To try to describe Mick Foley in one word is impossible.
He is more than a wrestler. He is an author, a comedian, a Hall of Famer and a humanitarian. He is among the most complete performers to ever step inside the squared circle, and every fan who has ever watched him perform, be it in a wrestling ring or on stage or in the pages of a New York Times bestseller, is better for it.
As popular as he is, it is oftentimes easy to forget how improbable his rise to pro wrestling stardom actually was.
After being absolutely mesmerized by the classic "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka vs. Don Muraco steel cage match on October 17, 1983 in New York's Madison Square Garden, Foley began training for an in-ring career of his own. He learned the lessons of the squared circle under the tutelage of Dominic DeNucci and alongside future WWE, WCW and ECW star Shane Douglas.
Upon completion of his training, Foley would compete in promotions all over the country as Cactus Jack. He did not have the look of a star in the wrestling landscape at that time, but he had passion for the business and improved with every passing performance.
He did some enhancement matches for the then-World Wrestling Federation, most notably against the British Bulldogs. He appeared in the UWF and CWA, the latter being the first promotion he won championship gold in (CWA Tag Team Championships with partner Gary Young).
A stint in World Class Championship Wrestling, as a member of the legendary manager Skandor Akbar's stable, would result in the first major recognition he would receive in his young career. Even though business was not what it had been at the height of the Von Erichs-Freebirds rivalry, it was still one of the few respected territories remaining.
Foley's first national exposure came on February 6, 1990 when he competed against Mil Mascaras at WCW's Clash of the Champions: Texas Shootout event. The match was not one of Foley's finer performance, and the clashing of styles between he and the legendary Mexican competitor really hurt the bout.
It would be another year before he was invited back to the promotion, but when he returned, he would make the best of the opportunity as a much better, more polished star than he had been previously.
In September of 1991, he debuted by attacking Sting, arguably the top star in WCW at that point, and ignited a rivalry that would culminate in a legitimate five-star classic at the June 1992 Beach Blast pay-per-view.
Foley, still using the Cactus Jack persona, battled the Stinger in an outstanding Falls Count Anywhere match. As would be the case throughout his legendary career, Foley lost the match but stole the show.
His next major rivalry came against the mammoth WCW champion Big Van Vader. A beast of a man, Vader was a massive competitor who combined size, speed and power into a rare package. He was a brute who was as hard a hitter as there was in wrestling.
By this point, Foley had begun building a reputation as a performer willing to risk his well-being for the sake of entertainment. His crazy bumps during the aforementioned match against Sting, though tame when compared to what he would do later in his career, were unheard of.
He would build on that reputation as he took insane bumps in matches against Vader. Over the course of the rivalry, he suffered concussions, the loss of feeling in his leg and most famously, a lost ear.
The feud reached its greatest heights when Cactus Jack challenged Vader for the WCW Championship in a Texas Death Match at the 1993 Halloween Havoc pay-per-view.
Vader retained his title but, again, Cactus was the center of the discussion the following day.
1994 would see Foley team with both Maxx Payne and Kevin Sullivan in hard-hitting battles against the Nasty Boys over the WCW Tag Titles. At Slamboree in May, Foley and Sullivan captured the titles in a Broad Street Bully match to the delight of the hardcore Philadelphia crowd.
By 1995, Foley would find himself out of the Ted Turner-owned company following a controversial interview he delivered during a spot appearance in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Having just wrestled and lost against their top star Sabu, Foley said that losing his pride in the match meant more than any championship belt. He spit on his WCW tag title and tossed it to the ground, drawing the ire of some powerful people in WCW, most notably Ric Flair.
After departing the national company, Foley popped up in ECW and in Japan. In both places, he continued to demonstrate the skills and traits that would ultimately lead to him signing with Vince McMahon and WWE.
His promo work in ECW, to be specific, was among the best by anyone, anywhere in wrestling history. The anti-hardcore promos in which Foley criticized the blood-thirsty ECW fans were revolutionary and, some 18 years later, are still held up as some of the finest stick work of all-time.
One night after WrestleMania XII in 1996, Foley debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment as the deranged, psychotic Mankind.
After weeks of detailing a horrific childhood in vignettes hyping his impending arrival, Mankind attacked The Undertaker and set in motion events that would lead to one of the most heated rivalries of all-time.
The petrifying Superstars would clash in memorable bouts throughout '96, including the show-stealing Boiler Room Brawl from SummerSlam that, in this writer's humble opinion, remains their finest match.
A Buried Alive match in October at In Your House: Buried Alive should have brought the rivalry to a close for the time being, but they clashed again a month later at Survivor Series.
In September of '96, Mankind would take a break from his rivalry with the Undertaker to challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWE title at In Your House: Mind Games. The match would be, in this writer's opinion, the finest of Foley's career.
