For many fans of the sport, the mid-to-late 1980s through the early 1990s are deemed to be the glory years of professional wrestling. Compelling storylines (think the Hulk Hogan/Randy “Macho Man” Savage/Elizabeth love triangle and Shawn Michaels attacking longtime partner Marty Jannetty on Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop”), celebrity crossovers (consider The A-Team muscle Mr. T and pop darling Cyndi Lauper), and outlandish gimmicks (look at the supernatural embodiment of the undead The Undertaker and the Elvis Presley impersonating Honky Tonk Man) saturated the syndicated grappling airwaves in the era.
The cyclical nature of the business would rear its inevitable head in 1993/1994, when interest in the product waned greatly and didn’t pick up until the infamous Monday Night Wars of the late 1990s, a period which saw the rise of superstars such as The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bill Goldberg, and Kurt Angle. While the trade has certainly experienced its ups and downs since then, with the most recent example of a high being the formation of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), a solid challenger to the industry-leading World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), there is at least one 80s/90s legend of the game who is doing his part to ensure it is healthy and thriving for many years to come.
Jacques Rougeau Jr. is arguably the most well-known of the legendary Rougeau wrestling family, a decorated clan that includes father Jacques Sr., uncle Jean (Johnny), sister Johanne, brothers Raymond and Armand, and even, albeit briefly, sons Jean Jacques, Cedric, and Emile, and boasted a staggering in-ring career that spanned over 40 years.
Learning the ropes in Stu Hart’s Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling Federation, as well as various United States territories, Rougeau first gained worldwide attention in 1986 as part of the technically-sound Rougeau Brothers, along with Raymond, in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE). Most wrestling scholars would classify Hart’s training as the most effective and invaluable teaching available at the time and while Rougeau agrees, he was also the recipient of Hart’s generosity, being treated to countless invitations and meals at Hart’s home.
“After every meal, he’d always try to get me to go down into the Dungeon and I’d always have an excuse on why I had to leave,” chuckled Rougeau, in a chat with Royal Flush. The Dungeon was the infamous name given to the family patriarch’s basement where he trained, taught, tussled with, and some say, tortured, his charges. “I’d heard all the stories about guys being stretched downstairs so I made sure to avoid it,” he admitted.
Widely considered to be the greatest collection of tag teams on a single roster in history, the Rougeau siblings competed with a who’s who of elite duos such as The Hart Foundation (Bret “The Hitman” Hart, son of Stu, and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart), The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell), The British Bulldogs (Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith), and The Rockers (Michaels and Jannetty).
“We worked with the Hart Foundation around the horn for four straight years,” Rougeau remembered. “And the Rockers. We had marathon one hour matches with Shawn and Marty around the world. One time, we did one with them in England at 11AM and then we flew right to Philadelphia and we did another one with them the same day, because of the time difference. We had great chemistry with them and they were so easy to work with,” he recalled.
Wrestling the Bulldogs, however, didn’t produce the same outcome. The four men had a legendary behind-the-scenes feud that was born primarily out of Dynamite’s penchant for bullying and dangerous pranks. After several backstage altercations, the teams were quickly kept apart from each other. Although Rougeau calls the incidents with the Bulldogs as the worst of his life and having never made peace with Dynamite before his death in 2018, he enjoys reminiscing about Davey Boy’s eventual return to the WWF in the early 90s and crossing paths with him once again. “Davey put his hand out, said he didn’t want any trouble, he didn’t talk to Dynamite anymore, and he just wanted to turn the page,” he offered. “I was so relieved. I didn’t want to go through another ordeal like that. And we actually went on to have great matches together. To add to that, I was in London recently and met his son Harry (Davey Boy Smith Jr.) and he’s so nice. He told me that his father really liked me and I told him I really liked him too (Smith passed away in 2002).”
Although their good looks and boyish charm were tailor made for the babyface, or “good guy,” roles they initially played, Jacques and Raymond eventually switched to the dark side. With mouthpiece Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart added to the act, the intentionally obnoxious “Fabulous” Rougeau Brothers achieved even greater success as heels, or “bad guys,” and were a dominating force to be reckoned with in the promotion.
“I was a good-looking young man, I was very acrobatic, and I had a nice French accent so the girls kind of liked that and I think the promoters liked that too, so they sold me as a cute babyface early on,“ Rougeau reasoned. “I had long hair, a good tan, white teeth, I was 6’3” and weighed about 230 pounds, so I had what it took for that role.” Making the switch to being villains, however, came quite naturally. “Turning heel was a great move for us. As soon as we started insulting the intelligence of the Americans, man, we were in our element and they were having a blast hating us,” he surmised.
