Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #50 – Rick Martel

He is a former AWA World Heavyweight champion. He is a former WCW Television champion.

And yes, he is a model.

50. RICK MARTEL

Real NameRichard Vigneault
Hometown Quebec City, Quebec
Debuted1972
Titles HeldStampede International Tag Team (with Lennie Hurst); NWA Austra-Asian Tag Team (with Larry O’Day) ; NWA New Zealand British Empire/Commonwealth Heavyweight (3x); NWA Hawaii North American Heavyweight; NWA Georgia Tag Team (with Tommy Rich); WWC North American Tag Team (with Pierre Martel); NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight (2x); NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team (with Roddy Piper 3x); NWA Vancouver Tag Team (with Roddy Piper); WWF Tag Team (3x, 2 with Tony Garea, 1 with Tito Santana); IWA Montreal International Heavyweight (2x); AWA World Heavyweight; WCW World Television
Other AccomplishmentsRanked #48 of the best 500 singles wrestlers during the PWI years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated; Ranked #70 of the best tag teams during the PWI years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (with Tito Santana); Ranked #74 of the best tag teams during the PWI years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (with Tony Garea)

Rick Martel got an early start to the world of pro wrestling. Already an accomplished amateur wrestler, he found himself in his first pro match at the age of 16 when his brother asked him to replace another wrestler who was injured. Martel was hooked and began competing in his native Canada and around the world, winning various titles along the way.

In 1980 Martel headed to the United States, where he entered Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest Wrestling and quickly rose to the top of the card. It didn’t take long for Martel to win gold here as he defeated Buddy Rose for the Pacific Northwest Heavyweight title on March 22nd. He and Rose would continue trading the belt until September 20th, when Rose ended Martel’s second (and final) title reign.

In addition to the primary championship, Martel and Roddy Piper entered into a war with the Kiwi Sheepherders (better known today as the WWF’s Bushwhackers) over the Pacific Northwest Tag Team titles, winning the titles a week after Martel’s heavyweight title win. The Sheepherders won the belts back in May, and the titles were returned to Martel and Piper in August when the Sheepherders left the territory. The next challenge came from Buddy Rose and Ed Wiskoski. The two teams quickly traded the titles, but Martel lost a loser-leaves-town match to longtime foe Buddy Rose on August 16th. As Martel left the company, Piper replaced him with Mike Popovich, and their title reign continued for another month.

Martel, however, headed to the WWF. He formed a tag team with Tony Garea and captured the WWF World Tag Team titles in November by defeating the Wild Samoans. (Interestingly enough, the Samoans had defeated Garea and then-partner Rene Goulet in a tournament to crown new champions after Bob Backlund had won the world title.) Martel and Garea lost the belts the following March to the Moondogs team of King and Rex. They recaptured the belts in July and held them until October, when Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito defeated them.

Martel left the WWF shortly thereafter and headed to Montreal. Again, it didn’t take Martel long to win gold as in September of 1982 he won a tournament to crown a new Canadian International Heavyweight champion. He held the title until December, when he was defeated by Billy Robinson.

Going into 1983, Martel had a new feud ahead of him. He soon found himself engaged in an unusual war with Dino Bravo, where both men played the babyface role. Martel would finally recapture Bravo’s International Heavyweight belt and would lose it back to him in September.

Again, it wasn’t long before Martel moved on. This time he headed to Verne Gagne’s AWA. On May 13th, he defeated Jumbo Tsuruta to become the AWA world champion.

This was an unusual move. After all, it was only the year before that Hulk Hogan had departed for the WWF after Gagne continued to refuse to put the world belt on him.

Martel also suffered from another problem – he was plain compared to some of the other wrestlers around on television. He was a great wrestler, but he didn’t have anything remarkable about his looks and wasn’t as good on the microphone as a Hogan, Flair, or Bockwinkel.

Although Martel would compete in matches against top-notch talent (including Flair), the crowd was still unsure about whether to accept him or not. Martel’s credibility took another direct hit in December of 1985. Martel lost the belt to Stan Hansen.

The problem wasn’t Martel losing the belt. The problem was that Martel lost the belt via submission. This was an unusual move for a title change at the time and fans thought it made Martel look weak.

