In this week’s TBT, we’re going to look at one of the matches which defined the WWE’s Attitude Era – the I Quit Match between the Rock and Mankind for the WWF/WWE Championship at Royal Rumble 1999.
In comparison to deathmatches, street fights and other similar stipulations, I Quit matches are relatively rare. Although the stipulation is an extension of a submission match, I Quit matches are unique in that submission can be achieved through sheer brutality rather than applying submission holds.
As can be expected from any no-DQ match involving Mick Foley, the level of violence in this bout was off the charts. However, not only was this match excessively brutal from a kayfabe perspective, but it also had real life repercussions for the two stars involved.
We’ll get to exactly why later, but first, let’s look at how the match came about.
January, 1999. The Attitude Era was in full swing. While the wrestling during this time wasn’t the best in the world, the stories being told were unparalleled. The main event scene involving Rock, Mankind, Steve Austin and Undertaker was effortlessly weaved together through the use of the Corporation, D-generation-X, the Ministry of Darkness and an unofficial alliance between Mankind and Austin.
Mankind and Rock first met in the finals of the 1998 Survivor Series ‘Deadly Game’ tournament to crown the new world champion, and The Rock came out victorious after some help from Vince and Shane McMahon, aligning himself with McMahon’s stable The Corporation and turning heel in the process.
From a behind-the-scenes perspective, The Rock and Mankind weren’t supposed to meet again after their Survivor Series match, at least not for the foreseeable future. The Rock was scheduled to begin his feud with rising star Steve Austin and Mankind was probably going to go back to the upper-midcard.
But ever since Mankind was thrown off the cell by The Undertaker six months before, fans had begun to really rally behind him. There had been a lot of wrestlers before Mankind who put their bodies through physical hell for the company, but none did it with the heart, soul and likeability that Mick Foley had. Vince McMahon realized that there was something lovable about Foley, so he decided to extend his feud with Rocky.
A few weeks before their Rumble match, Mankind and Rock met on RAW for The Rock’s championship. The Corporation appeared at ringside to ensure Rock retained the belt, but Austin arrived and cost Rock the match, helping Mankind to win his first World Championship (in an incident famously known as the loudest pop in wrestling history, and the match which famously caused everyone watching WCW to switch channels).
The Rock naturally wanted his rematch, but Mankind was reluctant to give him one, even after Rock proposed a number of stipulation matches which went in Mankind’s favour. But when The Rock said ‘I quit in trying to get your monkey ass to…’ Mankind interrupted with ‘I accept. You and me in an I Quit match.’
Rocky was noticeably terrified about facing Mankind with such a stipulation, considering it was only six months before that Foley fell off the top of the Cell twice, bumped onto thumbtacks, knocked out one of his teeth and still showed up to RAW the next night.
The I Quit match begins with a beautifully simple but effective video package recapping the ongoing rivalry between The Rock and Mankind. Both men were two of the most authentic characters in wrestling at the time, so the entire package comes off as completely natural, rounded off with a great soundbite of Mick reciting a poem about how he’ll never say I Quit.
Mankind highlights his indestructible nature with footage of him being thrown off the Cell, getting blown up in death matches and falling off ladders into barbed wire. The Rock, with his cocky attitude and heelish sideburns, claims that he’s going to put Mankind through the worst punishment of his life.
It’s a bold claim by Rocky, especially considering that by this point, Mick was already a deathmatch legend and had done things few other wrestlers ever could. But Rock’s claims are reinforced by his actions over the past few weeks, which saw him hit the Rock Bottom on Mankind on the hood of a car and attack him with chairs, ring bells and steel steps.
As Rock’s mega-feud with Steve Austin was scheduled to begin right after Royal Rumble, Mick thought it was necessary to show fans exactly how far The Rock would go to win the championship. Mick thought he needed to bring out a violent, sadistic side of The Rock to give Steve Austin legitimate competition.
That’s exactly what happened, with many people thinking that The Rock actually went too far.
The match starts with a simple brawl, falling out to ringside and fighting around the announce tables. There are a few comedy spots when Mankind asks Rock if he quits, and Rock replies with one of his classic insults. Rock rings the bell over Mankind’s head then sings a little song, before a botched Rock Bottom puts them both through the Spanish announce table.
They fight up the entrance ramp and into the crowd where Rock hits a DDT onto concrete. Rock then picks up a ladder and lures Mankind up into the stands, around fifteen feet off the floor. Rock lands a punch and sends Mankind flying onto a pile of electrical equipment, which he bounces off with a sickening thud. There’s an explosion and all lights in the arena go out, while the crowd revels in the excessive violence on display.
Shane McMahon appears and pleads with Rock to stop, but he refuses. Unfortunately, things only get worse for Mankind from this point.
Rock drags Mankind back to the ring and pulls out a pair of handcuffs. He ties Mankind’s hands behind his back and begins to mercilessly attack his head. Mankind turns the tables with a low blow, but his success is short-lived. Rock gains the advantage, then picks up a chair from outside.
He hits a People’s Elbow with a chair on Mankind’s face, which results in a visible explosion of blood from his forehead. After two unprotected chair shots, Mankind says ‘you’ll have to kill me’ when Rock asks him if he quits.
Mankind’s voice is shaky and his legs are trembling. Even to a layperson, it looks like Mankind is genuinely in incredible pain. While unprotected chair shots were common at this point in WWE, few were ever subject to the intense barrage which Rock then carries out. Another six unprotected chair shots follow, each one more sickening than the last. Mankind stumbles out into the entranceway and Rock hits a final chair shot to the back of Mick’s skull to finally put him down.
Rock holds a mic to Mick’s face and unbelievably, Mankind screams ‘I quit’ three times. The Rock is the new champion.
In the aftermath, it came out that Mankind never said the words ‘I quit’ and it was a recording played over the announce system.
But what is mostly remembered about this match, aside from the Rock’s eleven unprotected chair shots to Mick’s head, was how it affected the relationship between the two men backstage.
During the match, Mick’s wife and children were sitting at ringside, and saw the horrors unfold from the first row. At the time, the filmmakers for the wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat were backstage and captured some heartbreaking footage of Mick’s children clearly upset at the level of torment he was put through.
It was later revealed that the original planned finish was for the Rock to hit Foley with five chair shots as they battled up the rampway, but communication went amiss at some point. Foley said on a podcast with Steve Austin that the first chair sent a shockwave of numbness through his whole body and was like no pain he’d ever felt before. He claimed that, in his delirious state, he stood up to his feet when he was supposed to fall to the mat, which prompted Rock to hit him with the chair a number of more times.
The Rock may have then misread Mick wrongly, especially as he too was unaware that Mick wasn’t thinking straight. This then led to The Rock furiously attacking Mick in an attempt to ground him.
Mick later claimed that the incredible pain wasn’t the worst part of the whole ordeal. After the match, the Rock allegedly never approached him to check on his wellbeing or apologize for the additional chair shots. This left a sour taste in Mick’s mouth and changed Mick’s opinions towards him. In a special edition of Beyond the Mat, Mick divulged his true feelings on Rock’s actions and said what he did was unprofessional and unnecessary.
In the ensuing years, Mick and Rock repaired their relationship, going onto become Tag Team Champions as “The Rock n’ Sock Connection.” As recently as 2019, Rock has praised Mick Foley as being one of the greatest and best wrestling minds of all time.
The I Quit match can be seen on the WWE Network.