No professional wrestler deserves the moniker “Hardcore Legend” more than Mick Foley. One of the most revolutionary wrestlers to ever lace up his boots, Mick Foley blurred the lines between scripted television and reality on an almost regular basis, putting life and limb on the line for the sake of fans’ entertainment.
An icon in the annals of pro wrestling, Foley helped set the standard for wrestling throughout the 1990s and 2000s, achieving mainstream success in WCW, ECW, TNA, and WWE amidst the company’s influential Attitude Era. More so than most other wrestlers, Foley subjected himself to inhumane amounts of punishment throughout his 30-year-long career, sustaining unparalleled physical harm through his dangerous spots in the ring. As difficult as many of his matches are to watch for this reason alone, Foley’s extreme antics have earned him renown from fans and fellow performers alike.
From his infamous matches to his earlier WCW bouts against Sting and Vader, check out some of the greatest matches to feature Mick Foley in action, ranked from best to worst.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker (King of the Ring 1998)
No wrestling bout comes close to matching the sheer barbarity of the notorious match at the 1998 King of the Ring. A landmark moment in the Attitude Era, Mick Foley and The Undertaker introduced a level of unpredictability to this match no one could’ve ever anticipated. Opening the match with some back-and-forth brawling 16 feet above the ring, The Undertaker made history by tossing Foley off the top of the cell, sending him crashing onto the announce table below.
A sickening display of Foley’s willingness to subject himself to bumps any sane performer would’ve refused to carry out, Foley laid it all on the line in this career-defining match against The Undertaker, earning his status as the Hardcore Legend in the process.
Cactus Jack vs. Triple H (Royal Rumble 2000)
Having been worn down by Triple H and the McMahon-Helmsley regime from late 1999 into early 2000, Foley brought back his most sadistic persona to face the Game at the 2000 Royal Rumble. Competing in an uber-violent Street Fight for the WWF Championship, Cactus Jack’s return to WWE television ushered in a renewed level of carnage in his pay-per-view bout against Triple H. Brandishing steel chairs, trash cans, barbed-wire 2x4s, and thumbtacks, Cactus Jack proceeded to thrash the Game from one end of the ring to the other. As merciless a beatdown as Jack gave him, a well-timed reversal allowed Triple H to retain his championship, giving fans one of the certified best matches in either man’s career.
Mankind vs. Shawn Michaels (In Your House 10: Mind Games)
Perhaps the most underrated match in either Foley or Shawn Michaels’ career, why this match isn’t mentioned more often on WWE television is a flat-out mystery. In it, Michaels and Foley managed to mesh their two contrasting styles into one flavorful combination–with Foley taking his signature high-risk bumps and Michaels weaving in a more brutal offense to his traditional moveset.
Though hampered by too many run-ins and an overall disappointing finish, Michaels and Mankind nevertheless delivered a unique wrestling bout the likes of which fans had rarely seen before.
Cactus Jack vs. Randy Orton (Backlash 2004)
More so than most other top WWE superstars, Mick Foley made a habit of supporting up-and-coming talent, his repeated extreme matches allowing young stars like The Rock, Triple H, and Edge to become mainstay attractions in WWE. In 2004, Foley repeated this gracious feat, competing against Evolution member Randy Orton in a match at Backlash for Orton’s Intercontinental title.
With Orton taking a brunt of the match’s more dangerous bumps–including a back-first fall onto a bed of thumbtacks–Foley helped the Legend Killer look like a legitimate star in the making, giving Orton some critical momentum ahead of his world title match at SummerSlam a few short months down the road.
Mankind vs. The Rock (Royal Rumble 1999)
Even by Foley’s standards, Mankind's “I Quit” bout against The Rock at the annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view is difficult to sit through. While the first half of the match feels typical Attitude Era chaos–complete with Mankind taking a hair-raising bump onto an electrical portion of the soundstage–it’s the match’s ending that continues to define this infamous chapter in The Rock and Mankind's feud.
Cuffing Mankind’s hands behind his back, The Rock proceeded to waylay Mankind with a total of 11 unprotected chair shots to the head in the span of two and a half minutes. Like Foley’s match against The Undertaker, it’s a match that genuinely came close to causing Foley serious injury, remaining one of the most brutal matches in WWE’s history.
Mick Foley vs. Edge (WrestleMania 22)
In mid 2005, Foley returned to active competition in WWE, participating in the promotions's ECW reunion show–One Night Stand–before appearing on WWE television on a more infrequent basis. At the start of 2006, Foley became embroiled in a long-gestating feud against Edge, paving the way for a match between the two at WrestleMania 22.
Like Foley’s earlier bouts against Randy Orton or Triple H, Foley helped solidify Edge’s place as a star to watch out for among WWE audiences. With their match here, Foley and Edge subjected themselves to extreme spots, including a stunning spear onto a flaming table that left each man with second-degree burns. Edge may have been the technical winner of the match, but Foley had finally obtained the WrestleMania moment he had coveted throughout his entire career.
Mankind vs. The Rock (Raw)
In 1999, Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy achieved his childhood dream of rising to the top of WWE, winning his first WWE Championship on the January 4 edition of Monday Night Raw. After months of pining after the title only to meet with constant interference from Mr. McMahon’s Corporation, Mankind challenged The Rock to a high-stakes match-up on the first Raw of 1999.
While a decent enough bout in and of itself, the match’s pulse-pounding conclusion accounts for its favorable status today. With McMahon’s Corporation and D.X. battling at ringside, the timely arrival of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin aided Mankind in his quest for the world championship, leading to one of the most feel-good moments fans had ever seen on Monday Night Raw.
