Mick Foley Web Column (8/19)

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Mick Foley

Mick Foley

Once upon a time, I was thought to be one of the better “promo” guys in the wrestling business; the type of guy who could grab a microphone any or no notice, in either a scripted or spontaneous environment, and entertain, possibly inform, or, once in a great while, make wrestling fans feel some kind of genuine emotion. I would think back to the David Allen Coe line from The Ride, “Boy can you make folks feel what you feel inside?”; a line that feuled many a late night road trip in my early days in the business. That was always my goal every time I grabbed hold of that microphone – to deep down, make folks feel what I felt inside. I understood that the business I was in wasn’t one of complete and utter truth or non-fiction; sometimes the storylines I was involved in were compelling and realistic, sometimes weak and absurd. But no matter the situation, the compelling or the weak, the realistic or the absurd, I always felt like I could make a weak story decent or a good story great as long as I got to hold onto that microphone and make folks feel just a little of what I felt inside.

It seemed to work, too. I believe I won The Wrestling Observer award for best on interviews in 1994, and again in 2004, with a decade of pretty good stuff in-between. I think I got a few second, third or fourth place finishes in there as well, including a few years when I quite honestly though my stuff was better than that of the winners. Certainly it was more original and less formulaic. I even placed highly in 2005 and 2006, years when I was really just on the periphery of the wrestling business, where a few really good promos and a reputation were enough to win the hearts and votes of Observer voters around the world. Wait, check that – after reflecting for a moment on ’06 – The Funk promo in Lubbuck, the Hardway promo in Dayton – maybe I did deserve some of those votes.

But then, something happened. At some point in 2008, around the beginning of September, if I remember correctly, my promos started meeting with regular criticism. It felt weird; I was the same guy, with the same style, still trying to make folks feel like I felt inside. Maybe some of these 2008 promos weren’t homeruns, but they certainly felt like well hit doubles into the gap, or at the very worst, hard grounders in the hole, that I just didn’t have the speed to turn into base hits. Despite delivering what I felt were some of the best promos of my career in the spring of 2009, I don’t think I earned a single vote for best on interviews. Oh, how the mighty had fallen! Although I had long appreciated the reporting skills of Observer founder Dave Meltzer, and felt like I needed to keep abreast of my own line of business, as time went by, I found I actually enjoyed reading it less and less. Probably because the criticisms kept mounting. Week in and week out, I would turn in what I knew were good promos, only to see a single line from a promo analyzed and derided, to an extent that no work of oration would escape unscathed from. “Yeah, I get it already Martin, – you have a dream.”

Wrestling promos, at their best, have an ability to suspend disbelief among fans, allowing them to enjoy the passion, the emotion, the delivery – while simultaneously accepting the escapist quality of the show. They are, after all, wrestling promos, not recitations of the Gettysburg Address. Yet Meltzer seemed to find a way of reducing promos I was proud of down to one dismissive or sarcastic comment, to the point where just reading The Observer started feeling like an exercise in literary masochism. I had always thought that Meltzer was the best actual reporter in the wrestling business, and felt like people who dismissed him as being just the dirt sheet guy were almost dismissing pro-wrestling itself as being beneath the dignity of being reported on. But gradually, it seemed to me, that The Observer started developing a distinct feel of nitpicking, that “oh, yeah, you expect me to believe that” cynicism of someone who no longer enjoys pro-wrestling – and my desire to learn about the inner workings of my own business were replaced with the desire to not feel like a piece of garbage every time I took a look. Apparently there were a few issues I missed where my work was praised, (a few of them were referred to as among the best of the year) but in general, I believe my verbal work has been treated with undo harshness. In addition, it seems that any TNA wrestler who mentions their former working relationship with WWE faces immediate reprimand for making their current company look “minor league”; often, the very mention of a wrestler’s former place of work seems enough to disqualify the entire content from favorable consideration from The Observer.

