Name: Richard Vigneault
Year Inducted: 2015
While his good looks have always been a part of his success, Rick Martel (Vigneault) was first and foremost a fantastic scientific wrestler. He dazzled audiences on different continents with his impeccable technique and his even more spectacular manoeuvres.
His brother, Michel, got him started in the business as a replacement during a tour of the Maritime Provinces in his native Canada. Like many from his generation, Calgary was then his first territory. He would soon find his way to Florida, Georgia and Texas collecting championships and respect along the way.
After a first tour of Japan with his brother and Frenchy Martin, Rick Martel became a major star in New Zealand working for Steve Rickard—and his stardom never wavered from then on. At 23 years of age, he became the youngest booker at the time in the business after buying into the territory in Hawaii.
Returning to the mainland, his first stop was Portland where he became very popular by winning all the championships while teaming with a young Roddy Piper. Not long afterwards, he got the call to go to New York to work for Vince McMahon Sr.’s WWWF. Paired with Tony Garea, they twice became the world tag team champions, gaining credentials from both the fans and their peers.
Benefiting from almost a flawless reputation, Martel was in demand everywhere as promoters saw him as a potential world champion. The busy schedule kept him away from Quebec for much of his career, though he was International champion while still working for the WWWF. Always the businessman, he kept his options open: “Things were going great for me working for Vince Sr. But as they say sometimes, it’s better to leave while you’re on top.”
With a strong supporter in Nick Bockwinkel within the American Wrestling Association, promoter Verne Gagne brought him in and built him into one of the most popular wrestlers of the 1980s. Ultimately, that path lead him to the AWA World championship on May 13, 1984 defeating Japanese legend Jumbo Tsuruta in Minneapolis. A fighting champion, Martel wrestled pretty much anyone who was anyone in the AWA but also in different territories around the world.
Like most star wrestlers in the late 1980s, the WWF came calling and Martel added another world tag team championship, teaming with his good friend Tito Santana as Strike Force. That pairing would ultimately dissolve, giving birth to The Model. J.J. Dillon said that he, Vince McMahon Jr. and Pat Patterson came up with the gimmick sitting around a pool. “Rick Martel is an excellent wrestler, but can we give him more substance? He looks like a model in a fashion show!” Dillon recalled in his autobiography.
Martel had long wanted to play a villain, but until that point, promoters could not get past his good looks.
During the Monday Night Wars of the late 1990s, he went back to wrestling for one last run where he almost immediately became the WCW World Television champion. Ultimately, in 1998, injuries started to pile up and Martel decided to hang up his boots permanently with his reputation intact as a consummate professional—a true role model on how to represent the business for future generations.