I was pretty close to penning my own career retrospective tribute to Paul Orndorff a couple of times over the last day or two before doing this piece. I wanted to capture just what made him such a phenomenal presence in the WWF through the mid-eighties.
Having listened to a few podcasts and read some tributes, I really felt as though the coverage, though well-intended, failed to dive deep enough into the meat of his career, and failed to address that which made him stand out amongst a group of performers who, let’s face it, were born to stand out. Not a shot at anyone – a cursory minute or two during a podcast was not, in my opinion, befitting a career as brilliant as that of Orndorff.
However, my faith in long term wrestling fans, and their ability to capture the essence of what made someone like Orndorff excel was restored by a man named Oliver Bateman. With a bit of help from Ian Douglass, the two compiled a ‘wonderful’ career retrospective on a man that fast became my favourite wrestler of the time – in fact, my first genuine favourite wrestler.
I was the kid in seventh grade with “#1derful” scrawled on my pencil case or on the inside cover of my textbooks. As a kid in a single-parent family, the art of reselling textbooks was a bit lost on me, and really, in the eighties, I am not sure there was a huge market for it, anyway. As such, I defaced my school books with a multitude of wrestling-related nicknames, pictures and slogans. Right in the middle, however, was an elaborate “1derful” design in the same style as Orndorff wore on the back of his tights.
I did push ups aplenty in my room, bought a bench press, and started working hard to look like my hero. Ha… fat chance – Orndorff was a freak of nature, and some of us, though not genetically disadvantaged, were never going to reach the levels of athletic supremacy that Paul Orndorff did. In a world full of monster wrestlers, he was the man who looked as though he took himself, and his appearance seriously.
I ended up selling that bench press when my father got particularly angry after I may or may not have dropped a weight and put a hole in the floorboards in my room. I covered it with a rug, but… you know, it doesn’t stop your foot sinking into the hole when you step on it, does it?
No, it doesn’t, said the look on my father’s face when that happened to him, and he told me in no uncertain terms that I would be helping to pay for the repair. Bye bye bench press.
Alas, I was never able to achieve the outward look of power that Orndorff did, and as time ticked by, you came to understand why. He was a natural, born to not just play sport, but be elite. If it wasn’t track and field, it would be football. If not football, it would be wrestling. An injury ended his dreams of a career in football, so a new dream was realised, inside the squared circle.
Now, I understand completely that this intro is a long-winded one, but writing about Mr Wonderful is not a chore for me. If anything, it is a joy – I just wish I’d done it before his passing. However, even with multiple warning signs over the months prior, it still kind of came as a shock that the man I idolised as a child was gone.
Upon hearing of his passing, the memories of a childhood well spent came flooding back, and if you’d care to join me, I’d like to rundown some of the moments that made me a fan.
I’d like to add that my experience with the career of Orndorff picks up upon his entry into the World Wrestling Federation, as here in Australia, that was basically all we got. I was not privy to the world of tape trading at this stage of my life and really, for the first part of Orndorff’s career in the WWF, I didn’t have a VCR, either Yeah… I know, I was downtrodden, living in the backwater of Melbourne.
But I found something to grab hold of, which might be why it is now so difficult to let it go.
“LOOK OUT… ORNDORFF!”
Gorilla Monsoon’s voice still echoes in my ears from that fateful day at Madison Square Garden in 1984.
It was the War to Settle the Score – the gateway to the first Wrestlemania. Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan were squaring off in one of the most hotly-anticipated clashes in recent years. Aired on MTV, and with a plethora of celebrities making appearances, wrestling was in the process of going mainstream, and all eyes were on what would happen in the main event.
After Hogan rammed Cowboy Bob Orton’s “injured” arm into the turnbuckle during the match, rendering Ace unable to stay in Piper’s corner, Orndorff emerged as Piper’s backup.
Only, he was so much more.
With the battle raging back and forth, a shot to the head from Piper saw Hogan careen backwards, taking out the referee in the process. At this point, it was the first time I’d ever seen a ref hit the deck – I was shocked.
“Look out… Orndorff,” cried Gorilla Monsoon as Piper grabbed Hogan’s legs and Mr Wonderful scaled to the top rope. With the referee still down and the champ prone on the mat, Mr Wonderful launched, and connected with a flying knee that had Hogan convulsing on the mat.
