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WRESTLING COLUMNS

A Decade Later: Brian Pillman
October 16, 2007 by Kevin E.


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October 5, 2007 marked the ten year anniversary of Brian Pillman's untimely passing. I never heard much about Brian in the nine years I have been a wrestling fan, and even today it seems he is overlooked as someone who was able to change the business.

Born on May 22, 1962, Brian overcame obstacles throughout his life. In his early childhood, Brian went through 40 some-odd operations to remove a recurring throat cancer that left him with his trademark raspy voice. He was always considered too small to make it big in sports. When he did well in high school football, no college gave him a scholarship. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and set a record for tackles for loss, but was not picked up in the NFL Draft. He went to the Cincinatti Bengals as a free agent and was able to make the team. He went to the CFL and played for the Calgary Stampeders before deciding to try wrestling.

Brian went to Stu Hart and trained in the infamous Hart Family "Dungeon" before moving on to the family's famous promotion, Stampede Wrestling. He formed a tag team with Bruce Hart known as Bad Company, and together they won several tag team titles. Jim Ross, who was working for WCW at the time, was sent a tape of Brian's work and immediately signed him to come to WCW.

"Flyin" Brian Pillman debuted in WCW in 1989 and immediately caught the eyes of the fans with his high flying manoeuvres. He formed an unspectacular tag team with Tom Zenk before being crowned the first WCW Light Heavyweight Champion by defeating Ricky Morton in the finals of a tournament. Brian would go on to a classic match with Jushin "Thunder" Liger at SuperBrawl II that is still talked about to this day.

In 1993, Brian turned heel and started teaming with "Stunning" Steve Austin, becoming the Hollywood Blondes, undoubtedly one of the best tag teams of that era. Their matches with Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas, along with their cocky and brash personas, instantly got them over with the fans. Unfortunately, the higher-ups at WCW only saw the Blondes as mechanics to get other teams over. With that, the two were separated and Pillman began his next singles run.

Brian began to develop one of the most creative and unorthodox characters of his time, the "Loose Cannon" persona. One never knew what Brian was going to do, and he was seen as a crazy, adrenaline-filled maniac. He was recruited by Arn Anderson and Ric Flair to be a member of the Four Horsemen at Halloween Havoc '95, but left in February of '96 due to the politics of the company.

He arrived in ECW, immediately making an impact by shockingly turning heel and provoking a feud with Shane Douglas. The two simply engaged in a war of words due to a nasty accident; Brian fell asleep at the wheel of his Hummer on April 15, 1996, and crashed into a tree, flipping the vehicle and shattering his ankle, turning his foot a complete 180 degrees. This would be a turning point in Pillman's life; the injury affected not only his ability in the ring, as he now had to become a mat-based wrestler, but it also affected his mentality, as the constant pain of the ankle and the acceptance of knowing he could no longer do what made him famous started a downward spiral of painkiller use and addictions.

Brian was signed to WWE (then WWF) on June 10, 1996, and was the first superstar to ever be signed by the WWE to a guaranteed contract. Brian's old tag team partner, Steve Austin, was now "Stone Cold", a ruthless, foul-mouthed heel that feared no-one. Austin jumped on a folding chair that contained Brian's injured ankle, "Pillmanizing" it and sending Brian off so he could further recover from his injury. This led to the infamous "Pillman's Got A Gun" angle on Monday Night RAW, in which Austin invaded the Pillman home and Brian retaliated by threatening Austin with a gun on live TV, which drew nothing but criticism.

Brian returned in 1997 and, due to his close ties with the Hart Family, was inducted into the Hart Foundation, led by legendary wrestler Bret "Hitman" Hart. Pillman continued his feud with Austin and entered into a feud with Goldust. At SummerSlam 1997, Brian lost a match to Goldust, forcing him to wear a dress. Brian got a rematch the next month with added stipulations: should Brian lose, he would leave the WWE. Should Brian win, he would get Goldust's valet, Marlena, for 30 days. Using Marlena's loaded purse, Brian won the match and got Marlena, exploiting her in the infamous "Triple X Files".

It was around this time that Brian was truly breaking down. His painkiller addiction became worse and worse, and Brian was starting to accept the fact that he couldn't do his very best anymore because of the pain. On October 5, 1997, Brian was scheduled to meet Goldust on the pay-per-view Badd Blood, but never showed up. He was found dead in his Minnesota hotel room at the age of 35, eventually ruled to be the result of an undetected form of heart disease, more than likely genetic, as his father had died from the same disease. Jim Ross commented on the Brian Pillman DVD that he believed Brian died of a broken heart, because he finally accepted that he couldn't do it anymore.

It is a true wonder what Brian could have become if that tragic car accident did not occur, or even if he did not die as soon as he did. Brian was undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the unpredictable behavior we see in so many wrestlers today. He brought high flying wrestling to the table in a time where it was not widely accepted in the states. In my mind, Brian is not over-rated in anyway. He was always as good as people make him out to be. Should circumstances have changed, he could have been even better.

by Kevin E. (View/Submit your feedback here)..




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