One of the most despised wrestlers of all time eventually became one of the most beloved.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Real Name: Roderick Toombs
Stats: 6′ 2″ 240 lbs.
Born: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
By Steve Slagle
“Just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions!”
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper has gone down in wrestling history as one of the greatest promo men of all time…and with good reason. His superlative interview skills were unrivaled during his prime, and his ability to use the microphone enabled the physically unimposing Piper to rise to the top of a business populated by heavily muscled juggernauts.
In professional wrestling, the directionless, troubled young Piper (after leaving home at a very early age) found a way to beat the streets, and, at the same, live out a dream. Little could he, or any one else, have know what a huge impact he would eventually have on the “sport” when he first broke in. But Piper did make an impact of wrestling, one that cannot be ignored or forgotten…
After entering the business while at the age of sixteen, Piper paid his dues wrestling at the bottom of the card for several years until he had a chance to develop and mature a bit as a performer. However, once he had done so, his career quickly began to take off. On February 12, 1976, Piper defeated the popular Chavo Guerrero (pictured) to become the NWA Americas champion. The victory, by far the biggest of his career up to that point, not only put Piper on the map as a legitimate pro, but it also launched a very bitter, emotional feud between the hyperactive young Scot and the talented, high-flying young Mexican-American superstar.
A few months after becoming the Americas champion, Guerrero regained the title from Piper in Los Angeles. As the feud continued on and grew in intensity, the two battled over both pride and the Americas championship, trading the prestigious title back and forth several times during the mid-seventies. In terms of the Tag Team division, Piper was equally successful; and he won the NWA Americas Tag Team title three times in 1976 (twice with Crusher Verdu and once with The Hangman) and again in 1977 with another young up-and-coming named Keith Franke, who later gained fame as Adrian Adonis. All total, Piper would enjoy four reigns as the NWA Americas champion and five as co-holder of the Americas Tag Team championship, winning each of his titles long before he had even reached his twenty-first birthday…
Although his height was not a problem, at 180 lbs., Piper’s lack of physical bulk was sometimes hard for certain promoters to see past, and he was, at various times early on in his career, relegated to the lighter weight divisions. Of course, with the abundance of talented workers in the smaller weight classes, Piper was never at a loss for quality opponents from whom he could learn and then improve. On April 13, 1977, 19 years old “The Rowdy Scot” defeated his old nemesis Chavo Guerrero for the NWA World Light-Heavyweight title in San Bernadino, CA., only to lose if back to Chavo a few days later.
Following his successful run in southern California, he traveled north to Oregon, where the slightly heavier Piper’s winning ways continued. The young heel captured the NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight title by going over the rugged New Zealander Jonathan Boyd on February 17, 1979 and held the prestigious regional title for four months before dropping the belt to former WWWF champion Stan Stasiak. Later in 1979, Piper teamed with “Easy” Ed Wiskoski (later known as Col. DeBeers) to win the San Francisco version of the NWA World Tag Team title.
By the time the seventies ended and the eighties began, Piper’s stock as a money-drawing performer was at last rising, and it was during this time that he truly started to emerge as a legitimate wrestling star. No longer a seen as an inexperienced Lightweight who should be relegated to the smaller territories within the NWA, the brash young Scotsman was booked in some of the top regions of the country and he soon began to make an impact nationally. Shortly after entering the booming Mid Atlantic territory in 1980, Piper immediately made his mark by defeating Paul Jones in the finals of a tournament to crown the new Mid Atlantic TV champion.
Then, after enjoying two months as the TV champion, Piper gladly vacated his ‘stepping-stone’ title when he shocked the wrestling world by defeating the heavily favored Ric Flair (pictured) to become the new NWA United States champion. Picking up the prestigious U.S. Heavyweight championship was definitely the biggest title win of his career up to that point, and his victory over “The Nature Boy” seemed to give Piper instant credibility with fans across the country, serving notice to the public that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper had finally arrived.
After holding back the challenge of the former champion Flair in a series of brutal rematches, the young-but-experienced Roddy Piper went on to enjoy a lengthy (and highly controversial) reign as the United States champion, the #1 man in the territory and top contender for the NWA title, before eventually being toppled by Wahoo McDaniel some eight after months after winning the prized championship.