So, why do I care, you might ask. Especially since such a small percentage of wrestling fans even knew about these things. Certainly most fans didn’t react to me as if I’d suddenly “lost it”. Indeed, as a pretty realistic assessor of moods and feelings, I judged that my overall popularity, while not quite up to ’98 -’01 levels, was right up there with ’02-’04 and ’07 and ’08, while being ahead of ’05 and ’06, for some unknown reason. But those fans don’t write our business’s history. Look, I wrote a novel, Tietam Brown, which received some great reviews. Go ahead, look at the LA Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Guardian (UK) or any number of credible newspapers or literary journals. They liked, it, they really liked it. Hey, I was even nominated for a People’s Chioce award in The UK. But those people don’t write a book’s history; The New York Times does. Kirkus Reviews does. And The New York Times and Kirkus didn’t like the book. In fact, I’ll go as far as say The Times hated it. Hated it to the point that I felt it was personal; that I was being singled out for being a wrestler who had dared have commercial success in his field of business. Take that, Mr. best-selling wrestling guy! At least that’s how The Times review made me feel.

I don’t feel like Meltzer has a similar agenda, or any agenda at all, for that matter. In fact, I would say if asked about me, he would probably say that he liked me. If anything, I feel like he over praised my work during the course of my career, leading people to believe I was a bigger star than I actually was, at least during my pre-TNA years. I mean, was that ROH promo with Samoa Joe really that good? Entertaining, yes, with creative use of WWE writer Brian Gewirtz’s name thrown in…but one of the best promos of the year? Come on.

For better or worse, The Wrestling Observer is as close to The Times as we’re going to get. If Dave Meltzer says it, most people accept it as being so. And call me naive or over-sensitive, but I don’t want the official record to reflect that my TNA years were a time of great sucking. So let me do my best to refute the public record.

Let me state for the record, that I don’t have notes, or exact quotes with me. This is just a weblog on a wrestling site, and it’s just one person’s opinion. It’s not Countdown to Lockdown, with it’s historical facts all checked and all. But it certainly seems in this person’s opinion, that any promo that refers to WWE in any way is met with overly harsh criticism – like it’s cast off as being a loser from the moment those magic initials are uttered, or sometimes just implied. Indeed, even mentioning “the other company” or “another company” seems to bring forth a reprimand. Something like “do they have any idea how minor league it looks”…..etc. etc. That seems to be the most common complaint; that we make TNA look minor league by acknowledging WWE in our interviews. In some cases, this criticism may have some merit. But I feel like many of my promos have been good and been cast off immediately just for mentioning WWE.Like a Jeopardy question that is dismissed for not being phrased as a question, or like my freshman college paper that was marked down for containing a Dolly Parton Quote in which improper grammar was used by Dolly, any mention of WWE seems to make whatever precedes or follows it null and void. It doesn’t matter that you knew the answer, you’re still going to get that condescending tone from Alex, as he says, “I’m sorry, that is incorrect”, just like no amount of arguing that “it was a quote from a song, you can’t change a quote to make it grammatically correct” was going to get my professor to change my grade.

Take a recent promo delivered by Tommy Dreamer. I was there, in the ring. It sounded good. It felt good. Full of passion and honesty. It’s hard to tell in the Impact Zone, since they can be a pretty fickle group, but they certainly seemed to enjoy it. But to read The Observer, it might as well have been the open festering sore of wrestling promos – a stinker of Warrior-like proportions. There was a veritable laundry list of faults to be found. Whereas I saw it as being honest and emotional, Meltzer saw it as Dreamer doing “the Dreamer crying thing”, which I guess means that he’s cried before. The same way that Meryl Streep is just doing “the Streep crying thing” in Sophie’s Choice”.

Dreamer talked of seeing a company he loved turning into something he didn’t recognize, and ultimately something that he didn’t even enjoy (even though he cried a couple times at the end of that run as well). He talked of seeing people he cared about losing their jobs, and how he hesitated to make a change in his life because he had two kids to think about. Emotional stuff, right? I thought so. But according to The Observer, it made TNA look “minor league, for allowing fans to think, or know, that wrestlers can make more money in WWE. I only said a couple lines in that in-ring segment, noting that the last time fans had seen me, I was being fired by Eric Bischoff. I felt like I had to mention the obvious, but according to Dave, it made me look bad (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting here) because fans tune in to see larger than life stars, not guys who have to worry about their job.

