Mick Foley Looks Back on His WWE 'Halftime Heat' Match With The Rock 20 Years Later

Scott Fishman
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One of the biggest attractions of the Super Bowl is of course the halftime show. But let’s face it, there are years when people just aren’t feeling the performer.

And two decades ago, in one of its biggest boom periods, the WWE provided an alternative for the audience who didn't want to tune in for the NFL’s big game. On January 31, 1999, the experiment known as Halftime Heat aired on the USA Network countering Super Bowl XXXIII’s halftime show with Gloria Estefan and Stevie Wonder.

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The main event was a WWE championship rematch between Mick Foley (Mankind) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It was the latest chapter in the popular performers' bitter feud and a follow-up to their violent “I Quit” match at the Royal Rumble, and took place in an empty arena inside the then-named America West Arena in Phoenix.

“That was my idea stemming off my fondness for the Terry Funk and Jerry Lawler empty arena match from years earlier in the Mid-South Coliseum,” Foley details to TV Insider, looking back at the experience 20 years later.

“I loved the rivalry with The Rock and thought it would be a way to tell a completely different kind of story. I was definitely banged up. I think I said in one of my books that I was wrapped up with more gauze thank Boris Karloff in the original Mummy movie. I was still hurt from the Rumble, but I was very much looking forward to the match.”

Vince McMahon called the action as it quickly spilled outside of the ring. They fought everywhere from where normally fans would sit to backstage.

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“It was different that it kept going from room to room. And Rock was really on,” Foley says. “He had a couple of great one-liners in every area we entered into. I was kind of the straight man taking a beating, and Rock was really shining in between each episode of the Foley smackdowns.”

In a finish Foley admittedly feels the less said about the better, the Hall of Famer kept Rock down by using a forklift holding a palette of beer kegs. He was once again WWE champion.

“The reaction shot taken after is something I could have lived without,” Foley continues. “But almost everything we did as far as utilizing what was around us was ad-libbed. In retrospect, I should have thought through the sack of popcorn to the back. Maybe not the best backstage weaponry available. But all in all, I think it was a really enjoyable match. It is definitely something different than what wrestling fans had ever seen.”

If the same match took place in today’s social media world, there is no doubt in Foley’s mind there would be some serious trending going on.

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“I’m sure a lot of The Rock’s one-liners,” the New York Times best-selling author says. “'Jack Daniels if you please,' in reference to the swig of alcohol he spit in my face. ‘The salsa was mild.’ Pretty much everything he said, and the match would be a huge hit on social media.”

Foley has watched the empty arena match a couple of times over the decides. He takes pride in helping break new ground.

“Any time you walk out with your hand in the air holding the WWE title is a good day,” Foley reasons. “I love the idea that we were entering a bold new world. It had been done a few times before, but never on that level. Never with that type of audience. We weren’t afforded the freedom to use the type of language Terry Funk had used. We had it on good authority that there could not be a single drop of blood, which was a problem because I still had that huge wound from the Rumble. I thought it came out good.”

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A year later, WWE hosted another Halftime Heat, only this time it was an interview segment with an injured Steve Austin. “Stone Cold” was on the mend from a serious surgery and he shared his first update with fans. The company hasn’t done a halftime program since, but that changes this year as NXT stars Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream and Ricochet battle Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa. The six-man tag will stream Sunday as part of a new Halftime Heat on the WWE Network, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and WWE.com.  For Foley though, there is always the opportunity to revisit the concept with the roster today.

“Maybe not an empty arena match,” he says. “It would be hard to have something ready to go live. They’ve got some incredible athletes there. I think if you told a couple of them that they would be following in this match’s footsteps, they would do their very best to meet expectations and exceed it.”

Fans who want to reflect on more of Foley’s career milestones with the man himself have the opportunity to do just that if they win the WrestleMania Dream Vacation Sweepstakes. Winners will receive two floor tickets to WrestleMania, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, Ring of Honor G1 Supercard, Monday Night Raw and lunch with Foley and daughter Noelle. Roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations will be provided to the winner and their guest. Proceeds from donations and reward items will benefit KultureCity, a nonprofit that works to provide accessibility solutions for those with sensory disorders including autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I think over four or five years, we raised over $500,000 for RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network], which is incredible,” Foley says.

“This year KultureCity came along. Because I have a son on the spectrum and because this is an issue that hits home to me every single day, it seemed like a natural teaming. We’ve teamed up a few times over the years, so I was happy to do it. I hope it’s really successful for KultureCity.”

For more information, visit the sweepstakes site.