In the wrestling industry, there are plenty of men who play tough guys. Then there are those who are tough guys. Rick Steiner belongs in the latter category.
A former collegiate wrestler at the University of Michigan, he made his pro wrestling debut in the late 1980s. A member of the hated Varsity Club, there was something so likable about the double-tough performer, and soon he became a babyface. It was only a matter of time before his brother, Scott, made his debut in the industry, and together, they dominated tag team wrestling throughout the 1990s.
Able to play a babyface or heel, singles or tag team competitor, Steiner's versatility was criminally underrated.
The Dog Faced Gremlin was a legitimate star for World Championship Wrestling during the Monday Night Wars and remained loyal, even in the face of the company's demise early in the new millennium.
A powerhouse who hit as hard as any other wrestler in the world, fans knew they could expect the most physical matches imaginable from the multiple-time tag team, United States and television champion.
In celebration of his career and in honor of his many accomplishments, enjoy this look back at the career of Rick Steiner, told through his greatest matches and moments.
The Varsity Club
When Steiner made his debut with the National Wrestling Alliance in 1987, it was only a matter of time before the promotion paired him with Mike Rotunda, and the duo were managed by Kevin Sullivan in a group known as the Varsity Club. Sullivan touted the amateur wrestling careers of both Steiner and Rotunda, and the group wasted little time becoming a force in Jim Crockett Promotions' crowded midcard.
As the Varsity Club began racking up wins, it became clearer and clearer that Steiner was not the villain that his cohorts were. Instead, he was a simpleton, manipulated by Sullivan and Rotunda to perpetrate the acts of villainy. At his core, he was a good person, a heel by association only.
After being poked and prodded, made fun of on a weekly basis by his acquaintances, Steiner finally had enough and became a babyface. The feud between him, Rotunda and Sullivan culminated at Starrcade in December 1988.
There, he defeated Rotunda to capture the NWA Television Championship in what was, to that point, a defining moment.
The Steiner Brothers
In 1989, Scott Steiner made his wrestling debut and was by his brother's side shortly thereafter, escorting Rick to the ring for his matches. It was only a matter of time before the two siblings from Michigan began partnering together. Success immediately followed.
Their first major feud was with the Freebirds, who were the NWA world tag team champions. At the same time, they found themselves embroiled in a heated program with Ron Simmons and Butch Reed, known collectively as Doom.
While they suffered defeats at the hands of both teams, they did not allow that to set them back. Instead, they used it as motivation, and on the November 18 episode of World Championship Wrestling, Rick and Scott defeated the Freebirds to win the first of many tag titles.
Over the years that would follow, the Steiners would develop into one of the elite tandems in the industry, feuding with every top duo in the National Wrestling Alliance, including the Midnight Express, the Nasty Boys and even fellow babyfaces Sting and Lex Luger.
It was in the early 1990s that they also established a reputation in Japan as not only one of the most popular teams but also one of the most feared, their hard-hitting and bullying nature between the ropes making an impression on the audience.
Unfortunately, World Championship Wrestling (the renamed NWA following Ted Turner's purchase of the company) insulted them with a contract extension offer, leading to their departure and debut in Vince McMahon's then-World Wrestling Federation.
Rick and Scott never really fit into Vince McMahon's cartoon world of professional wrestling. Their style was completely different from that of anyone else in the promotion. That did not stop them from working some outstanding matches during that period, though.
With his brother, Rick waged some real wars with the likes of the Heavenly Bodies, the Quebecers and Money, Incorporated.
The feud with the latter saw Rick and Scott win two WWF Tag Team Championships and firmly established them as the top babyface team in the company. They would ultimately drop the titles to the aforementioned Quebecers before leaving the promotion in the middle of 1994, just over one year after their debut.
But not before they worked with Bret and Owen Hart, which is a hidden gem of a match.
When the Steiners returned to WCW in 1996, it was clear that Rick and Scott were no longer the team they had once been. Worn down by years of hard-hitting work across the road, that spark that had made them so fun to watch was gone.
They remained one of the top teams in the company, regardless, capturing the tag titles and waging war with the likes of Harlem Heat and Public Enemy in the process.
The arrival of the New World Order, though, put them at odds with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, known collectively as The Outsiders. Their battles became key to the war between the nWo and WCW, with the Steiners oftentimes finding themselves screwed out of the tag titles.
Such was the case in January 1997, when they won the gold at the Souled Out pay-per-view, only to have the decision reversed.
Mounting frustration and Scott's intensifying ego began creating dissension among the brothers. They were no longer the cohesive unit they had previously been by the time SuperBrawl arrived in February 1998.
There, Rick was the victim of a shocking betrayal at the hands of his brother, who joined the nWo and ignited a singles run that would ultimately see him capture the world heavyweight title some two years later.
But in the interim, Rick would spend most of '98 trying to avenge the backstabbing. Unfortunately, Scott always came up with some sort of ailment or reason that he could not compete against his older brother.
Then, at Halloween Havoc in October, Rick partnered with Buff Bagwell to face Scott and The Giant for the WCW Tag Team Championships. Proving to be an unstoppable force, the Dog Faced Gremlin overcame another betrayal, this one by Bagwell, to win the titles by himself.
Moments later, he finally avenged the saddest moment of his career when he beat Scott one-on-one.
They would meet again one month later at World War 3.
Heel Turn and Singles Career
Despite being a fairly popular midcard babyface, the decision was made in 1999 to turn Rick heel.
His first real program in that role was with Booker T over the WCW Television Championship. Though he proved unsuccessful at wresting the title away from him at first, Steiner was finally able to earn the gold he held for the first time some 11 years earlier.
He would continue to work with Booker T throughout the remainder of the year, stopping off for brief programs with the likes of Sting and Chris Benoit along the way.
While he was not the worker that he needed to be to deliver truly stunning matches at that point in his career, he was still tough and absolutely believable in the role.
Again, WCW interrupted all the momentum he had built for himself late in 1999 when writer Vince Russo, in all of his creative wisdom, reformed the Varsity Club, sticking Rick with Rotunda and Sullivan in a gimmick that had died over a decade earlier.
It was a flop and Steiner took a hiatus in August 2000, his career at a standstill.
The Magnificent Seven and Post-WCW
Steiner's final stand in WCW came in 2001, when he made a return to the squared circle. A face at first, he underwent yet another nonsensical heel turn, aligning himself with brother Scott, valet Midajah, authority figure Ric Flair, Jeff Jarrett, Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell and Road Warrior Animal.
Together, the faction dominated the company as the lead heels, positioning themselves against the likes of Sid Vicious, Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page and Kevin Nash.
It was during this time that Rick captured the United States Championship from Shane Douglas. He carried the title for a bit before dropping it to Booker T at SuperBrawl in February.
That was the last time he would hold championship gold in a major North American wrestling promotion.
He made several appearances for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, teaming with Scott to face Team 3D in a Tables match at Bound For Glory. That, coupled with a few appearances with Buff Bagwell in Japan, kept him involved in wrestling, all while he built his real estate business away from the industry.