Wrestling Review: WWF King Of The Ring 1998

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WWF King Of The Ring 1998

Today, we are taking a look back at one of the most famous wrestling events of all-time, or at least, one of the sport’s most famous matches. The show is WWF King Of The Ring 1998, and the match is Al Snow & Head vs. Too Much. Just kidding, it’s The Undertaker vs. Mankind in a Hell In A Cell match, and 21 years on, it still packs an almighty punch. Let’s delve further into a card which some say was the final true step towards the establishment of the Attitude Era.

Six-Man Tag Team Match
The Headbangers & Taka Michinoku vs. Kaientai

Okay, when I said that this card was famous, I’m not sure exactly how many fans remembered this contest. Hell, I was prepared to see the KOTR tournament open the show, and then I suddenly realised this bout really did take place. This isn’t to diminish the efforts of those involved, though, cause it was a decent battle. Nothing special, but enough to keep the Pittsburgh fans interested. The babyfaces picked up the win, allowing Taka to get some revenge on the invading Japanese faction who had recently arrived and begun to make his life miserable (until he joined the faction a few weeks later to no explanation).

King Of The Ring Tournament Semi-Final Match
Ken Shamrock vs. Jeff Jarrett

This was the third straight year that we only had room for the semi-finals and final match of the KOTR tournament. In one of the matches here, we had The World’s Most Dangerous Man and ol’ Double J, the latter of whom would soon ditch the country-western singer gimmick to be, erm, a country-western guitar smasher? Anyway, this was okay, and Tennessee Lee at ringside, whilst often overlooked, had the most ridiculous voice this side of Paul Bearer, which made his interactions amusing. Shamrock earned the win via submission with the Ankle Lock to advance.

King Of The Ring Tournament Semi-Final Match
The Rock vs. Dan Severn

Now, Shamrock could have potentially faced either of these men from a storyline perspective, because he had been feuding with Rock for months, but he also had a simmering feud on the horizon with Dan “The Beast” Severn, at a time when their UFC experience provided the basis for a potential rivalry. Rock was well into a lengthy reign as Intercontinental Champion at this point, and he wasn’t far off turning babyface and evolving into the mega-star that he would become. Here, though, he still had a bit more to learn, as evidenced by this being an unmemorable match against Severn, whose slower, grappling-based style seemed out of place in a company that was turning up the raunch and violence to a huge degree. An interfering D’Lo Brown hit a Frog Splash, while wearing the chest protector that would become his trademark (the result of Severn injuring him), on The Beast to give his Nation Of Domination pal the three-count.

Special Guest Referee: Jerry Lawler
Too Much vs. Al Snow & Head

The stipulation here was that Snow, the former Avatar and Leif Cassidy (acknowledged on the air), wanted his job back with the WWF, but by this point, he had lost his mind and began talking to a mannequin head called, erm, Head. If he and his “partner” won, he would become a part of the roster, but if he lost, he was done. Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor had yet to become their hip-hop dancing selves, so this seemed to be a lay-up for Al to overcome the odds. But not with Jerry Lawler as referee, who helped his son (teased but not yet truly confirmed on television) to pin the mannequin by placing a bottle of Head & Shoulders underneath said item, thus meaning that Snow had lost. I don’t care what anybody says, this finish tickled me. Snow was back by September anyway, so it’s not like this harmed him in the long run.

X-Pac vs. Owen Hart

This was an entry in the saga between D-Generation X and The Nation Of Domination, and this was good stuff: in terms of actual wrestling, here we had the match of the night. It was also a rematch from KOTR 1994, when Owen defeated The 123 Kid (how things had changed in the WWF in the subsequent four years), as well as marking Pac’s first PPV match for the company since 1996. As it turned out, with Chyna stationed as ringside back-up, X managed to eke out the win after some shenanigans. This continued Owen’s losing streak of singles matches on PPV dating back to the night of the Montreal Double-Cross, but he would finally curb his poor record the following month in his own house – but we’ll address that when we review Fully Loaded 1998.

