Paul Orndorff (October 29, 1949 - July 12, 2021) was a National Football League player and professional wrestler known for his appearances with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
- 1 Football
- 2 Professional wrestling
- 3 Personal life
- 4 In wrestling
- 5 Championships and accomplishments
- 6 External links
After earning notoriety as a running back at the University of Tampa where he scored 21 career touchdowns and gained over 2000 all-purpose yards in his playing career, Orndorff was a 12th round selection (289th overall pick) in the 1973 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints but failed to pass the physical for the NFL with both the Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a teammate of the #1 pick notorious bad boy John Matuszak. However, he did play for the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League in 1975. After one season in the WFL, he began training as a professional wrestler.
Paul Orndorff started wrestling in 1976 in Mid-Southern Wrestling where he feuded with a young Jerry Lawler. Orndorff won his first wrestling title when he pinned Lawler for the Mid-Southern Heavyweight Title on June 7, 1977. Orndorff lost the title back to Lawler before he left the Memphis territory. Orndorff began working for the NWA Tri-State promotion where he got involved in a feud with Ernie Ladd. The feud with Ladd saw Orndorff win the NWA Tri-State North American Heavyweight Title from Ernie Ladd on two occasions (on May 29, 1978 and again in June). Both times, Orndorff's reigns were short and were ended by Ladd.
After feuding with Ladd, Orndorff continued to make a name for himself in the National Wrestling Alliance where he feuded with The Masked Superstar. During this time he became known as “The Brandon Bull," a nickname he had during his days as a football player. In December 1978, Paul Orndorff teamed with Jimmy Snuka to capture the NWA World Tag Team titles from Baron Von Raschke and Greg Valentine. The duo held on to the titles for five months before losing them to Baron Von Raschke and his new partner Paul Jones on April 28, 1978.
In 1979, Orndorff traveled to the Alabama territory's “Southeast Championship Wrestling." There, Orndorff worked mainly as a tag team competitor teaming with Dick Slater to win the NWA Southeast Tag Team Championship from the team of Jimmy Golden and Norvell Austin in October 1979. Their reign only lasted about a month before being upended by the combination of Dennis Condrey and David Schults. Orndorff then teamed with former opponent Norvell Austin (who was calling himself “The Junkyard Dog" at the time, not to be mistaken for the more famous Junkyard Dog) to win the titles in late 1979. The duo beat Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose, the same team that ended Orndorff and Austin's run with the gold. Norvell Austin, Dennis Condrey, and Randy Rose would go on to form The Midnight Express shortly thereafter.
During 1980, Orndorff started to split his time between the Alabama and the Mid-South territories, until he left the Alabama territory by the end of 1980 to focus entirely on the Mid-South territory. In Mid-South, Orndorff feuded with Ken Mantell over Mantell's propensity for cutting people's hair after a match. Orndorff got the better of Mantell and won the rights to use the Freebird hair removal cream on Mantell. Orndorff earned a shot at the North American champion The Grappler but on the day of the match he overslept (storyline) and was incensed when his replacement Jake “The Snake" Roberts beat the Grappler for the title. Orndorff's reaction to Jake's title win signaled a change in attitude; he turned heel as he demanded a title match against Jake “the Snake". While he lost the support of the fans, he won the North American title on July 4, 1981. Orndorff feuded with Ted DiBiase, JYD, Dusty Rhodes, and Dick Murdoch while holding on to the North American title. Orndorff lost the title to Ted DiBiase on November 1, 1981 in a match at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans, Louisiana. Orndorff was unable to wrestle in the rematch due to car trouble, which meant that Orndorff's friend Bob Roop got the title shot and won the match. It was soon revealed that Roop had sabotaged Orndorff's car so he could get the title shot instead (storyline). Orndorff turned face to feud with Roop but found himself unable to regain the title after which he left the Mid-South Territory.
Orndorff reappeared in Georgia Championship Wrestling in early 1982 immediately launching into a feud with Buzz Sawyer over the NWA National Heavyweight Championship. Orndorff won the gold on June 20, 1982. During the summer, Orndorff would vacate the title so he could focus on pursuing the NWA World Heavyweight Champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Orndorff was unsuccessful in his challenge and soon focused on the title he gave up. When Orndorff vacated the title, it was put on the line in a tournament that was won by The Super Destroyer. On August 19, 1982, Paul Orndorff regained the title from the Super Destroyer. Orndorff next feuded with The Masked Superstar, with whom he traded the National Heavyweight title back and forth during the fall of 1982. Orndorff then traded the title back and forth with Super Destroyer. Frustrated with his inability to beat Paul Orndorff for the National title, Larry Zbyszko paid Killer Tim Brooks $25,000 to do his dirty work. Brooks beat Orndorff with the help of a chair and won the title only to turn around and give it to Zbyszko. The fact that Zybszko bought the title and did not win it forced NWA President Bob Geigel to step in and strip Zbyszko of the title.
