Lee Maughan: Hosted by the man himself, who starts with a crack about how if you’re watching his DVD then you must be a huge wrestling fan, which also means you probably aren’t dating very much either. Hey, don’t you patronise me after I’ve just patronised your wallet!
– Mick Foley thinks that if you’ve only seen Vader from his WWF run then you’re missing out, and that’s certainly quite the understatement. He recalls a time when enhancement workers would see their name against Vader’s on the board at TV tapings and legitimately walk out and quit the business instead of facing him, never to be seen again. Not that such a thing was surprising after the time Vader accidentally temporarily paralysed a young worker by the name of Joe Thurman with a supremely stiff powerbomb.
Cactus Jack vs. Vader
[WCW Saturday Night – 04.06.93 (aired 04.17.93)]
With WCW struggling to find a number two babyface behind Sting, Cactus was given the unlikely nod of filling the void in early 1993. He’d actually been getting cheered quite a bit anyway from fans who appreciated his hard work, but once he’d made the switch he was struggling to garner much sympathy from audiences who never really felt like he was in much peril. It’d hadn’t helped that throughout his heel run he’d been portrayed as a guy who actually enjoyed pain, so he pitched an idea to WCW booker Dusty Rhodes about challenging World Champion Vader to a match on TV, in which Vader would rough him up for real and they could instead start to portray Cactus Jack as real flesh-and-blood human being who actually did feel pain and could (and would) be injured.
Foley’s plan was to have Vader legitimately bust his eyebrow open by creating a gash from punching downward with the point of the knuckles. Unfortunately for him, Vader couldn’t quite get the trick right and instead walloped him right across the bridge of the nose with four heavy forearms in a row, one of which actually broke said nose. Worse still, barely a trickle of claret came out, but before Cactus could inform Vader that he’d reconsidered the whole thing, Vader smashed him with a right hand across the cheekbone and another on the originally intended eyebrow target. That finally bust him open, much to the dismay of Vader’s manager Harley Race, who’d hoped to do the busting himself.
The match is absolutely brutal (and a little tough to watch at points), and really does a lot to garner the sympathy Foley had been looking for, but with WCW being WCW, he found out the very next day from Eric Bischoff that the Turner organisation (WCW’s parent company and broadcaster) were refusing to air it unless substantial edits could be made to sanitise it and remove the blood. Foley had willingly allowed Vader to break his nose, blacken his eyes, dislocate his jaw, and cause him to get stitches, yet it was all for nothing. That was followed with further salt being rubbed into the wound as after the edited version of the match aired on TV (complete with lengthy cutaways to unrelated crowd shots and selective angles that avoided showing Cactus’ battered face), WCW ran a commercial promoting the upcoming Slamboree: A Legends Reunion pay-per-view, replete with ancient clips of The Crusher, Verne Gagne, Blackjack Mulligan and others, all sporting the “crimson mask”.
As if things weren’t already bad enough after all that, Foley then received a phone call from WCW’s production staff about a week later requesting that he come in to cut promos for a rematch, in which he’d be required to look exactly as he’d done after the first match. Much to his annoyance, his physical bumps and bruises had already begun to heal by that point, but he was more angry about the fact that he’d offered to tape some interviews immediately after the match and had been shot down on account of the condition of his face being far too gruesome to put on TV.
Although it may all have been for nought, the incident did at least provide Foley with a story to tell on this DVD over a decade later, and in fact he actually had forethought enough to request a copy of the unedited tape of the match, the footage from which is included here, albeit without the original commentary from Jesse Ventura, removed by the WWE production staff to avoid paying him any royalties. Tight gits. The next week’s edition of WCW Saturday Night would feature a Cactus-Vader rematch, in which Cactus would suffer numbness in his right arm and foot after being powerbombed on the concrete floor, leading to him taking the first paid vacation of his career but having to come back several weeks later with a truly abysmal amnesia gimmick, as dreamt up by Rhodes.
Final Rating: ***½
Chicago Street Fight
The Nasty Boys vs. Maxx Payne & Cactus Jack
[WCW Spring Stampede ‘94 – 04.17.94]
This is Cactus’ first match back after having most of his right ear torn off in another match with Vader at a house show in Munich, Germany. He admits that for the first time in his career he didn’t really feel prepared to wrestle, especially after WCW had failed to exploit the missing ear for all it was worth. He was also depressed, feeling like he was being given the shaft after getting shunted into a tag team with Maxx Payne following the conclusion of his run with Vader, and really had no desire to get in the ring with either of the Nasty Boys, who he felt, “had a reputation for being a little bit sloppy, a little bit dangerous,” which is the polite way of saying he thought they sucked.
