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    Tuesday, July 13, 2021

    Paul Orndorff (1949-2021)


    Many wrestling fans today remember Paul Orndorff as one of the many wrestling legends and mythical figures of an older time: when the sport was slower-paced, when physique ruled over athleticism, and when the notion of the "Superstar" was still in its inception. Yet the man known as "Mr. Wonderful" became a sort of blueprint for the modern wrestling superstar: confident to the point of arrogance, a body built like it was flawlessly chiseled from stone, and in-ring ability to match.

    Like many pro wrestlers, Orndorff began his career in American football. Despite his records and abilities, he failed to make the cut. He began training as a professional wrestler, making his debut for the Memphis territories in the 1970s, feuding with Jerry Lawler and Ernie Ladd. Orndorff's stock rose toward the 1980s as he made a name for himself in the Mid-South, feuding with the likes of The Masked Superstar, Jake Roberts, Buzz Sawyer, and Ric Flair.

    In 1983, Orndorff shot to superstardom in the World Wrestling Federation upon taking up the moniker, "Mr. Wonderful." While he had his flashes as a face, Orndorff is more known—and was famous—for being a strong heel: "the master of the piledriver." The move won him many matches, the reactions of fans, and the spotlight that was to create career-defining moments for him. Teaming with Roddy Piper meant that he was destined to clash with Hulk Hogan many times in his tenure in the WWF, and he would go on to be an instrumental force in the main event of the very first WrestleMania. Orndorff's feud with Hogan proved to be one of the defining moments of that era.

    Orndorff's career wound down in WCW, where he won the Television Championship, the tag team titles with Paul Roma, and eventually became one of the trainers of the legendary WCW Power Plant. It was in this capacity that Orndorff molded the careers of a new generation of wrestlers to usher in a new millennium. In 2005, "Mr. Wonderful" was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in recognition of his great contributions to the world of professional wrestling.

    What makes Orndorff special is that even in today's wrestling environment—vastly different from the slow and methodical brawling where Orndorff plied his craft in the 1980s and 1990s—his style and substance would not be out of place. His penchant for aggression (from clobbering blows to the signal for the piledriver), ring robes (second only to the audacity of those worn by the Nature Boy himself), and carrying around a mirror at all times (he is, after all, Mr. Wonderful) would still elicit a reaction from fans today: whether it's love, hate, or love to hate. Despite the rough patches that surrounded him—from an arm injury that parlayed into many of his storylines to his trials in his old age—Paul Orndorff and his legacy remained as timeless.

    In a word: "Wonderful."

    Header image from WWE

    *****

    Marck Rimorin (@marocharim) is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresulucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the obituaries for Smark Henry.

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    Item Reviewed: Paul Orndorff (1949-2021) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Marck Rimorin
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