In the early '80s, Mick took part in some squash matches for WWF TV tapings, where he wrestled under the name "Jack Foley". In one of these matches Foley and Les Thornton faced the British Bulldogs, during which the Dynamite Kid clotheslined Foley with such force that he was unable to eat solid food for several weeks.
Foley arrived in the WWF in 1996 with a new gimmick and perhaps his most famous personality: Mankind, a mentally deranged schizophrenic who constantly squealed (even throughout his matches), shrieked "Mommy!", spoke to a rat named George, enjoyed pain, physically abused himself (such as by pulling out his hair), wore a mask and lived in boiler rooms; hence, his specialty match, the Boiler Room brawl. Mankind debuted the day after WrestleMania XII, quickly moving into a feud with The Undertaker. This feud continued through King of the Ring, Mankind's WWF pay-per-view debut. During the match, Undertaker's manager, Paul Bearer, "accidentally" struck him with the urn, allowing Mankind to apply the mandible claw for the win. The two then began interfering in each other's matches until they were booked in the first ever Boiler Room brawl, in which the goal was to escape the arena's boiler room and reach the ring to take the urn from Paul Bearer.
The Undertaker appeared to have won, but Paul Bearer refused to hand him the urn, allowing Mankind to win, thus (for the time being) ending the relationship between Paul and the Undertaker. While Mankind was managed by Paul Bearer, he referred to him as "Uncle Paul." Mankind then earned the number one contendership to face the then WWF Champion Shawn Michaels at In Your House: Mind Games. Michaels won by disqualification via interference by Vader and The Undertaker.
The Mankind-Undertaker feud continued with the first ever Buried Alive match at In Your House: Buried Alive. Undertaker won the match, but Paul Bearer, Terry Gordy (as the Executioner), Mankind and other heels attacked the Undertaker and buried him alive. Afterward, he challenged Mankind to a match at Survivor Series, which he won. The feud ended after one more match at In Your House: Revenge of the Taker for the WWF Championship, which Undertaker had won at WrestleMania 13. Undertaker won the match and Bearer took a leave of absence, continuing the feud.
Jim Ross then began conducting a series of interviews with Mankind. During the interviews, Ross brought up the topic of Foley's home videos and the hippie-inspired character he played in them, Dude Love. Around this time, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels won the WWF Tag Team Championships from Owen Hart and The British Bulldog, but Michaels was injured and could no longer compete. Mankind tried to replace him, but Austin said he wanted "nothing to do with a freak" and resigned himself to facing Hart and the Bulldog alone the next week. Halfway into the match, however, Foley debuted a new persona known as Dude Love who suddenly appeared and helped Austin take the victory, becoming the new Tag Team Champions. The following week in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dude teamed with Austin, and Mankind's longtime nemesis, The Undertaker, to face Bret Hart, Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith, members of villainous anti-American stable, the Hart Foundation, in a USA vs. Canada Flag Match—the first match of its kind broadcast on Raw. The Hart Foundation ultimately won the match due to assistance from another Foundation member, Brian Pillman. Austin and Dude vacated their tag team titles when Austin suffered a (legitimate) serious neck injury at the hands of Owen Hart at SummerSlam. Dude Love feuded with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, as the two competed in a Falls Count Anywhere match. One of Foley's most memorable vignettes aired before the match began, in which Dude Love and Mankind discussed who should wrestle the upcoming match. Eventually, "they" decided that it should be Cactus Jack, and Foley's old character made his WWF debut. Jack won the match with a Piledriver through a table. Shortly thereafter, Terry Funk joined the WWF as "Chainsaw Charlie." At the 1998 Royal Rumble, he participated under three personas, Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love. Charlie and Jack defeated the New Age Outlaws at WrestleMania XIV in a Dumpster match to win the tag team titles. The next night, however, Vince McMahon stripped them of the belts and scheduled a rematch in a steel cage, which the Outlaws won with help from their new allies, D-Generation X.
On April 6, 1998, Foley turned heel when Cactus Jack explained the fans would not see him anymore because they did not appreciate him and only cared about Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince McMahon explained to Austin the next week that he would face a "mystery" opponent at Unforgiven. That opponent turned out to be Dude Love, who won the match by disqualification, meaning that Austin retained the title. McMahon, displeased with the outcome, required Foley to prove he deserved another shot at Austin's title with a number one contendership match against his former partner, Terry Funk. The match was both the WWF's first ever "Hardcore match" and the first time that Foley wrestled under his own name. Foley won, and after the match, a proud McMahon came out to Dude Love's music and presented Foley with the Dude Love costume. At Over the Edge, Dude Love took on Austin for the title. McMahon designated his subordinates Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson as the timekeeper and ring announcer, and made himself the special referee. The Undertaker, however, came to ringside to ensure McMahon called the match fairly, and with his presence, Dude Love lost the match and was "fired" by McMahon the June 1st edition of Raw.
