Dot Net Book Review: Mick Foley's "Countdown to Lockdown" - Did Foley's fourth autobiography live up to his previous efforts?
By Dot Net contributor Will Pruett
"So maybe you could think of this book as less of a Churchillesque memoir and more of an Indiana Jones type of tale, kind of 'Indiana Mick and the Six Sides of Steel.' As is the case in the latest Indy installment the hero of this story (me) may have aged a little bit since we last saw him, but he's still capable of telling a good story." - Mick Foley in the introduction of Countdown to Lockdown.
I don't think it is an understatement to say that Mick Foley created the wrestling autobiography (at least in it's current form). His effort in writing Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks was a revelation. Mick Foley is the man who said not every sports book needed to be a ghostwritten, vague monstrosity. After improbable success, Foley went on to write two more books while associated with WWE (Foley is Good and The Hardcore Diaries).
The latter of those two was a new take on the wrestling book as it profiled Mick's thoughts and feelings on an almost night by night basis as he was heading into a major match. It featured his disappointments with WWE creative and himself. It was an intriguing read, but was not the classic that his first book was.
Now enter Countdown to Lockdown; Foley's first post-WWE book and his second diary-style memoir. This book was more of the same if you read Hardcore Diaries. It was the same style where the main narrative built up to and included a big match. The big match this time was Mick Foley vs Sting for the TNA World Championship at Lockdown 2009 in the Six Sides of Steel.
I have to come clean and say that I was very negative when this match actually happened. Foley and Sting in a World Championship match with all of their limitations in 2009 was the exact opposite of what I believed TNA needed at that time. I am attempting to put these feelings aside while looking at this book, in order to judge it fairly.
The story begins in February 2009 just after TNA's Destination-X (a show the collective wrestling consciousness has forgotten) and Mick mentions that the show was a creative disappointment for him. He is involved with the Kurt Angle and Sting struggle for leadership of the Main Event Mafia. Mick Foley then jumps back in time to 2007 and his favorite literary whipping boy, Al Snow.
Al had given Mick some workout advice that landed Mick in the emergency room and caused him to take pain medication for only the third time in his career (prescription medication is something Mick covers later in this book). Shortly after this incident, Mick is on a plane to an ECW taping where he will promote Hardcore Diaries. In a very funny portion of the book he censors a conversation he had with Steve Austin where he talks about two weeks of very bad promos. This would be the second to last opportunity he would have to cut a real promo in his time in WWE.
One of the main selling points of this book is Mick's discussion of his time as a color analyst and subsequent departure from WWE. In the interest of a consistent narrative in this review, I'll discuss that now. Mick was pulled into being a commentator on Smackdown at a party with McMahon family where Vince cornered him and told him that he thought it would be a great idea. Mick was resistant but ultimately gave in to Vince's charm. Mick talks about growing into the role with Michael Cole and then transitioning to announcing with Jim Ross. He also explores some of Vince's rules for commentators (the funniest of which is the "no pronoun rule"). Mick was loving the announcing job until his experience at WWE One Night Stand 2008 in San Diego, CA.
Mick was verbally accosted multiple times by Vince McMahon, who is notorious for doing this to his commentators. It was the worst verbal treatment Mick had received in his life. After a discussion with McMahon on the next day Mick was assured that it would not happen again. This was not the case as the "magic headsets" spewed forth venom again just a few weeks later. Mick was not happy as a commentator after that fateful night in June 2008 due to the constant fear of verbal assault.
This all lead directly to Mick's decision to join Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Spike TV began lining up a deal with Foley for some outside projects and that parlayed into discussions with TNA. Mick's unhappiness with WWE, and the feeling that he could make a difference in the business with TNA, lead to him resigning from his WWE position (in a cordial manner) and venturing into the Vince-less world. His time as a commentator allowed him to feel no remorse about this decision.
In this portion of the book (which is broken up into multiple chapters that weave in and out of the Lockdown narrative) Mick is very fair towards WWE. He never offers bitter criticism of the company or Vince, but he also does not pull punches in how he felt he was treated. Mick is one of few writers who could walk this line of discussing a negative experience while not allowing those feelings to compromise the integrity of his story. My hat is off to Mick for telling this story in the way he did.
Back to the Lockdown story. Mick spends a lot of time in the buildup to the match thinking of what the "go-home promo" for it will be. He wants the fans to question his sanity and his motivations for his attacks on Sting. Mick comes up with a compelling reason, proving that he is not washed up after hearing Sting tell Kurt Angle "Just pin him" in a match on Impact. This all leads to Mick going to a place he hasn't been in years: Promoland (of course there were almost 30 days until that promo would come).
