And Another Thing: The Importance Of Being Mick
Posted by Hyatte on 01.01.2000
How Mick Foley changed the WWF in ways you might not think of.
I was offline for a few months when Benoit, Saturn, Malenko, and Guerrero all made the WWF debut. I started thinking of the WWF then and the WWF “now” (two years ago). The way they handled the arrival of new wrestlers had changed. The way new wrestlers viewed the WWF had changed a bit too. I thought I knew why, and who made it possible.
(originally presented June, 2000: Real Wrestling Show)
It didn’t always use to be this way.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the WWF was completely soulless.
You remember those times, I hope. It encompassed most of the 80’s and a good chunk of the 90’s. Vince McMahon took the WWF and cut it off from the rest of the Wrestling world. All association with the PWI family was severed cleanly. Radio shows could only gain access to WWF talent if they became a WWF ONLY radio show. McMahon gave strict stipulations to journalists looking for a story, there was NO other wrestling company, and there was only the World Wrestling Federation.
Since he didn’t recognize the existence of other companies, Vince McMahon didn’t want anyone else to either. It was a pipe dream, of course. McMahon knew that he could not completely convince the fans that none of these people existed beforehand; but he sure as Hell could gimmick someone as heavily as possible in order to make sure that they were not “Wrestling Stars”, but “WWF Superstars”. Thus, a legitimate talent like Terry Taylor was made to color his hair red and “crow”. A legitimately skilled big guy like Big Bubba became a Prison Guard from deep inside Georgia. The feared Road Warriors were given a Puppet to bring to the ring with them. Dusty Rhodes was given polka dot tights and a promo where his feces-covered arm went deep inside a toilet bowl. Barry Windham was given the “All American” look, before disappearing for a while, then coming back as a Texas “Widowmaker”, then leaving for a while again… finally coming back as a “Stalker”. Rick Martel became a Model. Rick Steamboat became a fire breather. Adrian Adonis became a Cross Dressing Homosexual. The list goes on and on.
This is not to say that all of these new gimmicks were failures. Mark Calloway would be throwing drunks out of Strip Clubs today were it not for the Undertaker idea. Putting Dustin Rhodes in that Goldust get-up is still the only thing that he has been able to get heat with. Is there a happier worker in all of wrestling today than the Godfather? Ted DiBiase was already a brilliant territorial Heel, but making him a snotty millionaire made him a worldwide legend. Wayne Ferris would still be living off the good graces of his Cousin, Jerry Lawler, if the WWF didn’t think it would be a hoot to have an Elvis impersonator on staff. Again, the list goes on and on.
Nor did every wrestler need the “WWF touch”. Jake Roberts was hired as is and worked as is. The late Kerry Von Erich was only given a new nickname. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard lost mic time, which was their specialty, but inside the ring, they were the exact same workers. Ric Flair was Ric Flair, with the only change being that he too had so little time on the mic that he usually yelled a lot of rhetoric, instead of the slow building oration crescendo that he’s famous for.
Still, whether they were changed heavily or slightly, were still changed. They became part of the “WWF Machine”. The perks were a worldwide audience, good money, and major exposure. In order to work in the WWF during much of the last two decades you had to give something up. The cost was something simple.
Just your soul.
You had to forget your past, forget your history, and ignore the fans who knew who you were before you dyed your hair. With few exceptions, you were not to tell tales to the press about your career before the WWF. You were born, you lived, and you died a WWF Superstar. NW who? AW huh?. No more. You were in the Big Time; you must follow the rules.