Orndorff then moved to New Japan Pro Wrestling for several months. He made two tours of Japan, the first in April. He wrestled Kengo Kimura, Riki Chōshū, and Akira Maeda, as well as teaming up with Ed Leslie against Antonio Inoki and Seiji Sakaguchi. Orndorff returned in October and partnered with Big John Studd against Maeda and Sakaguchi, then faced Maeda again in singles competition.
World Wrestling Federation
Orndorff signed with the World Wrestling Federation in late 1983 and made his debut in November of that year on Championship Wrestling. Starting in January 1984, Orndorff took on "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as his manager. Piper nicknamed Paul Orndorff “Mr. Wonderful," a nickname that he has used ever since. Orndorff made his WWF debut against Salvatore Bellomo on the night that Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik for the WWF World Heavyweight Title and "Hulkamania was born", January 23, 1984 in Madison Square Garden. Orndorff became one of the first people to challenge for the world title, shooting straight to the main event less than a month after his debut. Hogan disposed of the challenger and moved on while Orndorff fought a variety of opponents including the Intercontinental Champion Tito Santana. When Piper assaulted Jimmy Snuka on the set of Piper's Pit, Orndorff (as well as Bob Orton, Jr.) assisted the Rowdy One in his fights. Orndorff and Piper often faced Snuka and "The Tonga Kid" in tag team competition.
Near the end of 1984, Roddy Piper's assault on Cyndi Lauper (kayfabe) brought Orndorff and Piper on a collision course with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. Hogan's feud with Piper also meant that Orndorff was thrust back into the main event picture; he defeated Tony Atlas at The War to Settle the Score and then played a part in the main event. The fallout from The War to Settle the Score led to the creation of WrestleMania, with Hogan and Mr. T (backed by Jimmy Snuka) taking on "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff in the main event. Orton's interference at the end of the match backfired when he accidentally hit Orndorff with the cast on his arm, allowing Hogan to pin Orndorff and win the match for his team. Blaming Orndorff for the loss, Piper and Orton attacked him on the first episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Later in the evening, Orndorff ran to the ring to even the sides when Piper and Orton were preparing to double team Hulk Hogan. He solidified his babyface status by publicly firing manager Bobby Heenan shortly afterwards.
Orndorff and Hogan started teaming up to feud with Piper and Orton, facing them in tag team competition all over the country. Orndorff's feud with Piper and Orton continued to rage on while Hogan started to defend his title against other contenders; Orndorff faced both Orton and Piper in individual competition, usually without a conclusive outcome. After Orndorff fired Bobby Heenan as his manager, Heenan placed a $25,000 bounty on Orndorff, payable to anyone who could injure him. When no one succeeded, Heenan upped the bounty to $50,000. One of the first men to try and claim the new, higher bonus was Roddy Piper himself, but their matches got so out of hand that Bruno Sammartino was appointed as a special referee in the hopes of keeping peace. Instead of keeping peace, Sammartino became a target for Orton and Piper, which led to Orndorff and Sammartino teaming up. Orndorff teamed with a variety of opponents in his fights with Piper and Orton, including André the Giant. In February 1986, Bobby Heenan used a match between Hulk Hogan and Don Muraco as an opportunity to have King Kong Bundy attack Hogan, setting up their WrestleMania 2 match. While Hogan fought off Bundy, Orndorff battled Don Muraco in a match that ended in a double count out.
Orndorff's frustrations were further fueled by Adrian Adonis, who took every opportunity that he could to mock Orndorff (including referring to him as "Hulk Jr."), saying that he had gone soft from teaming with Hogan. Adonis kept on irritating Orndorff, going so far as daring Paul Orndorff to prove just how close his relationship with Hulk Hogan really was. During a televised phone call to Hulk Hogan, Orndorff was told that Hogan was too busy training to come to the phone, something which aggravated Orndorff to no end. The next time that Hogan and Orndorff teamed up, against the Moondogs, Orndorff wrestled most of the match by himself in an attempt to upstage Hogan, scoring the winning pin. The next week, during a tag match where Hogan and Orndorff faced the massive duo of Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy, Hogan and Orndorff accidentally collided and Hogan knocked Orndorff off the apron. When Studd and Bundy started to double team Hogan, Orndorff did not help out; he looked like he had hurt his eye in the collision. It was not until Studd and Bundy had Hogan in a compromised position that Orndorff reentered the ring to fend off Studd and Bundy. Orndorff then helped Hogan to his feet and raised his hand in the air and gave Hogan a clothesline followed by a Piledriver.
