Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review - "Countdown to Lockdown"

Professional wrestler Mick Foley is back with his fourth autobiography, "Countdown to Lockdown."

I know what you're thinking - "Really? Four autobiographies?" In his last book, "Hardcore Diaries," Foley noted that he was tied with Winston Churchill for most autobiographies and jokes in "Countdown to Lockdown" that he has now surpassed Churchill.

For those not familiar with Mick Foley, he is a professional wrestler who started his career in the mid-80's and has become one of the biggest professional wrestling stars over the last 25 years, wrestling under the names Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love. He has enjoyed success in all four of the major wrestling promotions to come up in the last 20 years - World Championship Wrestling (WCW, which went out of business in 2001), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW, which also went under in 2001), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, where Foley reigned as a 3-time Heavyweight Champion), and he is currently a member of Total Nonstop Action wrestling (TNA, which was founded in 2002).

He is mostly known for helping popularize the "hardcore" style of professional wrestling on a national stage, as well for his colorful promo skills, and a very unique charisma that endeared him to numerous fans over his career.

[Click to watch: highlights of Hell in a Cell 1998 - ECW promo - WrestleMania 22 highlights - Royal Rumble 2000 moment - This is Your Life, w/ The Rock - Mr. Socko]

Foley is really a distinguished author, and helped break the long-held stereotype of professional wrestlers being unintelligent jocks. He has authored four autobiographies - "Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks," "Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker than Wrestling," "The Hardcore Diaries," and "Countdown to Lockdown." He's written two holiday-themed children's books - "Mick Foley's Halloween Hijinx" and "Mick Foley's Christmas Chaos," and a WWE-themed children's book - "Tales from Wrescal Lane." He has also written two novels, "Tietam Brown" and "Scooter." He's appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list multiple times, with "Have a Nice Day" and "Foley is Good" both debuting at Number one. He wrote all of these books without the aid of a "ghost writer," and hand-wrote the majority of them.

"Countdown to Lockdown" is his first autobiography not written under the WWE umbrella, as he joined TNA near the end of 2008, after a nearly 12-year association with WWE. "Countdown" is written in the same style as "Hardcore Diaries," as a memoir looking at a certain point in his life. "Hardcore Diaries" chronicled his preparations for WWE's "One Night Stand" pay per view, with some other stories thrown in.

"Countdown" follows the same format, as it is literally a countdown to TNA's Lockdown event, which features Foley facing Sting in what is Foley's highest-profile match in several years. The diary format looks at Foley trying to get in shape for the match, as well as his reservations about how well he will be able to perform in such a high-profile environment.

The storyline between Foley and Sting has shades of real life in it, as the build to the match is due to Foley being mad at Sting for showing mercy on him in a previous match. He's trying to prove to Sting and the world that he's not washed up and can steal the show at Lockdown. In the book, Foley writes of trying to prove to himself that he's not washed up and can steal the show at Lockdown.

I really found this book to be interesting because it describes what I consider to be the creative peak of TNA so far. I have never been more interested in TNA than I was in the spring and summer of 2009. Everything was just "clicking," the right people were doing the right things and it was just a very compelling, interesting wrestling program. The Sting/Mick Foley match was right in the middle of all that, occuring in April. To get an inside look into something I remember quite fondly was a real treat.

In addition to the countdown chapters, there are several other chapters that Foley has inserted into the book at random intervals. Those chapters have what he has coined as a "Wrestlemeter" at the beginning, a scale of 1-10, with 1 having nothing to do with wrestling and 10 being entirely wrestling based. Foley writes in the introduction - "Armed with this valuable literary information, readers can now make up their own minds; read the chapters in the order they are presented (my personal favorite way), refer back to them at a later time, or skip them completely. Don't worry about hurting my feelings - I'll get over it... eventually. Occasionally, a reader (usually the mother of a wrestling fan) will pick up one of my books and find themselves completely engrossed by everything but the wrestling aspects. For those reasons, the Wresltemeter is a valuable monitoring tool."

