Mick Foley stars in virtual Attitude Era

Mick Foley, shown here as Cactus Jack, will play a big role in the Attitude Era mode of "WWE 13." Courtesy of THQ

When professional wrestling legend Mick Foley remembers his time in WWE’s famed Attitude Era, his mind is marked not only by the period’s uptick in vulgarity and violence, but for the goofy brand of humor he helped bring to the show, thanks to special moments like the hilarious “This is your life” segment on The Rock’s birthday (not to mention introducing the world to Mr. Socko).

“The era was more than just how many times we could hit each other with a steel chair or how far someone could get thrown off a cage,” Foley says as we meet up at THQ’s “WWE 13” preview event in New York City. “There was always this sense of fun in the Attitude Era. It wasn’t just cursing and violence. There was still some good family entertainment mixed in with some of the debauchery.”

And that’s exactly the type of recipe THQ is trying to create in their video game, mixing the nonstop action of TLC and Hell in a Cell matches with cut scenes and storylines from the era that will not only leave your heart pounding, but thoroughly entertained the way only The Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection could.

ESPN Playbook: Today is the first time you’re seeing your character’s storyline in the “WWE 13” Attitude Era mode. How do you think they captured your life in the game?

Mick Foley: I’m featured more in this game than I was when I was actually in my prime. I’m really excited about it. I didn’t realize how few Attitude Era guys were getting their own storylines, so it’s really flattering. When I first heard I was going to be in the video game, I just figured I’d be one of those random guys you unlock. Then I saw the commercial online and I was really flattered and blown away by the faith WWE has put in me. As we speak, I’m watching somebody play as me during the Mind Games pay-per-view against Shawn Michaels, and to me, that’s almost a precursor of the Attitude Era. You saw a lot of things in that match that went on to become the Attitude Era. They have Shawn Michaels down perfect, too. That’s what he was wearing that night. That’s the way his hair looked, for better or worse, that’s the way my hair looked, for better or worse, and I’m still in that classic brown Mankind outfit, which was never the best fashion idea. But I cannot say enough good things about this game.

One of the interesting things before the Attitude Era is how you had the ugly brown outfit and Steve Austin was originally the Ring Master and The Rock had his poofy hair, but you guys all went out and changed your fortunes based on letting more of your real personalities out. If you guys didn’t take the ball and run, would we have even seen an Attitude Era?

I think you’re on to something here. And this is not a knock on The Rock and Stone Cold, because Mankind was featured pretty prominently, even in brown. But I still had to tweak some things, but Stone Cold and The Rock, they were literally at dead ends. I don’t know how close The Rock came to being released, but I believe it had to be close. But they reinvented themselves by becoming extensions of themselves rather than just being a one-dimensional character. The guy you saw when Rocky Maivia came out with the hair and all smiles, that’s not who he was. Turn the volume all the way up on who he is, and he becomes The Rock. Just like if you’re reading this and you don’t think my personality is interesting enough to be featured in a video game, but if you turn the volume all the way up, it was just an extension of ourselves.

Do you think the WWE performers today have that same ability, to go out there and try to make it by being extensions of who they are in real life?

I think you can always learn lessons by the guys who came before you. Guys in the current product, and I love the current product, but they have to be a little bit more imaginative because they can’t go to such physical and verbal extremes like we did. But I think there was always a lot of pressure, and that’s pressure in a good way, for us to come up with our own characters and our own verbiage, and we sank or swam depending on how good our own stuff was. You’re seeing guys who are doing this today in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. A few years ago, did you think that these guys would be the face of WWE? These are amazing characters, and they’re extensions of themselves, so I think some of the guys are seeing what we did in the Attitude Era, they’re adapting, and they’re making it work for them.

Who would’ve thought Kane and Daniel Bryan would be the most entertaining part of every show?

