that made Foley. The smile amidst chaos and physical deterioration summarized the career of Foley in one snapshot. Not to be downplayed is the soundtrack from Jim Ross with the most famous call of his career, given the scope of the match and how famous it became.

The humanization of the Mick Foley character began with his sit-down interviews in 1997, grew through Hell in a Cell and was punctuated with Beyond the Mat. The combination led to an enduring hero the audience rooted for in organic fashion. While his title runs were brief, the confidence the company had in Foley helped ‘make’ their next stars. Whether it was getting The Rock primed for a big run, cementing Triple H as a main event heel, or just keeping The Undertaker busy for a pay-per-view cycle at King of the Ring, Foley was the opponent they chose.

Understanding the toll it took on Foley, the company also capitalized on this match by marketing it as the definitive point of his career. The match was placed on a pedestal, replayed for years and years, released on videos, and allowed a great storyteller in Foley to dissect and break down numerous times over the next two decades. Over the years, there have been countless stunts and bumps of high risk, but few came anywhere near the legacy of this one.

Given the high bar it set, the Hell in a Cell match can be strongly argued as a negative for the industry. It took years off of Foley’s career (he would be done as a full-time performer in under two years), but helped make those remaining years high incomes ones, securing his status for a long time to come.

For the next 20 years, Foley would be asked about this match ad nauseam. Today, Foley seems to be embracing the questions as he is now taking part in a speaking tour across the country to coincide with the anniversary of the match. It takes me back to a brief chat I had with him in June 2005 during the afternoon of a WWE pay-per-view with a Hell in a Cell main event between Batista and Triple H. When I brought up the King of the Ring '98 match to Foley, he looked down, gave me a chuckle and a response that confirmed to me that he was not in the mood to speak about it again. Perhaps it was bad timing to ask, or perhaps he was exhausted from the constant questions about one match amongst a career with thousands.

It is the blessing and curse of such a match. He will forever be remembered by it, but he would be the first to tell you that he would love the same adulation for his performances against Shawn Michaels in 1996 and Randy Orton in 2004. Those provided a wider range of his talent and ability, as opposed to the incredible spectacle of the 1998 performance.

While I can’t say the Hell in a Cell match was a match that altered the course of the World Wrestling Federation at that time, I can say that Mick Foley was a performer that did. He was never the character his era was built around but he was the motor that kept things running. He always had his eyes on making the next guy, transferring whatever star power he had on to the next one and keeping the train moving.

The Hell in a Cell match was a great jumping-on point to capture interest, but on today’s anniversary, use it as an opportunity to explore the entire career of Mick Foley, because his contributions were vast and went well beyond one night in Pittsburgh.


Excellent post John!

I remember watching that match that year. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the image of Foley being thrown off the cell, or falling through the cell ceiling, or even that smile with his tooth stabbed through his upper mouth that stuck with me, but rather Foley coming back to finish the match.

I though it was an amazing match in 1998, and honestly I probably would say the same 2018, but with knowing how much the toll it took on Foley body is still depressing, yet it’s a weird thing that this match if not start, cemented his WWF main even career.

Great read John, well done.

Wow,John that is fantastic.Thank you.

To tell you the truth, if Gargano and Ciampa have a Hell In A Cell match (Which is rumoured) I am very concerned.

I can see the finish being Gargano doing that move (Sorry can’t remember the name, it has Air Raid in it) off the top of The Cell through a table.

Just watched the match (and the whole show) tonight. Everything you said is correct. We have to remember his contributions to the business other than just this. This is just a big example of the sacrifices he was already making or had made up to this point. Here’s the kicker about that night: He does all that, and he still does the run-in (or hobble-in) for the main event. I felt so bad for him trying to get back in the ring for the finish just thinking about what he had to be going through.

Great article John. And thank you Mick Foley for everything from before this night, during this night, and after.

Taker and Mankind had had just about every type of match possible and at this point their feud was getting dried up. They knew they had to pull out all the stops to get people’s interest back and that’s exactly what they did. I don’t care how many times they say that none of Mankind’s falls were supposed to happen that’s bullshit. Everything that happened was supposed to happen look at the camera angles that were shot when each bump happened and then the facial expressions they both showed. The camera man was instructed when and where to shoot when everything went down. All that said it was an all time brutal classic.

Great read, John, really fantastic.

I’ve watched this match countless times since I still have the VHS of the 1998 King of the Ring at home and each time, I’m baffled and amazed that Foley was able to finish this match. The chokeslam through the top of the cell is the sickest bump I’ve ever witnessed and I still cringe thinking about it.

I was fortunate enough to have met Mick Foley at a Comic-Con a couple years ago and I kick myself to this day that I didn’t take the time to thank him for everything he did in the sport, especially during the Attitude Era. He was instrumental in more than one way to help WWF rise on top of the Monday Night Wars.

Great work john, this also happened on my 10th birthday!