#WWF218 – Three Faces Of Foley
James Dixon: Around 1998 the WWF was starting to bring back superstar profile tapes, after a dearth of such releases in the mid-90s. Other than the Kliq guys (or people getting nailed by them. Well, person), no-one else was afforded the treatment of their own VHS. It is a shame, because an “Ahmed Johnson: Pearl River Powerhouse” or “Duke Droese: Taking Out The Trash” tape would have surely sold in the… dozens. If they can make a hillbillies tape, then anyone can be justified as warranting their own self-indulgent 56-minutes of celluloid fame. Steve Austin can be semi-credited for forcing the WWF’s hand on this issue, and reminding the company that they are a marketing machine that should be capitalising on popularity, no matter how fleeting. Austin subsequently ended up with about a dozen tapes dedicated to him and others popped up here and there too. When Mick Foley’s popularity skyrocketed with no less than three different gimmicks, he was chosen for a profile vid too. He is a fine choice, because as anyone who has read any of his books will be well aware, he is a very affable man with a great story to tell.
Foley presents alongside the Hardy Boyz, who he included in this video because he wanted to give them a form of timeless rub back when they were still on the very bottom rung of the company ladder. Foley is almost too nice for the wrestling business sometimes. A lot of guys owe him a great deal for making or at least helping to make their careers and I hope he gets the credit he deserves from them. Speaking of credit, Foley puts over Jim Ross bringing him over from “some small company down South” (WCW) and for the series of genuinely incredible sit-down interviews the two did together in 1997 with Foley under the Mankind guise, that added numerous layers to the otherwise simply deranged and unrelateable character, which instantly got him over. The WWF did a number of these around the time, with Goldust getting similar treatment. It was all part of the continued shift towards the WWF becoming a much less cartoony place in 1997, as real life personas began to shine through.
Logically (you can tell this is now WWF Home Video and no longer Coliseum Video) we see highlights of those interviews, with Mankind discussing (in character) the rush he got when he first saw his own blood. He realised right away that he wanted to bleed for a living and be a wrestler, and we see some highlights (which have since been replayed over and over) of Foley backyard wrestling in his garden. He goes on to talk about how bullies threw worms at him to hurt his pride, so he responded by eating the biggest of the worms, which affected his social life significantly. While all of this is real-life Mick Foley stuff, the way he weaves it into the Mankind character as motivation and justification for his actions is really quite incredible. Hold this up next to any of the fully-scripted tongue-in-cheek promos from the modern day WWE and the difference is staggering. The Miz spouting cringe-worthy catchphrases or Sheamus making jokes, “fella”, this ain’t. Prior to showing the footage of these interviews, Foley said that when they stopped to take a break during filming these segments, Vince McMahon was blown away by how captivating it all was. He didn’t realise how good a promo guy Foley could be. He had been told by the likes of Jim Cornette and Jim Ross already of course, but Vince has to see things and “discover” them for himself. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at the next creative meeting he asked them all: “Why didn’t you guys tell me he could talk like this!?” as collective internal sighs made their way around the room. Speculation of course, but with a solid basis.
Digressions aside, we move onto Foley’s favourite piece of WWF footage from when he was a child, as Jimmy Snuka does his dive off the cage onto Don Muraco in a cage match at MSG. The splash and the match were famous anyway, but made even more so by Foley’s love of it. It is one of the key elements to the Mick Foley story and the catalyst for a lot of what is to come. As I said in Volume #I when I first covered the match: it sucks. The splash is good, but it actually comes after the bout, which is just an uninspired and unsatisfying brawl. It is not even the first time Snuka did the splash, because he hit the same move on Bob Backlund a few years earlier, only the WWF have since glossed over it and revised history, because Snuka was a heel at the time.
