Monday, October 13, 2008

Benny Juxx had Mr. TA in a bad way at the Castle of Knights on Oct. 17. Mr. TA is Terry Allen, a professional wrestler who runs the Big Time Wrestling promotion and who is a talented illustrator and graphic designer in his other life.

Pop Culture Weekend part one

I realize that many people who know me are completely dumbfounded about some of the things that interest me, one of those being professional wrestling. I've watched it since I was a kid and I've always appreciated the athletic ability of the wrestlers as well as the theatrics and the undiluted ballyhoo of it.

We understand that outcomes can be predetermined and that some of the moves are more sound effect than physical fury. But the medival morality play nature of much of wrestling coupled with the cynical real world out that evil can triumph and that cheaters win are powerful narrative ingredients.

I see little difference between the power of the soap opera to suck people into a fictional world and the best professional wrestling. I'm sure my mom and other soapie fans would disagree, but both theatrical forms share common archetypes and story structures.

I must admit there is a certain "outlaw" nature to liking pro wrestling. It's like admitting enjoying the flavor of pork rinds or cheese in a squirt can. You know on one level you shouldn't like it, but you do!

My nephew Douglas is developing into quite a fan in that he totally gets into the spirit of the live match. He roots for one villian – Mr. TA – and is willing to shout insults to the wrestlers. His best lines included "Did you learn that in dance school?" Hey, the kid is nine. His skills are just developing!

Mick Foley, the former WWE superstar, was the main draw to the event and thanks to my friend Tom Burke, I got to meet Mick when he wasn't either busy signing autographs or in the ring. He seemed, as he did in the interview I did for my newspaper (which follows), a very decent, down to earth guy:

Mick Foley is apologetic that his son, who is loudly enjoying, might interrupt this telephone interview.

Some might think it's ironic that one of the toughest men in professional wrestling is a dedicated father of three, but Foley is pretty much retired from competing and is happy spending more time at home than on the road.

"My family is one of my main focuses," he said.

The man who wrestled under the names of Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind and won numerous championship belts will be a guest referee at the Big Time Wrestling show on Oct. 10 at the Castle of Knights. Foley will also be available for autographs and photos prior to the matches.

Foley said he is currently doing only one or two wrestling shows a year and his most recent was an appearance at Madison Square Garden.

"It's [a casual schedule of appearances] a goal to work toward," he said.

"I've never done the math involved, but I think I've done more of them [matches] in buildings like the Knights of Columbus than in Madison Square Garden," Foley said.

He doesn't really miss wrestling full time. "I feel absolutely good about what I've accomplished," he said.

A wrestling fan as a teen he wrestled on his high school team with classmate comic Kevin James he entered the field in 1986.

He backed away from competition in 2000 and has appeared as a commentator and personality in the ring more than as a wrestler. He and his long-time employers, World Wrestling Entertainment, parted ways last month and Foley said he was looking forward to his new association with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling on the Spike television channel.

He said he is "sleeping easier at night" staying out of the ring.

Besides outrageous characters, Foley was known for his do-anything attitude in the ring, which made for memorable moments for fans and a lot of injuries for him. He said that he has sore joints and pain in his back and neck, but that he actually feels better today than he did 10 years ago.

"I was never under the illusion this [career] wouldn't come with a price tag," he explained.

In a form of entertainment that demands both athletic ability as well as portraying a character, Foley's personas were known for their outrageousness. Cactus Jack was capable of dishing out considerable violence; Dude Love was a throwback hippie; and Mankind wore a Hannibal Lector style mask and had an ally a sock puppet known as "Mr. Socko."

Foley said that Mankind, perhaps his most popular incarnation, came about in 1999 when most of the other wrestlers were portraying characters that were either "cool good guys or cool bad guys." Foley wanted to do someone different and Mankind who lived in a boiler room and talked to a rat was different. Eventually mankind became more comical.

"I was lucky," Foley said about the creation of his characters. "Other guys were restrained. I was given free reign for a number of years and allowed to make alterations."

Foley said he never considered himself a "leading man" wrestler, but rather a "character actor."

Foley has written three memoirs, three children's books and two novels. Some of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller List. He said he started his writing career in 1999 when he read what the ghostwriter assigned to his first book, "Have a Nice Day; A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks," had written and he thought he could do better.

He said he enjoys writing and that readers like his conversational style.

One might wonder why a man who has built up a huge fan base and has skill portraying characters wouldn't take those assets to the movie screen such as his one-time tag team partner Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Foley explained while he likes acting, he didn't want to come off the road to take more time away from his family.

Today he said he is able to make his own work schedule, spend time with his family and do volunteer work.

Here is Mick with Tom backstage at Big Time Wrestling.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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