Babyface Genius and Loose Cannon: The Brian Pillman Story

pillman ecw 96

Editor’s note: this was originally planned as a supplement to a Wrestling Culture podcast episode. With that show currently on hiatus, please enjoy Dave’s written recap of Brian Pillman’s career.

Brian’s Pillman’s life story has been told in detail including his numerous surgeries for throat cancer in the first three years of life. He played college football and later played for the Cincinatti Bengals. After the NFL he played for the Canadian Football League which took him to Calgary where he was trained for professional wrestling by the legendary Stu Hart.

Stampede Years

Pillman had his first match on 10/25/1986 teaming with Ben Bassarab against The Great Gama and Vladimir Krupoff in Calgary Stampede Wrestling. He faced main eventer Makhan Singh (Mike Shaw) two days later and then teamed with Owen Hart and Con Kovidis against Singh, Viet Cong Express # 1 (Hiroshi Hase) and VC Express # 2 the next night. He had a number of matches opposing Cuban Assassin including a singles victory over him on November 11, 1986. Pillman spent the rest of the year teaming primarily with Owen Hart against combinations of the Viet Cong Express, Great Gama and Cuban Assassin.

On March 30, 1988 Pillman had his biggest match to date when he faced Stampede North American Champion Makhan Singh in a title match ending in a double disqualification. During March, Pillman formed his tag team Bad Company with Bruce Hart and had matches against Makhan Singh and Cuban Assassin. On April 5, 1987 Pillman and Hart defeated Ron Starr and Cuban Assassin to win the Stampede International Tag Team Titles. They continued with title defenses against Cuban Assassin and partners such as Drago Zhivago and Ron Starr and then had a series of title defenses against Kerry Brown and Duke Myers through the end of May. They then started facing Makhan Singh and Ben Doon McDonald in title defenses. Pillman also had singles matches against Bad News Allen and Gerry Morrow and he and Hart started facing Morrow and Cuban Assassin.

Pillman also found himself in the ring with Keichi Yamada, the future Jushin Liger. Pillman and Hart faced Morrow and VC Express # 1 and Great Gama and Makhan Singh. Pillman had singles matches against Jason the Terrible (Karl Moffat) and against Hiroshi Hase who had started wrestling under his own name. He and Hart faced Morrow and Singh and Jason the Terrible and Zodiak (Barry Orton). On November 11, 1987 Hart and Pillman lost the Stampede tag titles to Gerry Morrow and Makhan Singh. Hart and Pillman won the titles back two days later. They finished the year out with title matches against Singh and Morrow and Pillman having singles matches with Morrow.

Pillman started 1988 with matches against Singh, Morrow and Gama. Hart and Pillman defended the tag titles against Morrow and Gama. Pillman also had tag matches against Hashif Khan, better known as Gary Albright. On March 12, 1988 Pillman teamed with Bruce Hart, Owen Hart and Jason the Terrible and lost to Steve Disalvo, Great Gama, Gerry Morrow, Makhan Singh and Johnny Smith in a 5-on-4 steel cage elimination match. Pillman and Hart continued participating in Bunkhouse Elimination matches through the spring. On March 15, 1988 he lost to the Great Gama in a match for the British Commonwealth Title. Pillman and Hart had tag title matches against Rip Rogers and Kerry Brown, Cuban Assassin and Gerry Morrow and Goldie Rogers and Johnny Smith. On July 22 they lost the tag titles to Assassin and Morrow. Pillman wrestled into August and then there are no Stampede results for him for the rest of 1988. He did wrestle in Stampede in February and March of 1989. This included singles matches with Kim Schau, Goldie Rogers, Larry Cameron and Johnny Smith. He also teamed at times with Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith.

NJPW

Pilliman toured with New Japan Pro Wrestling in April 1989. Pillman had singles losses to Masa Saito, Tatsumi Fujinami and Naoki Sano. He teamed with Big Van Vader and lost to Fujinami and Riki Choshu. Pillman finished out the tour with two singles wins over Black Cat.

