Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #29 – Rick Rude

Rick Rude came into the wrestling business a lucky man, already possessing a great look, plenty of natural charisma and the genetics to build a tremendous physique. With all this, Rude could likely have thrived, particularly in the image-dominated World Wrestling Federation of the 1980’s, without learning a single wrestling hold. That he dedicated himself to constant improvement as an in-ring performer over the course of his career speaks volumes of him as a professional and as a man.

Real NameRichard Roode
AliasesRicky Roode; Smooth Operator; the Halloween Phantom
HometownSt. Peter, Minnesota
Titles HeldNWA Florida Southern Heavyweight (2x); NWA Florida United States Tag Team (with Eddie Sharkey); AWA Southern Heavyweight; AWA Southern Tag Team (with King Kong Bundy); NWA World Tag Team (with Manny Fernandez); WCW International World Heavyweight (3x); WCW United States; NWA American Heavyweight; WCCW Television; WCWA World Heavyweight; WWF Intercontinental
Other AccomplishmentsFirst WCWA World Heavyweight champion; Winner of PWI Most Hated Wrestler of the Year Award in 1992; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Best Heel Award in 1992; Ranked #57 of the Top 500 Wrestlers During the PWI Years

Rick Rude came into the wrestling business a lucky man, already possessing a great look, plenty of natural charisma and the genetics to build a tremendous physique. With all this, Rude could likely have thrived, particularly in the image-dominated World Wrestling Federation of the 1980’s, without learning a single wrestling hold. That he dedicated himself to constant improvement as an in-ring performer over the course of his career speaks volumes of him as a professional and as a man.

From the first note of his entrance music to the “Rude Awakening” he would lay on one lucky young lady after each of his matches, “Ravishing” Rick Rude was pure gold. With a few words on the microphone, a swivel of his hips, or a pucker of his lips, Rude could incite the male portion of the crowd to near riots while driving the women crazy and when it came time to back up his big words in the ring, well he could do that to. The true total package of his era, “The Ravishing One” is unquestionably one of the most talented stars of both the WWF and World Championship Wrestling to never hold a World title, but his undeniable talent and legacy make him one of the most memorable and noteworthy wrestlers of the modern era.

Growing up in Minnesota, Richard Rood could have been part of an impressive wrestling promotion featuring his high school classmates alone, who included future superstars “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Nikita Koloff, Tom Zenk, Barry Darsow, “The Berzerker” John Nord and Brady Boone. Despite graduating college with a degree in Physical Education, young Rood quickly went into professional wrestling, debuting in 1983 and travelling to National Wrestling Alliance affiliates in Vancouver and Georgia as well as a stint in the Carolinas-based Jim Crockett Promotions where he feuded with the Road Warriors.

After a year breaking in as Ricky Rood, the young Minnesotan landed in Memphis Championship Wrestling where he first took on what would become his signature persona of the arrogant “Ravishing” Rick Rude and experienced moderate success managed by Jimmy Hart in feuds with Jerry Lawler and King Kong Bundy. Rude spent 1984 in another NWA territory with the famed Championship Wrestling from Florida promotion, teaming with Jesse Barr—the future Barry Horowitz—against Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Jack Haynes.

In 1985, Rude continued his wrestling education in top territories by moving on to Texas’ World Class Championship Wrestling where he won the promotion’s top singles championship, feuded with Kevin Von Erich and Chris Adams, and briefly formed a team with a future rival than named the Dingo Warrior. After only two years in the wrestling business, Rude had proven himself a dedicated student of the game and quickly became a top commodity across the United States. In the summer of 1986, Rude returned to JCP to form a team with Manny Fernandez to defeat the Rock & Roll Express for the NWA World Tag Team titles, but the team’s reign would be short as the “Ravishing One” garnered the attention of Vince McMahon and signed with the World Wrestling Federation less than four years after his first match.

Rick Rude made his way into the WWF officially late in the summer of 1987, the newest protégé of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. While still lacking total refinement in the ring, Rude shined with immediate confidence on the microphone. Rude developed a polished and unique ring entrance that would become legendary. Rude would take little flourishes like the slow removal of his ring robe or seductive swiveling of his hips and draw huge heat from crowds around the world. To cap off the performance, Rude would pull women from the crowd following his victories and give them a “Rude Awakening,” a passionate kiss.

Rude’s first WWF feud took place against “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, a former charge of Heenan’s he had dumped in favor of his new meal ticket. Rude joined Andre the Giant’s team for the 1987 Survivor Series with Orndorff on the opposing squad captained by Hulk Hogan in the main event—again, Rude had proven a quick study.

