Ever since I started watching wrestling at the age of 12, I have always been a fan of pro-wrestling legend Mick Foley.
When I was introduced to Foley, he was Mankind, a twisted and deranged weirdo who used to lurk in the arena boiler rooms soon won the hearts of many fans. I would be with my siblings every Thursday night at 8 p.m. watching World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Smackdown to see Mankind and his reluctant partner, The Rock, take on Triple H and D’Generation-X.
Mankind was part of the trifecta of Foley’s flamboyant characters called the “Three Faces of Foley.” The other two characters were Dude Love, a psychedelic and confident cool dude, and Cactus Jack, a hot-head ready to kick ass and take names by any means necessary. But out of all them, Mankind was always my favorite.
Wearing a leather mask that you’d probably see in a horror film and dressed in a buttoned short-sleeved shirt with sweatpants, Mankind would utter his trademark catchphrase “have a nice day.”
Foley’s Mankind persona would lock his opponents with his finishing submission, the “Mandible Claw,” in which he would ram his hand down people’s mouths until they tapped out. He would also do it when placing a sock over hand he called “Mr. Socko.” If there is another thing Foley is known for, it is his legendary hardcore matches that earned him the moniker “The Hardcore Legend.” One of his most infamous matches was the Hell in the Cell match against the Undertaker at 1998 King of the Ring. In that match, Undertaker threw Foley (as Mankind) 22 feet off the cell and onto the announce tables. Luckily,a bloodied Foley survived and went on to continue the match.
As I have gotten older, I started to learn that Mick Foley is more than a great pro-wrestler, entertainer, and storyteller. From seeing several interviews, documentaries and interactions with fans, I learned that Foley has a great insight into the wrestling business thanks to his many years of experience and also has provided great wisdom ranging on social issues and mental health.
Today, Foley continued to give that great insight into the wrestling business when he posted a video (on both his Facebook and Youtube pages) which he titled “WWE, we’ve got a problem” and he gave his honest opinion on why the Connecticut-based wrestling organization was in trouble. In addition, he praised the newly rival organization All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in how they treat their talent and product.
“And that problem is that WWE is no longer the place for talent to aspire to. Part of it is because AEW is doing a great job of attracting great talent, proven talent, building other talent and creating storylines,” opined Foley.
Foley elaborated by saying that a part of the problem is WWE’s own making. He mentioned younger and aspiring talent noticing how WWE developmental cuts talent or “leaves them by the wayside.” He also mentioned the WWE watering down and making jokes out of up and coming stars who debut on the main roster like Karion Kross (real name Kevin Kasar who also wrestled in Impact Wrestling, formerly Total Nonstop Action).
“If I was an aspiring talent now, a big league talent with a major decision to make, I’m not sure that I would trust WWE creative to do the right thing with my career,” said Foley.
Further into the end of the video, Foley praised WWE for doing wonders for his career but he said that it was a “different time” and “different place.”
“If it was today, I’m not sure I’d trust the powers that be with my career in their hands. And until that changes, WWE, you got a problem,” Foley concluded at the end of the video.
After looking at the video several times, I cannot help but agree with Mrs. Foley’s baby boy.
With the advent of the Internet, wrestling fans have gotten smarter and observant. They look up to wrestlers who are not the type that the WWE brass sees as the top superstar. And they are very attentive to how the storylines begin and how they could potentially end. In addition, they also read wrestling news sites like Wrestling Headlines, Ringside News, Wrestling Inc., or many others, you would read articles (or listen to podcasts) about what goes on behind the scenes of the wrestling industry. And if you are a regular visitor to these sites, like myself, you would also be familiar with names like Dave Metzler, a pro-wrestling journalist who writes for the “Wrestling Observer” magazine. This is where wrestling fans get information that can potentially play a role in which company they can get behind.
And let’s not forget social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. While studying at college and getting introduced to wrestlers CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, I would watch videos on Youtube and come across amazing wrestlers from the Independent scene like Leva Bates, Matt Sydal, AJ Styles, Velvet Sky, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Taeler Hendrix, TJ Perkins, and the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson). When I saw these wrestlers go in the ring, they were magnificent. I also had a journalism classmate (who also became a friend) named Tyler Davidson who (under the ring name Jarek Matthews) wrestled around the Southern California independent scene and saw him perform some awesome matches.
Looking back, I feel that social media helped to break the old norms of having to go to one particular platform. It has given people who would have never had a chance at the big time have a chance on their own terms. It has even put into question if people do need to go to the “big time” company anymore when they can strike it out on their own or find someone else who can give them a chance. It has created more choice which, in my opinion, helps fuel true capitalism which thrives on competition.
