June 28th 1998. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Deep voiced wise sage from Unforgiven is back again for the opening video tonight. The package covering the first few minutes of this PPV are all about Stone Cold Steve Austin defending his WWF title against Kane tonight under First Blood rules and Mankind taking on Undertaker in Hell In A Cell. Apparently Kane will set himself on fire if he doesn’t win the title tonight. There’s a lot of talk about how each man will be walking through Hell on Earth. Strangely, considering it’s the tournament that gives the PPV its name, there’s absolutely no mention of the King of the Ring itself. Instead we get an on screen graphic of a guillotine which the French mostly used to behead members of the royal family during the Revolution. Perhaps Vince has something altogether different planned for the winner’s coronation tonight.
Taka Michinoku must be wondering when exactly he can get back to defending the Light Heavyweight Title he won earlier this year in straight forward one on one matches. After being teamed with Bradshaw to face Kaientai last month at Over The Edge he going up against the same opponents tonight but has The Headbangers in his corner. During their entrance Taka has a robe on which he removes to reveal his Headbanger gear underneath. The heel threesome look exactly the same as they did last month apart from Funaki who seems to have three white stripes across his face for no apparent reason. J.R says this is one of two bonus matches added to the show earlier today. This is basically a polite way of saying ‘these matches have had no build whatsoever so please try to drain a small drop of enjoyment out of them if you possibly can’.
It’s one of those functional matches in which everybody involved puts in the effort but it becomes hard to care about the bigger picture. Thrasher and Mens start which includes a great Tilt The World Backbreaker by the Headbanger. Thrasher also gets a Powerslam in before a freshly tagged Mosh hits a good looking Dropkick. Funaki comes in for the heels only to wander into a Mosh Powerbomb. There’s an obvious build to getting Taka in there which happens not long after, he manages a Springboard Plancha to the outside. Togo jumps Funaki and starts applying pressure which includes a Head Scissor to the outside. Togo and Funaki use a double team FlapJack/Bulldog combo on Taka. The
Lightheavyweight Champion is then held by Mens as Funaki comes off the ropes to try a Running Boot. Funaki ducks so Mens gets clocked instead. Taka makes it to his own corner to hot tag what looks to be both Mosh and Thrasher. The Headbangers Double Backdrop Mens until the ref tells Mosh to leave the ring. Funaki goes for a top rope elbow to Thrasher but he just falls off the turnbuckles instead. Once Taka tags back in both Headbangers launch him skywards so he can splash Funaki before getting the Michinoku Driver in for the three count. It’s a decent opener, those involved work hard but it feels like we’ve done this before the previous month with Bradshaw.
Next up comes the somewhat strange segment in which Sable walks down the aisle. Yes, the same Sable that was told she had to leave the WWF last month after losing to Marc Mero. “Sable recently returned to the WWF thanks to Mr McMahon” says J.R. Mero isn’t even booked on the card tonight so make of that what you will. She gets on the mic to introduce Vince to a chorus of boos. He’s flanked down the aisle by Patterson and Briscoe. It’s at this point that J.R declares that Vince is ‘a pimple on Austin’s fanny’. It’s crazy how we share a language but some things that Americans say sound odd in the UK isn’t it?
As Sable is leaving the ring Pat Patterson taps her on her rear. An enraged Sable slaps the taste out of his mouth. “Patterson going to territory he’s not familiar with” chimes J.R. Vince asks the crowd if they’ve come here tonight to see a new champion. There’s a wave of disapproval for that idea in Pittsburgh tonight. He then asks if they’ve comes to see Kane set himself on fire which is met by cheers. Vince then suggests the crowd will be disappointed much like their parents were disappointed with them. He is, apparently, only softening the blow for them later tonight when Austin loses the title.