Cactus Jack vs. Sting (Beach Blast 1992)
In 1992, Foley embarked on his first mainstream run in wrestling, achieving success in WCW under his infamous alter ego, Cactus Jack. Targeting the reigning WCW World Champion Sting upon his return to the company in 1991, Jack and Sting faced off in a Falls Count Anywhere match at Beach Blast 1992.
In a match Foley long considered one of the best in his career, he and Sting managed to blend their signature styles into one unique combination, resulting in an unusual mat-based, brawl filled with traditional submission hold and abrupt roll-ups. Battling on the outside of the ring for a majority of the match, not even Jack’s decisive offense could put the Stinger away. Following a top-rope clothesline onto the outside entrance ramp, Sting covered Jack in a tight cover, scoring a momentous victory over his most famous early ‘90s rival.
Cactus Jack vs. Triple H (No Way Out 2000)
After his savage Street Fight against Triple H at the 2000 Royal Rumble, Foley and the Game competed in another destructive rematch for the WWF Championship at No Way Out one more later. Given Foley's past performances, the odds seemed stacked in Foley’s favor heading into No Way Out, trapping Triple H in the confines of the steel structure.
Battling through the ring and eventually to the top of the cell, Foley once again captivated audiences with his high-risk offense. Like Royal Rumble 2000, however, a momentary slip-upon Foley's part gave Triple H a critical opening. Tossing Foley through the top of steel cell, Triple H retained his championship following a thunderous Pedigree, ending Foley’s initial tenure in WWE on a blessed high note.
Cactus Jack vs. Vader (Halloween Havoc 1993)
It’s saying something that, after Cactus Jack’s Texas Deathmatch against Vader at Halloween Havoc 1993, WCW refused to feature the two men in a pay-per-view match ever again, owing to the hyper-violent nature of their clash here. One of the most punishing matches in WCW’s history, even the fans in attendance and the commentators overseeing the match seemed unsure of how to respond, with Vader and Jack leaving the entire Lakefront Arena in a stunned silence.
Between the intense outside fighting, the liberal use of weapons, and the stiff-looking bumps, it’s the kind of match viewers might expect to see in ECW–not in the “family-friendly” atmosphere of a WCW event.
Mankind vs. The Rock (Half-Time Heat)
Losing his WWF Championship to The Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble under dubious circumstances, Mankind set out to reclaim his title from the Great One in the first ever empty arena match on Half-Time Heat. A fiery back-and-forth contest which saw The Rock and Mankind fight throughout an empty arena, the loose format of the match allowed the two to deliver a unique bout that differed from their previous encounters.
Taking advantage of the lack of fans at ringside, The Rock and Mankind fought in the ring, through the stands, and to the backstage kitchen area, predating the chaotic nature of AEW’s Stadium Stampede matches over 20 years later. With the help of his old friend Mr. Socko and a trusty forklift, Mankind even managed to regain the WWF Championship in a surprise upset, marking Foley’s second reign as world champion.
Dude Love vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (In Your House: Over the Edge)
Looking at the whole of his career, it becomes clear that Foley’s time as the juking-and-jiving Dude Love never gained the same level of popularity as Foley’s other alter egos in Cactus Jack or Mankind. However, that doesn’t mean Foley’s brief run as Dude Love prevented Foley from enjoying some success here and there, such as his brief feud against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in mid 1998.
With an injured Shawn Michaels absent from WWE television, WWE needed a heel to go toe-to-toe with Austin, with Foley gladly stepping up to the plate to fulfill that critical role. As the Mr. McMahon-backed challenger hoping to capture the WWF Championship for his boss, Dude Love enjoyed a phenomenal match against the Texas Rattlesnake, continuing Foley’s ascent to the forefront of WWE programming.
Cactus Jack vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Raw)
In the summer of 1997, Foley brought his barbed wire-wielding, violence-loving alter ego–Cactus Jack–to WWE television for the first time ever. Competing in a Falls Count Anywhere match against Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Jack’s official debut to WWE television fulfilled every fans’ greatest expectations.
Though not as barbaric a contest as Jack’s earlier WCW or ECW bouts, the man from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico ushered in his fair share of extreme moments in the match, including a nasty-looking piledriver on a wooden table that allowed Jack to score his first pinfall victory in WWE.
Mick Foley, Edge, and Lita vs. Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah McGillicutty (One Night Stand 2006)
Losing to Edge at WrestleMania 22, Foley entered a short-lived alliance with Edge and Lita in mid 2006 after admitting his respect to the Rated R Superstar. In the weeks ahead, the three targeted the members of the newly-rebranded ECW roster, setting the stage for a tag team match at One Night Stand against Fosley’s former friends: Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah McGillicutty. With each competitor taking their fair share of bumps, the resulting bout ended up being as explosive as a vintage 1990s ECW match, with Edge, Foley, and Lita standing tall at the end of the night over their vanquished ECW opponents.
The Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne (Spring Stampede 1994)
Following his standout feud against Vader in early 1994, Cactus Jack formed a temporary partnership with Maxx Payne, the two men vying for a chance to win the WCW World Tag Team Championships from The Nasty Boys. At Spring Stampede, the four men faced off in a brutal Chicago Street Fight, which included some of the most innovative offensive maneuvers fans had ever witnessed in a match.
Between Jack taking a 3-foot spill back-first onto a concrete floor and Sags bashing him in the head over and over again with a wooden table, the match proved a raw and physical tag team affair, living up to Foley’s high standards for a nail-biting brawl.