WCW Babyface Sensation

Pillman debuted in World Championship Wrestling (still known primarily as the National Wrestling Aliiance) on June 9, 1989 with a win over Bill Irwin. He faced Irwin numerous times in his first two months in WCW, including a victory at the July 23, 1989 Great American Bash pay-per-view. Pillman was also in the two-ring battle royal on that show. Pillman also teamed with Scott Hall several times early in this run and faced Mike Rotunda and Dan Spivey. Pillman’s main opponent through August and into September was Mike Shaw who was now wrestling as Norman the Lunatic. On September 10, 1989 Pillman teamed with Bobby Eaton for a disqualification victory over NWA World Tag Team Champions Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin. Pillman had matches against Eddie Gilbert and against Cuban Assassin (Fidel Sierra) in September. On October 10, 1989 Pillman teamed with Johnny Ace and lost to Hayes and Garvin. On October 23, 1989 Pillman defeated Irwin, Assassin and Gilbert in a $5,000.00 elimination match for a television taping.

Pillman had his biggest career match to that point on October 28, 1989 when he lost to U.S. Champion Lex Luger on the first Halloween Havoc pay-per-view. Pillman continued to have U.S. title matches against Luger through November and December. He also started teaming with “Z-Man” Tom Zenk and had numerous victories over Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin. Pillman also had singles wins over Hayes and had a t.v. victory over Kendall Windham.

Pillman teamed with Sting and Arn Anderson in a victory over Buzz Sawyer, The Great Muta and Dragon Master on January 12, 1990. Pillman and Zenk continued to team with victories over The State Patrol, and Hayes and Garvin. At Clash of the Champions X on February 6, 1990 they defeated The MOD Squad. Pillman faced Luger in a U.S. Title match on February 10, 1990 in his hometown of Cincinnatti, Ohio. Pillman won his first WCW championship on February 12, 1990 when he and Zenk defeated Hayes and Garvin in the tournament finals for the U.S. Tag Team Championship. Pillman and Zenk had successful title defenses against Hayes and Garvin, Rip Morgan and Jack Victory, the Midnight Express of Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane and Fatu and the Samoan Savage.  Pillman lost to NWA World Champion Ric Flair on March 4, 1990. In April 1990 Pillman and Zenk primarily defended against Eaton and Lane but also faced Ole Anderson and Arn Anderson. Pillman faced Luger in another U.S. Title match in Cinncinnatti on April 20, 1990. In early May, Pilliman and Zenk defended against combinations of Fatu, Samu and Samoan Savage.

On May 5, 1990 Pillman lost to Flair in an NWA World Title match on an AWA show in St. Paul, Minnesota. This was part of a brief WCW/AWA cross-promotion and was the main event of a show that also featured AWA World Champion Larry Zbysko losing by disqualification to Nikita Koloff. On May 14, 1990 Pillman defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in a television match. On May 16, 1990 Pillman lost to Flair in a title match in Dayton, Ohio. On May 19, 1990 Pillman and Zenk lost the U.S. Tag Titles to Eaton and Lane at the Capital Combat pay-per-view from Washington, D.C. Eaton and Lane defeated Pillman and Zenk in a re-match on May 30, 1990. Pillman lost to Mark Callous (soon to be known as The Undertaker) at Clash of the Champions XI on June 13 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Pillman spent May and June 1990 facing opponents such as Bigelow, Dutch Mantell and Buddy Landell. Pillman defeated Landell at the Great American Bash pay-per-view on July 7, 1990. Through July he had matches against The Iron Sheik and Mark Callous. Pillman teamed with Robert Gibson to defeat Ivan Koloff and Ron Simmons on August 12. Pillman teamed with Terry Taylor to defeat Eaton and Lane on August 20. Pillman and Zenk had more matches against Eaton and Lane who had lost the U.S. Tag Titles to Rick and Scott Steiner.

