The WWE ratings are plummeting. The wrestlers are grumpy. The attendance is dropping. The in ring product sucks. And the spirit of World Wrestling Entertainment is missing.
In fact, he’s so embarrassed by it, he won’t even appear on Byte This.
It’s a real shame…because he’s directly responsible for the rise and fall television we’re watching today.
Once upon a time, “evil genius” Vince McMahon was standing on his last leg. The WWF ratings were plummeting. The wrestlers were grumpy. The attendance was dropping. And the in ring product sucked. In fact, the “evil genius” wasn’t looking so smart after spending a year, and costing himself millions trying to get Diesel power to work – only to have him stolen by World Championship Wrestling, and having him become part of one of the biggest money drawing angles in wrestling history.
Mr. McMahon is not a man who likes to be wrong. It physically pains him to look up and admit he made a mistake. Rarely will you see him apologize. So when Mick Foley entered the WWF in what were to be its final days, the Vince you were watching was a very humble, desperate, and apologetic man.
Why on earth would signing Mick Foley be that big a deal? For years, Mick had been trying to land work in the WWF, be in from his own calls or Jim Ross talking him up to Vince McMahon. Nothing worked. He was deemed too ugly, too bizarre, and lacked the tools to make up a WWF star. Believe it or not, those thoughts passed through the mind and out of the mouth from the man who pushed Jorge Gonzalez and Kamala as top guys, at the same time Foley had first come calling.
His signing wasn’t expected to be a big deal. Like Gonzalez and Kamala in the past, Foley was simply there to bump like a pinball machine for The Undertaker – and then go about his business from there.
Things didn’t work out that way. Foley possessed something more. It was determination. One way or another, Foley was determined to go out there and do whatever he could to keep the fans, the company, and himself feeling good about his work on any given night.
His heart and his drive was legendary. Vince McMahon had to eat his own words about Foley’s skill after viewing the man literally maim himself for the good of the WWF, or cut a promo.
He adapted any situation no matter how he felt. If he disliked anyone, it didn’t show once he hit television and proceeded to put on a great match to put everyone over. The term “glass ceiling” could never be applied to him – because they all played for the same team, worked for the same company, and all had the same goals of coming out on top.
Slowly but surely, everyone from the WWF locker room, to the fans who tune in every week literally fell in love with this man. And when they did, the WWF found itself back on top of the ratings.
It seemed the locker room was genuinely a great place to be. It’s always great when you’re on to, but even in the darkest days the boys could count on Mick Foley to keep them cheery. He was a leader among them – but never made a point to rub it in anyone’s face about his position on the card, or with the company.
So it really should have come as no surprise that finally Mick Foley was booked to win the World’s Heavyweight Title. Oddly enough, it was. Being unselfish hasn’t always been the route to the top in professional wrestling. It’s very much a vocal business, and if you’re not lobbying for the top position, you’re dead in the water. Foley to that point had “enhancement talent” or “jobber to the stars” stamped on his forehead, and wasn’t seen as a big draw.
WCW wasn’t worried. They were second in the ratings, but by less than a tenth of a point some weeks. Tony Schiavone had no problems going on television and openly laughing at the idea Foley was being given a run with the belt.
Then something funny happened.
The ratings came in the following day, and Foley’s title win had sparked a dramatic curve in the war between the companies. People felt good about Foley. Throughout his cartoonish persona, Foley had always made it a point to maintain a human side, and make the fans feel like they could be him. He was the ultimate underdog, and boy oh boy did he pay off!
It was at that time though his body started to give out. Happy Mick was still a locker room leader, but it was becoming harder and harder for him to continue – so much so he missed several months with a back injury, and was booked in a lot of tag-team matches where he wouldn’t have to do much work. The end was near.
It all went down in dramatic fashion. As a last deed to the WWF, he wanted to put someone over huge on the way out – which is again, unheard of. WWF loyalist Bret Hart refused to lose on his way out. Hulk Hogan has openly announced on occasion he’d like to win the title at Wrestlemania, before retiring the next night. Shawn Michaels has regularly forfeited titles. But that’s not what Foley was all about.
Triple H was a champion who was struggling to maintain his top level heat, and lovable Mick Foley seemed like the appropriate man to give him the rub. They engaged in some wild brawls that served to prove Triple H could handle the hardcore WWF style, and at every occasion Triple H came out on the winning end. Foley would give it his all and come up short. How could Triple H not be the most hated man in the company after that?
After three months, that was it. Triple H had knocked him out of wrestling. We never got our Cinderella goodbye. On the evening of No Way Out 2000, we all shed a tear, and the true WWF spirit was gone.
Oh sure, Mick hung around for awhile, but he wasn’t the same anymore. He wasn’t one of the boys. He wasn’t taking the bumps. He seemed like an outsider on the business, someone who no longer belonged. He still wanted to give back, but from a non-wrestling standpoint it seemed unfeasible. After about a year and a half, Mick Foley finally said goodbye in the opening slot of RAW, and never looked back.
It’s been over a year since we last saw Mick, and almost three since he retired. The WWE is right back where it was 10 years ago. Brock Lesnar and Triple H are failing to set the world on fire as top draws, while the Vince continues to flush money away, by pushing the stars of yesterday like Shawn Michaels and The Big Show, instead of finding the ones of tomorrow.
It’s suddenly a big man’s world again, where anyone under 280 chiselled pounds and can’t work “WWE style” is about as likely to get a push as The Ultimate Warrior writing a column about how much he loves Hulk Hogan. Wrestlers who are trying to get noticed aren’t given the time of day. The ratings are as low as they’ve been in years.
And the spirit? The spirit knows when it’s no longer welcome. It’s seen it before…
He’s been deemed too ugly, too bizarre, and is lacking the tools to be a WWE cheerleader of today.
With the likelihood that I will not be able to post this later in the week, I now submit for your approval, the Wrestlemania Pre Line for March 14, 2004. Wrestlemania PreLine: for March 14, 2004 Till next line... Robert Ortega Jr.