101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die ~ #38
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die
The Rock vs. Mankind
I Quit Match
January 24th, 1999
Itís going to be another difficult one to review this folks, simply because I can tell you from the off there isnít going to be a great variety of wrestling here and that the entire affair will remain on a single level, but I shall try my damnedest, as I always do.
As predicted, the opening seconds see Mankind wail away with brawling strikes before, surprisingly quickly, going to ask Rock if he quits; one wonders why, psychologically, the fans would expect The Rock to quit so early after such a light beating. Indeed, in this kind of a match, psychology does present something of a problem and itís interesting to see how this thing unfolds as a result.
One notable achievement the two of these do is not just ask if the other quits, but often come back with some kind of pithy remark as to why they donít quit. Itís a small touch, but one that helps keep at least a little variety in there, preventing repetition that could easily occur and adding a little extra entertainment and fun to otherwise quite serious proceedings. In fact, the two of them, on a couple of occasions, make a little extra use of the presence of the microphone and that adds something more, a little extra interaction we as fans donít often get.
Rock shows just how great he is throughout the entire thing, be it how he asks Mankind if he quits, his own come backs to being asked if he himself quits, or even his in-match antics, such as ringing a bell against Mankindís ear or getting on the commentary booth and putting down the King; itís all classic Rock stuff. For once though, this is one of those rare occasions where some legitimate criticisms could be levelled at Rock as a performer. Mankind takes the brunt of the bumps here and, certainly willingly and enthusiastically, throws himself into the much more extreme side of the match. Whether Rock wanted to do likewise or not we do not know, but one would think Rock would want to take some of the leg work on himself. Donít get me wrong, he has his own bumps, itís just I donít think itís an equal enough balance between the two to be considered fair. The second criticism is, of course, the famous one, in Rock taking liberties with the number of chair shots at the climax. In retrospect, it certainly adds an extra level of impact, but itís a totally inexcusable liberty to take with a performer whose health should have been Rockís paramount concern.
While this was at the height of an era when the WWE far from shied away from what could be considered a rather adult orientated programme, much like the Mind Games match in the midst of a family friendly era, this bout takes everything to the next level, and the degree of sheer violence that is present here really is quite incredible. Ringing a bell on someoneís skull could cause permanent damage, and any number of things could go wrong with a man falling onto a set of rigged boxes designed to represent amplifiers. Nor do the two combatants waste time in getting violent. Like the TLC match between Punk and Hardy I recently reviewed, they donít beat about the bush, and what we get is two men almost immediately indulging in the stipulation without worrying about steadily escalating things, as we saw in the Trips/Orton Last Man Standing match. In a sense, that might be good thing, at least on one occasion where the rigged table collapses too early, creating a botch that, thanks to the quick introduction of the hardcore style, doesnít feel like too much of a botch and doesnít jar anywhere near as much as it would have done otherwise.
I think the match very much shows signs of the times as well, and the difference in performers then and performers now. The two of them are able to do things which, at the time, were pretty fresh. In the modern age we get a plethora of recycled spots and ways to utilise weaponry, perhaps because talents arenít as passionate, but more likely because, after so much over-exposure of match types like these in the WWE, the bookers and stars are struggling to keep things fresh when it feels like everythingís been done before. The point being, not only is this match violent, that violence is amplified by the simple fact most of the spots are the first of their kind. That itís unique makes it all the more shocking.
What further compliments the overall tone as well is the fact most of the action takes place on the outside; that may be a small factor, but it is an important one, in that it adds extra impact to even simple wrestling moves, such as Rock powerslamming Mankind over the barricade onto the floor, or even giving him a DDT on the concrete, literally. There are also a lot of little touches that make it all the more unique. The fact they go so far as to dim the lights when Mankind hits the ďampsĒ is a nice touch that makes it all the more believable, and for Shane to come out afterwards and act genuinely concerned, only for The Rock to refuse to let the whole thing stop, gets not only Rockís aggression over but also Mankindís grit.
