Brian Pillman was notorious for being a lot tougher in real life than he looked on TV, so much so that he backed down the enormous Sid Vicious when the two almost got into it at a bar (the famous squeegee incident). This story here proves that point positive.
Fight: Brian Pillman vs Brick Bronsky
Date: May 13, 1988
Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Straight From the Hart by Bruce Hart, Hannibal TV
Pillman was naturally small for a pro wrestler by the standards of the 1980s. To overcome that, he took steroids from a very young age, and even made it to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL as a nose tackle. When his brief NFL career was over, he turned to pro wrestling, first becoming a star in Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion in Calgary.
Pillman formed a tag team with Stu’s son, Bruce Hart, and called themselves Bad Company. Bruce was also the booker at this time, though there was a lot of heat on him and he was eventually replaced by his brother Keith Hart. As the booker, Bruce was always pitched about pushing new talent. One of those new guys was a huge bodybuilder named Jeff Beltzner, who went by the name Brick Bronsky. He had been sent to Stampede on the recommendation of the British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith (Bruce claimed years later that Bronsky was the Bulldogs’ steroid supplier).
Bronsky won Mr. Teenage Pennsylvania in 1984, similar to the championship HHH won when he was a teenager. He qualified for the Mr. America contest, but didn’t compete. He turned to pro wrestling, being trained by Mr. Hito. Even though he was a wrestling fan growing up, he was incredibly green and Bruce didn’t see him as having any talent. Still, the Bulldogs pushed for him, and they had Stu’s ear, so Bruce booked him. The Bulldogs were big stars with the WWF at the time, but always had close ties with Stampede since that’s where they broke in as a team.
The idea was for Bronsky to form a tag team with Steve Blackman. While Blackman was a star during the incredibly popular Attitude Era, he started out as a jobber with the WWF. He was a complete unknown when Bruce brought him in and teamed him with Bronsky, and the two were considered untalented bodybuilder types. That reputation wasn’t a fair description of Blackman, but it was very fair for Bronsky.
The two were privately nicknamed “The Abortion Alliance” by those who worked with them, because at the time, bad matches were often referred to as abortions before the term was eradicated (many felt it was a word used in bad taste). Bruce later referred to Bronsky as someone who “Looked like Ron Simmons but was more like Richard Simmons” (a reference to the effeminate celebrity exercise guru who was anything but tough).
There are two theories that people believe led to the fight between Pillman and Bronsky. Bruce’s theory, which isn’t believed to be accurate by those who were there, is that Bronsky was angry about a rib he and Pillman pulled on him in Drumheller.
Stampede had a spot show in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada on May 5 of 1988. Drumheller is famous for being one of the cities where dinosaur remains were found years ago, and as such, there’s a large statue of Tyrannosaurus Rex there. In the early ‘80s, Jake Roberts conceived of a rib where they’d take rookies to the statue, but before they got there, they’d tell them that there’s a large statue of Stu Hart there. While Stu was a local institution in Alberta, he did not have a statue built after him. But the rookies usually didn’t know any better, so they’d get all excited.
Then when they’d get to the statue, they’d see that it wasn’t Stu, but a T. Rex. The veterans would all then do their best Stu Hart impersonations and pretend to be a dinosaur, and it always gave everyone a big laugh. After the spot show in Drumheller, Bruce and Pillman had taken Bronsky to this statue and played this rib on him.
Bruce believes that’s why Bronsky was upset with them, although he did acknowledge that Bronsky’s friends Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid had riled him up. Since Bruce was the booker, Bronsky obviously couldn’t go after him. So he instead set his sights on Pillman.
The other theory, which is believed to be the real reason this all happened, is that Bronsky and the Bulldogs had heat with Bruce and Pillman for other reasons. Namely, the Bulldogs wanted Bronsky to get a push, and Bruce didn’t want to. Bruce wasn’t fond of Bronsky, both because he was an untalented bodybuilder and also because he considered him to be an idiot. The Harts were famous for loving to stretch big bodybuilders, and Bronsky fit that mold.
While the Drumheller rib did really happen to Bronsky, that wasn’t the reason for the heat. The Bulldogs did in fact rile up Bronsky behind the scenes, and they told him to steamroll Pillman at the Calgary show on May 13 (eight days after the Drumheller rib). As mentioned, the Bulldogs had heat with Bruce because he wouldn’t push Bronsky. But additionally, Dynamite and Pillman didn’t get along either.