Look, in this economy, everybody needs a job – wrestlers included. Fans know that. I think fans are smart enough to know that some larger than life stars, such as The Rock have made enough money so that they never have to work again. Other larger than life stars, like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, might well need to keep working. Some characters, such as The Million Dollar Man, or his son, Ted Jr., are portrayed as being fabulously wealthy, which fans can suspend disbelief and accept , even if deep down, they know it’s a role, and therefore, don’t express shock when they see Ted Sr. selling photos for $20 at Wizard World. Not that there’s anything with selling photos at Wizard World either. Hey I’ll be there myself all day August 20-22 in Chicago – check out http://www.wizardworld.com for details.

I seem to remember Stone Cold Steve Austin in the Summer of 1997, not being allowed to work, due to a neck injury. The injury was real, the storyline wasn’t. Austin wanted back in and the WWE was preventing him from making a living. As I recall, the need to earn a living was a pretty big part of that storyline. Fans everywhere empathized with Austin, even in a relatively robust economy. And he was one of the biggest stars in the company – though he would go in to be markedly bigger in the next couple of years. But fans didn’t think less of him, or see him as lees of a star because he had financial insecurities. They liked him even more.

Maybe there is some element to wrestlers being depicted as stars as opposed to regular people. Hey, I couldn’t even refer to wrestlers as “wrestlers” in 2001’s Foley is Good; they had to be “superstars”. Even Tiger Ali Singh. Nonetheless, a “superstar” as huge as Shawn Michaels was depicted as being in dire financial straits – and fans accepted it, if only within the confines of the story. After all, Bradshaw “owning” Shawn was a pretty tough sell, even to the most naive. But Tommy Dreamer actually having financial concerns amidst the worst financial downturn in a generation? Sorry, maybe I’m the naive one here, but I’m going to buy into it. After all, I know the New York real estate market. And with all due respect to Tommy, is he really supposed to be a larger than life star, with honest to goodness superpowers, and no financial concerns for the rest of his life. Or is he an overachieving everyman that just might have the same problems as any other man?

Any wrestling fan who is grounded in some sense of reality knows that wrestlers don’t lead easy lives. Many of the fans know the grim realities too; no healthcare benefits, no pension plan, a career filled with injuries and pain. One doesn’t need to look too hard or too far to find another example of a wrestler’s life winding up in unhappy fashion. Something tells me if fans are aware of the sad reality of depression, concussions, drug dependency, suicide , heart attacks and other assorted deaths, that their fantasy bubble won’t burst too hard upon learning that one of the guys might have concerns about a mortgage payment.

Not to mention that the struggle to find a balance between money and happiness is a universal theme in literature, movies, athletics religion, and everyday life. Does an athlete stay put in their home town, or chase the big dollars on the open market? Should A-Rod have stayed put with the Rangers, or chased the big dollars in New York? Does a father of three young children climb that corporate ladder, to build a future for his family, even though by doing so he risks losing touch with the very children he loves? Does Nichlolas Cage continue to earn the admiration of his peers by pursuing roles of emotional depth, like the one that won him an Oscar in Leaving Las Vegas…or does he sign on to as many big budget blockbusters as his agent can find him?

Let’s look at the old ECW – the Paul Heyman version, not the unloved stepson version of Vince McMahon . Those guys mentioned both WWE and WCW all the time. Sometimes too often in my opinion. Yet, their fans loved them for it. You know, I don’t remember The Observer being down on my promos at all when I talked of The Dungeon of Doom, or Uncle Eric, while all the time attempting Tommy Dreamer to trade in his passion for ECW in return for a pair of green suspenders and the financial comfort that a WCW contract would provide. Was I making ECW look “minor league” by portraying WCW, and later WWE as a place to make more money, or was I simply acknowledging the financial realities of the wrestling world – that there’s a place to do what you love, and a place to be well paid, and that quite often, they are not the same place? Come to think of it, that ROH promo about Samoa Joe, that Dave thought so highly of, was based completely around my attempt to convince Joe to sell out his ideals and character in favor of a gimmick that Vince McMahon would find more acceptable. Was I making ROH look “minor league”, by acknowledging that there might be a place where a wrestler could make more money – where they might be regarded my most fans as being a bigger star?