Although neither Jacques nor Raymond themselves had envisioned a career trajectory as “bad guys,” WWF head honcho Vince McMahon, along with right-hand man Pat Patterson, did, and explained to the brothers that their relevance would begin to abate quickly if they didn’t change things up. “Vince saw the money in us, he knew we were good workers, and he decided to turn us heel. That’s when we started being nerdy, obnoxiously waving those little American flags, and wishing the fans Happy Thanksgiving on Independence Day and stuff like that,” he laughed. “It was such a great time.”
Inserting Hart as the team’s manager was a blessing, according to the former grappler. Hart, who co-wrote both of Rougeau’s classic entrance themes, “All American Boys” and “I’m The Mountie,” is considered by Rougeau to be the G.O.A.T. when it comes to the important position. “Jimmy would never take any credit for anything. He always gave it all to his men,” Rougeau beamed. “All the boys back then loved working with him because he never tried to steal the spotlight.”
When Raymond retired in 1990, Jacques’ career was suddenly in a state of uncertainty. Oftentimes, when one member of an established team is taken out of the equation, the remaining participant flounders. That would not be the case here.
After working primarily as a tag team competitor for the majority of his career, Rougeau transformed into a corrupt, cattle prod-carrying member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Thus, The Mountie was born. With the grating catchphrase of “The Mountie always gets his man,” a motto taken straight from the legitimate RCMP, the newly single athlete proved to be a dominating force as he shared the squared circle with notable names like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Big Bossman and even bested former tag team rival Hart for the Intercontinental Championship, at the time the WWF’s second most coveted belt after the World Title.
Although his reign with the gold was brief, Rougeau continued to reinvent himself over the next several years. Whether it was returning to the tag team ranks as one half of The Quebecers (with partner Pierre Ouellet, now known as PCO), winning over a new audience as part of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) squad, or defeating the iconic Hulk Hogan in his hometown city of Montreal in 1997, the Canadian never failed – or fails – to create a stir.
Wrestling Academy, Rougeau’s recent wrestling school competition, has generated significant buzz, thanks in part to the heavy involvement of AEW performer/producer/trainer Q.T. Marshall. Essentially a platform for the best Canadian independent wrestlers to have a shot at the bigtime, the initial season produced four winners: Jeremy Prophet and Jessika Black of Quebec, Dylan Davis from Newfoundland, and Matt Black from Ontario. In addition to receiving $5,000 each, the quartet will have custom action figures created in their likenesses, as well as three months of intensive training with Marshall and Billy Gunn of AEW, and Cody Rhodes of WWE, at the Nightmare Factory wrestling school in Atlanta.
Rougeau’s enthusiasm for the project is, understandably, infectious. “The four winners wrestled on AEW Dark and Elevation when they came to Toronto recently, in front of 8,000 fans. And we’re doing it again this year,” he enthused. “This time, the four winners will receive $10,000 each, in addition to the three months in Atlanta. Last year, we had about 40 applications and this year we’re already at 70, thanks to QT, thanks to my girlfriend, and thanks to everyone around me that helped create this. Now we’re unstoppable!”
The benefit of being trained and analyzed by members of the two biggest wrestling companies in the United States can’t be overlooked. “It opens doors tremendously for our winners.”
While it now seems inconceivable, had he never entered the world of professional wrestling, Rougeau theorizes he would have become a police officer, an ironic statement, considering his former stint as the Mountie. “It’s something I would’ve enjoyed – in my younger days,” Rougeau clarified. “In today’s society, I’d probably change my mind quickly, with all the guns and everything else going on.”
With no genuine career regrets, there is a slight sore spot for Rougeau – having been excluded, thus far, from the WWE Hall of Fame, while the majority of his contemporaries have been inducted throughout the decades. “I look at my career, and others who deserve it, like Rick Martel and Demolition. We’re not in the Hall of Fame – but Donald Trump is, “ Rougeau opined incredulously. “It doesn’t make sense. Despite this minor blip, however, Rougeau wants to make one thing clear. “I’m still doing what I love today. I’m very lucky. I’m still living my passion.”
To learn more about Wrestling Academy, go to wrestling-academy.ca