So the plan was set for Bronsky to ambush Pillman when he arrived to the building. Bruce would be spared, because he was the booker and you can’t go around punching the booker. But you also can’t go around punching the booker’s tag team partner.
Bruce and Pillman rode up to the building together, and when they parked, they noticed two cars that they recognized. The cars belonged to Davey Boy and Dynamite. Bruce thought that was strange since the Bulldogs were on the road with the WWF and hadn’t been to a Stampede show in a long time.
They got out of the car and headed to the dressing room, with Pillman going in first, holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee. Before Bruce even walked in, he heard a loud crash. When he came in, Pillman was on the floor.
Bronsky had suckerpunched Pillman right in the mouth, sending him into the corner of the room and on his back. Bronsky had a big smile on his face and was high-fiving the Bulldogs. He thought he had accomplished his mission.
Bruce went to jump in, but claimed Dynamite pulled a gun out of his jacket and said, “Let them f*ckin’ fight!”
Before Dynamite could even finish his sentence, Pillman had gotten up and nailed Bronsky with a football tackle spear into the lockers that would’ve made Goldberg and Rhyno proud. Bruce wrote about it in his book, and he described it best:
“Pillman began raining punches and kicks on Beltzner (Bronsky) in one of the most one-sided utter shit-kickings I’ve ever seen. When the smoke had cleared, (Bronsky’s) face had been pounded into a bloody pulp, with his cheekbone protruding grotesquely through his skin and both eyes swollen shut. I noticed Davey Boy and Dynamite – who’d been so keen on them settling their differences – had also disappeared, probably disenchanted that their steroid-supplying flunky had gotten his ass kicked.”
Stu showed up not long after this, and said he had run into the Bulldogs in the parking lot. Stu said they told them that Bronsky was just defending Stu’s honor, because Bruce and Pillman had implied Stu was a senile old dinosaur (i.e. the rib from Drumheller).
Pillman suffered a separated shoulder in the fight, as when he speared Bronsky, his shoulder hit one of the lockers hard. He also tore his triceps, which isn’t surprising considering Pillman was loaded with steroids at the time. Still, Pillman was able to work through the injury.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that Bronsky needed 12 stitches in his head, and that he also missed a few shows. Indeed, if you check the records, Bronsky’s name is missing from the shows that followed the Stampede show on May 13. On those shows, another wrestler filled in to team with Blackman. When he did return a week later, his face was all marked up.
There was a lot of heat on Bruce at this time, not just for this incident, but for some of his booking in general. An anonymous person wrote into the Wrestling Observer a couple weeks later, saying Stampede was a mess, that Bruce had to go, and that this fight was just one of the symptoms of the whole situation.
Bronsky floundered after that and never made a name in the business, but he did have some success in acting and even starred in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie in 1996. Pillman became fed up and left Stampede three months later. He went to Memphis and New Japan before finally getting his big break in the NWA/WCW in 1989. He remained a star there until 1996, when he did the infamous shoot/work with Eric Bischoff and managed to do gigs in ECW before signing with the WWF. He died a year later.
Bruce said the fight made him stand up and take notice of Pillman as the real deal. He was shocked that Pillman, at about 200 pounds, made mincemeat out of this huge 280-lb bodybuilder. This fight helped cement Pillman’s reputation as a legit streetfighter, the one that likely made Sid Vicious (much, much larger than Bronsky) back down from him.
Upon Pillman’s death, Bronsky confirmed the story was true and said he was told by the Bulldogs to suckerpunch Pillman.
The story is eerily similar to what Jacques Rougeau did, ironically, to Dynamite Kid just a few months later. In that fight, Jacques suckerpunched Dynamite in almost the exact same way that Bronsky did to Pillman. The difference was that Dynamite had started it the week before, and that Dynamite never went down from Jacques’ punch (but he did lose four teeth). Still, Dynamite never recovered and beat the daylights out of Jacques the way Pillman did to Bronsky. That’s because Jacques kept jabbing Dynamite after the suckerpunch (with coaching from brother Raymond), whereas Bronsky foolishly did a victory lap before getting the holy crap beaten out of him.