By Brad Carroll
Over my years as a newspaper sports writer and editor, I've had the opportunity to interview some big names in the world of sports, and some of my most enjoyable and favorite interviews have come from the world of professional wrestling.
So, with WrestleMania 33 just days away, I thought it would be a good idea to look back on those interviews and let our loyal readers have a peak inside the world of professional wrestling from some of the biggest names ever. We're talking guys like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash, Kurt Angle, Jerry Lawler, Christian and Jimmy Hart.
We'll break it down into seven parts, each focusing on some interesting tidbits to come out of each interview subject, which for many was exclusives for the time.
Part 4: Rowdy Roddy Piper
Piper, who passed away in 2015, was one of my favorites growing up. He headlined the first WrestleMania and is one of those legendary figures where there was a million subjects to talk about, and he gladly did. One of the greatest heels ever, Piper was also a cult icon after starring in the movie "They Live." We covered it all in our conversation.
Here are some of the interview highlights:
Piper has a deep love for professional wrestling, and is all the more ready to give back to the sport and its young, up-and-coming athletes. He told a story about wrestling as a teenager back in 1969 when he took on Lord Alfred Hayes. The promoter of the event came up to Piper after his match and asked him how it went. Piper told the promoter he thought he could have done better.
As soon as the promoter left, Hayes slapped Piper hard in the face and yelled at him for telling the promoter the truth.
"'Don’t tell him that — they don't watch the match' he told me. I was schooled, and they would teach me more and more when they thought I deserved to learn."
Piper wants to have that same type of interaction with today's young wrestlers, minus the yelling and hitting, of course.
"Me and Ric Flair would sit around together in the locker room and talk about how the young guys don't ask us about the business. Maybe they don’t want to talk to us. But we know we can help your career. That's why I'm doing this. You park your ego at the door."
"I remember working any place I could. Now it's my duty to pay it back. We need fresh talent, that next great star, and if I can help by giving their business a rub, then great. I'm sure not doing it for the money."
Piper digs into his past without pause in comparing current times with the days of his wrestling upbringing. He told another story from his experiences, one that could help these independent wrestlers more than anything.
"I had to learn how to get 'over' in every city I went to," Piper said of getting the fans to care about who you are. "Once I got over in New Brunswick, I would go to Kansas City and have to start all over again. Buddy Rose, and I'm not saying anything bad about him, but he had the chance to come with me to Charlotte and be a tag team champion, but he was already over where he was and chose not to go. He was afraid of having to get over again. One game doesn't make a season."
That is something he will try to instill in the young wrestlers of today. "These guys have to learn how to get over and no one's told them how."
Of course, all of this makes Piper seem like the nicest guy you'll ever meet, but the biggest mistake one could make is to take that as a sign the "Hot Rod" has lost a step or two. "Never mistake my kindness for weakness. You piss me off and watch me craw. I'm not soft. I've taken out some people in my day. I'm a pretty serious guy — I'm not a phony."
So what exactly does Piper like better — being the heel or being a fan favorite?
"It’s great to be bad," he said, like there ever was a doubt. "Everyone wants to sneak behind the schoolyard with Lucy. It's more fun. One girl you need Crest Whitestrips and champagne … Lucy just wants a beer."
Piper is one of the very few wrestlers who managed to move seamlessly from the ring to the silver screen. The highlight of his movie career came in 1988 when he starred in the John Carpenter cult classic "They Live." It was in that movie that Piper spit out the infamous line, "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass … and I'm all out of bubblegum."
"I got the 'freeze, I’m a cop' thing down pat," he joked.
Since that movie, Piper has appeared in a number of films, including 13 since 2006. He has already finished filming three movies in 2008 and is currently shooting the film "Clear Lake" in Canada.
As for the wrestling event itself, it had special meaning when my story in the newspaper was used as the storyline for an impromptu showdown between Piper and NEW wrestler Kurt Adonis.
Adonis brought out a copy of The Bristol Press, which had his picture gracing the back page the day of the event. He used that as proof that the crowd came to see him and not Piper.
"See this … I’m the star here," Adonis told Piper in the ring.
Piper wanted a closer look at the paper, glanced over a feature article on Adonis for a moment while Adonis looked on with his ever-present grin.
"This is a great article," Piper told Adonis in front of the packed house. "It's very well written. Who read it to you?"
Pretty darn cool if I say so myself. A year later, Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart was next up to tell his wrestling story.