His general malaise towards the bout changed somewhat after Jerry Sags broke a pool cue over his head and Brian Knobbs almost dented his skull, setting the stage for a wild, weapons-based brawl through the crowd, complete with Payne slamming Knobbs through a (suspiciously cordoned off) merchandise stand. All of a sudden, Foley perked up, realising that he needed to get his arse in gear and fight back or it’d be curtains for him. It almost was when Sags attempted to piledrive him through a table for the finish, only for the table to break and send them both crashing recklessly onto the entrance ramp. Improvising, Sags instead shoved Cactus back-first off the ramp onto the concrete below, where Cactus failed to land flat and injured his shoulder in the process, a bump he referred to as the “Nestea Plunge”, the name derived from an old advertising campaign in which people would suddenly fall backwards, fully clothed, into a swimming pool after drinking Nestea instant iced tea.
With Payne losing the fall after taking a shovel to the head, an aching Cactus at least consoled himself with the thought of getting some time off and having surgery done to repair his ear, something he had already scheduled for shortly after this match. Feeling like he’d truly earned his break, he received a phone call just a couple of days later informing him that Dave Sullivan had gone down with a knee injury and that he was needed as a replacement partner for Dave’s on-screen brother Kevin Sullivan. Worrying that Kevin’s whole WCW stint would be in jeopardy if he didn’t lend a helping hand, Cactus opted to put others before himself (also in the hopes of scoring a pay rise, admittedly) and agreed to come back for another crazy street fight with the Nasties the next month at Slamboree.
That bout would prove to be the chaotic blowoff to the whole feud, an incredible brawl that was even better than this match, and it’s a shame it wasn’t included on the DVD. Those matches together were actually pretty revolutionary for the business at the time, as even though the Steiner Brothers had been doing the same kind of brawls with the Nasty Boys and The Varsity Club in years prior, these ones really helped set the stage for the out-of-control style that Kevin had been doing and would take back with him to ECW around that time, including in a match where he and Cactus fought The Public Enemy to a no-contest in November.
Final Rating: ****
Sabu vs. Cactus Jack
[ECW Hostile City Showdown ’94 – 06.24.94]
This was actually the start of a talent trading agreement that ECW owner Todd Gordon was attempting to cultivate with WCW, using Kevin Sullivan as the go-between for both groups. Gordon was a big fan of Cactus and felt like a bout between him and ECW star Sabu would be something of a dream match for hardcore wrestling fans. Foley agreed with the sentiment, but was actually reluctant to do the match at first because he felt like there was enough name and monetary value in having “Cactus Jack vs. Sabu” on the marquee that independent promoters across the country would scramble to book it, which would keep his wallet full after he left WCW. Unfortunately for him, his WCW contract wasn’t due to expire for another several months and he was subsequently outvoted on the issue.
To the match, and the first thing that becomes abundantly clear is that at the time of this DVD’s release, WWE still had much work to do in cleaning up the vast video library it had begun to acquire, as the footage here looks like it was dubbed from a second or third generation quality VHS copy, complete with on-screen tracking. Still, that does at least add to the nostalgic feel of the underground tape trading era to which ECW steadfastly belonged. As he notes in his pre-match recollections, Foley was trying to do the Of Mice and Men build where he’d take all the punishment until the fans would be begging for him to fight back, which seems to have been a miscalculation on his part because most fans at the time would have been expecting to see an outright brawl between these two, and his inability to fight back early on just makes him look like a bit of pussy. Things at least pick up a little later on with the Cactus Clothesline over the top to the floor and a brawl into the crowd, but the bout never really ascends to the heights you might hope. Sabu puts Cactus through a table with an Asai moonsault, but Cactus recovers first and rams a piece of the broken wood into Sabu’s gut. He follows with a clothesline into the corner, but Sabu’s manager Paul E. Dangerously smashes him across the head with his yuppie telephone and Sabu falls on top for the pin, giving Cactus his out for losing, having been gracious enough to do the honours.
