You know him as the kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing bad guy of the WWF WrestleMania era. Forever he will be linked to Cyndi Lauper, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
But do you know all of Roddy Piper’s career? I’ve watched virtually all of it. I’ve ranked the definitive moments of his career. My criteria is based on a couple of things: 1) Did it make money? You may have a favorite moment that’s not on the list. I’m not judging by what I like. I’m basing this on did it lead to a bigger paycheck. 2) Did it lead to something or have a lasting effect? There are things on this list you may not have heard of before. But those events, while not as famous as some, played key roles in Piper’s career at those moments and later on. 3) It must be in the context of pro wrestling. That’s why “They Live” isn’t on the list.
Keep that in mind as I give what I believe is the definitive list of the Top 10 Moments in the Career of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper:
10) La Cucaracha. Southern California, once one of the hottest territories thanks to Freddie Blassie, John Tolos, and Gorgeous George, was in its dying days in the mid 1970s. A young Roddy Piper first cut his teeth as the brash “Lean Mean Machine” and the most hated man in the Los Angeles-based territory. Feuding with Chavo Guerrero (Eddie’s brother, Chavo Jr’s father), Piper pushed the bounds political correctness to taunt the primarily Mexican audience by wearing sombreros, ponchos and riding striped donkeys from Tijuana to the ring. One day, Piper brought his ever-present bagpipes to the ring in the Olympic Auditorium and promised to make amends with the Latin fans with a promise to play the Mexican National Anthem on the bagpipes. In a solemn tone, Piper worked the crowd into standing in reverent silence. The silence exploded into nuclear heat when Piper broke into “La Cucaracha.” It was a sign of things to come.
9) The Hair Match. Playboy Buddy Rose recruited Piper to come to Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest territory in 1979. Piper came to Portland as a heel. There’s only room for one top bad guy. A mishap in a tag match lit the fuse for the most epic feud in Portland since the 1960s. Not since Lonnie Mayne had Portland seen such a dynamic baby face. Buddy Rose went on a tangent of hair matches, cutting the hair of lower level baby faces like King Parsons.
After months of build up, Piper wrestled and shaved the head of Rose’s tag team partners, The Sheepherders (aka The Bushwhackers). Fans were at a fever pitch waiting for the showdown. In 1980, Roddy Piper put his hair on the line against the golden locks of Playboy Buddy Rose. Holding the match in a larger arena, Roddy Piper shaved the head of Buddy Rose. Actually, Piper and Rose both won that day. It was reportedly the biggest single pay day in the history of Don Owen’s promotion. Roddy Piper learned a lot in Portland. He always said that he and Buddy Rose made each other during his time in Portland.
8) The First Heel Commentator. Before Jesse Ventura sat next to Vince McMahon on Saturday Night’s Main Event, there was Roddy Piper. It was 1981 and the cable wrestling boom was the hottest thing on television. Georgia Championship Wrestling was the first cable TV show to be seen by a million people. Roddy Piper came to Georgia, not as a wrestler, but as the color commentator for the legendary Gordon Solie.
On the mic, Piper not just rooted for the heels and put himself over but, unlike Ventura, Piper explained psychology and technique to the viewer. Yes, it was in the context of the show, but it worked. After a while, the heat on Piper was so hot, they had to turn him baby face. During an interview segment, heel Don Muraco began bullying and threatening Gordon Solie over some allegedly biased announcing. As the menacing Muraco inched closer to the 50-something broadcaster, tension grew. Finally, from the corner of the screen, Roddy Piper rushed in to save his broadcast partner. From despised to loved in 30 seconds.
7) The Dog Collar. Starrcade ’83. Jim Crockett Promotions turned its annual Thanksgiving night card to an event. In front of a turn away crowd in Greensboro and thousands watching on closed circuit television throughout the Carolinas, Ric Flair regained the NWA World Title from Harley Race in a steel cage. There were two big semi-main events: Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle lost the NWA World Tag Team Championships to Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood.
The other match was a legendary dog collar match. Roddy Piper, bleeding from the ear, courageously battled Greg Valentine in the perhaps the match that stole the show. It was the highlight of Piper’s run in the Mid Atlantic territory. Shortly he would be gone and on to the WWF.