Dan Spivey beat Pillman on September 3, 1990. Pillman beat Harley Race on September 7. Pillman teamed with Ricky Morton and lost to NWA World Tag Team Champions Butch Reed and Ron Simmons on September 8. Pillman and Zenk teamed against Ric Flair and Arn Anderson on September 10 and then had a number of losses to Eaton and Lane. Pillman, El Gigante and Junkyard Dog lost to Flair, Anderson and Race on September 27 and to Flair, Anderson and Sid Vicious on September 28, 29 and 30. On October 14 Pillman lost to “The Black Scorpion” who was Bill Irwin under a mask. Pillman defeated Scorpion on October 25 in Toronto and again on November 1 and November 9. Pillman defeated Landell at Clash of the Champions XII on November 20. Pillman closed out the year facing opponents such as Rip Rogers and Motor City Madman.

Pillman lost to Sid Vicious on January 1, 1991. Pillman had several matches against Big Cat (Curtis Hughes) in January. On January 7 Pillman, Sting and the Steiners went to a double disqualification in a t.v. match against The Four Horsemen of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham and Sid Vicious. In February Pillman faced opponents such as Anderson, Terry Taylor and Rip Rogers. On February 24, 1991 Pillman teamed with Sting and The Steiners in a War Games match against Flair, Windham, Vicious and Larry Zbysko. Pillman’s shoulder was taped up going into the match which he started against Windham. Pillman worked underneath a lot of the match until Vicious started slamming him into the top of the cage. Vicious dropped Pillman on his head in a powerbomb spot before the referee called a stop to the match. El Gigante then entered the ring and carried Pillman to the back. This match was rated five stars by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

In March 1991 Pillman teamed with Owen Hart in a series of victories over Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin. On March 21 Pillman appeared on the joint WCW/New Japan Pro Wrestling show at the Tokyo Dome. Pillman teamed with Tom Zenk and Tim Horner and lost to Kuniaki Kobayashi, Takayuki Iizuka and Shiro Koshinaka. Back in the U.S in April, Pillman lost singles matches to Vicious and Flair and teamed with Sting in tag matches against combinations of Flair, Anderson, Windham and Vicious. Pillman had wins over Mike Graham and over Master Blaster Steel, better known today as Kevin Nash. Pillman continued to team with Sting as well as Dustin Rhodes against combinations of the Horsemen in May.

On May 19 at the first Superbrawl pay-per-view, Pillman lost to Windham in a taped fist match. On May 26, Pillman lost to Flair in a 2/3 Falls match for the WCW World Title match. On May 31, Pillman defeated Anderson in a taped fist match. On June 2, Pillman teamed with El Gigante to beat Anderson and Windham in a steel cage match. Flair defeated Pillman in WCW Title matches on June 3 and June 10. Windham defeated Pillman in taped fist matches on June 7 and June 9.

Yellow Dog

On June 12 at Clash of the Champions XV, Anderson and Windham defeated Pillman and El Gigante in a loser-leaves-town match in which Pillman was pinned. Pillman then donned a yellow mask and full yellow bodysuit and started wrestling as the Yellow Dog. This was a take on Windham having previously wrestled under a mask as The Dirty Yellow Dog in Florida in 1983 and 1984 during a feud with Ron Bass. Pillman worked as Yellow Dog teaming with partners such as Sting, Ron Simmons and Rick Steiner against Windham and other partners. Pillman/Dog wrestled Johnny B. Badd at the Great American Bash pay-per-view on July 14 and won by disqualification. In an article in WCW Magazine it was written that “”If it is conclusively proved that Dog and Pillman are one and the same, Pillman will be banned from WCW for life!” Pillman would pull his mask up during matches out of view of the official. The mask was on the line in a number of matches. There were also times in which Tom Zenk dressed as the Yellow Dog and appeared with Pillman. The angle disappeared shortly after Windham turned babyface and there was a supposed write-in campaign by fans to reinstate Pillman.

Pillman toured NJPW in August 1991. On August 7 he teamed with El Gigante and defeated Kengo Kimura and Osamu Kido. On August 9 Pillman and Black Cat lost to Hiroshi Hase and Kensuke Sasaki. On August 10, Pillman lost a singles match to Akira Nogami. On August 11, Pillman lost to future rival Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Pillman started wrestling as himself again in WCW in late-August 1991.

