Brian Pillman, a name in professional wrestling lure that maintains an aura and mystique nearly two decades after his untimely passing from a heart condition. The former Cincinnati Bengal went undrafted, but made the team in 1984 through sheer intensity, earning the Ed Block Courage award as voted by his teammates that year. After a stint in the Canadian Football League, Pillman found another outlet for his remarkable athleticism, Stampede Wrestling. "Flyin" Brian learned in the "dungeon" of the legendary Stu Hart, and quickly made a name for himself when he debuted in 1986. Within just a few years, the former football star was offered a national contract in the United States, signing with World Championship Wrestling in 1989. The next seven years for the competitor with the trademark raspy voice as a result of several throat surgeries during his childhood were a time when his career flourished. "Flyin" Brian was true to his name and a pioneer of the American cruiser weight style that later became a staple of Nitro.
Described as a genius by former booker Kevin Sullivan, Pillman knew he had the chance to maximize his earning potential when his WCW deal was nearly expired. "The Loose Cannon" was a revolutionary persona that made everyone, including those backstage, question if the Hollywood Blonde was legitimately unstable. In reality, his antics to create the character that was far ahead of its time allowed him to become the talk of the wrestling world, prompting an offer from the WWF in 1996. Just as Brian was ready to sign a contract for the most money in his professional career, a car accident left him severely injured and in a coma for a week following the devastating wreck. Fusion surgery repaired his shattered ankle, but limited his once high-flying style. Still, Pillman's tremendous promos kept him extremely popular, specifically his famous ECW promos and when he started on WWF TV using a crutch. Not medically cleared yet, Brian began work as a color commentator alongside his close friend, the legendary Jim Ross. A credit to his brilliant mind, the injured grappler incorporated the crutch into his act, often swinging it wildly as he made his way to ringside.
When Brian Pillman passed in October of 1997, it seemed as though he had much more to offer to the industry. He unquestionably would've done well as a commentator, but wanted to wrestle again as soon as possible. During the DVD release on The Loose Cannon's life, Jim Ross speculated that Pillman passed away from a broken heart because he couldn't perform in the ring the way he had previously because of the devastating car accident. Again, Pillman could've excelled at other areas of the business and the underrated legend certainly had more to add to his legacy.
Twenty years after the ten bell salute to "Flyin' Brian," the Pillman legacy will continue in professional wrestling as his son, Brian Pillman Jr., a former football standout in his own right, announced plans to pursue professional wrestling later this year.
The second generation Pillman was just 4 years old when his father passed away, and knew of the larger than life wrestler similar to how many fans saw him on television.
"My father was on the road a lot and most of the time I did see him was when he was on TV. My fondest memory of him would be playing in my Power Rangers tent or the extravagant jungle gym we had as kids, as well as hearing his deep raspy voice. He had that voice that is so iconic it's impossible to forget. It's kind of like how you watch a celebrity on TV for so long, you start to actually feel like you know them, except in this case I should know him because he's my father, but I truly don't. I really only know the personas that he displayed on television and while I'd like to say those are somewhat indicative of his real life character, I have no way of validating that."
Despite his eccentric TV persona, those closest to Brian Sr., including Jim Ross, Steve Austin, and former WCW announcer Mark Madden, as well as many others in industry have spoken fondly of him, something that his son values as a part of his father's legend.
"What I appreciate the most, what brings me a deeper connection to him, is when I hear the behind the scenes stories from my family and his friends growing up both in football and in wrestling. Those stories resonate with me the most because they highlight so many shocking similarities between our personalities," Brian Jr. explained.
This path into sports entertainment isn't the first time the younger Pillman followed in his father's footsteps, as he had a passion for football, playing throughout his youth. A varsity player his senior year of high school, Brian made an all-star team and was awarded the MVP for defense that season. He also played lacrosse during the off-season and eventually played the sport at College of Mt. Saint Joseph before transferring to Northern Kentucky University to complete a degree in Business Information Systems.