On that same episode of Raw, Foley then reverted to his Mankind character, who began wearing an untucked shirt with a loose necktie and started the feud with The Undertaker. At King of the Ring, the two competed in the third Hell in a Cell match in June, 1998 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. In one of the most famous matches in professional wrestling history, Foley received numerous injuries and took two dangerous and highly influential bumps. The first one came as both wrestlers were brawling on top of the cell, and the Undertaker threw Mankind from the top of the cage from a height of 16 feet (4.9 m); (22 ft if including angle of the fall) and sent him crashing through the Spanish announcers' table, which triggered announcer Jim Ross to famously shout, "Good God almighty! Good God almighty! That killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!".
Foley remained motionless underneath debris, while the Undertaker remained on top of the cell staring down. Terry Funk was the first person on the scene, followed by WWE's resident doctor, Dr. Pettit, and various others, including a concerned-looking Vince McMahon. Foley was placed on a stretcher and began to be wheeled out to the arena.
Moments later, there was commotion on the entrance ramp as Foley got up from the stretcher and proceeded to make his way back to the cage, climbing to the top of the cell, with the Undertaker doing likewise. With both men back on the top of the cell (albeit with some difficulty due to Foley having suffered a severely dislocated shoulder due to the fall, and the Undertaker wrestling with a broken foot that night) the match resumed
Earlier as both were walking on the chain-link mesh which comprised the cell's ceiling, the metal fasteners were popping off causing the roof to sag and partially give way under their combined weight. According to Terry Funk, the prop guy had purposely designed it that way, except it was never meant to give way completely. In the second huge bump of the night, the Undertaker chokeslammed Mankind atop the chain-link mesh cage, causing a panel to give way completely, resulting in Foley falling through and hitting the ring canvas hard below. Foley was genuinely knocked unconscious for a few moments from the impact, but was able to come around. Some time after getting up and being attended to again by the aforementioned personnel, TV cameras showed a lingering shot of Foley smiling through his profusely bleeding mouth and lips, with a loose tooth hanging beneath his nose; the tooth having been knocked out due to being struck by the chair which had fallen through the cage and landed on his face, dislocating his jaw.
The match continued for a while longer, ending with Foley being chokeslammed by the Undertaker onto thousands of thumbtacks, which Foley himself, had strewn onto the ring canvas. Although Foley lost, both wrestlers received a standing ovation for the match, and the event is often said to have jump-started Foley's main event career.
Although conventional wisdom holds that the Hell in a Cell match was responsible for Foley's rise to main event status, live television crowds did not initially get behind Mankind because of the match. Following a summer where he teamed with Kane to win the WWF Tag Team Championship on two separate occasions, Foley decided that crowds might respond better if Mankind were more of a comedy character, and so he became less of a tortured soul and more of a goofy, broken down oaf. He began the transition into this character following Summerslam in 1998, after Kane turned on him and the two lost the tag team championships.
The following month Foley began an angle with Vince McMahon, with Mankind trying to be a friend to the hated Mr. McMahon. On a September episode of Raw, while McMahon was in a hospital nursing wounds suffered at the hands of The Undertaker and Kane, Mankind arrived to cheer him up. Having succeeded only in irritating McMahon, Mankind unveiled a sock puppet named Mr. Socko. Intended to be a one-time joke, Socko became an overnight sensation. Mankind began putting the sock on his hand before applying his finisher, the mandible claw, stuffing a smelly sock in the mouths of opposing wrestlers. The sweatsock became massively popular with the fans, mainly because it was marketed (mostly by Jerry "The King" Lawler during the events) as being a dirty, smelly, sweaty, repulsive, and vile sock.
McMahon manipulated Mankind, who saw the WWF owner as a father figure, into doing his bidding. McMahon created the Hardcore Championship and awarded it to Mankind, making him the first-ever champion of the hardcore division. Mankind was then pushed as the favorite to win the WWF Championship at Survivor Series, as McMahon appeared to be manipulating the tournament so that Mankind would win. He and The Rock both reached the finals, where McMahon turned on Mankind. As The Rock placed Mankind in the Sharpshooter, McMahon ordered the timekeeper to ring the bell even though Mankind did not submit, a reference to the Montreal Screwjob from the year before. As a result of Survivor Series, Mankind officially transitioned into a fan favorite, while The Rock became a villain and the crown jewel in McMahon's new Corporation faction.
