January 13th 2000. Chicago, Illinois.
Having been beaten to a pulp on the previous episode of Monday Night Raw a desolate Mankind stands at the top of the ramp. In the ring Triple H wears the WWF title around his waist whilst Stephanie McMahon stands by his side.
“Mankind isn’t able to face you in a street fight at the Royal Rumble” says a solemn masked man clutching a microphone.
Triple H grins at the thought, obviously pleased that his underhanded tactics of a few nights ago have derailed any challenge to his title.
“But I think the WWF fans deserve a substitute”
Triple H starts to look concerned as something is about to happen that he hasn’t accounted for.
“I’m going to name him right now, I think you know the guy”.
Mankind removes his mask followed by his bloodstained shirt. Underneath is a familiar black and yellow t-shirt bearing a ‘Wanted Dead’ poster.
“His name is Cactus Jack” he growls as the crowd go crazy. “His first act in the WWF is to kick your teeth all over the city of Chicago!”.
Triple H exits the ring with the look on his face as if he’s just witnessed all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse heading towards him. A Mankind imposter, brought to the ring by Triple H at the start of this promo, is decimated by Cactus Jack. Over the years of being in the WWF the Mankind character had softened into something of a comedic individual. Here though was the flipside as Mick Foley had been put into such a corner that he was bringing back the persona he had used whilst fighting death matches in Japan. Cactus Jack had been through barbed wire, tables, light tubes and explosives in the past and who was to say he wasn’t about to do that all again? The title match in ten days time at Madison Square Garden had just taken on an entire new dimension. I was absolutely hooked.
Sky TV had always been the home of the WWF in the UK before 2000 but something different was near. Channel 4, a terrestrial broadcaster, had signed a deal to not only screen Sunday Night Heat but also four of the PPV shows over the next twelve months. Sky required a monthly subscription payment to access, Channel 4 simply did not. There was an opportunity to watch a WWF PPV show for the first time since Wrestlemania 12 and I was damned sure going to take it. By the turn of the millennium I had left school far behind, started art college and made some fantastic new friends. Part of this was also the realisation that, unlike school, you could pretty much be yourself in art college. As such my love of wrestling was coming to the fore again and Mick Foley was right there at the correct time to be a huge part of that. I think I’ll always hold him in high regard for it.
I watched the 2000 Royal Rumble at a friend’s house after he had taped it overnight. The opening match pitted The Hardy Boys against The Dudley Boys in a Tables match (the winning team must drive their opponents through the aforementioned furniture to win). The sight of Jeff Hardy jumping off one of the MSG balconies to Swanton Bomb Bubba Ray in the aisle made my jaw drop. Wrestling sure had changed a lot since 1996 but it was certainly more off the wall, more dynamic and better overall.
The Street Fight between Cactus Jack and Triple H is on my list of favourite matches to watch again and again. When I left my wrestling fandom behind in ’96 Mick Foley’s Mankind was a deranged individual who lived in a boiler room whilst Triple H was the guy who got laid out by The Ultimate Warrior in about three minutes. Here were both men though, changed enormously, standing opposite each other in one of wrestling’s most iconic arenas. From the opening moments of Stephanie being sent to the back lest she witness the violence about to unfold, to the section harking back to the year before as Cactus Jack is handcuffed and the final Pedigree onto the pile of drawing pins I watched in quiet awe. It’s a glorious riot of violence that tells an involving story about the lengths a man will go to inact revenge. Crucially however, the Triple H victory meant he came out the other side with a new dimension to his character. He had survived his encounter with Cactus Jack and was therefore ready to go to Wrestlemania. It made Triple H look like a guy who deserved to be there.
Later that evening The Rock and The Big Show both tumbled over the top rope to the floor at the end of the Royal Rumble itself which set up a rivalry between the two over who had actually won. All four men would end up headlining Wrestlemania that year by having a McMahon in their corner. Vince would turn out to be the different, betraying The Rock to hand Triple H a victory.
Channel 4 would show recap shows every Sunday for the two years that followed. I moved out of my parent’s house in 2001 and still spent a hour each weekend watching these shows on my tiny TV in the house I shared with college friends. The PPV shows were watched with relish. My wrestling fandom grew bigger than before with trips to live WWE events, purchasing DVDs, reading Power Slam magazine, contributing to forums on wrestling websites which gained me friends I still go to shows with. The trips to Glasgow to watch Insane Championship Wrestling, the buying of wrestling t-shirts, going to local shows in Carlisle put on by Target Wrestling and spending that last six years writing all off this for those shows I missed in between can all be traced back to one event.
It was the night Mick Foley took his mask off and kicked some teeth all over Chicago.
If I ever meet him I’ll shake his hand for it.