‘A Mark’s Eye View‘ is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
Ask anyone who is even vaguely familiar with professional wrestling from the 1980s who their favorites were, and you’re guaranteed to hear the same names. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Dusty Rhodes all hold a special place in wrestling history. And then there is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper is another of the most well known stars of the era. He was a large part of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, main evented the first WrestleMania, and took part in some of the decade’s most infamous angles.
He also sucked.
I never understood Hot Rod’s appeal. When I started paying attention to the WWF in 1986, he never wrestled. I would always hear his name, he was on a Saturday morning cartoon, and kids at school either loved him or hated him. I could not wait to see him in the ring. There was his boxing match at Mania 2 against Mr. T, but I wanted to see him in an actual wrestling match.
To say I was disappointed when I finally saw Piper wrestle would be an understatement. The WWF was not known for having great matches, but Piper still managed to stand out for how awful he was. Maybe it was because he was a smaller man in The Land of Giants, or maybe my expectations were too high. Whatever the case, watching Piper in the ring was not fun.
Of course, judging Piper solely on his ringwork is unfair as he’s far better known for his charisma and promo ability. Unfortunately, unless you are into nonsensical interviews, Piper was also awful in this respect. In an era when cocaine-fueled, incomprehensible promos were all the rage, Piper’s were still bad. Piper was loud and obnoxious and was supposed to be witty. Even as a child, I thought his ramblings were corny and uninteresting. He was the edgy guy who constantly posts “deep” thoughts on Instagram in a pre-social media age.
Piper’s biggest contribution to the sport was Piper’s Pit. (WWE will occasionally refer to it as the first wrestling interview segment. Buddy Rogers actually had a segment — on WWF TV! — years before.) I didn’t remember seeing any editions of the Pit before he left to film movies. However, over the years I would see many thanks to the magic of videotape.
Again, I was surprised at how lackluster they were. The ones I saw were also the most famous ones, so theoretically they were the were the best. The Jimmy Snuka coconut incident and the Haiti Kid episodes were just racist. The Andre the Giant one goes nowhere until the uber tryhard “dont throw rocks at a man with a machine gun” line. The whole “just when you think you have the answers, I change the questions” bit is fine until you realize he is just a heel admitting to moving the goalposts.
I eventually realized that to get a true appraisal of Piper I had to watch his Starrcade 1983 Dog Collar match against Greg Valentine. I had read about it in Apter mags and the bout looked violent. Plus, the few people who had seen it talked it up as Piper’s best match. I was (and still am) a huge fan of gimmick matches and I had to try to figure out what was so great about Piper.
Wouldn’t you know it? I didn’t know it then, but I was actually watching the best match of Piper’s career. It was as brutal and violent as everyone said it was. Whereas the Hulk Hogan/Piper wars seemed to be infused with comedy, there was nothing funny about his war with Valentine. These were two men who obviously did not like each other. It was a brutal and violent fight that saw Piper walk out the winner.
It wasn’t Piper’s fault that he was not able to replicate this in the WWF; Vince McMahon’s promotion was just a different type of wrestling company. The blood and drama that NWA thrived on didn’t matter as much up north. It was a family-friendly product that was more image conscious. WWF fans got a toned-down in-ring version of Piper, and he still got over to an incredible degree.
Even if Piper were to continue getting involved in blood-soaked feuds (his famous feud with Snuka was very violent), it wouldn’t have mattered much to me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of wrestlers who just brawlers. He definitely had an odd charisma to him, but it was not one that attracted me. He was an annoying guy who I could not stand to watch. Piper is definitely a wrestling legend; I just never got the appeal.
Next week: Why are there so many tag teams?