89. BILLY KIDMAN
Real Name – Peter Gruner
Aliases – Kid Flash
Hometown – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Debuted – 1994
Titles Held – WWE Tag Team; WWE Cruiserweight; WCW Cruiserweight; WCW World Tag Team
Other Accomplishments – ECWA Hall of Fame inudctee in 2004; married to Torrie Wilson but divorced in 2006; owns a tanning salon in Florida
During the golden age of American cruiserweight wrestling from 1996 to about 1999, Mexican luchadores dominated the air and the only way for a native son like Dean Malenko or Chris Jericho to get noticed was to play another game, either refining their technical skills or their personality. Billy Kidman was the exception to the rule: an American-born cruiserweight who could fly like a luchador, gaining success and getting over on those skills. Along the way, he won some titles, had great matches and even got the girl (for a bit), earning him a spot in our Top 100.
From the earliest days of his fledgling career in professional wrestling, Billy Kidman had to stand out from a very different crowd, training at the Wild Samoan Training Center, run by former WWF World Tag Team champion Afa, a facility better known in its early days for churning out power wrestlers from the islands, not pretty boy lightweights. Despite not fitting the traditional mold of a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wild Samoan,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kidman was one of the facility’s first success stories, gaining renown in the Pennsylvania-based East Coast Wrestling Association before signing with WCW in 1996.
For the first year-plus of his WCW tenure, Kidman, with his floppy hair and lack of muscle definition, had trouble making it past the enhancement talent level despite tremendous skill in the ring (this writer vividly recalls a particularly outstanding contest between a young Kidman and the legendary Ric Flair on a syndicated WCW Pro broadcast one Sunday afternoon in 1996).
Kidman’s big WCW break came in the form of an unexpected image overhaul and character reinvention when Raven came to town in late 1997 and the babyfaced cruiserweight donned jean shorts, dirty t-shirts, a dazed demeanor and a constant itch as one of the charismatic heel’s lackeys in his new stable the Flock. To go along with his bizarrely intriguing Kidman, got a chance to showcase his visually spectacular finisher, the shooting star press, far more often, briefly rechristening it the Seven Year Itch.
Though he found himself on television nearly every week, Kidman didn’t really get a chance to stand out until the summer of 1998, when he wowed audiences with a series of matches against Juventud Guerrera, including a pay-per-view showdown at Bash at the Beach where he came out on the losing end but drew rave reviews. Kidman would ride the wave of critical popularity after former Flock member Perry Saturn emancipated the group by defeating Raven at Fall Brawl, becoming arguably the sole beneficiary of the group’s split by using it as motivation for a face turn and victory over Guerrera for the WCW Cruiserweight title.
While he hung on to his now trademark jean shorts, Kidman traded in his t-shirts for white tank tops, grew his hair longer and bulked up a bit to create the look most still associate with him today. As 1998 closed out, he traded the Cruiserweight title back and forth with Guerrera before ending on a real high note defeating not only Guerrera and Rey Misterio Jr. in a Triangle match at Starrcade, but then beating no less than Eddie Guerrero immediately after in an impromptu challenge to hold onto his strap.
With WCW beginning to slip in the ratings at the dawn of 1999 in large part because fans were sick of the same old faces in the main event mix, mid-card acts like Saturn, Jericho and Kidman were gaining steam with the fans. In Kidman’s case, it’s not out of the question that WCW’s largely southern fanbase just enjoyed cheering somebody who looked a lot like them in the cruiserweight division, but great matches and a burgeoning quiet charisma also played a role.
Unfortunately for Kidman, while the crowd cheered him, WCW chose to keep the focus on veterans like Kevin Nash and Sting while keeping their cruiserweight sensation safely tucked away in his niche. On the upside, 1999 was the year Kidman’s career became more closely linked with the man who would become both his greatest opponent and partner, arguably the top cruiserweight of any era, Rey Misterio Jr. Following a stellar match on Monday Nitro in which Misterio won the title, the duo teamed to take the WCW World Tag Team titles from Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko and alternated over the next couple months between facing one another in matches grounded in mutual respect and defending their belts (which they eventually dropped to the reunited Raven & Saturn).
