Dirty dozen: Mick Foley's 12 wildest matches
The Hardcore Legend and a father of four, Mick Foley authored a remarkable career defined by stark dichotomy. Before arriving in WWE, the soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer competed in some of the most barbaric and gruesome matches ever to take place in a wrestling ring. These grizzly encounters pushed in-ring brutality to unthinkable extremes, yet they endeared Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy to a global audience that recognized his sacrifices.
But after winning the WWE Title in January 1999, Mick became better known for pulling a sock out of a pair of sweatpants, cracking jokes and living up to his reputation as a beloved family man.
What made such a bright, funny and kind man — a man so sentimental that he maintains a Christmas Room in his house year-round — commit such unthinkably brutal acts? In advance of Mick Foley’s upcoming WWE Hall of Fame induction at Madison Square Garden, WWEClassics.com sat down with The Hardcore Legend himself to better understand the 12 wildest bouts of his reckless career — as Mick put it, a true “dirty dozen.”
What do you think was Mick's wildest match? Vote now!
Cactus Jack vs. Randy Orton - Hardcore Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Backlash 2004
The intense and starmaking rivalry between Mick and Randy Orton had been one nearly a year in the making. When the two met in Madison Square Garden at WrestleMania XX, it was in a Handicap Match pitting The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection against Evolution — a match that left The Hardcore Legend disappointed.
“I played it safe at WrestleMania,” Mick revealed to WWEClassics.com. “I think I got a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Garden, having The Rock as my tag team partner and seeing a legend like Ric Flair out in the ring, really feeling the moment. And I just, for whatever reason, couldn’t feel the moment.”
By the time a rematch was set with Hardcore rules for Randy’s Intercontinental Championship, Mick’s stakes were raised. ( WATCH FOLEY VS. ORTON)
“It was really important for me in terms of redeeming myself for what I thought was a very disappointing performance at WrestleMania,” he said. “This was the biggest match of my career and probably the last time that my heart was completely in being in the ring. I left it out there that night. I love the match.”
A scary fracas that involved tables, barbwire and even thumbtacks, the bout proved that Orton was a serious contender and that Foley was still a force to be reckoned with.
“Best case scenario for a match is when everybody benefits,” he explained. “I think this is one of those great cases where the same match benefitted both guys enormously. I think it helped people see Randy in a different way. There was a sudden respect because he had just gone through years of learning in one night. He suffered greatly. As did I.”
Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk - Barbed Wire Bunkhouse Match: IWA Japan Duel of the Wilds, Jan. 8, 1995
In the midst of a successful ECW career, Mick took his Cactus Jack persona to a new company in Japan called the International Wrestling Association. It was in The Land of the Rising Sun that Foley, Terry Funk and others revolutionized hardcore wrestling.
“In some ways, this is the match I’m proudest of,” Foley said. “The things that Terry Funk and I did to each other willingly would be illegal in most countries in the world. We did them because we firmly believed this match, which was only witnessed by about 150 people live — but would be seen by about half a million in the magazines within a few days — was going to help build the foundation for further growth of IWA.
Despite it happening 18 years ago, the memories are still vivid — as are the scars.
“Terry hip-tossed me onto a flaming chair and I’ve still got the faded skin from that. But it’s one of those matches that I remember every single thing about, including the pre-match preparation,” Mick recalled. “It was the first time I turned to Tori Amos for inspiration and I was so highly motivated by the time I hit the ring, my goal was to have the best Barbed Wire Match of all time.”
Foley can even remember the last words he heard before he left the locker room for the life-altering encounter.
“I remember Tracy Smothers said, ‘Cactus, promise me you won’t do anything crazy out there,’ ” the former WWE Champion said. “And I turned to him like that was the most bizarre request imaginable and said, ‘I can’t do that.’ We were going to tear the house down no matter what.”
Cactus Jack vs. Vader: WCW Saturday Night, April 17, 1993
“I faced a unique challenge when people started cheering me in WCW,” Mick explained. “I had been portrayed for so long as a guy who really thrived on pain, so it was really hard for people to sympathize with me when I was going through something that the audience had been led to believe I enjoyed.”
But the monstrosity of Vader allowed Cactus to experience the compassion that he’d been missing.
“When I was in the ring with Vader, sympathy was much easier to come by,” Mick said. “He was so big and so impressive. He was probably the greatest monster wrestler of that time period. We wanted to do something a little special. Vader got caught up in the idea of breaking my nose, which he did.”
Many longtime fans remember the rematch where Vader powerbombed Cactus onto the floor outside the ring, but it’s the first match that’s much more sadistic. In addition to Foley getting his nose broken, the Rocky Mountain beast savagely tore away at Mick’s face.