The WWE was once seen as the big time and it became that way for a reason. If you are a hardcore wrestling fan, you would know that Vince McMahon Jr. bought the company from his father Vince Sr. Another thing you (as a hardcore wrestling fan) would probably know is that Vince did the opposite of what his father would do: he made the WWE (then WWF) into a global wrestling company. Vince Sr. originally wanted the company to be a northeast territory and control the New York area. As Vince Jr. claimed full ownership of the WWE, he broke away from the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) and bought every wrestling territory and their main stars like Hulk Hogan, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jesse Ventura, and many others.
When Foley mentions that “ WWE is no longer the place for talent to aspire to,” I begin to think of the horror stories I would hear back about what goes on behind the scenes at WWE.
I remember stories about how certain wrestlers would play a role on whether a rising wrestler got a push, or an opportunity or they were demoted. The story of former WWE superstar Zack Ryder comes to mind.
Zack Ryder (real name Matt Cardona) was one of my favorite stars during the WWE’s early 2010s Reality Era. The wrestler was originally a villain who had a gimmick of a n obnoxious dude with a Jersey Shore style haircut. Around 2011, Ryder became more popular thanks to his internet show, “Z True Long Island Story.” Because of that show and Ryder telling every viewer to purchase his t-shirt, to “take care, spike their hair” (I couldn’t do it since my hair is curly), and to “woo, woo, woo, you know it,” many fans got behind him. Almost every arena chanted his name even when he was not advertised to be on the show.
Eventually, Ryder got his push when he won the United States Championship against Dolph Ziggler at Tables, Ladders, and Chairs 2011. It was also around that time CM Punk was the WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson) was the World Heavyweight Champion, Cody Rhodes (Future AEW Executive Vice President) was the Intercontinental Champion, Evan Bourne (AEW’s Matt Sydal) and Kofi Kingston were the tag team champions, and Beth Phoenix was the WWE Divas Champion. To me, 2011 was the year for the wrestlers (like Ryder)who were given the short end of the stick to rise. Wrestling, or at least WWE, was becoming awesome again. Ryder was on a meteoric rise. Or so it would seem.
Shortly after his success, 2012 was not a great year for Ryder. He was put in a ridiculous storyline where he was in a love triangle that involved John Cena and Eve Torres. In addition, he would be stalked and attacked by Kane (Glenn Jacobs), a monstrous giant wrestler who was the storyline brother of the Undertaker. After being injured by Kane, Ryder would lose his United States Championship to Jack Swagger (Jake Hager in AEW).
2012 would be crash and burn for Ryder’s WWE run which would span for many years until his release in 2020. Ryder would have a small push by winning the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania 32 only to lose it to The Miz (Mike Mizanin) on the following Monday Night Raw. He would also win the tag team titles with his former tag team partner Curt Hawkins at the Wrestlemania 35 pre show during a match against the Revival only for them to lose it back to the same tag team on the June 10 episode of Raw.
Cardona’s struggle to get over as Zack Ryder in the WWE echoes Foley’s sentiment of the anxiety that he would have if he were a young performer in the WWE today.
In a 2014 interview with Steve Austin on the WWE Network, McMahon mentioned that the locker room at the time was full of millennials who were not ambitious and would not want to reach for the brass ring. I felt that this comment was a slap to the face to someone like Zack Ryder who I felt worked hard to get himself over when the WWE brass would not take another look at him, or if they did, they would see him as another wrestler looking to collect a paycheck and then get released.
In Chris Jericho’s podcast, “Talk Is Jericho,” Cardona’s tag team partner Curt Hawkins mentioned that “even if you grab the brass ring, you’re gonna get your hand smacked. If they don’t want you to have it, you’re not going to have it.”
I was also offended when he mentioned that millennials lacked ambition which is a total lie. Matt Cardona unintentionally helped steer WWE performers to have their own social media accounts and their own platforms. And as I mentioned before, people who would have never had a chance at the big time have a chance on their own terms. And having other platforms helps performers make additional income. But like a shark smelling blood in the water, WWE decided to strike and to put a ban on WWE superstars having their own Twitch accounts and wanted full control over their social media accounts so that they can have a share of the profits.
I feel that this goes against the belief that WWE performers are independent contractors. My belief is that if you are an independent contractor, you are allowed to work in other places and also have other means of income as long as it is legal and nobody’s getting hurt. But WWE says that while their performers are independent contractors, they cannot perform anywhere else and if they do make money in any particular area under their ring name, the WWE gets a percentage. Can you imagine working and creating your brand and getting to WWE only for them to put a copyright on your name and take it all away from you? Can you imagine being called an independent contractor and being told that you could not work any place else? As I write this, I am starting to understand why Vince was so hell bent on buying all of those wrestling territories when his dad Vince Sr. was totally against it. Vince McMahon loves and craves control.
