Since Halloween was yesterday and hopefully everybody had a great time dressing up in all sorts of crazy ways, I was reminded of two costumes that I’ve done in the past as a kid: Dude Love and Cactus Jack. Rest assured, my costumes were terrible, but that’s beside the point.
Seeing as this is the holiday season for masks and portraying different characters than who you normally are, I figured it would be as good a time as any to examine Mick Foley’s characters from over the years and try to determine just which one was the best of them all.
Many people change their gimmicks around during their tenure in the professional wrestling business, but few have as many different personalities as Mick Foley (with Charles Wright being one of the few that can top him). Although they have their similarities, there are some distinct aspects that separate them from one another, and we all have our favorites for different reasons. So the question’s posed: which one of them reigns supreme?
The Case for Mankind
For many WWE fans, their first exposure to Mick Foley was through the Mankind character, who debuted in 1996. He burst onto the scene in such a way that nobody had ever seen before, since his gimmick was extraordinarily odd. If the audience was curious how WWE would top Goldust, this was the answer.
This character was beyond deranged, ripping his hair out, squealing and shrieking like he grew up in a slaughterhouse, rocking himself back and forth and shoving his fingers down his opponents’ mouths for a finisher. What the hell, man?! It was revolutionary and would quickly propel him to a spot as a featured player on the roster, entering a legendary feud with The Undertaker.
During the Mankind era, some of the most classic things Mick Foley would ever do happened rather early on. His Boiler Room Brawl match at SummerSlam 1996 signaled a monumental turn for Paul Bearer on The Undertaker which would be the basis for many, many feuds to come, including the introduction of Kane. Mankind would receive a title shot at In Your House: Mind Games (side note: the first pay-per-view yours truly ever went to), which Foley considers one of his best matches ever. Mankind would then have the first ever Buried Alive Match with The Undertaker, before starting to show a different side to himself. If Mankind was already a schizophrenic, this was the beginning point of splitting those multiple personalities off in a way that the audience could interact with them more.
Mankind was temporarily put on the shelf while the two other personas were explored, but Foley reverted back to this gimmick to reignite his feud with The Undertaker. This resulted in their obscenely dangerous and iconic Hell in a Cell match, which requires no further explanation as everyone knows that story. Post-King of the Ring, Mankind’s character developed a more comedic edge with Mr. Socko and his feud with Mr. McMahon.
On December 29, 1998 (or January 4, 1999 depending on if you go with the tape date or air date), Mankind won his first WWF Championship. This was also one of the turning points of the Monday Night Wars after Tony Schiavone spoiled the finish for the match, prompting viewers to tune into Raw to watch the guaranteed title change rather than WCW’s regular Nitro broadcast, proving that Mankind could indeed put butts in seats.
If that’s not enough, another one of the most violent things to ever happen in WWE has Mankind’s name attached to him as his I-Quit match with The Rock at the Royal Rumble featured eleven chair shots to Foley’s head, coupled with a memorable booking decision for the finish of the match with The Rock winning by using a previously taped recording of Foley saying “I quit” as a ruse. This lead to the first ever Empty Arena Match in WWE between the two, who would later become friends as the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection, which was at least in part responsible for WWE’s highest rating ever during the classic “This is Your Life” segment.
The Case for Cactus Jack
While Mankind was the first true gimmick for Mick Foley in WWE, that was far from the Hardcore Legend’s beginnings. For many years, Foley wrestled under the moniker Cactus Jack—a character who could be argued was the truest to Foley’s real personality in a lot of ways.
Obviously, the heinous things Cactus Jack would do is not what Foley himself has in his heart, but the persona really wasn’t all that much more than a guy who could take a lot of pain and dish it out right back at you, which is what Foley built a career around. In fact, it seemed as though the Cactus Jack identity was the most dangerous at times, introducing elements from his time in ECW and other companies.
Not nearly as many monumental career moments happened while Foley was wrestling as this character, but that doesn’t mean Cactus Jack is devoid of his accolades. His feud with Triple H is widely considered one of the primary reasons why The Game was able to get over with the audiences so well, establishing him as a bona fide main event star and putting him in the upper echelon tier. That program was the recipient of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Feud of the Year award in 2000, as a matter of fact—the same year Foley was inducted into their Hall of Fame class.
While Mankind had his tag team with The Rock, Cactus Jack had a fun partner in crime for a while with Chainsaw Charlie—forming one of the oddest duos the company’s ever had.
Many would say Cactus Jack’s tenure in WCW and his experiences prior to his time with World Wrestling Entertainment build such a strong foundation of who he would end up being as a wrestler that there would be no Mick Foley without this gimmick.
Also, before the smiley face imagery became synonymous with him (which itself predates Foley’s current trend of Santa Claus gear), the Cactus Jack look was Foley’s go-to attire. Those red flannel shirts need something underneath it and the “wanted dead” t-shirt was the perfect fit.
The Case for Dude Love
If the argument for Mankind is that it was the original WWE gimmick and the counterargument for Cactus Jack is that it came before Mankind was even conceived, both of those sides can’t hold a candle to Dude Love. This gimmick dates back to Foley’s days where he was just dreaming of being a professional wrestler. Check and mate.