Many of you know that I grew up watching professional wrestling in the 80s and 90s, and that I still have an affinity for the WWF and WCW stars of my youth. What I probably haven’t made as clear on this blog is my affinity for 1980s “heel” wrestlers. For those of you who don’t know, a “heel” is the evil bad guy in a professional wrestling storyline (“baby faces,” or just “faces” are the good guys). It always seemed to me that the heels always had the deeper and more entertaining characters, and few were more entertaining than “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Let’s start this post off with a video, shall we?
When examining a great heel, we must first examine what makes a great heel wrestler. There are a few kinds of heels. First, there’s the foreign “I hate America” heel. In the 80s and 90s, this heel was often portrayed as being from Russia, and then later on Iraq. They paraded around the ring with their nation’s flag, and basically shit-talked about America all day long. Next comes the Monster Heel. The name pretty much self explanatory. This, like the great André The Giant, is the seemingly insurmountably huge bad guy that no one can beat… No one but the hero with a heart of gold, of course. Finally, there’s the cocky yet cowardly heel. This guy is the most outspoken heel. He or she talks a big game, but then, when push comes to shove and he’s in the ring with the baby face, he cowers and cheats his way to victory. As you can see, that’s what Rick Rude was, and he was one of the best of the 80s.
As usual, however, let’s start at the very beginning. Richard Erwin Rood was born on December 7, 1958 in St. Peter Minnesota. Now, I don’t know if you all know this, but Minnesota was a huge wrestling hotbed in the 60s, 70s and 80s. First of all, the American Wrestling Association, which was owned and operated by the legendary Verne Gagne, was based in Minneapolis. Secondly, countless future legendary performers were born, or grew up, in the state, including “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Hawk and Animal of Road Warriors/Legion of Doom fame, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Nikita Koloff and Barry Darsow, who is best known for his roles as Krusher Kruschev and Smash of Demolition.
Rood, in fact, went to high school with Koloff, Mr. Perfect, Animal (Joe Laurinaitis), Darsow and fellow pro wrestlers Tom “Z-Man” Zenk, Brady Boone and John “The Berzerker” Nord. A lot of these guys actually worked as bouncers at the same bar, Grandma B’s in Minneapolis. Anyway, Rood began wrestling in 1982, after graduating from Anoka-Ramsey Community College, cutting his teeth in Vancouver’s NWA, and later with the famous Georgia Championship Wrestling. This was during the territorial times of wrestling, where guys traveled from region to region for months at a time, before Vince McMahon took the WWF national and ran everyone out of business in the mid 80s. Eventually, after runs in Memphis, Florida and Texas, he honed his character enough to be noticed by McMahon, and signed with the WWF in 1987.
By now, he was wrestling as “Ravishing” Rick Rude, with his cocky sex symbol type persona, and he debuted as the newest member of the legendary Heenan Family (managed by the great Bobby Heenan). You can probably tell from the video embedded above, but Rude was really pretty unlikable, in a great way. His shtick was to come down to what I can only describe as “sexy stripper music,” and then always proceeded to pick up the microphone, insult the men in the audience by calling them “sweat hogs” or something else that pointed out their superfluous girth, which he would follow by taking his robe off for the ladies to give them a show. Sometimes, he would pull out a woman from the crowd (now I know that it was obviously a plant) and kiss them until they fainted. What a guy!
His first feud was with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorf, who had recently turned his back on Heenan, but I think his two most famous feuds were with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior. The Roberts feud started when Rude attempted to woo a random woman from the crowd that turned out to be Roberts’ wife. As you can imagine, that was a no-no, and the situation was made worse when Rude grabbed Mrs. Roberts’ wrist after she had given him a good slap. Jake was not impressed, and that was enough to kick off the hatred. As was his wont, Rude began wearing tights with the fact of Roberts’ wife spread across his crotch… and ass, because that’s what he did to piss people off. It worked, and the two had a much heated feud for many months. That feud ended when Roberts beat him at Survivor Series in 1988.
Rude then moved on to the Ultimate Warrior, who was, at the time, one of the fastest rising good guys in the industry. Their feud began at the 1989 Royal Rumble, when Rude attacked Warrior during their “Super Posedown” competition. Rude eventually cheated his way over Warrior to win the Intercontinental Championship (he would lose it back to Warrior shortly thereafter). The feud picked up even more steam after Warrior won the WWF Title from Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI, but Rude was never able to wrest that belt away from the Ultimate one.
Soon after that, Rude left the WWF and joined Ted Turner’s World Championship Westling, where he had a very memorable feud with Sting (one of the biggest WCW stars of that and any time). That was pretty much the end of my Rude fandom, as I was not a big WCW supporter back in that day, but he did have a nice career there. However, it was during his feud with Sting that Rude’s in ring career basically came to an end. You can see it in the video here (1:18) but a weird ringside area, coupled with a dangerous move from Sting, caused Rude to severely injure his back and neck, and he was done as a wrestler. He would reappear a few years later in ECW, and eventually back in the WWF and WCW (he is famous for appearing on WWF Raw and WCW Nitro on the same night during the famous Monday Night Wars), but he was never close to the heights he reached from roughly 1987-1990.
On April 20th, 1999, at the age of 40, Rude died from heart failure. Like many wrestlers of that 80s and 90s era where steroids and drugs were rampant, he died far too young, and far before his entertainment value had ended. The official cause of death was an overdose from “mixed medications.” There’s no doubt in my mind that Rude would still be involved in professional wrestling if he were still alive today. He’d only be 53 years old, which means, sadly, that he might be back in the ring, depending on his back. I’d hope, instead, that he’d be on WWF, or even TNA television now as an executive character of some kind, no doubt causing trouble for today’s best baby faces. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, the “Ravishing One” was often imitated (Val Venis) but never duplicated, and he’s greatly missed. Hope you’re resting in peace, for all the ladies in the audience in heaven, and to the chagrin of all the fat, out of shape, Pearly Gate Porkers up there too.
Featured image courtesy of: WWE.com
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