Man, I know, and I’m so happy for them. Kane had been talking to me about how he’s been there since 1996 and he’s had a 16-year run and how he’s a bit banged up from years of his big, physical style. He told me that he needed to find a way to tweak the character a little bit, and when I saw him a few weeks ago I told him, “You are my hero.” He laughed and said, “No, I’ve become you!” Here’s a guy who realized he could no longer do the stuff he was known for back in the Attitude Era, so he brought some levity and laughs to the character. The anger management skit where he broke down his entire career was brilliant. I sent out a tweet right after I saw it saying, “This is why I love this stuff.” It brought me right back to some of the humor we loved to do back in the Attitude Era.

You were in so many jaw-dropping matches, from the I Quit match against The Rock to Hell in a Cell against the Undertaker. When you look at all of the matches THQ picked to recreate in the video game, is there one you look back on as your personal favorite?

It’s tough to say. That match against Shawn Michaels at Mind Games was my favorite for a long time, but then I had a match against Randy Orton that I think eclipsed it. But as far as favorite moments go, the fact that I got to recreate the night in 1997 in Madison Square Garden where we debuted Cactus Jack … actually he debuted 12 years earlier, but he was debuting in WWE, and I had the chance as Dude Love to interview both Mankind and Cactus Jack. It was this amazing 12 hours of working with a green screen and having a lot of patience and faith that the director could put it all together. That night at The Garden, when you saw Mankind talking to Dude Love and Dude Love said, “Oh Manny, are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” And Mankind said, “I think I am thinking what you think I’m thinking,” and boom, out came Cactus Jack. It was like magic. So for me to be able to recreate that moment is really beyond cool and beyond flattering to me.

So when you think back on your career, do you think of yourself as Mankind, Cactus Jack, or Dude Love?

I’m probably actually closest to Commissioner Foley. He was like the more nerdy version of myself. But that guy wouldn’t have worked unless we laid the groundwork with Mankind and Cactus Jack. So as far as those characters go, the latter day Mankind that people know from the Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection, that was probably the closest to my own personality.

Now you’re back on TV and you gave an awesome promo against CM Punk. What was it like being in the ring with Punk?

Man, I’ll tell you what. Punk is as good, both verbally and physically, as anyone who I’ve ever been in the ring with. I had the pleasure of being in there, but I have to tell you something, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know if I could still cut promos on that level, but when you’re dealing with a guy like Punk who is so intense, you realize that you either swim or your sink, and I was doing my best to stay afloat. I didn’t realize people were going to react so overwhelmingly, because when I was done, I was just like, “Thank goodness that didn’t go badly.” But when I go to the back, I got a standing ovation, and everywhere I went, people were complimenting me on that promo. It was great. I loved it.

Do you see the promo leading to a match, or are your wrestling days over?

I think my match days are over, but hopefully it will lead to something else. I think it’s always great to have the guys from different eras in there together. It works great for everybody.

When you look at the current roster, who do you see as the next breakout star?

Carrying the company is something people don’t realize how hard it is to do until they get there. Take CM Punk. Even when he was giving great promos and having great matches, was he carrying the company? Up until a year ago, I would’ve said he’s too different and he’s going to only have that niche market. But then he gave that incredible promo and he changed the business. I’m not sure who has that type of promo in them. I really can’t give you an answer, but there are a lot of guys who are going to be vying for that spot. Daniel Bryan is going to come out of his tag team eventually with an even bigger head of steam as a singles wrestler. Then you have guys like Antonio Cesaro who can do it all and he’s finding his way as a character, so I think there’s no shortage of candidates.

Beyond wrestling, you have a new children’s book coming out for the holidays. How did the experience writing this book compare to your autobiographies?

I loved it. It’s called “A Most Mizerable Christmas” and honestly, this is something our pre-reader said when she was giving feedback, but her synopsis was that this book will be as much fun for the parents to read to their kids as the kids will have being read to them. I really believe that this is going to be one of those books that is read frequently by kids, and by parents to their kids. I haven’t really bragged about anything since I’ve been here, but when it comes to wrestling children’s book writers, I’m the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.