One thing I learned a long time ago is you can’t please everybody. I also learned if you’re going to be in the wrestling business, you better have thick skin and understand you have more “acquaintances” than real friends. I can count my friends on one hand.
I stopped wrestling full time for all intents and purposes in 1996. I started training people in the newly founded developmental system for WWE in Stamford CT in August, 1996. I still wrestled periodically here and there and went on the road to wrestle some of the new guys coming out of the system. But I considered myself semi active as opposed to full time or retired. I wrestled on and off through the years even while training prospects. I’ve wrestled one hour matches against developmental talent to demonstrate that even at my age, it can be done if you know what you’re doing.
This is a young man’s sport, no doubt. One of the hardest things to do in the ring is relax and be intense at the same time.
One of the first one hour matches I had against a student was in a hot, muggy warehouse in Tampa. I gave everyone an assignment; They were going to have to be able to wrestle one hour straight through, keep the action inside the ring, tell a story that made sense and learn how to relax, breathe and think on their feet. One student got hit in the eye and broke his orbital bone during a match prior to the hour long matches beginning. So he was out for about five weeks.
We were having two and three hour matches daily and it came this guy’s turn. He didn’t feel comfortable working with just anybody so I opened my big mouth and told him I’d wrestle him for one hour!
Once I said it, I knew I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) take it back. Anybody who’s been in this business longer than five years has back and neck issues. Some are worse than others. At this time I hadn’t wrestled a short match in years, much less one hour! But I made my mind up I was going to do it.
I have some significant back and neck issues. I shouldn’t have done it. But I had to. I had a plan. I was going to call it and I knew the story I was going to tell. I knew how to breathe and relax. He had to listen and relax. Not as easy as it sounds…
Anyway, 10 minutes into a 60 minute match, I call a backdrop. The guy didn’t want to do it. I demanded him to “backdrop me NOW, dammit!” and he did. I landed wrong on my ankle and just knew I broke it. I broke my ankle before and that’s what this felt like.
But I was damned if I was stopping the match, so we went the rest of the time leading up to the end where I had him catch me in a sleeper with 20 seconds left to go. As time ran out, he let me go and puked on the side of the ring. I was hurting but I wasn’t about to let anybody else know how bad. I was just happy I made the kid puke! It’s a great story for those who were there to witness it. I believe this kid will be a big star one day. He’s already on his way and he can tell the story if he wants. I’m leaving the name out to protect the innocent at this time.
The next day I made it to the school but as I went to get out of my car, I couldn’t stand. I went to the hospital and they put me in a walking cast. It wasn’t broke this time. It was just a real bad sprain. I made it through and it gave me a good story and bond with a talented kid who loves this business and has passion.
I remember when I was just starting out. There wasn’t a developmental system. There was the territory system. Young guys were initiated in battle royals, getting chopped or piled on or just ribbed because they were new and the veterans wanted to see if you could take it.
I had my first match October 20, 1979 in Bryan, TX. I wrestled some shots around Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi for the next couple months before Paul Boesch got me booked in Portland, Oregon.
The very next week, Gary Hart (who was booking the Dallas territory) told me he had me booked in Los Angeles for Mike LaBelle. When I told him I was booked in Portland he said, “yeah, you go to LA first and then you go to Portland.” I thought it was arranged with Paul and everybody knew what was going on. It wasn’t and they didn’t.
Anyway, I was going to the gym and working out with Mark Lewin at the time and he helped me book my flight to California. My start date was the beginning of January in Fresno.
So I packed two bags and got on a PSA flight to Fresno to begin my new adventure. I knew nobody out there really. I’d met Al Madril and knew him some when he was wrestling in Houston but I didn’t know if he would remember me or not. And I had no idea how I was going to get around! My dad was going to make a road trip and bring my car to me once I got settled in.
|On Andre’s shoulders 1980
I arrived at the Fresno airport and took a cab to the building. I was early but one of the first guys I saw was Al Madril. He vaguely remembered me from Houston and we exchanged pleasantries and general conversation. I’d seen Andre the Giant at the airport as well and had briefly met him too but didn’t know him well enough to feel like he would want to share a cab to the building.
I was in a battle royal in Houston a couple weeks before and climbed on Andre’s shoulders. The photographer got a shot of that and it seemed to become one of Paul’s favorite pictures to use if I was going to be working in Houston.
Anyway, as I’m talking with Al in walks Roddy Piper. He puts his bag down, says hello and immediately walks back in the hall and confronts an office guy (wasn’t Jeff Walton but can’t remember his name) and started yelling “You left me stranded last night and I want my money! I’m not getting dressed until you get my money and I want it now!”
Well, this is great. My first night in the territory and I hear this loud confrontation between Roddy Piper and some office guy. They eventually worked it out and Piper got dressed and wrestled Andre that night.