By the time we get to the finish, following a nice little underdog touch with Mankind fighting back with the handcuffs on, youíre left feeling a little overwhelmed with just how brutal the entire thing has become. Hearing Mankindís uneven gasps for air, and The Rock even snapping viciously at the referee, lends an atmosphere of unbridled intensity. It feels genuinely like things have gotten out of hand and, just when you think nothing worse could be done, we get an inordinate number of chair shots to the skull to round off this draining exercise in violence. In fact, the reality of the danger of such an idea is especially highlighted by the fact the company today has officially outlawed even a single shot to the head. And The Rock doesnít just hit him lightly; these really are incredibly forceful chair shots, so stiff that eventually the steel is bent totally out of shape and Mankind is genuinely busted open the hard way. It really is quite difficult to watch by the time Mankind is face down in the concrete, with a genuine sense of exhausted relief coming when he does eventually give in.
Unfortunately, that sense of extreme violence does make the finish feel a little odd and underwhelming. It sort of just suddenly ends, which is another inherent problem with the medium here, and the fact itís a tape recording, as we know in retrospect, doesnít help things. It all feels rather jarred. That said, as Iíve mentioned, one is left feeling rather relieved and, by the time itís over, even the previously electrified crowd is left in something of a stunned state, evident from how much they quieten down as the finish begins to loom.
Now before I get into the reasons proper why I included this bout, allow me first to ask those reading to, if they were here, cast their minds back to the US vs. UK tournament of 2012. In one of the rounds of said tournament, the set topic I had to write on was simply, ď5 star match.Ē I apologise to the individual I participated against, I cannot quite remember who it was. Nevertheless, with my series on-going, it was a natural fit for me. I went down the route of investigating why Meltzer had never given a five star rating to any match hailing from the Attitude Era, given how fondly remembered said era was. In the end, I concluded that the Triple H/Cactus Jack Street Fight would be the best candidate to receive such a rating from the given time period. The truth, however, is that I had been torn in making that choice.
I did make mention that there were other potential candidates, but for me the choice was only ever between the aforementioned Street Fight and, if you havenít already guessed, the very match I have reviewed today. It really was a toss-up.
Naturally, I will grant that there is a whole list of reasons why this match is one you must see before you shuffle off your mortal coil. Among them include the fact that, as previous entries have also highlighted, Mick Foley was capable of making prospects into legitimate stars, regardless of gimmick or reputation, literally overnight. Here, he does so once again. The result, however, is in stark contrast to most others. The Rock didnít just become a star, he became a one of a kind blockbuster, on a level all his own. Could we take him as quite so much a serious physical threat today had it not been for this, and the many other bouts like this, in his series with Mankind? I think not.
Another reason would be that it is one of few, if not the only I Quit match to not actually suck. As a gimmick, it has inherent flaws. Logically, it barely holds together in a kayfabe universe. Aesthetically, itís awkward to watch two guys who, by all rights, should absolutely despise the very existence of each otherÖask politely if they quit. And that they are nice enough, and evenly tempered enough, to remember to do so with a microphone is wonderfully convenient for us fans. The end results of stipulation matches like this tend to read largely like a glorified hardcore match. Thereís also the fact that, over the years, the WWE has confused itself over the difference between I Quit and Submission matches. To this day, it irks me considerably when Hart and Austinís epic at ĎMania is referred to as an I Quit Match by some. Also, while luckily this particular pitfall was avoided here, thanks largely to the natural talent of the two men involved, they can become rather repetitive to watch, and in such cases can thus become rather predictable. Who couldnít see the finish of the Orton/Cena iteration from 2009 unfolding like it eventually did the moment the match was announced weeks in advance?
Here, however, The Rock and Mankind were able to piece together a great match. It most definitely stands as the benchmark for all other I Quit bouts to aim for. None have quite achieved the same sense of realistic, believable brutality that this one did. Nor have any of them been able to recapture the sense of intensity or heightened emotion that this one does. I remember watching a shoot interview with Jim Cornette once, in which he said the key to good wrestling, at least in such an accessible age as this, is not to try to make people believe, but to put enough doubt in them to make them think there is a remote chance it could be, at least in part, real. Thatís what the two of them here were able to do. Their performances are so fantastic, one could almost be fooled into thinking that the on-screen hatred their characters had for one another had spilled over into reality. Why? Well, because they quite simply beat the living shit out of one another for twenty minutes.
That, interestingly enough, is what I think would place this Mankind match on the same level as his Hell in a Cell with The Undertaker. Indeed, if that barbarous conflict could ever be given its own unofficial sequel, if Mankind were to have his own Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy so to speak, this would most definitely be number two. That Hell in a Cell was real; it was too real. This I Quit match threatened to become the same at the end, but thankfully was restrained just enough to achieve the same level of awe while bypassing the same level of legitimate danger.