After weeks of trying to get his hands on McMahon's new faction, the Corporation, Mankind received a title shot with The Rock at Rock Bottom: In Your House. Mankind knocked The Rock out by shoving a dirty sweatsock in the Rock's mouth, but McMahon ruled that the title would not change hands because The Rock never gave up. After several weeks of going after the Corporation, Mankind had his big night on December 29, where Mankind defeated The Rock and won his first WWF championship.
Mankind first lost the WWF title to The Rock in an "I Quit" match at Royal Rumble. During the match, Foley took several bumps, including eleven unprotected chair shots. The match ended after Mankind lost consciousness and The Rock's allies played a recording of Mankind saying "I Quit" from an earlier interview. The match was also voted 1999's Match of the Year by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Mankind won the title back at a rematch on Halftime Heat, which aired during halftime at Super Bowl XXXIII, in the WWF's first ever Empty Arena match. The two then competed in a Last Man Standing match at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which ended without a winner, meaning that Mankind retained the title. Mankind was said to have thrown out his left shoulder early in the match, but showed no signs of it and refused to stop the match. It had to be popped back into place afterward. The next night, Mr. McMahon booked a ladder match for the championship, which The Rock won with help from The Big Show. Later in the year, Foley and The Rock patched up their friendship and teamed up to form a comedy team called the Rock 'n' Sock Connection, becoming one of the most popular teams during that time. The pair won the tag team titles on three occasions. Foley helped WWF Raw achieve its highest ratings ever with a segment featuring himself (as Mankind) and The Rock. The "This is Your Life" segment aired on September 27, 1999.
Foley returned from knee surgery as Mankind to win the WWF Championship for the third time at SummerSlam in a triple threat match against Steve Austin and Triple H. It is believed that Mankind was booked to win the championship that night because Austin refused to lose it to Triple H. Foley stated the reason he was booked into the match was because Austin had torn a ligament in his knee and a triple threat match would add enough intangibles to make an acceptable match without aggravating Austin's knee. Mankind's win also led to an enraged Triple H to assault Austin, justifying Austin's absence while his knee healed. Triple H defeated Mankind and won the title the next night on Raw. A major feud developed between Mankind and the McMahon-Helmsley regime, led by Triple H, which led to Mankind's reverting to his Cactus Jack persona and facing Triple H for the WWF Championship at Royal Rumble in a Street Fight. Cactus used barbed wire and thumbtacks, trademark weapons from his pre-WWF days, but Triple H won the match after delivering two pedigrees, the second onto a pile of tacks. This feud culminated with a rematch at No Way Out in a Hell in a Cell match, where stipulations held that if Cactus Jack did not win the title, Foley would retire from wrestling. Triple H won, after throwing Foley over him onto the cage. The cage gave away, snapped and Foley fell through the canvas thus ending the match, ostensibly ending Foley's career. Foley left for a few weeks but returned at the request of Linda McMahon to wrestle for the title at WrestleMania 2000 against Triple H, The Rock, and The Big Show. Triple H won, and Foley did not wrestle again for four years.
After retiring from active competition, Foley served as storyline WWF Commissioner under his real name rather than one of his personas. Foley has said that he intended for his Commissioner Foley character to be a "role model for nerds," cracking lame jokes and making no attempt to appear tough or scary. He also had a knack during this time to have no one spot for his office; rather, Mick would have an office in all sorts of odd places (for example, closets). Foley turned getting cheap pops into something of a catchphrase, as he shamelessly declared at each WWF show that he was thrilled to be "right here in (whatever city he was performing in (e.g, New York))!" punctuated with an intentionally cheesy thumbs-up gesture. During this time, Commissioner Foley engaged in rivalries with Kurt Angle, Edge and Christian, and Vince McMahon without actually wrestling them. He left the position in December 2000 after being "fired" on screen by McMahon.
Foley made a surprise return on the Monday Night Raw just prior to WrestleMania X-Seven and announced that he would be the special guest referee in the match between Mr. McMahon and his son Shane at WrestleMania. After WrestleMania, Foley made sporadic WWF TV appearances throughout the spring and summer, at one point introducing Jesse Ventura during a taping of Raw in the state as a foil to Mr. McMahon, as well as serving as the guest referee for the Earl Hebner versus Nick Patrick Referee match at the WWF Invasion pay-per-view.
Foley returned as commissioner in October 2001, near the end of The Invasion angle. Saying that there were far too many championships in the company, he booked unification matches prior to the final pay-per-view of the storyline, Survivor Series. After Survivor Series, he ended his commissionership at Vince McMahon's request and left the company.