Mick needed motivation to go into the actual match for Lockdown. That was something that Promoland could not provide him with. He had to awake a part of himself that laid dormant for a long time. He had to be angry. He needed Tori Amos. This chapter is a part of the book where Mick got a little too cute. He mentions meeting Tori at ComicCon and his trepidation going into that experience. He also speaks about how some of Tori's songs have inspired him going into some of his most violent matches. This is the part of the book that inspired Mick to write again (and his favorite chapter), but for this reader it is one of the weakest portions.
Speaking of weak portions of this story, one line that Mick used in a promo going into Lockdown was that no one was talking about that other wrestling show in April 2009. That show was Wrestlemania 25 and everyone was talking about it. He immediately regretted that line and regretted it more when he watched Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker tear the house down in their match. He knew he had to do something special to make sure that him and Sting could come close to that match. He wanted to make every move mean just as much as Michaels and Undertaker did at Wrestlemania.
Mick's charitable work is also a major focus in this book (more so than in his other three). This makes sense considering that the entire advance he received for Countdown went to two separate charitable organizations. He mentions what an honor it was for him to be famous in other countries that had never heard of wrestling. His donations helped to build schools and get fresh water to people who had nothing.
Some people may read this and think that Mick is bragging, but he seems legitimately honored by the opportunity to help these people. If you're reading this book for the wrestling, you may find these moments boring, but if you allow yourself to go on the ride with Mick, these chapters will stand out as a highlight of the book.
The next serious section of the book dealt with the Chris Benoit murder-suicide and the drug problem in wrestling. These chapters are truly enlightening as they come from a man who has had many concussions and has to deal with the consequences of them on a daily basis. When confronted with the research that says Benoit's actions could have been caused by concussions he denies it while not belittling the concussion crisis. As someone who is the poster boy for dangerous moves in wrestling he comes across as an authoritative voice on this subject.
Foley is reluctant to say that a wrestler should never take a chairshot to the head because he believes that sometimes things need to look vicious (something I believe he is too lenient on). He goes on to discuss pain being a part of the lifestyle in wrestling and says that drugs should not be. He is critical of wrestlers who are dependent on drugs (an irony considering he is in a company that is notoriously lax on drugs, TNA).
These chapters are easily the most important in this book. Mick is very vocal on these issues and attempts to compromise a career of raising the bar to dangerous levels with what we now know about medication and concussions. He doesn't pretend to know the answer, but is a valuable voice in the conversation.
As he returns to Lockdown, it is time for his go-home promo, which he includes almost in it's entirety. It's time for Mick Foley to interview Cactus Jack. This is very creative idea that Mick came up with in Promoland and executed at the final Impact taping before the show. This is a career promo for Foley. He discusses his feeling of elation upon completing this masterful promo which Sting described as one of the best he had ever heard.
Then comes the day of Lockdown. Mick Foley did not get his wish for an old-school blue cage, but was still able to get through what he wanted to accomplish in the match. The match began with Mick punching himself in the head until he started bleeding, a gruesome moment that set in place the story of Mick's mental state going into the match. This is where Foley really shines.
Foley makes a match between two over the hill and athletically challenged wrestlers jump off the page with excitement. He draws you in to the story he was trying to tell in the match and you really cheer for Mick to accomplish his goal. Of course, there are always challenges. The match went on a little long and they were forced to cut to the end prematurely. Mick took some risks with time and barely managed to escape a repeat of WCW's Halloween Havoc 1998 situation.
To be honest, it was more exciting to read Mick's account of the match and the story leading up to it than it was to watch it happen on TV. Foley knows how to draw the readers into everything he says. Even when he gets caught up in his own story and seems self important, he is still Mick Foley which means he is charming and entertaining.
This book ranks in the middle of the Foley books for me. I did not enjoy Foley is Good as much as I expected to and nothing can top Have a Nice Day, but this book is my second favorite of the four Foley books. If you liked Hardcore Diaries, I can promise that you will love Countdown to Lockdown since Foley ends up creatively satisfied instead of disappointed. If you haven't read any of the Foley books, this is not a bad place to start, as long as you promise to go back and read Have a Nice Day afterwards. If you like Foley (and as an author, who doesn't?), this book is a no-brainer and completely worth reading.
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