Orndorff soon reunited with manager Bobby Heenan and once again feuded with Hulk Hogan. During this time, to sell his heel character as bitter over Hogan and his view of the WWF Champion as an arrogant, neglectful person who uses his friends, Orndorff began using Hogan's entrance theme "Real American" (insisting that it was written for him), and began mocking him by mimicking his routines (flexing, cupping his hand to his ear to get fan reaction, etc.). The first high-profile Hogan-Orndorff match was a memorable outdoor match in Toronto which drew an estimated 76,000 fans; Hogan won by disqualification after a series of events, including Orndorff pushing Hogan into the referee and, while the referee was knocked out, Heenan interfering on Orndorff's behalf by hitting Hogan over the back with a stool. After a series of matches with no clean outcome it was decided that Hogan and Orndorff would clash in a steel cage match on Saturday Night's Main Event. The cage match saw both Orndorff and Hogan climb over the top of the cage and touch the floor at the same time. After reviewing the footage it was decided that it was a draw and the match was restarted. Once the match restarted, Hogan easily exited the cage to win the match following a leg drop, ending their feud. Their half-year long feud is one of the most notable (and profitable) feuds in the history of pro wrestling.
During the Hogan feud, Orndorff seriously injured his right arm in a weightlifting accident. Because he was in the middle of his big money run with Hogan, he did not want to take the time off to have the surgery to properly treat it, opting instead to continue to wrestle. After the program with Hogan ended, Orndorff worked a reduced schedule for a few months before he was forced to take some time off because of the injury. While Orndorff was away from the WWF, Bobby Heenan brought in a new man "Ravishing" Rick Rude to take Orndorff's place in the Heenan Family. Orndorff returned to the ring specifically to fire Bobby Heenan and to feud with Rick Rude. Orndorff took Oliver Humperdink as his manager in his fight with Rude and Heenan. Orndorff's last “big" appearance was at the inaugural Survivor Series on November 26, 1987, where he teamed with Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Ken Patera, and Don Muraco to take on Andre the Giant, the One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude, and Butch Reed. Early in the match, Rude eliminated Orndorff with a roll-up.
Semi-retirement and return
Paul Orndorff retired in early 1988 due to his arm injury and focused on running his bowling alley in Fayetteville. During his time away from the sport he was actually reported to have died; the story made several newspapers. The time off was because of the injury to his arm/neck that he suffered during the Hogan feud and left untreated for too long. With the time off, Orndorff recovered and started working out, reestablishing the physique that earned him the nickname “Mr. Wonderful" in the first place. The only difference was that his right arm was noticeably smaller and weakened due to a neck injury that caused nerve damage and eventually the atrophy of his right biceps.
In 1990 Orndorff returned to the squared circle, wrestling a series of matches against Kerry Von Erich on the independent circuit. By the spring of 1990 Orndorff signed with World Championship Wrestling, making his debut as a member of a group called the “Dudes with Attitudes" consisting of himself, Sting, Lex Luger, Junkyard Dog, and The Steiner Brothers. The Dudes backed Sting in his fight with the Four Horsemen. At Clash of the Champions XI Orndorff defeated Arn Anderson and at the 1990 Great American Bash, Orndorff teamed up with the Junkyard Dog and El Gigante to defeat Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, and Sid Vicious by disqualification. Orndorff remained with WCW until the fall of 1990.
UWF and the indies
By late 1990, Orndorff became one of the featured headliners for Herb Abrams' fledgling Universal Wrestling Federation. Televised on several cable outlets, the UWF saw many former WWF stars such as Don Muraco, Bob Orton, Jr., "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, Lou Albano, and The Killer Bees (known as "Masked Confusion" in the UWF). Mr. Wonderful more or less immediately started feuding with "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, who attacked Orndorff to kick start the feud. Orndorff and Williams clashed several times in what was promoted as the “Signature Feud" of the UWF in its early days. Orndorff would also reignite his feud with Bob Orton, Jr. in the UWF, where he beat Orton for the UWF Southern States Championship on June 22, 1992 and held the title until he left the promotion. On June 9, 1991, Orndorff competed on the UWF's only PPV Beach Brawl, defeating Col. DeBeers in a Strap match. Orndorff left the UWF sometime in early 1993, vacating the Southern States title.
