As a hall of fame professional wrestler, Mick Foley carved out a legacy as Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind, referred to as the faces of Foley.
His understanding of the psychology of wrestling, his gifts with a microphone, and his willingness to put his body on the line made him a legend among fans.
As an author, Foley ushered in a new era in autobiographies that was the first great wrestling book of its time, and it remains the gold standard.
Simply put, Mick Foley did it all. And he did it well. And he did it at a time when business was booming and when many from that generation made more than enough money to last a lifetime.
Mick Foley quite literally could have sailed into the sunset and no one would have blamed him.
But once an entertainer, always an entertainer.
Foley has been busy in retirement, writing more books, doing television and film work and devising his latest project, his one-man comedy show, which hits Ontario next month with shows in Cornwall and Ottawa.
Always eloquent and, ahem, an open book when it comes to his career, Foley admits that no man had more impact on his wrestling career than his friend and longtime World Wrestling Entertainment colleague Jim Ross.
“I don’t think anyone is more influential in actually getting me hired,” Foley admitted when he was asked about some of those who had great influence in his career, including Ross, Jimmy Snuka and Terry Funk.
“Those other guys were all great influences on my style,” Foley said in a telephone interview, “but I’m not sure if Jimmy Snuka was making any calls to Mr. McMahon on my behalf whereas Jim Ross, he was waging a very steady campaign to bring me in.”
In fact, Foley said, the JR-McMahon-Foley saga makes up part of his show.
“That’s actually one my favourite stories on the new show, is finding out about some of the behind-the-scenes concessions that were made, which included Mr. McMahon agreeing to bring me in but only if he covered up my face,” Foley said with a chuckle.
“So therein lies the mystery of the Mankind character,” he quipped. “If you’re looking for something deep or philosophical, you’ll be disappointed. It was just one man’s attempt to cover up another man’s face.”
Foley’s long and storied history with good ol’ JR has been well documented.
“When my dad met Jim Ross years and years ago, he (told Ross) ‘my son used to watch the matches and go “listen to how this guy keeps me alive,” ’ ” Foley explained, passion in his voice. “This is at a time, late ’89, early ’90, when I wasn’t winning many matches in WCW, but he helped make Cactus Jack feel like a compelling character even if his won-lost record wasn’t reflecting that.”
Fittingly, both men have found success in recent times with one-man shows. Ross brought his one-man tell-all event to Toronto earlier this year, while Foley is bound for eastern Ontario soon. While they’re both one-man shows, and feature two men who helped reshape the pro wrestling landscape during the wildly popular Attitude Era, the similarities end there, according to Foley.
“It’s a lot different, this darned show,” Foley said. “I really enjoyed JR’s show, but I think the atmosphere (at mine) is lighter hearted, and it’s not quite as factual.”
Foley was a bit taken aback by the audience participation at Ross’s show.
“I will say, I was surprised … the Q&A struck me as being disrespectful at JR’s show, and I rarely get a disrespectful question at my shows during the Q&A. I would’ve guessed that our fan bases would be similar, but I think maybe his is geared more toward that diehard fan, whereas mine can be enjoyed by the diehard, the casual fan or someone who has no interest in wrestling whatsoever.”
That he even offers a show like his comedy gig all stems back to his first autobiography, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, a book he wrote by hand and that would go on to become a New York Times bestseller.
“The book opened up so many doors for me,” Foley said when asked how the autobiography changed his life. “I wouldn’t be doing this show. The book led to speaking at colleges, unsolicited calls from colleges to WWE wondering if I would be willing to speak at their establishments. Those 40 or 50 college talks that I did over the years led to me being open to the idea of trying out stories on stage in comedy venues. The confidence I gained from learning that I could tell a good story on the page led directly to me, after many years, having the confidence to think that I could tell a good story on stage.”
If the smaller, more intimate crowds at a comedy show aren’t filling the void, there’s always the WWE and its global following. In fact, adjusting to retirement has been made easier by knowing he always has a home with WWE, Foley said.
“I could always keep one foot in Kansas and tiptoe into Oz whenever I wanted to,” he said. “Mr. McMahon told me in 2001 that I should consider WWE my playground and that I could return there anytime that I wanted to. And even when I’m not actively involved with a company, as is the case now, every time I step outside and see someone, I am in their eyes a WWE guy, so in some ways it’s like I never left. And then when I get a chance to tell my stories on stage, I get so many of the gratifying feelings that I used to used to experience in the ring, without getting hurt.”
Thanks to social media, legends such as Foley can not only promote such ventures as this comedy show, but they can maintain contact with fans. In the social media world, Foley is something of a giant, with more than 1.1 million likes on his Facebook page and the same number of followers on Twitter. He’s also one of the more active celebrities when it comes to sharing his thoughts on the product and business today.
“I try to keep things positive,” he said. “I know when Stone Cold and I were talking on his podcast, I said, ‘We’re not bitter guys, we’re just guys who are still passionate about the product and sometimes see things that we think can be done better or differently.’ ”
Foley cited a recent post at the time of this interview.