“When we taped interviews two weeks after the match, I had to try to look like I did two weeks earlier when I had taken such a bad beating,” Foley recalled. “I accomplished that by taking a piece of sandpaper to my face while driving down the highway in a Chrysler LeBaron convertible.”
Mankind vs. The Rock - "I Quit" Match for the WWE Championship: Royal Rumble 1999
Beginning in late 1998, Mankind and The Rock battled for the WWE Championship seven times in the span of three months. But it is the infamous “I Quit” Match from Royal Rumble 1999 that has been immortalized in books, documentaries and countless interviews as a bout that truly went beyond the mat.
“It’s not like Hell in a Cell, where people like to watch it repeatedly,” Foley said of the unforgiving bout. “If someone says they’ve watched it more than a couple times, I have to question their judgment. I don’t watch it. It’s not an enjoyable match. It’s on this list because this is a list of my wildest matches, but it should never be duplicated.” ( WATCH THE WILD BRUTALITY)
The disturbing sight of a handcuffed Mick being repeatedly battered with a steel chair in front of his distraught family has long haunted sports-entertainment fans, but the match was pivotal in cementing The Rock’s status as a bona fide star.
“There was a much brighter future that we all knew Rock could have,” Mick explained. “One of the goals was to take a guy who was so entertaining and show a mean streak that had previously not been on display. In that goal, we were very successful. People saw a real mean streak in The Rock and I think it did help establish that side to him and got him ready for the real big money matches with ‘Stone Cold.’ ”
In other ways, Mick regrets what took place that night.
“I think you don’t know what crossing the line is until you’ve crossed it,” he said. “And we crossed the line that night.”
Cactus Jack vs. Eddie Gilbert - Trilogy: Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, 1991
“Joel Goodhart ran the biggest independent shows in the country,” Mick explained. “He assembled a wide variety of different styles, in addition to the Philadelphia locals, many of whom would go on to be big stars in ECW.”
Later, Goodhart sold a share of the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance to his partner Tod Gordon, who renamed the company Eastern Championship Wrestling, setting the stage for an Extreme revolution. But years earlier, Foley and legendary grappler Eddie Gilbert revolutionized the indies with a three-match epic in 1991.
“I really believe it was the trilogy of matches that I had with Eddie Gilbert that put me back on the national map and rehired at WCW,” Foley said. “Eddie had just become a bad guy in Memphis [Tenn.] and really wanted to put that smiling Eddie Gilbert behind him. He lost himself in his art.”
Their first encounter was a Falls Count Anywhere Match on March 2 in front of 1,700 fans, but the next bout, a Barbed Wire Match on May 18, was even more brutal.
“Getting caught up in the barbed wire was a pretty traumatic situation,” Mick said. “It was intense. I remember driving home riding that wave of adrenaline and couldn’t figure out why people were looking at me funny when I stopped for gas. I was looking a little worse for the wear, but I had never been happier.”
The conclusion of the trilogy, a 2-out-of-3-Falls Match on Aug. 3, was the precursor to WWE’s Three Stages of Hell Matches in Foley’s opinion.
“In our case, it was a Falls Count Anywhere, followed by a Stretcher Match, followed by a Steel Cage,” he recalled. “Taken on their own, they were all very good, but collectively, it was kind of a happening.”
Cactus Jack vs. Sabu: ECW, Sept. 30, 1994
“I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to take a 3-year-old child on the road with me to ECW shows,” Mick admitted. “It was the first time that my oldest son, Dewey, had traveled with me and he was asleep in the dressing room on 911’s leather jacket. He woke up as Sabu’s music was playing and started screaming. I had to go out to the ring and was frantically saying, ‘Take care of him!’ ”
If that wasn’t enough, Sabu broke his ribs in the early goings of the contest.
“Sabu does a moonsault off the second rope and impaled himself on the guardrails,” Foley said. “The sounds coming from his body were the sounds of human suffering.”
With Mick’s son crying in the dressing room and Sabu badly injured, the bout was already out of hand. But it’s what came next that made this encounter one of Foley’s wildest. ( WATCH SABU AND CACTUS GO EXTREME)
“A trash can was overturned, a soda bottle fell out,” Mick explained. “Those circa 1994 Coca-Cola bottles were pretty thick. Hamburg is about 70 miles from Philadelphia, but it was the same kind of rabid fanbase. They really seemed to enjoy that first shot with the bottle, which didn’t break. And they kind of enjoyed the second shot.”
It took several more devastating blows for the bottle to break over Foley’s skull and almost immediately afterward, Mick had to revert back from Cactus to Dad.
“I went back to the dressing room,” he said. “Gathered up my son and drove to grandmother’s house.”
Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk - Barbed Wire, Exploding C4 and Time Bomb Match: IWA Japan Kawasaki Dream, Aug. 20, 1995
Funk and Foley returned to Japan for a grueling outdoor tournament at Kawasaki Baseball Stadium that has taken on a mythic quality among fans of hardcore wrestling.
“The word that got around was not that it was graphic, but almost that it was like a happening,” Mick explained. “The surreal quality replaced the barbaric nature of it.”
A must-have among tape traders, the event featured an international collection of extreme competitors brawling in no holds barred bouts with baseball bats, chains and even broken glass at their disposal.
“It was such a ridiculously long day,” Foley recalled. “And I remember every single part of it. It was a new mat we were using. It wasn’t canvas. It was a kind of plastic that was so hot that you’d physically get burned from being down on it.”
By the time Cactus faced off with his mentor in the final, he had already undergone tremendous beatings at the hands of Terry Gordy and Shoji Nakamaki, not to mention plenty of barbed wire, thumbtacks and nails.
“I see that whole tournament as one big match,” he said. “The final itself wasn’t a particularly great match, but it was almost like we were the guys in the frozen waters of the north Atlantic who had already been submerged after the Titanic went down.”
Five years later, a photograph of Foley from the event — holding a barbed wire bat and his face busted wide open — landed on the cover of WWE’s own Raw Magazine, cementing his legacy as the world’s most dangerous wrestler.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker - Hell in a Cell Match: King of the Ring 1998
“Enough is enough! Would somebody stop the damn match!” Jim Ross yelled as the ring filled up immediately with medical personnel, office personnel and Terry Funk. I get goose bumps thinking about it even now, as Ross’ call was not part of a wrestling match, but a legitimate cry for my well-being. It was probably the most dramatic call I have ever heard in any sport. Purists can have ‘The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant,’ but I’ll take ‘Would somebody stop the damn match!’ any day.
François Petit and the EMTs tried to help me as I lay on my back with my arms outstretched and my legs sickly twisted to one side. I later asked The Undertaker what he thought when he looked down at me from atop the cell. His answer was chilling in its simplicity: “I thought you were dead.” — MICK FOLEY, “HAVE A NICE DAY: A TALE OF BLOOD AND SWEATSOCKS,” 1999
Dude Love vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin - No Disqualification Falls Count Anywhere Match for the WWE Championship: Over the Edge 1998
“Wrestling Austin was such a highlight,” Foley said of their wild No Disqualification Falls Count Anywhere Match from Over the Edge 1998. “It was really flattering to be out there in the ring with him because everything we did elicited a huge response. I’d never believed that anything I’d participate in could get that kind of reaction, because I never knew somebody could be as popular as ‘Stone Cold’ was.”
The unexpected sight of Foley brawling with The Texas Rattlesnake while dressed up as the demented hippy Dude Love added to the brawl’s chaotic charm, but it was the involvement of Mr. McMahon as special guest referee that truly sent the bout spiraling out of control. ( WATCH "STONE COLD" VS. DUDE LOVE)
“Mr. McMahon was a tremendous asset as the referee,” Mick said. “It was discovered later on that Vince was wearing a boy’s medium size referee shirt, really showing off the guns. He had made it a point to say, ‘The count had to be made with THIS ARM’ and hit the tricep pose. After ‘Stone Cold’ knocked us both out, he took Vince’s arm and made the three-count with it. I loved it.”
The match might fly under the radar when looking back at Foley’s career, but The Hardcore Legend has soft spot for it.
“I remember seeing it years later in 2008 after not having seen it since 1998 and being really impressed how well it stood the test of time,” Foley explained. “It was fun. The kind of match you could show to someone and say, ‘This is why I’m a wrestling fan.’ It was wild for all the right reasons.”
Mankind vs. Big Show - Boiler Room Brawl: Backlash 1999
The Undertaker has the Casket Match. Kane has the Inferno Match. And for a brief period during the 1990s, Mankind had the Boiler Room Brawl. There have been only two of these underground brawls on pay-per-view, the second of which was between Foley and Big Show in a rematch from their encounter at WrestleMania XV. ( WATCH MICK AND BIG SHOW IN THE BOILER ROOM)
“I knew I was going to be gone for a while,” Mick revealed. “I had some much needed knee surgery, so I wanted to leave a good impression, especially because I was on the poster for that pay-per-view and I didn’t think that I should be sitting on the sidelines.”
The first Boiler Room Brawl was during the climax of Mankind’s rivalry with The Undertaker in 1996, and while it was a brutal encounter, Mick wanted to make an improvement.
