25 Years Ago Today, The WWE Universe Met Mankind

On the Monday Night Raw on April 1, 1996, one night removed from Wrestlemania XII, the WWF had a match between (a not yet Hardcore) Bob "Spark Plug" Holly and a strange, if not outright frightening looking, new wrestler named Mankind.  The WWF had its share of "monster" characters throughout its history, but Mankind was instantly something unique.  For one thing, most heavily invested fans knew that Mankind was actually Mick Foley, known around the world as being the most hardcore wrestler alive under his former ring name, Cactus Jack.  But in this new original character for WWF, Foley was crafting someone with more layers, both in his physical presentation and in his character's psyche.  And over time, the fans would respond.  Oh boy, would they respond.

25 Years Ago Today, The WWE Universe Met Mankind
Mankind, in his WWF debut 25 years ago today, courtesy of WWE.

Foley was signed to the WWF in 1996 by Jim Ross, who had worked with Foley earlier in WCW.  Ross was largely responsible for bringing in all of the talents that would win the war for the WWF against their wrestling rival WCW in the late 90s/early 2000s.  While WCW was wealthier (under billionaire owner Ted Turner), had more resources, and had the established legends, such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Ric Flair, the WWF was looking for something different at this point.  They were no longer focused on finding the next bleached blonde bodybuilder but were instead looking for gifted athletes who had unique looks, unique charisma, and great minds for the business.

Ross scouted wrestlers who couldn't break through in WCW due to the established guys using their backstage political power, but who had limitless talents and were able to craft new characters with a dash of reality to them.  He brought in the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and others who "couldn't cut it" in WCW, but in the WWF were given the opportunity to craft unique characters that were largely based on their own personalities and were giving wrestling fans something in their characters and storylines that they hadn't seen before: depth.  Foley and his Mankind were smack dab in the middle of all of this.

Mankind was initially presented as a horror movie monster; a self-mutilating psychopath who sat in a dark boiler room and muttered to himself.  This changed when WWF Chairman Vince McMahon saw a home movie of Foley as a teenager playing a sexy stud character, Dude Love, and diving off the roof of his house.  Lightning struck and McMahon and Foley crafted a story that incorporated Foley's real life.  He was now Mick Foley, a nice everyman from Long Island, NY who dreamed of becoming WWF Champion and had a loving wife and kids.  But he suffered from split personalities that each allowed him to do the most violent things ever seen in the ring.  The characters were, of course, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and Mankind.  The three faces of Foley were born and with it, an instantly intriguing character with pathos.  Foley and Mankind were no longer scary, but instead relatable and even empathetic.  Fans felt for this guy and began to love him.

25 Years Ago Today, The WWE Universe Met Mankind
Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love: the three faces of Foley, courtesy of WWE.

Mostly through his Mankind character, Foley would become the WWF's greatest underdog character of all time and maybe even their most beloved.  There have been bigger stars who have sold more merchandise, but with Mankind, they had someone the fans genuinely cared about as a human being and someone they felt for.  That's very rare in wrestling, especially with a character known for the most violent matches and stunts in the history of the industry.  With every big stunt or death-defying fall or every time he was destroyed at the hands of the evil Mr. McMahon and the Corporation, fans felt pain for him, as they felt he was giving his body and maybe eventually his life, all for them.  Maybe that's why when Mankind finally won the WWF title he had always dreamed of, it was an almost euphoric roar from the crowd, like seeing a long-suffering sports team finally win the championship.

The late 90s were a special time in wrestling, where it really felt like you were watching something genuinely good every week and everything was unpredictable.  Mankind was one of the characters at the head of all of this and Mick Foley has become a world-beloved ambassador for the industry now, being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013, and even being a multi-time NY Times Best-Selling author.  He's a unique talent who created a unique character.  And it all started 25 years ago today.


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About Ryan Fassett

As a lifelong fan of movies, comics, wrestling, and collectibles, Ryan is excited to share his thoughts on all of it with you. He is also an active filmmaker and published comic book writer, along with being a connoisseur of soda.
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