'Rowdy' Roddy Piper meant so much more to professional wrestling than he ever got credit for.
In 1985, the WWE's popularity exploded. The feud with Cyndi Lauper and MTV was the catalyst and Piper was the driving force. Sure Hogan was the face of the company and McMahon was the mastermind, but Piper was doing all the heavy lifting. He brought a prize-fight feel to The War to Settle the Score and the energy of a full-blown riot. He ignited the mainstream and even had rock stars like Little Richard and Dee Snyder cutting promos against him. It was Piper against the world and the world wanted to see him get his butt kicked at WrestleMania.
Ironically, this was also a changing of the guard from old-school legitimate tough guys (Piper, Orndorff) to flashy celebrity and over the top theatrics (Hogan, Mr. T). After that first WrestleMania, the industry wouldn't feel that alive and chaotic again until the Attitude Era.
Piper brought that chaos better than anyone. His initial Piper's Pit run in the WWE was television gold. With his bodyguard Bob Orton and his unmatched mouth he terrorized babyfaces to no end. The two even beat up a fan on the street during a filmed segment! It was raw, pure, and completely the opposite of wrestling today.
There were no script writers. His segments always felt incredibly spontaneous. When he smashed Snuka with a 'coconut outta nowhere' it looked real and shocked the crowd. And by the way that coconut exploded it looked like it shocked Snuka as well.
Piper was much smaller than the typical WWE wrestler, but was tough as nails. And like many old-school shooters, he hated to lose. He could legitimately beat most wrestlers in a real fight (or at least take a few of their best shots) and wouldn't job unnecessarily. This added to his mystique. He did what he wanted on the mic and in the ring. He would leave for months or years at a time and return to huge fan ovation. He ditched wrestling as it was peaking to take a chance on acting. His fierce independence was inspiring.
That independence is most likely why he never won the World Title. Hogan explained that Piper had been tough to work with. If he had 'played ball' they could have done more business together. They did eventually give him the IC belt as a consolation prize and what he did with it gave him even more credibility among hardcore fans. Piper, the guy who despised losing, let a young Bret Hart pin his shoulders after a show-stopping WrestleMania VIII match. (Of course Piper tells the story tongue-in-cheek that since he still had his patented Sleeper hold applied, the ref shouldn't have counted the pinfall). This passing of the torch was touching as Hart credits Hot Rod for pushing him to take his promos to the next level.
Now read this article and then go watch some Piper versus Hart!
17 Hall of Fame
Roddy Piper took his rightful place in WWE's Hall of Fame in 2005, headlining the year with his on-screen rival Hulk Hogan. This was the culmination of Piper's amazing career. To top it off, he came out the next night at WrestleMania to do a Piper's Pit with Stone Cold Steve Austin in what was billed as the two biggest rebels in wrestling history clashing on the grandest stage. Even though he was over 50 years old, Piper showed that he hadn't lost touch with his audience.
16 Shoot Promo on Vince Russo
Piper was never afraid to say what was on his mind and would go to extreme lengths. Piper had legitimate heat with Vince Russo and while the two were in TNA in its early days, Piper was booked to do a worked shoot on Russo, but nobody could have predicted where Piper would go. Piper would attack Russo on his days as a boss in WCW and went somewhere really dark. Piper blamed him for 'my cousin' Owen Hart's death.
14 Piper's Farewell, WrestleMania III
While the match itself wasn't great, it was Piper's farewell from the wrestling business (at least for a little while). His retirement match was billed as a hair vs. hair match against Adrian Adonis. Piper defeated Adonis with his sleeper hold. While Piper had been the most hated man in the business for the majority of his WWE run, his face turn prior to his retirement allowed fans to do what they had long wanted to do and cheer Piper on. The 93,000 in attendance showed their respect for the man that had done everything possible to be hated.