The chapters ranking high on the Wrestlemeter mostly describe the end of his relationship with WWE and the beginning of his association with TNA. He writes about his frustration with realizing WWE no longer had faith in him to be an important part of the show. Seeing Mick Foley's slide down the hiearchy in his last two books was interesting. In "Hardcore Diaries," Foley writes that at one point he considered himself and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon to be friends, but noted that was no longer the case. In "Countdown," he recalls a conversation with McMahon where he was told that he didn't connect with the fans anymore and that he was no longer exempt from WWE's dress code policy.

Foley's brief, yet memorable, career as a WWE commentator is also looked at. His anger at McMahon's lack of respect and harsh critiques of his announcing style helped him realize that he no longer wanted to be under WWE contract. He discusses his frustrations in the chapter "The Magic Headsets," which uses a fantasy of a hero slaying a dragon, while being harshly critiqued by a "Mr. McMagical" for the way he is doing it. It nicely sums up the frustration Foley was feeling, while not coming off as too bitter.

Mick also gives his thoughts on the murder-suicide involving Chris Benoit, looking at issues of steroids and concussions. His views on performance-enhancers may not be the most-popular opinion, but he really makes some good points.

The charity work that Foley has been involved in is talked about at great length in "Countdown." From his work with the USO to his efforts to build schools in Sierra Leone, he presents a different side of himself that a lot of people probably wouldn't know a lot about. He also donated 100 percent of his monetary advance for "Countdown" to the ChildFund International group and RAINN (the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network).

Perhaps the best chapter in the entire books is Foley recounting his first meeting with Tori Amos. If you've never read any of Foley's previous autobiographies, that might sound weird. But, if you are familar with his previous works, that is a very unique chapter.

Starting in the mid-90's, Foley began using the music of Tori Amos - specificially the song "Winter" - to pump himself up emotionally for big matches. He wrote in "Have A Nice Day" about how the beauty of her music was able to allow him to visualize the horrific acts he was about to do in the ring. Prior to the book's release, the "Meeting Tori Amos" chapter (which ranked a 6 on the Wrestlemeter) was posted on for fans to preview. Click here to read it. It's one of the most heartfelt things Mick Foley has ever written.

With what I mentioned, along with more, Foley's book - to use a lame cliche - packs a real literary punch. Is it his best book? Foley's first book is considered to be the "Holy Grail" of wrestling books. It literally helped create the genre of wrestling books. Before "Have A Nice Day," there had been a few books penned by wrestlers, but it wasn't seen as something viable that people would want to read. So, in that respect, is "Countdown" Foley's best work? No. But, that's actually a compliment, as he had already written the best wrestling book of all time.

"Coundtown to Lockdown" may not be Foley's greatest work, but it is a definitite improvement from "Hardcore Diaries," which was hurt a little bit by being overly negative. Foley couldn't help it; the build to his match did not go the way he planned it. It affected him in a negative way. With "Countdown," Foley is slowly regaining his confidence and feels like a valuable part of the TNA family, which really comes through in his writing.

This isn't a spoiler, as it happened over a year ago. Mick Foley wins the TNA championship from Sting at Lockdown. What is a spoiler would be to tell you if he was pleased with the match and his reign with the title. That you'll have to find out for yourself by reading "Countdown to Lockdown."

I'll leave with one of the moments that Foley considers one of the highlights of his program with Sting. It got its own chapter in the book - "When Cactus met Mick" (which, of course, got a 10 on the Wrestlemeter). It's a promo where Mick Foley interviewed Cactus Jack. And, yes, those are the same people. He writes that he wanted to try something "out there," to show that his character was somewhat crazy.

"The other wrestlers actaully cheered me when I came through the curtain," Foley begins. "Actually cheered a promo. Some of them even stood. I'm talking about seasoned stars like Booker [T]. A standing O for a promo. It happens all the time for matches. But promos? Not that I can recall.

"Sting told me it was the best promo he'd ever heard. High praise indeed, given some of the guys he's been out there with and how long he's been around.

I might stink up Philadelphia [site of Lockdown], but for tonight at least, I'm the King of Orlando [site of the promo]. Or at least the backstage area of a sound studio that is part of a huge amusement park complex that is located in Orlando. Yes, if that couple-hundred-square-foot area was a country, then for one night, at least, I'd be its ruler."

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