Brian Pillman was with the WWE for barely over a year prior to his untimely death, but his impact on the product was undeniable. Now, 15 years after Pillman tragically passed away at the age of 35 due to a heart condition, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, it is an appropriate time to examine what he meant to professional wrestling.
Prior to becoming a wrestler, Pillman was a standout football star at Miami University and went on to play one season in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. It wasn't long after that he found his true calling, however, as he began training in the legendary Hart Dungeon to become a professional wrestler.
Pillman competed for Stampede Wrestling from 1986 until 1989 when he signed with the NWA, which eventually became WCW. Pillman was essentially one of the founders of WCW's popular cruiserweight division as he won the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship twice and became known as "Flyin'" Brian Pillman for his aerial prowess.
Following the retirement of the Light Heavyweight Championship, Pillman transitioned to tag-team wrestling as he was paired with "Stunning" Steve Austin to form the Hollywood Blonds. They twice won the Tag Team Championships, but Pillman's shining moment in wrestling would ironically come as an opponent of Austin's a few years later.
Late in his WCW tenure, Pillman developed the popular "Loose Cannon" gimmick, which involved him regularly delivering worked shoot promos and blurring the lines between what was real and what was part of the show. Pillman joined ECW in 1996 with the understanding that he would eventually return to WCW, but he inked a guaranteed contract with WWE instead.
Pillman couldn't wrestle for his first few months with the company due to an ankle injury suffered in a car accident, but things really picked up in late 1996. On the Nov. 4 episode of Monday Night RAW that year, Pillman and Austin took their new feud to the next level as they were part of one of the most talked-about moments in RAW history.
During the segment, Pillman was being interviewed along with his wife at his Kentucky home by Kevin Kelly, while Austin stepped foot on the premises. Pillman's buddies jumped Austin, but Stone Cold mowed them down and eventually broke into Pillman's house, but Pillman had been watching on television and pulled a gun on Austin.
Pillman pointed the gun in Austin's direction and the video feed cut out before the audience could see what happened. When it came back Austin was being dragged out of the house by Pillman's friends while Pillman was threatening to kill him.
It was an absolutely shocking scene that had never really been seen before in professional wrestling and I consider it to be the start of the Attitude Era. Many maintain that the Attitude Era didn't truly begin until the Montreal Screwjob one year later at Survivor Series, but the product was noticeably edgier after the Pillman gun incident.
What will you most remember Pillman for?
Pillman went on to become a member of the Hart Foundation as he aided Bret Hart in his battles with Austin and D-Generation X, but we were never able to see the true extent of what Pillman could do in the WWE because of his tragic death on Oct. 5, 1997.
While Pillman still had so much left to offer the wrestling business, he left an indelible mark. Maybe the Attitude Era still would have happened if Pillman had never signed with WWE, but he was the first one to truly bring realism to the product while in WCW and he undoubtedly helped steer the WWE in that direction.
Pillman was a revolutionary figure in the professional wrestling business and fans of the Attitude Era won't soon forget the impact that he made. It is incredibly sad that he wasn't able to be around to witness what he had helped build, but his legacy is such that he is still remembered fondly 15 years after he left us.