Foley returned in June 2003 to referee the Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and Kevin Nash at Bad Blood. On June 23, during a Raw broadcast in Madison Square Garden, he was honored for his achievements in the ring and presented with the retired WWE Hardcore Championship belt. The evening ended with Foley taking a beating and kicked down stairs by Randy Orton and Ric Flair. In December 2003, Foley returned to replace Steve Austin as co-general manager of Raw.
In 2004, Foley returned briefly to wrestling, competing in the Royal Rumble and eliminating both Orton and himself with his trademark Cactus Jack clothesline. He and The Rock reunited as the Rock 'n' Sock Connection and lost a handicap match to Evolution at WrestleMania XX when Orton pinned Foley with an RKO as Foley pulled out Mr. Socko. The two continued to feud, culminating in a hardcore match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship at Backlash, where Orton defeated Foley as his Cactus Jack persona to retain the title with a botched RKO onto a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat.
Foley appeared as a color commentator at WWE's ECW One Night Stand, which aired on June 12, 2005, and subsequently renewed his contract with WWE. Foley returned in 2005 in a match where fans were able to vote on which persona he would appear as—Mankind, Dude Love, or Cactus Jack—against Carlito at Taboo Tuesday. Foley cut promos for each character and an online vote was held. The fans voted for Mankind, who went on to win the match. On the February 16, 2006 Raw, Foley returned to referee the WWE Championship match between Edge and John Cena. After Cena won, Edge attacked Foley, and the following week, Edge challenged Foley to a match at WrestleMania 22. Edge defeated Foley after spearing him through a flaming table. In the weeks after the match, Foley turned heel and allied himself with Edge against the newly rejuvenated ECW. This was the first WWE heel turn (and his final heel turn) of Foley since his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin as Dude Love in 1998. This was also his first heel run under his real name. Also during that time he changed his "thrilled to be here" catch phrase into a more heelish type way. For example on a RAW episode in Las Vegas Foley would say, "I'm thrilled to be right here in Las Vegas!" Then right after that he would say, "Well actually, Las Vegas isn't all that great." Then he would continue to make more negative comments while fans start booing at him. At ECW One Night Stand, Foley, Edge and Lita defeated Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer and Beulah McGillicutty.
Foley then engaged in a storyline rivalry with Ric Flair. To spark the feud, Flair again called Foley a "glorified stuntman" and Foley called Flair a "washed up piece of crap" and challenged him to a match. The result was a Two out of Three Falls match at Vengeance, where Flair beat Foley in two straight falls; with a rollup counter to the figure four in the first and by disqualification in the second after a trashcan shot. After the match, Flair was split wide open by Foley with a barbed wire bat. The two then wrestled an "I Quit" match at SummerSlam, which Flair won when he forced Foley to quit by threatening Melina with a barbed wire bat. On the August 21 edition of Raw, Foley literally kissed Vince McMahon's buttocks as part of McMahon's gimmick after he threatened to fire Melina. Shortly thereafter, she betrayed Foley and announced that he was fired.
Seven months later, Foley made his return to Raw on March 5, 2007 as a face again and tricked McMahon into giving him his job back. On April 9, Foley contributed to the Make-a-Wish Foundation and helped a young child named Michael Peña to become an honorary General Manager of the night. Foley appeared again on June 11 for Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night insulting McMahon. Foley also announced his place as a number one contender for the WWE Championship. During the Raw broadcast before Vengeance, Foley was scheduled to make his official in-ring return in a match against Umaga but he attacked Umaga before the match, and the match was never started. At Vengeance, Foley wrestled in a WWE Championship Challenge match involving WWE Champion John Cena, Randy Orton, King Booker, and Bobby Lashley. Cena retained by pinning Foley. A month later, Foley made an appearance on Raw as the special guest referee for a match between Jonathan Coachman and Mr. McMahon's storyline illegitimate son Hornswoggle. Hornswoggle won the match, after Foley handed him a miniature Mr. Socko. Foley then made an appearance on SmackDown the same week, where he defeated Coachman with Hornswoggle as the special guest referee. On the January 7, 2008 episode of Raw, Foley and his tag team partner Hornswoggle qualified for the Royal Rumble by defeating The Highlanders, but Foley was eliminated by Triple H during the Rumble.
Foley debuted as a color commentator for SmackDown alongside Michael Cole at Backlash in 2008, replacing Jonathan Coachman. On the August 1 edition of SmackDown, Foley was kayfabe attacked by Edge during Edge's promo for his SummerSlam match against The Undertaker. Foley sat out the August 8 SmackDown to sell his recovery from the injuries. Tazz filled in for Foley as a color commentator on SmackDown, while Raw wrestler Matt Striker filled in for Tazz on ECW. Foley allowed his contract with WWE to expire on September 1, 2008 and quietly left the company.
