In honor of his 50th birthday this weekend, I thought I would take a break from the current goings on in wrestling and look back at someone who embodies the love of professional wrestling and had more success than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Today we’re going to look at my favorite wrestler of all time and someone who is often called the nicest guy in wrestling: Mick Foley.
There is no way I can cover all the details of Foley’s career so this is meant to be more of a brief overview of his characters and why Foley worked as well as he did.
I was watching Foley’s stand up special on the WWE Network and I began to remember why Foley is my all time favorite professional wrestler. He may not be the most athletic or have the best look and he certainly wasn’t the biggest star, but there was a passion in him that almost no one else has ever possessed. When you combine his incredible speaking skills, dedication and good nature, you have one of the best of all time.
So what makes Foley as good as he is? Well to begin with, he’s very underrated as an in ring performer. While Foley is often remembered for his stunt show matches and taking incredible punishment, the quality of his matches are often overlooked. Foley put on great matches with such names as Steve Austin (“In Your House XXII”), Rock (too many to name), Randy Orton (“Backlash 2004”), Sting (“Beach Blast 1992”), Triple H (“Royal Rumble 2000” and “No Way Out 2000”), Shawn Michaels (“In Your House X”) and Undertaker (again too many to name) among others.
Now why was Foley capable of having such good matches with so many wrestlers? Foley certainly wasn’t the most technically skilled performer or a classically trained wrestler, but he found a perfect brawling style that worked well enough for him to help carry the matches to their high levels. It was a style that could work against anyone and all different opponents, making him so versatile in the ring.
Versatile is the magic word for Foley. That would be the one word above all others that describes him and it’s the word that made him perhaps the most interesting character of all time. Foley is remembered for a lot of things, but, save for the violence, the ability to completely change himself into different characters should be at the top of the list. Let’s take a quick look at all three characters he portrayed.
We’ll start with the easiest to talk about as Foley portrayed him longer than anyone else over the years: Cactus Jack. This is the character that got Foley on the map as few had ever been as bizarre and sadistic than Jack. How do you top someone whose best known spot is to dive backwards off the apron and drive his own head into the concrete?
There was something so simple about the character as he was just a violent man who enjoyed hurting anyone he could get his hands on and if it happened to cause damage to himself in the process, so be it. It made for a very difficult opponent for whomever was unlucky enough to have to face him, as Jack had no limits to what he would do in the ring. Jack would have some of the most violent and barbaric matches seen while feuding with Triple H, Sting and Sabu among many others, many of which are considered classics.
At the totally opposite end of the spectrum, we have a peace loving (yet still violent) hippie in Dude Love. This was the first character that Foley invented before he ever got into the wrestling business and was seen as more of a joke than anything else. However, the character was brought in to team with Steve Austin as half of the World Tag Team Champions before eventually feuding with Austin in a pair of classic matches in the spring of 1998.
This was where Foley’s talents really started to shine through instead of just having him be a glorified freak show. To be able to go from ultra violent to a character who danced to disco music and wore tie dye showed a far stronger range for Foley than anyone else would have ever guessed. That brings us to his most famous character of them all.
Finally, we have Mankind. This is a hard one to nail down as Mankind changed so dramatically from his debut to his ending. Debuting as a deranged monster who stayed in the boiler room of arenas and ripped out his own hair due to seemingly enjoying the pain, Mankind was unlike anyone that the WWF had ever seen.
No one is more familiar with the early days of Mankind than his greatest rival: the Undertaker. After all the years of destroying anyone that was put in front of him, Undertaker was completely perplexed at how to deal with Mankind. These two feuded on and off for two years with Undertaker never being able to completely get rid of him until he nearly murdered him inside Hell in a Cell.
After being nearly killed in a single match, Mankind completely changed his character to a far more goofy style as more of a clueless schmuck who thought he was best friends with Vince McMahon, wearing a sock with face drawn on his hand, and acting as a complete goon who was constantly led around by the nose by whoever needed him at the moment.
However, after all the months of being treated like an idiot, Mankind would stand up for himself and threaten to injure Shane McMahon until he was granted a WWF World Title shot on “Monday Night Raw”, January 4, 1999. Mankind would win the title in a forgettable match, but the moment is still one of the greatest in the history of wrestling and easily the loudest reaction from a crowd in company history.
This moment worked so well because Mankind had earned the fans’ respect. The people had gone from being afraid of him to feeling sympathy for him as he was put through so much to respecting him for never quitting after all the punishment he suffered. Above all else though, the fans were able to identify him, with Michael Cole’s amazing call summing up the entire moment: “Mick Foley has achieved his dream, and the dream of everyone else who has been told they can’t do it!”
That summed up how deep the Mankind character had become over the years. Less than three years earlier, Mankind had been a freak who spoke to his pet rat. Now he’s a star in one of the best moments in wrestling history. It showed an incredible progression to the character that you rarely see in anyone, including Foley’s other two personas.
This brings us to the key reason why Foley was so different than everyone else. Many people, myself included, have often said that Foley has portrayed three different characters over the years. This actually isn’t true. Instead, Foley was actually portraying one single character who had multiple personalities.
Think back to all the different wrestlers over the years who have had multiple different gimmicks. It’s rare to see someone mentioned as portraying a character who has been dropped (though it’s been becoming more common), but Foley would regularly jump from one character to another. Instead of just coming out in different attire, Foley entered into another part of his mind and become a different person.
There was almost no transition or passage of time, but usually just a single moment that would send Foley over the edge and into another frame of mind. It was so different than anything else and made for many surprising yet logical transitions to a fresh character for Foley when he had worn through whichever he was portraying at the time.
The key thing to each persona you would see from Foley was how much effort he put into them. This has been the case with everything he ever did in wrestling, including his excellent run as WWF Commissioner, as well as everything he’s done since leaving the ring. Despite having a look unlike almost anyone else, Foley became one of the biggest stars of all time through his hard work and dedication to professional wrestling. He’s always worth seeing and more than worth looking back at if you ever want a smile brought to your face.
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