It featured the deranged Mankind bringing out an edgier, more aggressive and intense side of his opponent that fans had not seen from the Heartbreak Kid. It also solidified Mankind as a main event talent and proved that Foley could hang with the best in-ring workers in the business and was more than just a "garbage" wrestler.
The summer of 1997 would be a career-altering time for Mick Foley.
A series of raw, emotional interviews that Jim Ross conducted with Mankind delved deeper into the character's psyche and earned him sympathy from the WWE audience. Even though he may have snapped and applied the Mandible Claw to Ross to close out the interview, fans were ready to support Mankind.
His first major angle post-turn saw him fall just short of defeating Hunter Hearst Helmsley and winning the King of the Ring tournament. From there, he and Triple H would engage in a rivalry that became one of the hottest of that summer. Considering that everything else going on at the time between the Hart Foundation, Steve Austin and Undertaker, that is saying something.
Their chaotic match at Canadian Stampede ended in a no contest and set up a steel cage match at August's SummerSlam.
In an absolutely fantastic opener, Foley channeled his hero Jimmy Snuka and dove off of the cage onto Helmsley. He would win the match, but an interesting development occurred during it as he ripped open his Mankind garb and revealed a tie-dyed Dude Love shirt.
Dude Love was the second of three Foley personas that WWE fans would be treated to. A less-serious, fun-loving character, Love was the complete opposite of Mankind. In the summer of '97, the hipster teamed with Steve Austin to defeat Owen Hart and the British Bulldog for the tag team titles. Unfortunately, an ill-timed injury to Austin would result in the duo vacating the titles.
In September, at the historic Madison Square Garden, Foley dusted off an old friend and introduced him to a brand new audience. As Cactus Jack, he entered the most famous arena in the world and did battle with Triple H in a Falls Count Anywhere match. A piledriver through a table gave Jack the win and one of Foley's signature WWE victories.
Despite a hot rivalry with Triple H and a string of outstanding performances, Foley was left with little to do as '97 came to a close.
Enter the New Age Outlaws.
"Bad Ass" Billy Gunn and "Road Dogg" Jesse James tormented Foley and left him lying on a number of occasions. Regardless of whether it was Mankind or Dude Love, the brash new tag team appeared to have Foley's number.
That all changed when Foley reintroduced Cactus Jack and brought in old friend Terry Funk as Chainsaw Charlie. The two chaotic Superstars took the fight to the WWE Tag Team Champions and, at WrestleMania XIV, seemingly defeated them in a Dumpster Match to capture the titles. Controversy surrounding the dumpster used, however, resulted in a steel cage rematch won by the Outlaws the following night on Raw.
After suffering a beatdown at the hands of D-Generation X, Foley spoke out about the fans chanting "Austin" while he and Funk were being brutally assaulted inside the cage. He walked away from the sport, only to return a few weeks later as Dude Love. He would attack Austin, setting up two pay-per-view main events against the Texas Rattlesnake, both of which he lost.
June saw the reemergence of Foley's rivalry with The Undertaker and, back under the Mankind mask, he did battle with the Dead Man inside Hell in a Cell. The match has become the thing of legend as Mankind was thrown from the top of the cell, through an announce table but refused to quit. Despite injury, he climbed back up the cell and, for his bravery and intestinal fortitude, was rewarded with a chokeslam through the cell.
Thumbtacks and blood abounded throughout the rest of the match, which was won by the Phenom but became legendary for Foley's devotion to entertaining the audience. Many consider it the greatest performance of the 2013 Hall of Famer's career (this writer does not, however) and one of the most iconic bouts of the Attitude Era.
In the fall of '98, Mankind would become the sympathetic puppet of the Vince McMahon's Corporation. He would fight battles for McMahon but never saw his love and admiration for the boss returned, despite visiting the chairman in the hospital and entertaining him with Yurple the Clown and the legendary Mr. Socko.
Foley would be an integral part of The Rock's success during his first WWE Championship reign.
Mankind had been screwed over by McMahon in favor of the self-proclaimed "People's Champion," and the master of the Mandible Claw did everything in his power to gain revenge on his former associates and capture the WWE title that had eluded him.
He did just that on the historical January 4 episode of Raw. Despite being a taped show, fans switched in drones from WCW's live Monday Nitro to WWE's program when WCW broadcaster Tony Schiavone revealed that Mankind would capture the WWE's most prestigious prize.
In one of the truly great moments of the Attitude Era, Mankind capitalized on interference from Steve Austin and a massive brawl between DX and the Corporation at ringside to capture the WWE Championship. It was the culmination of over a decade of hard work, blood, sweat and gym socks.
