By Mike Mooneyham

July 6, 2003

Mick Foley couldn’t have picked a better time to return to WWE.

With the company coming off its worst financial year in history, Foley could be just what the doctor ordered. One of the sport’s most beloved characters, Foley’s recent appearances have helped spike ratings and added a dimension that has been missing since he left the business three years ago.

Wrestling’s version of Evil Knievel has broken nearly every bone in his body since debuting as Cactus Jack in the mid-1980s. He also helped raise the bar for a new generation of daredevils who sacrifice life and limb for the roar of the crowd, although very few have approached his level of success in the profession.

The multi-talented Foley has spent the past several years carving his niche in an entirely different direction – the literary world. Having written a couple of New York Times best-sellers (“Have A Nice Day” and “Foley Is Good”) that helped pave the way for a string of successful wrestling books, his recent return to WWE television has afforded Foley the opportunity to plug his latest work, “Tietam Brown,” due to hit bookshelves on Tuesday.

Mick Foley

Mick Foley

“It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation, this writer-wrestler thing, because there are certain people who are predisposed to liking me, which means they will probably like the book as a result of it,” Foley said in an interview with The Post and Courier. “Because it’s written with a first-person narrative and enjoying the book is contingent on liking the narrator, for certain people who have a predisposition against wrestling, it may very well cause them to enjoy the book less. But I really think people who approach it with no pretenses will come out of it moved.”

Foley’s previous efforts have resulted in glowing reviews and lofty spots on the world’s most-recognized literary list, but “Tietam Brown,” a fictional, coming-of-age novel, is his first attempt outside the realm of professional wrestling. Nevertheless, he said, it was a labor of love that he is extremely proud of.

“It (writing) definitely feels natural,” said the 38-year-old father of four. “This is a book that I thought about and wrote in my head many times during the year or so before I put it on paper. It has helped me make the transition out of wrestling because it fulfills the creative urges that were so much a part of my wrestling career.”

Foley parted ways with WWE in 2000. Despite a highly publicized falling out with Vince McMahon that played out in a memorable on-camera angle, Foley said the split was rather amicable.

“It wasn’t on the best of terms, but by wrestling standards it was downright cozy,” he said. “It was a bizarre situation in that we were re-enacting real-life passions when I told him that he had taken a guy who would have done anything for the company and made him hate it. And for a short while, that’s how I really felt.”

The three-time WWE heavyweight champion continued to represent the company in a number of charitable ventures for several months following the split. “I was proud to do that,” said Foley. “I would hear from somebody in the company that I had a lot of heat, then I would go and do a fundraiser with WWE people. So I never thought it was that bad, but there was a time when I never thought I would return in any kind of capacity on television.”

The company extended an invitation to Foley to attend last year’s Summer Slam in his home area of Nassau County in New York, but he declined, reasoning that he could return at a later time with much more impact. Foley placed a call of his own a couple of months ago as WWE moved toward its Bad Blood pay-per-view that featured a Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and Kevin Nash. The event seemed like a natural for Foley, who forever will be remembered for the death-defying bump he took off the top of a cage seven years ago in a similar bout.

Foley’s reception exceeded all his expectations.

“My return was well-received, not only by fans, but by the people backstage. It’s been made clear to me that I’m welcome back at any time. And now I think I will be. In some respects I think my name will always be linked with them (WWE). In truth, to 90 percent of the fans out there, I was still a part of the company.”

Although he’s not planning anything remotely resembling a full-time schedule, the hardcore icon will be featured on WWE programming when his book tour slows down. His June 16 appearance on Raw at Madison Square Garden is expected to be his last one for the immediate future, as he will be on the road for most of the summer, signing his books in 20 U.S. cities as well as additional dates in Canada and England. The book tour will continue through the third week in August, which could allow him to play a small part at Summer Slam.

Foley, though, discounted rumors that he might be filling Bill Goldberg’s slot against longtime rival Triple H at the August pay-per-view.

“I did tell them that I’d be finishing up the book tour by Summer Slam, and that possibly I could play a role in it. But I have not been approached, nor would I be ready to slide into that spot. I really believe that if and when I get into the ring, it will only be because I’m pretty sure that I can live up to what’s expected of me.”

Foley, whose in-ring personas have included Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love, said he got the inspiration to return to wrestling from longtime friend Dee Snyder of the rock group Twisted Sister.

“It was based on seeing Dee Snyder perform at a club on Long Island. I watched this guy and I was hesitant to show up, because I thought it might be kind of sad seeing this big star reduced to trying to make a few bucks off his name. But he was so good and so legitimate, his emotions were so real, that I stood in the back of the club and made myself a promise, that I wouldn’t think about wrestling unless I could be that good at it. I’m happy. I’ve lost a little weight (I’m not counting because that can be depressing), but it wasn’t driven by wrestling. It was driven more by the fear of looking really bad on the Today show. I’m terrified of talking with Katie (Couric) in a suit. I came out with what I thought were my best threads on the Tonight show a couple of years ago, but the first thing (Jay) Leno did was thank me for ‘dressing up’ for him.”

Although it’s been great being back among his grappling colleagues, Foley admits one thing has been weighing heavily on his mind. It dates back several years ago to less-than-glowing comments he made regarding 16-time world champ Ric Flair in one of his books in which he criticized the then-WCW booker and performer.

“I couldn’t get to sleep last night thinking about those comments. While I meant what I said and I still stand by what I said, the only negative thoughts I had about him were as a booker, not as a man or as a performer. It’s very hard to differentiate when you’re right in the middle of it.”

Flair had once warned Foley that his hardcore style would knock him out of the business by the time he was 30 (he was in his late 20s at the time).

