A thought occurred to me the other day: Throughout his wrestling career, Mick Foley has been better known for his wild stunts than his technical wrestling skills. His reputation and influence among the fans has been built on spilling blood on six continents and breaking multiple bones. His popularity has come largely on the strength of the high impact smashes and crashes than your standard wrestling matches. There is one legend that has built a reputation in the same way as Foley but wasn’t a professional wrestler. That man was Evel Knievel.
This revelation might seem a bit like it buys the Ric Flair description of Foley. In his autobiography, Flair famously called Foley a glorified stuntman instead of him being a wrestler. Of course, it would be easily to refer to Knievel as a publicity stuntman instead of calling him a daredevil.
The similarities between the two men go far beyond their daredevil attitudes that made them famous. Both are actually intelligent men. Foley is a New York Times best-selling author while Knievel was brilliant promoter and top insurance salesman (ironically). They started off their careers doing relatively safe things during their careers before pushing the limits further and further.
It’s when the limits were pushed that they gained fame and notoriety. When he was just doing wheelies in front of crowds, Knievel was doing alright at state fairs and carnivals but you can’t strike out as your own attraction with a trick that people try at home. In WCW, Mick Foley was a homeless guy feuding with Sting for no apparent reason. When they took their crafts to the next levels of danger and excitement, they became household names. Knievel found his niche jumping cars and household appliances on a motorbike. Foley’s fame came thanks to tables, chairs, barbed wire and blood. Neither man plied their trade in what one would call a typical day job.
Interestingly, you can find moments in the careers that are fairly parallel as well.
The Caesar’s Palace Moment
Evel’s biggest publicity windfall did not come as a result of a successful jump. ABC’s Wide World of Sports broadcast a tape of Knievel’s famous failed jump of the fountains at Caesar’s Palace. ABC said they would have only run the tape if it was truly spectacular. It turns out that Evel’s failed jump was so spectacular that ABC paid him more for the tape than Knievel had originally asked for the rights to show the jump live. If you look at any documentary or highlight reel about Knievel’s daredevil exploits, despite all the successful jumps and all the world record he held, this jump and crash features most prominently.
For Mick Foley, traditional wrestling matches were never really his forte. Sure, he had some good ones like his In Your House match with Shawn Michaels. However, any highlight reel for Mick Foley begins and ends with his Hell in the Cell match at King of the Ring 1998. His career took off thanks to two seemingly suicidal bumps he took. The first was off the top fo the cage and 16 feet down to and through the Spanish announce table. The second was the chokeslam through the top of the cage and on to the mat. Foley is more famous for those “crashes” than he was before and got more notoriety for that than any match afterword. Mick’s Caesar’s Palace moment was that Hell in a Cell match.
See more of the match here: Part 2, Part 3
The Snake River Canyon Moment
Evel wanted to jump the Grand Canyon on his motorcycle but political red tape was the biggest barrier to that happening. While flying home after one exhibition, he spotted Snake River Canyon and found where it crossed some private property. He rented the property and setup a daredevil feat the like of which would never be seen before or after. Instead of the usual motorcycle over the canyon, he’d take a rocket car over the chasm. The only problem was that the stunt was a colossal failure. Upon take-off, the car’s parachute deployed so the car got maybe halfway across the canyon and drifted safely down to the bottom. There are two different stories as to what happened. The official story was that the g-forces of takeoff knocked Evel out which caused him to release a dead man’s switch that deployed the parachute. The conspiracy theory is that Evel never intended to go through with the stunt and pulled the trigger on the parachute because he knew the jump would never succeed. Either way, the failure of the Snake River Canyon jump would be a dark spot on Evel’s resume.
One of Foley’s worst matches wasn’t really his fault and has been largely forgotten but has to remain a source of embarrassment to all who watched it. The Empty Arena match between Foley (as Mankind) and The Rock was the WWE’s Super Bowl halftime show counter-programming. What better way than to tape a heavyweight championship and drop it into a 15 minute time slot? The only problem was that the match was shot by a movie director rather than the WWE’s usual team. That meant multiple takes of “scenes” in the match using multiple camera angles. That wasn’t really an issue until the end of the match. Mankind scored the pin after lowering a loaded wooden palette on a forklift on top of The Rock. This finish wouldn’t have gone over so badly if not for the camera angle used for this. The last angle chosen was a top-down look at The Rock begging off Foley’s forklift shot from on top of the palette. It’s a good angle for a movie or TV show but doesn’t work so well when trying to keep the suspension of disbelief about professional wrestling. Yes, we all know it’s fake but let’s at least not package it in such a way as to remind us that it is fake. That’s why the ending of the match was such a point of contention for wrestling fans and a dark spot on Foley’s resume.
So, we come back to that question posed at the top of the post. Is Mick Foley a modern day equivalent to legendary daredevil Evel Knievel? Well, their lives seem to have followed a reasonably similar path. They’re both famous for almost killing themselves rather than textbook deathdefial. But, perhaps most importantly, they both risked life and limb to entertain their millions of fans worldwide.
We’ll never get another Evel Knievel but Mick Foley is pretty damn close.