Roderick Toombs was larger than life.
No one ever questioned Piper’s size. Even billed at six feet, and battling the likes of the overhyped Hulk Hogan or the under-appreciated Dustin Rhodes; even in the New York office that has looked to big, strong men, and bigger heels, since the 1960’s; even when his mouth …. Well, that’s foolish, since Rowdy Roddy always got into trouble with his mouth, and built heat with his mouth, and used the stick to draw countless fans to numerous arenas, TV screens and PPVs across the world.
When someone had to be the foil for the Hulkster’s debut on the mainstream, for the vaunted MTV battle, there didn’t appear to be second thoughts about Piper’s involvement. Sure, it was a tag team match, but was it because people didn’t want to see Hogan vs Piper, or was it because getting Mr. T was important?
Take Piper out of the mix and what was left? No offense to Paul Orndorff, an often overlooked talent that tried his best to carry Hogan, but Piper took the hype into the stratosphere, and gave reason for the match. To speak of Piper’s importance in that era, don’t overlook that Piper never got pinned by Hogan or T in the big battles.
Piper predated Jessie Ventura’s heel at the broadcast booth role, when he appeared on Georgia Championship Wrestling with to Gordon Solie. He trail-blazed the commentary of a bad guy, juxtaposed against the solid, believable, credible voice of an all-time great against the wild, incredulous, overly hyped (and odd voice) of the Rowdy Scotsman.
I fondly recall Piper’s return to GCW, when the late, lambasted Buzz Sawyer screamed “Piper, Piper, Piper,” and out came Roddy, moving aside the podium and shushing Gordon, and laying into the Mad Dog. That played out the heel’s homecoming, but the bigger thing from that era of Piper as a babyface was a feud for the ages, detailed and visualized by the Apter Magazines, between Piper and Greg Valentine.
Their blood feud culminated in a cage match of epic proportions.
In many ways, that set the table for Piper’s triumphant entrance into the WWF, where he established himself as a lead dog, returned to his heelish ways, and let his mouth put him on the map. Piper elicited hatred, he made the fans want to see him get beat, and he was outlandish to a degree that probably cannot be duplicated.
What he called Bruno Sammartino in the ring was crazy and foolish and the epitome of heeldom even if it crossed the line. When he painted himself half-black to spout a crazed promo on Allen Coage, it also went over the line, a racist angle by any perspective. Piper’s battles with Adrian Adonis and Goldust undoubtedly have more than a few references, utterances about a lifestyle that would utterly doom him today.
Ironically, Piper’s greatest legacy is helping to cement Hulk Hogan as the babyface of all time, but Hogan’s antics of about a decade ago haunted Piper’s last weeks on the planet. Perhaps someone should have read more into that crazed talk on the Rich Eisen show (did it speak of something dire with Piper’s health, or merely coincidence?)
Perhaps we can see Piper’s attempt to get fans to move on from the anti-Hogan bandwagon as a way to protect his own professional investment in Hogan’s celebrity face. But that bandwagon should have been long beyond Piper’s reach a long time ago, and Piper’s legacy as a heel, even with all his babyface and tweener and even that Age in a Cage debacle, seem to have cemented him as someone fondly remembered (as is true with that Meltzer adage).
What’s weird is that Mixed Martial Arts where Piper’s legacy may have a longer duration.
Piper was a Golden Gloves amateur boxer and reportedly a Black Belt in Judo (from Gene LeBell). LeBell, of course, has been involved with Ronda Rousey and held a stopwatch at a few of her early wins. (That clock doesn’t get used long, that’s for sure). If Piper were born in this millennium, would he be a professional wrestler (too small, not muscular enough but great on the stick but who cares about that?)
No, he’d more likely be a MMA fighter, with that training and the potential to go far in that business, which is slowly recognizing what the Diaz Brothers already know.
Ronda Rousey’s dedication of her UFC 190 bout to the man who (undoubtedly, gleefully) gave his blessing for her use of the “Rowdy” nickname means that he’ll be getting some references to one of the best and baddest in the world this week, and for some years to come.
What’s weird in this tangent is that Beth Correia pulled out a heel play from the Rowdy Scotsman’s playbook. If she knew of Rousey’s family history before she said what she said, she’s a bigger heel than I imagined. If not, she definitely pulled a coincidental play out of Piper’s ability to heel himself, using her mouth to be a bigger draw, to sell more tickets, to be a more attractive opponent for the Champion than would be considered possible by just looking at statistics.
Mostly because the statistics on the other side were so dominant.
Maybe someone trying to be like Piper could play the same angle, even though Ronda said she just gave an example why they should not. Maybe Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, if in the professional wrestling fantasy world, would attack the Judo expert mother of Ronda. But then again, it would be better in the real world to play it out like Piper. Even if Correia already played that card.
In the vein of Roderick Toombs, there is little chance anyone can play that role to the Rowdy degree these days. Hollywood writers are a timid bunch, other promotions haven’t a shred of creativity, Vince McMahon is a cautious businessman, and we all saw what happened to Hogan based on an old recording.
But there’s one person in the MMA world that could pull it off, and I don’t mean that punk from the professional wrestling world, I mean the guy living across the Firth of Clyde from Piper’s ancestral homeland… Conor McGregor.
The tomb of Roddy Piper could be engraved with the epigraph “Here lies the last, great heel”
Roddy Piper exists in the memories of the insanity of Jon Moxley, the aspirations of Titus Machiavelli, and the affectations and cackling of UltraMantis Black. On the mainstream, the watered-down version of Piper tries to poke through with Dean Ambrose, with Bram, with the woefully miscast Steve Corino.
Heels are a dying breed in the professional wrestling business, and sadly the business lost another person who could teach a lot of things (even bad ones, by example) and could have given more back, even if he gave his life to this crazy industry.
The era of the Tweener killed the heels dead. Killed the babyfaces as well, but babyfaces exist to vanquish heels, not the other-way-around. At some point, heels became dangerous, unfashionable and uncontrollable.
Well, that’s what heels are supposed to be, and that’s where Piper excelled. It does make for interesting speculation for the afterlife, because Piper’s famous profession and infamous role makes him a lot like Niccolo Machiavelli, a man who preferred the interesting potential of that other place.
But wherever Roderick Toombs is, I’m sure it just got a bit interesting.