Now, at this point, I must fill you in on something – the WWF TV that was airing on Australian television was SIX MONTHS behind the USA. Yep… no internet at this stage, and even the wrestling magazines of the Apter variety were three or four months behind their US circulation. We were a wrestling wasteland at that point, but once per week we got an hour of grappling on TV, and on this night, it contained the match that made me an Orndorff fan.
Wrestlemania had aired, but due to some overpromising and under-delivering from my father, who agreed to let me watch it a month in advance, only to change his mind and send me to bed halfway through the damn show because it was a school night, I somehow got to view the build-up months after the payoff occurred and didn’t get to see the actual payoff. Far out, Dad…
Anyway, Orndorff and Piper started putting the boots to Hogan (Orndorff’s stomps look particularly great here) as Cyndi Lauper jumped onto the ring apron to get involved. Piper and Orndorff left the prone champion to stalk her, with Orndorff flipping the hat off her head before Mr T leapt from the crowd to make the save.
Or so he thought.
Piper then extended an invitation to enter the ring to the A-Team star, as Mr Wonderful dropped out to the floor. We were going to see Piper v Mr T, and the crowd was going banana… at least as Pat Patterson would describe it.
As T focused on Piper, a hand slipped under the bottom rope. It was Orndorff, grabbing at the ankle of the TV star. As T turned to focus on Orndorff, Piper attacked from behind, and in an instant, both heels were raining boots on the actor.
In the background, Hogan started to recover, and by the time Piper and Orndorff noticed and were able to switch gears, the Hulkster was ready to continue the fight. The heels hesitated, and suddenly Mr T was back to his feet, as well.
Now the crowd had taken that banana and multiplied it!
Sensing there was nothing more to gain here, Piper and Orndorff fled the ring, “Eye of the Tiger” played loudly over the MSG sound system, and the seeds of Wrestlemania were sewn.
THE TRAINING SESSION
Keep in mind here, I was still yet to see Orndorff actually wrestle. My interest in him and his character stemming only from the Wrestlemania promos I’d seen, and the attack on Hogan at The War to Settle the Score.
And here he was again, on my lone hour of WWF viewing for the week, training for the upcoming main event against Hogan and T. Whilst Piper remained the mouthpiece of the trio (Orton was always present), the presence of Orndorff, appearing as though chiselled from granite, commanded attention. Sitting on the floor with their backs to the wall, “meditating”, Mr Wonderful looked as though his name fit perfectly. Mean Gene Okerlund was charged with interviewing the heels, but they appeared in no mood to talk.
Eventually, the belligerent pair came out of their meditative state, and in a reminder of where we were as a society at the time, Orndorff let’s slip a racial insult aimed at T.
The gym setting saw Piper doing the yapping, as per usual, as Orndorff dead lifted weights with the kind of focus I’d never seen, rolling his shoulders as he held the weights as if to state “I could lift more if I wanted”. He looked like a monster. Sure, I followed football in Australia (Aussie Rules… not the helmeted US version where you can’t see people’s faces) and though I loved the football stars and their athleticism, many of them still resembled the same type of guys you’d see down at the pub on a Friday night. They were in good shape, but they weren’t in Orndorff shape.
Really, no one else was.
THE MAIN EVENT
It was 18 months after Wrestlemania that the local video shop finally got a copy of it in stock, and by now we had purchased a VCR. It was a good time to be a young wrestling fan. For the first three weeks after its release, it was either out or reserved, despite being an overnight release – sorry to those under 30 who may not be aware of the pitfalls of hiring videos. It was a shitfight at times, and as I was not the account holder, I was unable to reserve it. A terrible system – New Release Video… I am glad you went out of business! Also… I miss you!
I actually saw Wrestlemania 2 before I got to feast my eyes on the original Wrestlemania which, I guess, is like watching Godfather 3 before getting to see the first two. You’d be mildly disappointed.
Alas, the day finally came, and I was able to witness the entire event. I got to see the end of the Iron Shiek and Nikolai Volkoff’s title win (I was sent to bed during this match). I got to see Andre the Giant slam Big John Studd, and Bobby Heenan grabbing the bag full of cash off the Giant as he started hurling money into the crowd.
And I got to fast forward through most of the Wendi Richter v Lelani Kai women’s title match. Hey, I was a a pre-teen boy. We’re not mysognists… just confused.
Then came time for the main event, and I felt more endeared to Jesse Ventura on commentary than ever when he uttered the line “Orndorff is the one to watch because Orndorff is precision” as they walked to the ring. Thanks Jesse.
He also uttered the line “dangerous… dangerous man,” in that gravelly voice that actually made you believe he meant everything he said, doing more to put over the intense-looking Orndorff as he stalked to the ring.
