As WWE’s Raw hits its 25-year milestone, fans often discuss their favorite “eras” of the show. One period comes up more than anything else though — the “Attitude” era, the period in the late 90’s when WWE embraced pushing the envelope to compete against their bitter rival WCW.

The Attitude Era is known for cultivating a number of now-famous superstars, including “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Triple H, and —perhaps most surprisingly— WWE Hall-of-Famer Mick Foley, most famously known as “Mankind.”

Foley had originally made a name for himself as the deranged Cactus Jack in WCW and ECW and helped popularize “hardcore” sports entertainment, going as far as to use barbed wire and thumbtacks in the ring. As a result, few people expected him to join the WWE. So what happened?

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When asked, Foley laughs and admits it wasn’t his idea. “It was a matter of Jim Ross convincing Mr. McMahon to give this unlikely guy a shot. And then Mr. McMahon agreeing, under the condition that he would cover up my face. So there was the genesis of the Mankind character in a nutshell.”

He continued by saying, “I liked a lot of the things they were doing. I realized I had actually worked with a lot of the guys in the company at one time or another. And so, one day in late 1995 my phone rang, and I went in for my meeting.”

As Mankind, Foley would act wild in the ring and popularized the infamous “mandible claw” finisher, often introducing his opponents to “Mr. Socko” (a sock puppet) in the process. Mankind eventually became a fan-favorite, famously winning the WWE Championship on an episode of Raw.

While some may argue that the “hardcore” style that Foley made famous is no longer in style, he disagrees with this claim: “I’ve always gone with the Terry Funk theory that hardcore is not about stipulations or toys, but about being willing to give the fans a performance above and beyond expectations. And with that in mind, there’s a lot of hardcore people in WWE. It’s every guy that gives their best despite a nagging injury. It’s every guy who delivers a great performance even if a particular crowd may not be what they’re hoping for. I think guys work harder night in and night out now than they ever have.”

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Over 20 years later, Foley has participated in Raw in various incarnations, most recently as General Manager prior to Kurt Angle. While he admits he doesn’t watch every night, he’s still an avid fan of the show.

Ultimately, Foley feels that a big part of Raw’s staying power is how it still manages to keep people excited. “Every couple weeks there are surprises in store for me. I still enjoy it. I think it’s a credit to the show that they can take somebody who is watching every week, and give them something to look forward to every Monday. And then for people like me, and literally millions of other people, it’s just nice to know it’s there so that when we go by the channel, we find ourselves gravitating towards it. And maybe we stick around for 30 minutes, maybe we stick around for two and a half hours. But it’s the only show that’s always there every week.”

The 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw will emanate from Barclays Center and Manhattan Center in New York City on Monday, January 22, and air live on USA Network at 8/7C. Tickets are available for each event through all Ticketmaster outlets.

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