Light Heavyweight Champion

Pillman became the showcase player of the new WCW Light Heavyweight Title division. At Clash of the Champions XVI he defeated Badstreet (Brad Armstrong) in the first round (and also semi-final) of the tournament to crown the first champion. Pillman had a number of house show matches against Richard Morton and Johnny B. Badd. Pillman was then crowned as the first champion after defeating Morton in the tournament final at Halloween Havoc on October 27. Pillman had matches against WCW World Champion Lex Luger as well as Diamond Studd (Scott Hall). Pillman successfully defended the Light Heavyweight title against at Clash of the Champions XVII on November 19. Pillman started working matches with future tag team partner Steve Austin as well as Mike Graham.

On December 25, 1991 Pillman kicked off what was arguably his top in-ring feud when he lost the WCW Light Heavyweight Title to Jushin Liger in Atlanta, Georgia. Liger beat Pillman in a title rematch on December 26. At the Starrcade 1991 pay-per-view on December 27 Pillman teamed with Bobby Eaton and lost to Sting and Cactus Jack in the Battlebowl tournament.

Pillman re-formed his team with Tom Zenk early in 1992, losing to Abdullah the Butcher and Cactus Jack on January 6. They lost to U.S. Tag Team Champions Steve Armstrong and Tracy Smothers on January 14. On January 21 at Clash of the Champions XVIII, Pillman teamed with Marcus Bagwell and defeated Terry Taylor and Tracy Smothers. Pillman also teamed with Mike Graham against Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton and Eaton and Larry Zbysko. On February 29, Pillman regained the Light Heavyweight title from Liger in the opening match of Superbrawl II. This match is considered by many to be one of the classic opening matches for a pay-per-view.

Pillman defended the title against Johnny B. Badd on March 8 and then appears to have missed some time. On May 17 he defended the title against Tom Zenk at the Wrestlewar 92 pay-per-view. Pillman had regular title defenses against opponents such as Scotty Flamingo (Raven), Richard Morton and Greg Valentine. Pillman teamed with Liger in the tournament for the NWA World Tag Team Titles. On June 16 they defeated Chris Benoit and Beef Wellington in the first round at Clash of the Champions XIX. Pillman then faced Flamingo at the Beach Blast pay-per-view on June 20. Flamingo won the title in what was considered an upset.

On June 21 Pillman and Zenk lost to Steve Williams and Terry Gordy. On June 26 Pillman lost to WCW TV Champion Steve Austin. Zenk and Pillman had a series of matches with Dick Slater and Greg Valentine. On July 12 Pillman and Liger lost to Ricky Steamboat and Nikita Koloff in the quarterfinals of the NWA World Tag Team Title tournament. This match took place at the Great American Bash pay-per-view and was one fake Russian away from being comprised completely of all-time great wrestlers. Pillman had a number of matches against The Barbarian and also lost a match to Jake Roberts on August 13.

Heel Turn

Scotty Flamingo had lost the Light Heavyweight title to Brad Armstrong in July 1992. In September 1992, Armstrong suffered a leg injury and vacated the title before a scheduled a title defense against Pillman at a Clash of the Champions. Pillman confronted Armstrong over this and turned heel. Strangely, there was no tournament for the vacant title. After turning heel, PIllman had singles matches against Armstrong as well as Zenk. Through the fall of 1992, Pillman formed his legendary tag team with Steve Austin but it is also forgotten that he had a solid team with Barry Windham after he turned heel as well. Austin and Pillman’s first match together was against Scott Steiner and Marcus Bagwell.  They also had matches against Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas as well as Steamboat and Koloff and Douglas and Armstrong. Pillman lost a singles match to Steamboat at the Halloween Havoc pay-per-view on October 25.