I met Chavo Gurerrero, who was booking at the time, and his dad Gory who I watched as a kid. I caught a ride back to LA with Frank Hill (Later became Jules Strongbow and teamed with Jay in the WWWF) and the Twin Devils. The Devils dropped Frank and I off at the Milner Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The Milner Hotel was located at 8th and Flower St. It was about 50 years old then! But that’s where Chief stayed and it was cheap and convenient at the time. Los Angeles, The Olympic Auditorium and my Los Angeles experience is too extensive for just one blog. I’m mentioning it now as a point of reference.
This was the first time I met Roddy Piper face to face. He was an intense guy to say the least.
I later came in contact with Roddy around 1981-82 in Atlanta. He was doing color commentary with Gordon Solie as well as wrestling back and forth between the Atlanta and Charlotte offices. Ole Anderson was booking both places and Roddy was a top star. Jim Barnette made a trip to Texas earlier and I was offered a job in Atlanta.
My timing is impeccable. I was “dating” a girl in San Antonio and decided to get married two days before heading to Atlanta. The guys told me everybody stayed at a place in Hapeville, GA. called The Falcon’s Rest. Well, I completely screwed up, got married, went to Atlanta and lived in a separate place because I didn’t want my new wife exposed to what was going on at “The Rest.” I stayed a week there many nights though. I’m no longer married to her by the way…
|Me with the Dean of Announcers
Atlanta was just getting rolling on the Superstation, TBS. Tommy Rich, Bob and Brad Armstrong, Super Destroyer, The Masked Superstar, Ole Anderson, Stan Hansen, Don Muraco, my trainer and mentor The Iron Sheik, Kevin Sullivan, Buzz Sawyer, The Freebirds and countless other major names were showing up almost daily to be a part of TBS and World Championship Wrestling.
Roddy was commentating with Gordon Solie along with wrestling. For some reason, about a month into my stay, Ole told me Mr. Barnette would like to have me do some commentating along side Gordon as well. It was nerve racking to say the least, but a great experience none the less.
|Gordon Solie and Roddy Piper
I was lucky enough to ride and make frequent trips with Brad Armstrong, Tommy Rich, Nick Patrick and eventually Tommy’s cousin Johnny when he arrived from Alabama. When Piper was working the Atlanta side he would occasionally ride with us or at least stay in the same hotel and party with the crew. Tommy had a van we usually took so we could take at least half the guys.
It was that time in Atlanta where I got to know Roddy Piper for what Roddy Piper is. He was always a good guy to the young guys and rookies coming up. I’d known some bitter veterans and so called “Superstars” who were above talking to peons in the first four matches. But Roddy treated everyone with respect. That is if you treated him with respect. It was was give, earn, and get respect back in those days.
Roddy was gracious, caring and shared whatever he had. Never made a young rookie feel like he was worthless or beneath him. He was a class act and would fight anybody who tried to mess with his friends.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Roddy had his hard side if someone tried to steamroll over him. He would stand up for himself as well as someone being taken advantage of. He was a wild man and I admired his ability to ingest and consume more than almost anybody in the room and appear un-affected. I tried (many tried) but failed miserably. I kept up as much as I could but Piper could put everybody under the table…
There’s a story in Gary Hart’s book about Ric Flair having a party, inviting Roddy and Mark Lewin to his house to see who could out do who. Both had mythical reputations as being THE party animal elite and it was supposed to be a challenge of sorts to see who the “real deal” was. Gary leaves it as “I didn’t go because I was the boss and couldn’t be around that, so I don’t know what happened.”
I’ve indulged with both Mark Lewin and Roddy Piper. I thought I was going to get my ‘Keith Richards merit badge’ and worked hard to earn it! The ’80s was a fun time and a lot of guys didn’t make it out alive. I’m sure there are times Lewin and Piper wonder how they did it…
The thing I really admired about Roddy (besides his ability to consume mass quantities of whatever was put in front of him) was his demeanor and attitude toward everyone backstage. He didn’t have to be nice or offer advice to anyone. He shared whatever he had, never let you pick up the tab for drinks or dinner and was a genuine good guy. That’s my opinion and I’m sure you can find people who think otherwise. But remember, if you give respect, then earn respect, you will get respect back. In other words, don’t just talk the talk. Walk it too!
I’ve caught a lot of grief through the years for cutting promos and sounding like Roddy Piper. Yes, I copied Piper. Yes, I blatantly copied his style and mannerisms. It really came a little more natural once I did it the first time because I felt anger and passion when I was able to come off like such a prick. I had a lot of anger in my my life during my active wrestling days. But I also had the utmost respect for the business and the ones who came before me. Onstage, cutting a promo or in the ring was the only time I felt comfortable. I always felt out of place in a crowd, didn’t like people and just wanted to wrestle and be left alone.
Roddy Piper encapsulated everything I felt in his promos. His style, cadence, mannerisms, confidence, everything. Then backstage was such a contrast. I was able to let my emotions out and come back and have fun and relax in the dressing room. I have always worn my hair long and it became like my shield or my flag against society. I could hide with it and wearing shaded glasses, never smiling pretty much confirmed I was a flaming asshole!
