Mick Foley Took The Path Less Traveled To WWE Super Stardom

Wrestling | 1/22/20

Most professional wrestlers have a very special type of body. They may just be massive, tipping the scales at 400 or 500 pounds. Or they may be rippling with muscle, the kind of body achievable by hitting the gym 5 hours a day. Neither of these descriptions fit Mick Foley, who looked like your average dad.

What Foley did have, though, was incredible charisma and the willingness to take incredible punishment. He fought in nearly every promotion and was one of the biggest stars in each. Here are a number of facts about the grappling legend.

A Passion For Sports

mick foley is a big sports fan
Al Pereira/Getty Images
Al Pereira/Getty Images

Foley’s father Jack served as the athletic director at Ward Melville High School. He encouraged his son to try every sport that he could. As a result, Mick grew up playing a little bit of everything.

Mick played football, baseball, track and field, and basketball. But the sport that really captured his imagination was wrestling. The fact that he loved to watch professional wrestling at home had quite a bit to do with his fascination with the sport.

Mick Had A Famous Teammate

image of kevin james
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

While Mick Foley would wrestle in the WWE at over 300 pounds, he was not the first string wrestler on his high school wrestling team. The athlete who wrestled ahead of him was Kevin James.

The same Kevin James who would go on to star on The King of Queens. When asked about their past connection, Foley said that he and James were quite evenly matched and were best described as spectacularly mediocre.

Inspired By Superfly

superfly wwe
Bill Olive/Getty Images
Bill Olive/Getty Images

Mick was raised not too far from New York City. That means that Foley was able to make it to Madison Square Garden to see WWF events. He was in attendance when Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka made his famous dive off the steel cage.

This experience inspired Mick to get involved with wrestling. He and his friends began to practice moves in his back yard and record them. This is where Fley first originated his future Dude Love persona.

A Commitment To Training

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Mick Foley (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Mick Foley (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

While Mick dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler, his parents told him that he had to attend college. He agreed to his parent’s wishes and attended school at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York.

But he didn’t give up on his wrestling dream. Each weekend he would drive multiple hours to Freedom, Pennsylvania where he would train with Dominic DeNucci. Despite the crazy schedule, Mick continued with his studies. This would serve him well in his future career as a writer.

Job Squad

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Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage
Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage

Trainer Dominic DeNucci regularly held local wrestling shows and Mick would take part in these. Due to the school’s proximity to New York City, the WWE would often ask DeNucci to send wrestlers who could perform in squash matches against the promotion’s stars.

Mick was more than willing to participate. He often wrestled as Jack Foley, with the name being a tribute to his dad. The matches were sometimes miserable as the Dynamite Kid once hit Foley so hard he wasn’t able to eat for weeks.

He Got His Big Break In The WCCW

mick foley and socko
Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Mick had bounced around a number of different independent wrestling organizations before landing with World Class Championship Wrestling in 1988. While with WCCW, he continued to hone his Cactus Jack character as a member of Skandor Akbar’s stable.

At this time Foley began to experience championship success, winning the light heavyweight and tag team championships. He later left the promotion to wrestle for Tri-State Wrestling. Tri-State was a forerunner to the famous ECW where Mick would also compete.

He Was An Immediate Headliner In WCW

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Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT
Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT

Foley began working for the WCW in 1991. The first thing he ever did for the promotion was come out of nowhere to attack Sting. At the time, Sting was the WCW Champion.

Mick began a program with Sting, becoming a heel and working at the top of the card. The feud culminated with a match at 1992’s Beach Blast which was won by Sting. Foley would later say that this match was the best he ever worked.

The Vader Feud Started In WCW

mick foley and john stewart
JP Yim/Getty Images
JP Yim/Getty Images

Foley, light on his feet for a big man, was normally much bigger than his opponents. In 1993, he came into contact with someone who was not only much bigger than him but also just as agile.

Big Van Vader, formerly an NFL player known as Leon White, was a graceful monster. The popular matches between Vader and Cactus Jack were known for their high level of brutality. The Texas Death Match at 1993’s Halloween Havoc is considered among the most brutal in the promotion’s history.

Foley Fit Right In At ECW

mick foley young
Kevin Kane/WireImage
Kevin Kane/WireImage

Foley, who by this time was known as a hardcore legend, joined up with Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1995. He was a perfect match for the promotion, which saw itself as an alternative to the WWE and WCW.

In a famous storyline, a fan held up a sign that said Cane Dewey, in reference to hitting Foley’s son with a Singapore cane. Foley responded to this by changing his hardcore ways and wrestling in a boring, technical style.

Mick Wrestled Brutal Matches In Japan

mick foley wrestling
KMazur/WireImage
KMazur/WireImage

The hardcore style of wrestling was becoming more and more popular in the United States. There was also quite a demand for that kind of wrestling in Japan. Foley made his way to International Wrestling Association Japan in 1996.

