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When Foley was the Future.... 

June 12, 2003

by Rick Scaia  
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


[NOTE FROM THE PRESENT DAY: The return of Mick Foley on Monday left me scrambling to find a quality throwback column focusing on the "hardcore legend."  And I quickly came across this one in the files.  On one hand, I utter the phrase "I'll bet a limb Mick Foley will never win the WWF Title"... would you people believe me if I said I once had a vestigial tail, and had it removed to honor this bet?  You would?  Thank god...  but on the other hand, the main thrust of my column -- my passionate believe that Mick Foley was damned entertaining, perhaps even moreso than the WCW headliners of the day, Hulk Hogan and Goldberg -- holds up much better than my boastful wager.  Now, with five years of hindsight, I can safely say I've never been happier to be wrong: Mick Foley DID finally get what he deserved out of the wrestling business, and is now deemed worthy of a hero's welcome when he makes his periodic returns to the ring.

Also, while I chose this article because of the discussion of Foley at the end, that is preceded by some pretty decent talk about Hogan and Goldberg that at least partially holds up to this day.  Hopefully, you'll enjoy ALL of this look back to 1998...]

"Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow... in a Perfect World"
nWWWo Column, Originally Published July 31, 1998

It's been a while, folks... something like 4 weeks since my last column. And you know what? I'm STILL getting e-mail from folks who've just read "The Critique of Poor Wrestling"... If I'd known that all it took to impress you people was a few philosophical references, a couple of vocabulary words, and about 35KB of text, I'd have been doing it a lot sooner!

That'll be a hard column to top, but since you liked the long format, I figure I'll try to stay away from simple one-off topics, and instead try to massage my thoughts on a few different one-off topics into one cogent thesis. Damn, if I keep doing this, how much longer will it be before I turn into "Mr. Intellectual" Herb Kunze?

The answer, hopefully, is never. Because I am obviously way cooler than him, able to crush him in a fair fight, a much bigger hit with the chicks, and can easily drink his ass under the table. All that, and I'm only SLIGHTLY less intelligent, which I make up for by playing a mean guitar! Yee haw!

Anyway, everybody these days seems to be talking about one of three things... Hulk Hogan, Bill Goldberg, and Mick Foley. The first two weeks of July was dominated by talk of those three. And conveniently enough, they represent -- to me, anyway -- where pro wrestling was yesterday, where it stands today, and who should be in the limelight tomorrow. At least, if we lived in a perfect world.

Clearly, pro wrestling wouldn't be where it is today without the influence of one Hulk Hogan. I don't care how you slice it... Hogan is one of the VERY few pieces of the puzzle that you can NOT remove without tearing down the entire infrastructure of the industry as we know it. [If you care, I also give immense credit to Roddy Piper for being an incredibly effective foil to Hogan, and to Vince McMahon for putting together the creative vision for those two to be enemies on a national stage... a lot of other people were important, but considered singly, could be discarded without completely screwing up the industry's forward progress in the 80's.]

But in the same breath that a sane person gives credit to Hogan for his past contributions, you're gonna hear the same mantra: Hogan's past his prime. Well, duh. I've got a match with Hogan wrestling Terry Funk from around New Years 1986 that may well have been Hogan's best WRESTLING match ever. And guess what? Hogan wasn't even that good back then. He was ALWAYS a showman more than a wrestler, and there's nothing wrong with that. The fact that he remains a liability in terms of ringwork shouldn't shock anyone, nor should it be the damning criticism of Hogan today.

The problem is that Hogan has created the illusion that he's still the same showman, the same phenomenon, that he was 10 years ago. And that ain't the case. Hogan of 10 years ago was a household name... if it had to do with pro wrestling, it had to do with Hulk Hogan for Joe Average American. Today, I guarantee you that Steve Austin has got more of that appeal, while Hogan's "household name" status is more like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's "household name" status. In other words, people still know who he is, but they ain't clamoring for tickets to see him do his thing anymore.

