AS I SEE IT
PRO WRESTLING: BETWEEN THE SHEETS
Mrs. Foley’s baby boy did it.
As pretty much everyone knows by now, Mick Foley has been selected for the WWE Hall of Fame in the 2013 class this year in New York.
Before a cynic snarks that this is not like a Baseball Hall of Fame election (or non-election, actually, this year)…yes, I know Vince McMahon essentially chooses who’s going in himself, so it’s as pre-determined as match results on his TV, house shows, and PPV. Some would actually argue more long-term thought went into this “finish” than than a few TV and PPV finishes and storyline directions we’ve seen.
Mick Foley has been one of us for so damned long that it would be criminal to be happy for this selection. Yes, I mean one of us. Foley started out, as many of the best do…as a mark like us.
As I said some years ago in this column, if there has ever been a wrestler of our generation that embodied the spirit of so many of us who turned on the TV set and saw the spectacle in front of us, someone who went to Madison Square Garden or a Philadelphia Civic Center or a junior high school gym in rural America and began to dream…that person is Mick Foley.
I got to meet Mick back in his Cactus Jack days in 1990 at a fan luncheon organized by TWA promoter Joel Goodhart. As happened with a lot of Goodhart’s luncheons, we met the human being Mick Foley not the character Cactus Jack. We met a man with a college degree…and we saw the kinds of things that the rest of the country saw years later on WWE/F TV, with the footage of Foley as a kid who cut wrestling promos and jumped off of a roof into mattresses. We met the Mick Foley who was a mark for the business just like us.
That afternoon at the old Philadelphia’s Original Sports Bar, we heard how Mick had just become engaged to his now-wife Colette, and said to the crowd “I never thought I’d have to give up one of the best lines in wrestling -‘I’d rather hurt a man than make love to a woman'” then gave Colette a look that would have melted an iceberg. Rumors are that global warming started that day.
I also remember the classic 1990-1991 series of matches that Mick had with Eddie Gilbert; first in the late Dennis Coraluzzo’s NWA-New Jersey, then in Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling Alliance.
For those of you who never heard of the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, it was an adult alternative for fans in the Northeast to the WWF back in the worst of its Titan ‘Toon Adventures era. This series established the tradition of hardcore wrestling in Philadelphia, including Foley and Gilbert’s legendary best of three falls match at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall. It concluded with one of the most memorable matches in Philadelphia wrestling history on a night at the Philadelphia Civic Center in August 1991, when fans got to watch a best of three falls/triple-header of matches: a Falls Count Anywhere match for the first fall, a stretcher match for the second fall, during which Gilbert breaks a bottle over Cactus’s head; concluding with a bloody steel cage match for the final fall.
This match, even with a promotion that never got TV, was probably the most-seen independent match in history (at least of that time), with originals and bootlegs of the tape traveling all over the world. It’s probably out there somewhere on You Tube.
I got to see Mick in ECW through the years, and got to really watch him in his element; as well as his classic “anti-hardcore” storyline, which told some truths to the hardcore fans of ECW that they probably would have tolerated from no one else. His books told a lot about his thinking in doing this storyline. If you haven’t gotten his books by now, do it.
Like most fans who knew of him previously, I cringed when he went to the WWF figuring that Vince McMahon would ruin him. But the Mankind gimmick wasn’t what we feared. Mankind was a “character”, but one that allowed Mick Foley to heal up physically and to take advantage of his ability to create yet another successful personna; one of a psychotic who lived in the basement, ripped his hair out of his head and played around in boiler rooms.
Mankind’s character softened somewhat, and as time went on, we got to see the “Three Faces of Foley”, with aspects of his past making the screens for the mainstream. Fans got to see proof that Mick started out as one of us, in the afore-mentioned hilarious real life home movies of his days in his Dude Love personna as a kid, cutting promos and jumping off of the roof of his house into pillows. Dude Love was around for awhile, then Cactus Jack even came back in a few matches with and against Terry Funk.
Then there was the night of the 1998 King of the Ring, and the legendary Hell in the Cell Match with Mick Foley and the Undertaker. I sat that night with friends and watched the match, figuring on seeing something special. But I had no idea what I was about to see.
As Mick Foley was at the edge on the top of that cage, I thought “No…Dear God, not even HE’S going to try that…”. But as we all know, he did. Off of the top of the cage and through the announcers table… Then Foley came back to the match…If that wasn’t bad enough, he then went THROUGH the cage, driving a tooth into his nose. If that still wasn’t enough, he decided to take bumps into thumb tacks.
I remember writing in this column that, while the Hell in the Cell match was something never to be forgotten, I hoped I’d never see anything like that again. I still cringe when I see the spot replayed.
