I wanted to write this last week, but a little bundle of joy
named Christopher Paul came along, with my wife going
into labor a week ago Sunday. The weekend before that, I
spent a good chunk of my time making a Cactus Jack
compilation tape. There was an irony to reviewing the career
Foley on a video, since the WWF was building to a PPV main event
where if Foley lost, he would retire. It was looking that way,
rather than him win the WWF title and main event at WrestleMania,
and as it turns out, that's exactly what happened.
It's rare that we can actually appreciate the last days of
an athlete's career as we know they're happening. In my
youth, I remember Hank Aaron going back to Milwaukee
for one last season, signing on with the Brewers. Everyone
knew he was hanging on for one last time around. Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar had a final season that turned out to be
his final season. But with most athletes, it gets dragged
out a bunch of times (Sugar Ray Leonard and Dominik
Hasek come to mind) or injury and diminishing skills
play a role (Charles Barkley and Willie Mays,
respectively). The word has been out that Cactus Jack
was looking to step away, so the last couple of months have
been a sort of retirement tour, from my perspective.
In making this tape, it really became apparent how much
punishment his body has absorbed. And not just to the head,
although the loss of memory is the most frightening side
effect of his career. The earliest match I put on the tape
was a 1991 Falls Count Anywhere encounter between Cactus and
Eddie Gilbert, for Joel Goodhart's old TWA in
Philadelphia. It was the last match Cactus wrestled before
joining WCW. In putting everything together, I watched nine
years of bumps on the steel entranceway, on the concrete
floor, through tables. He was launched from various places
to those surfaces, be it from the ring, from the top rope,
from the top of the largest steel cage in pro wrestling
history. At times, it was painful to watch, knowing what
damage he was doing to his back, his hips, his knees. And
knowing that there was several years of him doing this
before 1991, through Memphis, Texas, and hundreds of other
small-time gigs. There's a story in his book about getting
an MRI on his back, and asking the doctor why one vertebra
in his back showed up white, while the rest were a dull
gray. "What's wrong with that one?" he asked.
"Nothing," said the doctor. "They're all
supposed to be that way. It's the rest of your vertebrae
that are damaged."
There are two athletes to whom I can best compare Mick
Foley. One is former Bears standout lineman Dan
Hampton (why he isn't in the NFL Hall of Fame mystifies
me). Hampton had so many knee surgeries over the course of
his playing days that there was no cartilage left in either.
He had leg bone resting on leg bone. A couple of seasons
before the end, a doctor told Hampton that if he didn't
retire, he'd be unable to walk comfortably when he was 40.
"Doc, I can't walk
now," Hampton replied. And he kept on going. The other,
more suitable example for this tale, is Paul Orndorff.
"Mr. Wonderful" had a badly damaged left arm in
1986, at the very height of his career in the WWF. He had a
torn bicep and ligament tears, but was also making the most
money he'd ever seen. He knew he was doing irreparable
damage, but he also knew that 70,000 people paying to see
him wrestle Hulk Hogan didn't happen all the time
either. Orndorff's left arm is still not as strong as
his right, and the results of that run will be forever
In Mick Foley's case, it's not just his arm, it's his whole
body. People expressed their concern after a 20/20
feature, where Foley's wife Collette said that Mick
forgets his way home from the airport sometimes.
In response, Vince McMahon said that they would take
care of Foley in the No Way Out main event with HHH.
"Taking care of" meant a 20+ minute war, where he
got ring steps tossed in his face, fell through the Spanish
announcer's table from about 10 feet up, got hit numerous
times with a 2x4 wrapped in barbed wire, and once again took
a bump through the top of the cell into the ring. From
Cactus Jack's point-of-view, he's worked 15 years to get
this far. A few more bumps aren't going to make it that much
tougher to get out of bed, and he's making the kind of money
that will provide security for his children. As a new
father, I'd do anything to make sure that my son has a roof
over his head, food on the table, money for his education,
and stability for the future. That's what every good father
wants, and by most means, Mick Foley is a great father.
It's just a damn shame that means he won't physically be
able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, to run and tumble and
play with his children. And perhaps he'll end up like the
greatest of them all,
Ali, where the abuse he suffered has turned him into a shell of
his former self. I hope I never watch another Cactus Jack match.
I'm afraid of what's going to happen.
Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources,
and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at
Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling
business, too. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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