Mankind brings up being disparaged by noted people person Shawn Michaels, who looked him up and down and while pointing out his scars, asked him if this is how he pictured ending up. Foley handled it well by saying he actually wanted to end up like Shawn Michaels and he tells the tale of wanting to become “Dude Love”. We get more garden footage, including the generation-inspiring garage roof leap from Foley, which undoubtedly created a whole host of backyard wrestlers and probably a few WWE superstars as well. This leads to brief highlights of Foley training (against Shane Douglas) at Dominic DeNucci’s school. He says he was given the Cactus Jack name and it was only supposed to be a short-term one until he improved (“a bad name for a bad wrestler”), but he ended up using it for 11-years. Mankind bemoans the fact that things didn’t work out the way he wanted them too so JR calls him on it (in character) and asks him if it is time for him to take responsibility for his own problems. Mankind starts to lose his temper and says JR is a powerful man but he misleads people into believing Mankind doesn’t feel pain or that he at the very least enjoys it. Mankind reels off the reasons that this is not the case, bringing a human side to an otherwise slightly unrealistic gimmick. Foley plays all of this with such incredible conviction, that you do believe the man in the backyard videos and stories told, is the same man here who has just let the pressures of the world and desire to succeed morph him into this maniacal beast. Mankind completely loses his cool at JR’s lack of “journalistic integrity” and slaps him in the Mandible Claw. JR’s sell of the hold is superb and the production team’s reaction to this “shoot” is tremendous (this is from a time when things like this didn’t used to happen to non-wrestlers anywhere near as often, though as soon as Vince Russo saw it work once here, it happened every week), but the best part is Mankind letting go and instantly trying to sooth Ross then calling for help as he assesses what he has done. These interviews are probably one of the finest things that the WWF did in the entire Attitude era and a definite highlight of Mick Foley’s superb career.
Foley laments the interviews for introducing the world to Dude Love, saying that when Vince saw the videos of the character he loved it. Within a few weeks Vince had called Foley and asked him to be Dude Love in the WWF from then on. We get footage from Raw in San Antonio in mid-1997, with Dude coming out to be Steve Austin’s mystery partner in a tag title match against champions Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart. We get only the finish as Austin hits the Stunner on Davey behind the referee’s back and Dude covers him for the win and the titles. Austin, who had previously refused to team with Mankind, accepts Dude and shakes his hand. Good television.
Foley’s briefly mentions his (smoking hot) wife Colette being one of his Dude Love models on a handful of shows, but says that stopped when Dude returned in 1998 with thong-clad lady-folk. He goes on to talk about Dude’s Titantron video to the now bored Hardys and says how Dude was a night off for him in the ring compared to the stupid bumps he would take as Mankind. He is right, the Dude Love gear was almost a curse for Foley and while under the guise he had some really horrible matches until he got his act together in a series with Steve Austin in 1998. I don’t really like the Dude Love character and think it is by far the weakest of Foley’s three. The tape is beginning to meander slightly. Cactus Jack should sort that right out.
Only he won’t just yet, because instead we are focussing on Foley’s real life close friend and mentor Terry Funk. Every wrestling fan should be aware of the connection between the two from their days mutilating and blowing each other up in Japan and ECW as well as their run teaming together in the WWF. Foley shares an anecdote from a party for Ric Flair’s birthday some years prior where Flair asked Funk if he liked Foley because he saw some of himself in him. Funk’s response was classic: “I don’t see shit in him”.
A video package outlines the Funk and Foley story (as it was told to WWF fans) and this leads to highlights of the exceptional Raw from April 1998 where the new and improved DX destroyed Terry and Foley (as Cactus Jack) in a cage. The following week, Foley “retired” because he said it wasn’t worth it anymore, because he gave the fans everything and they chanted “Austin”. Great, sound justification and it all led to the re-emergence of Dude Love as Austin’s next top level feud, so it all made sense. The storyline arc is very well written, intentional or not, and reminds me of something from the 80s. I love layered angles and feuds, with genuine reasons for the guys to hate each other and to fight. If Foley had just attacked Austin randomly and said he wanted a title match, or even worse just came out at the start of Raw and called Austin out, making him the “number one contender” it would have been awful. Unfortunately the WWE long ago forgot how to write episodic television, ironically enough when they started hiring television writers who didn’t understand the business. You would think someone smart behind the scenes would realise this after years of fans not connecting with the product (but rather just individual wrestlers who outshine it), but eyes are clearly blinkered.
Terry Funk is not happy with Foley so they wrestler each other in a No Holds Barred match on Raw, with Foley working under his real name. Steve Austin does guest commentary, very well, as the two beat the living shit out of each other in a wild brawl, which includes a Funk moonsault off a balcony and a piledriver through a table. The highlights shown are fairly extensive though clipped to high heaven, so it is more a highlight video than anything resembling a match. Still some great entertainment though and probably the wildest match on Raw up to that point. It was like watching ECW in a big arena.
