It’s the Day Two of #MickFoleyWeek, a celebration of all things Wanted: Dead and the fourth installment of our patent-pending Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. Yesterday, we started with A Wrestler You Should Probably Know Better, today we give you the finer points of the Dude Love oeuvre with some Essential Viewing. We march through Wednesday with a GIF parade, and then after Hump Day, we’ll fulfill our destiny as Amazon.com on steroids with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…“. before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinions (where JMS HQ erupts in a Bang!Bang!-fueled civil war.)
I’m sure I’ve seen him wrestle before, probably at a house show, but the only time I’ve ever seen Mick Foley up close and personal was on Election Night 2004. I was a senior in high school working for a local assemblywoman at a party thrown by the Long Island Democrats. Foley, a lifelong liberal, was there. He was dressed up. Not just for Mick Foley — which would be anything more than sweatpants — but for a person — as in a suit and tie. He mostly just looked like the biggest human I’d ever seen in close proximity. In a suit. He didn’t have a particularly magical aura, he didn’t capture the attention of everyone in the room. He just kind of stood there, taking pictures with the few people in the room who happened to be wrestling fans AND political science nerds.
This may seem like a long-winded and non-sequitur way to say I met Mick Foley, but this is my first Essential Viewing, so bear with me. The reason I bring this up is not to tell you I was a virgin until I was 17 precisely because I went to Election Night parties in high school. It’s that the same guy that stood in that room and had an entire room is not only one of the most beloved performers in the history of his industry but a New York Times bestseller and someone who now does spoken-word performances to sold out crowds across the country.
Going beyond that, he fit in, mingling with the closely packed groups of local politicians. No one there “cared” that he was a professional wrestler, but they cared that he was there. Engaged, talking to them and making them seem like he cared about what they had to say, Foley made his way through the party talking to various not as a famous entertainer — he’d been crowned WWE champion multiple times at this point — but as a Long Islander, connecting with other Long Islanders. And that’s what made better than famous: it’s what makes him popular.
For those who don’t really follow wrestling, Foley is known mostly for the nasty things that people in THIS BUSINESS say about him. That he’s a glorified stuntman. An idiot. Depressingly cheap. But for those who watch and support, his best work isn’t in (exploding) barbed wire death matches like this one:
Or even in the brilliant work that he does in straightforward matches like this one from an In Your House against Shawn Michaels, which (for what it’s worth) is Foley’s favorite match.
It’s his work on the mic where he’s made his mark for many fans and what propelled him to the WWE championship.
Very good promos tell stories in an individual storyline. Essentially movie scenes particularly heavy in dialogue, or in most cases monologue, promos only when they transcend the moment they are in and exist as an idea do they begin to come legendary, like Foley’s “Cane Dewey” promo from his short stint in ECW. Breaking the fourth wall by explicitly mentioning his son — more specifically a sign with the words “Cane Dewey” on them — Foley as Cactus Jack (on loan from WCW) helps to establish (in the post WCW/amnesia part of his career, anyways) that he exists not just as a deranged madman from Truth-or-Consequences, NM; but as a human being with a family who does this to entertain us.
There’s pure (albeit on the nose) poetry in that promo when he says “I’ve made my bed of nails, now I have to powerbombed through it” as he begs Tommy Dreamer to turn his back on the fans. Like Marc Maron telling an audience member that his mother saying “I didn’t know how to love you” Has to Be Funny or his whole life was a lie, on some level, even as he tells Dreamer the fans aren’t worth it, his reaction to what they have to say — regardless of the reason behind it — is important to him. It validates him. It’s his lot in life, to serve the fans. By acknowledging the disappointment he feels in the sign, he makes us understand (even before he says YOU RIPPED OUT MY HEART, that is) that while he loves the idea of fans and the idea of their love, that it’s a two-way street. He makes us accept him, because he’s already accepted us.
It also underlines his understanding of what the Pandora’s box of wrestling tropes that hardcore wrestling opened meant to the business as a whole. In the self-indulgent 90’s, the idea of the Cane Dewey sign wasn’t to make Foley mad, but to make others in crowd aware that the person holding the sign A) knew who Dewey Foley was and B) knew how offensive the idea of that actually would be to someone with a child. Yes, he hopefully knew B) before A), but he also knew how much more important A) would be to the people he wanted to feel important in front. He, like Foley pushed the envelope farther, pushing the extremes of not necessarily good taste, but what the fans were willing to accept as okay. While the anti-hardcore promos that Foley made were (almost definitely genuine) pleas to slow down the speed at which the industry was hurtling towards self-destruction, in actuality all they did was serve to make the fans more bloodthirsty for wanton violence, pushing the boundaries of what they may think is acceptable by even mentioning that the very worst of us exist.
Foley show this both externally, by (more) famously (than anything else in the history of wrestling) going off the side of the Cell before going through the top of it, while smiling:
In doing so, he’s acknowledging to both his critics and supporters that even when things go wrong, the fact that he’s still alive, moving and able to entertain the fans is what is important to him. Whatever they want is what he’ll give them, only because he doesn’t necessarily have anything to give.
Instead of blaming the fans for their bloodlust, he (at least in kayfabe) internalized these feelings. During the “Dude Love” interviews — the series of “shoot” Q&A sessions between Foley and Jim Ross where that gimmick was first brought up publicly — he states that knew from an early age that he wanted to be a professional wrestler.
This, in and of itself, may have helped endear him to the fans as an underdog, but it was his idea, put succinctly, that professional wrestling was the one place he could use his natural gift of a high threshold of pain to the best advantage. Like Wolverine, the concept of a man who can withstand a seemingly never ending barrage of pain is exactly the type of symbolic suffering we love from our heroes.
It’s why John Cena’s most important attribute is his ability to return quickly from injuries, and it’s why matches like Foley’s best matches — one of which we mentioned yesterday — work so well. It’s not that he keeps a licking and keeps on ticking, it’s that he seems — with his size and seeming imperviousness to pain — to have been built to withstand the one thing stopping the average man from raising to the top: the inability to take the pain and damage to one’s pride that being beaten takes out of you.
While the match from the Royal Rumble is his best match, his most important match before his retirement was, actually, his “retirement” match. In it, not only does he do all the spots he helped create just two years before at King of the Ring during the main event of that year’s No Way Out, he goes above and beyond the previous spots, pushing them to their logical extreme by not just falling through the top of the cage onto the mat, but through the top of the cage before essentially imploding part of the ring. It’s there he is finally defeated after H finishes him off what seems like for good.
This being wrestling, Foley came back for One More Match the next month before retiring for good, but in essence, this was Foley’s final match in the WWE as a full time competitor, and it pushed the boundaries, if not dramatically, than definitively. It made it clear where the lines in the sand were for the WWE, at least from a “still obeying the laws of physics and logic” standpoints. It allowed Foley to go out helping to finally put over a champion that needed it.
This, of course, would be Foley’s MO for much of the tail-end of his career before chronic neck and head injuries finally forced him to hang up his boots for good. From Orton
Foley knew the importance of not just making sure that those moving towards the main event at the speed they were had passed the test in the eyes of the fans as a “hardcore fighter”, and that he — like in a video game — was the boss of that particular level.
These matches all tell essentially the same story: man gets his ass kicked by people more talented than him, crowd loves him for it. Sometimes he wins, but more often than not he loses. But it’s the best, and most popular story ever told. And nobody told it any better than Foley.