But Hogan's got Eric Bischoff (and possibly himself) fooled into thinking that the industry should still be on his shoulders and no one else's. I have no idea how much credence to put into the rumors that Hogan personally underbooked the entire Bash at the Beach undercard to make sure he'd have enough time to go out there with Rodman, Malone, and DDP to stink up the joint, but as I usually say, "If there's smoke, there's fire." Criticisms of Hogan shouldn't be that he's now boring in the ring. Folks, he's always been that. The criticisms should be that he's ruining opportunities for people that ARE good in the ring because of his backstage clout.

Case in point: Hogan had the power to limit Rey Misterio Jr. and Chris Jericho to a 4 minute match at the PPV. And he used that power. The bastard. Then he turned around and used his clout to book his good buddy, Brutus "The Disciple of Barbers" Beefcake, as the cause of the finish to the PPV's main event. Misterio and Jericho have the ability to put on a great match -- and possibly steal the show and impress the mainstream press and casual fans who are watching. Beefcake is a guy who -- and this is not a personal attack on the man, just a factual observation -- is never, ever going to smell a legit title shot because he's just not over with fans.

For the good of the company, it would have been wise to put the best foot forward. If that means letting Jericho and Rey steal the show so fans who may not be familiar with the new "direction" of pro wrestling have a positive memory of the show, so be it, I say. And that DEFINITELY means letting the main event be decided by the main event wrestlers, or other personalities who are reasonably over with the fans. Letting Ed Leslie be the cause of the finish was just plain weak.

And that's the evil perpetrated by Hulk Hogan in just one show. He's pulling the same shit all the time... and what he should really be doing is taking a note from his buddy Rowdy Roddy and become a part time special attraction. Piper's got it down... he knows (and the fans know) that he's not the Hot Rod of old. But people won't get pissy at Roddy, because he keeps his involvement to a minimum and doesn't stick his nose in every damn body's business when he is around. But apparently Hogan's ego won't allow him to realize that in today's world, the wrestling industry needs him just about as much as he needs it: namely, not very much.

Hogan apologists may point to his "selfless" act of jobbing the WCW Title to Bill Goldberg as a chink in my argument. Instead, bringing it up allows me to do two things...

First, it lets me point out that Hogan's not passing any torch to anyone. He laid down for Goldberg knowing full well that he will probably get that favor back. Not because it's good for business, but because he has the power to ask for it back. Goldberg's not going to have the benefit of Hogan "passing the torch" if he just has to job to the guy down the line.

And second, it let's me segue very smoothly into topic #2, Bill Goldberg.

For all the talking about Goldberg and his title win, a distinctly uniform opinion from the collective wrestling community has yet to emerge. Some people think Goldberg is the best thing since sliced bread, both in terms of WCW's product and from a business perspective. Others see problems in one of those elements but not the other. And still other fans can't curse Eric Bischoff and WCW's names enough.

Why the incredible disparity of opinion? I don't know... maybe it really is as simple as "WCW lemmings" looking for the good and "WWF lemmings" looking only for the bad, while a group of us in the middle looks at both.

Simple fact is, Bill Goldberg stands before you today as WCW's top dog after less than a year in the sport. And no matter where you stand, hopefully I'll catch your ear long enough to make you realize there are both goods and bads.

I'm gonna do this in a really easy format. I'm going to list some things that Bill Goldberg is, and some things that he isn't. It's up to you to decide whether those things are positive or negative, and just how important each is...

First, what Goldberg is:

He's purely a creation of Eric Bischoff and WCW. He's a marketing phenomenon... Bill Goldberg, the promising up-and-coming wrestler ceased to exist a few months back. The marketing ploy simply known as "Goldberg" moved into his place. The winning streak came out of nowhere, the canned chants have been added... sprinkle with new fireworks and some menacing music. And voila! Goldberg. Don't deny it. Goldberg, more than any other guy in recent memory, is a public image created by the company. There's nothing genuine about his rapport with the fans... I mean, the guy hasn't said Word One in an interview yet. He could be anybody. Provided he looked the same and had the same monster push from above backing him.

He's extremely physically impressive. He 100% looks the part of bad-ass pro wrestler.

He's got a great entrance, that's for sure.

He's a simple wrestler. I did NOT say "bad wrestler." Goldberg, either by accident or by design, has been limited mostly to 5 minute or less matches in which he can stick to what he does best. So he hasn't been put in a position to look bad yet (well, if you don't count what Steve Regal did to him...). Goldberg knows his strengths, and so do those who are booking him.