And then there was the match – wild, riotous fun with both Piper and Orndorff at their best, selling the hip toss from Mr T as though it was some sort of revolutionary move.
In the end, it was Orndorff taking the loss – it was always going to be him – as Bob Orton and Jimmy Snuka involved themselves in the chaos, and a quick movement by Hogan saw the cast on the arm of Orton connect with the head of Orndorff, leading directly to the win.
Piper got his heat back by decking the referee and storming out, leaving Mr Wonderful to recover in the ring by himself.
And once he did, Orndorff was furious. Seeing only enemies in the ring, he was livid, kicking at the ropes and looking like he needed to be restrained as he held the back of his head, selling the disorientation like a complete pro.
There was no Piper. There was no Orton. There was just Hogan, Mr T and Snuka in the ring with him, and they weren’t attacking.
Amazingly, for a month or so following Mania, Orndorff continued to work as a heel against the likes of Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana and even Hogan as they built his turn. His defeats at the hands of Hogan saw him shake hands with the champion after the conclusion of the bouts.
The dye of the face turn had been cast. Mr Wonderful was going to be a good guy.
Of everything Roddy Piper did in his career – dog-collar matches, Wrestlemania matches, huge main event clashes, Piper’s Pit remains his most enduring contribution to the industry.
The Pit had one of the biggest angles of all time occur on it, when Andre the Giant turned on Hulk Hogan. It also had Piper smash a coconut over Jimmy Snuka’s head, but in terms of intensity, there was never a more important segment than when Piper had Paul Orndorff as a guest on the first Saturday Night’s Main Event broadcast.
In an age where we have seven hours of live WWE coverage per week and a library of on-demand video, one has to put into scope the magnitude of appearing on SNME. Hosted by NBC, and filling the immense hole left by Saturday Night Live, the WWF’s flagship telecast gave viewers what none of their other shows did – a national position to showcase their best talent, angles and new arrivals.
And it was with baited breath that we awaited the pit side chat between the Rowdy One and Mr Wonderful – their first since that fateful day at Wrestlemania.
This was tense from the outset, with Orndorff refusing to allow Bob Orton to stand at his back, and both Piper and Orndorff were obviously ready for a fight. Orndorff was belligerent and hostile. Piper was cocky and remorseless, yet showed fleeting signs of placation. The two exchanged barbs until Piper stated that Orndorff was the loser at Wrestlemania and that his former partner had embarrassed him, Orton, and indeed Orndorff’s whole family.
Orndorff railed at that comment, but before they could come to blows, Piper decided to leave, but instead of making his way out of the ring, he turned and attempted to sucker punch Orndorff.
Mr Wonderful was ready, blocking the attempt and nailing Piper. He then belted Orton as well before setting Piper up for the piledriver. But it was not to be.
Orton recovered and, from behind, smacked Orndorff across the back of the head with the ever-present plaster cast on his forearm. Orndorff fell to the outside of the ring, appearing out of it, but before Piper and Orton could follow up on their handiwork, Mr T darted from the dressing room area to make the save.
If the face-turn was teased prior, it was cemented in this moment. The Piper v Orndorff feud had commenced.
Later that show, Bob Orton challenged Hogan for the world title, and following outside interference from Piper, the two beat down both Hogan and Mr T… who was still hanging around. To the rescue? You guessed it – Mr Wonderful.
Now he could stop working heel on the house shows.
After firing Bobby Heenan on television, the Orndorff face turn was complete, and it acted as a fantastic segue into a series of obstacles his former manager would throw at him over the next several months.
With Piper as one adversary, Orndorff suddenly found himself the target of every heel in the organisation, with Bobby Heenan placing a $25,000 bounty on his head. There would be no shortage of those interested in acquiring some extra pocket money, but Orndorff was able to fight through to some impressive wins over the Summer months against mainly Bob Orton, and largely due to a cast on his forearm to even the score against Piper’s bodyguard.
The resilience of Orndorff proved to be a little too much for most, prompting ‘The Brian’ to increase the price on Mr Wonderful to a cool $50,000 after a little while.
The most memorable attempt at claiming the cash came in the form of, you know it… Roddy Piper, who attacked Orndorff after a squash match on July 9th, 1985, clubbed him a few times and threw him out of the ring. In retrospect, it was a pretty lame attempt by Piper, who quickly looked to Heenan to claim his prize.
Amazingly, Heenan seemed fine with handing the cash over.