While working for the UWF, Orndorff would also compete in the American Wrestling Federation (not the same promotion as the AWF) and held the AWF Heavyweight title after beating Stan Lane on December 16, 1991. When Orndorff left the AWF in February 1992, he vacated the title. During this time Orndorff also competed in the National Wrestling League, holding its tag team titles alongside Brian Blair sometime in 1993.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling
In 1992, Smoky Mountain Wrestling opened its doors for the first time as they announced a tournament to crown the first SMW Heavyweight Champion. Among the participants invited to compete were Buddy Landel, "Dirty White Boy" Tony Anthony, and Brian Lee. Orndorff was only listed as a "wild card" who had to win a match in order to enter the tournament. The "wild card" status was a blow to Orndorff's ego (storyline), causing him to attack several wrestlers including Hector Guerrero, whom he defeated in a "wild card" match to earn a spot in the tournament. Afterwards, Orndorff laid out Guerrero and several preliminary wrestlers with his piledriver finisher. Orndorff beat Tim Horner and Robert Gibson in the preliminary rounds to advance to the finals of the tournament. In the finals, Brian Lee won the title when Orndorff was disqualified.
Siding with the "Dirty White Boy" Tony Anthony, Orndorff feuded with Hector Guerrero and Brian Lee. Lee brought in Ron Garvin to fight off Orndorff; the feud included a very publicized “piledriver" match which was won by Garvin. Orndorff was “fired" from the SMW after piledriving a referee in frustration.
World Championship Wrestling
Orndorff returned to WCW in late 1992. In January 1993 he took on Cactus Jack, with the winner being manager Harley Race’s chosen replacement for an injured Rick Rude at the Clash of the Champions. Race assisted Orndorff in the match and was quickly joined by Vader in his attack on Cactus Jack. After the match, Race declared that Paul Orndorff was his chosen man. Orndorff was pinned by Cactus Jack in a subsequent Thunderdome match; the two had an intense feud including a Falls Count Anywhere match at SuperBrawl III, which Cactus Jack won.
After the feud with Cactus cooled off, "Mr. Wonderful" set his sights on the vacant WCW World Television Championship. Orndorff signed up for a 16-man tournament beating 2 Cold Scorpio, Cactus Jack, Johnny B. Badd, and then Erik Watts in the finals to win his first WCW title. Orndorff, the TV champion, and Rick Rude, the U.S. Champion, began teaming on a regular basis, including a PPV victory over Dustin Rhodes and Kensuke Sasaki at Slamboree. During this time Orndorff also turned back the challenges of Ron Simmons and Marcus Alexander Bagwell, amongst others, holding on to his Television title by any means necessary. Orndorff defeated Bagwell controversially, using the second rope for leverage during the pinfall. The two would later go on to feud for the WCW World Tag Team Titles. Orndorff's World TV Title reign also included a disqualification loss to Johnny B Badd, after Maxx Payne violently interfered. This led to a brief six man tag team alliance between Orndorff, Payne, and Chris Benoit. On August 18, 1993, Orndorff's luck ran out as Ricky Steamboat won the title at Clash of the Champions XXIV. After unsuccessfully challenging Ricky Steamboat throughout the fall and winter of 1993, Orndorff moved into the tag team division.
After the 1993 WCW PPV Battlebowl, the Horsemen Paul Roma and Arn Anderson faced the semi-regular team of Paul Orndorff and "Stunning" Steve Austin on WCW Saturday Night. During the match, Roma acted very indifferent to his tag team partner, sowing the seeds to his heel turn. Next, Roma teamed with Erik Watts to take on the team of Orndorff and Austin once again. This time, Roma took it a step further and attacked Erik Watts before announcing that he was now teaming with Paul Orndorff.
Under the tutelage of manager Masked Assassin, the team quickly began to work well together in a feud with Marcus Alexander Bagwell and 2 Cold Scorpio. In the following months, both Roma and Orndorff focused on their individual careers before reuniting around May. This time they wrestled without their manager and were officially known as “Pretty Wonderful". With both men rededicated to teaming, they soon challenged for the WCW World Tag Team Championship then held by Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan. One incident especially stands out that established Pretty Wonderful in the title chase. The champions had one last defense against former champions the Nasty Boys that also saw Kevin's injured brother Dave. The match degraded into a brawl that saw Pretty Wonderful make an appearance using Dave's crutch to attack the champions. Before the team left the ring, they also took a couple of shots at the Nasty Boys for good measure.
