Although Roddy Piper gets credit for propelling Hulk Hogan into sports-entertainment supremacy (though arguably not enough), how he helped lay the foundation for the rise of Ric Flair is a tale far less familiar!
Roddy Piper and Ric Flair – Laying the Foundation for Superstardom
Roderick Toombs, wrestling as Roddy Piper, arrived in Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in 1980 after making a name for himself at NWA Hollywood Wrestling and Pacific Northwest Wrestling. He quickly became the top heel at the Charlotte-based outfit.
By the end of the year, he was the TV Champion, soon becoming the primary foil to the promotion’s golden boy – or more precisely, "Nature Boy" – Ric Flair.
Piper was regularly challenging Flair for his United States Heavyweight Championship. He’d also team up mainly with Greg Valentine on several occasions to face Flair and various partners in tag team action.
From November 1980 to June of ’83, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair faced each other over 40 times in singles competition and another 40-plus in tag matches, according to Cagematch.net.
In addition to Valentine, Piper would also team up with Iron Sheik and Ivan Koloff on occasion. He’d even pair a few times with the man who would become one of his chief nemeses in the WWE, Jimmy Snuka.
This feud came at a critical time, as Flair was being groomed for his first National Wrestling Alliance World Championship reign.
Recommended read: Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka Open Up About Piper’s Pit Coconut Incident
“Ladies and gentlemen, King Richard, the legend, is dead.”
– Roddy Piper, January 1981
By this point, the Mid-Atlantic was one of the most lucrative NWA territories, and Jim Crockett, Jr. was in his first term as president of the alliance.
While Roddy Piper and Ric Flair clashed in the territory, Flair was garnering a higher profile by challenging Harley Race for the world title.
The spotlight was on Flair, and Piper provided the backdrop for his moment to shine.
Piper helped establish Flair’s credentials as a top-tier babyface by being his despicable adversary. Not even the spirit of the Christmas season could soften this Scrooge as he provoked Flair during a special holiday taping, which set up a title-versus-title match in January 1981.
Piper would defeat Flair for the U.S. Championship by knocking him out with a foreign object.
The conflict between Piper and Flair only intensified after the title change.
Piper appeared at the next television, taping resplendent in a tuxedo shirt and jacket…and kilt. He declared, "King Richard, the legend, is dead!" and then presented the gift-wrapped TV title he was relinquishing to Flair.
In response, Flair gifted Piper the foreign object he used to win the title.
In a precursor to the celebrated routine he would soon become synonymous with, Flair mentions his $500 suit and rips Piper for his cheap rental.
The quick turn on Piper’s face from the mischievous grin of someone who thought he got away with it to that of a chastised child with their hand caught in the cookie jar is priceless.
The mic skills that would make these two the most despised men in wrestling were already on display. See below for yourself for the promos and TV Championship match that followed.
Roddy Piper’s promos, in particular, were frenetic and frantic. His unpredictability and recklessness made his spots more interesting than most action in the ring – he could just as easily anger a fellow heel as a face.
He often provided analysis for matches, which made even squashes interesting.
He was so sought after that he provided color commentary for Georgia Championship Wrestling, which was being broadcast nationally via Superstation WTBS during this period.
The Nature Boy’s program with Piper prepared him for the global stage, and Flair took his place when he defeated Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the very first time on September 17, 1981.
Flair was now defending the title worldwide against numerous contenders, but his feud with Piper did not cease.
Only a month after winning the NWA title, Flair defended against Piper in Kingsport, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina.
As a result of his big year, Flair was voted "Wrestler of the Year" for the first time by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
The two would battle for the belt 16 more times throughout 1982 and 1983.
As a sign of how prominent their angle was, the two faced off outside of the Mid-Atlantic region in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; and Toronto, Canada – places where Piper was a known commodity.
However, the most intense action between the two was reserved for the core parts of the territory. For example, Piper defeated Flair via disqualification in Charlotte in October 1982 when Greg Valentine interfered, thus saving Flair’s belt.
