Ravishing versus Flyin'

Twenty years ago I would have named "Ravishing" Rick Rude, 6'3", 251#, and "Flyin'" Brian Pillman, 6', 227#, among my top five favorite wrestlers on TV. I favored Rude because he was better built, cocky, and bad, and perhaps too he got some bonus points from the English teacher in me for leaving the "g" at the end of a present participle. I liked Pillman because he was energetic, focused, and versatile, and he was one of the most expressive sufferers in pro wrestling. Twenty years ago this very month in Gainesville, Georgia, Rude and Pillman contended for the World Championship Wrestling belt, which then belonged to Rude, and the collision of these two dynamos would have kept me glued to the TV set even if the match had sucked. That it was in fact fantastic is why I am writing about it today. (You can watch the full match here.)

First, if it was a squash job, it didn't feel like one. Pillman, 29, posed no serious threat to Rude, in his prime at age 33. Pillman was a perfect foil for Rude, blond and boyish to Rude's dark and rugged handsomeness, and Pillman sold Rude's ruthless moves with his whole body, head to toe, with grand gestures and dramatic contortions readable from the back row of the arena. His hot-headed unpredictability offset the heel's methodical cunning and ensured that the match had a reasonable chance of ending in an upset. However one-sided the fight was in most ways, Pillman's spurts of ire and moxie made his eventual beating seem less inevitable, providing drama and suspense to the proceedings, and making Rude's successful title defense all the more impressive. 

Pillman's assaults on Rude's upper thigh muscles and, especially, a spectacular corner mount at the climax of the bout were compelling in and of themselves. Stomping the big cock-of-the-walk close to his groin, Brian made it clear he aimed to carry away the man's manhood, along with the championship belt. Busting an opponent's nuts up on the corner post in order to bang his thigh or knee against the ring post is one of those pro-wrestling moves that still seize me with simultaneous dread and exhilaration. Even dragging a man by his leg to the corner is, all by itself, an act brimming with (for me) obvious phallic symbolism. That Pillman chose the moment right as he posted Rude's leg to make hard eye contact with Rude's slippery manager, Paul E. Dangerously, made it look as if the assault was, vicariously, directed against Dangerously too. Corner-mount drubbings are likewise reliably thrilling, erotic and savage, and the combination of these well-deserved assaults on Rude showed that Pillman was no mere luck-of-the-draw jobber, but a serious contender and potential threat to the champion's position at the top.

Credit goes to Rick Rude, too, for making it look like Pillman had a chance of winning. The subtlety of Rude's salesmanship here and in other matches testifies to his acting talent. Conveying the sense of a bruised ego while not once relaxing his urbane contempt for his opponent must have been a difficult balance to strike. And Rude did not automatically rebound from Brian's repeated assaults on his leg. Rude limped with enough conviction that you might have thought he had been seriously hurt, and, in the man's typically complicated performance style, he made the limp as sexy as most men's swaggers. Last, but definitely not least, you have to love Rude's arrogance, from the way he peels off his spangled robe to the smug side glances he throws Brian's way before the start of the match, from his smarmy show of sportsmanship by extending his hand to a skeptical challenger to his kneeling double bicep pose over the man's gasping, prostrate body. The suddenness of his finisher--the "Rude Awakening" neckbreaker--ended the match with almost shocking abruptness. It was almost as if Rude were saying, "I'm done with messing around with this punk," but even then shiny perspiration and forced breathing managed to convey that the ordeal had been a scarily close call for him and his ravishing ego.

The only improvement I can think of would be that Rude should have been in hairy-chest mode when this fight occurred. Other than that one deficiency, the match strikes awfully close to my idea of perfection.


  1. This was the match that started it all for me! Thanks for the spotlight on it. Pillman's trunks and mullet, RAD! Rude's 'tude and body. DAMN.


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