Today in Underrated and Under Appreciated we will take a look at one of the most influential wrestlers in modern wrestling- Flyin' Brian Pillman. I can sense you rolling your eyes at that statement. His influence on the in ring product is obvious, but his character work helped shape the top superstars of the past, present, and future.
"I respect you booker man."
Brian Pillman's path to the wrestling business was not an easy one. His father died early (from the same heart defect that would take Pillman as well) and he barely made it past the age of three due to dangerous throat polyps that required over thirty surgeries to fix. Despite his lack of size, Pillman was able to make it to the NFL when his hometown Cincinnati Bengals (Who Dey!) signed him as an un-drafted free agent. After a short stint with the Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, Pillman's football career took him to Calgary to play in the Canadian Football League. Injuries would force an end to his football career, setting him on course for his career in wrestling.
One of Pillman's former coaches directed him to the home of wrestling guru Stu Hart. After extensive training in the infamous Hart Dungeon, Pillman would make his debut for the family's Stampede Wrestling in November 1986. After a couple of years in Canada, he would return to the states under the banner of NWA/WCW, changing the face of American wrestling forever.
During his WCW days, Pillman became the first American wrestler to utilize a lucha libre inspired, high flying style at the top level of professional wrestling. His athleticism and style made him a fan favorite as he impressed crowds across the country with his dizzying array of aerial maneuvers.
On February 29, 1992, Pillman would open up SuperBrawl II with Japanese import Jushin Liger. For 17 minutes, the two wrestlers put on a masterpiece of high flying, lucha inspired wrestling. This match demonstrated the ability of their style to tell a story, while being visually impressive. In the wake of this match, many more high flyers and cruiserweights would get a shot at the big leagues. Their rematch on the debut episode of Monday Night Nitro would inspire Eric Bischoff to bring back the Cruiserweight Division.
Pillman's WCW run was also notable for his team up with Stunning (soon to be Stone Cold) Steve Austin. The Hollywood Blonds would have two runs as tag team champions; but more importantly, their work together would bring greater exposure to Steve Austin, and help catch the eye of the WWF.
Near the tail end of his WCW run, Pillman would unleash the Loose Cannon upon the world. The Loose Cannon gimmick would revolve on blending the lines between kayfabe and reality. He would regularly utilize worked shoots in his promos, seemingly as if he was ready to snap at any given moment. Pillman outed Kevin Sullivan as one of WCW's bookers during their match at SuperBrawl VI. The incident (along with a prior incident with Bobby Heenan) would lead to Pillman's firing from WCW (although Bischoff says it was planned all along).
Following his departure from WCW, Pillman would join the roster of ECW. In only a couple of short months with ECW, he would become one of the most controversial superstars in the entire business. He cut worked shoot promos on everyone from Eric Bischoff to the "smart mark" fans. His character was violent, profane, unstable and the talk of the town.
Pillman, after a couple of short months in ECW, had accepted a guaranteed contract with the WWF (the first guaranteed contract in the history of the company) when he was involved in a serious car accident in Kentucky. Pillman was in a coma for a week and his previously injured ankle was absolutely destroyed.
After a few months of recovery, Pillman would make his WWF debut, quickly aligning himself with his old partner Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin turned on Pillman because of the latter's kind words about Bret Hart. The Pillman-Austin feud would lead to the infamous "Pillman's Got a Gun Incident"...
Stone Cold launched a one man assault on Pillman's home. In response, The Loose Cannon produced a hand cannon to fend off Stone Cold and was seen at the end of Raw pointing it at him while screaming, "I am gonna kill that son of a bitch". He would then join the Hart Foundation in a continuation of his feud with Austin before moving on to a feud with Golddust.
Pillman was set to finish his feud with Golddust at Badd Blood, but a previously undetected heart defect (possibly compounded by his use of painkillers) caused his untimely death at the age of 35.
Brian Pillman makes an appearance in this series because he was an innovator inside the ring and out; but never gets his due credit and recognition. He was one of the most talented workers to step inside the squared circle and brought to prominence the high flying style of lucha libra. Outside the ring, Brian was a master on the stick and his Loose Cannon gimmick would send waves throughout professional wrestling. Pillman's character work was a major influence on Steve Austin's development of the Stone Cold character, CM Punk's blending of reality and kayfabe, and the work of Dean Ambrose: the past, present, and future of the wrestling business.
Pillman's matches with Jushin Liger:
and WCW Nitro, 09-04-95, Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman: