A lot of you by now know of my unending obsession with Optimus Prime as a figure from my childhood that I looked up to. And you’d be right to know that a lot of my code of life comes from some completely fictional source in one capacity or another.
Except for one. Mr. Mick Foley.
In my pantheon of greats so awesome I’d never actually meet them, there is one that is sprung from wholly human roots and that is Mick Foley, better known as Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love, professional wrestler and one of my boyhood heroes.
You see a long time ago during the WWE Attitude era I was getting back into wrestling. This was during the first great rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. During a four man tag match against DX I noticed one wrestler who ended up wrapped in barbed wire. And he looked hurt, as in really hurt not in the old tradition of 80s wrestling hurt. That man was Cactus Jack and while I cheered for Austin (everyone did) when he took his stride I had one question in the back of my mind. “Is Jack okay?”
Fast forward a bit to the wrestling pay-per-view where Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk) wrestled their heart against the New Age Outlaws. And I saw Cactus battered and bruised as Charlie pounded on the sealed dumpster screaming “Cactus! We did it!” and I looked at the man and again one question remained in the back of my mind, sober and solemn “Is Jack okay?”
Fast forward one last time to the Hell in the Cell Pay-Per-View. There’s Mick Foley playing his character Mankind against the Undertaker, the veritable boogeyman of my wrestling childhood. This was a match that a perfectly healthy Mankind wouldn’t win according to the laws of wrestling. And then he went over the edge of the cell. And I went quiet. I sat there on the couch with my father and we were silent wondering once more “Is he okay?” And he got up.
By god and all the angels he got up. And he climbed back up that cell, and he started grappling with Taker. And by this point I’m astonished. Never in my own limited history of wrestling had anyone taken a dive like that and continued fighting, let alone climbed back to the top of the cell. And then he went through. And at that point, to me the match is over, it should be over. And Foley gets up, tooth caught in his mustache, takes his mask off and smiles.
In truth Mick had cut a hole in his lower lip and was attempting to display it to the audience by sticking his tongue through the hole. But for all intensive purposes it looked like he was smiling. And he gets up. Up until then I’d never seen this from a wrestler, sure it was a good show and some nice moves but it was all fake. Right? Well at that point I knew only two things: One that this was real beyond all illusion and two,
He deserved to win.
There was no way, no chance that a man who’d taken that beating could possible beat a fresh Undertaker and yet this man had gotten up from two falls I’d never seen before. That kind of fortitude, that kind of true grit wins. I didn’t care about the rules of anatomy or wrestling. A holier sacred law had descended in my mind and that day Mick Foley deserved to win.
Then Foley makes his comeback getting thumbtacks and smiling as he spreads them. I think, “Aha! There’s a chance! Taker can’t possibly take a slam into thumbtacks.” Foley will pin him while he’s in pain. Instead, there goes Foley into the thumbtacks. Taker then tombstones him (again, into the thumbtacks) and holds his arms down during the pin and I can see something I’ve never seen on Taker’s face before. The sheer knowledge that if he doesn’t stop this now, it won’t stop. The man who defied death by his very character had met a truly immovable object. At that point Foley had won a victory by my standards.
He made Taker look human.
And he became my hero.
Growing up and being a wrestling fan I knew I’d never look like a wrestler. Even the beer drinking Austin had a six pack I didn’t have the fortitude to maintain. And then there was Foley and his flannel. The man who can take on anyone. For me wrestling was no longer about finishing moves or pinfalls. It was about an endurance match. To me the best fighter was now the man who can take on all of your punishment and still keep coming. Maybe I sympathized with that ideal after being bullied as a kid and still fighting to stay the same.
Back in November I got a message from Dany. It turned out Mick Foley would be at the Toronto Underground Theatre doing a comedy show and he asked if I wanted to go. I said yes. I hadn’t thought about the man in years having long ago walked away from watching wrestling after seeing how it left so many guys with just broken bodies and memories. But as I thought of it, I began to remember the image in my mind of Foley my hero.
So the night came and I arrived and I enjoyed the comedy show and for a man who’d taken more than his fair share of chair shots (words from his own book, not me) he was witty, enjoyable and genuinely funny. And then I learned he was doing a signing. I had brought my copy of his first autobiography as well as all of his Raw Deal cards. The book was a copy I’d gotten for two dollars at the UTM bookstore. I frantically waited in the small mob of fans that attended finally (and frantically) peeling the sticker off that still held the two dollar price. And I waited and waited.
I started to think about how I was finally meeting my boyhood hero in person and my hands started shaking as I held the book. Dany and his brother Rami had gone, gotten food and come back while I was nervously shuffling and sweating. As he and Trish Stratus (who’d also attended the event) signed autographs and posed for pictures I waited until I was one of the last few people. I nervously shuffled up, handed my slightly battered copy of “Have A Nice Day”.
“What’s your name man?”
“Did you enjoy the show?”
“V…very much so Mr. Foley.” I stammered. “It was an honor.” I muttered at a level a safe cracker would have a hard time hearing.
“Glad you enjoyed it!”
“M.. may I get a photo with you too?”
“Sure!” And like that Dany faithfully took the picture and I smiled possibly one of the biggest real smiles I’ve ever had in a photo. I shook his hand, bowed politely and walked away.
As we walked away my hands stopped shaking and I felt a bit let down, not with Mick, but that I didn’t say how much his wrestling career inspired me to endure above and beyond whatever was thrown at me. To show the world that even if you can’t hit the hardest, you can still make them fear you because whatever it does, it can’t stop you. That it was a beloved memory of me and my father together.
But then I thought, what the hell, I’m a writer. If I can’t say it, I’ll damn well write it.
So here I am. Mr. Foley. I don’t know that you’ll ever read this. Maybe you’ll Google about the show and see if there’s a review and come across this as my first real WordPress entry. But thank you sir. Thank you not because you took the most falls or bled the most. But thank you for always getting back up. It inspired me to keep going during a lot of the bad times in my life.
You taught me that if your ass gets thrown down and you get up when other men lay down to die then you are great. And if you smile while you’re doing it then you are god damn mighty sir.
So too does this work exist.