Posted by Joe Giachetti
In the summer of 2003, Mick Foley has been retired for about 3 years. During that period he had been the Commissioner of WWE and made sporadic appearances for various segments and guest referee spots. At this time, his most recent appearance was to referee a Hell In a Cell match between the World Champion HHH and Kevin Nash. The following night in Madison Square Garden, Mick Foley was honored for his career accomplishments with a tribute video and a framed keepsake version of the Hardcore Championship. Unfortunately for Foley, the night would end on a sour note. He would be brutally beaten and kicked down a stairwell at Madison Square Garden by Evolution, and more specifically, their up and coming superstar Randy Orton. Orton was young and brash at this time, having been included in an elite group such as Evolution with the likes of HHH and Ric Flair. Trying to establish a name for himself, he went after legends in the wrestling business and began to call himself the Legend Killer. At the time, the beat down of Foley and the trip down the stairwell seemed like an isolated incident as a stepping stone for Orton to move up the ladder. What it would lead to however was the feud that would establish Randy Orton as a WWE superstar for many years to come, and an in-ring comeback for Mick Foley that would produce the best match of his career.
By December of 2003, Evolution was going strong. Randy Orton had defeated Rob Van Dam to win the Intercontinental Championship at Armageddon 2003. Late in that year, Orton and Foley were set to have a match on Monday Night Raw. While walking to the ring, Mick Foley changed his mind, and left the arena, seemingly walking away from a fight. That was something that no fan of Mick Foley would ever expect him to do. Orton would shortly after find Mick Foley and spit in his face before leaving the arena. Embarrassed and humiliated, Foley would not appear on Raw for a period of time. During that period, Orton would consistently run down Foley, calling him a coward for refusing to fight and even running ads proclaiming himself as the new Hardcore Legend. On an episode of Raw from Foley’s hometown of Long Island, NY, Orton invited Foley to the arena and bought him a front-row ticket, even sending a limo to Foley’s house to bring him to the arena. Foley would not show up. As all of this was ongoing, even Jim Ross, one of Foley’s closest friends, would call Foley a coward on television. All of these events were building to Foley’s big return which would come at the Royal Rumble in 2004. Orton had been in the match since the beginning, and Foley would make a surprise return by taking out Test backstage and entering in the Royal Rumble match. Foley and Orton would brawl and eventually Foley would do his patented clothesline over the top rope, eliminating both Orton and himself. They would continue to go at it at ringside, furthering the intensity of their feud.
Numerous beat downs of Mick Foley would occur over the next couple of months at the hands of Randy Orton and Evolution. Foley, while now back and doing his best to fend off Evolution’s attacks, would need help. Leading into WrestleMania 20, Foley would bring back his friend and former tag team partner The Rock. This would lead to a two on three handicap match at WrestleMania 20 between Foley and The Rock against Orton, Flair and Batista. The fans in Madison Square Garden that night were hot for The Rock’s return and Foley’s return to the ring to get his revenge on Randy Orton. Unfortunately for Foley, he would succumb to an RKO from Orton and be pinned in the middle of the ring to the shock of himself and the fans watching. It was a disappointment for Foley, but a huge win for Orton in his first opportunity on the biggest stage in professional wrestling.
Foley would get one more chance at Orton at the next month’s pay per view, Backlash 2004. He would challenge Orton to a Hardcore Match for the Intercontinental Championship. The match would be the toughest and most brutal of Orton’s career to that point, and possibly even up until this point in his career. Foley would break out all of his classic hardcore antics, such as thumbtacks and a barbed wire bat. Orton would feel the wrath of those weapons at various points during the match. At one point Foley even attempted to light the barbed wire bat on fire, but was stopped by Eric Bischoff. After about twenty plus minutes of brutal action, Orton would hit the RKO on the barbed wire bat and pin Foley to retain his championship.
This feud is one of WWE’s classic feuds and best of the past decade for a number of reasons. It featured great matches and entertaining in-ring segments on television each week. It led to the return of Mick Foley to in-ring competition, and was a launching point for Randy Orton is his career. Foley would later call the Backlash match with Orton the best of his career. After his feud with Foley would end in April of that year, he would continue defending the Intercontinental Championship, eventually losing it to Edge. However, he would go on to win the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam that year, becoming the youngest World Champion in WWE history.
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