Of all of The Undertaker’s rivals, perhaps no feud is more memorable than the one he had with Mick Foley’s Mankind character. The rivalry yielded one of the most notable matches in professional wrestling history with the brutal Hell in a Cell bout but also helped turn Foley into a true WWE Superstar.
As The Undertaker prepares for his “Final Farewell” at Survivor Series (4 p.m. ET Sunday on the WWE Network), Foley spoke to Sporting News about his storied history with the Deadman, how he ended up winning over Vince McMahon, that infamous Hell in a Cell match and why he’s only “75 percent” sure that this is the end of The Undertaker. The reason? Because the 25th anniversary of Hell in a Cell is coming and there might be one more match left in both of them.
SPORTING NEWS: Do you remember when you first met The Undertaker?
MICK FOLEY: I can’t recall exactly when the very first time was, but it was during my first run in WCW in 1990. I believe he came in to team up with Danny Spivey as The Skyscrapers. And he was clearly very talented. But I don’t think any of us could have imagined, you know, what a legend he would become. But we hit it off right away. I developed a good friendship with him. We drove together, traveled to different countries and split rooms during 1990.
SN: Did you stay in touch when he left WCW for WWE? If so, did you know the transformation that was about to happen?
MF: No. Survivor Series 1990 gave birth to probably the greatest character in WWE history with The Undertaker and the worst character in the Gobbledy Gooker. It was rumored that it was going to Mark Calaway, debuting coming out of an egg as “The Egg Man.” And I don’t know if that was actually been in the works but I was watching the pay-per-view at a friend’s house, and I was just so struck by The Undertaker when he debuted. I knew on a certain level that he was the same guy that I had driven with and split rooms with, but on another level.
SN: When you made your way to the WWF as Mankind in 1996, what were your expectations?
MF: Six years had gone by and I speculated that The Undertaker wanted to match up with someone who could battle him in a psychological way and not so much a physical way. I have since discovered that Vince McMahon wasn’t a very big fan of mine. It’s even been suggested that the character of Mankind was brought in to fail and teach Jim Ross a lesson about believing in people who weren’t all that good. And I have to believe Undertaker stepped in and saw something in the character and felt that he could do business with me.
SN: If it wasn’t for The Undertaker, would Mankind have been revered as he is today?
MF: I tend to doubt it. I don’t think I could have gotten as far as I did without The Undertaker. There’s a chance that the character could have been slowly built. But coming out of the gate I had the opportunity to capture people’s attention with a feud that did so well and really set me up for everything I did in WWE.
SN: One of the staple matches early on between Undertaker and Mankind was the Boiler Room Brawl. How did this come together?
MF: Wow. I wish I knew the exact answer to that. Mankind was a dark character. I didn’t want Mankind to be Cactus Jack with a mask on so I went to darker places in my mind. I also took my body to a darker place and I would gather myself in the boiler room to try and transform into this darker character. So it seemed natural to do a match in there.
I wish we could have had one of the WWE’s cinematic matches than the simple two camera shoot. The Boiler Room match was always a match I was so disappointed in, largely because Mr. McMahon thought so highly in the match that he decided the best without any commentary. And it just felt really awkward to have 15 minutes with barely a word being spoken. Although the reception of the match was disappointing, the turn of Paul Bearer was really a great signal to the WWE Universe that this is a character that you should take seriously.
SN: You said that Vince McMahon wasn’t your biggest fan originally. When do you think you finally won him over with the Mankind character?
MF: Once I debuted and attacked The Undertaker, it was clear that they were going to get behind the character to an extent. But I’ve been told that you couldn’t really fly, like you couldn’t be that top-level superstar, until Mr. McMahon personally got on board as a fan. That took place during an interview I did with Jim Ross in Stamford, Conn., in April 1997.
Prior to that, I had a nice yearlong run. But when we did this interview, maybe two or three weeks after WrestleMania 1997, it was just like a switch was flipped and Mr. McMahon became a big supporter of the character. And, to me, largely because he felt like I had a more interesting real-life story to tell than a fictional portrait that he and I had created together for Mankind.
SN: We have to talk about the infamous Hell in a Cell match. But what a lot of people don’t remember is that your feud with The Undertaker had completely cooled off heading into that match. Were you surprised when it was booked for the King of the Ring PPV because it seemed to come out of nowhere?
MF: I was very surprised. I honestly felt like my character has really flattened out. I think it was because I had gone from being Mankind to Dude Love to Cactus Jack to all three characters simultaneously at the Royal Rumble 1998. When I tried to become a heel again, it just felt like it was flat. I had a nice two-match run against Stone Cold Steve Austin as Corporate Dude Love and that match was booked right after that. I thought that I’ve asked the audience to follow me to too many places in too short a time. So I was very surprised when I got the call to be in the co-main event. It was a cold match and Undertaker and I hadn’t feuded in probably six months. I really didn’t believe I was the right guy for that match. Thankfully, people in positions of power disagree with that.
SN: What did The Undertaker think about the match being booked?
MF: I don’t recall. I know my concern was that the first-ever HIAC match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels was so amazing and I was going to be hard-pressed to try not to embarrass myself trying to follow that. I was just not the type of athlete who could excel in a situation like that. I was never a great cage match wrestler. I had no idea how I was going to try to live up to the standards that they had set. I was really nervous about it.
SN: How many times since that match have you watched it in its entirety and when did you decide to let your kids watch it?
MF: In the days that followed I probably watched pieces of the match dozens and dozens of times but I hadn’t watched it in its entirety in many years. It probably was a decade later when I watched the whole match. By then, the iconic moments are shown over and over and they became part of popular culture. A lot of that is because of Jim Ross’s classic calls. My kids heard about it and my wife said they wanted to see it. And I wasn’t sure that they were ready for that but we sat down and, to this day, it really packs an emotional punch to watch it in its entirety. After all these years, even though people know what happens and they’ve seen the falls hundreds of times, it still packs an emotional wallop.
SN: How did your kids react when they met the man who almost broke daddy in half?
MF: He scared two generations of my children. He scared Noelle and Dewey when they were little and then he scared Hughie, who didn’t even want to watch WWE anymore.
SN: What is your favorite Undertaker match?
MF: There’s a match he had with Kurt Angle on a pay-per-view that was outstanding. Obviously, the two matches with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania were incredible. But, for my money, the match he had with Shawn in the first Hell in a Cell match is still the greatest cell match in history.
SN: And what about your favorite match that you were in with Undertaker?
MF: Honestly, the best ones were some house shows that we had where every night was eliciting a bigger reaction than anything I had ever done. That includes my matches with Sting in 1992 and 1993 in WCW. Those house-show matches allowed me to refine my character and I would take elements of them all and use them for what you saw on TV. The house matches, as a whole, is my favorite Undertaker match.
SN: When you saw the Boneyard Match and how well it was executed, did you feel that he finally found the match to retire with?
MF: Yeah, but I also felt that way about at least one of the WrestleMania matches with Shawn and the match with Triple H at WrestleMania in Miami. I know that this is the Final Farewell at Survivor Series but even that’s not a given.
SN: What percentage do you believe that this is the last time we will ever see Mark Calaway as a performer in a WWE ring?
MF: Seventy-five percent, because we are only three years away from the 25th anniversary of our Hell In A Cell match and I’m going to be ready for that.