Inducted by Andrew Ardizzi
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Rick Rude was a heat magnet, and he did it in the simplest possible way during his initial WWF run — he called all the men watching fat, out of shape, and then made a mockery of the city they were from while inferring he was going to make a successful play for the ladies in their lives.
For some reason, likely because I’ve watched SummerSlam ’90 dozens of times, “Pennsylvania Pissants” is sticking out to me as one of the more memorable in the build up toward his WWF title clash against the Ultimate Warrior in the Spectrum amid the shadows of Philadelphia.
The “Ravishing One” simply knew how to get under your skin, and it made him an exceptional heel worker on the midcard during WWF’s boom years on the coattails of Hulkamania. He knew how to work in every imaginable way — he could cut a promo, he could work in-ring, he could work fans and attract heat like nearly no other and that he didn’t even need Bobby Heenan as his manager amplified the underhanded tactics of his character. If today we consider heels like Randy Orton, MJF or Jay White as apex heels, then Ravishing Rick Rude was one of the prototypes. He did whatever he wanted, he only asked that you breathe it in and accept that he was better than you. And you knew it.
His crowning moment in WWF still sticks out to me. Like most young fans of the time, the Ultimate Warrior was the quintessential cartoon hero on WWF television, as though he were straight from the pages of a comic book. After a months-long reign as Intercontinental champion, Warrior and Rude met at WrestleMania 5 for the strap. The two had been feuding the whole year, anchored (in more ways than one) by bodybuilding posedowns, tests of strength and the masculine postering no one person can stomach on their own without rolling their eyes at the cheesiness of it all in hindsight. But for the time, it worked, and it made Rude into more of a heel opposite his cartoon protagonist.
The match wasn’t anything particularly special, but it was memorable. Rude worked and sold as only he could at the time, but one of the clinching moments of his career came as Warrior tried to suplex Rude over the top rope from the apron and into the ring. As Warrior did, Heenan grabbed Warrior’s foot and with all his might swept it as Rude’s bodyweight shifted mid-air causing Rude to come crashing down on Warrior in a pinning situation. With the referee in position opposite the apron, staring straight at Warrior’s shoulders, he counted the 1-2-3 as Heenan clung to Warrior’s foot for dear life as it hung under the bottom rope.
Rick Rude didn’t need Heenan, but it surely didn’t hurt him either. They were a perfect duo. Rude would carry the title until Summerslam ’89, where Warrior would reclaim his title. They then went their separate ways — Warrior would go on to face Hogan at WrestleMania 6 where he would win the WWF title, while Rude slipped into the mid-card. The two would have one more clash at the aforementioned SummerSlam ’90 inside a steel cage over the WWF title. Everything about that story clicked, even his trademark, airbrushed tights were a highlight as they featured he and Warrior both reaching up with outstretched arms for the gold. The story heading into the match essentially was that Rude understood what test lay in front of him, and he knew what he had to do to win. So in a character shift away from his norm, he balked at every piece of his identity to that point — cut his hair, shelfed his womanizing and obsessively trained for what would be his final WWF match.
Everything about Rude simply hit, which you maybe didn’t appreciate as a young fan growing up. Not his character work, not his promos, not his selling, not his charisma nor his persona.
This shift was a harbinger as he moved into the final years of his active career in WCW where he was a key member of Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance faction, which also included Madusa, Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson, Larry Zbysko and “Stunning” Steve Austin, a step forward from the more cartoonish Heenan family.
It was here Rude hit his heights, notably picking up a U.S. title win against Sting and going on to reign for 378 days, second only to Lex Luger’s 523-day reign across the title’s multi-promotional history. He later forfeited the title due to injury, but upon his return he set his sights on the NWA Worlds title and a clash with Ric Flair. In a twist of fate, the summer Rude and Flair were destined to fight WCW withdrew from the NWA and thus NWA withdrew its recognition of the Big Gold Belt (the physical belt WCW owned) as representing the NWA title. The belt was simply rebranded the World Heavyweight Championship (and later the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship). Rude defeated Flair at Fall Brawl in 1993 to claim his first of three world titles (as it was treated as a second world title beside the WCW world title akin to WWE’s dual world titles). Although the title existed for only a short time and Rude was forced to relinquish it following his career-ending back injury, he holds the record for most reigns at 3 and reigned for a combined 202 days from September 1993 to May 1994 when it was unified with the WCW title in a match between Sting and Flair that June.
Following his retirement, he dropped off the scene for several years only to resurface in ECW in early 1997 to feud with Shane Douglas, later becoming a colour commentator before — in a twist — aligning with Douglas and his stable “Triple Threat.” Before leaving the company, he took part in a trios match, teaming with Tommy Dreamer and Sandman against Jerry Lawler, RVD and Sabu, a match in which he’d turn on his partners to feed into the ECW vs. WWF/USWA angle.
Rude briefly returned to WWF as a member of DX, acting as the group’s insurance policy. Following the Montreal Screwjob, he left the company and signed a deal with WCW, which led to the now-infamous Monday night where Rude appeared on both Raw and Nitro in November 1997 (because ECW was also taped, he appeared on Hardcore TV that weekend too).
For the remainder of his active career, he worked alongside Curt Hennig as a member of the nWo until medical issues took them both off television. Rude briefly returned in April 4, 1999, but left the company shortly after.
Three weeks later Rude passed away. He was found unconscious after suffering heart failure. It would seem that for all his successes, part of his Hall of Fame career is ripe with the tragedy of missed opportunity. He could have held his U.S. title longer. His world title run could have ended differently, not anti-climatically, and as fate would have it he was training to return to the ring full time five years after being forced to retire. At only age 40, Rude, who was in phenomenal shape, could have still had many years left in him. Who knows what we could have seen from him, as many have performed well in their 40s.
Yet, focusing on lost time, missed accolades and “what ifs” does a disservice to his on the wrestling business. He was a beloved friend, a family man, and is someone some wrestlers – notably Bret Hart – believe is one of the best wrestlers to have ever worked. That we still remember those moments — the act, the selling, the title wins, the defining feuds, the high-mark moments, the workrate or the sheer hilarity of appearing on three programs for three companies in one week – makes him unique.
Rick Rude only wrestled for 12 years, but he made each and every moment, every year, count. That’s why we remember him and his legacy as one of the perennial performers to have ever called the squared circle home.
- 3-time WCW International World Heavyweight Champion
- WCW United States Champion
- WWF Intercontinental Champion
- NWA World Tag Team Champion (Mid-Atlantic version – with Manny Fernandez)
- NWA American Heavyweight Champion (WCCW/WCWA)
- NWA/AWA Southern Heavyweight Champion (CWA)
- NWA/AWA Southern Tag Team Champion (CWA) (with King Kong Bundy)
- NWA Southern Heavyweight Champion (Championship Wrestling from Florida)
- NWA U.S. Tag Team Champion (Championship Wrestling from Florida) (1 – with Jesse Barr)