Interview With Mick Foley
Recently I had the pleasure of having a brief chat with Mick Foley, a man who is held in high regard among wrestling fans worldwide. Foley achieved his greatest success in the ring for World Wrestling Entertainment as “Mankind” where he would hold their World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions and was one of the top draws during the “Monday Night Wars”. This was a period in which the wrestling business was booming and routinely generated television ratings that were the envy of other cable programming. Although this was the period of his greatest television exposure, Mick Foley was a star to many wrestling fans long before that.
Like many other wrestling fans, I was first aware of Foley during his first run in WCW, where he portrayed “Cactus Jack”. As a fan of Cactus Jack, a picture of him from the inserts of a wrestling magazine that I believe has long since been out of print made it to the centerpiece of my bedroom wall of wrestlers that I had as a teenager. In this photo, Foley’s face is completely covered in his own blood, his tongue sticking out in between his two missing front teeth yet flashing a smile that appeared both deranged and mischievous. He looked like a man who had just been in a war; and loved every minute of it. It was a powerful image, and one I remember vividly to this day.
Fast forward twenty two years later and that picture seems so unlike the Mick Foley who I had the chance to speak with. Granted, in that time frame he has created many unique moments in the ring that are too numerous to mention, and his status as the “Hardcore Legend” of Wrestling is not just a marketing line, and is a fact. Although this is what it made him famous, it is far from what defines him. He is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author who unlike other celebrities wrote his books without the aid of a ghost writer. Not only has he written four memoirs, he has penned two works of fiction as well as three Children’s books. He has acted, performed standup comedy, has engaged in political debates, and has become a fundraiser for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) where his efforts have generated over $100,000 for the organization.
He is not featured negatively on internet tabloids nor has he a mug shot on The Smoking Gun. He could appear on a mainstream talk show and entertain without discussing one in ring anecdote. For a man who spent so much of his career portraying the “bad guy” in the ring, he has easily become one of wrestling’s greatest ambassadors outside of it.
Recently Edge retired and on Smackdown as he was giving his farewell speech, for the first time that I can think of the crowd spontaneously chanted “Hall of Fame” in relation to a performer who was not yet inducted. To me this reflects that the WWE Hall of Fame, which as an institution is interesting in that you don’t really know who is going to get in, or exactly what criteria they use, is gaining serious credibility within wrestling fans. When watching yours and Michael Cole’s commentary for Showdown at Shea (note, this was the 1980 Shea Stadium Card in which Mick Foley & Michael Cole did the commentary for which was aired on WWE On Demand)…
“We had to talk a lot, there was a lot of blank space to fill. There was a guy wandering around with no shirt at ringside. Bizarre. What did I say to Cole?”
During Baron Mikel Scicluna’s match, either you or Michael Cole made a joke about him being a Hall of Famer; I believe the same with Johnny Rodz. Though that was likely tongue in cheek, at the same you have these two in the Hall of Fame with Bruno Sammartino not. Granted, we know why that is with Bruno, but once your career winds up in TNA you would have to be considered a lock by many wrestling fans to enter the WWE Hall of Fame, should you wish to go in. What then is your take on the WWE Hall of Fame as an institution? Do you view it as a marketing thing, or do you view it as legitimate? Again, as I watched that thing with Edge, it really struck me that there was an audience who really believe in this Hall.
“Yeah, I think it’s all of the above. It is a legitimate Hall of Fame, for a lot of guys it is the Hall of Fame. It is a marketing tool, and it is one man’s creation and in some cases one man’s decision, but there are certain guys like Edge, like Shawn Michaels, like the majority who consider the Hall of Fame to be the final exclamation point on their career. I remember in ’96, I was the one guy not invited to the Hall of Fame dinner as they wanted to protect my character at the time. In 2003, there was talk of inducting me in the Hall of Fame in the middle of the ring at Madison Square Garden, because the event hadn’t become bigger than the Hall itself. There is no actual physical hall. It was only after that in 2004 they started filming it and to their credit it has become one of the biggest events of the year and certainly is an honor that most people feel is legitimate and would appreciate to be in”
Well, when we say most people would we include Mick Foley in that?
