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When a new year arrives, it's hard not to look back at what was. 1994 will inevitably be remembered for the tenth installment of WrestleMania, the arrival of Hulk Hogan to WCW... The glitz, the glamour. However, what is left of these momentous occassions' legacies? The ultimate breakdown of the Lex Express or the beginning of a lacklustre, mid-card title reign for the show-closing WWF Champion? The arrival of the Three Faces of Fear or the departure of Ric Flair? This could be Truth, or perhaps it's a Consequence of this writer's fondness for an underdog.
King of the Death Match. The Hardcore Legend. Mick Foley. Cactus Jack. Call him what you will. Chances are after the incident in Germany with Big Van Vader, he might not hear you anyway; but it's reasons such as this that 1994 could simply not pass without the most respectful, warranted and honourable of mentions to Mrs Foley's little boy.
Cactus Jack got a few nominations at the recent end of year awards including nods for his abilities on the mic and more than one match of the year candidate, but he's not someone you can imagine tux'-ing up to grace a stage and pick up a golden statuette. Cactus represents the underground. The bizarre. The different. The Extreme.
After 1993 in WCW, many expected Jack to be at the door of an opportunity for the International or World Heavyweight championships. He had proven his abilities going in to 1994, whether talking or his unmatched work-rate and often sickening bump-taking, yet it would be in the tag division where he would make his mark. This switch was as nontraditional as the man himself where it was an injury to Evad Sullivan which stopped the former Dave teaming with his older brother, Kevin. Step up, Cactus Jack.
Together with the man who later in the year would go on to lead the Three Faces of Fear faction, Cactus had found an outlet for his maniacal demeanour and brawling style. The two would go on to have outstanding tag matches with the Nasty Boys and get their shot at the Tag Titles against Pretty Wonderful. Jack would also team up with relative unknown Maxx Payne, again still being able to wow crowds up and down the country with his apparent disregard for his own body.
This style garnered as much worry as it did attention, as while the year reached mid-point, Cactus was noticeably holding back in matches. Gone was the diving elbow from the ring apron to the outside. The arena-wide brawls previously seen, most notably at PPV of the Year winner Spring Stampede, were stripped back to standard, in-ring, tag-team matches. Jack was still able to innovate with spots such as using his sizeable frame to cover the turnbuckles as an in-ring Sullivan was irish-whipped to the corner only to be cushioned by Cactus' body, but something wasn't quite the same.
With the Summer arrival of Hulk Hogan; few thought, but many hoped, he might get an opportunity at the big, gold belt. Cactus Jack offers something different to anything we've seen the former Mr WWF battle before. The idea of the Hulkster having to scrap for his scalp, fight for his title and brawl for it all was mouth-watering. If he could see off the battle for supremacy in Ric Flair, climb the Vader mountain and perhaps even get the better of the young pretender Sting; maybe, just maybe, Cactus could be the most formidable challenger of all for the new WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Alas it was not to be.
What Cactus Jack just may well be most remembered for in 1994 however, is his time in ECW. He had competed briefly in the summer as part of a talent exchange where he gained notoriety for his backstage promo spitting on the WCW Tag Team Championship belt, whilst champion no-less, and throwing it to the ground. The Atlanta office wasn't happy with him. He wasn't happy with them. It would become the beginning of his speedy exit from WCW and pave the way for him to become a regular in the former Eastern NWA territory.
READ MORE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF WCW AND ECW WORKING TOGETHER IN 1994
While in ECW, again Cactus would find himself involved mostly in the tag division, but unlike his previous employment, the shackles were most definitely off. He was given a mic. He was allowed to air his grievances. His promo work was amongst some of the most captivating on all of Hardcore TV - in the company of 'The Franchise' Shane Douglas and Paul E Dangerously, this was no mean feat. And often, he could steal the spotlight from both. You could believe the man. His emotions were splashed all over the camera lens. He was disturbed. He was crazy. He was Extreme.
In-ring, Cactus proved a seasoned professional. He had the opportunity to fight face-to-face and back-to-back with long-time hero Terry Funk. They almost caused a riot when urging fans to throw steel chairs in the ring, burying the Public Enemy. Together with young rookie Mikey Whipwreck, and later Tommy Dreamer, Cactus' battles with Flyboy Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge re-captured the magic of his early-year brawls with the Nasties. But, this time, with a freedom never seen, the ability to showcase promo's from both sides and Jack was able to lead the charge: sometimes - literally - dragging Mikey by the ear.
Looking back, it's hard not to think of 1994 as the year that could have been for Cactus Jack. Yet, in troubled times, we have gained an insight into the character, the wrestler, the human being; that otherwise we may never have seen. Cactus Jack will never be a poster boy for "Sports Entertainment", but he could well be one of the last of a seemingly lost generation of wrestlers who shed blood, sweat and tears for an industry that they truly love and would give anything for. He might not be in your magazine or on your commercials, but Cactus Jack is the reason we love this stuff. And if he isn't, he should be.