On November 2, Sting beat Pillman in the King of Cable t.v. tournament. On November 9, Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham defended the WCW/NWA World Tag Team Titles against Austin and Pillman. Pillman beat Brad Armstrong at Clash of the Champions XXI on November 18. New NWA/WCW Tag Champions Shane Douglas and Ricky Steamboat defeated Austin and Pillman on November 20. Pillman and Windham defeated Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn (Tom Brandi) on December 7 and Brad Armstrong and Marcus Bagwell on December 9. Rhodes and Steamboat defeated Windham and Pillman on December 9. Crazily, Erik Watts defeated Pillman on December 28. At Starrcade 92 on December 28, Windham and The Great Muta defeated Pillman and Too Cold Scorpio in the Battlebowl tournament. Steamboat and Douglas defended the tag titles against Windham and Pillman on the same show.

During the vast majority of January and February 1993, Pillman and Austin wrestled Douglas and Steamboat for the tag titles including at Clash of the Champions XXII on January 13. On February 8, Steamboat defeated Pillman in a lumberjack match. Pillman and Austin defeated Tom Zenk and Johny Gunn on February 23. On March 8, Austin and Pillman finally won the tag titles from Steamboat and Douglas. Pillman and Austin then started a string of title defenses against Steamboat and Douglas and also defended the titles against Brad Armstrong and Robbie V (Rob Van Dam) and Too Cold Scorpio and Marcus Bagwell.

On April 15, Steamboat defeated Pillman in an Iron Man Match. On June 9, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Paul Roma (members of The Horsemen at the time) defeated Pillman, Austin and Windham. Flair and Anderson defeated Austin and Pillman in a 2/3 falls match at Clash of the Champions XXIII on June 16 and the two teams continued in a series of matches. Pillman and Austin defended the titles against Anderson and Roma at Beach Blast 1993 on July 18. Pillman and Austin were scheduled to defend the titles against Anderson and Roma at Clash of the Champions XXIV on August 18 but Pillman had a leg injury and was replaced in the match by Steven (William) Regal. This was during the period when WCW was taping television months ahead of time and had already taped interviews with Anderson and Roma as champions so the titles had to change hands. As a result, Pillman lost the titles without being in the match which is interesting since it was the last championship Pillman would ever hold.

Back to the Babyface Smile

Pillman continued teaming with Austin briefly and they had matches against Too Cold Scorpio and Marcus Bagwell as well as Sting and Ricky Steamboat. Pillman turned babyface which ended the team. At Clash of the Champions XXV Austin defeated Pillman in a singles match. Pillman started teaming with Sting and faced Austin and Rick Rude as well as Austin and Steven Regal. Pillman also continued to have singles matches with Austin, including for the WCW U.S. title after Austin won it from Dustin Rhodes at Starrcade 1993.

Austin was managed by Col. Robert Parker (Robert Fuller) at the time. At Clash of the Champions XXVI on January 27, Pillman defeated Parker in a match with the stipulation that the loser must wear a chicken suit. On February 13 WCW T.V. Champion Steven Regal defeated Pillman in a title match. On February 20 at Superbrawl V, Pillman Rhodes and Sting defeated Austin, Paul Orndorff and Rick Rude in a Thundercage match. Pillman continued to team with Sting and also have title matches with Regal and Austin through April. Pillman started teaming with Rhodes against Austin and Bunkhouse Buck.  Pillman defeated Diamond Dallas Page on July 15 and had a match with no winner against Jean Paul Levesque (Triple H) on August 11. Pillman had a series of matches against Bobby Eaton as well as title matches against Regal. Pillman closed out this run in WCW with losses to The Honky Tonk Man in October 1993.

On November 19, Pillman made a lesser-known appearance in ECW teaming with Shane Douglas against Ron Simmons and Too Cold Scorpio. Pillman made his return to WCW on January 11, 1995 with a win over George South. On March 21 he teamed with Johnny B. Badd and challenged Harlem Heat of Booker T and Stevie Ray for the WCW World Tag Team Titles. On April 5, Pillman challenged Arn Anderson for the WCW TV Title. On April 13, Pillman defeated Bunkhouse Bunk in the first round of the U.S. Title Tournament. Pillman lost a TV Title match to Anderson on May 3. Pillman lost to Meng (Haku) in the second round of the U.S. Title Tournament on May 21. Pillman defeated Bubba Rogers on May 27 in the first round of the Slim Jim Challenge and then lost to Paul Orndorff in the second round that same night. Pillman then had matches with Alex Wright.