Wrestling took its downturn in the early 90’s. With the IRS breathing down his neck and a Steroid Scandal that would not go away, Vince McMahon became pre-occupied while fans lost interest in the Wrestling in general. After dealing with his legal issues, Vince tried to regain some success by opening up to Wrestling publications. My jaw almost hit the floor when I first saw Bill Apter taking pictures at a WWF PPV. McMahon brought Jerry Lawler into the company in exchange for using the USWA as a sort of “farm league”. He did the same with Jim Cornette and the old Smokey Mountain Indy fed. Still, the WWF was looked upon as a corporate machine that had little to no respect for the history of the sport. A couple of years later, Eric Bischoff opened WCW’s doors to a healthy mix of both the old WWF Superstars and solid Wrestlers who may have lacked personality, but more than made up for it in substance. As the age of super heroes and cartoon characters diminished, a new era of old school styled workers like Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho contended for the WCW Cruiserweight championship on Nitro. WCW was the place to go if you were a wrestler. Only this time, they paid better and the exposure was just as wide as the McMahon Juggernaut. To steal a phrase, “No Gimmicks were Needed” in the WCW, you could do what you wanted to do, work with people who felt the same, and keep your soul in the process. Plus, Bret Hart was on his way in. Who knew about working a good, honest match better than Bret?
It’s generally agreed upon that the WWF regained its supremacy with its outlandish “shock” gimmicks and the development of the “Stone Cold” and “Mr. McMahon” characters. That’s all true, but there is an aspect to the reasons behind the WWF’s rebirth that nobody considered just yet.
The employment of Mick Foley.
He was hired just like everyone else was hired. The past became wiped out from the record books. His long, storied career was, at first, ignored entirely. The fabled history of Cactus Jack was put aside and Foley was transformed into a babbling, childlike, seriously deranged Mankind Mueller, and later just Mankind. Under normal WWF policies, I could not imagine Foley lasting too long there, perhaps until his contract expired, but Mick Foley came into the WWF at an unusual time. For the first time ever, Vince McMahon had real competition in the form of WCW. WCW had the big stars AND the willingness to let wrestlers wrestler, live on TV, every week. If anything else, WCW respected the past and exploited it. The WWF simply could not afford to ignore history anymore. They had to make their stable of talent just as respected as WCW’s. Sure, they had Steve Austin, but he primarily kept to himself. They had Jim Ross, but Ross has a bad reputation of being a bit of a jerk backstage. No, they needed someone whom everyone could relate to, from pure wrestlers to sheer characters. Someone who knew the business inside and out. Someone who paid every single due there was to pay, yet still gave everything he had in a match and still had fun doing so.
Sure, Mick Foley is a whiz on the mic. Sure, his antics with Vince McMahon did
more to enhance Vince’s “Corporate Tycoon” image almost as much as Austin did. Sure, he flew off the cage twice in one evening to give the WWF a much needed “extreme” credibility. Sure, he was one of the first guys to be allowed to explore his past on air, thus showing that the WWF is more then willing to acknowledge someone’s past before they come up North. Sure, he is one of the most popular and revered personalities this business has ever seen. Sure, he went from being a mid-card oddity who would eventually die in the ring to being a three time WWF World champ and best selling Author who can retire in his 30’s with enough money to keep his grandchildren well fed.
But he did something else too.
When Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero first sat down in the front row of a WWF event, it was a surreal experience. Here were four Wrestlers taking a seat at a promotion where style was historically preferred over substance. What wild gimmicks would these guys have to suffer through?
Then they were backstage, being introduced to the locker room.
Being introduced by Mick Foley. Officially welcoming them to the new WWF. A WWF where everyone is welcomed and everyone will get a chance to do what they do best.
Suddenly, the careers of these Wrestlers seemed to be in safe hands. Oh sure, Eddie Guerrero has adopted a silly, overblown Mexican accent, but ten years ago, he would have been put in a Sombrero and teamed with “El Matador”.
It didn’t always use to be this way.
There was a time when the WWF was a soulless, corporate machine.
Now it’s a corporate machine with Mick Foley on the payroll.
To think, the soul of a former cartoon company was hidden deep within a guy who allowed bombs to blow up next to his head, who wrapped barbed wire around his body on a nightly basis, and who lost his ear in Germany after a match.
To think, the soul of the WWF was hidden in the body of a guy who Vince McMahon didn’t even want to hire in the first place, claiming that he was too ugly for the WWF.
This is Hyatte too.