One by one, the old stars of ECW were swept up by the bigger promotions; a fact that most of the fans accepted as a harsh reality of real world economics. In some cases – Benoit, Malenko, Guererro – it almost felt to the fans like they simply had to go. They just had no other choice but to do what was best for their financial future. No one really felt as if those “please don’t go” chants were really going to change anyone’s mind. Back then, it was understood that a guy had to do what a guy had to do. It was accepted, not derided. Guys rarely talked about staying where they might be happier, even if there may have been some isolated cases over the years. Ironically, TNA is a place where many guys actually come to and stay, even though they know they can make more money in WWE. Sure, for most, it’s an easier life; less overseas road trips, less days away from home. For me, personally, I work far more dates than I did during my last three years in WWE. Far more. And I get paid less. One could probably argue that my big money days were over in WWE. But I don’tt know that for a fact. I could have been the Smackdown announcer, voiced the video games for a considerable fee, and done the occasional big return match for the occasional big payoff. But I wasn’t happy there..so I left to work somewhere else for less money. That’s life, with my decision to forego the safety and familiarity of WWE being a personal choice that required a tremendous amount of thought and introspection.

I don’t blame WWE for not acknowledging TNA. They are the largest wrestling company in the world, and have absolutely no reason to mention number the competition. But, in my opinion, that hardly means that any mention of WWE should come across as minor league. It seems only natural to refer to one’s own history within that company, or to have that history referred to in order to establish credibility with a fan base that is more familiar with stars that have been established there. Of course, TNA needs to establish stars of their own, and as time goes on and those stars, such as Beer Money and the Motor City Machine Guns become better established in the eyes of casual fans, it stands to reason that the mentions of WWE should become fewer and farther between. But we’re not quite at that point yet. Not in the eyes of casual fans, and not in the eyes of the people who make things happen in overseas markets, where so much of the future success of TNA lies. Until that time, I think it’s fair for the stars who have been there to compare and contrast both groups without being automatically castigated by the wrestling press.

I wonder if the New York Cosmos were hesitant to mention the Brazilian World Cup team when Pele arrived in the United States? Or did they use the credibility that the most famous soccer player in the world afforded them to create awareness of their own product? OK, maybe that was a long time ago, even if a current TNA star’s top move is still named for him, over thirty years after Pele’s retirement. How about a more current example – David Beckham and the impossibly large salary that was doled out by the LA Galaxy in order to establish some credibility of the league. You better believe the name Manchester United was thrown around a time or two, without pausing to wonder whether it made the Galaxy seem minor league.

Or Bob MacAdoo, the NBA hall-of-famer who closed out the last several years of his career playing basketball in Italy. I never did hear the play-by-play of those Italian games, but I’m willing to bet there were more than a few references to Big Mac’s NBA MVP award, scoring championships and multiple NBA titles without giving a second thought as to whether it made the Italians look minor league..

Remember the infamous “Cane Dewey” sign that sparked one of the best promos of my career – the one where I specifically mentioned Tommy Dreamer turning down an offer to head to WCW. A little known fact is that the original “Sign Guy” was also the owner of the world’s largest collection of Negro League baseball memorabilia. He even gave me a book, When the Game was Black and White, as a peace offering, and I went on to become something of a Negro League student; even bonding with Barry Bonds over our near-matching Negro League jerseys. I don’t have any actual tapes of major league games back before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier (you know, I never felt like Larry Doby, who did it second, and who faced very similar challenges in the American League, got his proper due) but I’m willing to bet that you never heard a play by play man say, “too bad that racism prevents players of color from playing in the major leagues, or else we’d really see how this game should be played”. I mean why should they have? They were the top dog, the big cheese – there was absolutely no incentive to publicly acknowledge a lesser known league. But do you think those Negro League players talked about the major leaguers every chance they got? Of course they did, especially knowing they were just as good, and, in many cases (based on playing against the major leaguers in off-season barnstorming games) even better than the top stars in the major league. That’s how they developed credibility and familiarity with the public, without giving a thought to whether or not the acknowledgement made them look “minor league”.