He's incredibly popular. The chants are canned, but this guy is still genuinely getting one of the top 3 or 5 reactions in the sport today.

And now, what Goldberg is NOT:

He's not a proven good worker. I honestly can't believe how many e-mails I've gotten telling me that Bill Goldberg is a good worker. He isn't. When he's "on" and looking good in the ring, it's in short matches that allow him to stick to what he knows. The only times I've ever seen him asked to go 10 minutes or more, he's gotten tired VERY fast and blown the more complicated spots he's been required to try (the two may be related). And hell, let's NOT forget the Steve Regal tried to do a little unplanned chain wrestling with Goldberg on TV and wound up making the guy look like a chump. He doesn't even know those basics. He knows the spear, the jackhammer, and a few -- admittedly impressive -- power moves. He does those well. The Ultimate Warrior did the press slam and gorilla splash well, too, but nobody every tried to say he was a great worker.

He's not even a decent all around performer. We haven't seen him go past 7 minutes or so without falling apart. And we haven't heard him cut a single important interview. So in a world where there are guys like Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin -- who are probably the best two examples of perfect combinations of ringwork and interview skill -- Goldberg probably doesn't even rank in the top two-thirds of American wrestlers in terms of being a "total package."

Both those things said, Goldberg is also NOT as good as he's eventually going to be. Unlike some who've preceded him, you can kind of tell that the foundation is there, and if he works at it, Goldberg could be a solid performer. And by most accounts, he's well-spoken in the interviews he has done, so sculpting some sort of persona shouldn't be impossible. Give him a chance, he'll get better... assuming the quick success hasn't stunted his efforts in this direction.

He's not a proven ratings or house show draw... Goldberg vs. Glacier and Goldberg vs. Chavo were both Nitro main events recently, and both were ratings disasters, as the WCW product hemorrhaged viewers to Raw. Goldberg vs. Hennig on Nitro was a moderate success. Only time will tell if viewers will continue to tune into Goldberg's on-going title reign, or if they'll slowly become disenchanted as they realize the truth of the two criticisms above. Goldberg's status as an unproven ratings draw is only underscored when you consider that Steve Austin drew monster ratings headlining a recent edition of Raw against Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco!

He isn't a backstage "player." Goldberg's taking his fast-track to success very well; he's getting paid, he's getting gold, but apparently, he's not getting an attitude. At least, not yet.  So it's real easy to hope for the best for the guy, and at the same time, it's easy to assume that if the wheels fall off the Goldberg Express for any reason, he'll be able to take it in stride without trying to dominate the sport from behind the curtain (see Hollywood Hogan).

So, all that said, you'd probably be right if you figured I'm coming down on the "anti-Goldberg" side... it's not that I don't enjoy watching the guy. It's just that I enjoy watching him in the same exact way that I enjoyed watching the Ultimate Warrior in 1988 or Diesel in 1995. In both cases, I knew I was getting into a guy because of something other than ringwork... it's more of a physicality or charisma that drew me to Warrior and Big Daddy Cool. Because let's face it, while I appreciate good ringwork, I also get into all the other facets of wrestling. Also in both cases, I was getting into a guy at what felt like the beginning of a long ride to the top.

In the Warrior's case, it was indeed a perfectly build slow-build to 1990's WWF Title win over Hulk Hogan. By the time we got to WrestleMania 6 and the title change, fans were completely ready for the switch, and responded hugely to it. Warrior could have had a very successful reign if not for a few things. (1) Titan completely watered down his character to be a super-nice guy. (2) The industry started a down-turn as a whole right around there. And (3) Warrior let it go to his head and proved unable to interact professionally with the WWF. But if you ask me, the build-up was perfect, and the fact that Warrior is NOT remembered as a great champ is because of things that happened after the build-up and the switch.

