At 1998’s King of the Ring pay-per-view, WWE legends The Undertaker and Mankind faced each other inside Hell in a Cell in what has since been dubbed one of best (and most memed) matches in wrestling history. Every wrestling fan knows about this contest. The moment you mention both The Undertaker and Mankind simultaneously, without even finishing the sentence minds have already traveled back to June 28, 1998. This past Friday (at the time of this writing) was the 21st anniversary of this iconic match. It’s strange to ponder this, but this legendary match wasn’t even originally planned!
“Why not have The Undertaker and Mankind one more time in the confines of this monstrous cage and have this epic fucking match?”
– Vincent Kennedy McMahon
On Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, Prichard openly shared an in-depth behind the scenes look at the events leading up to The Undertaker and Mankind Hell in a Cell match and the match that was actually supposed to take place at 1998’s King of the Ring pay-per-view.
“At the time, it would have been Steve Austin and Mick Foley in the third match for the WWF Championship,” Prichard admits.
“I’m not going to say that there wasn’t any confidence in it but Vince McMahon didn’t feel that attraction was needed at the time. He wanted to do something different, he wanted to shake it up, he wanted to do unpredictable, he wanted to do something nobody would ever call which is what you got with Kane [versus Austin]. So leading up to [the pay-per-view], you got to the point of, ‘Okay, so what the hell do you do with Mick?'”
Prichard continued, “We’ve been building Mick this whole time with Steve and now it’s The Undertaker who is without a dancing partner. So I think it was Vince McMahon who said, ‘Why not have The Undertaker and Mankind one more time, and put em in the cage, in the confines of this monstrous cage and have this epic fucking match?'”
Mankind had been feuding with Steve Austin who was the top guy in the company at the time. The two of them had history and just one year before were tag team champs together (albeit under Foley’s alter ego Dude Love).
Foley and Austin held the titles for a short while in 1997 until an ill-fated inverted piledriver botch by Owen Hart almost paralyzed Austin and kept him out of action for a while resulting in them having to drop the tag team titles. A storyline could have easily been written around their history together from the year before but Vince was set on Austin having a First Blood match with Kane and Undertaker and Mankind taking their storied rivalry into the confines of a hellish cage.
The move to have Mankind work with The Undertaker meant Foley having to wrestle someone he had already had six pay-per-view matches with already. Not to mention, Undertaker had a jacked-up ankle at the time and could hardly walk let alone skimmy up the side of a cage.
Not one year before this, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had a memorable Hell in a Cell Match at 1997 Bad Blood. This posed a mental dilemma Foley.
“How the fuck do I top that?” Foley reacted to Prichard after finding out that he’d be wrestling with The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell Match at 1998’s King of the Ring. pay-per-view “How the hell do I top what Undertaker and Shawn Michaels have already done?”
Foley felt there was nothing that could be done that would top the classic between Michaels and Taker so he sought out Terry Funk for some advice.
“Terry Funk actually reviewed the match with [Foley] and said, ‘Why don’t you start the match on the top of the cell?'”
Prichard continues, “My first question was, ‘How the fuck do you even get [up on the cage] at the beginning [of the match]?’ You gotta get there at some point. And when I heard what they had laid out, it was like, ‘Okay, then what?’ You throw him off the cage, that should be the end. That’s the finish, where the fuck do you go from there?”
Mick responded to Prichard, “We’re gonna climb back up to the top,” to which Prichard responds, “What the fuck? Are you going to go back up there? You just got thrown through a fucking table! Then what?” Mick said, “We’re going to go through the ring. Prichard then responded to Foley, “You just got thrown off the top, now you’re gonna climb back to the top of the cage, then go through the cage? You’re going to ruin the first bump you just took. I just don’t fucking get it. You start the match on top of the cage, then you get thrown off through the table, that’s the finish.”
The original concept was not for Mick to be choke-slammed so many times and by the time they were up on the cage the second time, the cell began to sink. This is where Undertaker adlibbed and picked Mankind up again to chokeslam him.
“The chair came crashing down with Mick and landed right on his face. It busted his lip and jammed his tooth into his nose. The cage was supposed to protect Mick and make the bump feel like he was getting choke-slammed off the top rope. It wasn’t supposed to break,” Prichard explains.
According to Prichard, after this spot, there was chaos backstage and WWE officials, as well as Funk, came down again to check on Mick. Taker was stood up on top of the cell looking down feeling clueless about Foley’s condition.
“Taker was like, ‘Oh shit, he’s not moving again!'”
Taker waited until he received the signal to jump down through the busted open cell before continuing the match.
“Vince McMahon coming down to check on Mick wasn’t staged, that was real. [Vince] was genuinely concerned about Mick’s health and condition.”
“When I tossed him off of the cage, it was like time stopped. People say they have out of body experiences and things like that…standing on the cage and watching him fly, I could actually see him and myself standing up there. I didn’t think Mick Foley would get up from that.”
Read Undertaker and Mankind’s emotional take on their memorable Hell in a Cell match below:
Mankind’s dangerous and selfless performance in this Hell in a Cell match skyrocketed him into a major star in WWE, albeit not right away. It took a few more months before Foley was really over the fans. Foley felt that the crowds might respond better if Mankind were more of a comedy character, and so he abandoned the tortured soul gimmick and became more of a goofy, broken down goon. He began the transition into this character following SummerSlam in 1998.
Had WWE stayed on course with having Foley feud with Austin in pursuit of the WWE Championship, who knows which direction his wrestling career would have headed? Had Foley never participated inside of the “demonic” structure, perhaps his body would be in far better shape today. And who knows, maybe we could even have witnessed a Braun Strowman vs. Cactus Jack Hardcore match!
Whenever you find yourself around someone telling you wrestling is fake, be sure to point them to this match!