I don’t blame Vince McMahon, or any of the WWE guys for not acknowledging TNA in any way. I was even told that my book The Hardcore Diaries was the first public acknowledgement ever made of TNA by WWE. Why should there be any acknowledgement? After all, McDonalds doesn’t mention Burger King. But Burger King sure does mention Mickey D’s. They even have a commercial which claims they stole the recipe for McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin; claiming they have the same exact thing as the number one brand, only cheaper. They’re not claiming to be better than McDonald’s – but just as good at a better price. But I wonder what would happen in the fast-food industry if McDonald’s came to feel that their established menu had seen it’s better days, and that they were going to forego the menu that made them famous in favor of a new type of fusion cuisine. Sure, in the long run, Micky D’s might benefit from such a radical departure. After all, change is good. But could Burger King really be faulted for picking up the tried and true family favorites, and letting the public know that they literally had the items that had made McDonald’s famous – especially if it served as a way of bringing McDonald’s fans to their tables, where they could then sample the new items (newer TNA stars) that were exclusive to the Burger King menu. Over time, perhaps those new items could become just as well-loved as the Big Mac, the Chicken Nuggets, the Filet-o-fish. Undoubtedly, McDonald’s with it’s far broader known brand name could make those new fusion items work for them. But I think there just might be people out there who might be interested to know that they could check out Jeff Hardy instead of Drew Macintyre, RVD instead of Shaemus, Ric Flair instead of Dolph Ziggler and Mick Foley instead of Zack Ryder. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those aforementioned WWE guys, and in truth, WWE has thus far done a better job of getting their new items established on the menu of popular acceptance. But TNA has so many of the guys who brought fans to the WWE table to begin with. We absolutely need to let hungry fans know that we are still available for consumption – just at a different location than the on they’re used to.

Look, I know the last comparison is a little on the ridiculous side, and personally, I’m not a big fan of most of the Burger King commercials -the broken field touchdown run by the King notwithstanding. Most of them specifically make me want to stay away from their food. But that’s more of a complaint with the “small” hands campaign, and the guy in the chicken suit doing tricks on the motorcycle. Specifically mentioning the number one brand is a smart move, not a sign of desperation or inferiority. I’m sure my mentions of Pele, Bob MacAdoo and the Negro leagues will be seen by some as out of touch and out of date. I’m sure someone younger and more technically astute could come up with similar ones using Google, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon, or any number of sports analogies that have actually taken place during the course of this century. But I firmly believe that my work in the last two years has been far better than at least one modern day historian has given it credit for being. I’ve been around long enough to know when one of my promos hits the mark, sails a little wide to the right , or misfires completely. I’m aware that I simply can no longer make folks feel what I feel inside every single time, and that my best days in the ring are a long way behind me. But I also know that most of my microphone work is still good, and not deserving of the derision it’s been given since coming to TNA. I know that Tommy Dreamer gave a hell of a promo in the ring, and I know that guys who gave their blood, sweat and tears to help build a company like World Wrestling Entertainment have earned the right to talk about their past employer without making their current one look minor league.

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About Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan is a longtime wrestling fan and Owner/Editor of TNA UK . Also a contributing writer to a number of other online wrestling media including 1Wrestling.com, Wrestle Zone UK & Lords of Pain.

One Response to Mick Foley Web Column (8/19)

  1. Sean says:

    I have been a Foley fan for a long time, but Mick comes off as very thin-skinned here. Meltzer doesn’t like your promos right now…. big deal. You’re still Mick F’n Foley. Don’t be so sensitive. The people have the final say, right? If the promo draws money, then Meltzer is wrong.

    Of course, TNA drawing money is a whole other story…

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