WWF Tag Team Championship Match
The New Age Outlaws (C) vs. The New Midnight Express

Talk about a random pairing. To clarify, we had Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, two poster-children of the wild year that was 1998 in the WWF, against two assumed rejects who were repackaged in an old-school gimmick from another company, managed by Jim Cornette himself. Bodacious Bart Gunn and Bombastic Bob Holly may have been efficient as a team, but their chances of dethroning Road Dogg and Badd Ass here were lower than the odds of Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman being WWE’s chief creative bods (wait, hold on a minute). This match, notable only for Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross name-dropping South Park (which was still fairly new at that point, and which was massively popular), ended of course with The Outlaws retaining, and The New Midnights would disband not long afterwards. Bob became Hardcore, and Bart – after winning Brawl 4 All – got knocked out by Butterbean at WrestleMania XV.

King Of The Ring Tournament Final
Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock

For the third straight match, we had DX involvement, as Triple H sat on commentary to watch Shamrock and Rock collide to determine the heir to his throne as King Of The Ring. This was a good effort, and a continuation of a long rivalry between Shamrock and Rock. HHH spat his signature water into The People’s Champion’s eyes, but Rocky Maivia (which he still occasionally went by at this stage) remained focused on the task at hand, as he looked to become the WWF’s resident King. But Kenny would not be denied, and again the Ankle Lock proved to be the difference-maker as he tapped out Rock to win the tournament. Rock never would win KOTR (I’m sure he has sleepless nights about that to this day), while Shamrock would win a series of matches in the following weeks to prove himself as the ultimate King.

Hell In A Cell Match
The Undertaker vs. Mankind

And so we come to this. The second HIAC match on PPV, and the sixth supershow battle between The Dead Man and Mick Foley’s masked alter ego. Mankind, who believed he had virtually no heel heat at this point, was dreading this match because he felt he and Taker had no chance of putting on a great contest because they had seen and done everything in their rivalry, and he felt he simply couldn’t live up to Shawn Michaels’ efforts in the first Cell bout against Taker the previous October. In discussion with Terry Funk (a wise man if ever wrestling had one), Mick decided that there was only one way he and Undi (who was nursing a broken foot, which didn’t help) could put on a match to remember. To say he succeeded is an understatement, as it ended up becoming one of the most talked-about matches in wrestling history.

Mankind scaled the cage with a steel chair before the bout began, and waited for Taker on the roof. They exchanged punches, and Mankind hit “blood-curling” chairshots to the back. Taker then fought back with some strikes and then, with no warning, he tossed his opponent off the roof straight through the Spanish announcer’s table some 16 feet below. JR: “Good God almighty! Good God almighty! He killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!” Jim Ross’ words are almost as famous as the spot itself, partly because of the true passion in his voice (assisted by him not knowing that it was coming). The fans remained standing for several minutes looking at human rubble, and Taker stared down intently at a broken Man(kind). This remains a jaw-dropping moment to witness, and the margin for error was incredibly small (that the monitors weren’t removed from the desk beforehand makes it even more miraculous that Foley wasn’t permanently injured or even killed by the bump).

Vince McMahon, Sgt Slaughter, referees and EMTs helped Mankind for several minutes, along with Terry Funk, who buried their on-screen hatchet to assist here, which added realism to the moment. Foley’s mask was removed, he was laid on a stretcher (while holding his seriously injured arm), and he was wheeled away. The Cell was elevated with Taker standing on top of it, in order to allow Mankind to be carted away, and while JR and The King tried to explain why the promised HIAC bout didn’t really materialise, Jerry Lawler noted how nobody could really be disappointed after seeing that bump. But we weren’t done yet.

