He’s brawled with barbed wire, been driven face-first onto thumbtacks and fallen 20 feet from the top of a steel cage. These violent acts of bravery – or perhaps stupidity – don’t sound like the brutal exploits of a man who also dresses up as Santa Claus each year, or has a permanent Christmas room in his house. But from caged carnage to Christmas cheer, this is the legacy of one of wrestling’s most beloved stars, Mick Foley.
One of the breakthrough talents of the ’90s Attitude Era, Foley was a true dual-threat performer, capable of stunning audiences with death-defying feats and striking them silly with hilarious skits. Adopting numerous characters, ranging from the disturbed Mankind to the downright deranged Cactus Jack, Foley reinvented himself time and time again, to the tune of three WWE Championship reigns.
Since retiring from in-ring competition, Foley continues to entertain outside of the squared circle. Having written multiple New York Times best-sellers, the Hardcore Legend has been touring the world with a highly successful spoken-word comedy act, and now stars in a new documentary produced by Oscar-nominee Morgan Spurlock: I Am Santa Claus, now available on Netflix.
On a chilly Dallas morning following a stop on his comedy tour, Rolling Stone spoke with the wrestling legend about new film, his serious Santa obsession and what he thinks about his daughter following in his footsteps.
Despite retiring from the ring, are there ever times when you wish that you could still wrestle?
No, I exceeded my wildest expectations in wrestling and really feel good about the legacy I left behind. I find that I get most of the same things I loved about performing in the ring when I do my live shows around the world. I also find it when I don the red suit and become an ambassador for Santa [laughs].
I imagine you get the same kind of instant feedback.
That’s exactly it, and I find that it doesn’t matter whether it’s 300 people in a club or that one child looking at you in wide-eyed amazement, you’re getting that same instant feedback and it feels very much like being in an arena filled with chanting fans.
Speaking of which, who are your current favorites on the WWE roster?
I like those really multidimensional characters like Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt. I’ve really seen Seth Rollins come on strong in the last few months. I actually love the Damien Mizdow character [laughs], he has become must-see TV. When I hear the words, “Dad, Mizdow’s on TV!” I move quicker than you would expect. I would be very remiss not to include Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro and some of the NXT guys on the rise like Sami Zayn.
Let’s talk about NXT. It really seems to be the most compelling thing about the WWE these days.
What’s really telling is that my son is 11 and he’s a huge wrestling fan, and he’ll say things like, “Dad, I can completely envision myself playing with a Sami Zayn action figure!” So I might as well just call WWE and say, “He’s ready, bring Sami up, my son’s got a good eye for these things!” He looks forward to the Thursday NXT shows as if they were pay-per-views, so hats off to the guys at NXT and Triple H as well for all the work he’s put into making that group a reality.
Have you been to the WWE Performance Center?
I haven’t, but I need to go. I hear it’s amazing. I looked through my tweets one morning and saw somebody working on an article about how Sara Del Rey had replaced me as their favorite wrestler. I read the article and was fascinated to find that Del Rey was training the women of NXT. I was like, “Wow, no wonder they’re coming on so strong.” That just shows the commitment that WWE has towards the future. I think it’s really great foresight to put money and time into the future.
You’ve recently mentioned that your daughter Noelle has started training to be a wrestler.
She was training and she loves it. I would like her to be a wrestling personality as opposed to a wrestler, just because as a dad I don’t want to see my daughter go through the things that I did. The absolute worst way to ensure that somebody will not listen to you is to try to force them, so I’m going to support her in whatever she does. I’m just trying to find the best possible training for her.
You are a Santa aficionado, and now you’re in a documentary called I Am Santa Claus. How did you get involved with it?
I’m out on the road often, and I fling myself headlong into those shows and try to leave a little piece of myself on the stage every night – I did the same thing with this project. I really fell in love with it to the point where I cannot imagine a year going by without me being Santa [laughs]. I look forward to it every year.
Morgan Spurlock was somebody director Tommy Avallone approached with the idea of following real bearded Santas during the rest of the year. He said it sounded like a great idea, but you don’t need an idea, you need characters and compelling stories. So Tommy and I screened the movie personally for Morgan in its unfinished state – I fondly recall staying up all night after WrestleMania with my youngest son, leaving at 5 a.m. for New York City and going into a room with just Morgan, Tommy and I, and we watched I Am Santa Claus. As soon as it was over Morgan had like 15 ideas of what worked and what didn’t, but he kept using the term “we.” Not only were his suggestions invaluable, but the respect that his name brings is invaluable too.
The film sounds similar to the documentary Becoming Santa –
Yeah, but as Jack Sanderson realizes towards the end of Becoming Santa, there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with being that guy with the real beard. He wasn’t always necessarily comfortable being that guy, whereas our Santas really thrive on being that guy, and wish they could be him 365 days a year. There’s a nice cross-section of guys – Santa Russell, who really depends on it, not only financially but emotionally for a sense of self – my Santa, a guy who legally changed his name to “Santa Claus,” and Santa Bob, who’s like the Santa who’s got it all in perspective.
So is Santa Claus the fourth face of Foley?
[Laughs] On the WWE For All Mankind DVD, they wanted to do a shoot that was based around the TV show Dinner for Five, and they said it was going to be the three faces of Foley, plus Mick Foley, and that it was too bad that I didn’t have a fifth face. I said, “Well, I’ve got a fifth face.” So on that DVD there’s the four of us and Santa Claus. So yeah, I feel very comfortable with that being the fifth face, and maybe the one I like most.
It’s certainly a less-violent persona.
Oh yeah. It’s so much of what I enjoyed about wrestling, without the late-night emergency room visits.