In the months following his loss to McDaniel, Piper made an unexpected debut as a color commentator on the most watched wrestling program of the day, NWA Georgia Championship Wrestling, which was seen nationwide on Superstation TBS. At this time, Piper was still a relative unknown to the vast majority of wrestling fans when he joined longtime play-by-play man, “The Dean of Wrestling Announcers” Gordon Solie, on the highly-rated Saturday evening program. Originally, Piper was very neutral in his commentary, and, while he definitely pointed out any rule infractions made by the “good guys,” he also showed no favoritism towards the heels. At the same time, the broadcast team of Solie & Piper truly complimented each other, and their chemistry behind the microphone was evident from the start. Meanwhile, at the same time he was announcing in Georgia, Piper continued a light schedule of matches in the Mid Atlantic region.
However, as time passed, Piper’s new calm & cool demeaner ever-so-slowly began to give way to the hyperactive, confrontational Piper of old. At first, Piper would slip in an occasional off-the-cuff comment about one of the Georgia fan favorites. But then, over the course of several weeks, his verbal attacks became more frequent and biting. Also, more often than not, the target of his biased commentary was the father-son combo of Bob & Brad, The Armstrongs.
Originally, Piper seemed to be giving praise to the popular NWA National Tag Team champions, especially the 18 year old Brad Armstrong. In fact, Piper began going out of his way to point out how Brad was carrying the weight of the team, and that his father’s influence was actually stifling the young star’s potential. Naturally, the elder Armstrong took exception to Piper’s comments, and after weeks of verbal antagonism from Piper, “Bullet” Bob finally snapped…
The ensuing Piper vs. Armstrongs feud set the already successful Georgia territory on fire, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper quickly became the most despised man in the promotion. Conversely, Piper, a wrestler that the Georgia fans truly loved to hate, became one of the biggest draws in the NWA. In addition to his intense rivalry with the Armstrongs, Piper also found himself involved in several bitter feuds against other top Georgia fan favorites, including former NWA champions Tommy “Wildfire” Rich and Dusty Rhodes, as well as the legendary Mr. Wrestling II.
Eventually, Piper left his announcing duties and returned to full-time action. However, he did so after leaving the Georgia promotion to once again begin competing exclusively in the Mid Atlantic territory. In November of 1981, he defeated the ultra-popular Rick Steamboat to win the region’s second most prestigious championship, the Mid Atlantic Heavyweight title, in Greensboro, NC. As always, Piper wasted no time in establishing himself as a controversial and dominant heel champion, and he went on to hold the coveted regional championship for six months before finally being defeated by former NWA World champion Jack Brisco on March 10, 1982. From there, Piper and Brisco engaged in a heated rivalry that lasted for months and resulted in several title changes. Two months after losing his Mid Atlantic championship to Brisco, Piper regained the title on July 7, 1982, seemingly evening the score. Then, just a month later, Brisco got the last laugh when he defeated Piper for the title in Raleigh, NC. But a few months following his loss to Brisco, Piper (who had, by this time, once again begun taking bookings in Georgia in addition to his Mid Atlantic schedule) was quickly back in the championship picture, and he regained his old Mid Atlantic TV title by upending Dick Slater on March 27, 1983 in Ashville, NC., only to lose the title back to Slater a little over a month later.
However, perhaps more importantly, somewhere along the way, the Mid Atlantic fan’s hated for the (previously) hyperactive, scheming and underhanded Piper began to metamorphasize into an unexpected respect and admiration. Indeed, Piper (heretofore the consumate pro wrestling heel) suddenly, surprisingly emerged as one of the babyface-rich Mid Atlantic region’s top fan favorites. That status was cemented when, during an episode of Georgia Championship Wrestling, Piper rescued his former announcing partner Gordon Solie from an unwarranted attack by Don Muraco. By coming in and defending the popular (and defenseless) announcer from the bullying Muraco, Piper instantly converted those who had hated him for so long into loyal fans.