While there he engaged in feuds with Leatherface, Shoji Nakamaki and Terry Gordy. His most famous matches in Japan were against another hardcore legend in Terry Funk. In the last match-up with Funk, he experienced second-degree burns from a C-4 explosion.

Jim Ross Had To Talk Vince McMahon Into Foley

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Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

Foley was brought into the WWE at the behest of the influential Jim Ross. Ross and Foley had worked together in the WCW. WWE chief Vince McMahon didn’t like the Cactus Jack gimmick and requested Foley make some changes.

The first of these changes was to cover Mick’s face, leading to the Mankind character. It was also suggested that Mankind was a dangerous schizophrenic and he displayed this behavior by pulling out his hair and shrieking during matches.

He Almost Quit Over One Match

mick foley looking sad
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In November of 1997, one of the most infamous events in WWE history occurred. Bret Hart, who was leaving the promotion, lost the WWE Championship belt to Shawn Michaels without knowing this would happen beforehand.

Foley was incensed by the decision and skipped the next night’s show out of protest. After looking over his contract with his wife, though, he realized his contract would prohibit him from working for any other promotion had he left the WWE, so he stuck around.

Rival Promotion WCW Revealed When Foley Was About To Win The Championship

mick foley championship belt
Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Thanks to his quirky and charismatic personality and willingness to take on incredible punishment, Foley slowly became one of the most popular wrestlers in the world.

Rival WCW knew in advance when Mick would win the title and told their viewers not to switch the channel to WWE. Tony Schiavone mockingly said, “That’ll put some butts in the seats.” The move backfired spectacularly as a high percentage of WCW viewers switched to WWE to watch the match.

Mick Was Regularly Featured On Sitcoms

mick foley with toys
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

Thanks to his personality and acting ability, Mick commonly started showing up on network TV shows. His first spot was on an episode of Boy Meets World where he appeared alongside Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel.

There was plenty of TV in Mick’s future following that. The wrestler also appeared on Now and Again, 30 Rock and Avatar: The Last Airbender. The regularly non-wrestling spots continued in 2016 when the wrestler and his family were given their own reality show, Holy Foley.

Foley Is Deeply Charitable

mick foley at the children's hospital
Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Mick Foley has dedicated much of his time, before and after retirement, to a number of different charities. One of the organizations he is most passionate about is RAINN, which supports survivors of sexual abuse.

The wrestler, who now performs a wrestling comedy show, often uses his platform to raise awareness about the charity. He even made an interesting offer a few years ago. He volunteered to mow the lawn of any donor who gave RAINN $5,000 or more.

Falling Through The Cage In 1998 Wasn’t Planned

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JP Yim/Getty Images
JP Yim/Getty Images

Foley, then wrestling as Mankind, had one of the most famous matches in WWE history in 1998. At the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, he took on the Undertaker. The match featured two men who were huge, but also quite light on their feet.

The match also featured Foley being choke-slammed through the top of a steel cage. The 20 foot-drop was never meant to happen. The cage actually gave way due to the Mankind’s weight created a fantastic bump and a historic moment.

Mick Is A Best-Selling Author

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Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

When Mick was 18 and wanted to become a professional wrestler, his parents told him he still had to go to college. His wrestling training paid off and he had a lengthy career.

His time in college paid off too, though, as he has become a best-selling author. Mick’s first memoir, Have A Nice Day, written without a ghostwriter, rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. He had two more best selling books, Foley is Good and The Hardcore Diaries.

Foley Is A Huge Fan Of Tori Amos

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Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

When you think of music that would be associated with professional wrestling, you probably come up with something like punk rock or heavy metal. The entrance music playing when most grapplers come to the ring is rock or rap.

It’s a different story for Mick Foley. Before he would enter into a hardcore streetfight, he would listen to songwriter and piano maestro Tori Amos. The two became friends and it was actually Amos who got Foley involved with the RAINN charity.

Mick Tours Around The Country With A Comedy Act

mick foley comedy tour
Bobby Bank/WireImage
Bobby Bank/WireImage

Wrestling for a living, especially the way Mick Foley wrestled, was not a sustainable career. Luckily for him, though, Mick is a man of many talents. He stayed involved with wrestling as a personality and also became a best selling author.

Lately, Foley has been touring around the country as a comedy act. And it’s not just jokes for the former grappler. Tales from his wrestling career are an important part of his show. He also uses the platform to connect with fans and talk about his work with the charity RAINN.

Born In Bloomington

mick foley looking very happy
Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images
Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Mrs. Foley’s baby boy was born Michael Francis Foley in Bloomington, Indiana on June 7th, 1965. His family wasn’t long for Indiana. While Mick was still a baby, the Foley’s moved to East Setauket, New York.

The Foley’s were of Irish descent and Mick had an older brother named John. His father worked at Ward Melville High School and his mother was a homemaker. East Setauket was only about 40 miles out of New York City.