“My last post was actually just talking about how nice it is to have that Monday night show there for us for all of those years, and that even on what was definitely not a unanimously popular Monday Night Raw, if you put the cynicism aside, there’s still a lot you can enjoy even on a lukewarm show. And just having the show there on Monday nights has been so important for millions of people for, at this point, I was going to say dozens of years, and we are actually closing in on 22 years of Raw or something along those lines. The amount of smiles that the show is responsible on Monday nights is incalculable. But if I see something that I think could use improvement, I will occasionally point it out.”
Post-SummerSlam, Foley was very vocal about his approval following Brock Lesnar’s decisive victory over the company’s top star, John Cena.
“Honestly, I thought that was one of the best things I’ve seen,” Foley said. “A decisive victory in a huge match like that is so rare and I think it’s something that the (WWE) Network allows them to experiment with. I applaud it. The one thing I will say, and I haven’t put this out there, this is a scoop for you. My daughter is a huge wrestling fan and whenever I see Cena, I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I think that post-Lesnar match should have left to a period of soul searching for Cena, not a quick return.’ I think they should have had an old VHS tape of Rocky III loaded up, see how Stallone handled the post-Clubber Lang beating. Like I said, for everything, I didn’t say this, but I will now, for everything that I think they miss the ball on, they’re doing 100 things right, especially from a production standpoint.”
Anyone who followed Foley’s wrestling career knows he was tough. Really tough. Inhumanly tough, actually. His Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker is legendary. In it, he was thrown from the top of a nearly 20-foot structure onto a table. He later was slammed (inadvertently) through the top of the structure plummeting with a thud to the ring inside. He also was tossed around on thousands of thumbtacks. His list of wrestling injuries also includes several broken bones, missing teeth and having his ear ripped off. To name just a few.
But none of those injuries, Foley said, have plagued him like a nagging sciatic nerve injury that has dogged him since the 1990s.
The first one, in 1997, nearly ended his career.
“I had one that was seemingly far worse in 2007,” he said, adding that the day after this interview was conducted, he was to undergo a minor back operation.
“I’m one day away from back surgery to relieve another sciatic injury, which has kept me chair bound; I’ve been seated or prone for about 23 and a half hours a day the last two weeks. There’s only so many documentaries, wrestling matches and Christmas movies a guy can watch. I’ve actually watched myself watching Santa Buddies at 1:30 a.m. last night. It’s a movie about eight or nine puppies who learn to appreciate the spirit of Christmas. I hope this surgery goes well because that sciatic nerve … it’s been my Achilles heel.”
Following his surgery, Foley knows there are some lifestyle changes looming.
“Vader has sold me on an inversion table that’s made for big guys,” Foley said. “Let me put it this way: you know the stories of my thrift, the legendary stories of my thrift. If I’m spending close to $800 on an inversion table, you know I’m in pain. Hopefully this surgery goes well. Then following that, I’ve got to drop a lot of weight. And I’ve got to get out there and do the zero impact exercises like DDP Yoga, to get me back on track. But I don’t care if I’m in a wheelchair, I’ll be on stage in Cornwall and Ottawa.”
All of the dates on Foley’s tour were handpicked by the man himself as all hold significance in his career. Foley has not been to Cornwall since the ’90s.
“This will be my first return to Cornwall since ’97,” he revealed, adding “when I quit WWE over the Montreal Screwjob with Bret Hart. There was a Monday Night Raw that I missed following that pay-per-view out of protest. Then when my wife read my contract to me over the phone and I realized I’d just breached my contract and couldn’t work anywhere in the world for five years, I did return in Cornwall. I try to take every city where I’ve had history and incorporate it into the show.”
Asked about his legacy, Mick Foley could have answered in any number of ways.
His legacy is one that will live on in history.
He was a pioneer of many things. He was an entertainer extraordinaire. He was someone with whom almost anyone could relate. He was willing, quite literally, to put his body on the line in the name of entertainment. He was a first-rate talent, an even better writer and an even better person.
Ask him about his legacy, however, and he makes it about others, in true Foley fashion.
“I honestly want to be known as a guy who treated everyone well and a guy whose word meant something. When I hear back from a guy like Drew McIntyre, who is so thankful for the kind words about him, I feel like that’s part of my legacy. Finding out that an article I wrote about Natalya and Ric Flair’s daughter Charlotte can mean so much to them. It means that along the way, credibility and honesty hopefully are part of the Foley legacy.”
Mick Foley 2014 World Tour
Where: Cornwall, Ramada Inn, Brookdale Avenue in Cornwall on Oct. 22, at 9:30 p.m. and at Yuk Yuks on Elgin in Ottawa, Oct. 23 at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: Cost is $30 each. For Cornwall show, available at a Floral Expressions and ticketscene.ca or at the door. For Ottawa, go to https://www.yukyuks.com/index.cfm?action=club.showDetails&venueID=517&eventDate=2014-10-23%2000:00:00.0 or purchase at the door.
Meet and greet: Meet the man himself, get a photograph and an autograph after the show at no extra cost.