By this point, the roles were reversed as Piper had turned face and Flair was now wrestling as a heel, but the rivalry was no less intense.
In addition to title matches, Flair and Valentine also teamed up on several occasions to take on Piper in tag action.
In a sign of things to come, one of Piper’s partners during this period was Bob Orton, Jr. – who would eventually become one of Piper’s key henchmen in the WWF.
The Roddy Piper and Ric Flair feud came to a head in the November 27, 1982, edition of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling when the Nature Boy appeared to provide a demonstration of his wrestling skills.
He called out Piper, who proceeded to beat him at amateur wrestling and then pinned him pro-style.
Valentine then came out and the two viscously double-teamed Piper grinding his face on the studio floor as well as the ring canvas.
Photos of Piper’s badly damaged face were shown in the following week’s episode.
The feud helped get Piper voted PWI’s "Inspirational Wrestler of the Year."
Fun fact: Roddy Piper would later claim that the grinding face effect was achieved backstage by having Gene Anderson rub his face with sandpaper! It was one of the many times Roddy went to the extreme to “protect the business” to make sure fans completely bought into an angle.
Although Roddy Piper and Ric Flair faced each other a few more times in 1983, Piper would transition to feuding with Valentine in what "The Hammer" dubbed "the year of the ear," after he injured Piper’s left ear.
Flair would go on to feud with Harley Race, which escalated after Race won the belt from him in June ’83.
In November, both programs would come to a crescendo at the inaugural Starrcade, with Piper defeating Valentine in the infamous "Dog Collar" match and Flair regaining the gold in a steel cage match.
In the lead-up to the big show, Flair and Piper would actually team up (Flair turned face again after losing to Race) in a series of tag team matches against Valentine and partners such as Dory Funk, Jr., Jake Roberts, and One Man Gang.
They taped a promo together that aired on the July 2, 1983, edition of Mid-Atlantic’s flagship program, where Piper introduced another partner named "Mr. T" and pulled out a tire iron.
Little did he know that he would be facing the real Mr. T in one of the most famous matches in history within a couple of years.
Their Feud’s Powerful Aftermath
With Ric Flair well on his way to becoming what many consider the greatest wrestler of all time, Roddy Piper took on the task of fueling the biggest movement in wrestling history – Hulkamania – by being its prime antagonist.
In doing so, he would help drive professional wrestling into the mainstream of pop culture.
Piper departed the territory at the beginning of 1984, and "Rowdy" Roddy quickly established himself as the top villain in the WWE (then WWF).
This encounter led to Piper and Hogan headlining the War to Settle the Score, broadcast on MTV in February 1985.
That show, in turn, set up the inaugural WrestleMania a month later, which saw Piper team up with Paul Orndorff (with Orton in their corner) to face Hogan and the flesh and blood Mr. T in the main event.
Hogan and Piper later faced off at the company’s second pay-per-view, The Wrestling Classic.
“Hot Rod" would also have memorable feuds with the likes of Jimmy Snuka and the legendary Bruno Sammartino.
All the while, he put his incomparable mic skills to work in hosting the renowned Piper’s Pit interview segment.
Piper’s stinging wit and savage tenacity made him the biggest heel of the Golden Era and the greatest of all time in the minds of many.
Flair himself once said, "Piper was the greatest bad guy in the history of the business."
All the great champions are defined by their toughest adversaries. Piper produced the heat that forged both Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan into the two most impactful standard-bearers the sport has ever seen.
While his work putting over Hogan is known, Piper deserves much more credit for doing the same for Flair.
These stories may also interest you:
- Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine – Their Legendary Feud and Brutal Dog Collar Match
- Roddy Piper – From The Streets to the Big Time
- Ric Flair and Terry Funk – Their Unforgettable Feud from 1989
- Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat – The Story Behind The Magic
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