The Definitive List of Must-Watch Matches from Mick Foley

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 1, 2021

The Definitive List of Must-Watch Matches from Mick Foley

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    Mick Foley is one of the biggest stars in WWE history, responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the company's annals.

    He was also a hell of a professional wrestler whose matches helped define an entire era.

    A brawler with a knack for storytelling, Foley created masterpieces in and out of the ring in WWE and WCW, many of which served the dual purpose of elevating his own star and that of his opponent. Most impressively, he accomplished those iconic bouts both before and after his retirement as a full-time worker.

    In celebration of one of the most beloved performers of all time, these are the 10 definitive must-watch matches from his Hall of Fame career.

10. The 1998 Royal Rumble Match

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    The 1998 Royal Rumble match may have been the most predictable in company history in that everyone knew "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was going to win, but no one could have imagined that Foley would enter the contest three times in one night.

    The Hardcore Legend started the match as Cactus Jack and reemerged from the locker room as Mankind in the No. 16 spot. He wrapped things up late in the contest as Dude Love at No. 28.

    It was a brilliant bit of booking that allowed Foley to show off his three characters while beefing up a Rumble match that needed his star power.

    His performance in that night's Rumble match stole the show and set him up for what would be a banner 1998. 

    The match is well worth recognition as one of Foley's definitive must-sees, thanks to the presence of all three of his iconic characters in a single match.

9. WWE Raw vs. The Rock

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    For Foley, the boyhood dream came true on the January 4, 1999 episode of Monday Night Raw.

    After 15 years in the industry, the mask-wearing outcast captured the top prize in professional wrestling when he defeated The Rock to become WWE champion in the night's main event.

    A wild, chaotic main event that saw D-Generation X and The Corporation brawl at ringside, opening the door for Austin to stomp to the ring, blast The Great One with a steel chair and assist Foley in capturing the gold, it provided fans with one of those rare magical moments in wrestling when the characters, booking and storytelling all align.

    Foley running around the ring with his new prize overhead, then shouting out to son Dewey and daughter Noelle, "Big daddy-o did it," made for emotional television. It was fitting, too.

    Sure, he was the guy who would sacrifice his body for the sake of a physical match, but he had the unmatched ability to make the audience feel and the closing moments of the contest, and everything that followed, demonstrated that.

    Perhaps that is why WCW's best efforts to ruin the moment by having Tony Schiavone spoil it on the air, then condescendingly declare, "That'll put butts in seats," failed miserably to the tune of 600,000 viewers switching the channel to watch the defining moment. 

    Regardless, Foley's WWE Championship win is a watershed moment in the Attitude Era and one of the industry's genuine feel-good stories. The match itself is nowhere near the quality of those to follow, but it's essential to the telling of the Hall of Famer's career and thus earns its spot on this list.

8. WWE Raw vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley

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    Following a fantastically produced vignette that saw the Three Faces of Foley interacting backstage, Cactus Jack stepped through the curtain and onto WWE television for the first time ever on the September 22, 1997 episode of Raw, live from New York's famed Madison Square Garden.

    His opponent that night? Hunter Hearst Helmsley in what would be the culmination of that chapter of their lengthy rivalry.

    Jack introduced punishing brawling to WWE television, laying the groundwork for what would become the consistent style of the main event scene for the next three years. The fans in NYC knew exactly who Jack was and cheered on every brutal assault dealt to Triple H.

    He won the match with a devastating piledriver through a table but who won and lost was not relevant in the grand scheme of things. Foley had, again, proved just how versatile a performer he was, introducing a new character to the WWE fans and getting it over instantly. Helmsley demonstrated a toughness that would be absolutely key to his development.

    Both stars seized an opportunity presented to them, made the most of it, and wowed the fans in wrestling’s most prestigious building en route to what would be a transformative next 12 months. When looking back at what the performers were able to accomplish in the months that followed, there is a very real argument to be made that the success they achieved over that time can be traced right back to the MSG match and the other physical wars that preceded it in the summer of 1997.

7. In Your House: Over the Edge vs. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin

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    If the New York match against Triple H planted the seeds for the main event style that would dominate the Attitude Era, the marquee bout of Over the Edge: In Your House brought it to full bloom.

    Now firmly in the back pocket of megalomaniacal WWE owner Mr. McMahon, Dude Love entered the May 1998 pay-per-view with the odds in his favor as he challenged world champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The boss was the guest referee and stooges Pat Patterson and Jerry Brisco were guest ring announcer and timekeeper, respectively. 

