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Features:
The Retirement
of Cactus Jack
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By Paul Herzog

I wanted to write this last week, but a little bundle of joy named Christopher Paul came along, with my wife going into labor a week ago Sunday. The weekend before that, I spent a good chunk of my time making a Cactus Jack compilation tape. There was an irony to reviewing the career of Mick Foley on a video, since the WWF was building to a PPV main event where if Foley lost, he would retire. It was looking that way, rather than him win the WWF title and main event at WrestleMania, and as it turns out, that's exactly what happened.

It's rare that we can actually appreciate the last days of an athlete's career as we know they're happening. In my youth, I remember Hank Aaron going back to Milwaukee for one last season, signing on with the Brewers. Everyone knew he was hanging on for one last time around. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a final season that turned out to be his final season. But with most athletes, it gets dragged out a bunch of times (Sugar Ray Leonard and Dominik Hasek come to mind) or injury and diminishing skills play a role (Charles Barkley and Willie Mays, respectively). The word has been out that Cactus Jack was looking to step away, so the last couple of months have been a sort of retirement tour, from my perspective.

In making this tape, it really became apparent how much punishment his body has absorbed. And not just to the head, although the loss of memory is the most frightening side effect of his career. The earliest match I put on the tape was a 1991 Falls Count Anywhere encounter between Cactus and Eddie Gilbert, for Joel Goodhart's old TWA in Philadelphia. It was the last match Cactus wrestled before joining WCW. In putting everything together, I watched nine years of bumps on the steel entranceway, on the concrete floor, through tables. He was launched from various places to those surfaces, be it from the ring, from the top rope, from the top of the largest steel cage in pro wrestling history. At times, it was painful to watch, knowing what damage he was doing to his back, his hips, his knees. And knowing that there was several years of him doing this before 1991, through Memphis, Texas, and hundreds of other small-time gigs. There's a story in his book about getting an MRI on his back, and asking the doctor why one vertebra in his back showed up white, while the rest were a dull gray. "What's wrong with that one?" he asked. "Nothing," said the doctor. "They're all supposed to be that way. It's the rest of your vertebrae that are damaged."

There are two athletes to whom I can best compare Mick Foley. One is former Bears standout lineman Dan Hampton (why he isn't in the NFL Hall of Fame mystifies me). Hampton had so many knee surgeries over the course of his playing days that there was no cartilage left in either. He had leg bone resting on leg bone. A couple of seasons before the end, a doctor told Hampton that if he didn't retire, he'd be unable to walk comfortably when he was 40. "Doc, I can't walk

now," Hampton replied. And he kept on going. The other, more suitable example for this tale, is Paul Orndorff. "Mr. Wonderful" had a badly damaged left arm in 1986, at the very height of his career in the WWF. He had a torn bicep and ligament tears, but was also making the most money he'd ever seen. He knew he was doing irreparable damage, but he also knew that 70,000 people paying to see him wrestle Hulk Hogan didn't happen all the time either. Orndorff's left arm is still not as strong as his right, and the results of that run will be forever visible.

In Mick Foley's case, it's not just his arm, it's his whole body. People expressed their concern after a 20/20 feature, where Foley's wife Collette said that Mick forgets his way home from the airport sometimes.

In response, Vince McMahon said that they would take care of Foley in the No Way Out main event with HHH. "Taking care of" meant a 20+ minute war, where he got ring steps tossed in his face, fell through the Spanish announcer's table from about 10 feet up, got hit numerous times with a 2x4 wrapped in barbed wire, and once again took a bump through the top of the cell into the ring. From Cactus Jack's point-of-view, he's worked 15 years to get this far. A few more bumps aren't going to make it that much tougher to get out of bed, and he's making the kind of money that will provide security for his children. As a new father, I'd do anything to make sure that my son has a roof over his head, food on the table, money for his education, and stability for the future. That's what every good father wants, and by most means, Mick Foley is a great father.

It's just a damn shame that means he won't physically be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, to run and tumble and play with his children. And perhaps he'll end up like the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, where the abuse he suffered has turned him into a shell of his former self. I hope I never watch another Cactus Jack match.

I'm afraid of what's going to happen.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@worldnet.att.net.

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