The reign would be short-lived as he and Rock would trade the title back and forth in violent gimmick matches, including the "I Quit" match that was immortalized in the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat.
Mankind and The Rock would be forever linked in 1999.
Despite their vicious, violent matches that saw them tear each other apart on more than one occasion, they formed a reluctant partnership (at least on The Rock's part) in the fall and delivered some of the most hilarious, entertaining programming in WWE's long and celebrated history.
The "This Is Your Life" segment from the September 27 episode of Raw stands as the highest-rated segment of any show WWE has produced.
The chemistry between the two former WWE champions was outstanding. Mankind tried so hard to be Rock's friend, and the selfish Great One wanted nothing to do with the disheveled, masked freak. Eventually, however, he accepted Mankind as his partner and the pairing would go on to capture three WWE Tag Team Championships.
As 1999 wore down, it became clear that Mick Foley's in-ring career may be coming to an end. Despite thoroughly entertaining fans as a member of teams with The Rock and Al Snow, his body had taken tremendous wear and tear, and his in-ring work was not as sharp as it had once been.
Late in the year, he became involved in an angle with Triple H and the McMahon-Helmsley Regime that would be his last as an in-ring competitor for the better part of four years.
The two Superstars had two five-star classics to start 2000. The first came in what was a star-making performance for Triple H at the Royal Rumble. That match, a street fight, both told an outstanding story and incorporated the violence one would expect from a bout of that type.
The rematch, a month later at No Way Out, was held inside Hell in a Cell. Much was made of Foley's history in the match, but in the end, the match proved to be completely different from the Undertaker match and really capped off Foley's career in a fitting way.
Despite being billed as a retirement match, Foley's loss did not result in his disappearance from WWE programming. He would compete in the main event of WrestleMania 2000 before returning months later as the new commissioner of WWE.
In 2004, Foley would return to the ring for the first time to payoff a feud with young breakout star Randy Orton that had been brewing since the prior June.
At WrestleMania 20, he teamed with the returning Rock to take on Orton, Batista and Ric Flair in a two-on-three handicap match. Foley would fall victim to the RKO and cost his team the win. The match, though great, was merely to set the table for the real blowoff to the Orton rivalry.
Backlash in Edmonton, Alberta would be the setting for the match that would catapult Orton to stardom and reestablish Foley as not only the hardcore legend but also one of the most giving performers of his generation. He went out of his way to put Orton over and make him a legitimate star.
It worked. Four months later, Orton would become the youngest world heavyweight champion ever, defeating Chris Benoit in the main event of SummerSlam. Nine years later, the third-generation Superstar is still one of the top stars in the industry.
In the years that followed, Foley would occasionally return to the ring.
He achieved his WrestleMania moment in another star-making match against Edge in 2006 and would see his real life rivalry with Ric Flair bleed over onto the screen. They would meet in a bloody, barbaric "I Quit" match at SummerSlam that same year in another phenomenal performance from Foley.
In 2008, Foley would debut with TNA Wrestling and would become its heavyweight champion at the April 2009 Lockdown pay-per-view, defeating Sting in the steel cage main event.
By the end of that run, however, it was clear that Foley's body could no longer withstand the abuse that would come with regular in-ring competition. Since leaving the Dixie Carter-owned promotion, he has made only rare appearances in non-wrestling roles for WWE and independent companies across the country.
Outside of the squared circle, Foley has achieved great success as a New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian. In 2013, he wrote a brand new comic book that will be available beginning in December.
Also in 2013, he earned the highest honor a sports-entertainer can when he was enshrined in WWE's Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, he gave the show-stealing speech, which included him finally defeating Chris Jericho.
There are a lot of Superstars who deserve significant credit for the success of the Attitude Era. The Rock and Steve Austin were the top stars in the World Wrestling Entertainment during the most successful period in the history of the sport. They are remembered as such and celebrated for what they achieved.
And deservedly so.
If there is one Superstar who is the epitome of the Attitude Era, one Superstar who embodied what the Attitude Era was about, it is Foley.
He was the perfect combination of hard-hitting action, bloody violence and sophomoric humor that kept fans entertained and watching during that period of time. Had he reverted back to the Cactus Jack singlet that he sported earlier in the career, he probably could have added sex appeal to that list, too.
For someone, maybe.
That got ugly quick.
All kidding aside, Mick Foley was (and still is) a once-in-a-lifetime performer who gave everything he had for the entertainment of the fans who paid to see him perform. He was smart, funny, a good worker and from all accounts, a better man.
There could be 500 years of wrestling to come, and there may very well never be another performer that encapsulates so much into one lovable package as Foley did.
He may not be God, as so many signs proclaimed him to be late in his career, but he most certainly is good.
Very good, as is the wrestling business for having had him as a part of it.
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