Orndorff jumped back into the ring and he and Piper engaged in a wild brawl, as over a dozen wrestlers piled into ringside keep the two apart. It set the scene for more Piper v Orndorff madness over the coming months.
Have you ever been in a fight? I mean a legitimate fight where you’re trying your absolute best to hurt the guys you’re at odds with and giving everything you’ve got to save yourself?
How did it play out? Did you grab an arm, twist it, only to have the other guy, or girl, counter and take one of your arms in a nice reversal? Did he somehow manage to contort his body to flip out of that hold and hiplock you over onto your back?
No, of course that didn’t happen. Because that happens in pro wrestling. Fighting, is a different beast altogether. And much like my teenage efforts with the opposite sex, a fight is heated, messy, furious and does not last all that long.
Apologies to those unfortunate girls who helped me through this period of my life. Your sacrifices will never be forgotten.
We suspend our disbelief when we watch wrestling, and we enjoy the theatre of it all, but once in a while, we do like to be reminded that there’s a chance that these two guys might legitimately hate each other. It gave an air of reality to the Shawn Michaels v Bret Hart situation in 1997 and looking back at the way Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff mixed it up in their early outings, at times, their clashes looked more like legitimate fights than pro wrestling.
I’ve heard Eric Bischoff speak on his excellent podcast, 83 Weeks about something similar. As a kid, you know something is up with wrestling, but then you see a certain two guys fight it out, you get the feeling that there might be just a little more to their rivalry than the others – Piper v Orndorff had that feeling. Everything else may seem a bit contrived, but these two… in my eyes, they hated each other’s guts!
I implore you to jump on youtube… and the link will be pasted below, and check out their first Saturday Night’s Main Event match. Sure, it’s obviously worked, but there are elements of their match that look messy at stages, as though each of them are legitimately attempting to get the upper hand on each other. They roll around on the ground as though they are desperate to gain the upper hand the other, but simultaneous avoid being in a compromising position. It just… wasn’t done at the time as part of the increasingly polished WWF product.
I once read an apt description of this match in the never-forgotten Australian Wrestling Magazine, Piledriver. Referring to wrestling matches as preferred meals, it makes the comparison between the Ric Flair v Terry Funk Falls No Hold Barred match in ‘89 and the Piper v Orndorff match from SNME. The writer called the Funk v Flair match a three-course meal, whilst the latter was more akin to a great burger and fries. It was more of a situation where things are going to get a little messy. Still, you ate up every last bit of it and licked your fingers after it.
And so, we meandered through the remainder of 1985 and into 86 with Orndorff as arguably the second most popular wrestler in the WWF behind Hogan. With Roddy Piper due to return to the organisation after an absence to “take back” his position on Piper’s Pit after the segment was usurped by Adorable Adrian Adonis under the moniker of ‘The Flower Shop’.
This spelt trouble. As despised as Piper had been, people were dying to cheer for him. He was the perfect anti-hero at that point. Loud, obnoxious and undeniably charismatic, and soon enough, it was apparent that had he stayed a babyface, Orndorff would be bumped down the ladder of popularity.
Hulk had his challengers in this period, dispatching Randy Savage, Terry Funk and King Kong Bundy, but toward the second half of the year, it was apparent that Hogan needed a new opponent to keep business ticking over.
And so, with Bobby Heenan stoking the Orndorff fire, a frustrated Mr Wonderful attempted to contact Hogan to setup a tag team match with his friend, against King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd.
Only Hogan was busy lifting weights, apparently, and in an age before mobile technology, Orndorff was left hanging. It left a bitter taste in his mouth as he was bumped for something deemed a little more important.
Eventually, the tag match was booked, and a clearly agitated Orndorff and Hogan were shown backstage preparing for the match. As you can see below… things did not turn out the way Hogan wanted, in a storyline sense, but the Orndorff turn was exactly what the WWF needed to spark one of the hottest runs in wrestling history.
THE PILEDRIVER HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
Some people ask where you were at a certain point in time. Not to trivialise catastrophic events in history – the ones that leave an indelible mark on you for your whole life – but I can remember the exact moment I saw Paul Orndorff belatedly enter the ring to save his partner, Hulk Hogan from the two-on-one attack from King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd.
After landing punches on both villains, Orndorff, suffering from an accidental knock to the head from Hogan earlier in the match, began to help his partner off the mat. He patted his buddy to make sure he was okay, and the crowd cheered, but it was not the deafening cheer you’d usually associate with someone making the big save. Something was up – they knew it.