In 1988, Rude embarked upon one of the most memorable feuds of his career when one of the women he picked to give a “Rude Awakening” turned out to be Cheryl Roberts, the wife of Jake Roberts, locking “The Ravishing One” and “The Snake in a heated rivalry. Rude infuriated Roberts—and the fans—by wearing tights with Cheryl’s image airbrushed on the crotch, which led to “The Snake” storming the ring and tearing his hated foe’s gear off. At Wrestlemania IV, Rude and Roberts wrestled to a time limit draw, but the heat between the opponents, two of the most gifted masters of psychological warfare in the history of wrestling, kept the feud fresh and intense for nearly 12 months.

Rude kicked off 1989 by setting his sights on his first major single championship in the form of the Intercontinental title held by his old tag team partner the Dingo Warrior, now known as the Ultimate Warrior. Despite being limited as far as his in-ring skills—and by all reports unwilling to make any attempt at improving—Warrior’s huge physique and bizarre intensity made him a hit with the crowd. Working with the undisciplined Warrior in the biggest feud of his burgeoning career would be Rude’s greatest test to date, but he rose to the challenge and, in the process, cemented himself at the top of the business.

The Rude-Warrior rivalry ignited at the 1989 Royal Rumble with a posedown contest, as each man displayed their impressive musculatures. Rude’s psychology was on full display, as he utilized the simplest tools like pauses and facial expressions to stoke the ire of the crowd, turning what could have been—and in just about every instance has been—a snoozer of a segment into a hot opener for a big time feud. At Wrestlemania V, Rude practically held Warrior’s hand through the best match to date of the latter’s career and was rewarded with a win and the Intercontinental title thanks to the outside the ring chicanery of Heenan.

Over the next five months, Rude dragged Warrior through the hottest matches on the house show circuit, usually losing by disqualification or countout but retaining his title. Within the company, Rude was applauded for his work by fellow wrestlers and management alike, who recognized that his patience, dedication and unselfishness had taken his opponent to the next level, something the company badly needed but that Warrior did not have the skill or maturity to achieve on his own. While Rude dropped the Intercontinental championship back to Warrior at Summerslam 1989 due to interference from Roddy Piper, his title run had furthered his reputation as both a professional and a star.

Rude and Piper briefly feuded in late 1989 moving into 1990, but their rivalry never really seemed to take off the way it could have. As the build to Wrestlemania VI began, with a main event between World champion Hulk Hogan and IC champ Warrior as the featured attraction, Rude seemed left out in the cold with no titles to pursue or major rivalries to blow off. Instead, Wrestlemania was used as a platform to debut a new look and attitude for Rude, his long curly locks shaved into a short haircut and his focus narrowed on competition over theatrics. The “new” Rude handily defeated veteran Jimmy Snuka on the grandest stage of them all.

Again, Rude got the call to be the good company man in a familiar setting as Warrior’s first major challenge in his World title reign. The WWF hoped Rude could work the same magic and establish Warrior as a legitimate World champion and franchise player, but their steel cage encounter at Summerslam 1990 failed to live up to past expectations. At this point, after devoting two years of his career to build up an ungrateful Warrior and with no reward seemingly in sight, Rude began to have doubts about his place in the WWF and made the surprising—and risky—decision to opt out of his contract and leave the Federation in the fall of 1990.

After sitting out of wrestling for nearly a year, “Ravishing” Rick Rude made history in October of 1991 as the first major star to jump from the WWF to World Championship Wrestling while still in the prime of his career. Rude brought a credibility to WCW as a legitimate threat to their competitors up north and the company rewarded “The Ravishing One” accordingly, treating him as a main event level star out of the gate, as he squashed Tom Zenk in his debut at Halloween Havoc and immediately leapt into a feud with Sting, the most popular attraction in the organization.

Less than a month into his WCW tenure, Rude defeated Sting to win the United States title at Clash of the Champions XVII. Rude found himself at the heart of WCW’s hottest angle as he and manager Paul E. Dangerously founded the Dangerous Alliance, a heel stable that included the likes of Arn Anderson, “Stunning” Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko, Bobby Eaton and valet Madusa, unquestionably the greatest assemblage of talent in one group since the heyday of the original Four Horsemen. Rude was recognized as the unofficial leader of the Alliance and their top star.

At Starrcade, the final WCW pay-per-view event of 1991, Rude and Austin teamed to make it into the Battlebowl battle royal, but neither man won. Two months later at Suprbrawl II, Rude defeated fellow former WWF star Ricky Steamboat to retain the U.S. title thanks to outside interference from Dangerously. With Rude in possession of the U.S. title, Austin holding the Television title and Anderson and Eaton capturing the World Tag Team titles, the only WCW championship that eluded the Alliance was the World title, which Sting won at Superbrawl to kick his feud with the dastardly group into the next gear.

