DVD Review: History of WWE 1984 with Roddy Piper

WWE DVD: Roddy Piper
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Roddy Piper is undoubtedly the best choice for Timeline: The History of WWE 1984, available via Kayfabe Commentaries or WWN Live.

He’s known as Hot Rod, the Rowdy One, the Legend, the Icon, a Hall of Famer. He’s arguably responsible for putting WrestleMania in the minds of modern wrestling fans, a guy who trailblazed the concept of a heel commentator, and a guy who made “Piper’s Pit” a concept often imitated but never duplicated. Piper is perhaps a man known to the Portland, Oregon, territory as one of their biggest stars to go national -- a talent who started way too young and survived more than most -- and to this day, continues to present himself as a force of nature.

To steal an ESPN catchphrase, host Sean Oliver can’t control him, and can only hope to contain him, but as always, does a stellar job of asking all the right questions, and getting out of the way of one more larger-than-life personality. In the end, there’s one more towering figure of professional wrestling history thanking him for the research, the opportunity and the respect.

Roddy Piper (and that’s short for Roderick, not Rodney) is a unique figure in the business. He is, in many ways, a guy who opened doors for Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, and that Daniel Bryan fellow. Piper did a lot with his promos – “on the stick” as the wrestling jargon often goes – that didn’t have to make up for his wrestling talent or sheer knack for the business, but perhaps had to compensate for size and perception.

Of course, no one ever questions Piper vs Hulk Hogan, and most of that is because of Piper's sheer determination, improv ability and command of the microphone. But the depth of Piper’s talent ran much, much deeper, and that is on display with this DVD.

Piper is one of those guys of whom “what you see is what you get”. There are a number of those in wrestling history, and Oliver has had a few of them. Piper just comes across as a natural when talking (no surprise) and by the nature of his diversions, stand-up demonstrations and stream of consciousness in talking big names, entertaining stories, and details of decades before and after 1984, putting himself on full display

Sometimes, he’s awkward about using terms like “selling”, when he’s being painfully honest, and especially when he’s off to the races on his stories. I’ve seen some Kayfabe Commentaries DVDs with more details, more outright entertainment, and definitely more of a focus, but there aren’t too many as good as this one. Oliver, his apt staff, and solid production values brings out the best of Piper, and by the end of the 3 1/2 hours of footage, Piper shouldn’t be the only person thankful for the experience.

One of my themes about professional wrestling is the dichotomy between the 'old school' and modern versions of the sport. Piper is uniquely positioned as being a product of the regional systems, and having definitively put his mark on the modern version. Piper shows a definitive understanding of the business, and spells out a lot of insight into the pivotal year of 1984. It is scary that that was 30 years ago.

What is fascinating is how this DVD can appeal to various incarnations of fans. For old timers like myself, there’s a lot of nostalgia. For historian types or those interested in learning about what shaped today’s version of sports entertainment, Piper spells out the basics and how things happened, how things worked, and how things came about. For the hardcore types, and those who are oblivious to the inherent differences between pre-1984 and post 1984, Piper provides a crash course in how things aren’t the same.

His reliance upon improvisation is clear from his stories; no one scripted him, no one had to set up the scenarios of Piper’s Pit, no one told Piper what to do. There are many stories of what happened when people did, including Simon Dean a decade ago. His description of how Piper’s Pit came about is a true gem, and doesn’t need to be spoiled by a reviewer who doesn’t understand the difference between a review and a rehash. Buy the DVD!

What makes Piper credible is his honesty in saying who he liked, who didn’t like him, and doing his best to explain the reasons. One guy that liked him was Andre The Giant, based on Piper’s connections with the Vachons and the French Canadians. Andre was more than willing to sell for Piper, even if Piper seems to have a hard time talking about kayfabe concepts like selling. There’s a definitive sign of respect there, and Piper explains how he knew it when it was happening and when Andre stood up for him in the locker room.

A really weird situation played out when talking about Pat Patterson, leading to a deafening silence when trying to figure out what happened. Strangely enough, Piper vastly crosses the line of “P.C.” in so many ways, but there’s a definite dance with this story. Being young in this business was very difficult, he says, and it’s hard to disbelieve that.

Many things are expected with Piper, but we don’t get the rants of the man in his prime, but a more reasoned, reflective voice. We do get the sense that Piper is as unpredictable and as uncontrollable as always, but Oliver coaxes him back to the question and the answer. But I never got the sense that Piper was dodging reality. He was merely being himself with that snorting laugh that makes Piper characteristically Piper.

Along the way, there are stories that are crass, stories that are amazing, and a ton of references (Piper’s Pit, Piper’s Pit with Frankie Williams, Piper’s Pit with Jimmy Snuka, Snuka’s cage dive with a take I’ve never heard before, WrestleMania, Mr. T, and all the big figures of the time) that make this DVD a must-have in the series on the history of what is now the WWE. Piper says about the Pit: "Give me a bowtie and a mikestand and six weeks," and obviously that all turned out amazing.

What makes the DVD is the advanced course in professional wrestling. I know I’ve learned a great bit about a lot of little things, and a lot of things that would enhance the perspective of fans and talent alike. We get references to Paul Jones, to improvisation, to advice that should be heard by every wrestler, indie promoter and fan that loves the business. There’s a ton about WrestleMania and Cyndi Lauper and David Wolff, not to mention George Scott, Hogan, Jesse Ventura, a lot of managers, some guy who was in the Freebirds, some guy I have to talk to this week about things, Johnny Valentine, JYD, Rick McGraw, David Schultz and of course, with the formatting by Kayfabe Commentaries, a ton of trivia and references.

Piper’s admonition that a “work” is something in the ring, and if it’s out of the ring its lying, is not just hilarious, but so very insightful about the business and a certain contemporary of Piper's, not that he was pointing him out at the time.

This edition of the History series is everything that a fan should want: entertainment, information, a big name and a big personality, all packaged with an exceptional respect and understanding of professional wrestling that cannot be faked.

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