BOSJ

Pillman travelled to New Japan Pro Wrestling for the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in June 1995. On the first day of the tournament he teamed with Alex Wright and lost to Norio Hanaga and El Samurai. In the tournament, Pillman had wins over El Samurai, Chris Benoit, Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) and Black Cat which gave him eight points. He had losses to Wright, Gran Hamada, Shinjiro Ohtani, Koji Kanemoto and Dean Malenko. Pillman and Hanaga had a tag loss to Malenko and Kanemoto. Pillman and Hamada defeated Samurai and Kanemoto. Pillman teamed with Malenko, Benoit, Wright and Black Tiger to defeat Samurai, Ohtani, Hanaga, Kanemoto and Hamada. Wright and Pillman lost to Kanemoto and Takayuki Iizuka. Pillman and Malenko lost to Ohtani and Keiji Mutoh. On the last day on the tour on July 13, Pillman, Wright and Malenko lost to Akira Nogami, Samurai and Hamada.

Birth of “The Loose Cannon”

Pillman returned to WCW and defeated Marcus Bagwell at Clash of the Champions XXXI on August 6. He teamed with Arn Anderson to defeat Bunkhouse Buck and Dick Slater. The first WCW Monday Nitro on September 4 kicked off with Pillman facing off against Liger in a rematch of their legendary series. Pillman then launched himself back into the spotlight at Fall Brawl 1995 on September 17. He lost to Johnny B. Badd in a good match early in the show. Ric Flair and Arn Anderson were in a feud at the time and during their match Pillman interfered on behalf of Anderson, turning heel and holding up the four fingers that were the symbol of The Four Horsemen. Flair defeated Pillman in a singles match on Nitro the next night. Pillman also lost a title match to WCW U.S. Champion Sting. On October 16, Sting teamed with Flair against Anderson and Pillman on Nitro. Then, at Halloween Havoc on October 29, Pillman and Anderson faced Sting and Flair and lost by disqualification when Flair turned on Sting. Flair, Anderson and Pillman then re-formed the Horsemen and were joined in the group shortly after by Chris Benoit.

Pillman started developing the Loose Cannon persona for which many people remember him. He started teaming with both Anderson and Benoit, including a win with Benoit over Scott and Steve Armstrong. Pillman lost to Eddie Guerrero on Monday Nitro on November 20. Pillman was in the sixty-man three-ring battle royal at World War III on November 26. Randy Savage won that match to win the vacant WCW World Title. Lex Luger and Sting defeated Pillman and Anderson on Nitro on November 27. Pillman lost to WCW TV Champion Johnny B. Badd on November 29 and spent the rest of the year teaming with Pillman and Benoit. On December 15, Pillman appeared on a Stu Hart Tribute show in Calgary and teamed with former partner Bruce Hart in defeating Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. by disqualification.

Pillman defeated Dean Malenko on Nitro on January 22. Pillman defeated Eddie Guerrero on Clash of the Champions XXXII on January 23. This was the famous match in which Pillman grabbed Bobby Heenan while he was on commentary and made him swear on live television. Pillman defeated The Renegade on Nitro on January 29. Pillman and the Horsemen were feuding with Kevin Sullivan and the Dungeon of Doom at the time and had a series of matches against Sullivan, Hugh Morrus and Meng. Anderson and Pillman defeated Morrus and Sullivan on Nitro on February 5 in Pillman’s last full match in WCW. Pillman then had the famous “Respect” match with Sullivan at Superbrawl VI on February 11. The match had a stipulation that the man to say he respected the other would lose. Pillman grabbed the mic right at the beginning of the match and said “I respect you, booker man” in a worked shoot storyline based on Sullivan being the WCW booker at the time. The lengthy story of the politics regarding this angle and it leading to Pillman being released and able to negotiate between WCW and WWF have been covered elsewhere and can be read elsewhere.