Sitting on a bean bag at 10.45pm on a Thursday evening, in Melbourne, Australia… around six weeks after the event actually happened, I knew something was up, too.
The camera cut away from the pair in the ring to concentrate for a moment on the trio of Heenan, Bundy and Studd outside the ring before cutting back to see Orndorff flatten Hogan with a clothesline and follow up with possibly the best piledriver ever delivered.
Orndorff delivered the move with such force, yet such control, that it looked like it folded Hogan up like an accordion. For those who have mocked Hogan’s acting in Mr Nanny and Santa with Muscles, his sell job here, convulsing, then clutching at his neck and shoulder, is absolutely first class.
Bundy, Studd and Heenan returned to the ring to welcome the newest member of the Heenan Family – Mr Wonderful, Paul Orndorff before a plethora of babyfaces rushed to Hogan’s aid. Orndorff cupped his hand to his ear, soaking in the boos of the crowd as though they were cheers, emulating the actions of his now-former partner.
Backstage following the bout, the heel dressing room crowded around, with Heenan starting the chant of “Wonderful… Wonderful!” amongst them. The WWF had a new top heel, and the Hulkster had a very real threat to his title.
I’ll delve into the feud against Hogan a little more in the next section, but before I do, I want to touch on something that is very rarely spoken about.
Hulk Hogan was known for killing finishers. He stood up immediately after Randy Savage dropped the big elbow on him at Summerslam 89 in a moment that saw me shake my head. He also popped up after the Big Van Vader powerbomb, in a moment that effectively ruined the move as a legitimate finisher, despite the way WCW had built it as a potentially career-ending move. However, with Orndorff’s piledriver, we saw a more thoughtful, intelligent way of protecting the move, and the man who utilised it, whilst still having Hogan as the winner in the feud.
Now, I am not sure about the house show circuit, and there may indeed be a few matches where Hogan makes the superman comeback from Orndorff’s finisher that I am unaware of, but from what I saw – around eight or nine matches, the WWF and the pair in the ring were able to execute solid matches without resorting to the standard Hogan comeback win.
And you hardly ever, if at all, saw Orndorff hit that piledriver on Hogan again. Can you think of any? I saw one… in the montage at the end of this article.
It always had me thinking… what if Orndorff was actually able to hit that move? Is that the game changer?
Matches would often end with Hogan mimicking the way Orndorff turned on him, lifting an almost-beaten Mr Wonderful off the mat, raising his hand, only to clothesline him back down. He’d then give the signal for the piledriver, which was the cue for Bobby Heenan to enter the ring and disrupt the move, earning a DQ win for Hogan before he could execute it.
Hogan went over, usually by disqualification or countout, but the legitimacy of the Orndorff finish was retained.
If only that same logic was used for other Hogan opponents in the years to come…
THE BIGGEST DRAWING FEUD
Enough has been written about this legendary series between Orndorff and Hogan to fill a book. Huge houses, hot crowds, stealing the music of your opponent, and the over 60,000 paying customers to watch the two tangle in Toronto.
The lack of clean, pinfall wins meant that the doubt lingered in the mids of the fans as to whether Hogan could put Mr Wonderful away. Even the big blowoff of the feud, the Saturday Night’s Main Event cage match, saw the finish mired in controversy, as both men climbed the cage and exited, landing simultaneously on opposite sides of the ring.
The ending was so well done in post-production that it appeared there was no difference between the two on landing, and the match was restarted, with Hogan eventually escaping the cage to win. The show drew a 10.6 Nielsen Rating.
Despite reports to the contrary, the Hogan v Orndorff feud, irrespective of its intensity and appeal, did not last all that long in arenas. The Orndorff turn occurred in July of 1986. Their series commenced around mid-August, but by November, Hogan was working more with Kamala than he was Mr Wonderful.
Here’s a link for you to drown yourself in WWF match results from that period – a great resource, and it reveals that Hogan, though perceived as the clear victor in the feud, was able to come out of the series looking like a strong champion without laying Orndorff to waste the way he would other legitimate challengers to his title (cough Randy Savage cough).
Is that what we put things down to? I have heard many lament the fact that Orndorff did not get a quick run with the WWF World Title, but when you consider the landscape of the organisation at the time, it made it pretty unlikely that, as much as he may have deserved the run, and as much as he could have drawn out his run against Hogan, there was something larger on the horizon for the company.
Much larger, in every way.
