He was one of the brightest stars in the AWA and gained fame in the WWF. Meet one of the most accomplished performers in professional wrestling, Rick Martel.
Real Name: Richard Vigneault
Stats: 6′ 0″ 236 lbs.
Born: March 18, 1956
During the explosion of popularity for professional wrestling in the 1980’s, most people remember that Hulk Hogan was the champion of the WWF and Ric Flair was the champion of the NWA – but they often forget the champion of the other major promotion, the AWA – that man was Rick Martel.
Martel began wrestling in 1972 when his brother, wrestler Pierre Martel (also known as French Martin), asked him to substitute for a another wrestler. He did not have to wait too long before finding success. He teamed with Don Muraco to win the Hawaiian tag team titles in 1978 and captured the the British Empire/Commonwealth title in 1977. In 1980 he won the Pacific Northwest title and teamed with Rowdy Roddy Piper to hold the promotion’s tag team titles and later the team gained the Canadian tag team belts. With all of this success in the tag team ranks, the WWF beckoned and he partnered with Tony Garea to defeat the Wild Samoans for the WWF tag team belts and after losing the belts, reclaimed it by defeating the Moondogs in July of 1981. After losing the belts to Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito three months later, Martel decided to pursue singles wrestling and moved over to the AWA.
Martel had wrestling in his blood as his brothers Michel and Pierre both held the Stampede North American title. While Michel would tragically die after a match in Puerto Rico, Pierre would later win the WWC North American title. (Note: Neither Rick nor his brothers are related to wrestler Sherri Martel.) When Rick went to the AWA he was determined to make his family proud.
Martel entrance in the AWA was certainly timed well. Hulk Hogan was the top star in the promotion and was a sure bet to defeat Nick Bockwinkel for the Heavyweight title but he unexpectedly jumped to the WWF. Bockwinkel subsequently dropped the belt to Japanese star Jumbo Tsuruta. On May 13, 1984, Martel took on Tsuruta and captured the AWA World Heavyweight title. Young, athletic and good looking, Martel was a fan favorite and represented himself well. After losing the title to Stan Hansen in December of 1985, Martel was lured back to the big money offered by the WWF. Unfortunately, the WWF was entering its period of promoting only larger than life wrestlers (Hogan, Andre the Giant, Big John Studd, etc.) and Martel was relegated back to tag team duty (one might argue that Vince McMahon, Jr., the owner of the WWF simply brought in Martel in order to diminish the championship-caliber talent in the rival AWA.) Nevertheless, Martel enjoyed further success, teaming with Tom Zenk to defeat the Hart Foundation for the WWF tag belts in October 1987 and later teamed with Tito Santana to form the popular team of Strike Force.
Eventually Martel returned to single wrestling as the arrogant “Model” in 1989 and then spent a number of years working with independent promotions. In 2000 Martel entered WCW and won the WCW Television title before suffering a knee injury that would ultimately force his retirement.
Rick Martel is one of those wrestlers whose career, but for circumstances, may have taken him to greater heights. Had he not left the AWA, the promotion may have been able to compete with the NWA and WWF rather than folding and Martel may have become the promotion’s franchise. On the other hand, had the WWF not been so obsessed with pushing it’s tallest and heaviest stars, Martel may well have been a fan favorite in the singles ranks. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a great deal of success over the years and continued to receive respect everywhere he went.