Just this morning I managed to get tickets to Mick Foley’s one man show. It got me thinking about why I was so happy to go and see a wrestler, that never would make it onto one of my favourite lists and never comes up as the greatest in any debate. Therein lies the magic of Foley and his many characters.
My first exposure to Foley would have been in the very early 90’s in his guise of Cactus Jack. Looking at him in WCW, he was something of an oddity. Back then the superstar era was in full flow in both the WWF and WCW. In the time where fans liked the champions to be larger than life heroes like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Sting in WCW and the heels to be super villains like Big Van Vader and The Undertaker, Cactus Jack was very different. For a start he wrestled in a t-shirt and what looked like fat woman leggings, topped off with a nice line in leopard skin boots. Not superhero material, but certainly enough to stick in the mind of many a young fan. He was out of shape in comparison to his contemporaries like Lex Luger, Brian Pillman and Tom Zenk and much worse in my eyes, his moves didn’t look damaging enough for him to win matches against my favourites.
One storyline changed my opinion on Cactus forever. WCW was broadcast at around 12 midnight in the UK. It wasn’t a flashy show like Nitro or Raw, it was the simple WCW Worldwide. Cactus, for whatever reason lost his memory and became homeless. In reality Foley had been on the receiving end of a Vader Bomb on the concrete floor, resulting in a concussion that needed a lengthy lay-off. To the young me this was hilarious. Here was this wrestler, who I had tolerated in WCW sitting with homeless people and being interviewed by the roving WCW reporters. While they were trying to convince him of his true identity, he refused in that classic, creepy Foley voice. Only when he threw muffled Bang Bang, calls into his character did they know it was him. I laughed uncontrollably at this and the first appreciation of storyline in wrestling was born inside me. Before this I was fully on-board with Keyfabe and believed everything I saw on-screen. Mick’s portrayal, while unintentionally hilarious, meant that I appreciated wrestling on a whole new level. If I hadn’t learnt this lesson, I would probably have left wrestling behind like so many of my friends did. This has been widely viewed as one of the worst angles in history, to me it was very important.
Foley appeared in the WWF in 1996 as another persona. The creepy and disturbing Mankind. Wearing a leather mask and a horrible brown outfit, he came across as a character, that even The Undertaker would fear. I remember a boiler-house brawl between the two, where Foley showed his unbelievable talent for improvisation and ability to take damage, that would define his career in the soon to be WWE. He feuded with Undertaker, stealing Paul Bearer as his Manager in the process before ending up as my least favourite of his personas, Dude Love. Dude Love, was a kind of hippy, flower-power sort, who appeared as a result of a tag team match with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Despite my personal dislike of the character, again Foley made it work. Before fighting HHH he played up the multiple personality disorder and had Dude Love and Mankind deciding who would fight HHH. They decided Cactus Jack and suddenly it all worked again. The switching of personas carried on throughout his WWE career and gained him three entries to a Royal Rumble match.
His superhuman ability to take damage reached its height in 1998 at the Hell In A Cell against Undertaker. Without going over it too much it was a moment ever fan remembers. Foley as Mankind brawled with Taker on the roof of the cell, while the cell match was still relatively new in WWE the threat of someone falling or being thrown had been used before to get a reaction from the crowd. No one actually believed a human would fall from the roof until this match. Taker grabbed Foley and threw him from the roof and through the Spanish announce table. I don’t claim to know the exact height and won’t look it up, but at a guess it was 25 feet. The screams of Jim Ross on commentary heightened the atmosphere and we thought the match was over within minutes. Foley who had suffered a dislocated shoulder amongst other injuries, left the stretcher and climbed the cell only to be slammed through the roof and have a chair land on his face as well. A bad day but status as a legend secured forever.
His hardcore legend status was cemented in an I Quit match against The Rock, were e took in excess of 20 chair shots to the head before the Royal Rumble in 2000, where he had my favourite match against HHH. The personal set-up for me was amazing. WWE wrestling ad returned to non pay per view TV in the U.K and the Royal Rumble was to be shown live on Channel Four. I was in my last year of High School and suddenly everyone loved WWE again. We all sat up to watch the amazing 2000 Rumble and Foley vs HHH was the highlight. The street fight rules had been set up on the previous RAW’s. HHH had comprehensively beaten Foley in his Mankind guise and the build-up had become a bit stale. Suddenly Foley said he knew someone who would be better competition and announce Cactus Jack would be competing. Partly due to the excellence of Foley in the street fight scenario and partly because of the ability of HHH to sell the moves, the match was an all-time classic and probably my favourite match of recent times. It was brutal, bloody and told an excellent story. It summed up what the attitude era in WWE was all about and showed Foley at his best. Despite his fame and popularity rising to even greater heights after this match, it was his in-ring peak for me and had circumstances been different, it might have led me to try to get into the business like Jimmy Superfly Snuka’s splash from the cage at Madison Square Garden had inspired Foley.
The look on his face at the end, with thumb tacks up his nose was meant to be the look of defeat. For me it was the look of someone who had accomplished what he set out to do. Despite not being on everyone’s list of greatest or favourite wrestlers, Mick Foley was the one who showed me how it all worked. For that he should be above any list.