Posts Tagged ‘wwf’

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I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 days attempting to grasp the concept that the world has one less ass-kicker (bubble gum not included) in it. For as much as I’d think that I would sadly be used to professional wrestlers passing away these days (including the recent death of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes), the loss of the Hot Rod hit me hard. Really hard. Especially after coming to the realization that for as much as I love listening to him telling stories, there won’t be any more new episodes of his podcast to look forward to.

I initially started paying attention to pro wrestling at the age of 11, in that window between WrestleMania 6 and SummerSlam 1990 (back when the then-WWF only conducted four pay-per-view events per year). At that time, Piper had just come off of a match at WM against Bad News Brown, and was floating in limbo until 1991 when he played into the storyline of Virgil vs Ted DiBiase. Nonetheless, he was a polarizing character who immediately grabbed my attention. Going and renting VHS tapes from the local video library store allowed me to go watch older matches and promos of his (this was long before the interwebz, kids). I had become a fan. He also entertained me outside of the ring (and “Piper’s Pit”). Go google “Tag Team” with Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura. It’s cheesy, yet comical.

Then, I found a way to become an even bigger fan of his. Once upon a time (1993-ish), WWF had a weekly radio show on Saturday evenings, “Radio WWF”. Hosted by Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross (and later, Vince McMahon), they would occasionally have guests on the show, and listeners could call in and interact with the guests. On one particular week, their guest was the one and only “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and I got to spend a minute or two on the phone with him. Couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Thankfully, somewhere amidst my archive of old audio cassette tapes, I have (at least most of) this conversation recorded. One of these days, I’ll have to find that tape and dust it off, and convert it over to digital.

Over the years that I’ve followed pro wrestling, some of my favorite characters have been the in-your-face, solid talkers, take-no-crap attitude, kick-ass-and-take-names guys. The Road Warriors. Brian Pillman. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. CM Punk. And currently, Dean Ambrose. Piper paved the road for all of these guys.

Piper was more than just a legend. He was an architect. And the professional wrestling business is a much more solid structure because of the work he put into building it.

Farewell, Hot Rod. Hopefully Heaven is full of bubble gum.

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No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.

IMG_343572152232707 Those were the words of the very last promo that we ever received from the Ultimate Warrior, on the 4/7/2014 episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. He emphatically stated these words, adorned in an vibrant duster (handpainted by Rob Schamberger) and a mask pattered after his classic face paint. Less than 24 hours after these words were spoken, Warrior (Jim Hellwig) was dead. In my years as a fan of professional wrestling, I’ve read the reports of countless wrestler deaths. This one is hitting me especially hard, and it’s not without reason. For years, my parents didn’t have cable service, so the only TV options I had at home were local channels (this would eventually expand once my parents got cable, I’d follow wrestling in and out of WWF along with my friend Matt Wood, and would do alternating pay-per-view rental parties with my friend Tim Caudera). In 1990, through a combination of “WWF Wrestling Challenge” on Saturday mornings and “WWF Superstars” on Sunday mornings in St. Louis, 11 year old me first really discovered professional wrestling – WWF specifically. While my eyes would be opened to various characters I would take to, such as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, the Big Boss Man, and Demolition (the first “heels” I really found myself cheering for), there were four wrestlers who really locked me in and sold me on pro wrestling. Hulk Hogan. Andre The Giant. Macho Man Randy Savage. Ultimate Warrior. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have my father take me to multiple wrestling events over the years. One that stands out to me was WWF WrestleFest at old Busch Stadium, July 14th of 1991. It stood out to me because of it being an outdoor show, our seats were on the floor with a good view of the ring, and our location also gave me direct access to the guardrails as the wrestlers would be on their way to/from the ring. On that night, I got to see two of those four wrestlers in person (Savage had been “retired” by Warrior several months prior at WrestleMania XII, and Andre had since concluded his in-ring career). On that night, Ultimate Warrior was in a “casket match” against The Undertaker. While getting to touch the casket as it was rolled by was pretty cool to me, it was surpassed by my getting to slap hands with Warrior as he raced past me. From the moment his music would hit the speakers, you knew unparalleled frenetic energy was coming, and at 12 years old, I swore I thought he’d take my hand and arm right off in the process – but I got to reach out to an inspiration. Warrior would go on to have various issues and burned bridges over the years (escalating to the point of WWE releasing a DVD of him that was nothing less than a complete roast), and vanished completely from the pro wrestling scene. I, along with many others, didn’t know if we’d ever see or hear from him again in the world of wrestling. Then, last year, the olive branch seemed to exist. He signed on to do promotional work for the WWE 2K14 video game. Then, on the 1/13/2014 episode of Monday Night Raw, it was the video announcement that many of us thought we’d probably never see – Ultimate Warrior would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. On Saturday night, I sat on my couch streaming the WWE Network’s Hall of Fame induction broadcast on my tablet, and I was glued to every word of Warrior’s speech. I listened to him express his appreciation for the business, the people that make the business work – both in front of, and behind the scenes – and his love of being a husband and a father to his two girls. Two nights later, he stepped in the ring and delivered the promo that I quoted at the top of this writing. Watching it live, that promo seemed to come across as being a tribute to what his character represented and accomplished. Now, revisiting it after his passing, it feels like a eulogy. While coincidental, I’m sure, his words are as if he knew that death was knocking. Warrior had recently signed on with WWE to a Legends contract, to be an ambassador to the brand. My hope is that WWE will honor his contract in full, and allow all royalties from merchandise and licensing to go to his wife and daughters. With his passing goes a massive part of my childhood. If anything, I can smile knowing that his final actions in life were rebuilding the burned bridge between him and WWE, and perhaps there’s some symbolism to that. His heart has beat its final beat, and his lungs have breathed their final breath. The legend, however, shall forever run. IMG_20140409_223630