Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Reflections from Roddy Piper

Our friend George Pantas had a chance to interview Roddy Piper when he appeared on a show with his group in the Norfolk area. It was included in his weekly internet article for the Norfolk Navy Flagship. There was some great Mid-Atlantic content and some real respect for those that helped him here, particularly the Andersons and Ric Flair.

Pantas did a four-week tribute to Piper, which you can find linked from here. We post the interview portion here with his permission. (Yiorgo is a "working name.") - - -


Yiorgo: Tell us about your first time with the WWF/WWE.

Roddy Piper: It was beyond cruel. I was wrestling in the (Grand) Olympic Auditorium (Los Angeles). I was 19-20 years old, and I get a call from Vince, Sr. (McMahon). They want to see me in Madison Square Garden. They fly me first class ... a limo picks me up at airport and we go to the Garden.

First guy I saw was Captain Lou Albano. He pinches my cheek and says, “Pisan, we’ve been watching ... you’re too good, we don’t want you here.” What a nice guy! “Classy” Freddie Blassie comes up, he hits me with his cane and says, “You pencil neck geek ... we’ve been watching you, we don’t want you here.” It was tough love. It did not mean anything to me.

Roddy Piper with George "Yiorgo" Pantas
I was in the third or fourth match. Now, a bagpipe is a wooden instrument and you have to tune it – and I did. I went out and I said to basically a crowd of 24,000, “I’d like for you to stand up for the Scottish national anthem.” I went to play the bagpipes and nothing came out. Now, when I was 14, I came in fifth in the world, playing the pipes. When I went to the back, I was heart broken. I didn’t understand it then, but ... To be continued.Roddy Piper: When they said they did not want me, they meant it! Blassie had put six feet of toilet paper up the chanter so it would not work. It was so cruel.

I just saw Vince a week ago (Ed. Note: December 2011) and he brought up that whole incident again. Vince just put his head down. It was so cruel! I never trusted them, and when I came back the second time, I had a tremendous amount of confidence that nobody could hurt me. Before, I came in like Bambi, the second time, I came in like a lion. I was hungry. Even at the first WrestleMania, they tried to downplay me and I would not have it. They did not realize the importance of the heel.

Y: Is there anything in professional wrestling that you would do differently?

R P: I would have knocked Mr. T out in WrestleMania II. The way he acted, I feel that way still to this day. You see, I was put in a training camp with Lou Duva, [Evander] Holyfield and others for five weeks. I could have taken him out.

Y: Can you share with us three memories of your time in the Mid-Atlantic area?

R P: One memory would be the third time I got stabbed in Raleigh, North Carolina, an inch from the heart and Sgt. Slaughter rushed me to the hospital in his camouflage limousine and took care of me. It was very wild times back then. It was unstructured and crazy ... I was working not only Mid-Atlantic, but Atlanta at the same time.

I suppose my second would be the first time Ric Flair and I started to have a serious run of matches. The chemistry between us was great for our careers and made a lot of money for a lot of people. It was so wild! I don’t know what to equate it to that you would understand ... there was a lot of gunplay and there were a lot of people with knives – it was hardcore as you can get.

My third favorite would be during the time I was in the Mid-Atlantic. You could feel the attention that professional wrestling was getting. Mid-Atlantic put out a card called Starcade. I think it was the first closed circuit show ever. I was also working Atlanta at the same time and I was selling out around the Atlanta and Mid-Atlantic territory at the same time. When we got to Starcade, that whole buildup, that whole thrust, is really one of the things that helped WrestleMania get started because it was getting so much attention throughout the world. You could see that wrestling was getting ready to become mainstream. That’s what I remember most about it.

Y: While you were in the Mid-Atlantic, who helped you the most?

R P: A guy that gets no credit, Ole Anderson. Ole was a genius when it came to drawing large money over and over again.

One time I was in Richmond with [Ric] Flair. It was the first time we were there and the building was sold out. We had a 45-50 minute match and the crowd was screaming. After the match, all of the wrestlers were giving me and Flair complements. Ole said, “You guys sucked! Piper, stop flying around. You need to keep your feet to the ground and be a fighter if you want to draw money.” I took that to heart, especially if you are fighting guys bigger than you. He was, and is, a real smart man.

With Ole and Gene Anderson, it was almost like a finishing school. It made me complete and I am very grateful to them. Ole was so blunt with his criticism that a lot of guys could not see what was good for them. I look at Mid-Atlantic as my finishing school.

Y: You and Ric Flair have remained good friends to this day, why would you say that is?

R P: You know, you learn a lot about a guy when you wrestle as much as Ric and I wrestled each other. You either gain or lose a real amount of respect. Flair is a go-getter also, and after a while, we respected each other from our work in the ring. You know, back in those days, you come into a town that you’ve been insulting for the last few weeks or beat up their hero, but you had to eat like everybody else. We were by ourselves – no security or nothing. You would fight your way in and out and Ric Flair was always there for me. When I got blackballed the first time, I had a little baby, and Ric did not care what anybody said. He took me out of the country and helped me to make a living. When you get that close you stay that close for life.