Kidman’s career lost a bit of direction after the Tag title loss when Misterio focused his energies on teaming with Konnan for the woeful Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rap vs CountryÃ¢â‚¬Â feud with Curt Hennig’s West Texas Rednecks, but it wouldn’t be long before the shooting star press expert got in on the action, joining the Mexican duo plus Eddie Guerrero as the popular Filthy Animals stable and picking up the gorgeous Torrie Wilson as a valet along the way.
The ousting of Eric Bischoff and arrival of former WWF writer Vince Russo to WCW in the fall of 1999 was supposed to mark a turning point for the young guard of the company, whom Russo favored, but in Kidman’s case, his supposed savior would provide him with one misstep after the other. First waffling the Filthy Animals between face and heel, Russo lost the group’s fan support. As a result of perceived mismanagement, Guerrero left WCW in early 2000 with Konnan getting suspended after threatening to follow suit. With Misterio injured, Kidman was left alone to sleepwalk his way through dull feuds with the likes of Vampiro.
However, when Russo and Bischoff returned in the spring of 2000, things once again looked up for KidmanÃ¢â‚¬â€this would not last long. The new/old creative heads of WCW took the organization in a new direction pitting the young studsÃ¢â‚¬â€the New BloodsÃ¢â‚¬â€against the old guysÃ¢â‚¬â€the Millionaire’s ClubÃ¢â‚¬â€positioning Kidman as one of the leaders of the up and comers based on legitimate comments Hulk Hogan had made on a radio show questioning his ability to draw.
While a feud with arguably the biggest star in wrestling history should have been the highlight of Kidman’s career, the program was doomed from the start thanks to Hogan’s creative control ensuring he would never have to lose or even look badÃ¢â‚¬â€Torrie Wilson inexplicably left the young and vital Kidman in favor of the aging Hogan over the course of their battlesÃ¢â‚¬â€and Kidman’s lack of heel mic skills.
By the summer, Kidman turned back to being a face, but the magic was gone and he spent the summer in a go nowhere feud with Shane Douglas before rejoining a tired Filthy Animals group on its last legs along with the rest of WCW. On the final WCW broadcast of Monday Nitro in March, 2001 following a WWF buyout of the organization, Kidman and Misterio got one last hurrah, defeating Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo to win the fledgling WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team titles, which would be immediately retired.
Kidman was among those WCW talents the WWF retained the services of upon the takeover, but with the focus on cruiserweight wrestling a far cry from where it had been even two years prior and an already overcrowded main event scene, Kidman’s future with the company looked bleak. Over the next three years, Kidman would win WWE’s version of the Cruiserweight title several times, but the division would never be featured prominently and often he’d disappear from television for months at a time. During the appearances he did make, the former high flying superstar was almost unrecognizable, having dropped his trademark ring attire for standard trunks and cutting his hair.
Kidman looked to have one last shot at least a solid midcard position with WWE when his tag team with Paul LondonÃ¢â‚¬â€a young cruiserweight who resembled and complemented him in many waysÃ¢â‚¬â€took off in 2004 and they briefly held the Tag Team titles, but the duo split somewhat abruptly. Kidman seemed on the verge of finally having a solid heel run that same year after inadvertently injuring Chavo Guerrero Jr. with his shooting star press and then having it turned into an angle where he went from remorse to utilizing the move as a deadly weapon, but he was never given the chance to run with the ball.
In the summer of 2005, Kidman was quietly released from WWE without fanfare. His marriage to Torrie WilsonÃ¢â‚¬â€whom he had begun a real relationship with during their WCW daysÃ¢â‚¬â€also came to an end in 2006. Today, Kidman continues to compete on the international and American independent circuits.
While there were no shortage of miscues and wasted opportunities over Billy Kidman’s seven year ride in the major leagues of professional wrestling, for a brief shining period he was the face of cruiserweight wrestling in America, and that’s how his fans will always choose to remember him.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.