Wrestlemania 3 was looming in the early stages of 1987, and with Andre the Giant ageing rapidly, the WWF had to move if they were going to get one more run out of him in a believable sense. You could see by this stage that Andre was moving under duress. As a matter of fact, he had been slowing dramatically for a few years, but at this point, it was undoubtedly his last chance to provide a believable threat to Hogan’s title.
Sure, Andre hung around as a threat for another 12-18 months, but in terms of timing, it was the right decision to turn him heel and the right time to promote the huge match. Orndorff, despite being perceived – initially at least – as a genuine threat to Hogan’s reign, would have to take a back seat.
And sadly, he was forced to for other reasons.
I wonder whether Orndorff could have been big again had he taken the time away he required when first injured? I wonder sometimes whether this was him being pigheaded and pushing through the pain because he was legitimately concerned he’d be moved on if he took time off? Or whether the money he was drawing was just too good to turn down at the time? He missed an occasional shot here or there through October, usually replaced by Adrian Adonis, as he battled injury, but had we seen a scenario where Hogan slammed the cage door on Orndorff, “injuring” him and to giving him an out to have time off to undergo surgery and heal properly, could Orndorff have come back and main-evented again? I cannot help but think his career would have had a better second act than what we saw in WCW years later if he’d taken the time initially.
I have heard here and there that Orndorff was earning somewhere in the vicinity of $20-25K per week at the height of his run with Hogan. Let’s face it, in terms of 1986 money, it would be tempting to fight through the pain and resist turning that kind of coin down, and if the house show records in the link above are correct, we’re talking a brief period of just a few months of earning that type of coin. Not a year of $20K per week pay cheques – a couple of months. However, was the initial gain worth what would follow?
Vision of Orndorff as late as 2000 shows a man with an atrophied right bicep, struggling through a match in WCW Nitro that he should not have been involved in, and ending with Mr Wonderful legitimately injuring his neck in an attempt to execute his piledriver. He now possessed a withered limb, with the damage of the initial injury going untreated for too long, and the residual damage ravaging the whole side of his body over the years.
What if Orndorff had taken six months, or a year off when he needed it? What would hehad the surgery, did the rehab and returned to the WWF? Could he have been, as De Niro would so eloquently put it “a contender” again?
Hogan would have still been around, and a huge presence in the organisation. Randy Savage would have been world champion, and a vengeful Orndorff would have made a genuine high-class opponent for the Macho Man. Had it taken a little bit longer, Orndorff could have put the work in and been the next in line to challenge for Hogan’s title again after the Savage rematches ran their course. After all, he would have had Hogan to blame for the injury that put him out.
I’m often accused of screwing over my future self. I’ll leave important work to the last minute, won’t do household chores until they pile up, and I have been guilty of putting off going to the doctor because… well, because I am a dude – it’s what we do. So, in a way, I can empathise with Orndorff’s way of thinking. He was making hay whilst the sun was shining. It may have been shining brightly at that time, but those clouds on the horizon… man, it makes you think about alternate ways of handling the situation.
Hindsight again… it’s wonderful in its own right.
After a feud with Rick Rude, who had in effect, usurped Orndorff’s place as the cocky heel in Heenan’s family, Orndorff was finished with the WWF and showed up on WCW TV in 1990 before hitting the indies for a while. However, after stints in the UWF and Smoky Mountain Wrestling, he was back in WCW by 1992, having a pretty damn good match fall count anywhere with Cactus Jack, picking up the TV Title and holding it for half a year, and forming a handy tag team with Paul Roma, called Pretty Wonderful. They had two runs as tag champs in the following year.
It was an enjoyable stint, but it will always be his WWF work that is the standout.
The passing of Paul Orndorff hit me a little. We’ve all had those we look up to pass at one time or another. I felt it keenly when Randy Savage passed away. He was the wrestler I graduated to in terms of my wrestling fandom, and as a teenager, his work kept me engaged in pro wrestling despite the… distractions available at the time. It was Orndorff, then Savage. I was shocked to hear about the passing of Prince, but he leaves a musical legacy that will keep him forever young.
At 71, the passing of Orndorff, particularly after the issues he’d experienced in the weeks leading up, was not a shock, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. He is an icon of wrestling that deserves that title, not just because he has now passed and everyone kind of starts handing out plaudits, but because it is warranted.
Sadly, I missed his early career, but I really feel as though I was front and centre to see the best of it. Despite being half a world away, the magic that was Paul Orndorff in the WWF made the life of a kid in Melbourne, Australia a little bit better.