The legend of Mick Foley began in the stands. A lifelong fan of professional wrestling, the teenaged Foley was one of several future stars of the business who drew inspiration from the infamous feud between Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Don Muraco. He was in attendance at Madison Square Garden when the two settled their score in a steel cage on Oct. 17, 1983. The match ended when the perpetually problematic Snuka dove from atop the cage, landing a brutal splash on “The Magnificent.” Any doubt that Foley may have had about his future evaporated, in an instant, and nothing was ever the same again.
Within a few short years, Foley had earned his degree at SUNY-Cortland and finished training under Dominic DiNucci. He made his name originally as Cactus Jack, which was not a reference to former Texas governor John Nance Garner, but to his father. He made his first appearance in Northeast Florida on Dec. 7, 1991, while working for World Championship Wrestling. After WCW, he returned to what remained of the independent circuit, working for promotions like ECW, Smokey Mountain Wrestling and, most notoriously, FMW, where on Aug. 20, 1995, he won the inaugural King of the Deathmatch tournament—arguably the single most violent day in the entire bloody history of pro-wrestling.
Foley debuted in the WWF on April 1, 1996 attacking The Undertaker, who would go on to be his greatest opponent. While he was never the company’s top star, he was a major player in the promotion during its peak years, known to fans as the Attitude Era. He could wrestle, he could talk, and he was equally skilled at both hardcore brawling and comedy, which made him an indispensable part of pro wrestling’s rise to mainstream prominence. He would become a three-time world champion, an eight-time tag-team champion, and the star in two of the highest-rated segments of wrestling in US television history. In addition, readers of the prestigious Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine awarded him “Match of the Year” honors in two consecutive years (1998 and 1999).
“Rarely do we see a performer go through such drastic gimmick changes and remain outrageously popular,” says Nicholas Bateh, the wunderkind behind the inaugural River City Wrestling Con, which returns later this year. “I never saw a wrestler that went as far as Foley in ring, and because of that, he always stuck with me. The fans’ undying respect for Mick Foley is perhaps the most remarkable part of his career.”
After 15 years and over 30 titles won around the world, Foley’s final match as a full-time performer was in February 2000, but he continued to wrestle on special occasions for another decade. By that point, he had already begun to transition to a less physical role in the business, acting as an occasional commentator, on-air authority figure and overall ambassador for the industry. In recognition of everything he’s done for the business, Foley was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, as well as the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2000.
His first book, Have a Nice Day (1999), is widely regarded as one of the five best books ever written about the industry, and its success inspired many of his peers to follow suit. He followed it with 10 more tomes, most recently a children’s book, Saint Mick: My Journey from Hardcore Legend to Santa’s Jolly Elf, published in 2017. He’s also appeared in seven movies and done guest spots on dozens of TV shows, including 30 Rock, Family Feud, Boy Meets World, Squidbillies, The Daily Show, Celebrity Death Match, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Saturday Night Live. He was even on Celebrity Wife Swap, in a memorable episode that featured the great Lorenzo Lamas. He has also leveraged his fame on behalf on numerous non-profit organizations.
Nowadays, Foley makes his living primarily on the stand-up comedy circuit, a career that brings him to the Comedy Zone for the third time on Tuesday, Jan. 14. His act was born as a vehicle for telling stories about his life on the road, but it has branched out into a broader form of humor. His current tour celebrates the 20th anniversary of his first book, and will include readings, stories that didn’t make it into print, an autograph signing and a question-and-answer session, which is always a crowd favorite. You don’t even have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy the show, but it certainly helps.
Over the last 20 years, Mick Foley has become a kind of case study in how wrestlers can craft credible careers after their time in the ring is over, which is a joy for longtime fans who have grown fatigued from the wave of tragedies affixed to the industry over the last quarter-century. And now, in “retirement,” Mrs. Beverly Foley’s baby boy finds himself busier than ever.