In commenting, and reliving some of my childhood, I seem to have been bitten by the writing bug. It surprises me how much is unknown by today's fans about how we got to where we're at today, where I could go on and on and on and on and on about it! There was SO MUCH good wrestling before The Attitude Era, before the Monday Night Wars, before whatever happened there in the 90's - the wrestling was good, the competition was fierce, and behind the scenes was today's dirt sheet's wet dream. So, hopefully, the bug that has bitten me keeps me around for a while as I'm sure you've assumed by my absence from the forums, I'm just not passionate about today's product. I miss you guys! I just ran out of things to talk about.
My focus here is going to be primarily one of the most underappreciated (by modern fans) periods of Wrestling History, the 80's. The Rock N Wrestling Connection, The "Wrestlemania Years", and the demise of the NWA along with the Territories in general. If that sounds boring to you, or you've forgotten how UTTERLY ENTERTAINING and completely humble I am, I beg you to give this a read and comment comment comment! If you didn't forget, and just don't give a shit, do me the justice of a tl;dr down there in the comments and I'll know where I stand with stuff like this.
Anyway, to the real reason I'm here, on to Hot Rod - 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper
The man's a household name for sure. You can't claim to be a 'fan' and not know Piper. He's a legend! He did the Piper's Pit thing! Something about a coconut... he showed up on Nitro a few times I think... pretty sure he's in the Hall of Fame... he died... I think... didn't he spray Robert Downey Jr with a fire hose... painted himself half black...?
He never held a World Championship. He did wrestle in the Main Event of Wrestlemania 1... the only one where the title wasn't on the line... in a tag match... he wasn't as over or as relevant as his 80's buddies when WCW came a'calling. I'm not an idiot, he didn't maintain the star power of Hogan, Flair, or Savage. But I'm not talking about this Piper...
Now, nobody saw Rock n Wrestling coming, it just kind of happened naturally and Vince capitalized on it. Vince will take credit for it (naturally), but he didn't 'do' that. What he could take credit for was his new insanely over face of the company, Hulk Hogan. Vince pissed A LOT of people off in attaining Hogan, and even more people when he crowned him champion - which is another story for another day. Vince had SO MUCH invested in Hogan, as Vince was working on borrowed money and insane promises at the time, that it had to be a home run. Hogan just being over wasn't enough, Hogan was already over when he got there, fresh from a role in Rocky 3 he had already been turning heads in the AWA working the top of the card chasing the championship there. Vince knew he only had one half of the equation in Hogan, but he needed the yang to Hogan's yin. He had an over-the-top, patriotic, insanely charismatic champion... he needed the same thing on the other side... they'd already done the Iron Sheik... they needed bigger, they needed louder, they needed somebody that could be as hated as their champion was loved. He didn't think long, as he KNEW Piper was the guy for the job.
Vince wanted Piper so bad that he honored Piper's request to let him finish his bookings with Crocket (which was either noble on Piper's behalf, or smart, as Vince wanted him to skip the first Starrcade), and he let him work dates for the Tunney's in Toronto (NWA Territory) in his spare time, something Vince had no tolerance for even back then.
Piper wasn't Vince's usual poach. Up until then, and moving forward with his talent raids, Vince just plucked guys and threw them on TV right where they left off at their previous employer. Gimmicks unchanged, he found things that worked and let them work for him. But he didn't want the Piper that was Crocket's fastest growing babyface, he wanted the riot starter that had torn Georgia and Portland apart years prior and that's what he got. This confused fans at the time, as Piper was just fighting the 'good fight' at Starrcade a few weeks prior, but that was quickly forgotten - except that Piper couldn't actually wrestle for a few months due to injuries he'd received AT Starcade. Didn't matter. Piper was on TV immediately in a managerial role, running his mouth and vowing to end Hulkamania.
Rock n Wrestling came next, which was wrestling's first entertainment-driven boom period. It was going to happen, Hulkamania was GOING to happen, but one has to wonder what it would have been without Roddy Piper stirring the pot. Like Stone Cold without Mr McMahon, would it have invaded so many households without the perfect heel to play off of? We'll never know.
But, as history has repeated so many times since, Rock n Wrestling was a fad that died down. Roddy wanted to try his hand in Hollywood, so he went babyface (kayfabe was alive and well, it's easier to find work as a 'good guy') for one last angle (Wrestlemania 3) and looked for greener pastures. I'm not sure if Vince was slighted by this, as it was the first time any of his 'hand picked' guys had walked away from him, or if Piper's heel work was so fondly remembered that he'd be cheered no matter what, but he was brought back time and time again as a babyface. While still colorful and entertaining, Vince wasn't booking him like Crocket as a babyface 10 years prior - and it didn't work. Hot Rod was 50% nostalgia and 50% comedy, and it plateaued at an IC title run.
His career peaked in 1984, where people say he was "so young", but he was already 30 years old and that seems right on schedule. He'd been in the business for 10 years at that point, again, right on schedule. The problem with Piper is that his drawing ability came from people wanting him dead and paying for the chance to watch. The man, in his heyday, was SO HATED, he couldn't go out in public. He received legitimate death threats. It's hard to work with that when you won't commit long-term and are seen as a throwback, when everyone you helped get over is still progressing their careers well past their prime. Eventually, everyone still knows you, but nobody remembers why...
When people think of Piper today, they look back and the first thing to come to mind is Piper's Pit. While today these types of segments are used to justify five hours of live TV, they're mostly skipped on DVR replays. While tracking systems were very primitive in 1984, Piper's Pit, A HEEL segment, was the top rated segment of WWF TV.
Next, they'll remember Wrestlemania 1. Piper and Orndorf vs Hogan and Mr T! The only 'Mania where the title wasn't on the line, and this is where Piper's legacy gets tarnished the most. He's remembered in a group, in the main event, along side Bob Orton and Paul Orndorf who really had no business being there if not for Piper. The 'smart' fan might argue that they didn't think they could sell the card with just Piper and Hogan on the marquis. What people don't remember is they'd already done Hogan vs Piper for the title the month before at War To Settle The Score (Free Per View on MTV, what Rock n Wrestling was building to), at Madison Square Garden, and it OUTDREW WRESTLEMANIA by 3,000 people. Wrestlemania MOST CERTAINLY would have been Hogan vs Piper 2 had they not been able to lock down Mr T. With everything Vince had riding on that card, celebrity involvement was the way to go.
Let's give credit where credit is due, here's to ya Hot Rod!