With Georgia and Mid Atlantic fans solidly in his corner, Piper became a two-time United States champion by defeating a young and talented Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in April of 1983, touching off another bitter feud that lasted for months before culminating in on of the most famous ‘payoff’ matches in history. With the innaugural Starrcade as the stage, Piper and Valentine pummelled, battered and bloodied each other in a Dog Collar Match that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
The impact Piper made while wrestling in the Mid Atlantic and Georgia territories was truly profound, and within two years, he went from being virtually unknown to the vast majority of wrestling fans to establishing himself as one of the elite performers in the business. With his name value at an all-time high, and having honed his considerable mic skills to perfection, it’s no surprise that Piper was contacted by the World Wrestling Federation during the earliest stages of Vince McMahon, Jr.’s national expansion. Having conquered the two most successful promotions in the entire NWA, Piper, in a life-altering decision, opted to explore the new challenges & opportunities that were awaiting him in the WWF…
Upon entering the Federation in early-1984, the babyface “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was long gone, and the talented young veteran (by the time he entered the WWF, Piper was only in his mid-twenties, yet he had nearly a decade of ring experience to his credit) quickly became the single most hated man in the WWF, and perhaps the entire “sport.” Yet, at the same time, he was undoubtedly also one of the most entertaining, and, without Piper’s stellar performances as the Fed’s top ‘bad guy’, it’s quite possible that those early years of the WWF and Hulk-a-mania would not have been nearly as successful.
And speaking of The Hulkster, Piper (with his ever-present bodyguard, Bob “Ace” Orton, by his side) was WWF champion Hulk Hogan’s primary challenger for quite some time in the months immediately following Hogan’s WWF title victory over The Iron Sheik. Indeed, the long-running Hogan-Piper feud was one of the most important (and profitable) in World Wrestling Federation history, and it eventually headlined the main-event of the innaugural WrestleMania, which featured Hogan teaming with TV & film star Mr.T to face the duo of Piper and Orton.
While his choice of opponents and his cheating methods definitely enhanced his status as ring villian, it was Piper’s exemplary speaking skills that truly put him over the top as the WWF’s most hated heel. Piper’s unique ability to genuinely infuriate the audience was clearly a rare & valuable skill, and the WWF wisely took full advantage of it by giving Piper a weekly interview segment called “Piper’s Pit.” Each week, the controversial, hyperactive “Hot Rod” would interview a WWF superstar, most of whom were popular babyfaces. The segments were designed to advance ongoing feuds and, as was often the case, launch new ones. For instance, Piper’s famed wars with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Bruno Sammartino (pictured) and several others all began as a result of something that happened during an episode of “Piper’s Pit.”
The unique idea of having a heel host a talk segment would go on to be a very successful & influential concept, one that, in the following years, spawned many imitations including “The Flower Shop” (Adrian Adonis/WWF), “The Danger Zone” (Paul E. Dangerously/NWA), “The Snake Pit” (Jake Roberts/WWF), “A Flair for the Gold” (Ric Flair/WCW), “The Heart Break Hotel” (Shawn Michaels/WWF) and several others. However, despite the very entertaining moments created by these “Piper’s Pit” copies, none of them could duplicate the excitement and controversy that was created by the original…which says more about the host than the idea itself.
Over the course of the next several years, “Rowdy” Roddy continued to entertain his audience while maintaining his status as one of the WWF’s most famous names. As had been the case in the NWA several years earlier, the WWF fans slowly began to respect the crazy-but-tough-as-nails Piper, and he eventually made the transition from a hated heel to a beloved babyface…a status that he would enjoy for the remainder of his career, which, considering his talent at portraying a heel, is a bit surprising.
