Attitude Adjustment: Imagining Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell in a Cell in Today's WWE
The Attitude Era was a magical time for wrestling fans; one in which rules mattered not, characters reigned supreme and the storytelling was as edgy and irreverent as anything seen before or since.
As memorable and fun as the moments, matches and stars of that era were, how well do they hold up today and would anything accomplished then work today?
Up next in this second edition of the Attitude Adjustment is the iconic Hell in a Cell match between Mick Foley and The Undertaker from King of the Ring 1998.
What was the historical significance of the match, how has it influenced modern times and what might that contest look like in today's wrestling landscape?
Find out with this journey back to one of the defining matches from WWE's most memorable era.
When you are finished, check out last week's debut edition, reliving the D-X invasion of WCW Monday Nitro.
Historical Significance: Birth of a Staple and the Elevation of a Star
In addition to the escalation of sexual content and profanity in the Attitude Era, there was a level of violence WWE fans had never seen before.
It was hardcore and undeniably influenced by what Paul Heyman and the stars of ECW accomplished, and the fans demanded more of the Superstars who took to the squared circle.
At King of the Ring 1998 at the Igloo (Civic Arena) in Pittsburgh, Mankind and The Undertaker gave them that and then some at a level that has not been seen since.
Anyone who has viewed any of the clips or the retrospectives knows the incredible risk Mick Foley took that night.
From being thrown off the top of the steel structure and through an announce table to taking an unplanned bump through the roof of the cage and to the mat below, he easily could have seen his career end, all while Undertaker watched from the top of the cage in one of the most ominous images in WWE history.
The dislocated shoulder and concussion Foley suffered during the bout would have ended any other competitor's night and likely should have ended his.
The match continued, though, and Undertaker won with a Tombstone piledriver, but not before WWE fans' first introduction to thumbtacks as an implement of destruction.
All of the agony and suffering resulted in Foley emerging from the match a bigger, more respected star than he was entering it. He was a main event attraction prior to that, thanks to his work with Shawn Michaels, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Deadman, but that match helped make him an enduring star.
The passion exhibited in the physical beating he took that night forged an unbreakable bond with the audience that would earn Foley the opportunity to do more. And he soon accomplished his lifelong goal of winning the WWE Championship and cemented his legacy as a Hall of Famer.
One cannot understate the badassery of The Undertaker, who may not have taken the same bumps as Foley but did work the match on a broken foot, which was clearly troubling him at times. To do what he did without being able to fully support his weight is an underrated part of the bout.
Finally, the mystique of the Hell in a Cell was fortified that night and helped establish it as a staple of WWE programming. For years, the most heated feuds in the company would culminate inside the structure before the ill-fated decision to build an entire pay-per-view around it.
Thankfully, Triple H has put an end to that PPV and the cell will return to being the endgame for top programs.
The idea of a competitor putting themselves in danger by hurling themselves off the top of a steel cage prior to Undertaker and Mankind's epic encounter in 1998 was unheard of.
Jimmy Snuka did execute a Superfly Splash to Don Muraco in a famed Madison Square Garden match that helped inspire Foley to become a professional wrestler. But what Foley did was next level and performers today have attempted to replicate it to varying degrees.
Some have been more extreme, with wrestlers looking upward for even higher platforms from which to throw themselves. The hope for some was wrestling immortality; the idea that someone with a camera will catch their exploits for posterity and stardom.
In WWE and All Elite Wrestling today, some have accomplished the feat safer than Foley but less organically. Rather than bumping through a table, they have benefited from crash pads and production values that allow them to visually stun the audience without ending their careers in the process.
That is not to suggest what Sammy Guevara does by flipping through tables from the top of the Blood and Guts steel cage in AEW is not risky, nor is it to say Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins bumping off the side of Hell in a Cell cannot still go wrong, though.
The forethought of those in power to create a safer environment has spared wrestlers the suffering Foley endured at King of the Ring.
However, perhaps the greatest influence the match has had on wrestling is heightened expectation.
With that Hell in a Cell bout in particular, fans became conditioned to expect the big bump. Look no further than WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, where Shane McMahon battled The Undertaker in the storied structure.
No one cared about what they accomplished prior to the high spot of the night, as evidenced by the lackluster reaction for the majority of the match. It wasn't until McMahon stood atop the cell and looked down at Undertaker, draped over the table, that the audience came alive, knowing full well what was about to happen.
And it did. McMahon dropped an elbow from the top of the cell, missed and crashed through the table. A crash pad underneath helped break his fall, or at least tried to.
Now, any time a match takes place in a huge structure, fans have come to expect a major bump by at least one of the competitors. And anytime they do not deliver, it is deemed somewhat of a disappointment.
That does not lie at the feet of Foley and Undertaker, but rather the audience's desire for bigger moments and an industry that too often sought to deliver just that.
What Would the Match Look Like Today?
For one, the steel structure would have been more safely constructed, leaving little chance Foley would be chokeslammed through the roof unexpectedly. That is a given.
The match itself would be tonally different, too.
There was a long, intense rivalry between Undertaker and Mankind that must be taken into consideration. They battled each other for two straight years, ramping up the physicality and aggression before they even set foot inside the cell. The feud and everything it entailed helped make the violence that ensued make sense.
It would take a lot to get a match with history that rich into the ring today. Maybe, something like Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar or Seth Rollins would be fitting.
From there, it would be almost impossible to replicate what happened in that bout and have it be cleared by management. The big bump off the top of the cage, with proper safety measures in place, would stay intact, but the idea of it and the chokeslam through its roof would not be likely to be approved.
Perhaps the biggest change would be the instant buzz.
Yes, everyone watching then knew they were witnessing something special, but they did not have the outlets that exist now to express their shock and awe. Today, there would be instant social media reaction. On top of that, there would be GIFs and in-arena video documenting the spot.
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Our view of Eddie Kingston tossing Sammy Guevara straight to hell at Blood and Guts. HELL of a night! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AEWDynamite?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AEWDynamite</a> <a href="https://t.co/E7CaqZkF9w">pic.twitter.com/E7CaqZkF9w</a>
There would be more perspectives and instant historical analysis in a way that simply did not exist in 1998. It would go viral, likely inspiring more replica spots at shows across the country and may have hurt the overall impact of the moment.
There is a reason we remember the Foley spot above all, no matter how many times WWE has attempted to recreate it over the years.
Would the contest have been as good or as memorable in modern times? Probably not, through no fault of the competitors themselves. We have seen more and, for better or worse, bigger since then.
It was very much a product of the time.
What helps it endure is the love and admiration fans have for both men involved, the aura of the building and the mystique of the cage. Sure, there is a certain level of nostalgia that plays into it, but the fact that it was the first of its kind also adds to its enduring legacy.
Foley put his career and well-being on the line for the love of his work, not because he was chasing social media likes or because he was looking to enhance his legacy. Undertaker was an ominous opponent, the cage was a character in its own right and the commentary from Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler is something that simply would not be there today to support the jaw-dropping spectacle.
The match was the complete package. The changing of times, the lack of storytelling patience in general and a shorter attention span in the audience at large would not allow all of the pieces to come together to create the legendary encounter we got that night.