1998 was the first King of the Ring PPV in which the actual tournament that gives the show the name was cut down to only have the semi finals and final on the show rather than starting at the quarters. The first semi final match is next with Jeff Jarrett taking on Ken Shamrock. Double J walks down to the ring with Tennessee Lee. There follows a huge pop for Shamrock who wastes no time at all going to work with a Spinning Elbow and Running Knee. He’s whipped into the corner but comes straight out with a massive Clothesline. Jeff just about manages to miss a Shamrock Roundhouse Kick and goes for a Swinging Neckbreaker. The fight spills to the outside as Jeff is dropped firstly onto the guardrail and then onto the ring steps. As Lee distracts Shamrock Double J takes out the MMA fighter’s legs and goes to work on his ankles. Jeff then bends Shamrock’s leg around the ropes which can obviously only be held for a four count. The ref has to grab Jeff by the hair to get him away. With this distraction Tennessee Lee smashes Shamrock’s leg.
Shamrock is walking slow now but still moving with Spinning Heel Kick and Elbow. A Powerslam gets Shamrock a two count. Shamrock then goes into a Frankensteiner followed by an Ankle Lock as Double J taps out. Tennessee Lee walks into the ring and is suplexed for his trouble. Michael Cole interviews a victorious Shamrock. “I didn’t come here to be second best” is the choice phrase.
The Rock comes down for his semi final against Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn with Mark Henry and Kama Mustafa on tow. The ref quickly tells the other members of The Nation to turn around and head back to the locker room. Between Shamrock, Steve Blackman and Dan Severn it’s fair to say there was a hint of MMA going on in the late 90’s WWF. The Beast walks to the ring in a shirt which is already loaded with sweat. The opening exchanges of the match are essentially The Rock trying not to get taken down and battered in the middle of the ring. Two takedown attempts of Severn’s are broken by The Rock making the ropes and an attempt at a Boston Crab is also thwarted The Rock making it to the
edge of the ring. The Rock throws some pretty weak looking punches until Severn snaps on an armbar. The Rock clotheslines his way out of it. After a Suplex by The Rock gets him a two count Severn tries to unload a barrage of punches. Mark Henry and Kama make it back down to the ring and, whilst the ref is dealing with them, D’Lo Brown comes through the crowd wearing a riot vest. After splashing Severn off the top rope D’Lo runs for it and The Rock pins a dazed Beast for three. The crowd seem to love this decision. Both semi finals seem to have been very short matches.
Michael Cole interviews The Rock outside the ring. He vows to make sure Ken Shamrock hits rock bottom later tonight.
Next up we have a focus on Al Snow who’s no longer Leif Cassidy and no longer one half of The New Rockers (mainly because there are no New Rockers anymore). It would seem he’s fully into his character now what with holding a prosthetic head and pretending it’s a real person. It appears that all Snow wants is a meeting with Vince. Despite the fact he could probably just get this by hanging around with Sable he instead gets roped into a match with Head versus the team of Too Much (comprising Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor). Al Snow makes his entrance with no music which makes sense as far as story goes as they’re pushing the fact he’s not employed by the WWF officially yet. The entire joke here seems to be that Head cannot tag in as he (or she) lacks arms. It’s noted at the start of this match that there seems to be no referee. Eventually, the official in charge is revealed to be Jerry Lawler who gets up from the commentary desk. Yes dear readers, we’re about to witness a mannequin head wrestle whilst a guy in a crown referees.
Snow starts this match against Taylor with some solid wrestling. Once Brian Christopher tags in he claims to Lawler that Snow has pulled his hair. As we’re still going with the joke that Lawler denies Brian is his son The King believes his every word. Not long after this Brian blatantly yanks Al Snow’s hair with no consequences. Brian Christopher goes up to the top rope, Snow pulls him down and replaces him on the turnbuckle only to have Taylor push him off. Al Snow gets a lovely Sunset Powerbomb in and Jerry Lawler takes an absolute age to count. Al Snow then clotheslines Brian over the top rope to the outside before doing exactly the same to a charging Taylor. Scott Taylor then nearly legit takes out his own partner with his trailing feet on the way down. Al Snow then runs the full length of the aisle to Clothesline Brian Christopher.
