Jim Ross Talks Brian Pillman Not Being Able To Catch A Break During WWE Run

Fans who followed Brian Pillman's 10-year wrestling career would likely agree that his metamorphosis into "The Loose Cannon" persona was seamless. Even during his babyface runs in WCW, Pillman showed flashes of what he would eventually become: an unhinged wrestler known for his erratic behavior. While Pillman ruffled feathers in WCW, he turned up the volume during his brief pitstop in ECW, where wrestlers were generally given a lot of creative freedom. As Pillman continued to create waves, Jim Ross — WWE's then Head of Talent Relations — was able to sell Vince McMahon on the idea of signing him. According to Ross, it was "an easy sell," as Pillman won over McMahon at a wrestling convention, where he remained in character by cussing out the WWE boss. 

"When Brian was released from WCW, there were a lot of options, with WWE as the top candidate," Ross recalled on "Grilling Jr." "Vince thought Brian was cool and had balls. I helped him negotiate the deal. Brian had another chance of getting back in the game, and Vince was going to give him a good shot at getting over as a main event-level guy. That was all well and good until he suffered a hummer accident. That didn't help the cause very much. I felt so bad for him because that was a serious piece of business."

Ross refers to the devastating road accident suffered by Pillman on April 15, 1996, which left the wrestler with a severely broken ankle, a dislocated jaw, and facial cuts and bruises. As such, when Pillman debuted on WWE TV, he served as a color commentator for several months before attacking an unruly fan on an episode of "WWE Superstars" in June. 

'It just wasn't meant to be'

"He couldn't catch a break [in WWE]," Ross lamented. "That [accident] added to his consternation, attitude and stress. I really wish we could have [seen] a healthy Brian Pillman for an extended length of time, so we could have really seen what he was like. It just wasn't meant to be." According to Ross, Pillman felt "insulted" when WWE offered him a job as a permanent announcer, as the wrestler believed he could "work through any pain" and still be a star on television.

"He never lost his confidence, but he was also becoming more dependent on pain medicines to try and get around — and even just to walk," Ross stressed. "All the damage the [car] wreck had done was really daunting. But, he kept fighting, that's what was amazing about him. He wouldn't say, 'I quit' or 'I can't do it anymore' no matter what." If Ross could turn back time, he would try to convince Pillman to emulate the likes of Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan in the form of a heel announcer.

"When I suggested that, he got angry," Ross recalled. "The writing was on the wall — people just didn't believe he was healthy enough to pull this off in the ring. He had all the tools needed, but if Brian wasn't wrestling, Brian wasn't happy." In conclusion, Ross gave insight into McMahon's mindset about Pillman's deteriorating health, suggesting that McMahon felt he was sold a bill of goods that didn't pan out. "I wouldn't say he was frustrated, but it was heading in that direction," Ross said. "He was like, 'It doesn't look like this is going to pan out.' But the more [we] talked about it, the more Brian tried to make it happen. He was in so much pain just to get around — it was sad."

​​If you use any quotes from this article, please credit "Grilling JR" with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.