After a career in professional football, he set his sights on the squared circle. After moderate early success, he was beset by numerous injuries and just when he seemed on the cusp of breaking through, his life ended tragically, a victim of life in the sport.
Real Name: Brian Pillman
Stats: 6′ 0″ 235 lbs.
Born: May 22, 1962
Although he was never the “main eventer,” Brian Pillman was nearly always in the most technically exciting match of the card, be it a show produced by the NWA-WCW or one by the WWF. Despite the fact that he never won a World Heavyweight title in either promotion, Pillman was nevertheless one of the most important performers in the business during the decade of the 1990’s. A man blessed with great physical talents, Pillman (especially during the first half of his career) was truly a superior performer in the ring and behind the microphone, and was a genuine trendsetter amongst his peers. As a wrestler, there were few better than the 6`0 235 lb. ex-NFL player, as Pillman combined aspects of traditional pro “rasslin” with styles found in Japan and Mexico, as well as the solid mat work he learned training under the tutelage of Stu Hart in Calgary. Pillman brought a freshness and unique style to the ring that would go on to characterize much of the technique employed by wrestlers during the `90’s. Furthermore, the out-of-control, ultra-violent, “loose cannon” character created by Pillman helped set the standard for the in-your-face realism that was a prevailing characteristic of pro wrestling during the sencond half of the nineties
In 1989, the NWA, having just been purchased by Ted Turner, and under the leadership of (WCW’s first) Executive Vice President Jim Herd, was looking to add a crop on young, new, “unheard of” wrestlers to their roster, in order to help lead them into the new decade. Fresh NWA personalities like, among others, Johnny B. Badd (Marc Mero), “The Rapmaster” P.N. News, Van Hammer, “The Z-Man” Tom Zenk, Stampede’s Biff Wellington and Brian Pillman all entered the NWA at relatively the same time, giving the promotion a much-needed shot of youth. Not all of the NWA’s crop of young talent “made it” in the NWA, including Pillman’s friend Wellington. However, “Flyin” Brian, with his fresh look and unique style, was an instant hit with NWA fans. Although he was smaller than the average wrestler in the late 1980’s (or in other words, he wasn’t a gigantic muscleman) Pillman’s lighting-quick speed combined with his vast repertoire of moves and a healthy, muscular physique more than made up for his lack of sheer muscle mass. Pillman quickly engaged in a feud with U.S. Heavyweight champion Lex Luger, coming very close to capturing the title from the bigger, stronger Luger. Within months of entering the NWA, Pillman captured his first championship when he and Tom Zenk (pictured, right) defeated The Fabulous Freebirds to win the United States Tag Team title. After the duo ran it’s course, Pillman moved on to new challenges. On October 27, 1991, Pillman defeated the York Foundation’s Richard Morton to win the WCW World Light Heavyweight championship.
Pillman faced those new challenges, but this time with a new “heelish” attitude and an impressive partner in the form of former WCW World TV champion “Stunning” Steve Austin. Austin and Pillman combined to create the cocky, talented, and extremely “over” team of The Hollywood Blondes. Together, they challenged and defeated the WCW World Tag Team champions at the time, Rick Steamboat & Shane Douglas. After disposing of Steamboat & Douglas, The Blondes went on to dominate the competition. Dominate, that is, until they came up against the formidable duo of Arn Anderson & “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Against the Horsemen, The Blondes were lucky to have escaped with their title belts. The Flair/Anderson vs. Pillman/Austin feud was a WCW highlight of 1993, and produced some of the most exciting arena matches and PPV bouts of the year.
The Blondes held the WCW World Tag Team title for six months before they were finally defeated by the Horsemen (with Steven Regal substituting for an injured Pillman). However, it wasn’t Flair & Anderson that took the title, but rather, Anderson & the newest Horsemen, Paul Roma. After losing the Tag title, Austin and Pillman had a falling out, instigated by Col. Robert Parker. Austin came out on top of the feud, but Pillman got his revenge against Parker when he won a match that had a stipulation saying that Parker had to dance around the ring in a chicken suit. But not long after that, Brian Pillman, who was never one to shy away from voicing his opinions to office management, once again quietly dropped out of the WCW picture.