With Diesel, the switch came too fast. Just as fans were really starting to get behind him, BOOM, we had a face turn and a title win. Sounds like Goldberg, eh? The title win got a great response, and seemed like a good idea at first. But eventually, ratings and houses didn't improve any, and Diesel lost his heat. He didn't get it back till he grew an all new "attitude" in his last days in the WWF, and then went on to become a cross-over star by jumping to WCW (elevating him to yet another new level). If Titan had waited until Nash grew into that new "attitude" instead of rushing him into a title run, they might have created a huge star on their own, a huge star who would have had a successful run as champ and may never have needed to explore whether the grass really was greener on the other side.

So with regard to Goldberg, I say, "Yeah, he's fun to watch." But he's fun in the same way a McDonald's meal is tasty. Goes down smooth, and you don't have to think about it. I question whether that's a sustainable sort of appeal. If WCW had just waited until Goldberg had honed his skills a bit, or brought some depth to the character so that it would have legs, then they'd be fine. Instead, they're getting by on a knee-jerk positive reaction that only time will tell if it can be maintained.

Then again, to this day, I still grab a meal at McDonald's once or twice a month... if I -- and America -- are willing to watch Goldberg as often, they'll be doing just fine.

[Hey, you need another example? What about Rocky Maivia? Here's a guy who got rushed to a title, but ultimately failed in his first reign. It was only after he refined his skills and brought his own personal touch to the "Rock" characterization that he got over and became a believable champ.]

You know something? I'm making myself sick sitting here talking about Goldberg for however many dozens of paragraphs... because the real newsworthy item from the past couple weeks is STILL Mick Foley's Hell in the Cell performance. I don't care if it makes me a "mark," but Mick easily won the Rick Scaia Gold Star for 1998 award at the King of the Ring PPV.

In Mick Foley, you've got a guy who actually can work... hell, in a really ironic observation, I feel really safe in saying that he's easily twice the in-ring performer Bill Goldberg is! You've got a guy who has successfully created THREE personas for himself in an industry where most guys are lucky to stumble across one character that clicks. And you've got a guy who is willing and able to pull off the most insane spots in the history of the sport.

So you tell me... why is it that Foley will never really get the credit he deserves? He's done all this, and yet, I'd bet a limb that we'll never see him wear the WWF World Title. In so many ways, he's the complete anti-thesis of Bill Goldberg: Foley is the talented pro who is physically UNimpressive and who has never once had the benefit of a major company putting its entire marketing effort behind him. Everything Foley's gotten, he's earned. And the worst part is, he deserves way more than he's actually gotten.

Well, that was supposed to be a really cleverly turned phrase, but it fell kind of flat... the point is, Foley's put more into the sport than he's gotten back.

In a perfect world, this guy would headline PPVs month-in and month-out, get a run as the champ, and make tons of money. This is not a perfect world. Tomorrow will not bring us Mick Foley, World Champion.

Tomorrow, we'll see fans who are even LESS willing to get behind Foley. To get the same positive hero worship he did after King of the Ring, Foley will have to fall 30 feet into a landmine wrapped in barbed wire. Once you've seen falling 20 feet through a table, it's the next logical step, right?

Well, for once, screw wrestling fan logic! Five years ago, the "Nestea Plunge" was new and death-defying enough to get oohs and aahhs. And the fact is, Mick Foley is good at a lot of things other than crippling himself. I say, give me the chairshots and the plunges and the nutty table spots every now and again, Mick! But don't try to top yourself just to get over with the jaded "hardcores" out there.

Hell, to you hardcores, I issue a challenge: why don't we -- for once -- try to show that we're just as powerful as the companies that are marketing to us. Mick Foley doesn't have the Goldberg physique, the Goldberg push, or the Hogan Clout. But dammit, his matches are worth paying for and tuning in to. And that's something neither Hogan nor Goldberg can say. So let's say we go out of our way to support a guy who deserves better!

Leave the getting suckered in by the canned chants for the marks... Leave the getting suckered into buying a Hogan-headlined PPV for the mentally-enfeebled... Let's try to rally the REAL fans' support for Mick Foley.

Along the way, , however, you are duly advised to keep in mind that this has all just been My Own Damned Opinion....


If "Big Daddy Who?" Rick Scaia keeps this up, his columns may need their own domains. He'd like to hear from you, but please be brief, at bigdaddywho@hotmail.com.

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