In 1987, the now incredibly popular Piper made the surprising announcement that he was retiring from wrestling and that his upcoming match with Adrian Adonis at WrestleMania III would, in fact, be his last. While it is natural for wrestling fans to take any type of retirement announcement with a grain of salt, Piper seemingly proved the sceptics wrong by actually disappearing for quite some time after his victory over Adonis. And, as the fans would soon learn, he did so with good reason…
Capitalizing on the worldwide famed he had gained as one of the WWF’s top names, Piper got his foot in the door of the movie industry beginning in 1987 when he made his big-screen debut in Hell Comes to Frogtown, which was followed by the wrestling spoof Body Slam, also released in `87. While neither film was particularly successful, Piper hit paydirt in 1988 when he was hired by veteran director John Carpenter to star in the sci-fi thriller They Live (pictured). The film was a major hit at the box-office, and Piper received universally positive reviews of his performance. His success in They Live enabled Piper to continue his ‘retirement’ from wrestling by keeping very busy in Hollywood. All total, Piper has more than twenty motion pictures to his credit and while most of them were B-films that were released straight-to-video, his movies were consistent money-makers.
Eventually, though, Piper did return to wrestling, and after having been a main-event level competitor in the World Wrestling Federation for nearly a decade, Piper finally won his first (and only) WWF title when he captured the Inter-Continental title by defeating The Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) on January 19, 1992 in Albany, NY. However, after waiting all of those years to win a WWF title belt, Piper’s run with the I-C gold would turn out to be (relatively) shortlived. Following a heated program against The Mountie, Piper dropped the title to a friendly rival, Bret “Hitman” Hart (pictured) on March 5, 1992 in Indianapolis’ Hoosier Dome at WrestleMania.
After losing the Intercontinental title, Piper made the transition from wrestler to commentator, a position at which he excelled. Serving as lead announcer Vince McMahon’s color commentator (on the WWF’s main syndicated program, WWF Superstars of Wrestling as well as on pay-per-view and, for a time, Monday Night Raw) Piper was able to continue persuing his goals in Hollywood, while maintaining a high-profile position in the business.
This was the case for several years, until the mid-nineties when Piper was lured back into ring action by the controversial, quasi-homosexual performer named Goldust (pictured). It was against Goldust that Piper engaged in his final WWF feud, which culminated in a wild, no-holds-barred “Hollywood Back Lot Brawl” at WrestleMania. Following his entertaining, and rather violent, program with Goldust, the popular veteran again faded from the wrestling scene and returned to Hollywood.
However, as had always been the case with previous Piper ‘retirements’, the continued call of the ring was too loud for “The Hot Rod” to ignore. Yet, this time around, the sounds were emenating not from Titan Tower in Stamford, CT., but rather, from Ted Turner’s Atlanta-based WCW…
In 1997, Piper made his surprising WCW debut by entering the promotion and immediately renewing his classic feud with Hulk Hogan, who by this time was leading the N.W.O. as “Hollywood” Hogan. While their matches in WCW where generally far less exciting than their wars had been ten years earlier in the WWF, the Hogan-Piper feud garnered several very good buy-rates for WCW pay-per-views, and this second phase of their long-running feud was definitely a financial success, if not an artistic one. During the last few years of the nineties, whether as a wrestler or as the WCW Commissioner, Piper (along with his longtime friend, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair) remained a major thorn in the side of the New World Order, feuding not only with Hollywood Hogan, but also with NWO co-founders Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, as well as Syxx (X-Pac). Then, on February 8, 1999, nearly twenty years since his last reign as the U.S. Heavyweight champion, Piper defeated Bret “Hitman” Hart to capture the WCW United States title in Buffalo, N.Y. His run with the belt, however, would turn out to be short-lived when he lost the championship to Scott Hall just two weeks later in Oakland, CA.
Following his run in WCW, the self-made millionaire returned home to Portland in order to spend time with his wife and their many children, as well as to heal his battle-torn body. However, not surprisingly, he did eventually get involved with wrestling again, by promoting occasional independent cards in the Pacific Northwest as well as briefly for the XWF. Additionally, following his retirement from active competition, Piper continued working in Hollywood as an actor. Given his track record, it seems likely that — no matter how long he may be away from the scene — “Rowdy” Roddy Piper will always come back (in some form or fashion) to wrestling for as long as he can. The “sport” is clearly in his blood, and that can only be considered a good thing for pro wrestling…
Without question, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of the most important and influential figures in pro wrestling during the late twentieth century, and it is our pleasure to induct the world-famous wrestler/actor into his rightful place within the H.O.W. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……