When Pillman made his return, it was through a series of video montages (some of which featured his wife, Melanie) which depicted his new ring persona — “California” Brian. But the surfer-dude gimmick, not surprisingly, fell flat for Brian and he quickly disappeared again. The next time he resurfaced, Pillman had added another facet to his character. No longer the handsome good guy, or the overly arrogant Hollywood Blond — this time, Pillman was now “The Ticking Time Bomb,” a man ready to “snap” at anytime. As “The Loose Cannon of WCW,” Pillman regained much of the momentum he lost following his breakup with Austin, and soon found his way into the most elite wrestling group the world has ever known, Ric Flair’s Four Horsemen. With the veterans Flair and Anderson combined with the youth and talent of Pillman and former Stampede Wrestling cohort “Crippler” Chris Benoit, the newest incarnation of the Four Horsemen was formidable, indeed.
After joinging the Horsemen, Pillman began a bizarre (and now legendary) “worked-shoot” feud with WCW wrestler/booker Kevin Sullivan that culminated in the now infamous “I Respect You” match. With the “Time Bomb” being “fired” as part of the storyline, a strange and somewhat confusing series of events took place that resulted in life imitating art, and Pillman leaving the promotion — in mid-storyline.
After his sudden departure from WCW, Pillman had a brief but controversial stop in ECW before ending up in the WWF. But just as Pillman’s lawyers finalized a lucrative WWF contract for him, the young athlete was involved in an extremely serious car accident that almost caused him to lose his leg. The rehabilitation was long and painful, with Pillan’s career suffering a severe setback. However, he and the WWF made the best of a bad situation, and after several months, Pillman finally made his presence felt on WWF programming, primarily as a color commentator. Slowly, he worked his way back into the ring, but to his longtime fans, it was obvious that this was not the same “Flyin” Brian who had turned so many head in WCW his his amazing moves. But while Pillman’s in-ring ability was greatly diminished, his interview ability grew tremendously and totally compensated for his shortcomings in the ring.
Pillman resumed his feud with former partner Steve Austin, now known as “Stone Cold,” and was responsible for some of the first highly controversial angles the would later become the hallmark of the WWF in the latter 1990’s. Pillman, not surprisingly, considering his Horsemen roots, also found a “home” as part of the heelish Hart Foundation. After his controversial feud with Austin ran its course, Pillman began an equally intense war with the bizarre Goldust. It seemed that things were finally working out for Pillman after some very trying times.But then, out of nowhere, the crushing weight of reality hit Pillman’s family and fans like a ton of bricks. Just hours before the WWF’s Badd Blood PPV (where Pillman was to have wrestled) Brian’s lifeless body was found in his hotel room. At first, many reported (somewhat irresponsibly) that it was Brian’s use of drugs and alchohol that led to a fatal overdose. However, it was later established that Pillman suffered from a rare genetic heart imperfection, which not only caused the early demise of his father, but ultimately, his own. There is no question, however, that, ultimately, Pillman’s out-of-control lifestyle and use of certain types of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) was a major contributing factor in his untimely death. Following the news of his passing, the outpouring of grief from Pillman’s family, fans, and friends at both promotions was overwhelming. In a truly historic moment, stars from both the WWF and WCW appeared together on a fundraising card for Pillman’s family, a testament to how much he meant to those who knew him. In the years following his death, that “truce” has been observed once a year, for Les Thatcher’s annual Brian Pillman Memorial Show.
Undoubtedly, Brian Pillman was a man who, in many ways, was ahead of his time, constanting on the cutting edge, and was one of the single most influential wrestlers of the 1990’s. An innovator both in the ring and behind the mic, The Ring Chronicle proudly inducts this important, trend-setting figure from recent wrestling history into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…
By Steve Slagle