“Last night I was sitting there lying awake, thinking about those comments,” recounted Foley. “Everybody thinks it was personal. I thought that maybe he really didn’t think I was that good. If he thought I was a hell of a performer, he probably would have booked himself with me, to get the most mileage out of me that he could. I think he probably, in his booking rationale, didn’t think I was the man at the time. I’m 38 now, and I’m not mad at people who don’t think I’m a great performer. What I regret is that someone may have looked at my book and come out of it thinking less of him. As far as champions go, he’s the guy everyone else is measured against. It’s kind of unfortunate, in the sense that the book did so well, that so many people saw this negative feeling toward Flair. It’s something I definitely want to talk to him about, and in some way if I can make it up to him, I’ll do it.”

Foley said he also appreciated an hour-long talk Flair had with him in 1994 while WCW was touring Germany. It was shortly before he lost his right ear during a match in Munich with Vader.

“He strongly felt that I had to be a heel. I didn’t think he had that good of a feel for the character. Eight years later, I really appreciate the fact that he has not made it difficult on me coming back, especially being involved in his program. It’s been a lot of fun. I told someone that either he was doing a very good job of disguising his anger, or he is really at peace with himself because we’ve actually gotten along very well. A lot of people were really moved by the segment I did with Randy Orton a couple of Raws ago. I think Flair being in that ring caused me to really step up to the plate, and that Flair, Triple H and myself being in the ring really caused Randy to step up to the plate. I was telling Vince that Flair brought out the best of me that night, and it’s been a lot of fun working with him.”

Foley earned a reputation as a masochistic, hardcore grappler whose complete disregard for his body became his stock in trade. His bumps off the top of a 16-foot steel cage in a 1996 Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker ensured him a spot in wrestling’s hall of fame. Foley, though, set a dangerous precedent for others who choose to tear up their bodies for a chance at fame and fortune.

While Foley’s influence on the wrestling business is immeasurable, it came with a heavy price. Foley said that the mounting injuries in wrestling the past few years have caused him more sleepless nights.

“I think that perception has caused me to not enjoy my accomplishments like I otherwise might have. I really believe that most of the injuries are caused not by having the bar raised so far – as far as risky maneuvers – but having the bar raised so far by repetitive maneuvers. I wish that German suplex would be taken from the list of acceptable wrestling moves. I think if you were to show that to a neck specialist, they’d cringe. I think that the new, more forgiving WWE rings have provided a sense of false security and allowed people to do a lot of things repetitively that would not have been done before. I accept my part in it to some degree, as far as the overall feeling that so much more has to be done to satisfy the fans. As far as major injuries, I don’t think my style is as harmful.”

Foley said he feels he could have made it to the big show sooner had he not sacrificed his body for as long as he did.

“I regret so many of the big bumps in so many of the small crowds in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” said the State University of New York-Cortland grad. “I felt a personal responsibility to every single fan out there. There might have been a couple people who drove a few hundred miles to see a Cactus Jack bump. I think in a way that the big bumps may have prevented me from getting to WWE years earlier. I was told by many, including Vince, that it was his feeling. First off, he didn’t think I looked like a star. Apparently I did such a good job on selling my gimmick to him, he thought I was out of mind. When Bruce Prichard told him that Cactus Jack was at the airport, Vince said, ‘I have no desire to ever meet him.’ That was one of the first things told to me when I got to California for my first TV match. Gerald Brisco pulled me aside and said, ‘We know you do a lot of dangerous things, and there may be a time when we ask you to do one. But we don’t want that being part of your repertoire.'”

“I was the only guy who ever had entrance music that showed him getting his butt kicked,” added Foley. “Even when they did that great video tribute on Raw, it was predominantly images of me being beaten up.”

Foley admits his former threshold of pain is no longer there.

“I’m feeling it now. It’s created some sleep problems. The stuff definitely hurts more than it used to. Getting physically involved the first night I was in definitely sent a signal to the fans that I was taking this thing seriously. And although my initial phone call to WWE was made with the idea of promoting my book, once I got there I had a renewed sense of purpose and pride. I don’t think anyone could say I just showed up to plug a book. I’m not a good enough actor to pretend to be as happy being there as I was.”

Although Foley admittedly isn’t one to pass up a chance for a free plug, it was McMahon who urged Foley to promote his book on TV. “I think a part of him really wants this thing to do well. I think he genuinely likes me, and I think anything that can change people’s minds as far as wrestlers or the wrestling business is probably good for all of us.”

Foley’s challenge with “Tietam Brown,” the story of an abused teen-ager and his mean yet curiously sympathetic father, was proving to skeptics and cynics that he’s more than just a wrestler who writes about wrestling.

“The book’s not for everybody, but people who like it will really like it,” said Foley, who also has penned a pair of wrestling-themed children’s books. Excerpts that he specifically selected for wrestling fans can be found on www.mickfoley.com. “If they like those excerpts, I’m pretty sure they’ll like the book,” he added.

Foley said he was surprised to see the many changes in WWE since he was there last.

“Eric Bischoff is here. That was kind of a shocker. I never thought I’d see him working for Vince, nor did I think I would ever be actually kind of happy to see him again. I haven’t hated seeing him.”

Foley remains universally respected throughout the business. Even Ole Anderson, one of the staunchest supporters of traditional, “old-style” wrestling, recently offered a backhanded compliment to the hardcore legend.

“I gave Mick a hard time because I didn’t feel that he even belonged in the business,” said Anderson, who worked in WCW’s front office when Foley arrived on the scene. “What he’s got to offer is a little offbeat, but I know he’s a hard-working guy. He did a lot of crazy things, and he believed in the crazy things he did. But would I take him and try to work with him? Yes, I would, and that’s what Vince (McMahon) did. So I have to say the kid has done pretty well.”

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.