If you’ve been reading the site a while, then you already know I love Pro Wrestling, and have been watching it nearly week-in-week-out since I was 13. I have a tremendous collection of video, including TV tapings and actual company releases. I have so much wrestling on tape, that I would probably qualify to be on the tv show Hoarders because of it all.
One of the things I have really gotten into lately is not so much the product that was put out on TV and Pay-per-View, but also the tapes, DVD’s and books that are out there that tell the stories of the actual wrestlers themselves, where they grew up, sports they played prior to wrestling, and other types of tidbits.
As I’ve continued to read and watch more and more, I’ve come to find out that some of these dudes were some pretty bad mofo’s. Some of them were extremely strong, setting huge marks in the gym, or being able to pull off amazing feats of strength when it mattered.
The first wrestler I want to highlight is Ravishing Rick Rude.
Most of you may remember him as a sort of porn-star looking dude who would do air kisses and get the likenesses of other wrestler’s wives airbrushed on his wrestling tights.
Well, he was known for much more than that by his peers in his day.
I recently was sent as a gift from Kim Wood, an amazing book called Wrestling Observer’s Tributes: Remembering Some of the World’s Greatest Wrestlers.
This is a book by Dave Meltzer, famous for his Wrestling Observer newsletter, and it tells the stories of the careers of some of the most popular wrestlers when I was growing up, and who have since passed away, in unbelievable detail.
What an amazing read! I can’t thank Kim Wood enough for sending it my way. Meltzer walks you through the early lives of the wrestlers, covers how they got into the business, the trips they made across the country to various territories, and all the way to how their careers and their lives ended.
Since finding out about Grip in 2002, I have always wondered about the potential of pro wrestlers. Could they possibly be #4 Gripper closers one day, if made aware of the existence of Grippers? With as much time they put in the gym, surely some of them have or have had the potential to build tremendous Grip Strength.
Rick Rude seems to be a strong candidate as a pro wrestler who could have managed a Number 4 close, among many other impressive grip feats. Following, is some of the undeniable proof that I have collected, with the absolute strongest testimony coming at the end.
Without further ado, let’s examine the body of evidence:
His High School Produced Wrestling Champions
As it turns out, Rick Rude, born Richard Rood on December 7, 1958, attended one of the high schools most known for producing professional wrestlers who blossomed during the 1980’s, Robbinsdale High School in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
The wrestling champions from Robbinsdale High include the following:
- Mister Perfect, Curt Hennig
- Z-man, Tom Zenk
- Scott Simpson who wrestled as Nikita Koloff
- Greg Gagne, son of AWA owner and one of the greatest wrestlers ever, Vern Gagne
- John Nord, who became the Berzerker in WWF
- Barry Darsow who wrestled as Smash of Demolition and Repo Man in WWF (as well as many other names in other promotions)
With the exception of Greg Gagne, who looked like he quite possibly might never once have set a foot inside a gym, all of these guys were jacked and held title belts of different magnitudes and in various territories throughout their career.
Applying a Wrist Lock on Road Warrior Hawk.
Prior to Wrestling: Bouncer
Before getting into professional wrestling, Rick Rude participated in two other activities where hand strength are a must: Bouncing and Arm Wrestling.
Rick Rude along with Barry Darsow worked as Bouncers at Grandma B’s, a very tough bar known for serious knife violence and nightly fighting. Others who worked with them at the time were the Road Warriors, Animal and Hawk. So Rick was in good company here. If he trained with these guys, you can imagine he’d be pushing himself hard in the gym in order to keep up with Animal and Hawk, known at the time for being some of the biggest bad-asses in the bouncing profession, as well as the wrestling ring.
It’s important to remember the training effects a good partner can have on your own numbers in the gym, especially if they are stronger than you. There is always the desire to compare your abilities to those of others, and when someone can out-pull you on the Deadlift or out-press you on the Bench, that can light a fire under you.
In the 2007 WWE DVD release, Road Warriors: The Life and Death of the Most Dominant Tag-Team in Wrestling History, Road Warrior Animal (Joe Laurinaitis) states that they would routinely perform shrugs with 950-lbs on the bar. IF Rude spent time with these guys in the gym, surely, he would have been up near that level. Surely straps were used, but you are still talking about Rude, a wrestler billed at 250+ but most likely closer to the 230’s tops, shrugging more than 3 times bodyweight. Heavy shrugs, with grip supports or not, would provide some serious loading to the hands and would have no choice but build strength that could be parlayed into serious gripper closes.
And while up to this point, the focus has been on the training that might have taken place with other workers from Gramma B’s, don’t forget that Rude was bouncing in bar known for violence and fighting. He’d most likely be throwing multiple people out a night, most of them probably bigger, taller and heavier than he was. You MUST have terrific hand strength in order to control someone in that manner. Surely Rick Rude’s hands were tougher and stronger than the average bodybuilder of the times.