Indeed, Mankind came off the stretcher and headed towards the Cell as JR said “How in the hell is he standing, and look … he’s got a smile on his face, for God’s sake! He wants to go back up! Mankind is going back up, and so is The Undertaker!” Up they both went, and within seconds, Taker had Chokeslammed Mankind through the Cell roof down to the canvas below him. Ross’ soundtrack remains timeless, so much so that I can remember it without needing to rewatch the moment: “Good God! GOOD GOD! Will somebody stop the damn match! The poor son of a … he’s broken in half! And The Undertaker likes it!” The plan was apparently for the roof to dip slightly on the first Chokeslam, with subsequent efforts designed to eventually tear open the ceiling, giving Foley a still-impressive yet lower bump. Instead, it caved instantly, and Mankind has said that if he hadn’t instinctively left one foot standing on the roof prior to the fall, it could have been life-changing, if not life-ending, which is frightening to ponder.

Somehow, Mankind still fought back, and he knocked Taker off the ropes when he attempted Old School, leading to the famous visual of his lip poking through a hole in his bloody bottom lip as a bewildered Ross exclaimed “He is smiling!” Mankind even busted open UT via the cage, and though his weakened arm couldn’t support him inflicting a blow with the steel stairs, he did execute a Piledriver on the aforementioned chair (which took the plunge through the roof with Foley, whacking him hard in the face). That led to the big finish of an already-iconic war, as Foley introduced thumb tacks to the WWF for the first time. He poured the drawing pins onto the canvas, though Taker rocked him with punches which almost sent him backwards into the tacks, but Foley clamped on a Mandible Claw. Referee Tim White checked Undi’s arm once, twice, but on the third try, UT fought back, walked back and dropped Mankind back-first onto the pins. The deranged Mankind rolled around in pain through the tacks to the gasps of the audience, only to be Chokeslammed back into the pins. Jerry Lawler almost had to laugh at the sheer brutality as Taker hoisted him up for a Tombstone Piledriver, earning him the win (with Mankind attempting a limp, futile kick-out in an underrated visual) in an incredible fight.

As JR noted, the two men (and let’s not forget the vital role Taker played in all of this, most notably in doing his best to protect Mankind on the first major spot) gave everything they had in this encounter. It was one hell of a battle, and Mankind’s massive bumps earned him a place in wrestling history that can never be taken away. All these years later, it remains without comparison on a grand stage, and I doubt that we will ever see another scrap like this. An absolute must-see.

WWF Championship First Blood Match
Stone Cold Steve AUstin (C) vs. Kane

Believe it or not, we still had another match to come. That would be the first, erm, First Blood match in WWF history, within Austin defending his WWF Title against Kane, who was already masked but wore a two-sleeve outfit to make the chances of Austin 3:16 winning even lower. Plus, Kane vowed to set himself on fire if he lost. Now, few expected The Big Red Machine to literally go up in flames on live PPV (though the gasoline containers were left at ringside in a chilling reminder as to what could potentially happen), but surely Stone Cold would be able to overcome these odds, right?

The two brawled up the aisleway, before Kane dragged Austin to the ringside floor and, with the Cell cage mysteriously dropping (the person behind that was never revealed in another KOTR unsolved question), Kane placed the base of the cage across Steve’s throat. Back they went into the ring, before referee Earl Hebner took a bump. At that point, Mankind – yes, after everything that had already happened – came out with a chair to fight Austin, but both he and Kane took Stone Cold Stunners. At that point, Undertaker resurfaced, and after punching Mankind, he went to hit Kane with a chair, only to catch an also chair-wielding Austin. Taker poured gasoline over Hebner to revive him, as Austin was busted wide open. Earl caught sight of the blood, and called for the bell. Fans were aghast as Kane was crowned the new WWF Champion, chanting “Bulls–t!”, but Vince McMahon (sat in a private skybox with Sable) was pleased. Had Taker done this intentionally to earn his brother the title, thus turning heel? The plot would thicken in the following weeks, though Austin would regain the gold from Kane the next night on Raw.

This is a good show with several hidden gems and a main event which had major storyline implications ahead of one of the hottest summers in company history. Shamrock was also a worthy choice as King, even if this arguably marked his peak in the WWF. But of course, KOTR 1998 will always go down as the night that The Undertaker and Mankind put on a Hell In A Cell bout for the ages, and 21 years later, it remains an incredible sight to behold. Therefore, you simply must watch King Of The Ring 1998 to experience one of the most unforgettable matches in wrestling history.