Mick Foley recently sat down with Sports Illustrated and their Extra Mustard Blog for an interview. The dialogue covered a variety of subjects but perhaps none more important (or relevant) than Foley speaking on his WWE break through.
As a lumpy and grounded competitor, Foley lacked the traditional appeal of WWE superstars. For Foley, getting Vince McMahon behind him was an uphill battle.
"Mr. McMahon, you see, was not a Cactus Jack fan," Foley recalled. "But, following a notable first year in a leather mask as Mankind, Mr. McMahon had a change of heart, and not only gave Cactus Jack the occasional opportunity in WWE but built up the Cactus character to be my toughest and wildest incarnation of all. It was if he was admitting to me, and whoever out there was watching, that he just might have missed the boat on that Cactus Jack guy after all!"
Foley would expand by saying that Cactus Jack broke somewhat of a glass ceiling.
"Maybe, just maybe, the lesson learned from the Cactus Jack experiment helped open the door for future WWE Superstars such as Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and Kevin Owens–all of whom flourished in what would have been seen as a very unlikely environment a generation earlier."
It wasn’t just the barbed-wire bats and affinity for flaming objects that made Foley and his characters so popular. Instead, Foley asserts, there’s something more.
"So, yes, WWE deserves much of the credit for how they chose to portray a colorful journeyman like Cactus Jack. But there was something real there too–something fans could truly believe in.”
The most interesting bit here is the quote on Bryan, Punk, and Owens. Each had their physical shortcomings, yet have all found themselves the top of WWE at one time or another. With Foley and his triumvirate of characters, we the WWE fanbase always saw an underdog. The same goes for Bryan and maybe even Punk. Kevin Owens isn’t quite endearing, but that’s mostly because he’s so good at being bad.
There's no doubting that WWE is giving an unprecedented amount of energy to wrestling journeymen like Foley. In fact, about half of WWE’s main event is comprised of talent who's spent years, if not decades in other promotions. What’s odd, though, is that this underdog story that we all love is missing today.
Obviously, WWE can’t have 4 “against all odds” stories running simultaneously, but there’s an opportunity to be had. Look no further than Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar. While Joe is imposing, he is certainly a guy that most had given up on ever reaching WWE, let alone its main event. Regardless of how mean and nasty WWE will color Joe, he is nowhere near the monster that Brock Lesnar is. If Joe were to utter "No on thinks I can do it" the crowd would instantly love him. Because yes, in a real fight, Brock Lesnar would kill Samoa Joe. But in a WWE fight, where merchandise and shareholders are just as real as Brock Lesnar's fists, Joe's victory somehow seems even more unlikely.
Fans today are dying for the curtain to be pulled back just a little more. Remember how much we loved the personally inflammatory promos between Miz and Cena leading into WrestleMania 33? This element of reality is becoming the new kayfabe. If the point of kayfabe is to blur the line between what is real and what is not, perhaps the new way of going about things is to add just a little more truth.
Fan access to wrestler’s real lives and WWE's real plans has never been so attainable. As Foley mentioned, fans want something they can truly believe in, but what that quote actually means is that fans want to be tricked. We want to really think that wrestlers don’t like one another and the way to do that has changed. Gone are the days of old school heat - winning by cheating or disrupting babyface’s matches. Now, to get us to buy in, we need to be told that this feud is personal. And no, not in a WWE script sense, but in a CM Punk way. In a Daniel Bryan way. In a Mick Foley way.
Photo Credit: WWE