Today is the 53rd birthday of a professional wrestler who may well be lucky to have made it this far. Severe concussions, burns to the flesh, broken bones, and seemingly miles of scar tissue dot the resume of a man who counters that alarming hull with championship victories, best-selling books, and a legend that will endure long after the day he journeys into the beyond.
Mick Foley's career has run a vast gamut, entertaining audiences with, at different times, his playfully-dorky sense of humour, his intense soliloquies, his uncanny ability to switch between the roles of underdog and aggressor, and, yes, his inhuman endurance. Whether he's Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love, or just plain ol' Mick Foley from Long Island, the mesmerizing immortality is what we remember most.
Let's take a look back at 10 of Mick Foley's most wildest matches, the ones in which his legend grew the most.
10. Vs. Shane Douglas (ECW CyberSlam 1996)
If you've never seen this one before, it looks really familiar - Douglas handcuffs Cactus Jack behind his back and beats him to kingdom-come with a steel chair. While the assault is not quite as stomach-turning as its WWE doppelganger (more on that one later), it's pretty brutal stuff own its own merits.
Foley was actually wearing a decent suit at the beginning of the match, having gone to a friend's wedding earlier in the day. He had on a t-shirt that said "FORGIVE ME, UNCLE ERIC" (referring to Bischoff), doing all he could to play the contemptible anti-ECW fiend on his way out of the promotion. Douglas' unblocked chair shots (not to mention one from an interfering Mikey Whipwreck that caught Foley square across the face) were one truly-brutal last hurrah for Cactus before his exit three weeks later.
9. Vs. The Undertaker (SummerSlam 1996)
While not the most famously-violent match pitting Mankind against The Undertaker, the first-ever Boiler Room Brawl did have its share of unflinching brutality between two borderline horror-movie creatures. Foley has sustained many injuries to the flesh through burns and cuts, but sometimes the unseen damage can be even more dire.
One of the more well-known spots from the brawl occurred when Mankind climbed a rather tall ladder in the boiler room. Undertaker tipped it backwards to send Foley falling off, careening toward some cardboard which would be used to break his fall to a degree. Foley's lower body missed the target, causing a sciatic nerve injury that would persist into early 1997, and almost jeopardized Foley's chances of working WrestleMania 13. Foley claimed that at one point during the painful stretch, he thought the injury would necessitate retirement.
8. Vs. Vader (12 March 1994)
As far as instances of anatomical disfigurement go, this match certainly boasts one of the more famous examples of it in professional wrestling. Some of WCW's top stars crossed the Atlantic for a two-week tour of Germany, which included a stop in Munich. It was there that an important piece (to use a phrase) of the Mick Foley lore would be born.
After Cactus did his hangman spot in the ropes, it became apparent that the ropes had been tightened like the skin of a drum, and Foley was experiencing extreme discomfort. The pressure of the ropes was alleged to have torn into Foley's right ear, which allowed for an ensuing Vader strike to rip off a good chunk of the appendage. Foley would get some mileage out of the unique injury, including his darkly-hilarious "I'm hardcore!" sequence of promos in ECW.
7. Vs. Eddie Gilbert (Spring Spectacular 1991)
This particular match comes from the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, the spiritual precursor to ECW that ran shows out of Philly, combining blood-soaked brawls with name-brand stars like Jerry Lawler, Rick Rude, Paul Orndorff, and others. Cactus Jack was making his name as an unstoppable wildman at the time of this barbed wire match with the wrestling prodigy that was nicknamed "Hot Stuff".
The most famous spot of the bout is the ending, in which Foley does that hangman spot in the ropes - *and* the barbed wire. Foley became so hopelessly entangled in the two kinds of strands (one type piercing his face and neck) that the match was called off. In a somewhat humorous side note, while Jack and Gilbert dealt with their respective wounds in the back (Gilbert passed out from loss of blood, as well as fatigue), the referee was rushed to the hospital with no actual injuries - he had just taken a standard ref bump, and didn't have the heart to tell the medics that it was just part of the match.
6. Vs. Vader (WCW Saturday Night, April 1993)
Kayfabe or not, it would take quite a bit of punishment to put Cactus Jack out of action, but WCW was about to do just that in the spring of 1993. Cactus was going to go on the shelf with an in-match injury inflicted by mammoth World Champion Vader, caused by Vader Powerbombing Jack on the bare concrete outside the ring. In safer circumstances, Vader still managed to put a few folks down for the count legitimately with the punishing move.