As a result of that kind of dedication, the rest of the WWE fanbase has come to treat Mick Foley as one of their own.
How much this is so was shown on the night when Tony Schiavone made comments about Mick Foley on the WCW Monday Nitro the night that aired live when the Monday Night RAW with Mick Foley’s first title “win” (heavily promoted online from the actual taping date to the air date) aired.
Schiavone made the sarcastic comment about Foley “…he’ll really put some asses in seats”. This remark drove thousands of viewers who weren’t aware of the title switch to RAW almost immediately, and started a firestorm of angry phone calls, e-mail and fan sentiment in arenas toward Schiavone and WCW. Foley has reported that Schiavone was ordered to do that spoiler by Eric Bischoff, and genuinely felt bad that Foley might have been hurt
While people will differ on their favorite memories of Mick, I have to say that the most memorable for me was watching him trying his best to turn the crowd against him. Maybe it was because I was quite a bit more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the business by then or maybe it was because it was just interesting to watch, but when he ripped off his shirt and had one on underneath with a huge picture of Eric Bischoff on it, I was in amazement. The crowd was booing like crazy and I was laughing. It was during this time that I learned a whole lot more about psychology as it related to wrestling.
I was at the arena for his final match, and after reading his book, I was glad to see how emotional his send off made him. No matter what Mick did we all still loved and respected him and I am glad that came across to him. So many others would have kept that moment with them for a day or so then moved on. The humanity in Mick could be his greatest asset.
I’m far from the only one on this website who feels that way. Let’s go back in the digital wayback machine and read this piece from PWBTS founder and former owner Fritz Capp, in his February 28, 2000 “Straight Shooting” column:
“I first saw Cactus down in WCW. A brutal wrestler to be sure but for some reason I always liked Cactus Jack. There was something about him that made me like him even when he was beating the hell out of one of the good guys. Maybe it was the way he portrayed himself. Maybe it was just the fact that he could kick some opponent butt…but one thing is for sure and that is he was different than the rest of them. Sure there were the Ric Flairs and the Vaders but Cactus stood out from the rest.
The Cactus Clothesline was one of the most devastating moves I had ever seen. That is not to take away from his elbow drop off the apron. It’s funny, when I think back to Cactus’s old days in WCW, it makes me remember what it was like to be a non-knowing wrestling fan. Sure I knew the stuff was “fixed” but that didn’t matter. I didn’t look at matches in terms of work rate, all I knew was what I liked. Yeah, I was a huge mark and I loved it. (Still am if you wanna know the truth)
I hated it when Cactus lost to Sullivan in that “loser leaves” match because I didn’t think I’d ever get to see him wrestle again. Many times before the advent of the Internet it could be years since you saw a wrestler again. I remember that I used to wonder what happened to “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Terry Gordy.
That was before I even knew that Japan was a hotbed for wrestling.
My fears were unwarranted though as Cactus went to the one place where I could see him almost every week…or at least almost every three weeks and that was ECW at the famed Bingo Hall. When I saw Cactus there I knew he had found a home. The style fit him perfectly. ECW was where I thought Cactus would call home for the rest of his wrestling days.
I got to meet him when ECW was running shows out of Damien Kane’s Bodyslam Arena in Reading PA. I was in early as usual for that time in my life and he had just brought in his t-shirts to set up on the table. Now to me there are wrestlers and then there are “WRESTLERS”. Mick was always in the latter classification to me. Larger than life by every definition of the words it took me a bit to go over and just say hi. Sure, I have no problem admitting I was a little star struck and in awe of the man I had seen take more punishment in one night than I had in my whole life…. and I grew up on the streets of Philadelphia. Anyway after I finally got up the nerve to bother him and talked with him for a while I went away and finally realized why I like Mick for all those years.
He is without a doubt one of the classiest and most humble people I had ever met. Now I know all of you are going, “Well how could you tell that by watching him on television?” Very easy….who else do you now that spent his career killing himself out of love for the business and his co-workers? Whenever you saw Cactus on television or in the ring you knew there was going to be a beating but you also knew that Cactus Jack was going to take the majority of it. That may have been another endearing quality of Mick’s. I could somehow always tell that he was there because he loved the sport and was willing to do what it took to make his part of the show as good as it could be.”
So for those who see the announcement (presumably made tonight on air at some point), enjoy it like I will. Now all Vince McMahon needs to do is get Terry Funk to do the intro (or at least appear somehow), and get one more Jim Ross reference to “Mrs. Foley’s baby boy” in there somewhere, and you’ll all have it tied up in a neat bow.
Until next time….
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