Foley discusses the WWF debut of his third alter ego Cactus Jack (fourth I suppose if you count “Mick Foley” as a character and even fifth if you think Mr. Socko era Mankind is different to the original incarnation of the gimmick, which I do). He tells the story of how Vince gave him the call and said he wanted Cactus to wrestle at MSG, which Vince said he thought he would never see happen. Foley is slightly offended by that, but you can see Vince’s point. When he signed Foley it was 1996 and the WWF was still very much in the transitional period twixt cartoon era and Attitude. Cactus Jack as an entity was everything the WWF was not, in an era where barbed wire, fire and copious blood was rarely if ever seen in the company. Cactus is revealed in a superb piece of creative editing as he appears on-screen with both Dude Love and Mankind, as the crowd pops big for him. We get footage of Cactus Jack vs. Triple H from said MSG Raw show, which is a fairly famous bout due to its brutality and nature given the time it took place. Strange that it appears after the Terry Funk match, which was a year later, but no matter.
Hell in a Cell
There couldn’t be a Mick Foley video without discussion of his famous Hell in a Cell match against the Undertaker. Foley quite rightly points out that no matter what he does in his career, he will probably always be remembered for Cell match and more specifically the bumps he takes in it. Foley credits Terry Funk with the idea of starting on top of the cage, in an effort to try and keep the match different enough from the 5* classic between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels in the Cell some 8 months earlier. History has turned this into a legendary match, but the truth is it was rather thrown on the card to give both guys something to do, because both were in a brief career lull after their respective recent feuds had ended. When you consider that Taker was working with a broken foot and Foley had lost all his heat doing heel Dude Love against Austin, then the fact that this is probably the most replayed match in history outside of Andre-Hogan is quite remarkable. The match itself is not great as a contest, but the bumps are two of the most enduring images in WWF history and will be replayed decades from now. 15 years later, neither has lost any impact and if anything they look even WORSE. Taker was reluctant to do the spots with Foley and didn’t understand why he wanted to kill himself in such a way, but Foley was adamant that he do them and wore Taker down.
Showing how little the rest of the match means in relation to the bumps, the footage we get is just the high spots with Foley talking about them, but it works a treat. The “Oh my God, they killed him!” call from JR is probably the greatest in wrestling history. The rousing reaction the crowd gives Foley when he returns to not only the ring, but the top of the cage, is superb. Taker is clearly uncomfortable doing this to another human being, but he gives Foley the chokeslam on the cage anyway, which of course breaks and sends Mick careening towards the mat. The commentary here is again superb and is a rare example of Jerry Lawler adding to the product rather than being a detriment to it. Why he can’t call matches properly like this anymore is beyond me. Foley discusses the injuries he received in the bout and compares wrestling to other sports and how they wouldn’t continue if someone in baseball or football was knocked out. He is right, but you can’t compare any other sport, business or form of entertainment to pro wrestling. It is in a crazy club all of its own.
We see a little more from the match and the aftermath of the bumps, and it is quite uncomfortable to watch when you know the injuries Foley suffered. Each bump he takes or even move he does, makes me cringe a little. I have no idea how he managed to continue, but he deserves a truckload of credit for it. I don’t think he would have been able to against anyone other than the consummate professional that is Undertaker, who was able to carry and lead him through the match like a baby taking their first steps. To cap off the insanity, Foley takes two more equally painfully bumps that are often forgotten about, both into a massive pile of thumbtacks. It doesn’t even slightly resemble a wrestling match in the traditional sense but as a spectacle it is breathless and eternally unforgettable.
Summary: Modern wrestling fans are now trained to expect immense 9 hour profile DVDs from WWE, featuring footage from every major and minor promotion around the world and countless talking head interviews from those closest to the subject. We get none of that here, and the hour running time is a little bit short for the career, even just the WWF years, of a man as diverse and unique as Mick Foley. What is contained within the hour though, is nothing short of glorious. Foley as noted is one of wrestling’s all-time great speakers and his fun-loving down-to-earth personality shines through as he discusses some of his favourite moments. Early Mankind and heel Dude Love are both entirely skipped over and the timeline is a bit all over the place, but the intention of the tape was to highlight the origins and best moments of Mick Foley’s three alter egos, and it does that just marvellously. The highest recommendation, even if you have seen all of the footage countless times before.