Mick Foleys Greatest WWE Storyline Isn't What You Think
Mick Foley’s prolific wrestling career is remembered for many death-defying moments, classic characters, and marks left in the history books written with his own blood.
Yet, the most important moment of Foley’s WWE career came the first time he was just allowed to play as himself.
The months leading up to 1998 and some of Foley’s most iconic moments, including that Hell in a Cell match and his first world title win were not so kind or momentous. At this point Foley was stuck in some nether realm of booking: Never going over top guys like Austin, Michaels, or Triple H -- at least not in a clean manner -- and mainly used in the lower and mid-card.
This led to a great deal of random tag matches, one-off encounters on shows like Shotgun Saturday Night, and comedy spots such as his “Three Faces of Foley” entrance into the 1998 Royal Rumble where all three of his WWE personas took part.
A heated feud involving himself and Terry Funk -- under the name Chainsaw Charlie -- against the rising New Age Outlaws led to a series of brutal matches, including a dumpster match at that year’s WrestleMania. Cactus Jack reemerged yet again under the situation that The Dude simply wasn’t tough enough to hang when it came to tables, chairs, and violence.
There’s a recurring theme in the personification of Dude Love throughout this time that he simply lacks the stomach for violence that Mankind and Dude Love seem to possess. To compare to Marvel Comics, Dude Love is to Mick Foley as “Professor Hulk,” the smart-talking, mullet-having version of Hulk from the 1990s is to Bruce Banner.
That payoff would come shortly after WrestleMania, when a tag team title win by Cactus as Funk was revoked, leading to a cage match rematch between the two teams on an auspicious episode of RAW.
The cage match with James and Gunn would see the strengthening and reformation of Degeneration-X, with Triple H at the helm and promising to pick up the ball that he says Michaels dropped after losing to Austin at WrestleMania. The first order of business was securing the tag team titles and in vicious fashion.
The group would handcuff and destroy the team of Cactus and Funk, leaving Terry chained to the cage while the four members of DX inflicted vast amounts of punishment on Jack. During this main event beatdown, the crowd changed their tune and attention away from the match and towards an announcement overhead about the main event dark match with Steve Austin. The crowd erupted into chants for Stone Cold, all while Foley remained beaten and bruised in the ring.
This moment leads to what would be the final appearance of Cactus Jack in WWE for almost two years, until his resurrection against Triple H in a street fight at the Royal Rumble.
This promo is classic Foley, channeling some real-world anger and pathos through the mouth and eyes of a man who has taken more pain and suffering in one lifetime than scores of people may ever experience. Mick mentions in his first autobiography that this moment reached into a dark place where he did feel resentment towards the fans for ignoring his pain and attempts at reaching the crowd, only to be met with chants for another wrestler.
At the same time, Austin was in the midst of his now-famous feud with Vince McMahon, kicking off the start of his title reign and the moment that RAW began to turn the ratings war tide against WCW Nitro. McMahon’s claims that Austin wasn’t a suitable world champion would see the burgeoning heel owner look for a solution, coming in the form of a weary and beaten down Mick Foley.
The story becomes a battle for Foley’s soul, with McMahon sitting on one shoulder and Austin’s urges to fight on the other. Vince whispers promises of the success and adulation Foley always desired, and Austin argues that giving Vince what he wants means giving up everything that made Mick Foley who he was.
This battle of wills led to the first time Mick Foley wrestled under his own name in WWE, in a hardcore match against his former partner Terry Funk, a world title match on the line. Vince urged Foley to break his former friend and to show that he was willing to do whatever was required to succeed. What follows is a brutal match, with Foley showing a cold, tenacious side that had never been seen in WWE to that point. Foley destroyed his friend and reclaimed the mantle of Dude Love, now Vince’s heir apparent to the world title throne.
What followed was a series of spectacular matches between Dude Love and Austin, with Steve eventually overcoming the odds and holding on despite Vince stacking the deck against The Rattlesnake. Dude Love’s failure would cause Vince to scorn him, causing The Dude to revert back to Mankind and return to Paul Bearer.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mankind and Undertaker would make history at that year’s King of the Ring and Foley would capture his first world title. While those stories are compelling in their own right, they’re the tried and true tale of an underdog never giving up and pulling through.
The story before the story is a far more fascinating tale and one that will stand out as Mick Foley’s transformation from consummate mid-carder to top guy in the WWE.