Here is a direct quote from Tom Zenk’s website about Rude’s fighting prowess.
“Although very muscular, he had the look of being in great condition, but not necessarily possessing great power. Obviously those looks were deceiving as he had incredible grip strength and was well-known as a tough street fighter.”
I believe this quote is also in the Tributes book, as this passage seems extremely familiar.
Prior to Wrestling – Arm Wrestler
Some of today’s contemporary bad-asses that are closing in on #4 certifications are indeed arm wrestlers. Rick Rude did a great deal of arm wrestling prior to entering the ranks of professional wrestling. Again from Zenk’s website and also, I believe, from the Tributes book: “He also was a noted arm wrestler, finishing sixth in the world championships in Las Vegas in the light heavyweight division in 1983.”
You don’t come in 6th in the world in an arm wrestling competition by having weak hands. Obviously, Rude had exceptional strength from the shoulder girdle down to the fingers, or else he would not have attained this level of accomplishment in such a prestigious tournament. Incidentally, a stable shoulder, strong arms and forearms, as well as the type of compression abilities required for arm arm wrestling are all the very same attributes that help you out with big gripper closes as well – the Perfect Recipe for a #4 closer.
How Physique Plays a Role
Obviously, many wrestling stars of the 80’s admittedly used steroids in order to enhance their physique. That goes without saying, but they still had to spend the time in the gym, and put forth the effort to reach the size that they did. What this means is that Rick Rude was no stranger to the gym and was not afraid to put in long hours, make dietary sacrifices, and fuel his body for performance.
Another Case for Hypertrophy
A research study by the Journal of Physiology references Knuttgen, 1976: “It is widely accepted that the maximum force which can be produced by a muscle is directly proportional to its cross-sectional area (Knuttgen, 1976).”
This is something that we all need to remember: Hypertrophy, increasing the mass of the muscle, is the foundation of strength. Rick Rude had that in spades. Although he didn’t have the massive structure of other wrestlers from Robbinsdale, he ended up having, without a doubt, the best bodybuilding-style physique of them all.
All of this just goes to show you that not only was he given great genetics for physical growth, but also went to a school where he was surrounded by greatness, plus he was able to take those early benefits and expand upon them with years of dedicated training and eating habits.
What could have happened if he were handed a set of grippers and began carrying with them to work on while on planes or alone in hotel rooms? We can only guess.
Toughness of Wrestlers in the 80’s
You also have to remember that the wrestlers in the 80’s in the WWF and WCW, where Rick Rude wrestled during the mid and late 80’s were on the road sometimes upwards of 300 days a year, and sometimes wrestling and getting the crap beat out of them 5 to 7 times per week. Through all of this, Rude was able to stay focused on the gym time and dietary discipline necessary to maintain the physique he had. Taking steroids does not guarantee paper thin skin and attaining what many considered the best body in wrestling during this time. That comes from getting the work in, training in shitty gyms when it is necessary, and always keeping an eye on the food you are putting in your body.
The Case for Title Belts
The fact that Rude held many belts in many different promotions only further credits his phsyical ability and toughness. They didn’t give title belts to every dude that came along in the 80’s. They had to be legitimate and believable physically in the ring, and they had to be able to withstand punishment when they played heels (bad guys). Bad guys would often get their asses kicked over and over by the good guys, and Rude was no exception. he would constantly be worked over the coals and still come out on top.
Rick Rude was actually the first ever “World Champion” in the World Class Championship Wrestling territory, once they began calling their American Belt their World Title Belt. This is not just a coincidence. They obviously had tremendous confidence in him to always make scheduled dates, maintain his physique, continue getting better and better at the physical skills he needed in the ring.
Could Rude Have Had Freakishly Large Hands?
There are also direct reports of the kind of power that Rick Rude possess in his hands, as suggested by this excerpt: “After high school, he was working as a bouncer, and he was known for being so powerful that he often could knock people out with an open-handed slap.”
To me, this suggests Rude had either incredibly large hands for his body size or they were extremely thick. One of these factors, combined with the fact that he could create the speed and power with the rest of his body, suggest he must have had some sort of beyond normal hand capabilities.
Judging by videos of him gripping a microphone, it never really jumped out at me that Rude had exceptionally large hands. So, it is safe to assume that his hands were just very massive. When you consider his time spent in the weight room, plus the fact that he probably had spent hours upon hours pulling against arm wrestling partners at the table, he had probably built up substantial girth in his thumb and pinky pads, making his hand seem more like a catcher’s mitt than just a human hand.
If this were the case, then this would serve, again, to be an attribute that could lead to amazing gripper strength. First off, building the thumb pad up like this gives a better foundation for the gripper to sit in. Extra strength in the thumb allows you to form a pocket in your hand for the gripper to sit, and this can make a huge difference in your max gripper closing capability.
In addition, an oversized pinky pad could mean better development of the Flexor Digiti Minimi Muscles, which flex the little finger. Strength here can be crucial for finishing off the last 16th of an inch of the gripper close.
