RICK MARTEL: FROM MONTREAL TO MODEL
To mainstream wrestling fans he is “The Model” from Cocoa Beach, Florida. To Montreal wrestling fans he is one of Quebec’s favourite sons. And to old school wrestling fans he is the last great American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.
Rick Martel was born Rick Vingneault on March 18, 1956 in Quebec City, Quebec. Martel broke into the professional wrestling business at very young age. Martel explained how he got his start in a 1996 AOL interview: “I got my start in Nova Scotia. There was a wrestler that got injured one night and they needed a replacement for him within 24 hours. So, my brother called me up and told me to get on a plane from Quebec to Nova Scotia and he told me I was starting as a professional wrestler. I was only 17 years old.”
Martel made a name for himself in the 1970’s, not as a Montreal-based wrestler, but by travelling the world and stealing the show in the ring from Calgary to New Zealand to Portland, Oregon. As a ‘Stu Hart guy’, Martel continued to improve and gain territorial popularity, especially in the Portland territory, where he had success with more than one championship.
Martel’s clean-cut good looks and scientific wrestling ability garnered Martel the attention of the World Wrestling Federation. Martel was paired with Tony Garea in the WWF, and it wasn’t long before he became one half of the WWF tag team champions. Martel & Garea would go on to win the tag titles one more time in the territory before AWA head Verne Gagne came knocking.
Martel had a meteoric rise in Gagne’s Minnesota based wrestling promotion. In 1984, Hulk Hogan was undoubtedly the hottest property in the pro wrestling world. But Gagne was very old school, and he didn’t want to put his world title belt around the waist of a less than stellar technical wrestler with a weak amateur background, so he decided to put the strap on Martel instead of Hogan. In stepped Martel, the unlikeliest of choices to be the next AWA world champion. Martel upset Japanese wrestling icon Jumbo Tsuruta to become the champion. He would go on to reign for a full two years, defending the championship from the St. Paul Civic Center in Minnesota to Comiesky Park in Chicago, Illinois to Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan. Martel defended his championship against legendary grapplers like Ric Flair, Nick Bockwinkel, and King Tonga (Haku). During the AWA’s unofficial off-season, Martel would return to Montreal to defend his championship. Martel would eventually fall to Stan “Lariat” Hansen’s variation of the Boston crab, losing the AWA heavyweight crown in the process. What seemed like bad news, soon turned to a golden opportunity.
The WWF was growing nationally and internationally and this forced the AWA & the NWA to co-promote just to compete with Vincent K. McMahon’s growing behemoth of a promotion. Martel saw the grass was greener on the other side, so he jumped ship to the WWF. Martel returned to success as a tag team specialist with Tom Zenk as The Can-Am Connection. The two had been teaming in Montreal, prior to the WWF bringing them in as a tag team. Zenk left, claiming Martel went behind his back to sign a separate contract for more money than Zenk & Martel had been making at the time. Martel claims Zenk couldn’t handle the physical and mental toll of the road life. Tito Santana, once a big time WWF superstar, had been winding down his career as a singles wrestler when he was chosen to replace Zenk as Martel’s tag partner.
The newly formed Strike Force duo of Martel & Santana defeated the Hart Foundation to become the new WWF Tag Team Champions on October 27th of 1987. Making Martel a three-time WWF tag team champion. Strike Force’s run was short-lived. At WrestleMania IV in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Strike Force lost their titles to Demolition (Ax & Smash). Martel would take time of for the purposes of an angle with Santana. Martel was attacked by Demolition with a chair and hit with “Decapitation” to make the injury angle work. Martel (kayfabe) suffered a concussion and a back injury. The WWF made it seem as if Martel was forced to retire.
At WrestleMania, Martel & Santana were dealing with their toughest opponents yet, Anderson & Tully Blanchard, and their equally dangerous and devious mouthpiece Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. While in the ring, Martel was accidentally hit by Santana’s devastating flying forearm smash. Martel spent the majority of the contest on the apron favouring his eye. When Santana finally broke away from the double team barrage from the Brainbusters for the hot tag, Martel hopped to the floor and abandoned his tag team ally to be double-teamed and beat by Heenan’s men.
When legendary WWF interviewer Mean Gene Okerlund confronted Martel in a post match interview about his ‘despicable’ actions Martel responded with a scowl, “I’m sick and tired. Sick and tired of him. I was doing great as a singles wrestler, but Mr. Tito wants to ride my coattails some more.”
Martel and his new found arrogance led the WWF to pair him with “The Doctor of Style” Slick. Even though Martel was perfectly well in a speaking role for himself. Martel went on to feud with Santana on-and-of for a couple of years, with Martel coming out on the winning end and Tito being saddled with a ridiculously stereotypical gimmick as a bullfighter.
Martel’s biggest success as a heel came when he went manger-less at the tail end of 1989, and he owned his new gimmick as “The Model” Rick Martel. Martel would bring his own brand of “Arrogance” to life, in the form of an atomizer perfume. The Model had a series of hilarious and well-done vignettes to sell his fictitious Arrogance. They were so good I had to post them below. Martel would spray himself and his surroundings with Arrogance to avoid the ‘filthy’ WWF fans and the wrestlers around him. And he wasn’t above blinding an opponent with his signature scent. Jake “The Snake” Roberts fell victim to Arrogance when he attacked Martel for spraying his beloved pet python Damien with the fragrance. Roberts was forced to wear an eye patch upon his return, where he and his “Vipers” took on the Model and his “Visionaries” at the 1990 Survivor Series. Martel’s team swept Roberts’. Martel would go on to eliminate Roberts from the 1991 Royal Rumble, lasting an astounding 53 minutes in the annual match. The feud eventually led to the infamous “blindfold match” at WrestleMania VII between Martel & Roberts. Roberts won with the assistance of his thousands of screaming fans (and a gimmicked hood) after the Snake hit his patented DDT and scored the 1-2-3. The Model went on to have an anti-climatic feud with Tatanka. Then Martel struck gold.
In 1992, Shawn Michaels had become The Heartbreak Kid and “Sensational” Sherri had become his valet (she also sang his “Sexy Boy” theme song). The Model attracted the attention of Sherri, and the ire of Michaels. This led to a heel vs. heel feud between Michaels & Martel with Sherri smack in the middle of it. It all lead to a match where the Sensational One forbade both men from striking each other in the face. The match ended in a double count. Check it out. It’s actually quite amazing. Martel would go on to rekindle his feud with Tatanka by stealing his sacred eagle feathers and eventually falling once again to the North Carolinian Native American. Martel was toiling on the undercard for 1993 until a battle royal on Monday Night RAW rejuvenated Martel’s career. Martel co-won a battle royal with Razor Ramon, which led to an exciting feud between the two over the Intercontinental Championship on RAW. Martel would leave the WWF that summer.
Martel arrived at World Championship Wrestling in 1997. Martel was immediately put into a feud with the then WCW United States Champion Booker T. Martel beat Booker for the US Title on the February 16, 1998 edition of WCW Monday Nitro. Martel’s run had expired before its time. His leg was severely injured in a match with Booker T at WCW Superbrawl VIII. Martel attempted to make a comeback, but he was injured again. Martel would stay on as a French commentator and a trainer.
Martel last appeared with WWE on camera at Vengeance: Night of Champions with former tag partner Tony Garea to save fellow WWE legends Sgt. Slaughter & Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka from an attack by Deuce & Domino.
Martel has two daughters, Coralie with his current wife Johanne. And Leia. When WWE.com last contacted Martel, he was enjoying travelling the world a second time, this time with his family.