The novelty of this match has really worn off by now as the crowd go dead. “How does
Lawler referee this considering his lack of integrity?” asks J.R as he sits alone at commentary. Al Snow spends a few moments trying to hot tag a plastic head. Eventually he does and simply uses it as a weapon to beat both his opponents. After a short bit of action Lawler passes Brian Christopher a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo which
is screwed onto Head thus allowing Brian to pin it at exactly the same moment Al Snow is pinning Scott Taylor. Al might think he’s won but it’s soon pointed out to him he hasn’t. He’s left in the middle of the ring to argue with a mannequin whilst Brian Christopher
explains the word play to the camera. “We’ll get more serious in a moment folks” says J.R in an almost apologetic tone.
Serious to a degree though as X-Pac of DX takes on Owen Hart of The Nation. I’ve said it
before in previous entries of this project but watching Owen in The Nation feels like a very talented guy is just spinning wheels. He doesn’t exactly feel like a natural fit alongside people like The Rock and D’Lo Brown. The more he’s in with this group the more it makes me lament the fact that we never got an Owen Hart versus Shawn Michaels feud going at the start of 1998. It might have been a combination of both circumstances and egos but it would have been something really special.
Chyna walks down to the ring with X-Pac in the first of her triple shift tonight. She changes her clothing slightly depending on which members of DX she’s with at
the time which is a really good touch. You may have expected this match to be a scientific exchange but it ends up being off the chain brawl. This is actually not a bad thing, both men put stacks of effort into this one and it’s certainly one of the better matches on
the card tonight.
X-Pac doesn’t wait for Owen to enter the ring, using a Baseball Slide through the ropes to
instantly go on the attack. His attempt at a running attack in the corner sees Owen move and X-Pac crotch himself on the turnbuckle. Owen gets a Backbreaker and a Spinning Heel Kick in for good measure. Later there’s an Owen Fisherman’s Suplex for a two count quickly followed by a Gut Wrench for another two. Owen goes for a Backdrop only to have X-Pac kick him instead. Owen is then Clotheslined to the outside. A few seconds later X-Pac is whipped into the timekeeper’s table. Back in the ring Owen snaps on a Sleeperhold, X-Pac soon reverses in into his own Sleeper. The DX man then gets a Front Face Slam before connecting with the Bronco Buster into the corner.
A short while later both men are climbing the turnbuckle. It looks like Owen might go for
a Superplex but X-Pac soon falls downwards (once again battering his family jewels in the turnbuckle) before Owen just stumbles backwards and falls into the middle of the ring. With X-Pac prone on the outside Mark Henry runs down and Splashes him. Chyna walks around the ring to argue with Henry just as Vader charges down and crashes into
them both. It looks really clumsy but makes a point. X-Pac has somehow made it back in the ring only to be caught in the Sharpshooter. With the referee trying to sort out Henry and Vader brawling Chyna uses this opportunity to walks into the run and DDT Owen. Eventually, after what seems like an age, X-Pac crawls over to Owen, drapes an arms over him and pins him for three.
Paul Bearer walks out to the arena and is instantly called ‘a first class Pagan’ by Jim
Ross. He describes Kane’s upbringing by saying that ‘for twenty years my son Kane sat alone in his room watching WWF Superstars’. Kane and I have something in common then.
Chyna might as well have not bother to go back down the aisle after the last match as
she’s back again with The New Age Outlaws as they defend their tag team titles against Jim Cornette’s team of the The Midnight Express who are the current holders of the NWA Tag titles. The latter are not on the line tonight however. The fact that Bart Gunn is on the Midnight Express team and his brother Billy is in the New Age Outlaws is only really played on a little way through this match.
Bob Holly and Road Dogg begin matters by exchanging headlocks and hiptosses. After both teams get a tag in we have Billy and Bart facing off against each other. After a little bit of a stare down we get rope running and Bart reversing a Hiptoss into a Short Arm Clothesline. Billy gets a Backslide in for a two count followed by a crazy looking Clothesline which results in him standing over his brother and shouting “Suck it!”.
“Later tonight it could be Undertaker’s last match” says J.R as he mentions the large, steel cell hanging over the ring tonight.
