Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #14 – Mick Foley

At first, much like my piece on Hulk Hogan, I thought that Mick Foley was ranked too low. But as I looked at who ranked higher than him, my opinion changed. I think he’s ranked perfectly.

There’s no mystery to Foley’s career and what he thinks about it. He’s written four biographies and we know every bit about what he considers his best work, his worst work, and everything in between. I think that’s both good and bad for lists like this. Foley is such a great self marketer that he’s cemented his name in the wrestling history books. But we’ve also never really had a chance to miss him. And like Hogan, the last several years of his career probably hurt him more than help him. I wonder if when Foley left originally in 2000, would he be better remembered, or more forgotten?

All that being said, he’s one of my all-time favorite wrestlers. I feel like I know who Mick Foley is more so than any other wrestling superstar I’ve followed. While I remember him being in World Class, my first memory of Mick was as Cactus Jack on an episode of Class Of The Champions. He was wrestling Mil Mascaras and was drop kicked off the ring apron and fell back first on the outside. Jim Cornette screamed that Cactus Jack was dead. I thought it was the oddest thing I’d ever seen. How’d he fake that? Well, he didn’t really, but thanks to his body, which worked for him like shocks on a car, he made a living out of taking bumps like that.

Foley was put into a feud with Sting and I thought it was a little early for him to be in the feud because he wasn’t as over yet as he could’ve. But going toe-to-toe with the guy WCW was banking on as being their top guy did good for him. He had some really good matches with Sting including a non-title match loss at Beach Blast in 1992. It wasn’t exactly the main event as WCW pushed Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude’s Iron Man Match and the Steiner Brothers’ match against Terry Gordy and Steve Williams higher even though Sting was WCW Champion. That lead into some really violent matches with Big Van Vader who seemed to like taking liberties with many guys, but Foley was perfect for him because he could hit him so hard and because Foley was really a big guy, the shots looked even more impressive. While the matches were insane, they probably did more harm than good for Foley because he was concussed in one match and then lost his ear in another, which is the story that opened his book, Have A Nice Day. On a WCW European tour, Foley went to do a hangman spot, but the ropes were too tight and when he tried to get out of the spot, a large part of his ear was cut off. His WCW run was memorable, but more so because of how he felt about it, which we learned in Have A Nice Day. Foley didn’t like how he was booked, and thought the backstage politics held him back.

I didn’t follow Foley’s small run in ECW, but I know he feels it was very helpful and allowed him to hone his character. He also wrestled in Japan, doing crazy matches with Terry Funk that were well documented in his book. But his run with WWF is what he’ll be mostly remembered for.

He was brought into WWE as Mankind and was immediately thrust into a feud with the Undertaker. He also had a title match with Shawn Michaels, which he used to call the best match he’s ever had. I wonder how many people say that after wrestling Michaels? In 1998, he entered into the Vince McMahon vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin feud as Austin’s first contender after beating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV for the WWE championship. They had two good matches on PPV and soon thereafter, Foley faced the Undertaker in his most famous match, at the King of the Ring in a Hell in a Cell. The match started on top of the cage and Foley was tossed onto the announcer’s table which is probably the most played wrestling clip in the last 15 years. During the match, the top of the cage also broke and Foley free-fell into the ring with the chair he was holding hitting him right in the face. It was another insane match and will probably live forever based on the amount of times it’s been replayed.

Foley was also Rock’s first feud when he won the championship. Late in 1998, after getting screwed out of the title by Vince McMahon in a Montreal copycat angle at Survivor Series, Foley beat Rock for the title in a match that’s famous because WCW gave the finish away to viewers of Nitro. WCW announcer Tony Schiavone told viewers of Nitro that Foley was going to win the title since the match was taped. WWF won the ratings war that night, and some of that might be because of Schiavone’s statement as ratings patterns showed that Nitro viewers switched over to Raw to watch Mankind with his first championship. At Royal Rumble 1999, they had a brutal match. So brutal, that I find it harder watching that match than the Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker. Rock hits Foley in the head with chair shot after chair shot. It was hard watching with 1999 eyes. It’s nearly impossible watching with 2012 eyes. During the match, Rock won back his championship. Mankind won the title back at Halftime Heat, which was a match taped to be broadcasted at the halftime of the Super Bowl. He lost it back on Raw soon thereafter.

Foley won the title again at SummerSlam in a Triple Threat Match against Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H. He dropped the title to Triple H the next night. After being Austin’s first feud and Rock’s first feud, of course, Foley was Triple H’s first feud after winning the championship for the first time. Foley came back as Cactus Jack and had a fantastic match with Triple H at Royal Rumble 2000. He faced Triple H again in a Hell in a Cell, with stipulations that if he didn’t win the title, he’d have to retire. He lost another really good match and had to retire, only to come out of retirement at WrestleMania to be in the Fatal Four-way main event.

Foley really did retire this time for four years. But he was still around, doing special guest referee assignments and the commissioner gimmick. Late in 2003, he was jumped by Evolution, the new group featuring Randy Orton, Triple H, Batista, and Ric Flair, setting up a tremendous angle. Foley took a different tact to the match, showing cowardice and leaving before coming back and facing Orton. He and Rock lost a handicapped match to Batista, Orton, and Flair at WrestleMania XX. But that only set up Foley’s greatest match against Randy Orton at Backlash in a No-Holds Barred match. I recently re-watched this and it has held up tremendously. Orton even took a bump on the tacks. It was sort of a redemption of sorts for Foley. He showed that when he wanted to, he still had it. He had one more really good match with Edge at WrestleMania 22 with a great finish. Foley set fire to a table, but ended up taking a spear from Edge onto the flaming table for the pinfall loss. He had a series of matches with Ric Flair later in 2006, but the promos were better than the matches. Foley has wrestled here and there over the last several years, including one match with Ric Flair that was pretty decent in TNA.

Because of his writing, his career is better documented than any other wrestler ever. I think he leaves two legacies. He’s been the dance partner of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H all right when they became champion. He helped them legitimize their characters. He also helped Randy Orton become an attraction and it’s no surprise that after his match with Foley, they decided to work towards putting the belt on him. The second legacy is in his writing. All four of his autobiographies were good, though the first one outranks them all by far. He also published two novels that were good, even if they didn’t sell like hotcakes. But without Foley’s first book, we probably wouldn’t have seen books from Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, and William Regal. We all know our favorite wrestlers a little more thanks Foley.

Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Mick Foley vs. Randy Orton at Backlash 2004

Bang! Bang!

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