Real love for a fake sport

Fox News sends out breaking news alerts via e-mail and text message. Many of them are sports related.

I was surprised former professional wrestling superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s death from a heart attack at 61 merited such an alert. The alert was actually a little late, since it came Friday a little after 6 p.m., and he died Thursday.

Then again, Piper was arguably the second biggest star of what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation during the mid-1980s, when professional wrestling moved from an obscure sport to mainstream pop culture.

Piper might have only been behind the immortal Hulk Hogan on the WWF marquee.

He was one of the WWF’s most hated characters when he burst onto the scene in 1984, coming to the ring in a plaid kilt and using bagpipe music as he came to the ring. He had his own interview show, Piper’s Pit, where he insulted some of the WWF’s most beloved figures, including wrestling’s living legend, Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino, who basically was the WWF in the 1960s and 1970s, beat Piper in a steel cage.

Piper was part of the the main event at the first Wrestlemania in 1985 at Madison Square Garden. He, Paul Orndorff and Cowboy Bob Orton lost to Hogan, Mr. T and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and after the match, Orndorff, Piper’s original manager in the WWF, turned on Rowdy Roddy and realigned himself with Hogan.

The next year, Piper engaged Mr. T in a boxing match at Wrestlemania 2. Piper was disqualified for a body slam.

Later in 1986, Piper switched from heel (bad guy) to face (crowd favorite), as the WWF replaced Piper’s Pit with The Flower Shop, hosted by the grossly obese Adrian Adonis. Adonis, managed by the annoying “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, wore heavy makeup and a foul smelling perfume to the ring, declaring himself “Adorable”.

At Wrestlemania III, contested before over 93,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome, then the home of the Detroit Lions and Pistons, Piper topped Adonis in what was billed as his retirement bout. Piper was apparently knocked out with a sleeper hold, but he was revived by my favorite WWF wrestler of that era, Brutus Beefcake. Beefcake had an ax to grind with Adonis, who cut his hair during a six-man tag match in a televised show the previous month.

Piper recovered and put Adonis to sleep. Beefcake then cut his hair, and when Adonis woke up, he was thoroughly embarrassed. Fifteen months later, Adonis (real name Keith Franke) perished in an automobile accident in Canada.

Piper became an analyst for WWF matches, cheering loudly for the face wrestlers. He would come back to the WWF and remain as popular as ever.

I admit I loved the WWF in mid to late 1980s. My brother and I watched USA Network’s Prime Time Wrestling religiously, first on Tuesdays in 1986, then on Mondays in 1987 and ’88. We had over 30 WWF action figures and the ring. I wish now we had held on to them. We could have made a small fortune on eBay, or kept them as a reminder of our childhood.

My father took my brother and I to four WWF shows at Lakefront Arena at the University of New Orleans. Two were in 1986, and the first featured Hulk Hogan defeated “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff to successfully defend his championship. There was another in 1988 and a final one in 1989.

As I mentioned, my favorite WWF superstar was Beefcake (real name Edwin Leslie). He entered the WWF in September 1984 as a vain, cocky heel, dressing up in animal print tights. He was managed by “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, himself a former WWF superstar wrestler. Beefcake teamed with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine to form The Dream Team, which won the WWF tag team championship in 1985. They lost the title at Wrestlemania 2 to the British Bulldogs, who were managed by Captain Lou Albano and had Ozzy Osbourne in their corner.

At Wrestlemania III, The Dream team defeated the Rougeau Brothers, but Valentine and Dino Bravo, a French Canadian like the Rougeaus, left Beefcake at ringside. Following the Piper-Adonis match, Beefcake became “The Barber”, carrying a large pair of hedge clippers to the ring and winning the adoration of the fans. Beefcake was in line to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship in 1988 from the overly cocky Honky Tonk Man, but was injured. In late 1989, Beefcake and Hogan, who were best friends in real life, twice defeated “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Zeus, a large black warrior billed as unbeatable, in tag team bouts.

Tons of people rip Hulk Hogan in the comments section of his old matches on YouTube, but the man was the reason why the WWF prospered. Every single wrestler who lived a good life owes it to Hogan, who took it to the next level, making it more popular than boxing, tennis and NASCAR in the mid-1980s, and just behind golf and the NHL. Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) first came into the public conscious as Thunderlips in Rocky III in 1982, then won the WWF heavyweight championship on January 23, 1984 when he defeated the dastardly Iron Sheik at MSG.

You had to love when it looked like Hogan was beaten, only to “Hulk Up” and furiously recover. You could count on what would happen whenever he started becoming imprevious to other wrestlers’ offensive moves: three punches to the head, a big boot to the face, then the leg drop. Match over. Only the Ultimate Warrior kicked out following the leg drop, and he defeated Hogan for the world championship at Wrestlemania VI at Toronto.

I stopped watching wrestling by 1991. I had much more on my plate with high school and other sports. I love watching the old bouts on YouTube though. Brings back some childhood memories.

would happen next: three punches, big boot, leg drop. Match over.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on August 2, 2015, in Professional wrestling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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