Thursday, October 5, 2017

20 Years Gone

Whether as a loose cannon or flyin', Pillman was special
Photo Credit:
Brian Pillman died 20 years ago today of a congenital heart defect that reared its ugly head just as he was about ready to become one of the biggest deals in WWE at the height of the Attitude Era. To have a ticking time bomb planted in you from birth cut you down when you're about to become a huge deal is the biggest tragedy possible without being able to place blame on someone for fucking it all up. But life has a cruelty about it, that folks like Pillman end up as "what if?" cases and not as complete, Hall of Fame-level careers. Make no mistake about it, if one were to compose a hard, objective set of criteria for whether or not a wrestler was a Hall of Famer, Pillman would have qualified even before his untimely death.

For one, Pillman was perhaps the most charismatic person ever to step into a wrestling ring. From his wild eyes to his raspy voice and command of the language in a way that made people turn around and listen to him, he was a magnet for attention spans. He made people stand at attention, even as he wasn't able to work at an adequate level thanks to his foot injury. The home invasion angle where he pulled a gun on Steve Austin was notable because, well, he pulled a gun on Steve Austin, but he was able to project both frightened paranoia and unpredictable madman behavior that really made adding in the shock value of the gun both superfluous and absolutely sensible.

But his WWE tenure was only a tip of the iceberg. For many people, he was the first real junior heavyweight to catch their eyes. World Championship Wrestling with Flyin' Brian gave people a taste of what was to come, even if he was more known for his freewheeling team with Austin as the Hollywood Blondes, working WCW into a shoot over his release, showing up for a cup of coffee in Extreme Championship Wrestling, and then his WWE tenure. But for fans around the end of the '80s and beginning of the '90s, he was a revelation.

Few people have had the lasting impact over long careers that Pillman had in his short one. He lit so many fuses and traveled down so many roads that it's hard to imagine his career not culminating in a WrestleMania main event and a place in WWE's Attitude pantheon alongside Austin, Rock, Vince McMahon, Mick Foley, and the Undertaker. Wrestling was better for having known him for however short a tenure he was within it.