Class of 2018
Mr. Tito: It is my humble honor to induct “Rowdy” Roddy Piper into the LordsofPain.net Hall of Fame. He is a pro wrestling legend, who in my opinion, doesn’t often get credit for his contributions to the business. However, he was also his own worst enemy, too. Some of his workplace antics would often help preserve his star power but it would also lead to lost opportunities as well… Living on that “edge”, however, would make for some great moments for Roddy Piper when the time was right.
The Doc: I too am honored to induct Roddy Piper, one of the most unconventional icons of the WrestleMania Era. He achieved his iconic status, and the ability to navigate the politics of professional wrestling while living on the edge Mr. Tito writes of, by the sheer power of his voice. Indeed, if stature were measured by the influence of the spoken word, then Piper would have stood taller than Andre the Giant. The Hot Scot’s gift of gab was of the sort that required little guidance, bullet points, or catchphrases; give him a jobber on his infamous talk show segment, Piper’s Pit, and he could make it entertaining for twenty minutes. It was the notoriety that he gained from being a legendary maestro of the microphone that made him the perfect foil for Hulk Hogan at the original WrestleMania, site of a perfect example of Tito’s point regarding Piper’s self-preservation tactics.
Mr. Tito: Early in the booking stages, the WWE wanted Roddy Piper to take the pinfall from Hulk Hogan in the Main Event Tag Match between Hulk Hogan/Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper/Paul Ordorff. Piper refused to take the pinfall, knowing that his feud with Hogan and/or Mr. T was over if that happened. Thus, Orndorff was the one eating Cowboy Bob Orton’s cast to the head to take the pin from Hogan. In Roddy’s book, he openly talks about that as after the match, he saw Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, and Mr. T hop into a limo to celebrate the night away. There were no celebrations for Piper or Orndorff after that match.
The Doc: However, the achievement that was the original WrestleMania certainly demands celebratory accolades be heaped upon Piper. His crowning achievement in the business was WrestleMania, an event that it could be argued he created more anticipation for than even the Hulkster; for, let’s be honest, was there another villain capable of drawing the same kind of vitriol from sports entertainment’s fledgling mainstream audience (by kicking Cyndi Lauper and antagonizing Mr. T) that did “Rowdy” Roddy? Hogan got the credit, the cover of Sports Illustrated included, but it is a fair assessment of early WrestleMania Era lore to state that neither Orndorff nor Greg Valentine nor Big John Studd nor any other heel in WWE at the time could have replicated the success opposite Hogan for which Piper was the stimulus. WrestleMania drew over one million closed-circuit TV viewers; The War to Settle The Score, the MTV special that acted as one of the primary vehicles for drawing interest for ‘Mania, drew a 9.1 cable rating. The inaugural Showcase of the Immortals was built on celebrities prominently interacting with wrestlers, but the main draw was watching those celebrities, such as Mr. T, interact with the likes of Roddy Piper, an allure that carried over to the next year.
Mr. Tito: Because Hulk Hogan/Mr. T did not beat “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, it built demand to see the Roddy Piper vs. Mr. T boxing match at Wrestlemania 2. Piper was actually insulted at being booked in this match as Mr. T was a pop culture and acting icon by then but he was not a full-time wrestler. Piper refused to lose to Mr. T because again, the feud ends there if he loses and he’s putting over a non-wrestler. Roddy had so much hatred for this match that his fists were reportedly taped shut before inserting them into the boxing gloves (making it harder to make a fist with the gloves to punch harder).
The Doc: The “fight” with Mr. T effectively ended Piper’s run as a top heel, which should be more highly regarded among pro wrestling historians than it would seem to be given how memorable and profitable it was; Roddy was instrumental in getting Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment vision up and running, especially the lucrative WrestleMania franchise. Piper had also been a key player in the promotion of NWA Starrcade ’83 a year and a half prior, making him the only superstar heavily promoted as a headliner on both of the original biggest events in pro wrestling.
Mr. Tito: In the years that followed, Piper became that early version of a part-time performer… But because Roddy knew his value as a star and the consequences of losing to Hogan/Mr. T, he was able to maintain his star power over a longer period of time. It made him somewhat in-demand for a few Hollywood opportunities and the WWE always brought him back when the business made sense. That and it preserved Roddy Piper for long-term use. For example, his refusal to put Hulk Hogan over allowed for World Championship Wrestling to sign him for millions during 1996, 10 years later, to restart the Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper feud. And then Roddy Piper actually defeated Hogan with a sleeper hold at Starrcade 1996.
