The Hollywood Blonds: How Their Separation Changed Wrestling Forever
How much different would the history of WWE look had there never been “Stone Cold” Steve Austin?
Long before “Stone Cold” was the biggest draw in the history of the business, “Stunning“ Steve Austin was a member of one of the most underrated tag teams of all time, the Hollywood Blonds (yes, that’s how they spelled it). The Blonds were comprised of Austin, just coming off a run as TV Champion, and “Flyin’” Brian Pillman, who’d had a lot of early success as a singles wrestler, winning the first WCW Light Heavyweight Championship in 1991. Formed in January of 1993, the Blonds used their tremendous mic skills, along with their abilities to tell a story in the ring to get themselves over in ways WCW never thought possible.
Initially, Austin was resistant to the idea of even teaming up, as WCW’s booker at the time, Dusty Rhodes, had planned to push him as the U.S. Heavyweight Champion. Austin, quite rightly, viewed this move as a step back, especially after being told the team was meant to be little more than enhancement talent for other bigger teams. Pillman, however was coming off a team-up with Barry Windham and was convinced it could work. Austin admits it was Pillman who came up with their name, their gimmick, their ring gear, even many of their interview segments during the infancy of the Blonds. Pillman made Austin a better performer and their individual work meshed well, with Pillman’s high-flying the perfect compliment to Austin’s more bruising style.
Before WCW knew what had hit ‘em, the Hollywood Blonds were the most popular tag team on their roster, to the point where even as heels, they were receiving cheers louder than that of their in-ring counterparts. So popular did they become, that Dusty put the tag titles on ‘em, as they defeated Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas for the straps in March 1993, just a few months after their formation. Austin and Pillman would hold the belts for almost 6 months, feuding off and on with Steamboat and Douglas. This led to a short program with the newly reformed Four Horsemen and a series of hilarious interviews on the part of the Blonds. Parodying Ric Flair’s talk show, “A Flair for the Gold”, Pillman donned a robe and long grey wig to put on a show of his own titled, “A Flair for the Old”. The segments got over huge with the fans, and even brought Flair back into the spotlight, wrestling a Two out of Three Falls match against the Blonds alongside Arn Anderson, a series of matches the Horsemen won. However, after the short run with Flair, Austin and Pillman were made to drop the titles to the Four Horsemen tag team of Arn Anderson and Paul Roma. Yes, the same Paul Roma who Ric Flair has described as the worst Horseman in the history of the stable. Despite their protestations, the Blonds were split apart, and after a short feud with Pillman, Austin went on a singles run, defeating Dustin Rhodes for the U.S. Title.
Both Austin and Pillman knew why they’d been broken up. Dusty Rhodes had been replaced by Ric Flair as WCW’s booker and Flair was angling to make the Horsemen relevant again. That it came at the cost of the best tag team in WCW at that time just gives you further insight into exactly how backstage politics work in the wrestling world. By early 1995, and while recovering from a triceps injury he suffered during a tour in Japan, Austin was fired by WCW’s Eric Bischoff over the phone. Within the year, Brian Pillman would also be fired from WCW, the Hollywood Blonds never to appear again as a tag team.
Both men went on to drastically different things. Austin went to ECW, honed his interview skills, signed with WWE, and after doing everything in his power to get noticed, finally delivered the promo that set about the introduction of the ‘Attitude Era’ in the WWE. Pillman, unfortunately, did not fare nearly as well.
After spending some time in ECW, recovering from a near fatal car accident with left him with chronic pain for the rest of his days, Pillman eventually signed with the WWE in June 1996. Pillman’s love for the business and need to contribute, however, led him to do whatever he thought was necessary to get in the ring, including the abuse of prescription medication. On October 5th, 1997, Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room in Bloomington, Minnesota. The official cause of death was a previously undetected heart condition, but most believe the condition was greatly enhanced by Pillman’s abuse of prescription drugs.
What might have been? What if Ric Flair had never been made booker of WCW in 1994? What if the Hollywood Blonds had been allowed to continue to wrestle as a tag team for another couple of years? Had they still been a team, would Pillman have been out on the Kentucky road that night he swerved and hit a tree, leaving him in a coma and forcing doctors to fuse his ankle, a procedure which left in pain every day of his life? Might Pillman not still be alive, or at least have had his live prolonged? Look at it from Austin’s side of things for a moment. Would he have had all the piss and vinegar built up within him to allow that “Rattlesnake” character to come out in him? Had he not been screwed around by WCW, would Austin have ever gone on to become the biggest draw in the history of pro wrestling? Without him, would the WWE even still exist? Vince McMahon, Michael Hayes and Jim Ross have all said the WWE was on the verge of going out of business before the ‘Attitude Era’ took off. What if Austin had stayed in WCW during those years? Addition by subtraction could very well have given WCW enough firepower to ultimately put the WWE down for the final 3-count.
These are questions to which there are no definitive answers, only “what ifs” and “maybes”. What is known, however, is the team of Austin and Pillman, the Hollywood Blonds, were a densely layered, multi-faceted unit whom had only just begun their run on top. I don’t know that they would have become the greatest tag team of all time, by then the tag team climate had already begun to change and more emphasis was beginning to be placed on singles wrestling, but with the amount of talent possessed by both men, I certainly would not have bet against them.