Eye Witness Testimony: Eddie Sharkey
Eddie Sharkey, the man who was bar tending at Gramma B’s when Rude was working there as a bouncer and kicking everyone’s asses without even having to clench a fist, was also a wrestling trainer. He owned a facility in his basement and is well known for introducing Rude, the Road Warriors and Barry Darsow, among others into the world of pro wrestling.
In the Road Warrior’s DVD, Darsow states that the conditions in Eddie Sharkey’s wrestling camp were horrible. They essentially wrestled and learned to take bumps on concrete, and when they hit the ropes, their bodies would sometimes smash into the wall, as the room was very small. Having to deal with these kinds of conditions only adds to the fact that Rick Rude, in real life, was just one tough son of a gun.
However, in addition to this, there is a famous quote from Eddie Sharkey attesting to Rude’s great grip strength. Taken from Zenk’s site:
- “You can talk about this and that guy being a great shooter (real wrestlers/fighters who could win legitimate matches/fights),” said Eddie Sharkey, who trained Rood, Barry Darsow, The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, and numerous other wrestlers. “But this guy kicked more ass than any of them. People didn’t realize how tough this guy was. He’d slap guys with an open hand and it looked like their head exploded.”
Fighting is certainly not a guarantee that someone will be able to defeat the #4 gripper, but toughness surely helps. You can also assume that Rude, who was obviously smaller than all of the other wrestlers who have been mentioned, probably also trained for things much harder than the others. In his mind, he probably wanted things more. He was probably willing to take the extra step, try the training methods that others would not be willing to, and take his training to levels that others would not.
Dominating a jobber with the Greco-Roman Knuckle Lock, and also sporting a kick-ass mullet.
Actual Physical Evidence of Legitimate Grip Strength
The video below is a compilation of promo vingettes that were shot prior to the Summer Slam showdown between Rick Rude and the Ultimate Warrior. In one segment, you will see Rude climb to the top of a gymnasium rope without using his legs. This is absolute proof of his impressive grip strength. Most regular gym goers will probably not be able to perform this feat of grip and bodyweight strength.
I also located a clip of Rick Rude bench pressing over 400-lbs, but it has since been removed by the YouTube user, so I could not post it here. However, the ease with which he did this is scary. If the weights were legitimate and not gimmicked, it would be safe to assume that the tales of his punching power were certainly true, and he must have had supremely strong hands, wrists and forearms in order to exhibit such control over the bar.
Fitting the Mold – Ravishing Rick Heslep?
In the picture above, Rick Rude resembles a much buffer version of the last Tommy Heslep, one of the last men to be certified for closing the #4 gripper(2004). Although Tommy certified under the old rules and not under Credit Card guidlines, it is still an impressive feat and one that demands respect.
What guys like Tommy Heslep proves is that a guy does not have to be a giant in order to be a #4 closer. However, they do have to have strong hands and the will to persevere, which Rick Rude undoubtedly had. In fact, as evidence of his will and perseverance, just before his death, he was working on a full time return to the ring with WWE.
I have searched my ass off for stories and pictures documenting Rick Rude’s impressive hand strength, but came up very short. I have even reached out to some of Rude’s contemporary wrestlers, to see if they have any stories to share, but have had no luck. If you are able to find anything, please send it my way, but for now, all I can share is some holds that would be related to hand strength.
Even without stories from other 80’s wrestlers, there are still many reasons to believe that Rick Rude could have been a #4 closer. Perhaps he would not have closed it in a flash the first time he held it, but no one ever has done that. He would of course need to be shown the proper technique and he might need a few weeks or months to train to make it happen. But in the end, if Rude were made aware of the #4 Gripper, given his history of athleticism, badassery, physical toughness, and the obvious proof of legitimate hand strength, there’s no doubt he would have one day closed the #4, and taken the title of Captain of Crush.
And speaking of “Taking the Title,” Rude was not successful in getting the World Title belt from Ultimate Warrior in the Pay-per-View match he was preparing for in the video shown above. However, he was successful in taking the Intercontinental Title from the Warrior a couple of years before that, another feather in Rude’s cap.
I will continue to look for stunning examples of grip strength, and I will continue to bring them your way.
This section will serve to store any further evidence I find supporting the Rick Rude’s amazing Grip Strength.
- 12/3/12: In the VHS Tape “Masters of Mayhem,” a tape from Amaerican Video (1990) featuring action from the USWA and Mid-South Wrestling, the commentator says, referring to Rick Rude: “This guy’s so strong he could shake your hand and get a submission out of it.”
If, by any chance, anyone knows any credible stories about Rick Rude or any other pro wrestlers of the past and their amazing hand strength, I’d love to hear them.
Until then, all the best in your training.
P.S. Do you want to “take the title” of Captain of Crush? Then you need the most complete reference on Gripper Training available today: CRUSH – Total Gripper Domination