Tales from an incredible career: up close and personal with Mick Foley

In the world of entertainment, Mick Foley has, quite literally, done it all.

A former WWE and TNA world heavyweight champion and recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee, Foley is also the author of numerous fiction and non-fiction books for both adults and children (and a New York Times bestselling author, no less), actor and now he’s a successful stand-up comedian to boot.

Mick Foiey

Image © James Musselwhite – closerphotography.com

His success should annoy you, but it doesn’t – because despite his many accomplishments, it’s just impossible to dislike Foley. His overwhelming warmth, generosity and humility, combined with being an ambassador for numerous charities and all things Christmas-related, makes Mick Foley one of professional wrestling’s ‘good guys’ … and not just in storyline terms.

Yes, he’s a talented wrestler and one of the greatest risk-takers in the sports history, but he’s much more than that. Despite earning a reputation as the ‘Hardcore Legend’ and ‘King of the Death Match’, the man who famously lost his ear in Germany in a match with barbed wire for ropes and, of course, the man who took two hellacious falls in that career-defining Hell In A Cell match, the real Mick Foley really is a gentle giant; a man with both a terrific sense of humour and self-awareness – rare qualities for an individual whose surname is loudly chanted by fight fans the world over.

It is this Mick Foley, not the deranged Cactus Jack or the psychotic Mankind, that myself and photographer James Musselwhite had the pleasure of speaking with in the cosy greenroom of Komedia in Bath, Somerset, just moments before one of the final dates on his 2013 ‘Tales From Wrestling Past’ UK tour. Joined by fellow comic turned wrestling promoter Jim Smallman, Foley speaks about his WWE Hall of Fame induction at Madison Square Garden, life as a comedian – and his love of all things festive.

Mick Foley interview Bath

Image © James Musselwhite – closerphotography.com

You’re close to the end now of your UK tour – how’s it been going so far?

Foley: We’re having a great time, we really are. It’s hard work, but, you know, I’ve really enjoyed every show [laughs]. Every show’s a new adventure – I’d say every show except one, but even that one was pretty good.

Which was one that?

Foley: I don’t want to name it … [laughs] You know what? I was getting a little worn down; there have been some nights without much rest … I think when I got to Raw on Monday night in London I had been up for about 20 hours. It had taken me about 20 hours to get to Belfast, with a stop for Sunday morning brunch, so that when I had to be up at 4am to catch the flight back to London to do some PR first, by the time I showed up at the O2 Arena I was in need of a great deal of rest.

Bath isn’t exactly what one would call your typical wrestling city. What are you expecting from the crowd tonight?

Foley: This is actually one of Jim’s favourite venues…

Smallman: Love it … I genuinely love it here, I think it’s a cracking gig, it’s run by lovely people … the people who work here have been excited, because they’ve been sending me messages going “We’re really excited about meeting Mick, loads of us have got socks for him to sign!” so they’re all into it.

Foley: You know, it sold out in Bath a while ago. When we put the Cardiff tickets on sale a month after this, I didn’t realise that a lot of the big fans from Cardiff had gone elsewhere, whether it was Bath, Birmingham, or we did three other shows in the Midlands. So at first I thought – “why doesn’t Cardiff love me anymore?’” Sales were slow but then it picked up dramatically in the last two weeks and we ended up having a great time in Cardiff and selling that out. It’s always a mistake to do four shows within 45 minutes of each other in the Midlands, but now we’re looking forward to a really great conclusion.

Have you made it to the 25th December yet [a Christmas-themed shop in Bath which, appropriately enough, is located on Cheap Street]?

Foley: Not yet, but I told my tour manager: tomorrow’s the day that we have to kill a little time because we’ll go from Reading to London so we’ll definitely check it out.

Wear that t-shirt and they might give you a freebie!

Foley: You never know, yeah! The St. Nick shirt!

Is that custom made?

Foley: Yeah, you know what, it’s custom made by the people doing a documentary I made called ‘I Am Santa Claus’, so they used this shirt for publicity.

Smallman: I’ve seen the publicity photo, and it’s great.

Foley: It is great isn’t it? I love it. They did this as a fundraiser … they’ve shot the film and now they have to do some post-production which could be costly.

How many shows have you got left?

Foley: I think six. Six shows in five days, then I’ll be home. This is the longest that I’ve been away in well over a decade.

Smallman: Probably since Japan?

Foley: No, the last time I was away for a long time like this was when I went to India … that was 16 days and this is 23.

Was that a WWE tour?

Foley: No that was when me, Kurt Angle and Jay Lethal did a TNA promotional tour, and I made sure I sang ‘Sexy Kurt’ A LOT [laughs]. It was tremendous fun, I’d pick up a guitar and play ‘Sexy Kurt’. I remember I was in a TV studio once and they said “why don’t you play guitar” and I was like “I don’t play guitar” but I hit the strings and I’d go [sings] “I’m just a sexy Kurt…” and Lethal would yell out “sexy Kurt”! We had a very good time.

So the big question – what was it like being inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame in Madison Square Garden?

