Rude Awakening – Ravishing Rick Rude, From WWE Player to WCW Leading Man
by Ite Lemalu
This article will discuss the wrestling career of the late Ravishing Rick Rude, focusing on the years when Rick Rude wrestled in the WWE from 1987 to 1990 and soon after in WCW from 1991 to 1994. The idea of this piece really captured my interest; it explores the types of success that Rick Rude found in these two contrasting promotions. I will not be covering any events before and after the ’87-’94 timeline.
I was in my ‘binge some old wrestling’ moods the other day, so I pulled up the first Survivor Series from 1987 and skipped to the main event which featured Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Don Muraco, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff and Ken Patera against Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed, One Man Gang and Ravishing Rick Rude. While observing the talent in the main event, I began to think about the WWE’s national expansion at that point and of the people that Vince McMahon headhunted from other organisations to join the WWE. Of the ten men that were headlining the ’87 Survivor Series, Ravishing Rick Rude was the most recent to sign with the WWE. To be placed in a significant spot on the card with just having been in the company for four month is a big deal. Before joining the WWE, Rick Rude wrestled for NWA Jim Crockett Promotions where he was part of a successful tag team with Manny Fernandez. Known as the Awesome Twosome; Rude and Fernandez held the NWA Tag Team Titles for five months until Rude suddenly left the NWA for the WWE.
The way in which Rick Rude was brought onto WWE television was special; he was introduced as a member of the Heenan Family stable by his manager Bobby Heenan. Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff was a Heenan Family stable mate who shared similarities in personality and physique to Rude, though he was a bit older. As Heenan began to favour Rude over Orndorff, the two would end up feuding as Orndorff parted ways with the ‘Family, this conflict concluded with Rude gaining the upper hand and Orndorff leaving the WWE shortly after.
At that time, I didn’t think much of Rick Rude, it was difficult to see what Bobby Heenan appreciated about Rode’s talent for notable reasons; I was a child and believed that the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan had better physiques; the WWE was in the midst of the big man era, so either most of the wrestlers had ripped bodies or they paled in comparison to the really big guys; Rode’s other stable mate Andre the Giant was the cornerstone of the Heenan Family and he was regarded as the biggest star in wrestling, standing at 7 feet and 4 inches. Rude and his stable mates stood out easily in a crowd, but their aura was usually overshadowed when Andre was inserted into the picture.
Rick Rude gained fame regardless of being overshadowed by Andre. Rude was known for his custom made tights, his gyrating, his post-match activities where he would select a woman from the crowd to be the recipient of a passionate ‘rude awakening’ kiss. In this era, Rode’s wrestling ability was secondary to his antics, yet appreciated only by the colour commentary antagonist, Jesse Ventura. Perhaps if the protagonist on play by play had dropped the occasional endorsement, the young fans might have appreciated Rick Rude’s wrestling skills.
At first I thought that Rick Rude had a good career based on his three years in the WWE; his first major feud with Mr. Wonderful established Rick as the new ‘bad boy’; the classic rivalry with Jake Roberts which Rude instigated when he unknowingly selected Jake’s wife, Cheryl to receive a ‘rude awakening’; winning the Intercontinental Title from the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania V and then resuming their war the following year as a never before focused Rick Rude aggressively pursued the Warrior for his WWE Championship. These are some awesome memories that could justify a deserving career, right? Well I thought so, until years later when the internet through Youtube and other online means made it possible to gain access to a wealth of footage that we only read about in the magazines. I remember my first time watching wrestling online and going straight for the NWA/WCW stuff – like I was owed something. If you are not a wrestling fan from New Zealand, understand this; we were deprived in the ‘90s. It was like being in the Walking Dead; the WWE was taken off our televisions in 1991, WWE ppvs arrived to the video shops months after they were broadcast in the US, the Apter magazines (also arriving months later) gave us hope that there were ‘other communities’. It got better around 1997 when WWE and WCW were airing on television; nevertheless the digital age allowed many fans from the 20th century to catch up.
I was clued onto Rode’s ventures after leaving the WWE and what he was doing in WCW. However after watching videos and more videos of Rick Rude in WCW, the footage gave me a clear idea of how valuable Rude was to WCW and what it did for his career. His time with the WWE definitely established his fame, but it was his run with WCW that gave him a deserving career. If you don’t watch wrestling at all and you’re thinking “wrestling is fake, it’s all a story”, I suggest looking at it from this example: Andrew Lincoln is set to leave the Walking Dead series, there is an opportunity for a current cast member to take over the leading role. How confident are we that Norman Reedus will make a good lead? The viewers have only known the character Darryl to be an effective second in command. How can his character, Darryl lead when he barely speaks and only mumbles? Is Norman Reedus a good enough actor to pull it off? Assuming that Reedus does become the main star and if he (and the show) succeeds, then Norman Reedus may secure leading roles in future projects. You could apply that to Rick Rudes ‘promotion’ in WCW.