Pillman appeared in ECW while between WCW and WWF. When he first appeared he got a strong reaction from the crowd but he turned on them and called them “smart marks”. Pillman continued to appear and have confrontations with Shane Douglas. Before being able to have a match in ECW, Pillman crashed his hummer on April 15, 1996 and sustained injuries that impacted him for the rest of his life. He was in a coma and he shattered his ankle before having it surgically fused into a walking position. Pillman did sign a contract with WWF in June 1996 and did a calm press conference before turning back to his Loose Cannon persona. Pillman was not able to wrestle when first going to WWF and he did eventually do an interview segment and commentary. He feuded with Steve Austin including a segment in which Austin placed Pillman’s ankle in a chair and jumped off the top rope onto it. Pillman later had the filmed confrontation with Austin at Pillman’s home in which Pillman had a gun.

The Hart Foundation

Pillman returned to the ring in mid-1997 and joined The Hart Foundation with Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart. This was a great run with the Hart Foundation playing on Canadian patriotism and Pillman playing into this even though he was American. On May 5, 1997 Pillman teamed with Owen and Smith and lost to Steve Austin and The Legion of Doom in a dark match of a Monday Night Raw taping. Pillman and his team lost a rematch in a dark match the next week. The L.O.D defeated Pillman and Neidhart on Raw on May 26. Pillman lost to Mankind (Mick Foley by disqualification on RAW on June 9. Pillman lost to Austin by disqualification on Raw on June 16. Pillman defeated Mankind by disqualification on June 30. Pillman was a part of the legendary Canadian Stampede pay-per-view for WWF on July 6 teaming with Owen, Bret, Smith and Neidhart and defeating L.O.D., Goldust, Ken Shamrock and Austin in Calgary, Alberta.

Pillman then had house show matches with Jesse James (Road Dogg) and Flash Funk (Too Cold Scorpio). This includes the one time I was able to see Pillman live when he defeated Flash in Sydney, Nova Scotia July 20, 1997. Pillman lost to Goldust at Summerslam on August 3. Pillman lost to Bob Holly by countout the next night on Raw. Pillman was feuding with Goldust at this point and had a storyline in which Pillman claimed a past relationship with Goldust’s wife Marlena (Terri Runnel) which was based on Pillman having actually dated her. Pillman made a challenge that if he beat Goldust at the In Your House pay-per-view on September 7, Marlena would be his servant for thirty days. Pillman won the match and was getting strong reactions at this time. He was wrestling against Goldust and Dude Love (Mick Foley on house shows) leading to the Bad Blood pay-per-view in St. Louis, Missouri on October 5, 1997. Pillman was scheduled to face Dude Love on the show and if he lost he was to face Goldust. This was quite obviously set up for Pillman to wrestle twice that night. Pillman had his last match when he lost to Goldust in St. Paul, Minnesota on October 4. Sadly, Pillman was found dead in his hotel room the next day after suffering a heart attack

Carrying On

Pillman’s wife Melanie Pillman was interviewed by Vince McMahon on Monday Night Raw the next night in what was seen as a controversial move. Pillman left behind five children including his stepdaughter Alexis who would become involved in wrestling as valet Lexi Pillman in 2008 before dying in a car accident in 2009. Brian Zachary Pillman would go on to play high school football and his daughter Brittany Pillman has talked about having a very difficult childhood after her father passed away, noting that her father’s sister Linda did a lot to help them and that she currently receives strength through Christianity.

Pillman has left a legacy in wrestling of an all-time great babyface and high-flyer earlier in his career and an all-time great character later in his career. He has also been referred to by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter as having a great mind for wrestling and being a student of the game. More importantly, Pillman left a legacy of a man and father taken before his time at the age of thirty-five.

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Author: Dave Musgrave