While Rude was able to fend off the U.S. title advances of Nikita Koloff during the summer of 1992, no Dangerous Alliance member was able to unseat Sting for the World championship. At Wrestle War 1992, Sting’s “Squadron” of himself, Steamboat, Koloff, Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes defeated the Alliance in War Games to end the feud. Following the loss, the stable began to collapse, with Rude disassociating from Dangerously and the rest of the group, striking out on his own with Madusa.

Rude held onto the U.S. championship through the summer of 1992 even without the Dangerous Alliance, though he did lose a non-title Iron Man match to Steamboat at Beach Blast. As the leaves changed color and summer turned to fall, Rude set his aspirations higher, targeting newly crowned World champion Ron Simmons, and many felt it was only a matter of time before “The Ravishing One” got the run with the big belt most felt he had long deserved. Unfortunately for Rude, an injury knocked him out of a Starrcade showdown with Simmons and put him on the shelf for several months, forcing him to relinquish the U.S. title.

Making his return in April of 1993, for the first time in years Rude found himself on his own, with no manager or valet on his arm and his mind keenly focused on regaining his U.S. title from young Dustin Rhodes. The two had an inconclusive initial series of matches, with the title being held up after one draw and regaining vacant after another in an Iron Man match, but Rhodes defeated Rude in their third match to claim the belt and end the feud. Fortunately for Rude, he had bigger fish to fry.

After all he had accomplished, Rude still ached for that first World championship, and pursued the legendary Ric Flair, who held the WCW International World title—considered by the organization to be on par with the World title. At Fall Brawl 1993, Rude defeated Flair to claim the International belt. Though many considered the International title something of a joke, Rude considered winning it the crowning achievement of his career, and because fans had developed such respect for him over the years, he in large part legitimized the championship simply by holding it. Rude notched up several successful title defenses against Flair as 1993 closed out—another sign of the respect he had earned through his years of hard work—and then renewed his rivalry with Sting to kick off 1994. Sadly, this would be the final great in-ring feud of Rude’s career.

Rude dropped the International strap to Japanese star Hiroshi Hase during a tour of the far east in March, but regained the title only a week later. Rude would drop the belt again to Sting at Spring Stampede 1994, but then regained it on another swing of Japan a few weeks later. However, during the latter match, Rude suffered a severe back injury after landing awkwardly off a back drop. Scheduled to defend his title at Slamboree, Rude could not compete as a result of his injury and forfeit the belt. As it became clear Rude could not return from this obstacle, he quietly ended his decade-plus career as an active wrestler.

After three years out of the national spotlight, “Ravishing” Rick Rude returned to wrestling on the most unlikely of stages, making a surprise appearance at Barely Legal, the first pay-per-view from the upstart Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion run by his former manager Paul E. Dangerously—aka Paul Heyman—in April of 1997. While Rude could not compete in the ring, with the free reign provided by ECW’s more lax and risqué set of rules and adult-skewing audience he could cut loose verbally and fire all the weapons in his heat seeking arsenal without restraint. The fans embraced Rude wholeheartedly as he tormented top heel Shane Douglas by bringing in wrestlers to antagonize him and made lewd advances towards the lovely Francine. Rude also joined Joey Styles as ECW’s announce team, a role he proved unsurprisingly well suited for.

While Rude seemed to genuinely enjoy his time in ECW, by late summer he returned to his roots in the WWF as the bodyguard of Shawn Michaels. Unfortunately, with Michaels and his allies Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna beginning to form the nucleus of D-Generation X, Rude found himself with little to do other than stand in the background during group interviews in his suit and tie.

Rude made history one last time on November 17, 1997. Upset with the WWF and Vince McMahon over the “Montreal Screwjob” with Bret Hart, Rude, who had been working without a contract, jumped to WCW and showed up on their live Monday Nitro program the same night he appeared on WWF’s taped edition of Raw for that week, becoming the only wrestler to ever appear on both shows in one night. In his Nitro debut, Rude joined the New World Order and spoke out against the WWF for their treatment of Hart as well as vowing to help NWO leader Hulk Hogan gain revenge against the man he blamed for his retirement, Sting.

However, not long after his WCW return, Rude found himself with little to no time on television due to the organization’s vast roster, and settled into a minor role managing old friend Curt Hennig. Rude and Hennig remained an on-screen tandem through the summer of 1998 when they took time off to recuperate from injuries.

Sadly, that would be the last time the public saw Rude, as he passed away on April 20, 1999 at age 40 of heart failure that may have been connected to past steroid use. It has been long rumored that Rude had been negotiating to jump back to the WWF as an active wrestler.

While he never got the true World title reign most felt he deserved, “Ravishing” Rick Rude earned the respect and admiration of his peers and fans through a superlative career. As his legacy, Rude leaves behind countless great matches and interviews as well as stars he helped build both directly and through his influence as one of the greatest wrestlers of the modern era.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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