In this situation, Cactus took the devastating bump outside the ring, resulting in a major blow to the back of the skull that caused Foley to lose sensation in his hand and foot. Foley would be diagnosed with a very real concussion as a result of the powerbomb, a bump that Foley had every intention of taking, even though Vader and Dusty Rhodes had expressed their genuine concern beforehand.
5. Vs. Terry Funk (IWA Japan Bound To Break)
No good can come from a Cactus Jack-Terry Funk match if you're squeamish. Two of the most respected hardcore wrestlers in history (not to say that 'hardcore' is all they can do) would memorably clash on a number of occasions, with 1995 being the year of some of their most unforgettable wars. This particular doozy took place the second week of the new year, and certainly was not short on carnage.
In the course of this match, Cactus took a flaming branding iron to the chest, another 'hangman' flip in barbed wire, and was hip tossed onto a chair that had been set on fire. In all, Foley sustained serious burns to his shoulder and torso, as well as cuts in over 50 places, particularly his hands, which had been nearly mangled from the barbed wire.
4. Vs. Shoji Nakamaki (IWA Japan King Of The Death Matches)
You figured that the most famous deathmatch tournament of all would have to spring up on this list sooner or later. Cactus' semi-final match with fearless everyman Nakamaki would involve not only barbed wire, but beds of nails as well. Nakamaki took quite a horrific beating, which included enduring a Cactus elbow onto one overturned bed that lay on top of him, but Foley was far from unscathed.
Foley took a couple of backwards bumps onto the other bed of nails following several Nakamaki headbutt barrages. Earlier in the match, he also got barbed wire embedded deep into his shoulder after missing an elbow drop. The fact that Foley still had one match to go (this one itself following Cactus landing on his share of thumbtacks in a quarterfinal against Terry Gordy) makes the spectacle all the more alarming.
3. Vs. The Rock (Royal Rumble 1999)
Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat documentary truly captured the extent to which the family of a professional wrestler (especially one who took as many bodily risks as Foley did) suffers by proxy. With film cameras trained on Collette, as well as children Dewey and Noelle when they were extremely young, we get a heartbreaking look at what a family goes through when they see the head of the household nearly getting maimed up close.
The match is infamous for being a much more extreme version of the aforementioned Cactus/Douglas match, as Rock lays the steel chair in hard, totalling more than 10 strikes to the skull of a man who is unable to raise his arms as a defensive measure. The head wounds and concussive damage were a source of controversy, as Foley thought Rock was taking liberties, while Rock thought Foley was feeding him for more blows. Regardless, it's a rather famous match, in large part due to the spotlight on the humanity within.
2. Vs. The Undertaker (King Of The Ring 1998)
This match was also immortalized in part on Beyond the Mat, in part due to an incoherent machine message that Foley left for Blaustein hours after the melee. You know a match is unforgettable when you remember the loser more than the winner. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X and Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 come to mind, but their torment was nothing like what Foley took in.
Two falls off of the Hell in a Cell cage (one unintended) left Mankind with a separated shoulder, a concussion, bruised ribs, internal bleeding, and at least one tooth knocked out (which somehow came out of his nostril, giving us the famous visual of Foley's eerie smile). Foley would also suffer more than 100 puncture wounds, due to two bumps onto a sea of thumbtacks.
1. Vs. Terry Funk (IWA Japan King Of the Death Matches)
In full, it was known as a "Barbed Wire Rope, Exploding Barbed Wire Boards and Exploding Ring Time Bomb Deathmatch". More concisely, it was goddamn insane, and was the sort of match that drew campfire whispers in the tape-trading era. Naturally, both Jack and Funk were messed up badly in a tournament final that all but promised unfathomable carnage.
The two compensated for an unimpressive explosion by ramping up the gore. For Foley's part, he suffered second-degree burns on his right arm from one C4 explosion (he narrowly avoided major injury when hiptossed onto another explosive board), deeply cut his right hand and his good ear after falling off of a ladder into barbed wire, and sustained numerous other puncture wounds as a result of the barbs. Foley's prize for the entire ordeal was a trophy that he held aloft once, and then set down, never to see it again.