By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
The Rock © vs Mankind 12/29/98
No Disqualification WWF World Heavyweight Championship Match
There are few things harder to book and carry out in wrestling than the legitimate feel good moment. As fans become increasingly smart to the business and somewhat jaded in the process, the ability for a result, title victory or storyline ending to truly make people forget their cynical fandom and just embrace the moment is rare. Moments such as Daniel Bryan defeating Triple H before winning the title in the main event at Wrestlemania XXX, or Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero’s post-match celebration at Wrestlemania XX are the exception rather than the rule.
What unifies those two moments is the storied history each of the three men had with the audience. They’d fought their way from the bottom to the top, and it felt like a moment that the fans could enjoy with them due to the influence we’d had on their pushes across the years. Without wanting to overstate the importance of fan reactions, but Bryan, Guerrero and Benoit had all been lauded for years before they finally had their big opportunity on the grandest stage; it would be hard for wrestling fans who’d cheered them all the way to not feel complicit in their success to some degree.
Mankind’s title victory in 98 was another example of a true feel good moment in wrestling. Once again, you had a wrestler who didn’t necessarily fit the conventional mould of what a superstar should be like and who had bounced around from promotion to promotion yet always gave his all and garnered responses from the fans. The sympathetic booking of the soon-to-be face Mankind during events like the Survivor Series Deadly Games pay-per-view only added to the fan’s, both long term and more casual, desire to see the belt around Mick Foley’s waist. It became not about the character, but about the man being recognised for his dedication to the business and the joy he had bought people throughout the years.
Having missed out on the title due to a technicality at the Rock Bottom In Your House a fortnight before this Raw (making the Rock pass out not deemed to be either a pinfall or submission), Mankind would take Shane McMahon hostage in the ring and force Vince to book the title match in the main event. With No Disqualification rules, the Corporation would place themselves at ringside for the Corporate Champion, yet Mankind wasn’t alone: DX would be in the challenger’s corner to offset the number advantage the Rock would otherwise have.
The Rock was quick to halt Ken Shamrock hitting Mankind as the match quickly spilled to the floor, apparently wanting to do this all by himself. The brawl around the ring encompassed the Rock using the steel stairs on the back and the head of his opponent as well as a suplex onto the ringside mats. As the two men fought over the commentator’s microphone to offer some smack talk, Mankind would get blasted with the ring bell and driven through the announce table with a Rock Bottom.
With the match finally returning to the ring, the Rock picked up the first nearfall after a simple right hand upside the head. As he had in his life in general, Foley was fighting from underneath and would kick out of the Corporate Elbow, much to the McMahon’s consternation. To the fan’s amazement, Mankind would also kick out of a belt shot and land a DDT onto the strap himself. This earned a two count, but more importantly, set up for Mr Socko.
The tension that had been bubbling over throughout the match spilled over as Shamrock hit Mankind with a chair, sparking a huge brawl between all the wrestlers at ringside. Steve Austin’s entrance was nuclear in terms of fan reaction as the favourite rushed the ring, smashed the Rock with a chair and dragged Mankind over to make the cover. Three seconds later, Foley had accomplished his lifelong dream of becoming the world champion. To further add to the moment, the show would end on Mankind being paraded around on the shoulders of DX as he celebrated the title victory whilst the Corporation slunk away to lick their wounds.
Most infamously, this was the finish that WCW – Tony Schiavone in particular – spoiled and subsequently lost 600,000 viewers as they changed the channel to watch. Throughout this article, I’ve moved around between calling him Mankind and Foley, because now it is difficult to separate the man from the gimmick after his various autobiographies and ventures outside of wrestling. It was this personable nature that inspired such an interest in his career and led to the biggest vote of confidence from the fans – if over half a million people will change the channel to see what you are up to, you’ve done well.