Point being, would that big WCW contract be there in 1996 if Roddy Piper let himself lose to Hulk Hogan or Mr. T between 1984-1986? I don’t think so… The fact that the “heel got away” kept that heat strong for a decade. And then, Roddy scores the first win at Starrcade 1996 to keep the star power going to set-up their rematch at WCW Superbrawl 1997. There, Roddy Piper finally allowed Hogan to defeat him and guess what? Piper’s WCW career was just kind of there after that… Hogan would move on to the Lex Luger and Sting feuds for 1997 regarding the WCW World Title. That proved Piper’s point during the 1980s that once the big star gets his win, the losing opponent’s value is potentially diminished.
The Doc: Piper’s legacy was forged by his verbal communication skills and his backstage savvy; as alluded to earlier, he was the unconventional star whose work in the ring had minimal effect on how he was remembered. Remember, though, that it was not a lack of skill that kept Roddy’s classic match list so small. Having standout matches depends on opportunity, which WWE rarely provided him on account of their Hulkamania Era modus operandi, Piper’s own outside interests (i.e. “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum”) that prompted hiatuses and retirements from wrestling, and on top of that the fact that he was physically breaking down by the time he even got to WWE. Nevertheless, he did have a pair of noteworthy performances on the 20’x20’ canvas that warrant mention, the first being the famous Dog Collar match against Greg Valentine at Starrcade ‘83.
If you have never seen it, I encourage you to seek it out; it stands the test of time on account of its sheer brutality and the novelty of seeing two men joined by a pair dog collars and a humongous steel chain, of which they made liberal use in beating the hell out of each other. During the climax, the camera pans above the ring; the blood staining the mat looks like a crime scene. Arguably the best of his career, the Dog Collar match cost Piper 50% of his hearing in the injured ear, but it would be hard for me personally to say that any of his matches equaled the brilliance of his Intercontinental Title bout eight-and-a-half years later with Bret Hart.
Mr. Tito: Roddy Piper would rather use his star power to put over an up & coming wrestler instead of top stars like Hulk Hogan. In my opinion, Wrestlemania 8 is great because of Roddy Piper putting over Bret “the Hitman” Hart cleanly for the Intercontinental Title. Hart had momentum as a midcarder after his great match against “Mr. Perfect” Curt Henning during SummerSlam 1991 and beating another top name would continue that climb towards the top. Because of Roddy’s actions taken during the 1980s to protect his win/loss column, it made Piper’s defeat feel special when or if it actually occurred. This was a huge win for Bret Hart and he is forever grateful to Piper for that day. Bret would go on to win the WWE Championship later that year and be one of the WWE’s top stars through 1997 with multiple WWE Title runs before the “screwjob” at Survivor Series 1997. Despite that latter event, Bret’s star power was still strong and he signed a big WCW contract too. What would the Hitman be without that huge Wrestlemania 8 victory?
The Doc: Quite frankly, there may not be a better story told in less than 30-minutes of total screen time in the history of the wrestling business. The brilliant two-minute backstage interview with Mean Gene Okerlund that effectively built the tension between Piper and Hart to a boiling point before they made their entrances; the PhD level storytelling on display that Bobby Heenan, on commentary, to utter the memorable statement, “I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be THIS good! This is a helluva match!”; the awesome climax that saw Piper nearly use the ring bell to wallop Hart before reigning in his emotions, opting for the Sleeper Hold, and ultimately falling victim to Bret’s cunning; it all coalesced into one of the most enjoyable matches ever. Piper could not have put Bret over any stronger.
Mr. Tito: Because of Roddy’s actions taken with WWE management on refusing to lose, there are probably many big match-ups that he missed. Think of what a singles match between Roddy Piper vs. Hulk Hogan could have done for a Wrestlemania? I would have rather seen that during Wrestlemanias 2, 7, or 8 than the opponents that Hogan fought and struggled with (King Kong Bundy, Sgt. Slaughter, or Sid Justice). What Piper may have not realized is that despite a Hogan loss, he could have easily “got his heat back” because he had an excellent promo, great personality, and was a solid in-ring performer. He was too fearful of what a loss to Hogan would spell out for his career that it denied him great opportunities… Yet, it preserved Piper’s drawing power for WCW to sign him a decade later to continue that Hogan feud.
The Doc: In the end, his Hall of Fame bonafides, as unconventional and underappreciated as they might have been, made him the runaway top vote-getter among LOP readers in this year’s induction process, proving once and for all that, whenever we think that we’ve got the answers, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper changes the questions.
Follow Mr. Tito on Twitter.com: @titowrestling
80s Wrestling Con takes place on Saturday, October 26th in Freehold, NJ at iPlay America. The event features Ted DiBiase, Sgt. Slaughter, Bob Backlund, Paul Orndorff, Demolition, Brutus Beefcake, and more! For Superstars, Attractions, and Ticket information go to 80sWrestlingCon.com.