#44 Mick Foley
Foley doubles as one of the most unique performers of the last 50 years. As a wrestler, he was a wild brawler, in the mold of Bruiser Brody, but also brought hardcore wrestling to the national audience with his work in WCW and later the WWF. What made him different than the previous wildmans like The Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher, was Foley's ability to speak. Foley is arguably the best talker in pro wrestling history. Other guys like The Rock and Dusty Rhodes were more charismatic than Foley and had better one-liners, but nobody could cut a dramatic promo like Foley.
In his numerous autobiographies, Foley wrote about how he would think about his promos constantly during his everyday life, and that his wife would often see him gazing off into the distance in what he called "Promoland." He cut great promos throughout his entire career, but his best work probably came during his time in ECW and his first couple years in WWF. Maybe his most memorable promo of all-time was during his feud against Tommy Dreamer in ECW. Dreamer had finally got over with the hardcore audience by essentially getting the snot beaten out of him by other wrestlers. Foley had recently turned heel and was cutting promos that chastised the fans of ECW for being ruthless.
There is a lot of debate about what is the greatest promo of all-time; and honestly I don't think there is really one promo that can be called the greatest ever. What I do know is that the emotion that Foley poured out in "Cane Dewey" is second to none. He cut many other great ones, including the famous "shoot-style" promo he did in a sit-down interview with Jim Ross, but none stand out the way that "Cane Dewey" does.
Foley was one of the last wrestlers to come up through the classic territory system. Foley made his official in-ring debut in 1983 after being trained by Dominic DeNucci. After appearing a couple times in squash matches for the WWF (where Dynamite Kid cruelly broke Foley's jaw) Foley began to work in the mid-card for both the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis and in the World Class Wrestling Association in Dallas. In 1991 he was signed by WCW and he made his debut by attacking Sting, who at the time was the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Foley, wrestling under the ring name "Cactus Jack" was a totally new opponent for Sting, and Foley' wild style eventually led to a critically successful match in 1992 at Beach Blast, where Sting and Foley battled in a Falls Count Anywhere match, which was a rarity in 1992 to see in a national promotion. The brawl set a tone for WCW, differing it from the cartoonish WWF.
Foley continued to perfect his style in WCW after working with Sting, introducing the famous "bang-bang" finger guns and developing his unique promo style. He continued to get good performances out of an aging Abdullah the Butcher and a very green wrestler named Van Hammer. Perhaps his most well-known feud in WCW was with Vader. Not only did he lose an ear during a match with Vader in Germany, but they also had a match so violent at Halloween Havoc 1993 that caused WCW to ban Foley and Vader from ever wrestling each other on PPV again.
When WCW changed their promotional philosophy in 1994 with the rise of Eric Bischoff and the signing of Hulk Hogan, Foley saw himself on the wrong side of the battle and left WCW. It would turn out to be one of the best moves he ever made. While the WWF seemed disinterested in employing someone like Foley, he applied his craft on the independent scene and in Japan. Foley joined up with the newly created Extreme Championship Wrestling which fully suited his wild, out-of-control, hardcore style. It is in ECW where Foley really came into his own on the microphone. Foley was bitter about how things went down in WCW and how the WWF dismissed him, and he put all of that emotion into his promos. In ECW Foley feuded with many of their top talents, with his most relevant opponents being Dreamer, The Sandman and Mikey Whipwreck.
During the same time, Foley was becoming a star in Japan working for the upstart blood-and-guts wrestling company International Wrestling Association of Japan. It was in Japan where Foley went by the nickname "Dangerman" and boy was it accurate. Foley put his body through some of the wicked matches in wrestling history for IWA. His most famous match is the No Ropes Barbed Wire Exploding Barbed Wire Boards & Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match (yes that really was the official name of the match) against Terry Funk in the finals of the King of the Deathmatch tournament, held in front of over 25,000 fans in Kawasaki, but it was the match before that, the Barbed Wire Board & Spike Nail Match against Shoji Nakamaki that sticks out in my mind as the most violent match Foley ever participated in. Nakamaki, who was also nicknamed "Dangerman", and Foley took hellacious bumps into everything from turnbuckles to boards of nails, in a match that still makes me uncomfortable.
Thanks to a changing philosophy in the WWF, Foley was able to find his way into the company in 1996, this time under the gimmick of Mankind. While Mankind wrestled the same wildstyle as Cactus Jack, his character was different in the sense that while Cactus was just a mean son of a b---h, Mankind was a tortured individual, which was able to generate a bit more sympathy for Foley, which of course would later turn into a face run for Foley. Foley came in right away and began feuding with The Undertaker, which culminated in several famous matches, including the Boiler Room Brawl and a match in which disputed manager Paul Bearer hung over the ring in a literal bird cage. Later in the year he feuded with then WWF World Heavyweight Champion Shawn Michaels and wrestled a classic match at In Your House: Mind Games that proved to many fans that Foley could have a great match without any blood or weapons.