But I digress. Allow me to return to the point. This match is on this list, partly because of the above reasons perhaps, but mainly because it stands as a five star classic. Itís one that can easily slip under the radar. I find a lot of title matches at the Rumble often do, simply because they are, by the very nature of the event, overshadowed. This one deserves to be remembered.
Foleyís Street Fight the following year was a five star classic. If I had to choose only one match from the Attitude Era to stand as such, it could be that one. This match, in my mind, is the only other real contender for that crown. Ultimately though, there is a reason I chose the Street Fight then, saving the I Quit for now. It means that, not only can I pay rightful tribute to both, but that I have paid tribute to the Street Fight elsewhere, perhaps, one could say, unofficially.
But I felt this one deserved the official spot, deserved to be labelled the Must See Attitude Era Five Star Classic, because it came first. It was the precursor. The WWE saw the success they had with it and chose to replicate it the following year. It became one of the rare occasions they succeeded in doing so. This match was not a just loose conceptual sequel to the most violent match the WWE has seen, it was a prequel to perhaps the greatest hardcore story the WWE has ever told. Hence itís status on my list.
That, interestingly enough, has brought me to a rather organic conclusion, one I had not expected to come to when I had this planned out. The ĎTaker Hell in a Cell was the most violently real match in company history. The Street Fight with Triple H was the greatest fabrication of violence in company history. Being related both loosely to one and quite concretely to the other, this I Quit match manages to straddle two worlds.
What we have here, then, isnít just great story telling, and it isnít violence on too realistic a scale. Itís a bit of both. Itís unique. An oddity. It tells us a fantastic story we know to be staged, but does so with such utter tangible intensity it constantly threatens, even begins to do so at the tail end of affairs, to tumble over the peak of kayfabe and roll into the dangerous world of reality.
In that sense, to relate it back to what Cornette once said about great wrestling, itís a masterpiece of doubt.
Is there any bloody wonder itís a must see?
This was the match that made me a believer of Mankind being a world champion and the Rock was the future and not a fad.
When seeing the documentary "Beyond the Mat" I realized how much both men not only put into this match, but how much they truly loved the business to put such a strong effort on their bodies (people forget how much The Rock took also in this match).
The ending left an opening for Mankind to get his rematch and was the perfect way for a heel to win. I just wish we had actually got the Mankind/Austin WM match though.
Ignorance is curable, but stupid is forever - Damien Sandow
Time To Toss The Dice
Another great entry in your stellar series. I've always been uncomfortable with this match, more so than any other hardcore type match. I'm not sure why. As you say, the Taker cell match is more brutal and death defying. I suppose I find this one harder to watch because of those chair shots at the end. Knowing what we do about concussions nowadays, the fact Foley takes so many is just horrible to watch, particularly as back in the 80s, one chair shot while the ref was out of distracted was usually enough to win the match.
I agree with you that I Quit rules are problematic. We see submission victories fairly often, but equally, even wrestlers with submission finishers don't always win when they slap that move on. With that in mind, why would we see someone quit from taking a beating? In one of the most recent iterations of this match type, Orton quit while in Cena's STFU, which seemed daft, as they could've just had a match under standard rules and had the same finish. Now and again there's an innovative finish- Batista v Cena was pretty decent- but mostly, as a match type, it's unsatisfying. I also find the ref running around with a mic distracting!
I'm also in agreement re: the HHH V Foley street fight. I re-watched it the other night with a few beers and it stood up really well. Not only did Foley make HHH a star, HHH himself took a hell of a beating so that Foley came out of the match with his aura intact. As you mention, another jarring thing about the Rock/Foley match is the way that Rock avoids the more "hardcore" bumps.
The one thing I disagree with you on is the finish; I think it did add to the feud and also gave added heel heat to The Rock. As an audience at the time, we were conditioned to think that Foley wouldn't quit, so it was a relief to know he didn't, at least, that's how I felt at the time.
Great stuff, as ever. Keep 'em coming!
'Plan, I know it's early, but this right here is going to be my Column of the Year until someone else just comes out and knocks me on my ass. I've always liked this match better than the Street Fight and while you probably could have written three times as long on this particular match, you were succinct and brilliant at the same time regarding why it is, in fact, a five-star classic. Is it the best match of the Attitude Era? Maybe. I also really love the second in the Austin/Rock Wrestlemania trilogy. You made me love a match I already love just a little bit more. Thank you.