“While I really enjoyed my match with The Undertaker, it came across as being a little overly long,” Foley explained. “The decision was made not to do any commentary during it, which was flattering in a way, but I felt was the wrong call. It had not been done before and has not been done since.
“Whereas the Big Show match was kind of fun to watch,” he continued. “It just clicked in a way that the Boiler Room Brawl with The Undertaker didn’t. It was noisy, there was stuff falling everywhere, it moved at a pretty good pace and it was a really good way to take a break.”
The Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne - Chicago Street Fight for the WCW Tag Team Championship: Spring Stampede 1994
“It was really a bitter time for me,” Foley said of the first of two pay-per-view tag team encounters against The Nasty Boys. “That was supposed to be my last match with WCW. I was in the one profession where losing an ear is not necessarily a bad thing, and when that wasn’t incorporated into WCW’s programming, I knew my time with the company was up.”
Mick just wanted to get the bout over with, but soon realized his opponents wouldn’t make it that easy.
“The Nasty Boys, to their credit, were sloppy but they could brawl,” Foley recalled. “They started pummeling us and I thought, ‘If I don’t start doing something, something bad is going to happen.’ So it just turned into this really wild thing and some really cool stuff came out of it.”
The match ended up becoming a predecessor to WWE’s Hardcore Matches of The Attitude Era — wild with just the right amount absurdity.
“[Jerry] Sags pushed me off the big ramp,” Mick recalled. “I landed on my shoulder blade and suffered really deep bone bruise that hurt me for weeks. [Brian] Knobbs threw a scoop shovel to Sags and I turned my head so I wouldn’t get hit in the nose or the teeth. It was the noble thing to do. It felt good, because I thought that was my last match and I was going out on a high.”
Cactus Jack vs. Shane Douglas: ECW Cyberslam 1996
With Mick’s arms handcuffed behind his back, Shane Douglas battered away at Cactus Jack at the ECW Arena. The bout is oddly reminiscent of the infamous “I Quit” Match at Royal Rumble 1999, but Foley insisted he didn’t self-plagiarize three years later.
“I kept hearing about this chairshot,” he said. “I honestly didn’t remember anything being that unique about it until I watched the match.”
Foley was preparing to depart ECW and had become an anti-hardcore crusader, preaching the gospel of WCW’s Eric Bischoff, who was despised by the Philadelphia faithful.
“I was actually coming from a wedding and wearing a sportcoat,” Mick recalled. “I wrestled the match that way until Shane ripped my formal attire off and I had on the ‘Forgive Me, Uncle Eric’ T-shirt.” ( WATCH MICK AND SHANE DOUGLAS AT THE ECW ARENA)
Late in the match, Cactus was trapped in the Figure-Four Leglock and began calling out for his pal Mikey Whipwreck. ECW’s underdog hit the ring and nailed his friend with steel chair.
“There was no reason for me to be putting myself through that type of match,” Mick admitted. “I guess it was just pride and ownership to give people the best match I can on my way out.”
Once Foley arrived in WWE, he became one of the biggest stars in the industry.
“I may have been calling out for Mikey,” Mick said, “but I believe in my mind I was calling for Vince [McMahon] to help me out of a bad situation.”
WILD-CARD MATCH: Mick Foley, Edge & Lita vs. Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer & Beulah McGillicutty - Extreme Rules Intergender Tag Team Match: ECW One Night Stand 2006
“There was fire, there was barbed wire, oh man,” Mick recalled of the chaotic encounter inside New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom. “It was a very rough, physical match. Parts were difficult to watch.”
Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy had recently turned his back on the fans following a tremendous reception to a Hardcore Match against Edge at WrestleMania 22. Mick joined forces with his adversary to battle Tommy Dreamer & Terry Funk, but Foley felt like he was fighting against WWE officials who doubted his abilities leading up to the contest in midtown Manhattan. ( WATCH MICK GO WILD IN NEW YORK CITY)
“It’s well-documented that I was really disappointed in the lack of faith because I never doubted that we were going to deliver in the match,” Foley said. “So it was a moral victory when even Mr. McMahon had to admit, ‘Yes, it was very good.’ ”
The main event that night featured Rob Van Dam defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship in front of a volatile ECW crowd, but it was the chaotic six-person bout that set the tone for the evening.
“I don’t think it ever got the credit it deserved for making that pay-per-view a big success,” The Hardcore Legend said. “I think the credit is given to the Cena–Rob Van Dam match — and that was a huge part of it — but even with the loss of faith, we really delivered. Edge and I had really good chemistry as a tag team. Using Beulah and Lita added a distinct element to it. I’m proud to put it on my list of wildest matches, because it was without a doubt, a slobberknocker.”