Foley returned to WWE at a house show in Dublin, Ireland on November 2, 2011, making an in-ring promo with The Miz and R-Truth and then guest refereed the tag team match, appearing again in Manchester on November 5. Foley returned to Monday Night Raw on November 14, which featured him presenting a "This is Your Life" celebration for John Cena (he presented a similar segment for The Rock 12 years earlier). Among those brought out were Cena's former tag team partner Bull Buchanan, his former baseball coach (kayfabe), and his father; however the segment was interrupted by The Rock, who delivered a Rock Bottom to Foley before leaving the ring, ending the segment. Foley was the special guest host on the live edition of Smackdown on November 29. Foley appeared on Raw on the January 16, 2012 episode to announce his intentions to participate in the Royal Rumble match at the 2012 Royal Rumble pay-per-view. The next week, he also appeared, wishing Zack Ryder good luck in his match against Kane that night. Foley participated in the Royal Rumble match at the 2012 Royal Rumble pay-per-view where he entered at number 7 and eliminated Justin Gabriel (with the help of Ricardo Rodriguez), Epico, & Primo, eventually being eliminated by Cody Rhodes after 06:34. Foley later appeared in a segment alongside Santino Marella during Wrestlemania XXVIII.
On April 10, 2012, Foley made an appearance on WWE SmackDown: Blast from the Past. He returned to Raw on June 18, 2012, announcing that he would be serving as the temporary general manager of both Raw and SmackDown for the week. On July 23, at the 1000th episode of Raw he appeared as Dude Love, danced with Brodus Clay and performed the mandible claw on Jack Swagger with a tie dyed Mr. Socko. On the September 24, 2012 episode of Raw, Foley made an appearance to confront CM Punk, telling him to accept a match against John Cena. Later in the show, however, Punk would attack Foley backstage. At Hell in a Cell, CM Punk successfully retained his WWE Championship against Ryback due to interference from the referee, Brad Maddox. The next day on RAW, CM Punk announced he would be facing Team Foley at Survivor Series in a traditional Survivor Series Tag Team Elimination match in which Foley had accepted the challenge. However Punk had been removed from the match the following week. On the November 12, 2012 episode of Raw, Foley was appointed the Special Guest Enforcer in the match between CM Punk and John Cena. Foley's hand-picked Survivor Series team of The Miz, Randy Orton, Kofi Kingston, & Team Hell No failed to defeat Team Ziggler in the Traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Tag Match. Foley portrayed Santa Claus on the December 24 pre-taped edition of Monday Night Raw. Foley as Santa was run over by Alberto Del Rio. However, he managed to recover later in the night and help John Cena defeat Del Rio in a Miracle on 34th Street Fight.
On January 11, WWE.com announced that Foley will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6, 2013 in New York City. The official announcement was made on the 20th Anniversary of Raw on January 14. At the February 26 taping of Saturday Morning Slam (that aired March 16), Foley was named as the new general manager for the show. He left the position in May 2013 when the show was canceled Foley returned on edition of April 22 of Raw to confront Ryback until he was saved by John Cena. Foley appeared as part of the Extreme Rules post-show to provide an analysis. On the Edition of December 18 of Main Event he appeared As 'Foley Claus', helping The Miz defeat Curtis Axel.
Foley returned on Raw on October 20, 2014 where he participated in the segment with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins the cases of their match Hell in a Cell. Foley appeared through December on Raw as Saint Mick alongside his daughter Noelle. At SummerSlam on August 23, 2015, Foley returned to have a comedic segment with special guest host Jon Stewart. Foley returned to Raw on March 14, 2016 in a backstage segment with Dean Ambrose, in which he gave him a pep talk for his upcoming WrestleMania 32 match against Brock Lesnar and a passing of the torch in the form of his iconic barbed wire baseball bat.
On April 3, 2016 at WrestleMania 32, Foley returned in-ring alongside Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin in a post-match interruption where the trio of Hall of Famers took on the League of Nations after they had defeated The New Day and proclaimed "No three people can ever defeat us." Foley brought out Mr Socko and executed the Mandible Claw two times during the fight, once on Sheamus and once on King Barrett. The latter was part of a three-way finishing move sequence where Barrett was first hit with Sweet Chin Music by Shawn Michaels, staggered and fell into Mr. Socko, and finally hit with a Stone Cold Stunner.
Foley was appointed as the General Manager of Raw by Stephanie McMahon on the July 18, 2016 episode of Raw.