Foley: Oh I loved it, yeah. One of the things I’ve found most fun about this tour is being able to talk about the Hall of Fame. Calling it ‘Tales From Wrestling Past’ has become tales from both the near and distant past … we’ll go back about as far as 1992 I think is the earliest story, but I really enjoy talking about the Hall of Fame. And I have a short window to discuss that; I believe I’ll probably ‘retire’ my Hall of Fame stuff after my June 2nd show in New York City, so I’m really enjoying my time right now reliving it. We build on it … I’ve found a way to work so much stuff into my routine, like no other guy in any business gives you 20 minutes of Santa Claus, right? You just don’t see that very often.

You made a guest appearance in Boy Meets World in 1993, and you were also in 30 Rock. What other show would you like to make a guest cameo in, if you could only have one more?

Smallman: What a f**cking great question!

Foley: Well you may be interested to know that Danielle Fishel [who played Topanga in Boy Meets World] and I still keep in touch after I made that one appearance, and I’ll go on record as saying that her copy of  Maxim magazine is the only time I’ve ever bought Maxim! I couldn’t believe it was the same girl … Justin Roberts, the [WWE] ring announcer, is so envious: he grew up loving Topanga. She may come to the post-Summerslam show in California. But what programmes do I watch these days?

Smallman: You could be a meth dealer in Breaking Bad! [laughs]

Foley: Good show. [laughs]

Smallman: Every comedian in the world would be jealous – that’s all we do in hotel rooms, sit around and watch Breaking Bad. It was The Wire two years ago and now it’s that show. That’s all comedians watch, just Breaking Bad all the time. You’d be good in that.

Foley: I was thinking of Dexter.

Smallman: Oh yeah!

Foley: Something in Dexter would be really cool … yeah. I couldn’t definitely be in Dexter.

Smallman: Just put meth dealer down. That should be the very last thing you write.

It’s a comedic end to a fun interview that affirmed most the pre-conceptions that we had about Foley before meeting him, but our positive thoughts towards the man behind the Dude Love persona only increase after the interview when we meet Thom Bleasdale, a young photographer from Devon who suffers from CFS and fibromyalgia, who told us about the unlikely friendship that he formed with the WWE star in the most unusual of circumstances:

“When I was 22 I was extremely ill, and I was being mistreated by the doctors” says Tom. “I started to get proper treatment a year later, but it was incredibly painful. One night while trying to get through it I was flicking through the TV channels and stopped on the WWF show on Sky. It was Mankind on stage, and I had never seen anything like it. He was talking about how he couldn’t do the street-fight with Triple H, but he had a substitute. And then I saw one of the greatest bits of business in wrestling history.

So I became a fan of Foley. I started following him avidly, and collected all the tapes of his matches from Japan from a friend I met online in the states. He did me compilations of all of Mick’s work, and these tapes got me through the worst of the pain. When I was in agony and could not move or do anything I would watch his more violent matches, seeing him get up again and again. And seeing that gave me the belief that I would get through what I was going through.

Then I wrote to him to thank him, and to let him know that his matches were helping me survive, as I thought he should know what he was doing was more than just ‘sports entertainment’. He called me up and we spoke for a while, and we became friends. We wrote back and forth, he sent me gifts to make me feel better, and I got to hang out with him a few times when he came over to the UK, and when I went out to California in 2009.

I really enjoy Mick’s stand up comedy … I’ve always known what a funny guy he is, and I’m one of the many people who told him he should do a tour of his stories. Mick is a really genuinely wonderful man, a great fun guy, and as you know, a one of a kind talent. We have been friends for about 12 years now!”

Image © Thom Bleasdale – bleasdalephoto.com

After our interview, it was time to sit down with the rest of a crowd in a packed Komedia in Bath and be regalled by tales of wrestling past. We waxed lyrical about Mick’s stand up routine when we first saw him at London’s Leicester Square Theatre last year, and the 2013 tour routine from ‘The Hardcore Comedy Legend’ certainly didn’t disappoint.

Following Jim Smallman opening in hilarious fashion, Mick took to the stage and for close to ninety minutes had the audience of predominantly wrestling fans in the palm of his hands with recollections of his time in both WWE and WCW and his interactions with numerous wrestlers both past and present – from his recent Raw interactions with Ryback and CM Punk right through to being on the road with a then-Stunning Steve Austin and Diamond Dallas PageAl Snow, of course, also made numerous appearances as the butt of a fair few jokes from The Mickster.

As expected, Foley’s recent Hall of Fame induction by Terry Funk, and interactions with Chris Jericho and CM Punk at the ceremony – held in the famous arena where a young Foley first saw ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka leap from the top of a steel cage thirty years previously – was covered in depth, as was the famous Hell In A Cell clash with The Undertaker, the loss of his ear at the hands of Vader, the first ever Buried Alive match from In Your House in 1996. Fans also had the opportunity to receive valuable insight into Foley’s “risk-reward ratio”, his escapades with The Rock during the early days of the Hollywood star’s WWE career, his tumultuous relationship with Vince McMahon, his last singles match with Ric Flair in TNA, his thoughts on that Hulk Hogan internet video, and his ambitions for a very ‘festive’ send-off.

To say more would be to spoil the surprise for anyone yet to enjoy Foley’s stand-up tour; suffice to say, it was an evening filled with cheap pops, big words (he is a best-selling author, after all), memorable stories and hilarious gags.

Not bad value at all really  from a man renowned for his legendary thriftiness.

The above article was originally published on CollarAndElbow.com, a website that I founded and ran for two years between 2012 – 2014.