On June 28th 1998, World Wrestling Entertainment’s ‘King Of The Ring’ pay per view event took place at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. That night, the 17, 087 people in attendance would witness industry legend ‘The Undertaker’ toss Mick Foley (then known as his character ‘Mankind’) from the top of a sixteen feet high steel cage, onto the ringside announce tables in arguably the most famous professional wrestling match of all time.
Tonight, Mick sits opposite us in Manchester’s Dancehouse theatre, preparing for tonight’s leg of his UK Comedy tour, ‘Tales From Wrestling Past.’ When you think about creativity and the arts, you don’t immediately think professional wrestling or sports entertainment. WWE’s flagship show, ‘Monday Night Raw’ is the longest running episodic television show in history, now past the one thousand episodes mark since its debut in 1993. The wrestlers are on the road for most of the year, wrestling six, sometimes seven nights a week, each in a different location. They are charged with the responsibility of engaging fans, week in week out, telling stories through in-ring matches and as characters in all manner of creative storylines, no different to a TV soap.
Mick says, “I had three pretty well known characters. I started out creating a make-believe alter-ego for myself named ‘Dude Love’ who was all the things that I wasn’t. He was charming, suave and you know – good with the ladies. It seems hard to believe now that I wasn’t all those things… That was kind of my escape. When I became a wrestler, I started out as ‘Cactus Jack’ who was a more hardcore persona, until I felt that I was good enough to become Dude Love. When I entered WWE, I became ‘Mankind’ – a tormented, evil, conflicted character. Eventually, Mr.McMahon, the owner of WWE found out about this character, Dude Love, that I had wanted to be and decided to make it happen. He gave me the chance to live out that dream. On one specific night in 1998 at The ‘Royal Rumble’ event, I entered the Royal Rumble match (A 30 man battle-royale in which participants enter every two minutes until only one is left in the ring and declared the winner) as all three characters. My son’s reaction was, “…And you still couldn’t win it?!”
Professional Wrestling has always been full of eccentric characters. Individualism among the athletes themselves and the fans that follow is welcomed and encouraged. It is something that is mirrored in the arts. Has Mick found this to be the case in his career as a professional wrestler?
“I used to say that the WWE dressing room was not a good place to be if you’re a bigot or if you had qualms with other people”, he says. “On any given evening, you’re likely to have a little person or maybe a porn star, you know? One of them (ex porn star) was a guest of mine at the Hall Of Fame ceremony. There are all different races, sexual orientations, beliefs, so I always found in wrestling that people are really free to express themselves in a way that don’t usually see in traditional sport. We’ve always been a blend of sport and theatre and we’ve come so far from when guys wore black boots and wool trunks. Now there’s freedom of expression through outfits and music. Our composer, Jim Johnson does an amazing job of capturing feeling in the theme music of the performers. I still come out to the theme tune he wrote for me fourteen years ago and my track isn’t as well known as some others. I was with Goldust today (A very suggestive, often lewd drag character who was popular in WWE in the 1990’s and 2000’s) at a comic convention in Wales and he’s a fantastic example of the creativity within sports entertainment”.
In the wake of ex Bradford City Footballer Dean Windass’ revelation that he had attempted to take his own life, much was made of the struggle to adapt to retirement from a sporting career. England cricket legend, Andrew Flintoff was recently the focus of a documentary about depression in sports. Mick Foley has been successful since his in-ring career ended, as both an author and a stand-up comedian. Have Mick’s creative talents helped make the transition easier? He says,
“Yeah, yeah absolutely, I’ve been so lucky that I had that way of transitioning. Some guys go from having their action figure on the rack, next to Spiderman and then they have nothing to put on a job resume except ‘professional wrestler’. It’s really tough when your time is up because it’s so subjective in a way that other sports are not. At least there you have statistics and definitive results. You have to find other ways to connect with an audience in what we do. People do struggle. I know many athletes who have had a very tough time. A lot of wrestlers have not dealt well with finding out that their time in the business or their time in WWE is up. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had other outlets, whether that is working with charitable organizations or writing or this stuff I do on stage. I’m yet to classify this, I call it comedy but it’s not really comedy. I guess it’s storytelling but it’s what I decide it’s meant to be on any given evening. It’s certainly a way for me to make that transition”.
What inspires Mick’s creativity in his wide variety of talents?
“I love to get reactions”, He says. “I think that’s why a lot of people go into entertainment. The reaction I get on stage or in the ring is very instantaneous. I’ve done TV shows and smaller movies and it’s fun but it’s not the same feedback. I love the feedback. Maybe you have to wait a year to find out if people are buying your novel or going to see your movie. It doesn’t make you critic proof but if people are responding… then I guess you kind of know when shows are going well. You have to shrug off the bad stuff because like many arts, you know that it’s not for everyone, but it is for the people who love my shows.”