WWE Classic of the Week: Remembering Undertaker vs. Mankind in Hell in a Cell

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

Photo Credit: WWE.com
Photo Credit: WWE.com

The Igloo in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had an eeriness about it, with its dim lights and domed roof creating a darker, more atmospheric setting for the 1998 King of the Ring.

It was against that backdrop that The Undertaker and Mankind competed in the most barbaric, death-defying, violent match in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. It is remembered as fondly for its individual moments as it is as a whole.

In one night, Mick Foley put his body on the line for the sake of entertainment and, in the process, created a legacy for himself as one of the toughest, most respected Superstars of all time. No matter how great of a career he had prior to June 28, he forever changed it when he was tossed from the top of the cell, thrown through the roof of it and was dropped back-first onto a pile of thumbtacks.

The match has become the thing of legend as the years have passed and, to this day, is considered a highlight of each performer's career.

It has been deemed a classic of the Attitude Era, and rightfully so, but is it truly a great match?

Let's take a look. 

 

Background

Throughout the spring of 1998, Steve Austin feuded with Dude Love, who had formed an alliance with Mr. McMahon. They had two outstanding matches for the WWE title at Unforgiven in April and Over the Edge in May, the latter of which remains one of the more underrated matches in company history.

Elsewhere, Undertaker and brother Kane were engaged in a bitter sibling rivalry. At WrestleMania, Undertaker defeated the Big Red Monster in a physical battle and, a month later at Unforgiven, he beat him again in the very first Inferno Match.

The two stories would merge beginning at the aforementioned Over the Edge pay-per-view, when Undertaker was revealed as the guest enforcer for the main event between Austin and Love. Austin would win the match and, dismayed by the failures of his hand-picked opponent for the Texas Rattlesnake, McMahon would effectively toss Love to the side.

On the road to King of the Ring, Kane would earn the right to challenge Austin next while Mick Foley would return as Mankind, the second of his three personas. He rekindled his rivalry with The Undertaker, setting up the Hell in a Cell match for the June pay-per-view.

The match was hyped almost as much as the First Blood match between Austin and Kane and was, arguably, the more anticipated bout.

Given their past with one another, expectations for a bloody, violent brawl were high.

 

The Match

Neither Undertaker or Mankind waste any time with pomp and circumstance as they take the fight to one another on top of the cell rather than inside the squared circle. They exchange hard rights to one another as the steel mesh beneath their feet begins to give way, an ominous sight and not one any performer that high in the air wants to witness.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
Photo Credit: WWE.com

Undertaker lands a few hard rights to the face, stunning Mankind before tossing him off the cage to the amazement, shock and horror of the fans and commentators around ringside. The thud with which the roughly 270-pound athlete hits the Spanish announce table is haunting to those who have witnessed it.

The match comes to a standstill as medical personnel as well as longtime friend of Mick Foley, Terry Funk, come to ringside to check on the fallen Superstar. Still atop the cell, Undertaker looks on from 20 feet in the air. The crowd, silent for the most part, eventually breaks out in an "Undertaker" chant as a sense of discomfort sets in throughout the Igloo.

On a stretcher, Mankind is led from ringside as the Phenom begins climbing down the cage. As he gets closer to the bottom, however, his deranged and psychotic opponent limps back to the ring, and with only his right arm working correctly, climbs the cage.

Undertaker meets him back on top, delivering a headbutt and a few more right hands before grabbing him by the throat and delivering a hellish chokeslam through the roof of the cage. Mankind crashes to the mat below and the medics are immediately back at ringside.

While they check on the fallen competitor, Undertaker hops down into the ring via the open ceiling panel and assaults Terry Funk, keeping the attention of the audience while officials check on the well-being of the clearly injured Mankind. The Dead Man delivers a chokeslam to Funk before returning his attention to his opponent.

He grabs hold of Mankind's injured left arm and drags him to the corner for Old School. As he balances himself on the top rope, however, the still-alert Mankind hits the ropes and crotches his opponent. A charge at Undertaker moments later sends the near seven-foot competitor off the ring apron and into the side of the cage.

A tooth is caught in Mankind's mustache, the result of a steel chair that followed him from the roof of the cell, down to the mat, knocking it out of his mouth, up his sinuses and out through his nose.

He attempts to capitalize on his one opening as he jars the ring steps apart and tries to lift them in the air. His dislocated shoulder will not allow it, however, and Undertaker takes back control of the match. He savagely smashes them into Mankind's injured shoulder.

Back inside, the Phenom bounces off the far ropes, charges across the squared circle and dives through the ropes at his opponent. Mankind ducks out of the way and Undertaker crashes into the cage. Blood trickling from his forehead, he appears to be in a bit of danger for the first time in the contest.

