Brian Pillman is an unusual wrestler for WWE to be profiling in the sense that (a) he never even main-evented a WWE or WCW pay-per-view on his own and (b) he died while working for Vince McMahon.
Yet, any story about the Monday Night Wars has to include him as one of the catalysts for the “attitude” era, not to mention one of the hottest free agents during those years. So I was intrigued to see why and how they’d handle this story.
As it turns out, they do a pretty decent job, starting with his throat operations as a child, going through his football and wrestling days in Calgary, spending quite a bit of time on his WCW stint (where he became the promotion’s first light-heavyweight champion, joined the Hollywood Blonds and Four Horsemen, and became the Loose Cannon).
There’s also some time spent on his WWF run, but realistically, he spent more time there as an announcer and Hart Foundation enforcer than he did an active competitor, so it was tough for them to dwell on that part of his life.
They speak to Brian’s wife Melanie and his sisters, in addition to Arn Anderson, Mick Foley, Eric Bischoff, Jim Ross, Teddy Long, Paul Heyman, Dusty Rhodes, Steve Austin and others. Most of them openly admit that they couldn’t tell much of the time whether Pillman was working the boys, the fans, or both.
While they don’t make any attempts to hide Pillman’s addiction to painkillers, the documentary leaves the viewer with an impression that he had quit taking pills at the time of his death or something, pointing out that no drugs were found in his system during the autopsy. And JR helpfully explaining that Pillman “died of a broken heart”, while sad to hear because of their known friendship, really is stretching the truth a bit.
The matches range from incredible (his bouts with Jushin Liger, Dean Malenko and, surprisingly, Lex Luger) to mostly fast-forwardable (some tag team efforts involving Tom Zenk, El Gigante, Johnny Gunn and Barry Windham come to mind). Extras include Austin, JR and others recalling memories of their friend, as well as the “gun incident” and “XXX Files” vignettes, both of which remind you why it was hard to tell sometimes whether his gimmick was real or all an act.
Not a bad effort at all, and this gives me hope that WWE will perhaps look at some other fallen mid-card superstars such as Owen Hart and Rick Rude as time goes on.