While in WCW, Rick Rude held the United States Championship – the equivalent to the WWF’s Intercontinental Championship. As opposed to his four month reign as the IC Champion, Rude was the longest reigning US champion, a record that hasn’t been surpassed to date (14 months), Rude was also the a three time International Champion, and the cornerstone of the incredible Dangerous Alliance, a stable consisting of the now who’s who of pro wrestling.
I had described the way Rick Rude was brought into the WWE as special, but the way that Rude was introduced onto WCW was “simply ravishing” (see what I did there?). Rick Rude debuted at the ‘91 Halloween Havoc pay-per-view under the mask of the WCW Phantom, a character that had been promoted to appear weeks prior to the event. There was not much known about the Phantom’s presence until he got in the ring and demonstrated his skills. Jim Ross (who was WCW lead play by play announcer during this time period) commented on the Phantom size as being larger than his opponent Tom Zenk who stood at 6 foot, 2 inches. The Phantom’s impressive display of aggression was greatly noted. I viewed the
Masked Phantom as an opportunity for the fans to firstly recognize the wrestler’s skills so that when Rick Rude did reveal himself, the people would realize his talent without the distraction of the Ravishing gimmick. His imposing manner and intensity was rarely highlighted in the WWE. The idea to put Rude under the mask was a genius move as it made wrestling skill a focal point.
In addition to being unmasked on pay-per-view, Rick Rudes appearance came with a manager and a ‘Director of Covert Operations’; Paul E. Dangerously and Madusa! Following Rudes reveal, Dangerously announced that he enlisted Ravishing Rick Rude to eliminate Sting, the US Champion and WCW’s biggest star. This of course meant an immediate career push for Rude; with Ric Flair gone from WCW, the company needed a new villain, Rick Rude easily fulfilled that responsibility.
The month after Halloween Havoc, Rick Rude would win the US Title from Sting at the Clash of the Champions. This Rude/Sting match carried the COTC event, it served as a priority for the WCW product as the Word Title picture looked weak without a big name to challenge the champion, Lex Luger.
Rick Rude now has possession of the United States Championship; and four days later on WCW Saturday Night, Paul E. Dangerously introduces Ricks ‘new family’; the Dangerously Alliance. Dangerously declares that the first phase of the Dangerous Alliance’s hostile takeover is complete, and he introduces the first member – the cornerstone; Ravishing Rick Rude (who is escorted by Madusa); followed by Arn Anderson & Larry Zbysako, not far behind comes the break out star, the Television Champion ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin; rounded off with the inclusion of Bobby Eaton. This group was perfect for Rick Rude, he was backed by three reputable veterans and a rising star whose future would be realized later in his career. This fresh, new setting in WCW afforded Rick Rude the space to grow into a main eventer. What I noticed about the good guys in WCW was that most of them were young and blonde, and in some ways were portrayed as underdeveloped and inexperienced, in comparison to the villains who were manly veterans, Rick Rude was THE MAN of this group; tough, chiselled, no nonsense, real and worldly. Rude possessed all of the qualities necessary to lead villain.
The United States Title also grew in prestige as the Alliance helped Rude fend off challenges from Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes and Ron Simmons. The WCW World Title in many cases looked secondary to the US as it was notably highlighted at special events: the majority of pre-match interviews at SuperBrawl II were based heavily around the Rude vs. Steamboat match, whereas the feel for the Sting/Lex Luger World Title main event came off as insignificant.
After a satisfying 14 month reign as US Champion, Rude went onto become a three time WCW International Title; this was a championship that was shared between WCW and their partner New Japan Pro Wrestling. The concept of this championship was to have it defended in WCW and NJPW. This gave Rick Rude another accolade with the opportunity to wrestle in a highly respected area like Japan. Rude began to conduct himself in a more ‘leading’ manner as he dressed in suits for interviews and press conferences, the presentation added a professional and subtle layer to his ‘Ravishing’ persona.
Unfortunately, due to injuries to the neck and then his back, Rude was stripped of his US title and again during his third International title reign. Rudes back injury would lead him to retire from pro wrestling. Prior to his injury, Rick Rude had just turned into a hero, and was about to feud with Vader. This would have been a really exciting time for Rude to transition into a good guy, and the reaction from the fans was obvious that they were ready to embrace the Ravishing One.
To conclude, I believe that Rick Rude achieved a better run in WCW. WWE gave Rick Rude the exposure; the reach to be famous worldwide and a place in popular culture, this made him a valuable asset to WCW. However, it was Rick Rudes own merits that allowed him his accolades and sustain his standing in WCW. I very much doubt that Vince McMahon would have made Rick Rude a leading man had he stayed with the WWE.