13 Piper vs. Hart
When Piper passed away, Hart came out and said that he was stunned because he lost his closest friend in the business. Piper and Hart knew each other a long time, but only got to wrestle each other once, but what a match it was. Bret was emerging as a singles star and needed a rub from a legend (Hogan wouldn't give him one later) but Piper was gracious enough to do it. After winning his only title in the WWE, he would drop it after two months to Bret in a classic at WrestleMania VIII. Piper has said this match meant so much to him, because for some reason, a knock on him was that he wasn't a great technical wrestler. He put all that to bed on this night and at the same time, proved that he could tell a great story, in and out of the ring.
12 They Live
Hey, a professional wrestler can actually act! We had seen Hogan in Rocky, but he was awful. Piper had legitimate chops and was great in this cult classic.
He had left wrestling at the top of his game and took a huge risk. The man was fearless.
If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it (83% on Rotten Tomatoes). John Carpenter embraced 50s sci-fi and Orwellian propaganda to create a highly entertaining action romp that skewers the rich/poor divide and advertisement brainwashing. If you loved Evil Dead, you'll love this too.
Piper's performance in They Live showed the world that wrestlers can have a successful career in Hollywood. Isn't that right Dwayne?
11 His first match
Piper had a tough childhood. He had lived all over the world and already left home by the time he was 13. He said living on the streets made him the person he was and taught him compassion. While staying at a youth hostel he was turned to wrestling as a way to make some money and stay out of trouble.
In his very first match he came down to the ring accompanied by the Toronto Bagpipe band, with whom he was a member. The ring announcer only knew his first name and ad-libbed 'Roddy the Piper!'.
The match was against AWA legend Larry 'the Axe' Hennig, father of Curt, grandfather of Joe (Curtis Axel, get it now?). Hennig taught the rookie a lesson and ended the match within seconds, breaking Piper's nose along the way.
The promoter liked what he saw and offered him a job. Piper accepted and the rest was history.
10 Hitting Snuka with a Coconut
Piper's Pit was beautiful chaos. It was the perfect way to build heat and showcase his unmatched microphone skills. It maintained an incredible tension and always felt off-script.
Snuka came on to the show to get a chance to speak, but that was never gonna happen. Even after Piper gave him the microphone he still talked circles around the Fijian while throwing out various tropical fruit.
The segment hit it's climax when Piper smashed a coconut hard across Snuka's head, sending him crashing through the set walls. He continued to berate the fallen babyface while whipping him with his belt and rubbing banana in his face.
Snuka was visibly enraged, chasing after Piper and denting the heavy metal door the Scotsman escaped behind.
Piper said afterwards that the segment did the trick, but the worst part was having to wrestle Snuka every night after that for eight months!
9 His promos
Like he showed on the Pit, Piper was unmatched on the mic. His promos always sounded loose and crazy to begin with, but would almost always build into something special. He went to incredible lengths to get his point across. Sure he busted a coconut on Snuka's head, but he smashed a full bottle of beer across his OWN head a few years before! He always kept it on the edge and as honest as possible.
He was a loose spark from an illegal firework setting the world on fire.
When commenting on WWE's Top 25 on the Mic list, CM Punk said it best. "This list is a joke because Piper isn't number one'.
8 Starting a Mexican riot
Piper was in the middle of a heated feud with Chavo Guerrero Sr. when he found a way to take it to the next level and wayyyyyy beyond.
He had told the Mexican audience that he would learn to play the Mexican National Anthem on the bagpipes for the following week's show. He had the crowd rise to their feet for his performance and promptly played La Cucaracha instead! Within seconds the bolted-down seats were ripped up and thrown into the ring. The crowd went ballistic and the night was finished.
7 Attacking Lou Albano AND Cyndi Lauper
Piper called MTV 'Music to vomit by'. He was the voice of the older conservative generation attacking the younger punk-MTV culture. The blue-collared tough guy disgusted with pink hair and safety pin jackets. Piper smashed a gold record over Lou Albano's head and KICKED Cyndi Lauper! Dick Clark was terrified and Piper even picked a fight with Mr. T to boot. He was in TIME Magazine.
To go back and watch these moments is completely different from today's product. It's much less refined obviously, but there is a palpable pandemonium that is sorely missing in modern wrestling. Today's wrestlers are impressive animals in a controlled zoo, Piper was 'When Animals Attack'.
