In June of 1983, a young college student with a passion, hitchhiked his way to Madison Square Garden so he could attend his first wrestling show. Main eventing that evening was Jimmy “The Superfly” Snuka and Don Morocco inside a steel cage.
To conclude the match, Snuka climbed up the cage, posed atop and then jumped off for his legendary Superfly Splash onto Morocco for the win. Seeing this live, the spectacle, the pageantry, the story it molded, solidified this kid’s dream of becoming a professional wrestler one day. This is when he realized with the amateur wrestling experience he had obtained throughout high school, that he, like Snuka and Morocco, could do it.
This kid’s name was Mick Foley.
Just weeks later, Foley would tape his first of two homemade wrestling movies, in which he created the Dude Love character to counteract the problems he previously had with girls. Dude Love, unlike him in real life, always had the right answer.
To end the first movie, Foley climbed his friend’s house, posed atop and then jumped off for the Superfly Splash onto a mattress below. This was actually the second time he attempted the dive, as the first wasn’t recorded on tape.
This was the beginning of Foley’s legendary tolerance and perhaps even romance with pain, pain he suffered much of when he joined Danny Denuccci’s wrestling school in New York.
While in this wrestling school, Foley kept his promise to his father that he would stay in college and get his degree, just in case his wrestling career didn’t go as planned. Foley would drive five hours from the wrestling school to college (from Freedom, Pennsylvania to Cortland, New York), then sleep in his car until classes began. It wasn’t an easy life, but it was a life Mick Foley wouldn’t have traded for the world, given the opportunities it set up for him later in life.
Foley would get on WWE TV as an enhancement talent under the name Jack Foley, thanks to Denucci. He would face the British Bulldogs in a tag team match, when he was given such a stiff clothesline that he couldn’t eat solid food for a week.
Denucci knew Foley was bad, but he also knew how bad he wanted it. So he tirelessly worked with Foley to hone his skills and even offered to let him stay at his house until he was finally ready for the independent scene.
Foley would suffer through a year-and-a-half of high school gyms filled with 100 people and small paychecks. During this time, he realized he needed a bit more of an ominous character; hence Cactus Jack was born.
Foley got the name from kids calling his dad Cactus Jack. His dad—the athletic director of his school—would stand against the wall with his arms at his side at the school’s basketball games, resembling a cactus.
This gimmick finally got him noticed. Foley would soon sign on the dotted line for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), to take a big step in accomplishing his life’s goal.
In WCW, Foley would engage in feuds with big names, notably the likes of Sting and Vader. Against the then-WCW Champion Sting (though the title wasn’t on the line), Foley was the heel and wrestled what he considers one of the best matches of his career at Beach Blast 1992.
Against Vader, Foley would work as more of a sympathetic face. He would wrestle Vader at Halloween Havoc in a Texas Death match, in likely what was the most hardcore match in Foley’s career to that point. Foley would lose, and the match was so violent that WCW wouldn’t book them on pay-per-view again, but it was a match that showcased Foley’s potential in the wrestling business.
To no one’s surprise, however, that potential wouldn’t be seen in WCW. Despite choosing to team with Kevin Sullivan on pay-per-view over getting his ear reattached, WCW was reluctant to push Foley consistently, which pushed Foley out the door. He knew that if he wanted to become a legend, he wouldn’t do it in a company notorious for giving young talent very few chances.
Instead, he jumped to the land of extreme: Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Foley would use ECW as a medium to get back at WCW, as well as hone his mic skills and show off the extreme punishment that he was willing to take.
He would be a mainstay in ECW’s tag team division, as well as feuding with Sabu, Tommy Dreamer and Shane Douglas.
His final match in ECW was against Douglas. Douglas would lock in the figure-four leglock to end the match, cuing “Please Don’t Go” chants from the ECW fans.
Foley would go from ECW to WWE.
He met with Vince McMahon about a new character, since Vince wasn’t keen on Cactus Jack at the time, and Vince came up with the ring name “Mason the Mutilator.”
Foley, lying, said he liked the named but suggested “Mankind the Mutilator” instead, which Vince liked even better. By the time Foley debuted, his ring name had been shortened to Mankind.
Mankind was a tortured, mentally deranged soul, in contrast to the two other alter egos he’d take on during his career, Dude Love and Cactus Jack.
Mankind birthed Mr. Socko in a hospital segment with Mr. McMahon, though it was meant to be a one-time thing originally. He competed in the infamous Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker, where Foley fell both off and through the cell, believing many to believe he was dead both times. And he also won his first WWE Championship with this character, by pinning The Rock on an unforgettable episode of WWE Raw.
Dude Love was most like Foley in real life. He was a fun-loving hippie, and most notably both teamed and feuded with Steve Austin during this time.
Cactus Jack was famous for his fondness to hardcore matches and would sacrifice his body like no one else. Under this character, Foley would compete at No Way Out inside the Hell in a Cell in 2000 against Triple H. Foley would fall through the cell one last time, and cap off the Three Faces of Foley phase of his career.
From 2000 to 2008, Foley would sporadically compete under his real name, like against Edge at WrestleMania 22 that helped boost Edge into superstardom and against Ric Flair in an I Quit match at SummerSlam where Foley portrayed as the heel.
Foley never had the best body, nor was he the most athletically gifted guy on the roster, but he more than made up for it with the ability to play any character he was given, ability to tell a story, his passion and his grit.
He was willing to sacrifice his body for the love of the sport and the love of the fans, despite how it may hinder his health. He showed that everybody can accomplish anything they want if they set their mind to it. He proved that anything is possible.
For that, I say thank you to Mick Foley. Thank you for entertaining us, the professional wrestling fans, over many years. Thank you for creating moments that many will remember until the day they die.
Thank you, Mick Foley, and congratulations on the much deserved induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.