Mankind rams him into the side of the cage before returning to the ring. He places the steel chair in the center of the ring, grabs Undertaker and delivers a piledriver. The move keeps Undertaker down for two. Mankind lays the chair on Undertaker's face and delivers a leg drop, again for a two count from referee Tim White.

Mankind continues his assault with a double-arm DDT which, again, only keeps Undertaker down for two.

The hobbled Superstar climbs outside the squared circle and retrieves a bag of thumbtacks from under the ring. He empties them in a quarter of the ring and tries to knock Undertaker into them. He delivers rights to the Phenom's head and nearly accomplishes his goal until Undertaker grabs him by the throat for a chokeslam attempt.

Mankind fights out of it.

Undertaker grabs hold of him but Mankind counters with the Mandible Claw and nearly puts his opponent down. Instead Undertaker carries his opponent on his back and slams him into the tacks. The crowd pops at yet another display of barbarism as Mankind rolls around the ring, writhing in pain.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
Photo Credit: WWE.com

Unfazed, he grabs Mankind and chokeslams him into the tacks, showing a lack of sympathy for his opponent's plight thus far in the bout.

A Tombstone Piledriver in the center of the ring finishes it for Undertaker moments later.

After the bout Mankind, the toughest S.O.B. in the company, walks out of the ring despite attempts to place him on a backboard.

 

Analysis

The match is a legitimate classic that remains one of the definitive matches of the Attitude Era. It elevated Mick Foley from greatness to immortality and set the stage for a more sadistic, diabolical Undertaker that would dominate the next year of WWE programming.

Commentators Jim Ross and Jerry "the King" Lawler did an outstanding job of calling the action and reacting with genuine horror at what they had just witnessed and concern for the welfare of Foley. Ross' performance specifically was one of the finest of his Hall of Fame career.

Lines such as "As God as my witness he's broken in half" and "Good God almighty, they've killed him" have become some of the most famous soundbites in World Wrestling Entertainment history.

As fondly remembered as the match is, however, it is by no means a great match.

The two most memorable spots of the match were far too dangerous for any man to attempt and could have resulted in life-threatening injury. They were unnecessary and only worked because of the unquestionable, indisputable toughness of Foley. Had he landed differently and been permanently injured because of the spots, the match would be remembered far differently than it is today.

In between those two spots, there is little more than punches and kicks between the two. After the chokeslam through the roof of the cell and Foley's subsequent recovery (of sorts), the action finally resembled a match but Foley's shoulder injury really hampered what he was able to do.

The fact that Undertaker was working through an injured foot did not help matters, either.

The thumbtacks were a nice, unique touch that had not been seen in WWE to that point and easily could have put over the ruthlessness of the Phenom without resorting to the big bumps Foley endured earlier in the match.

Photo Credit: WWE.com
Photo Credit: WWE.com

What those two Superstars did in the name of entertainment is admirable. Within the context of the story, as well as the two-year feud they had leading into the match, the pain and suffering they dealt to one another made sense.

With that said, there were safer and more productive ways to get over the intense hatred between Undertaker and Mankind, as well as the lengths the Dead Man was willing to go to defeat his rival, without putting the health of either man at risk in the manner they did.

It is almost a shame that Foley's career is most remembered for this match because he had done so much leading into it, not to mention following the match, that deserves as much (if not more) recognition.

The series against Vader in WCW in 1993 was outstanding and was incredibly intense and violent but managed not to cross the line in the manner that the Hell in a Cell match did.

His initial string of matches against Undertaker in 1996 was outstanding, including a Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam that August that, in this writer's humble opinion, was infinitely better than the Hell in a Cell bout.

The In Your House: Mind Games match against Shawn Michaels in September of 1996, the Last Man Standing match against The Rock at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in February of 1999 and aforementioned Austin matches were all shining examples of Foley's talents as an in-ring performer, and for him to be most remembered for King of the Ring is a great disservice to him and his outstanding, Hall of Fame career.

 

Historical Significance

The match between Undertaker and Mankind made Mick Foley an icon in the sport. Despite every criticism detailed above, Foley absolutely deserves every bit of recognition that he gets for his willingness to entertain the audience by risking his own safety. It was a risk others would not take and the audience recognized it.

The Long Island native would become one of the most beloved and respected performers in the history of the industry, becoming a pop culture icon as much as he was a wrestling icon.

The Undertaker, equally as tough as his opponent in the match, would ride the momentum he had coming out of the match to a main event run against WWE Champion Steve Austin and a spot at the top of the company for the better part of a year.

Hell in a Cell at King of the Ring 1998 heightened expectations for every match of its kind that followed. While some of the top talents have competed in the confines and had outstanding matches in their own right, none has lived up to the chaotic bout that Undertaker and Mankind delivered in Pittsburgh.