Cactus beats up Dangerously and absolutely drills 911 with a chair over the head to get his heat back afterwards, with Mr. Hughes coming out to try put an end to that, only for Hughes’ partner, ECW super-heel Shane Douglas, to come out and make the surprising save for Cactus, playing off their real-life friendship that had begun several years earlier when they trained together at Dominic DeNucci’s wrestling school. Weirdly, Sabu decides to mount a comeback after that, breaking a glass bottle over Jack’s skull, flinging him first-face through a table, and hitting him with a moonsault off the top, before Cactus retaliates by suplexing the broken table on Sabu. I think the idea was to try and create a buzz by having such a wild post-match brawl, and most of the best action actually did come after the final bell, but I think most people would have been happier with the glass bottle shot as the finish, given the unreasonably lofty expectations everyone had set for the bout.
Final Rating: **½
And now for something completely different, as we take a little trip down to Poetry Corner:
I’ll beat his butt, that’s my credo,
I really think I’ll make him bleed, oh,
Worse than Rocky did Apollo Creed-o,
And upon these two fists he will feed-o,
As if they were two giant Cheetos,
And when my mission is complete, oh,
I’ll see a skid inside his speedo,
Because I’m going to beat Candido,
Cactus Jack vs. Chris Candido
[SMW Smoky Mountain Wrestling – 11.07.94 (aired 11.26.94)]
This is from Jim Cornette’s Rick Rubin-financed old-timey Smoky Mountain Wrestling, with 400 fans in a high school gym. It’s also one of the few examples of Cactus really wrestling as opposed to brawling, using a headlock to take Candido down to the mat. Weirdly enough, it’s Candido who brings the more hardcore aspect, hitting Cactus on the floor with a plancha then breaking some fan’s crutches over his back for good measure. Cactus retaliates with a suplex on the floor, but Candido’s valet Tammy Lynn Sytch brings out loveable simpleton Boo Bradley (the future Balls Mahoney, or Xanta Klaus if you’d prefer) to interfere on their behalf, but it backfires when Cactus runs Candido into him and gets the pin with a DDT.
“Candido to me was proof that you didn’t need to be a monster heel to be effective,” notes Foley back in the studio. “He was a real good technical wrestler who was willing to put his body on the line, and he was willing to play the coward. One of the cool thing that he did in his matches is that he would actually run away from me. Not just back off and cower, [but] he’d actually spring away from me, and it got such a great reaction from the fans that I stole it when I came to the WWF and utilised it in my first matches with The Undertaker. I’d have the arms and knees pumping [and I’d] turn around like ‘Is he there?!’, and it got a wonderful reaction to see a big ugly guy like me running for his life very awkwardly.”
Final Rating: **¾
Texas Death Match
Cactus Jack vs. The Sandman
[ECW Double Tables – 02.04.95]
“Our next opponent, The Sandman, is a guy I had some really, really great matches with” recalls Foley, before adding, “However, the match you’re about to see is not one of them.” That’s because Cactus absolutely brains Sandman with cast-iron skillet and accidentally gives him a concussion just a few minutes in, resulting in Sandman completely forgetting where he is, what he’s supposed to be doing, and what the rules of a Texas Death Match are supposed to be. That results in him sleepwalking through the rest of the bout like a strung-out zombie, completely on autopilot with no comprehension for anything that’s going on. Not that many fans could tell the difference; Sandman was notorious for getting drunk before his bouts, and people just assumed he’d downed a few too many before hitting the ring.
Cactus knows however, and if he didn’t before, he certainly does after a horrible piledriver on a steel chair from Sandman leaves him with a neck injury that wouldn’t subside for several months. In the meantime, he’s far more frustrated by Sandman’s refusal to stay down, continually kicking out of Cactus’ pinfall attempts and getting up before the count of ten on the few occasions that he does get pinned, resulting in a funny line from Joey Styles about how he’s heard of another guy in wrestling who’s known for sitting up after absorbing punishment, and if he ever wants to come to Philadelphia, Sandman will send him back to the “dark side” permanently. Sadly that’s the only amusing thing about a match that should have been stopped before it ever got going, as a visibly frustrated Cactus just keeps dropping Sandman with elbows, chair shots and DDTs on the concrete until he finally takes the hint and stays down. This was deeply unpleasant to watch, but like a car wreck, it was hard to look away.
