Mick Foley was supposed to climb the “Hell in a Cell” cage before his match against The Undertaker at the 1998 King of the Ring pay per view.
But the passionate-yet-pragmatic Foley realized that he may have second thoughts atop the 15-foot cage, so he did what he had to do: he lied.
“I told Mr. McMahon two of the biggest lies of my life that day,” said Foley. “I told him I had been on top of the cell earlier that afternoon, and I told him that I felt completely comfortable up there. Had I gone up there for a walk-through, there would be no twentieth anniversary because I would have realized that getting thrown off was a terrible idea.”
Instead of coming up with an alternative plan, The Undertaker threw Foley off the cage in one of the most famous bumps in wrestling history.
Foley has now returned to the road for his “20 Years of Hell” tour that recounts that historic evening with The Undertaker at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, with the twentieth anniversary taking place back in Pittsburgh.
“It’s literally the match that changed my life, physically and emotionally,” said Foley. “I realized I could not continue to do the things I had been doing to connect with audiences, I had to find a different way.”
The idea to return to one-man shows struck Foley while watching Bruce Springsteen’s “River Tour”.
“I was watching Springsteen and thought, ‘That’s what I need to do,’” said Foley. “There is still a lot of confusion that fans have. To this day, they really have no idea what my show is. I labeled it as stand-up comedy, and I think I dug a great hole for myself in doing that. People don’t want to hear me telling jokes, they want to hear stories. So making the show exclusive to that infamous night 20 years ago in Pittsburgh, people have a really good idea of what the show is going to be. It’s my attempt to recreate the emotion of that historic evening.”
The “Hell in a Cell” match was almost solely responsible for the kinder, gentler Mankind that Foley portrayed in the months that followed—a decision he made with his health in mind.
“It was that that made me finally believe in my own mortality,” said Foley. “That cleared the way for a very different Mankind character who feuded with and later teamed with The Rock.”
The 52-year-old Foley was only 32 at the time of the match. Already no stranger to daring, dangerous moves in and out of the ring, Foley had never taken his level of extreme to those literal heights. He was asked if the idea of calling home before the match entered his mind.
“I was really so caught up in preparation that I didn’t call home before matches, I always called home after matches,” said Foley. “I did that on every occasion except for this one, but I thought I had a legitimate excuse for not calling home because I was unconscious.
“I later heard from WWE agent Dave Hebner, who said my family was very upset. When I did call, I got an earful from my wife, who wasn’t thrilled with my decision-making. I could have used a sympathetic ear, but what I really needed was someone to tell me that I couldn’t continue to do the things I was doing if I wanted to see my children grow.”
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Foley also had kind words for HBO’s Andre The Giant documentary, and noted he actually had a couple matches with Andre.
“We had a couple of tag matches in Japan in 1991,” said Foley. “He was moving slower at the time, but the audience was so respectful. Everything he did got a huge response. It was a great honor to be out there with him, even if it was only for a couple nights.”
Andre made an appearance at WCW’s Clash of Champions XX in September of 1992, but Foley never had the chance to reconnect with him after he endured an injury in his world title match against Ron Simmons that night.
“I got hurt pretty badly,” said Foley, who once lost a piece of his ear in a match with Vader in Germany. “I tore an abdominal muscle and wasn’t the same for a long time, but I actually only missed one night.”
Foley is still active outside wrestling, and he even raised $21,000 for the Puerto Rico Relief Auction. He also made a well-received return at WrestleMania 34 with a Snickers commercial that included Tyler Breeze and Fandango of Breezango.
“I wasn’t there live, but I heard it got a great response,” said Foley. “My big contribution was getting Fandango to drop to his knees and channel Willem Dafoe from Platoon. It was so much fun filming, and I’m really glad my first return to WWE since being GM got such a nice response.”
Foley’s work with the likes of Vader, Sting, and Shawn Michaels had already garnered attention across the wrestling world, but his “Hell in a Cell” match with Undertaker elevated his stature to an entirely new level. He looks forward to sharing the intimate moments with audiences, which brings him to Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday evening and Fraser, Michigan, on Saturday.
“Even though the shows are going pretty well, I’m working every single night to make the show better. Most of the fanbase are pretty diehard fans, but it’s also been really nice to hear from significant others, which have mostly been women, about how much they’ve enjoyed the show. I drop one F-bomb a night, it gets intense at times, but it is welcoming to everyone.”