6) Poor Frank Williams. “Just when they think they have the answers, I change the questions!!” With that phrase, a legend was truly born. Roddy Piper was brought into Vincent K McMahon’s nationwide expansion of the WWF to manage Paul Orndorff and David Schultz. As he had throughout his career, his mouth talked him into a higher place on the card. His weekly “Piper’s Pit” segment is the definitive wrestling interview that has constantly been imitated, but truly never duplicated. You can’t even think of a second best. In one of the first ever Pits, Piper showed how he could take a perennial jobber like Frank Williams and find a way to make it interesting. After attacking Williams and literally shoving him off of the set, Piper set the tone for his career and defined himself in the mind of WWF fans.
5) Hollywood Backlot Brawl. Piper is best known for his promos, obviously. He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his in-ring style. Being a smaller guy for his era, Piper relied on brawling and rarely leaving his feet to portray the image as a tough guy. All of the promo ability in the world wouldn’t matter if Piper didn’t have some credibility bell to bell. In 1996, Dustin Runnells was at his peak as the controversial, androgenous Golddust character. He was so good at blurring the lines of sexuality that Scott Hall, Razor Ramon, refused to feud with him at WrestleMania 12. Enter Rowdy Roddy Piper. As he did several times in WWF history, Piper stepped in as last minute replacement. The Hollywood Backlot Brawl featured stunts, a firehose, and a certain infamous white Bronco (remember, it was 1996). While it had it’s silly moments, the Backlot Brawl was a solid, entertaining match, maybe the best match of a lackluster WrestleMania.
4) WrestleMania 8. Roddy Piper never held a major, recognized world heavyweight championship. He would say he never needed it. He might have been right. In 1992, Piper held his only major WWF title. After beating The Mountie in January, Roddy Piper defended the Intercontinental Championship against a still-rising Bret “Hitman” Hart in an outstanding match at WrestleMania 8. It was Piper’s best in-ring performance on a large stage. Bret Hart calls it the match that made him.
3) The Return. Piper was the last bastion of kayfabe. When others were exposing pro wrestling, Roddy Piper was still talking about ‘fights’. After the end of the main event of Halloween Havoc ’96, Roddy Piper shocked the world by showing up in rival WCW at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas and confronting a now-heel Hulk Hogan for the first time since 1985. Eleven years later, with Piper as the good guy and Hogan as the heel this time, Piper showed he could still draw. I don’t know, but I would guess from 1996 to 1997 was probably the most financially lucrative run of this wrestling career.
2) The Coconut. Is there a more legendary angle in pro wrestling? With the whack of a coconut across Jimmy Snuka’s forehead, Roddy Piper sold out arenas throughout the northeast, including Madison Square Garden. Piper even drew a huge crowd with an 18-year-old Tonga Kid as the substitute for Snuka.
Wherever he went, this moment followed him. In many ways, it’s his number one moment. But it can’t be number one on my list because of Jimmy Snuka. An amazing talent, Snuka had personal issues outside of the ring that cut this very lucrative feud short.
For memories, it’s number one.
1) The War to Settle The Score. This lead to the first WrestleMania, by far, the WrestleMania with the highest public profile ever. 1985 was the peak of the music video era. MTV drew it’s biggest rating as Hulk Hogan defended the WWF championship in Madison Square Garden against white-hot Rowdy Roddy Piper. Not surprisingly, chaos ensued and it built to pro wrestling’s first nationwide extravaganza. While many give Hulk Hogan and Mr. T credit for WrestleMania’s success, it’s the bad guys who draw money in wrestling. People paid to see Roddy Piper get his comeuppance at WrestleMania One.
WrestleMania 1: Essentially I lumped “The War to Settle the Score” and WM1 together. I didn’t give it it’s own spot because WM1 was a culmination. Piper never had many other major WWF matches with Hogan again.
The Flower Shop. This probably should be on the list. Piper went from the most hated man to the most popular in just a few months in 1986. His feud with Adrian Adonis, while not memorable, did show Piper has a dynamic good guy.
“I Scare Flair!” Piper became an unlikely US Champion in 1981. His feud with Ric Flair was one of the hottest in the country.
WrestleMania 2: Terrible match, great results. An awful worked boxing match turned the Long Island crowd against Mr. T. T’s performance was so bad, Roddy Piper became the hero again.
Many pro wrestlers claim to be trailblazers. Roddy Piper blazed a trail like no other.
I first saw Roddy Piper as a 10 year old kid watching Portland Wrestling. He was, to this day, the most captivating personality I have ever seen.
He had his highs and lows over his career. I chose to remember The Hot Rod, the greatest improvisational talking I had had ever seen.
As a guest on my radio show, many times Piper said this quote. Now, I say this to Piper, “May you be a half hour in heaven before the devil knows you’re dead.”
RIP Rowdy Roddy Piper.