Meanwhile, while it is still in its infancy, AEW is thriving with its ensemble of performers and storylines. In “All Out,” I just saw a steel cage tag team match between the Young Bucks and the Lucha Bros that has become one of my favorite wrestling matches. A story was being told in that match from the high octane moves to the blood spilt from all four combatants.When the Lucha Bros, won the AEW Tag Team titles, I felt like was I was 15-years old again when I saw Kane and the Hurricane win the WWE World Tag Team titles. I also loved the Lucha Bros. entrance to the ring.
Another highlight of that event was Kris Statlander and Britt Baker (DMD) tearing it up for the AEW Women’s title. Statlander put Baker to the limit and again, a story was being told. I was rooting for AEW’s resident alien to win against the dentist but in my opinion, both had won because the match was awesome and it was one of the matches, like the aforementioned steel cage tag team match that made me fall in love with wrestling again.
And I cannot mention All Out without mentioning the match between CM Punk and Darby Allin. Punk had made a triumphant return to the ring. I felt that this match had the same vibes as Kingdom Come Superman when he returned to being the Man of Steel after exiling himself due to the deaths of his Earth’s Lois Lane and loved ones at the Daily Planet at the hands of the Joker. Punk exiled himself after his love of pro-wrestling died while dealing with politics, injuries, and illness in the WWE. Like Kingdom Come Superman returning with a new perspective and a mission to help the new generation of heroes in his Earth, CM Punk returned with a new perspective and a mission to help the new generation of wrestlers in AEW.
And I have seen some amazing talent in AEW. The Jurassic Express (Jungle Boy, Luchasaurus, and Marko Stunt), and The Varsity Blondes (Brain Pillman Jr.,Griff Garrison, and Julie Hart), Thunder Rosa, Darby Allin, “Big Shotty” Lee Johnson, Britt Baker, El Fuego Del Sol, and Anna Jay are some of the wrestlers who automatically come to my mind when I think of the new generation of wrestlers.
Mick Foley is right to call out WWE by warning them that they have a problem. To piggyback off of Foley’s sentiment, as a fan who has watched wrestling for 21 years, I can say that the WWE needs to get it together.
And with how AEW has been gradually and efficiently presenting their performers and their brand, its going to take more than an “attitude era,” a Mr. McMahon-like authority figure, a big star like Brock Lesnar or John Cena (though I like those guys) to boost interest in a product that is losing its luster. And I personally think that instead of taking advice from WWE President Nick Khan (No relation to AEW President Tony Kahn), the higher ups at the Connecticut-based wrestling organization should take AEW very seriously.
AEW has been putting on excellent matches and also allowing their performers to branch out in other organizations or territories under an initiative that Tony Khan calls the “Forbidden Door.”. This past year, we saw Impact Wrestling’s Rich Swann take on AEW’s Kenny Omega in an amazing title vs title match with the latter winning both the Impact and AEW World Heavy Championships. Thunder Rosa and Serna Deeb held the NWA Women’s Championship while on AEW. And recently, Jon Moxley (the former Dean Ambrose) has won the GCW (Game Changer Wrestling) Championship from the former Zack Ryder, Matt Cardona. Moxley also previously held New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s IWGP United States Championship while signed to AEW. It is initiatives like the “Forbidden Door” that make wrestling fun again and also fuel creativity among wrestlers and personalities.
Please understand that this is not an anti-WWE article. I still enjoy watching Smackdown, RAW, and NXT. The storyline arcs of Alexa Bliss, RKO-Bro (Randy Orton and Matt Riddle, Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair, Edge and Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles and Omos are entertaining at best. However, like Foley, the WWE I watched was from a “different time” and a “different place.” It is a WWE from a bygone era. Today’s WWE has become a shell of its former self.
New stars like the aforementioned Karrion Kross are getting booked to lose matches when they should be winning them. Stars like Zelina Vega, who worked really hard in their careers on the independent scene, are long overdue for opportunities that are instead being given to people who have had their chance to shine. I also think of stars like Liv Morgan, Humberto Carillo, Mustafa Ali, and Cedric Alexander who I felt have been put to the side.
It’s no wonder Ruby Soho, Adam Cole, and Bryan Danielson left and I think more wrestlers will follow in their footsteps.
WWE, I still love your product but I have to agree with Mick Foley on this one: you do have a problem. And the ball is in your court on how to resolve it.
And as Matt Cardona used to say as Zack Ryder, “woo woo woo, you know it.”