Martel remained in the AWA for another year before he headed to the WWF once again. This time he was tagging with Tom Zenk as the Can-Am Connection (a team that the two had formed in Canada during 1986). Although the team was popular, it split after Wrestlemania III when Zenk left the WWF. Zenk has claimed that he discovered that Martel was making three times as much money as he was and left as a result.

However, Martel was still feuding with the Hart Foundation. He quickly recruited Tito Santana and the two teamed as Strike Force. Finally, in October of 1987, Strike Force was able to end the Hart Foundation’s ten month title reign. The following March at Wrestlemania IV, Strike Force lost the belts to Demolition. Martel found himself on the shelf shortly thereafter. A Decapitation from Demolition on the floor would put Martel out for nearly a year.

Martel returned to action at the Royal Rumble, but tensions were starting to simmer. At Wrestlemania V, Strike Force was facing the Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) when Tito accidentally hit Martel with his flying forearm. A livid Martel left the ring and allowed Santana to be destroyed and pinned by the Brain Busters.

Martel began feuding with Santana as a result of this and would do so for the remainder of 1989 and through most of 1990. Martel also underwent a personality change. Now known as the Model Rick Martel, Martel changed into someone who was full of arrogance and extremely narcissistic. In addition, the Model carried a pastel atomizer filled with his own personal cologne – Arrogance. Arrogance commercials (such as these) also began airing on WWF programming.

After Martel won the feud with Santana, his next battle was with Jake Roberts. According to the storylines, Martel “accidentally” sprayed Roberts in the face with Arrogance, which blinded him. After Roberts’s vision returned, he battled Martel in a blindfold match at Wrestlemania VII. Roberts won the match, and, in doing so, again proved that blindfold matches are quite possibly the most boring stipulation ever concocted.

Martel’s next feud was against the Native American Tatanka, after Martel stole Tatanka’s sacred eagle feather. Tatanka won the match at Wrestlemania VII and Martel moved on to fighting Shawn Michaels over Sherri Martel’s affections. Michaels would win that with a victory at Summerslam in a match with a no punching in the face stipulation.

Shortly thereafter, Martel vanished from WWF programming until October of 1993. Martel and Razor Ramon tied in a battle royal to determine a new Intercontinental champion following Shawn Michaels being stripped of the belt for failing to defend it. Razor defeated Martel the next week on Raw to begin his first IC title reign.

Shortly after Wrestlemania X Martel vanished again from WWF programming and left the company. He returned to Canada and began tag teaming with Don Casablancas (AKA Don Callis, better known as ECW’s Cyrus or the WWF’s Jackyl) as the Supermodels. There was talk of bringing the Supermodels into the WWF, but nothing ever came of it.

Martel returned to television in 1997 as he signed with WCW. He quickly began a feud with Booker T over the WCW World Television title and won the belt on the February 16, 1998 Nitro. At Superbrawl less than a week later, Martel faced Booker in a match with the winner defending the TV title against Perry Saturn. Not long into the match, Martel hit the ropes awkwardly, which saw him tear a ligament in his knee, break his leg, and damage the cartilage in the knee as well.

Martel made one more comeback which saw him facing Stevie Ray. Martel injured his neck during the match and decided to retire. Today he is involved in real estate in his native Quebec.

Martel was a great ring technician. However, he never truly broke out of the pack until we met “The Model.” In an instant Martel transformed himself from the vanilla babyface to an arrogant jerk you wanted to punch (preferably before he sprayed you with a shot of Arrogance). Finally Martel had the total package – the look, the skills, and the attitude. However, it is disappointing that everything clicked for Martel so late in his career. If everything had lined up earlier (such as during his AWA title reign) it’s extremely possible that Martel would find himself much higher up this list.

Martel was also held back by bad booking decisions. When he had trouble expressing himself on the microphone in the AWA, they could have simply supplied him a manager. Instead they left him out in the wind. He was weakened by the submission loss to Hansen, and only used in tag teams for years by the WWF, who could have instead used him as an example of another promotion’s former champion dropping ship. (Although, to be fair, the WWF also talked about Harley Race being a rookie when he jumped in 1986, despite being a 26-year veteran with eight NWA World title reigns under his belt.)

However, when Martel finally got the chance to shine after Strike Force ended, he grabbed the spotlight and held on. The Model has definitely earned his place on this list of the top 100 wrestlers of the modern era.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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