Road Dogg hits trouble as Bob Holly gets a Top Rope Elbow in. There’s also a Bob Holly
splash on Roadie as Bart lifts him up for more height. Bob Holly goes for a Snapmare which goes into a Chinlock. Bob Holly then goes aerial again only for Road Dogg to get his boot up. After a hot tag to Billy Gunn it’s Bob Holly that’s hoisted up for a Piledriver. At this time Jim Cornette runs into the ring with the referee distracted and crowns Billy Gunn with one of the belts. This only gets a two count though. Road Dogg and Bart are fighting outside when Jim Cornette goes for a repeat. He hangs there for an age before hitting Billy again but this was all to set up Chyna who stands behind an unaware Cornette and Low Blows him. The New Age Outlaws then Slingshot Bob Holly across the top rope and pin him for three to retain their titles. It’s a strange move to finish on but a satisfying match all the same.
In all honestly Chyna might as well have brought a picnic with her as she’s back again with Triple H who will provide commentary on the final of the King of the Ring tournament itself between Ken Shamrock and The Rock. Honestly, I think these guys have fought more times than Batman and The Joker. “Would you agree that winning the King of the Ring elevates your career?” ask J.R to Triple H sitting beside him. “Yes, look at Stone Cold Steve Austin and myself” comes the reply with absolutely no mention of Mabel.
There’s a very tense start as Shamrock and The Rock pace around the ring staring each
other out. There’s a few slow lock ups and then a bit of rope running which is stopped by Shamrock kneeing Rocky in the face. The Rock goes to the outside. Chyna meanwhile has joined the Spanish announce table to do commentary with them. There’s a bit more rope running until Shamrock flings Rock to the outside. Whilst The Rock walks around the outside of the ring he gets water thrown in his face by Triple H. Shamrock then attacks by throwing The Rock into the announce table. The Rock is then whipped into the barrier but comes running off it with a hellish looking Clothesline. Back in the ring The Rock connects with a DDT, a Neck Breaker and The People’s Elbow all of which only giving him two count.
Triple H uses this moment to tell lots of penis jokes.
Another DDT from The Rock and a Side Suplex from Shamrock ends up seeing both men stay down for a nine count. Shamrock gets a Powerslam for two before The Rock does exactly the same with an identical result. A Rock attempt at another DDT is reversed into a Shamrock Belly to Belly Suplex. Both men are slowing down now, the effort involved in their second match of the night taking the toll. Shamrock is Hot Shot across the top rope for a two count only. As The Rock stands over Shamrock gloating he is quickly wrapped up in the Ankle Lock. The Rock is forced to tap and the 1998 King of the Ring is Ken Shamrock. There is now crown, no throne and no cape. A simple in ring celebration is all we get. He’s not referred to as ‘King Shamrock’ at any point afterwards on this show. Jerry Lawler doesn’t leap up from commentary to get in his face about how he’s the only king in wrestling. In the space of two years we’ve gone from having Stone Cold Steve Austin giving his ‘Austin 3:16’ promo whilst standing on his throne to Ken Shamrock raising both arms aloft whilst standing on the turnbuckles. I honestly think that, after this, the only wrestler to really make something of winning the King of the Ring was Booker T in 2006. The character of King Booker with a poshed up royal accent was a brilliant part of his already great career.
Yet I digress. This entire project is designed to make me watch all the shows I missed when I temporarily stopped watching wrestling from 1996 to 2000. Whilst watching all these shows I’ve seen some matches I wouldn’t otherwise have even noticed, some I’ve been glad to have missed at the time and others which I’ve watched again but have seen multiple times already because they’ve formed absolute corner stones in wrestling history. Such an example comes up next as the Cell that has been hanging ominously alongside the rafters is finally lowered into position.
There was en episode of Holy Foley on the WWE Network recently in which Mick Foley and his daughter went to visit the warehouse in which WWE keep all of their props from over the years. As they passed by shelves containing all the caskets Undertaker has made over the years and the costume for the Gobbelly Gooker Mick notices something stacked in the corner. It’s the metal frame and panels that made up the Cell used on this very night. Mick Foley then walks over and touches them and it’s not long before there’s a tear in his eye. It’s almost like he’s been reunited with an old friend he hasn’t seen in many a year. The scene of a wrestler who has been through barbed wire, smashed through tables and powerbombed on concrete floors crying over this object is oddly touching. “My career certainly can be defined as pre Cell and post Cell” says Mick. It’s behaviour which is quite understandable.