I felt like a heel inside. I looked like a stoned freaked out hippie outside. I sounded like Roddy Piper and I knew it. I’ve heard people say I “had the personality of a dishrag so I had to steal Piper’s gimmick.” OK. What’s new? The ones who know, know who and what I am. That’s all who really matter. What’s that other saying? “Any press is good press. As long as they’re talking about you.”
My dad had a heart attack and wasn’t supposed to make it. He died twice on the table and the doctors brought him back. During this time I was working in Memphis and Dallas for the USWA Jerry Jarrett promotion. ESPN was airing the Dallas shows on weekdays at four. I was wrestling and doing color commentary at the time and of course, I sounded like Piper. Someone told me that a bunch of the WWF (hadn’t got the ‘F’ out yet) guys were watching the show one afternoon and Rick Rude got hot saying I was “just ripping off Piper!” Yeah and again, so?
I came home when my dad had his heart attack and one day the phone rang. I was the only one home and I answered. It was Roddy Piper checking on my dad. He and my brother Bruce (Brother Love) had become close and Roddy just wanted to see how everybody was doing. I gave him an update and before we hung up I said “Roddy, I know a lot of people have been saying I’m ripping you off and stealing your gimmick, but if I ever wanted to steal from anybody I wanted to steal from the best. I’ll stop and change everything man, I’m sorry.” To which Roddy replied “No, no, no. I heard it and think you’re doing a great job. Don’t listen to what a few assholes say. I consider it an honor and I have no problem with what you’re doing. Keep up the good work. I love you and your brother and I hope to see you soon.”
Now, surely Hot Rod is just saying that to make me feel good, ya know dad being in the hospital and all. Think what you want. I believe Roddy was being genuine. I was paying homage to a guy I admired and respected. I was never going to WWE anyway. I was content on working the territories that were left and carve out a living there.
Fate being what it is, I did wind up going to WWE. I surpassed anything I ever thought I would accomplish while I was there. I did the WM 10 free for all in Madison Square Garden and the WM 12 free for all where we won the World tag team Championship. We won them on the west coast in Los Angeles and lost them on the east in MSG.
|Roddy and me backstage MSG, WM 10
Wait. I actually wrestled in Madison Square Garden! That wasn’t supposed to happen! I lost the WWF World Tag Team Championship in Madison Square Garden. OK, it’s not the same as ‘winning’ the titles there but we walked in the champions!
My point is I was horrible at playing the political games of life. I’ve learned a lot since then. Although I do have this sense of trying to help by demonstrating something absurd to get my point across that doesn’t always work. And I’ve taken risks and lost. Failure isn’t final. I will find success again. And for those that say what success, I say to those who know, you know. Those that don’t, never will and I don’t care!
Sure, I copied Roddy Piper.
Ever heard of Lord Lansdowne? Danny McShane? Ray Stevens? Buddy Rogers? Look ’em up. Then see who copied them. And who continues to look at who came before them and how this business evolved.
What determines success is the level of confidence, skill and just plain balls to go out and do it! Refuse to lose or take no for an answer. Roddy Piper and guys like him paved the way. Somebody mentored them and gave them a chance, then they kicked the door wide open and owned their opportunity. I made a lot of mistakes. That’s called experience.
Anytime I hear somebody say “He can’t teach you anything. He never drew a dime! I can teach you how to be a star!” I just sit back and say, “Go ahead. In fact show me your formula in how you are going to make this guy or girl a star.” Are you going to tell them how to maneuver in the ever changing political landscape? Check. Got that one. Are you going to show them how to connect with a crowd? Check. That’s the intangible “it factor” I believe. There’s not just one way to teach or do this business. There’s not a special formula or secret handshake that will make you a star. Hard work, preparation, understanding and adapting are good ways to start though.
|Piper after a match with Kim Duk (Houston, TX 1975)
I’m proud to say I’ve known Roddy Piper since I was was a rookie in this business. I watched Roddy when he was a rookie in 1975 in Houston. I took this picture the night he wrestled Kim Duk and got his face kicked in. He was just a kid then.
One Friday night, the sound system went out in the building. The microphone worked but the system that played the national anthem wasn’t working. So Paul Boesch asked a young Roddy Piper to play the anthem on his bag pipes. This was in the Fonde Recreation center in Houston. Some confuse that story being in the coliseum. I was there and remember it vividly. He got an incredible ovation and was an instant babyface! Who knew Roddy Piper would go on to be one of the biggest icons ever in professional wrestling? Roddy did. He refused to take no for an answer and he refused to lose. You gotta admire that.
|Me and Roddy WM 28, Miami, FL 2012
And I do. Every time I see Roddy he’s the same gracious, funny, positive person I’ve known for years. If I was going to steal or ‘borrow’ from anybody today, it would still be from the Hot Rod!
For those that don’t like it, say what you will. At least you’re talking about it.
Thanks for reading.