Brad Armstrong was never “the man.”
He didn’t defeat Ric Flair in a steel cage at Starrcade and become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He was not the man to headline Jim Crockett Promotions as they went to war with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. He was not the face of the National Wrestling Alliance and showcased in main events, featured in cities around the country and known all around the world.
Brad Armstrong was a professional wrestler. And a very good one, at that.
When I was a kid, the NWA was it. Hulk Hogan’s WWF was a circus, and not even an afterthought for me. The only time I even noticed they were around was when I passed it on the TV while changing channels and when Dusty Rhodes would occasionally mention the “paper champion” up north.
The NWA was “real” pro wrestling, where the guys were not flashy and the production values were not Hollywood-caliber. But, the action was everything that the business was meant to be and the men in the ring delivered each and every week.
Brad Armstrong was one of those men.
I remember being very impressed by Brad in the ring. He had a great physique, a good look and was a very likable wrestler. He got over with the NWA crowds, who appreciated his skill and ability. How good was he?
So good in fact, that when he had run-ins with the Four Horsemen, I believed that he could win every time.
This is a big deal, as in those days, Ric and the Horsemen jumped a lot of guys, not just Dusty Rhodes and Magnum TA. Being the NWA’s top heels, the Horsemen threw their weight around on every level of the company, and no one was safe from their attacks.
When they set their sights on a worker who was not a top star, whether it was in or out of the ring, it was game over. He could fight back all he wanted, but he was going to lose, and he was probably going to get hurt.
But Brad was different. He looked as though he could legitimately take care of himself in the ring and it was because he was so good that I truly believed that he could have a great night and actually beat Ric for the title.
Of course, a lot of the credit for that goes to Flair, who built his career off making guys look better than they could look with anyone else. But I believe it’s a safe bet that Ric did not have to work that hard when he faced Brad.
A second generation wrestler, Brad was technically sound in his game and was very competent in the ring. He could mat wrestle or come off the top rope whenever the moment called for it and it was that ability that made him stand out in a company that was filled with some real legends of the industry.
Imagine being a babyface on the NWA roster during those days.
Dusty, Magnum, the Rock & Roll Express, the Road Warriors, Wahoo McDaniel, Jimmy Valiant, guys who were proven draws that fans loved to see and that Crockett could build an entire card around. For anyone to get over as a face while surrounded by these legends says a lot about Armstrong as a personality and as a worker.
But when Brad transitioned from singles to the tag team division and began working with Tim Horner, he impressed me even more.
The Lightning Express were young, exciting to watch, and both very good in the ring. Brad and Tim fit together extremely well, and thanks to the impression that I already had of Armstrong, it translated to the team. So when they faced off against the toughest teams of the era, I always believed that they could win. They were a talented duo, no question about it.
But perhaps the most impressive quality about Brad that I appreciate now was his professionalism. In a business filled with huge egos, some of which believe themselves to be more important than what they are, I have never heard one negative thing about Brad Armstrong.
There’s a very good reason why Brad was thought of as a normal, down to Earth kind of guy. Because he was.
He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t flashy, and he wasn't all about himself. All he did was work hard, do everything that was asked of him, and succeeded in the business he loved, without having to make a world of enemies along the way.
He will be remembered for what he did in the business and for the kind of man he was. And he will be missed.
Brad Armstrong was never “the man.” But in every way that counted, he definitely was.