Mick Foley, as Mankind, makes his entrance already carrying a steel chair which he hurls up onto the roof of the structure before climbing up himself. “There’s a chill in the air” says J.R as The Undertaker makes his entrance. “Undertaker is almost satanic in his attitude” is also a choice J.R statement at this time. As Undertaker looks skyward to see Mankind goading him up there he too climbs onto the roof. Mankind attacks before he gets a chance to haul himself up fully. They both exchange some hard punches. Mankind then uses the chair to crack it over Undertaker’s back. Both men then walk together towards the edge of the cell closest to the commentary positions. After a brief moment of struggling there comes one of the most infamous moments in professional wrestling history. Undertaker simply grabs Mankind, bundles him over the edge of the Cell and watches him crash straight through the Spanish announce table below. First the crowd scream, then there’s huge crunching noise and Jim Ross gives us one of his greatest ever lines in ‘As God is my witness, he is broken in half’, Mankind is just about visible underneath the shattered table. Undertaker meanwhile has to stand and watch from the top of the Cell as medics, Terry Funk and Vince McMahon himself run down to the ring
to check on Mick Foley. J.R apologises to the people watching at home as this match will be cut short. Somebody is probably already in the back telling Kane and Stone Cold that they might be on earlier than anticipated.
The Cell is then raised (with Undertaker still standing on top) so that the ambulance crew
can make it down to ringside to gather up Foley. By this time the Mankind mask has been pulled off. They push him onto the stretcher and start to wheel him down the aisle towards the back. Once the Cell is lowered again Undertaker climbs down to the arena floor. What promised so much seems to have gone out quickly with one hell of a bang.
But then something truly bizarre happens. The camera picks up Mick Foley (who I’ll go back to referring as Mankind from now on seeing as he’s certainly back in character again) getting back up out of the stretcher, clutching his shoulder and walking back towards the ring. Undertaker notices this as he looks through the metal mesh of the Cell. They both climb the sides of the Cell and go back to pretty much exactly where they left off before. No matter how many times I watch this match I still cannot get over how crazy this all seems.
It’s obvious that Mankind has a problem with the shoulder but it doesn’t stop Undertaker giving him a few head butts and then actually choke slamming him through the roof panel and down onto the canvas below. The chair, that’s been up there from the very start, falls as well. It smacks Mankind in the mouth as it hits the floor. According to
Mick Foley’s book it’s this part that hurt the most. Terry Funk runs into the ring in an effort to stop Undertaker’s assault on Mankind (apparently an effort by Funk to buy some time for his friend to recover). The Funker is literally choke slammed out of his shoes as his trainers are left in the middle of the ring.
Once Mankind gets back to a vertical basis Undertaker fires in with a punch. Mankind doesn’t so much as fall but crumble back to the canvas. Mankind is bleeding from the mouth and at one point faces the camera complete with what looks like one of his teeth coming out of his nose and smiles. “He’s actually enjoying this” screams Jerry Lawler. For me this shot stands alongside a bleeding Austin at Wrestlemania 13 as one of the iconic images of the Attitude Era.
Only now does the Cell actually get locked. Undertaker goes for an Old School but Mankind pushes the ropes from under him. Mankind then tries to pick up the ring steps but can’t due to his shoulder. Undertaker picks them up instead to use. After Undertaker Suicide Dives from the ring to the outside and crashes into the Cell wall Mankind takes some kind of control. He gets a Piledriver on the chair for a two count, then he places the chair over Undertaker’s face and Legdrops him for another two count. After a DDT Mankind goes to get a bag from under the ring. He opens it and liberally sprays thumbtacks (or drawing pins for anybody here in the UK). Both Undertaker and Mankind struggle next to the pool of pins. It ends up with Undertaker being victim of the Mandible Claw. Undertaker fades for a while but comes back to hoist Mankind up on his shoulders and drop him onto the pins. Just to complete matters Mankind rolls around in them. Undertaker then Chokeslams Mankind back onto the pins. We then get the match winning Tombstone for a three count.