    Love wrestled like he had every advantage, engaging the Texas Rattlesnake in a brawling main event in which he took a big bump off a concert stage to the concrete below. The challenger fought back, though, and appeared to have the title within his grasp when special enforcer The Undertaker negated all of the attempted interference from Patterson and Brisco, putting them through the table. An errant chair shot from Love to McMahon proved costly as Austin dropped the challenger and used McMahon's hand to count the fall.

    The outcome wasn’t the one Foley would have liked, but his place in Attitude Era history was firmly established. A performer who made his name in wild, outlandish brawls that tested his own toughness and provided an alternative to the formulaic format that dominated the industry in the early-to-mid-1990s had suddenly introduced fans of wrestling’s largest and most storied promotion to the style that would define an entire era.

6. Beach Blast 1992 vs. Sting

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    Foley’s Cactus Jack alter ego and top WCW babyface Sting entered the June 20, 1992 Beach Blast pay-per-view engaged in the hottest rivalry in the company. The latter was a made man, the top star in the struggling promotion while Jack had momentum on his side after a few hot angles brought him and The Stinger together. 

    Together, they would deliver not only one of the best matches of the year but also one of the greatest in company history.

    There were big bumps, pinfall reversals and even some mat wrestling from the hardcore legend. Sting obliterated his opponent with a chair, survived a double-arm DDT and put Jack away with a top-rope clothesline.

    On a 2020 episode of WWE Break It Down, Foley called the contest with Sting a "perfect match" (h/t Wrestling Inc). He is not wrong. The match is paced perfectly and at 11:22, never overstays its welcome. It is balls-to-the-wall action with appropriate physicality and violence.

    Like he did so many times throughout his career, Foley seized an opportunity to make an impression on the audience while simultaneously upping the credibility of his opponent. We knew Sting could handle himself against wrestlers like Ric Flair, but he had yet to have that one definitive war that tested his mettle and proved he could throw fists and use weapons when necessary.

    It was a landmark match for the face-painted hero but for Foley, it was the first time he made fans, industry insiders and promoters alike sit up and take note of what he was capable of in a big spot.

5. Backlash 2004 vs. Randy Orton

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    After nine months of escalation that saw Randy Orton embarrass, humiliate and disrespect Foley on numerous occasions, The Legend Killer found himself sharing the ring with his rival’s most dangerous alter ego, Cactus Jack, at Backlash in April 2004.

    Without his Evolution teammates backing him up, Orton was forced to defend his Intercontinental Championship against the man who had spilled blood in multiple continents while developing his reputation as one of the most hardcore wrestlers of all time.

    Foley punished his opponent, unloading almost a year of anger and fury on the champion. He produced barbed wire, sent Orton crashing back-first into a pile of thumbtacks and introduced the third-generation star to a whole new world of pain and agony.

    But he could not dethrone his rival.

    Orton won the match but Foley rediscovered his confidence as a wrestler after what he considered a disappointing showing a month earlier at WrestleMania XX. Foley would call the match the best of his career in an April 2020 tweet. Orton would call it his favorite and "most impactful" match of his career in response. Both justifiably so.

    A modern classic that lived up to immense expectations, it proved Foley’s commitment to putting over young stars and that, despite retirement from active in-ring competition four years earlier, he could still deliver an impactful and defining performance.

    While the future Hall of Famer may consider the match the finest of his career, there was another hardcore match against a young, determined, hungry competitor just two years later that eclipsed it in terms of significance if nothing else.

4. WrestleMania 22 vs. Edge

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    Entering WrestleMania 22, Foley had accomplished all there was to achieve  over the course of his legendary career. He had captured world titles, headlined the most prestigious events and served as one of the faces of WWE's hottest period.

    He was the definition of a living legend, but he had never had that definitive moment on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania.

    That all changed on April 3, 2006 when Foley battled Edge in a Hardcore match in Chicago. Built on the former's quest for vengeance over a brutal beating suffered at the hands of The Rated-R Superstar, it was among the most anticipated matches on a loaded card and it did not disappoint.

    Foley and Edge waged war, implementing the same instruments of pain and suffering that we had seen before but doing so in a way that allowed the violence to escalate as the match went on before culminating with one of the most unforgettable spots in WrestleMania history.

    After Foley doused a table in lighter fluid, Edge's "sinister sexpot" Lita (coined by commentator Joey Styles) caught him with a low blow and proceeded to set it ablaze. From there, Edge launched himself through the middle rope, delivering a spear off the apron that drove both him and his opponent into the flames.

