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In the canon of wrestling memoirs, the recent World Wrestling Federation offerings have had personalities analogous to superstar characters themselves. For the “heel” character you’re supposed to want to see stomped into the mat, witness Joanie “Chyna” Laurer’s If They Only Knew (dear God, how I wish I still didn’t know!). The Rock’s ghostwritten The Rock Says is an inoffensive midcard worker, offering a pretty predictable performance with few, if any, flashes of brilliance. By far the best of the crop are Mick Foley’s reminiscences: 1999’s Have a Nice Day and the current New York Times nonfiction best seller, Foley Is Good…And the Real World Is Faker Than Wrestling.
You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy this meringuey sports rags-to-riches story. Foley has a convivial locker-room bull-session tone and a self-deprecating sense of humor. And love it or hate it, professional wrestling is a fascinating, weird world, populated by characters in and out of the ring.
In the first book, we met Mick Foley, amiable Long Island prankster, whose wrestling dream first manifested itself in the now-underground-classic video The Loved One. In it, 19-year-old college freshman Foley made a famous 13-foot jump from neighbor Danny Zucker’s roof onto a pile of mattresses and cardboard boxes. (Kids—Mick himself would warn you not to try this at home.) In a sport without college drafts or a standard career path, Foley wrestled his way across four continents to arrive permanently in the WWF in March 1996.
Good picks up exactly where Nice Day left off—with his character Mankind’s winning the WWF championship in December 1998—and continues the arc with Foley’s rise to the top of professional wrestling and his decision to retire. Ring historians, such as me, will cherish Foley’s descriptions of the matches that earned Mankind and his two other alter egos, the smooth Dude Love and the ultraviolent Cactus Jack, a permanent place in the lore of sports entertainment. Because he doesn’t consider himself a natural athlete, Foley has always been willing to take a bigger “bump,” or impact, get bloodier than the next guy, and, especially, portray the most memorable character in order to put on a good show.
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One of the most famous of these matches was captured in Barry Blaustein’s wrestling movie Beyond the Mat. As the Rock attempted to beat a handcuffed Mankind into retirement with 11 chair shots to the head (there’s no trick to the steel folding chair, and the punishment left Foley disoriented), Foley’s distraught wife and children were captured on film, crying and ultimately fleeing their ringside seats. In Good, Foley uses this match to contrast the often vilified violence of pro wrestling to that of other sports:
…I believe that true violence has to include a connotation of bad intentions. In wrestling, we now readily admit that the fate of the match is predetermined, the action is often choreographed, and the participants are, for the most part, friends. (Why is it that when we portrayed wrestling as “real,” critics called it fake, and now that it is more accurately portrayed as “sports-entertainment,” our critics deem it “too violent”?) There are no bad intentions in wrestling…
In this respect, we are far less violent than other forms of sports-entertainment…
Fans of the first book will enjoy the behind-the-scenes match analyses, along with plenty more pee-pee humor and jokes at the expense of fellow wrestler/whipping boy Al Snow. (An entire chapter is devoted to a rib on Snow called “The Legend of the Penis Suplex,” which you can read or imagine for yourself.)
But the real gold nuggets in Foley Is Good are the wry accounts of his struggles with his weight and his decision to retire from the career he loved. Most of us will be able to continue in our jobs long after we’ve ceased to be good at them; we can experience Foley’s kind of heartache only secondhand. And the wrestler’s story is poignant.
By the end of 1999, 6-foot-2 Foley’s weight had climbed to 320—his training had become less strenuous, and his bouts of inactivity following increasingly more serious injuries had become longer. A renowned roller-coaster junkie, Foley went to Six Flags Magic Mountain for a fix in the spring of 2000. After looking forward to a front-row ride on “Batman,” he realized the magnitude of his weight problem in the cruelest way. When the long line actually broke out in a chant of “Foley, Foley!” and park personnel escorted him to the front of the line:
I got up and looked down at a plastic ass impression that sixties supermodel Twiggy would have found challenging to fit in. I backed up and actually tried jumping in, hoping that my momentum would be enough to offset a lifetime of late-night pizza. I reached up and attempted to pull the safety harness into a locked position. The male and female parts looked to be a good five and three-quarter inches apart. I had been telling my wife for years that five and three-quarter inches was pretty darn big, but this time I actually believed it.
The ride operators tried to help out—all five of them. They looked like a pack of wild dogs going after a kill as they jumped on, pushed down, and hung off of the safety harness in an attempt to get the hardcore legend in motion. The crowd was no longer chanting my name; they just kind of stared in the type of silence usually reserved for funerals…Slowly, I got out of the seat, a dejected, defeated man.
His weight was also a factor in his decision to retire. In 1999, Foley was, in his mind, wrestling worse than he ever had, yet because he had created one of the most entertaining characters in the WWF, he was, ironically, enjoying his greatest professional success.
After almost fifteen years of blood, sweat and tears, I came to the sad realization that I now sucked as a wrestler. Sure, I had Mr. Socko [a hand puppet that added comic flair to Mankind’s finishing move, the Mandible Claw], and I had dozens and dozens of fans. At my core, however, I had always considered myself a good in-ring performer, and I no longer felt that was true. Even on days when my work was not up to par, I had always worked hard, but my body could no longer tolerate the grind. While playing soccer with my kids, I had realized that if the ball wasn’t kicked directly to me, I really couldn’t get to it.
But Foley still had the opportunity to go out on top. “In 1999…I had been the World Wrestling Federation champion three times, every store in the country carried my action figures, and I was being paid more money than I ever dreamed of.”
In his determination to exit the business on a high note, Foley proposed a retirement plan to WWF Chair Vince McMahon: A rivalry would be built up between Mankind and the Rock through a series of pay-per-view contests, culminating in a farewell match at the biggest event of the wrestling calendar, Wrestlemania:
He shot it down. I was frustrated as hell. I knew deep down that I had at least one good match left in me and hated Vince for not allowing me to have it. “Why, Vince, why?” His answer hurt me perhaps worse than any chairshot I’ve ever received, but at the same time it opened up my eyes to the logic of his answer, which made hatred a great deal more difficult to feel. “Mick, you’re huge.” I tried to defend myself, but with a body that seemed to support his accusation, I was left speechless…
I had always been able to get by on a blend of guts, knowledge, and luck, but now, as I looked at Vince, I felt like my luck had just run out.
A sudden dearth of main-event-caliber wrestlers in early 2000 ultimately led McMahon to agree to the Wrestlemania match, where Foley was unmemorable in a four-way championship bout.
There seem to be two main ways wrestlers exit the business—because of a career-ending injury, such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin faced in 1999 (but recovered from), or as the result of a slow and pathetic decline back into the pay-per-show ranks of beginning wrestlers. Like Foley, former WWF star Jake “the Snake” Roberts was featured in Beyond the Mat. But, whereas Foley was the archetype of a wrestler at the top of his game, Roberts personified the pitiful loser. Once a headliner, Roberts now wrestles wherever his fame can still put asses in bleachers. Outside the ring, he seems proccupied with his repeated failed attempts to reconcile with estranged family members. (He was recently arrested for drunk driving.)
In the end, Foley Is Good answers the question of how a guy whose dreams have all come true can keep from bursting his own bubble. Foley’s love of his sport and timely recognition of his declining physical ability enabled him to exit gracefully. With a novel and a children’s book in the works, ongoing performances on WWF programs—now simply as Mick Foley, without the gimmicks—and a Chef Boyardee endorsement deal, Foley couldn’t have had a softer landing had he been elected governor of Minnesota. CP