It’s a truly wonderful car wreck of a match that shouldn’t have worked but simply does. It’s only the WWF’s second Hell In A Cell match and I’d argue that, from a pure wrestling point of view, the Badd Blood match involving Shawn Michaels is better. When you consider spectacle though and portraying the Cell as a brutal environment designed for injury then this one wins hands down. You can show this match to anybody who isn’t in to wrestling, to those who think they ‘know how to fall’ or anybody who reckons they’re just wrestling on a trampoline and it tends to give them an insight into pro wrestling they never had before. It’s by far the best match of the night, it’s also one of the best matches in this entire project.
On a recent Stone Cold podcast with Mick Foley Austin was referencing this PPV and said that Kane and himself were in the back watching this and spent a good few minutes wondering how the hell they’d follow it. The First Blood match for the WWF Title comes next. Kane enters with Paul Bearer whilst Stone Cold has a huge bandage over his right elbow, the result of a staph infection a few days prior.
My one big problem with the stipulation in this match is the fact that Austin seems to have agreed to a first blood match with somebody who keeps most of their skin covered. As Lawler points out a little way into the match Kane has changed his gear a little bit to cover up the arm he usually has exposed. Why on Earth would Austin agree to these conditions? We’ll just have to level and say that Austin doesn’t give a damn about who or what they put in front of him.
Most standard wrestling moves in this match are very much sent to the background as the aim isn’t to pin your opponent but to make them bleed. Austin goes straight for a Lou Thesz Press, hammering his fists into Kane’s face. Before long there’s a turnbuckle pad removed and they take it in turns to try and hammer each other’s head into it. Kane goes for a quick Tombstone but they end up bundling over the ropes instead. Kane is rammed into the steps on the outside.
The Cell is still above the ring from the last match and it begins to lower again. It’s about a metre off the ground when Kane whips Austin into it. Kane then holds Austin down as the Cell nearly comes down to land across the Rattlesnake’s throat. It’s acknowledged on commentary that Austin’s back is bleeding (from a hardway cut at some point) but this isn’t the end of the match as it ‘must be from an offensive move from your opponent’. The Cell then rises up again with Kane hanging in the door frame.
Vince McMahon is sitting in the skybox with Sable. This becomes blatantly obvious when we note they’ve installed a cameraman there with them and we cut to them looking down on two ants fighting up the aisle. Honestly, it’s that far up. Kane elbow drops Austin at the very top of the ramp followed by a suplex near the curtain. Kane then goes on a rampage trying to find anything metal the beat Austin with. Back near the ring Kane is rammed into the timekeeper’s table and is then smashed in the face with a table fan. The referee then goes down as Austin accidentally smashes into him. Kane manages a Top Rope Clothesline but ends up getting a stiff kick off Austin for his second attempt at the same move.
Mankind charges down the aisle. Yes, the very same man who half an hour before was hauled up the aisle with pins sticking out of him comes charging down with a steel chair. I think I recall Mick Foley saying in his book that he didn’t have much recollection of this part of the evening. Austin Stunners Mankind before he has a change to interfere too much. Kane grips onto Austin for a Chokeslam but Stone Cold reverses it into a Stunner. The Undertaker charges down the aisle with a chair. He runs up to attack Mankind, Stone Cold has exactly the same idea and but Austin ends up getting clocked as well. Austin is now bleeding but there’s no ref to notice. Kane is flung over the top ropes by Undertaker before the Dead Man places the referee back in the ring and covers him with petrol. Kane attacks Undertaker with a chair before he can fry a WWF official. Austin then delivers a Clothesline to Kane. It’s at this point that the ref comes to and notices the vast amounts of claret pouring down Austin’s face. He stops the match and awards the WWF Title to Kane. Austin is incredibly annoyed at this, Vince McMahon is seen with a huge grin and Kane doesn’t have to set himself alight.
In the end the 1998 King of the Ring PPV is notable for one match mainly. The Hell in a Cell match is one of the turning points in pro wrestling history as, from this point on, the bar had firmly been raised for any kind of stipulation match. The First Blood Rules match for the title is great but it pales in comparison to what had happened right before it. Surprise of the night was probably X-Pac and Owen Hart which was a pretty good, fast paced contest.
Next time around we’re off to California for the first ever Fully Loaded.