Ronda Rousey has conquered UFC, acted in Hollywood action movies, and, at SummerSlam, achieved a childhood dream by winning the WWE Raw Women’s Championship.
The following day, the 31-year-old MMA icon dedicated the victory to her wrestling idol, WWE Hall of Famer ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, who died in July 2015, aged just 61.
One of the all-time greats, ‘Hot Rod’ happens to be my all-time favourite wrestler and the reason I became such a passionate fan of WWE (then WWF) back in 1991.
It is well known that the ‘Hot Ronda’ logo on Rousey’s T-shirts and the kilts she wears are in tribute to Piper, whom she met through MMA star Gene LeBell, who helped train both of them.
She has also worn his iconic black leather jacket to the ring for her matches and was honoured to be given permission to use the nickname ‘Rowdy’ by the great man himself.
But Piper rarely gets the credit he deserves for his role in bringing pro wrestling out of dark smoky arenas and into the mainstream with huge TV ratings in the mid 1980s.
Sure, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, but after the tributes following his sad passing in 2015, I rarely heard his name mentioned on the company’s programming.
That was until Rousey came along and made her official debut at this year’s Royal Rumble, wearing the aforementioned leather jacket, given to her by Piper’s son.
Hot Rod was billed throughout his grappling career as hailing from Glasgow, Scotland but, many casual wrestling fans may not know that he was actually Canadian.
Roderick Toombs was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1954, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, before living all over the country during his childhood.
For more information on his early years, I highly recommend you read the excellent book ‘Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story’ released in 2016. This autobiography was started by Piper and completed by his children April and Colt Toombs after his passing.
His bagpipe playing was no gimmick though, and he was a highly respected player, which was how he got his wrestling name. One of my personal favourite memories is being inside a sold-out Wembley Stadium in London, watching Piper play his bagpipes at SummerSlam 1992.
Piper spent a number of years wrestling in various territories throughout Canada, Japan, Puerto Rico and the USA.
He then joined the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) in 1984, shortly after his infamous dog collar match with Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine at Starrcade 1983 for the NWA. Piper lost an estimated 50 to 75% of his hearing due to a busted eardrum in this brutal match.
In fact, 1984 was a banner year for pro wrestling in the USA as the WWE, led by ambitious owner Vince McMahon and his top star Hulk Hogan, took over the business.
Major entertainment stars such as Cyndi Lauper became actively involved in storylines, with The A-Team’s Mr. T stepping into the ring at the inaugural WrestleMania on March 31, 1985.
This period was known as the ‘Rock n’ Wrestling’ era, with Hogan getting his own hit cartoon show, WWF being shown on MTV and wrestlers starring in music videos for the likes of Lauper.
Piper was pushed as the top heel or villain during this period and feuded with Hogan. They met on MTV at an event titled ‘The War to Settle the Score’ in February that year, in a match that ended in a disqualification, with Piper challenging Mr. T to leave the front row and jump into the ring.
This moment led to the first WrestleMania and from then on, the company never looked back. Piper was an amazing villain and the perfect foil for Hogan at the time.
His supreme gift of the gab was showcased on his weekly talk show, Piper’s Pit, in which many iconic moments occurred and feuds started, such as Andre the Giant turning on Hogan in 1987, and of course Hot Rod smashing a coconut over the head of Jimmy Snuka.
Piper briefly left wrestling after WrestleMania 3 in 1987 and began appearing in movies. His biggest and best role was in the John Carpenter film ‘They Live’, released in 1989.
Piper was fantastic in this cult classic and uttered possibly his most iconic phrase ever – “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Piper returned to WWE in 1989 and remained in the business on and off for the rest of his life, including spells in WCW and TNA.
He continued to wrestle after a hip replacement in the mid-1990s and even won the WWE tag team titles with Ric Flair in 2006, only his second championship in the company, after winning the Intercontinental title at the Royal Rumble in 1992.
And after defeating cancer, first diagnosed in 2007, he teamed up with Snuka and Ricky Steamboat to face Chris Jericho in a losing effort at WrestleMania 25 in 2009.
I truly believe that if Piper had not been chosen to rival Hogan during the ‘Rock n’ Wrestling’ era, sports entertainment would not have taken off as it did. Piper’s skill on the microphone and ability to wind up fans was a crucial part of the appeal at the time.
Sadly, in my opinion, the crucial role he played in helping establish WWE as the commercial juggernaut it is today and his subsequent legacy in the business is not heralded enough.
I get goosebumps every time I see Rousey walk to the ring wearing her Piper-inspired kilt and shirts paying tribute to my wrestling hero.
It appears WWE women’s division is going to be built around Ronda for the foreseeable future, which means ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper will never be forgotten. I hope he never is.