Final Rating: *
Terry Funk & Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven & Cactus Jack
[ECW November to Remember ‘95 – 11.18.95]
Cactus had turned on Dreamer to join Raven’s Nest, kicking off a run of pro-WCW, anti-hardcore promos that were some of the best in Foley’s entire career, and the previous ECW Arena card prior to this had seen Cactus accidentally set Funk on fire in a stunt gone horribly wrong. In fact, the incident was never played or even mentioned on ECW television for fear of the backlash it would cause, although fears were assuaged when November to Remember became the fastest sell-out in company history to that point.
This is a match that gets a fair bit of praise from fans and critics alike, but I suspect a lot of that is in blind deference to that status of Foley and Funk, and particularly towards the antics of Cactus and his lovingly prepared, airbrushed Dungeon of Doom t-shirt, complete with a big pink love heart on the back. It’s a great heat-generating device in the Arena environment, but it’s nothing compared to the undershirt he’s got on with a picture of Eric Bischoff on one side and the words, “Forgive me, Uncle Eric!” on the other. There’s a cool spot where Dreamer pulls the shirt up over Cactus’ head and punches away, creating the illusion that he’s reigning down the blows on Bischoff himself, and a really creative spot where Cactus and Raven try to clothesline Dreamer with a chain, only for Dreamer to dive onto the chain and cause Cactus and Raven to run into each other, but the rest of the match is nothing but a complete mess.
The babyfaces beat up the referee for absolutely no reason at all (presumably because it’s the cool thing to do when you’re a blue-eye in ECW, but it’s still a spot that would have meant so much more if they’d bothered to figure out an actual justification for it), heel referee Bill Alfonso comes out with Taz to try and count a pin on Funk, only for Dreamer to punk out Taz in a wholly unnecessary spot that adds nothing but makes Taz look like a total idiot right after he’d just turned heel earlier in the night. The rest of the match is mostly just plunder-based garbage wrestling with everyone hitting each other over the head with various weaponry as Raven and Dreamer both bleed buckets. Some will argue that an understanding of the context of the bout is needed to appreciate it, in that this kind of style hadn’t really been refined as an art form yet, but those aforementioned Nasty Boys tag matches from the year prior in WCW pissed all over this, and that was on a national scale in the major leagues too, not some dingy little bingo hall in front a bunch of South Philadelphia newsletter-reading bloodthirsty vampires. There’s one nice storyline twist at the end where Dreamer has Raven beat after a piledriver on a chair only for Cactus to prevent it and let Funk take the win as a means of robbing Dreamer of finally scoring his big pinfall win over Raven, but this does not hold up at all.
Final Rating: *½
Cactus Jack vs. Mikey Whipwreck
[ECW Big Ass Extreme Bash – 03.09.96]
This is Cactus’ ECW farewell, and in Foley’s mind, it was to be the Cactus Jack character’s last match ever, even going so far as to print a run of “Bang, bang! He’s dead!” t-shirts to commemorate it. He’d actually signed with the WWF in late December, and vignettes had already begun airing to promote the arrival there of Mankind, so his departure isn’t exactly a secret. Fans in Queens, New York the previous evening had taken to throwing stale beer at him and chanting “You sold out!” during his match with Chris Jericho, a reception that caused Foley to question whether wrestling was even worth it. Here at the Arena, the response is entirely the opposite, as despite his status as a fan-hating heel, they give him a standing ovation on his entrance, appreciative of all the hard work he’s put in for them over the last eighteen months.
Curiously enough, Cactus is already wearing his Mankind boots here, and even does the Mandible Claw at one point as a precursor of things to come, although it gets precisely zero reaction as nobody knows what it is yet, Joey Styles included. If only he’d worn his Dungeon of Doom t-shirt with the love heart on the back, he could have passed it off as a Dude Love reference for the complete set. Cactus actually wins the bout after a piledriver on Whipwreck’s already injured neck, which might seem like an odd result given that Cactus is the one leaving and Whipwreck is the one staying, but this was more about trying to make Whipwreck look gutsy in defeat, not to mention an exercise in circumventing the predictable. Whipwreck gives one of his best performances too, with some nutty spots including a backdrop suplex on the floor, a twisting Asai moonsault into the front row, and a running leap off the Eagle’s Nest, not to mention taking a nasty spill on a ringside table, and eating some brutal chair shots. The action does start to drag at points, and at over seventeen minutes, could have stood to lose around five minutes, but this was still a nice parting gift from Cactus.
Final Rating: ***
[continued on next page]