"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." - Mark Twain
He was never known for being a big guy. He was never known for his power. Instead, he was known as one of the most talented men to ever step foot in the squared circle.
He was one of the first American wrestlers to bring over a lucha libre-type style and became one of the founding fathers of the cruiserweight division. He was and always will be one of my favorite wrestlers even though his life was cut tragically short.
His name was "Flyin'" Brian Pillman.
14 years ago, I was watching the "Free 4 All" that WWF (no panda dictates how I speak) would offer before pay-per-views (PPV). It honestly needs to be brought back as it was a good vehicle for getting over low card talent. Badd Blood: In Your House, live from St. Louis, MO, was on tap. It would be the first event that the Hell in a Cell would be featured and fans anticipated the bout.
But Vince McMahon came on the screen with a very uncharacteristic look on his face. Then came the words that no wrestling fan, let alone a 14-year old kid, ever wants to hear. He solemnly announced that Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room earlier that morning.
I was shocked. It was the same feeling that I got in my gut a year and a half later when Pillman's fellow Hart Foundation stablemate Owen Hart fell to his death 250 miles away in Kansas City, MO.
How could this be? Your favorite wrestlers don't die. They may disappear from your TV set but they don't die. In the days that followed, I scoured every wrestling website I could find to see if any information had come out. Reports that he had been acting weird lately -- sleeping on the locker room floors -- had leaked. Many speculated that it was an overdose. He was a wrestler after all.
I couldn't believe it though. When the autopsy came out saying that he had died of a heart disease that he didn't even know about, I was somewhat relieved.
The first time I'd ever seen Pillman wrestle, I was immediately hooked. From what I can remember, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was replaying the SuperBrawl II match between him and Japanese legend Jushin Liger. The two men wrestled for 17 minutes, pulling out all the stops. They used moves I'd never seen before. I was used to the basic slams, rest holds, punches, kicks, and maybe someone would go to the top rope for a double axe handle.
Pillman and Liger were using the ropes in ways that made my 8-year old mouth drop to the floor. Pillman would be on the outside and Liger would dive over the top with a running summersalt. It seems tame now but at the time, it seemed amazing. This was also the first time I saw a movie I've now seen a 1,000 times from 1,000 different wrestlers. Liger leapt from the top rope looking for a crossbody only to find Pillman in midair delivering a drop kick. Something so simple blew my young mind. I was hooked instantly and became fans of both men.
After that match I saw the star of Pillman continue to rise and rise. He went on to be part of one of my favorite tag teams, partnering with Steve Austin as The Hollywood Blondes. I was a fan of both of these men as singles wrestlers and as a tag team, they were just about perfect. The best thing about these two guys was not that they were great in the ring -- although they absolutely were -- but listening to them cut a promo. Pillman and Austin knew their way around a mic.
After he left WCW, I didn't get to see anything he did in ECW until years after his death because we didn't get much of the Philly promotion here in Texas. I would read about it on websites and couldn't help but wait for him to finally make it to the WWF.
The day finally came and I was happier than a kid in a candy store even if he never really wrestled the way he used to. He couldn't. A car accident mangled his ankle.
But I was just happy to have one of my favorite wrestlers back on TV. He soon aligned with another one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, a man whose family trained Pillman and gave him his start in the business in Stampede Wrestling.
Pillman decided to join Bret Hart and the Hart Foundation as a Canadian sympathizer. I loved that Pillman came out every week pushing Bret in the wheelchair or using "The Hitman's" crutch as a fake gun. He was a guy that you had to watch because he could steal the show without saying a word.
Not to mention the infamous "Pillman has a gun" episode of Raw.
Brian Pillman left a legacy that few men will be able to match. He helped establish an entire genre of wrestling in the US that still dazzles audience. Evan Bourne, John Morrison, and the entire TNA X-Division owe "The Loose Cannon" a debt of gratitude. He played crazy amazingly well both inside the ring and out. He was an all-around true talent.
What he lacked in size and power, he more than made up for with talent and heart.
Thank you Brian for everything you did. You are and always will be missed.
Edited and promoted to the Front Page by Sergio Hernandez
Rodie Jon is the co-host of The Wrestling Aficionado podcast, presented biweekly on Cageside Seats