In the years that followed his father's passing, Brian endured a very turbulent home life when his mother struggled with substance problems. He knew that an education was his escape and made pursuing a career his top priority.
"Since my home life situation was far from ideal, my main goal was to stay on a steady path and get a college degree like all of my teachers recommended. I didn't want my children to go through the same hardships and suffering that I did. After graduating college, getting a job in the field I studied for, and moving in with my two best friends. I finally got to experience financial independence. I finally succeeded at being normal," he recalled.
Close to his Aunt Linda, Brian found family that bonded with him, and he maintained his own living situation, avoiding further trauma from his mother's problems. Still, he had a calling to his family legacy.
"I would wake up every morning and think of what I could be if I just gave it a shot and took the risk. I wasn't built to sit in a desk I told myself. I am an athlete, an entertainer. So, I finally woke up one morning and forgot about the fear of failure, forgot about the opinion of other people, and the dogmas of society that would try to steer me away from making this decision and I did it."
He was very serious about this new endeavor and did the necessary research about where to start his journey into professional wrestling, choosing an underrated legend with a stellar program, Lance Storm.
"I can't help but think it was simply my father waiting at the door to be let into my life and by making the move to pursue this profession I have opened the door to his legacy. Lance has a reputation of being anti-steroid and anti-drugs. In an industry where those things can run rampant if not kept in check, I knew I would be in good hands with him. All my research including the training regimen, the success rate of his graduates, testimonies from previous graduates and as well as experts in the industry all said it was the absolute best place to start," Loose Cannon Jr. said.
Since his decision to follow his father's work, Brian Jr. continued his weight training program from his football days and dedicated himself to yoga, considering the exercise a stress reliever to go along with its physical benefits. He studies footage regularly and enjoys the presentation of Lucha Underground. Since the public announcement of this new endeavor, Brian received encouragement from fans literally around the globe that enjoyed Pillman Sr.'s career. He also received advice from one of his father's closest friends.
"Occasionally, I have the opportunity to speak with Steve Austin. He initially reached out to me via Twitter so that he could pass down an item onto me that belonged to my father, a weight lifting belt. It was a surreal experience getting to talk to him for the first time since I was just a little kid. I caught him up on the events in my life growing up and he shared some stories with me about my father that really warmed my heart. He said they truly were best friends in the wrestling business. Our talks on the phone since then have never been short. He commended me for finishing college and gave me the valuable advice to keep my eyes peeled for people in the wrestling business who would try to take advantage of me."
With another six months of preparation ahead of him, Brian plans to enroll at the Storm Wrestling Academy this September, just a few weeks prior to what will be the twentieth anniversary of his dad's unexpected passing. For the second generation Pillman, his inspiration and motivation is to represent the legacy of his family name.
"His legacy in wrestling is so much bigger than I had ever imagined. Growing up, I would have thought that all the old fans would have forgotten him by now and the new kids wouldn't have a way to experience him. My father inspired and entertained millions of people and his work was certainly not finished. Nobody expected him to vanish like that in the middle of his career, what was arguably the peak of his career, and I think those longtime fans are still yearning for something like him, something to fill that void in their hearts. The same void I have had in my heart since as long as I can remember. I will become the champion of my father's legacy and I will restore that level of passion and tenacity that my father had to those fans that believed in him and loved him, because those fans loved him and experienced him more than I ever had the chance to. So, if anybody deserves it, it's them and the only thing I'm seeking out in return is to connect with them and hear those wonderful, unforgettable stories about how he made them feel."
The road in professional wrestling can be rocky and unpredictable so it remains to be seen where Brian Pillman Jr. goes in the sport. However, he has the dedication and the desire, which is certainly the correct formula. Regardless of if Brian works the independent scene or one day walks onto Monday Night Raw, his journey is an intriguing story. Brian Pillman Sr.'s untimely passing in 1997 was a tragedy, but his son following in his father's footsteps to represent the Pillman legacy is a tremendous triumph.
Until next week
You can follow on Twitter @jimlamotta