In 1997 Foley debuted his original wrestling persona, Dude Love, teaming up with Steve Austin who had said he wanted nothing to do with a masked freak like Mankind. Foley also worked a long feud with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, which helped establish Helmsley as a future main eventer for the company. During that same time period, Foley brought Cactus Jack into the WWF and it reached a point that by 1998 he was routinely switching between all three personas. As Cactus Jack, Terry Funk and Foley wrestled in the famous Dumpster Match against The New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania XIV. As Dude Love he became a top contender for Austin's newly won world title, wrestling one of the best matches of his career at In Your House: Unforgiven. And of course, as Mankind he wrestled at King of the Ring against The Undertaker.
In addition to being a hardcore brawler and an awesome promo, Foley had garnered the reputation of being the very best bump taker in all of wrestling. While the major bumps, two of which occurred in the Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker, are the most memorable ones, Foley was always willing to take smaller, but no less violent, bumps in routine matches. One that sticks out was during a nothing match against Mexican legend Mil Mascaras in WCW in 1990 when Foley wasn't even working full-time with the company. Foley stood on the apron as Mascaras dropkicked him, and Foley fell backwards, making a sickening thudding noise when his head hit the concrete as Jim Cornette and Jim Ross sold it masterfully on commentary.
During the Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker, Foley took two massive bumps, the first a fling off of the top of the cage and through the Spanish Announce Table, a move that became arguably the most memorable moment in WWE history. The second bump came when he crashed through the top of the cell and to the mat after being chokeslammed by The Undertaker. Unlike the first bump, this one was unplanned and Foley was knocked unconscious. Miraculously, Foley was able to keep on going with the match and ended up taking several more bumps, this time into thumbtacks.
Foley came up with the idea to be thrown off of the edge of the cage because he was worried about the match sucking. The first Hell in a Cell match had been an awesome, athletic affair between The Undertaker and Michaels. Foley knew that he wasn't the athlete that Michaels was and he was afraid that he would disappoint the fans who were expecting a similar match. So he came up with the idea of talking a colossal bump that make the fans forget about how the rest of the match went. In short, Foley literally threw himself off a building and through a table to make sure the fans got their money's worth. If that doesn't say something about the dedication he had to entertaining the fans, then I don't know what would.
After the incredible beating he took at King of the Ring, Foley began a babyface turn, eventually doing a double turn when he turned babyface at The Rock turned heel at Surivor Series in 1998. Foley and The Rock would engage in a memorable struggle over the world title, with Foley earning two brief title reigns during the feud that really elevated The Rock into being the top star in the company, even bigger than Austin. By 1999 Foley's body was beginning to feel the effects of his hardcore style and he eyed retirement. His last two bug matches were supposed to be against the newly-crowned champion, Triple H, and Foley engaged in two classics. The first was a Street Fight at Madison Square Garden at The Royal Rumble in 2000 in what many WWE fans call the best hardcore match in the company's history. He then put over Triple H again at No Way Out in February in another brutal Hell in a Cell match.
His retirement was short-lived, as he was called back to save the fledgling WrestleMania 2000 main event, working as a representative of Linda McMahon in the main event of the show. Foley lost in a forgettable match and retired from pro-wrestling. Occasionally he would pop up later in the WWE, mainly working hardcore matches and actually turned out some of the best performances of his career in putting over younger stars like Randy Orton and Edge. Foley then went to TNA where he worked as an authority figure and working a series of forgettable feuds against Abyss and Eric Bishcoff. He also worked for various independent organizations, including a memorable feud with CM Punk and Raven.
Foley's greatest contribution to professional wrestling might be in the field of biographies. His four memoirs have all been met with strong sales and critical praise, and he has gone a long way in shattering the image of professional wrestlers being unintelligent, toothless morons. He has also been extremely charitable post-retirement, doing everything from building schools in third-world countries to advocating for victims of domestic and sexual assault.
While Foley was never truly the number one guy in any major promotion, he has had a rich and memorable career. He was the first real wrestler to bring the hardcore stylings of men like Bruiser Brody, The Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher to the main stream, national promotions. He was also the best bump taker of his generation and one of the best talkers in wrestling history. Despite never being pegged as being on the same level of some of his contemporaries, in the minds of wrestling fans, few wrestlers leave a more favorable mark than Foley.
Next week, #43 will be revealed, a current star who became one of the most dominant champions of the new millennium.
The Top 50 so far:
50. Ted DiBiase
49. Superstar Billy Graham
48. Akira Maeda
47. El hijo del Santo
46. Gene Kiniski
45. Bruiser Brody
44. Mick Foley