“Would I say that? Yeah. It’s funny. I used to go back and forth because deep down everyone needs that healing moment with Vince whether they realize it or not. Everybody wants to have closure with Vince. I would say to people when I asked “I don’t know, maybe for my kids, maybe if I got to go first or last” but the game changer for me was when they mentioned my book (Countdown to Lockdown) on the air in October. I thought that showed a great deal of respect. It was a nice gesture and much appreciated. At that point I made the mental decision that if I was ever asked I would go in.”
That’s interesting. You are the only TNA personality that I can think of unless I am missing something completely that has ever received an occasional mention on regular WWE programming.
“I think you’re right that was the first time. And just a few days ago the WWE gave a very generous donation to my fundraiser, and TNA has given the same one. The two of them together has suddenly made the whole effort bigger than I thought it could. It has certainly created a very interesting story.”
What are your thoughts on the current in ring product. Currently, the WWE has a PG rating. In this post Attitude Era world, wrestling has always been cyclical. At some point, the WWE is likely to revert back to more adult programming and feature more intense matches again. With that said, there has been such an attention on concussions; certainly Sidney Crosby is the poster boy for that in the NHL. Someone you know well, Chris Nowinski is working on that issue as well. Do you feel that when the WWE returns to non PG, and chances are they will, do you think we would ever see anyone doing what Mick Foley once did, or is that day done?
“You know a lot of what I did was just high impact, not high risk. A lot of things I did have caught up with me over time, headshots notwithstanding. There is no way that people should take an unprotected chair shot. Honestly there is room in a match for a guy to get a hit and get his hands up and he should be fine. It’s just not good, and I think that the WWE has shown that you don’t need those chair shots. It was overused, it was an easy pop, guaranteed reaction and they have showed that when you use it sparingly as in The Undertaker-Triple H match at Wrestlemania that a chair really means something. I don’t think you will see guys do stuff that is quite as wild, but I always felt that with head injuries, repetitive trauma of moves in the ring, and not necessarily moves outside the ring were more to blame. “
Okay. Shifting gears, as someone who has read your books…
They were good. I enjoyed them a lot. Though you are someone who still seems so passionate about the business after 20-25 years, you have always seemed to have a backup plan. What struck me on a personal level was a passage you had in your first book (Have A Nice Day) where you mentioned that when you started to make more money in the business that you wondered how you would spend it, only you decided not to spend any of it.
That always stuck with me. I think I can argue that you had a template that for outside the ring that other wrestlers should follow. Did you ever see yourself as someone who wanted to mentor those younger; I mean you have watched others piss their money away never thinking of a rainy day, where you seem very conscious of that.
“I thought that the rainy day could come at any moment. I never knew how long the run was going to last, and I was lucky that I had some mentors in the business that instructed me the right way, and from some who had lost it all from their own experience. I certainly wanted to have something to show for it. I hoped I made an example for some of the younger guys. My last statement in the WWE to the other guys was that I asked to think about funding their retirement. I don’t know if anyone took me up on it, but hopefully I helped them to make the most informed decision that they could, and I think that my own experiences could help them with that.”
It reminds me of another quote from Lanny Poffo who said that every day he would take an eyedropper and fill that and drop it into a bucket. Eventually that bucket would be full. He used this as a metaphor for how he saved money.
*Laughs* Yeah you are right, the Poffos, oh man, I remember when somebody suggested that I may be the cheapest man in the business, this would have been in 1988, and Frank Dusek said “Brother, you are not even in the league of the Poffos or Rip Rogers. I can honestly say that I never even approached the lengths that they would do to save money.
In terms of the charity that you are associated with now (RAINN which stands for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), and from all the research I have done on it, it seems like a fabulous organization. Interestingly enough, after I secured this interview I made mention of this to my parents, who although they were never fans of wrestling remember you peripherally from television. As I described the charity to them, they said to me “Really, that’s the spokesman for it?” Indirectly, it would seem that through acts like this that you do more good for the Professional Wrestling. Are you conscious of that?”
“Well I hope that what I do reflects well on wrestling. In this case, I never asked to be a spokesman. I started as a volunteer, and I knew I really couldn’t appreciate fully the organization until I went through what the volunteers went through. It was only in this past month that they inquired as to whether I would be willing to do a fundraiser. I am not good at asking people for money; I am much more comfortable donating myself. However, this thing had kind of taken on a life of its own in that it is touching people that never thought that men would be involved. They see a very unlikely person kind of stepping up and shining a light on a subject that is usually hidden in the corner and it makes them feel good.”