Foley the Goalie
From lax cage to steel cage with WWE Hall of Famer
Mick Foley's epic pro wrestling career was defined by a high threshold of pain — a trait he credits to years absorbing shots as a lacrosse goalie for Long Island power Ward Melville.
According to World Wrestling Entertainment, Foley — whether performing as Cactus Jack, Dude Love or Mankind — suffered at least eight concussions, a broken nose, a broken jaw, a separated right shoulder, a fractured left shoulder, 27 stitches in his left arm and at least six incidents of broken ribs. He lost teeth in a 1998 Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker and had part of his ear ripped off between the ropes in Munich, Germany.
Dubbed "The Hardcore Legend," Foley's physical brand of entertainment led to a cult following in Japan — where he wrestled with barbed wire and C4 explosives — and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). He gained more mainstream adoration in the WWE during its Attitude Era in the 1990s and early 2000s, winning three heavyweight world championships and becoming a New York Times bestselling author.
Foley, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April, chatted with LM about his, ahem, illustrious lacrosse career and life in the ring.
How did you get into lacrosse?
I was the son of the Ward Melville athletic director [Jack Foley]. At a young age, I remember watching the Ward Melville Patriots build a lacrosse dynasty. My hero from my youth was named Charlie Brown, an All-American goalie who later became an All-American at Washington & Lee. I had a chance to watch some of the best lacrosse in the country in my own backyard.
You played goalie in high school for lacrosse Hall of Famer Joe Cuozzo. What was that like?
I wrote the foreword to Coach Cuozzo's book ("The Ward Melville Diary"). I didn't start liking Coach Cuozzo until I stopped playing for Coach Cuozzo.
Do you still live on Long Island?
I do, in a different district (Smithtown). I wasn't sure if I should put my children under the pressure of entering the Jack Foley Gymnasium at Ward Melville.
How did your father feel about you and pro wrestling?
He and my mom both felt I'd get out of it as soon as I was injured. And that didn't happen. The injuries happened, but not the decision to leave. They were always supportive.
What can lacrosse learn from wrestling in terms of entertainment and the fan experience?
The guys are underneath helmets and behind facemasks. It's difficult to promote individual personalities. You can't go wrong with great music videos. Lacrosse is better enjoyed in person. It doesn't always translate well on television. The extreme close-up can be your best friend. I watch and try to see the defensive movements. I try to pay attention to which goalies are more verbal and what they yell. There are intricacies the average viewer doesn't get.
You say Jimmy Snuka's 1982 splash from the top of the steel cage at Madison Square Garden was the catalyst for your wrestling career. Has anyone referred to any of your matches in the same light?
There's one from 15 years ago called Hell in a Cell that's cited among wrestlers of the current generation. I should point out, though, that I told a famous lacrosse story in a 1997 interview with Jim Ross about an instance where I forgot to replace my athletic cup after running laps — and paying the ultimate price.
A guy by the name of Steve Diaz had a wicked [shot]. It took one hop and hit me in the worst possible place. I looked down and saw I was surrounded not only by the boys' team, but the girls' team as well. And it was the first time I remember females looking at that part of my body. For that reason alone, I considered it to be the greatest day in the history of my life. It was kind of a memorable interview in 1997 Mankind form.
How did that story surface?
We didn't plan that in the interview. It just came up. There's more to that story. I mentioned that I went to school the next day even though my testicles were the size of grapefruit. And until that point, the T-word was almost forbidden [on TV]. Even in a show like "St. Elsewhere," they had a groundbreaking show about testicular cancer without using the word.
"WWE has left an indelible footprint on our culture," says Foley, a three-time heavyweight champ who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April.
Back to Hell in a Cell...
[WWE superstars] Seamus and Miz said it had a profound effect on them. I don't know if it was to them what seeing Snuka dive off the cage was for me. Snuka's dive was majestic and athletic; mine was just an unfortunate series of circumstances. But the drama the WWE can provide was never more obvious.
Do you lament that the hardcore brand of wrestling has waned?
There's only so far you can push that envelope. We pushed it pretty far in the Attitude Era. As a father of four, I'm very comfortable with the current product.
You took some nasty but crowd-pleasing bumps. Was that your ticket?
I knew I needed to wrestle a different style that was very physical in nature, because I didn't look like the stars of that era — or any era. I didn't have a great physical hand dealt to me. So I combined the styles of a few people that I liked to watch and tried to create matches that I'd like to see as a fan.
What were your best and worst moments in the ring?
Winning the WWE championship the first time had to be up there, as well as a 1996 match with Shawn Michaels that I consider my best personal performance. My lowest moment probably was late in 1999 when I realized my knees were just not going to allow me to participate at a level that I expected of myself.
Do you see wrestling as a sort of social experiment?
If you see something that's popular in culture, chances are WWE has helped shape it. Bill Clinton's arrival shot at the 1996 Democratic Convention — that's the "Raw" arrival shot, the low shot panning up, the big reveal. The shot that is expected and loved in pro football, taken behind the huddle, that had never been done before WWE found a way to do it through their XFL experiment. WWE has left an indelible footprint on our culture.
Your latest venture: standup comedy?
When you say "standup comedy," you get an image of a guy in a bowtie throwing out weak one-liners. So I gave it a name that will make people more comfortable. We call it "Tales from Wrestling Past." We've been doing it for the past four years. I love it. It's like being on stage without the physical pain.
Do people ask to put them in the Mandible Claw or a DDT?
I get the Mandible Claw quite a bit. I tell them it's against state or local law.
Not to mention unsanitary.
They'll ask, "Where's Mr. Socko?" They don't allow Mr. Socko across borders.
Of Foley's "three faces," who would make the best lacrosse player?
Cactus Jack. Some of the fearless outlook I brought to him was developed through my years of taking shots on goal.
Not Dude Love?
No. Dude would have been out of that goal, talking to ladies on the sideline. High-impact projectiles traveling at high speeds would not interest the Dude at all.
Who is the future of the WWE?
Daniel Bryant is a flat-out joy to watch. CM Punk is out to prove every night, whether the cameras are on or not, that he's the best in the world. And to have guys climb that ladder, like The Shield, Alberto Del Rio, Seamus and — one of my favorites — Damien Sandow, the future's really bright for the WWE.
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