To me Mankind was never seen as the lead company guy like the Rock or Stone Cold. Yet he was the guy you had to fight to become the star you would later become. It is a pity that the man had to nearly kill himself to put guys over but he has that one thing you mentioned wrestlers of today are lacking, passion. The match itself is an all time classic although I do agree when you talk about the flaws of an I quit match. These days the I Quit match is terrible.
Solid stuff 'Plan
Hey 'Plan - really enjoyed this, as I have with the full series to date. I always felt, with this match, that it wasn't quite perfect, so I'd dispute the retroactive awarding of five stars from you, but each to their own. For me, there's just enough things about it that I don't like to knock it down to a strong 4/4.5 - in truth, little is down to the competitors, and most of it is down to the stipulations. I Quit matches, as you rightly point out, have inherent flaws - none more so than the constant asking of the opponent if they quit, which I always feel hurts the flow of the match (especially when it comes within ten minutes of the opening bell).
That, however, is really a minor complaint in what is another very strong entry to this series, so good stuff.
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MachoMourn ~ It certainly made The Rock into a star for sure. Interesting idea that Mankind might have been viewed as a fad up to this point. I dare say that performance may have come the previous summer in that Cell match. And a Mankind/Austin WM match is an intriguing idea. While I can't say it's one I've thought of before, I was in a similar position the following year when I couldn't help but feel a Cactus Jack/Rock match was the way to go, as opposed to the rather over-booked, albeit still entertaining four way we ended up with. Thanks for the read.
maverick ~ Uncomfortable is definitely the right word to utilise I think. Certainly when you think of an adjective to describe the experience of watching it back. Even to this day I am yet to become desensitised to it, as I am the Cell with 'Taker. You raise a very good point about submission finishes in this kind of a scenario; I guess that, at least, is something this one avoided. My problem with the finish though...well...it's not that I don't think it worked in storyline terms. It was quite a clever way of getting themselves out of that corner that love to book themselves in, and certainly helped build heat for both Rock as the underhanded heel and Mankind as the underdog face. I was speaking in strictly in-match terms. Something about it, to me anyway, just seems to fall flat when it happens. But then, maybe that's just the stunned state the crowd is in at the time after those chair shots. Either way, thanks for the read and feed!
Xan ~ Quite a compliment, thank you. Does this mean I have to read every piece of feedback you leave to every writer and every column you come across throughout the year just to ensure I get your vote come December?! No, of course it doesn't. Thanks though. Best match of the Era? Well, I certainly can't think of one that both meets the tone of the time and takes it to the same level, with the same effectiveness, as well as this one does. Unlike yourself, I'm not overly-fond of Austin and Rock's second match, but that's a column all its own so I shan't get into it here. I would definitely rate this one above it though. Good to hear my writing can have such an effect on people though! Thanks for the read and feed dude. I look forward to our Best of 7 once this series is through.
JoeMurphy ~ Interesting take on Foley's role in the company. Not just a jobber to the stars, but something much more than that. I think I agree with you. He's like the opposite of Triple H. Trips was the guy who worked with the guy who drew the money. Foley, I guess, was the guy who worked with the guy the WWE wanted to one day draw the money. And passion is a very apt word to give to Foley. He deserves infinitely more credit than he ever gets, instead finding himself damned to that niche rep as a "Hardcore Legend". Thanks for the read and feed.
Oliver ~ Well the beauty of rating wrestling is the subjective nature! I think, given the limitation of the match type, these two could not have done a better job. I guess to give it five stars in that sense is a bit superlative, but I definitely stand by my decision. Glad you enjoyed the column dude. I hope to see you keep reading! Thanks for the feed too.
Me too, 'Plan. I just want to add something else that I wanted to say yesterday, but didn't because I wanted to confirm it first. I bought Mick Foley's Greatest Hits and Misses the day it came out. He was my wife's favorite wrestler and I liked him also, so I'm not shitting you. The very day it came out, without even taking a glance at the match listing, we went out to the mall and bought it. Having done so, it's always bugged me that the Triple H match is on there, but the Rock one isn't. Both matches were terrific and deserved the 5-stars you've attributed to them, but to me there's no question as to which is better. Having seen Beyond the Mat, I believe I understand why Foley didn't count it as one of his greatest hits, but I really do think he's wrong.