6 Starrcade Collar Match
This match was so brutal that it inspired a young Mick Foley.
The battle between northern and southern wrestling territories was reaching a fever point and the south decided to go big. Starrcade was wrestling's first major supercard two years before WrestleMania. Flair, Race, Steamboat, and Piper were there to make wrestling history.
Piper and Greg Valentine's Dog Collar match was ridiculously dangerous and violent. They wore thick leather straps around their necks connected with a heavy chain. Valentine smashed Piper so hard in the head that his ear exploded in blood and he lost the majority of his hearing.
Before ECW and before Foley, there was Piper.
Piper would revisit this brutality one more time in the surprisingly dangerous Hollywood Backlot Brawl with Golddust. At one point Goldust drove a car towards him expecting Piper to dodge, but Roddy ran out of room and decided to play stuntman; ending up a bruised hood ornament.
5 Morton Downey Jr.
Morton Downey Jr. somehow captured the imagination of the American Public with his 'Trash TvV format. His show was built on rudeness, screaming matches, and blowing smoke into the faces of his guests. This fad was soon over. But while he was trending, McMahon decided to make some money with him.
He brought Downey's big mouth to meet its match.
Well after a few puffs into Piper's face and an unheeded warning, Piper did what everyone in America wanted to do: he unloaded an entire fire extinguisher on the loud-mouthed fire hazard!
McMahon wanted him to use a half-full extinguisher, but Piper thought better of it and swapped it out for a nice full one. Apparently there was so much CO2 blown on him, Downey was gasping for breath. Piper recalls that he was so enraged he nearly dropped the heavy extinguisher on Downey's skull before a concerned Gorilla Monsoon yelled 'Piper NOOOOOOOO!'
4 Headlining WrestleMania I
The star power of Hogan and the integration of celebrities helped the WWE pull off WrestleMania, but for the main event to really work, Hogan and guest star Mr. T would need to go up against someone the people would be dying to see get his comeuppance. Piper was the perfect foil for the ultra good guy Hogan and a guy who wouldn't be afraid to go to the lengths needed to ensure WrestleMania was a success. If it had failed, it's very likely that the WWE would not be in business today and wrestling never would have never taken off like it did.
2 Rivalry with Mr. T
Piper's feud with Mr. T went deep. Piper was hell-bent on protecting the integrity of the business from an outsider. T wanted to bang their heads together like a cartoon, Piper was having none of it. Hot Rod was instrumental in planning the first tag match to maximize the strengths of the actual wrestlers and minimize the damage an amateur like T could do. In retrospect the match still holds up as an exciting piece of action.
For WrestleMania 2, Piper and T were scheduled to have a boxing match. Piper went into full-Rocky mode, waking up every day at dawn and training until he puked. By the time the match rolled around he was ready to fight for real. This worried McMahon and he had Piper's fists taped underneath his gloves in an attempt to limit his effectiveness. This would backfire when Piper dove out of the ring and couldn't properly protect himself.
Piper was frustrated in this boring 'fake' bout and wanted to create some excitement. He even hurled his corner stool as hard as he could at T, but nothing worked.
Piper was a true fighter and defended the business above everything else.
1 Piper's Pit
Thirty years later and this show is still unmatched. Piper's Pit was a smash success from the opening segment. He basically stole the microphone from the boring co-host and berated him for the fans amusement. It felt raw and honest; he always spoke his mind no matter how controversial, and most of the time he had the pulse of the people.
He feared nothing. He put a toilet seat over 'King' Harley Race's head, insulted Andre The Giant right to his face, shaved a midget, quacked at doctors, and hosted the Hogan/Andre blowup.
It brought the late-night talk show vibe to wrestling. It always felt real because he could walk that thin line better than anyone. If the WWE wants to improve they should go back and study why Piper and this show were so effective. Stop over-writing everything, and stop making wrestlers act out mediocre soap-opera scenes. Let them exaggerate their character and let fans see real personality and fire.
All we can do now is honor Piper's legacy. Watch his promos, matches, and films to be entertained and inspired. To be reminded of why we love wrestling.
Thank you Hot Rod.