    Edge would win the match moments later but it was abundantly clear Foley had achieved the moment that had eluded him. Better yet, he did it in the show-stealing match; one that ranks above the best in the show’s four-decade history.

3. Royal Rumble 2000 vs. Triple H

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    Familiar foes rekindled their rivalry in a Street Fight for the WWE Championship at the 2000 Royal Rumble when Foley, competing under his Cactus Jack persona, challenged Triple H. 

    The Game had made life a living hell for Foley, firing him, then mocking him and his family in the weeks that followed. After being reinstated following a threatened walkout by The Rock, Foley realized the fun-loving Mankind wasn't going to be able to beat the ruthless and cerebral Triple H. Instead, he had to look deep within himself and rediscover the sadistic madman Jack.

    The resulting match was not only an instant five-star classic, but it also had long-reaching effects.

    Even nearing retirement as a full-time active competitor on the WWE roster, it proved Foley still had the goods to deliver on the biggest stages. He made Triple H that night. Sure, The Cerebral Assassin was well on his way to becoming entrenched as the top heel in the business, but he needed that one signature match to reaffirm the trust the company had put in him as the centerpiece of television in the two or three months preceded the match.

    Foley gave him that. He legitimized Triple H, who admitted as much on an episode of WWE Untold, available on WWE Network, looking at the extraordinary contest.

    The match was a flawless example of a vengeful babyface looking to unleash weeks of frustration on a man who threatened his livelihood and the well being of his loved ones. It was violent, bloody, brutal and lived up to the lofty expectations set for it.

    By the end of the night, WWE had an undeniable main event star on its hands in Triple H and Foley had enhanced his legacy with a contest that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any other all-timer in company history.

2. King of the Ring 1998 vs. Undertaker

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    What can possibly be said about the Hell in a Cell match between Foley's Mankind and The Undertaker at the 1998 King of the Ring pay-per-view that hasn't already been said since that night in Pittsburgh?

    The lengths Foley went to entertain fans will never be matched again. He was thrown off the top of the steel structure, through its roof, then chokeslammed on a pile of thumbtacks, all while a tooth that had gone through his sinuses and out of his nose rested in his beard.

    The self-sacrifice demonstrated by Foley, for no real reason other than to finish what he set out to accomplish while entertaining the WWE faithful, remains embedded in the minds of fans and relived vividly anytime anyone mentions "Hell in a Cell."

    The match elevated Foley's star in a way no one could have predicted. It was on that night that he earned his legend for all of the things he endured. He had wrestled many better matches in the years leading up to the bout, but that night's bout remains the most talked-about of his Hall of Fame career.

    But it's still not the biggest must-watch. That belongs to another classic from two years earlier.

1. In Your House: Mind Games vs. Shawn Michaels

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    It can be argued that any of the top five on this list could be considered Foley's greatest match. Each is a brilliant contest with superb storytelling and raw emotion at every turn.

    That is the type of performer Foley is and always has been. He might not wow you with his athleticism, but he will always make the audience feel something. And when it comes to creating those iconic moments and matches, that is every bit as important as one's ability to throw 17 variations of a suplex.

    With that said, there is one match that is so utterly phenomenal that it cannot yield to any other on the list and that is the main event of the In Your House: Mind Games PPV that saw Foley's Mankind challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship.

    On paper, it was a strange mismatch. The performers' styles did not appear to mesh at all. Foley was a brawler with a knack for taking big bumps and throwing fists. Michaels was one of the best wrestlers on the planet. Their characters were polar opposites, too, making the matchup that much more peculiar.

    With seemingly nothing in common and no guarantee of a good bout to be had, they took to the ring and produced a classic encounter that remains among the best of either man's career.

    The Mankind character had built a ton of momentum for itself thanks to a red-hot feud with The Undertaker but at some point, Foley was going to have to prove he could perform at a high level against another top-tier name. Michaels was the WWE champion but needed that one match that would prove he was more than just a “sexy boy” with a dazzling move set.

    They each accomplished that, telling the story of a deranged challenger growing more and more frustrated by his opponent's resilience and a champion enduring the greatest beating of his reign but continuing to fight. The match was an example of two double-tough competitors leaving everything they had in the ring, on the floor and through the announce table, all in the name of leaving with the top prize in the industry.

    The arrival of Vader and The Undertaker would ultimately result in disqualification and while some would take exception with the non-decisive finish, it does not take away from everything that came before it.

    A stellar match that isn't talked about nearly enough given how great it actually is, it further established Mankind as a main event talent in the company and added further credibility to Michaels and his reign atop the promotion.