When I saw the crazy man with the strange mask, pulling out his hair and talking to the rats, I didn’t know what to make of him. I could never have imagined what he would come to mean to me.
“I just lost my f — king ear… Bang Bang!”
Sometimes, the people that have the greatest influences on your life are people you have never met. For me, one of those is a man called Mick Foley.
Mick Foley is a professional wrestler, author and comedian, most famous for his “Three Faces of Foley” wrestling personas: Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind. It is through wrestling that he first entered my life, when he debuted for the WWF (now WWE) in 1996. When I saw the crazy man with the strange mask, pulling out his hair and talking to the rats, I didn’t know what to make of him. I could never have imagined what he would come to mean to me.
I began to learn that Mick Foley was not your typical wrestler. As my admiration grew, I delved into his wrestling history. I got my hands on a Japanese bootleg video of the “King of the Death Match” tournament that Foley won, and I was amazed at the punishment he would put his body through. I felt his passion, watching him perform in the ECW arena. I saw his ear get torn away from his head mid-match when wrestling for WCW. I watched his interviews with Jim Ross; his epic matches with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, and I began to understand that Foley was not your typical wrestler, he was something else entirely.
“As God as my witness, he is broken in half!” — Jim Ross
King of the Ring ’98 is the night Foley truly etched his name into wrestling history. During a “Hell in a Cell” match with The Undertaker, Mankind exposed himself to unbelievable amounts of punishment. He was thrown off the top of the 16-foot high cage, through a table, onto a concrete floor.
Resuming the match, Mankind was then chokeslammed through the cell structure into the ring, with a steel chair following him down and smashing him in the face. It took out some teeth and knocked Foley unconscious, leading to the immortal commentary call by Jim Ross “Will somebody stop the damn match?!” That wasn’t someone trying to add drama to an entertainment programme. It was a veteran of the wrestling business legitimately fearing for the health and life of his friend. Somehow Foley continued the match, going on to receive both a backdrop and a chokeslam into thousands of thumbtacks.
Mick Foley refused a stretcher and left the arena on his own two feet.
Foley lost the match, but he won the respect and admiration of many that night for his bravery and his devotion to the entertainment of the fans. When he won the World Heavyweight Title, I cried tears of joy. For while wrestling results are predetermined, seeing a man like Foley reach the pinnacle of the profession gave me hope. The outsider can be the best in the world. Dedication, guts and passion can take you to the very top in life. Until Mick Foley, I never believed that.
Reading A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, I was amazed at the sacrifices Foley made to chase his dream. Sleeping in his car; travelling 16-hour round trips for an hours’ wrestling training; sacrificing food and warmth to fund his training and petrol; Foley made so many sacrifices. He devoted himself to being the very best he could be, and he was rewarded that night when he became the Champion.
It was after he won the title that showcased Foley’s special side. Whereas most wrestlers would say something ‘cool’, Foley used the opportunity to speak directly to his children. “At the risk of not sounding very cool, I’d like to dedicate this match to my two little people watching at home… big Daddy-o did it!” In doing so, Foley showed that he never forgot the most important thing in his life, his children.
It was this moment that resonated the most with me. As someone who never knew their father, I looked to guidance wherever I could find it, and I found it in Foley. Mick Foley taught me about sacrifice; he taught me that following your dream is a worthwhile exercise, and that it doesn’t matter whether you have the right ‘look’, or the most natural ability. What matters is determination, a will to succeed, and picking yourself up when you get knocked back. He taught me the value of a sense of humour, and being able to laugh at oneself. And, most importantly, he taught me to never give up, to always continue fighting, even when things seem bleak.
Mick Foley is a man who sacrificed himself, time and time again, for the entertainment of people he has never met. He put others’ happiness above his own health. I hope he knows that I, and countless others, appreciate what he did so much. Mick, thank you for the lessons you didn’t realise you taught me. Thank you for showing me what being a man is all about.
And, more than anything, thank you for giving a messed-up teenager hope.
UPDATE: Six years after I first wrote this, I finally got to meet Mick Foley, and to thank him for everything. He joked that if he squatted for the photo, it would look like he was getting his photo taken with Tyson Fury. I feel so lucky to have had those brief moments with my hero, and I’ll treasure them forever.
Mankind vs Shawn Michaels, WWE Championship Match.
Mankind vs The Undertaker: Hell In A Cell
Mick Foley vs Randy Orton: No Holds Barred