Going into Bash at the Beach, Pretty Wonderful had the advantage as both champions were suffering from injuries inflicted by the challengers on previous occasions (kayfabe). Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan were unable to hold off Roma and Orndorff, as Pretty Wonderful left the ring with the gold. Pretty Wonderful was immediately challenged by the Nasty Boys after winning the title, but the Nasty Boys were never able to take the gold from the champions. Next, Pretty Wonderful was challenged by the duo of Stars 'n' Stripes (Marcus Alexander Bagwell & The Patriot) at Fall Brawl. The champions retained, but a week later the championship changed hands when Stars 'n' Stripes got the victory. Pretty Wonderful was granted a rematch against the new champions with a match booked for Halloween Havoc; Pretty Wonderful regained the titles when Roma used one of the title belts to knock Bagwell out cold.
At Clash of the Champions XXIX Stars 'n' Stripes were granted a final shot at the tag team title, but the challengers also had to put up the Patriot's mask on the line. After a controversial double pin finish, Stars 'n' Stripes were declared the winners and thus the champions, putting the end to Pretty Wonderful's second and final run with the gold.
After Roma left WCW, Orndorff returned to singles competition with his most notable match at the time being an unsuccessful shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship when he faced champion The Great Muta at Slamboree. In May, Orndorff got a golden opportunity to regain the WCW Television title. He defeated Brian Pillman in a tournament to earn the shot at the champion. He lost to WCW newcomer The Renegade at Bash at the Beach. Orndorff was also unable to beat the rookie in subsequent matches and began to lose confidence in his abilities (storyline). After losing more and more matches, including a match on WCW Worldwide to Randy Savage, Orndorff lost all faith in his abilities; the outwardly arrogant Mr. Wonderful was riddled with self-doubt, until one night, after beating himself up backstage after yet another loss, he was visited by psychic Gary Spivey. Spivey convinced Orndorff to believe in himself and that he shouldn't forget that he was “Mr. Wonderful". Orndorff became more arrogant than ever before and began carrying around a mirror everywhere he went.
On the December 11, 1995 episode of Monday Nitro, Orndorff confronted Brian Pillman after Pillman made derogatory comments about Orndorff. After telling Flair and Anderson how much he respected them, Orndorff told Pillman that he could have been a Horseman and the only reason Pillman was a Horseman was because he turned it down. Anderson and Flair tried to calm Orndorff down but Orndorff lost his temper and attacked Pillman. Pillman, Flair, and Anderson attacked Orndorff and then Arn Anderson and Ric Flair delivered a spike piledriver to Orndorff on the arena floor during the attack. WCW later explained that Orndorff had been seriously hurt in the attack and that his career was over. In actuality, Orndorff was forced to retire due to his previous injuries in the WWF, with the entire right side of his body beginning to atrophy (eventually causing his arm and leg muscles to shrink). It was something he had worked through as best he could but by the end of 1995 he was forced to retire and started to work as a trainer and a road agent for WCW. At Fall Brawl 2000, in a match between The Filthy Animals and The Natural Born Thrillers, Orndorff suffered a neck injury after delivering a piledriver. The referee, Charles Robinson stopped the match as a result.
After Orndorff retired he began to run WCW Power Plant, where he trained several wrestlers including the Natural Born Thrillers. He had a brief onscreen role during this time in the Old Age Outlaws with Terry Funk, Arn Anderson, and Larry Zbyszko to feud with the last WCW version of the nWo.
On February 3, 2005, Orndorff was announced as one of the inductees for the Class of 2005 into the WWE Hall of Fame. He was inducted on April 2 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
On April 6, 2014, Orndorff made an appearance at WrestleMania XXX. This marks the first time being on WWE television since the 2005 Hall of Fame. He appeared with Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Pat Patterson who was part of the main event at the first WrestleMania and Gene Okerlund who was conducting an interview with Hogan when the rest appeared.
On August 11, 2014 Orndorff made an appearance at Hulk Hogan's birthday celebration on Monday Night Raw, celebrating in the ring with many other WWE legends.
Orndorff married his high school girlfriend Ronda Maxwell Orndorff. The couple have two grown sons, Paul Orndorff III and Travis Orndorff, as well as eight grandchildren.
On January 5, 2011, Paul Orndorff appeared on the Busted Open radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio and revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. On August 10, 2011, Orndorff announced that he was cancer free.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- "Mr. Wonderful"
Championships and accomplishments
- University of Tampa
- Football Hall of Fame (Class of 1986)
- American Wrestling Federation
- AWF Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA Hall of Fame (Class of 2009)
- National Wrestling League
- NWL Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Brian Blair
- NWA Mid-America / Continental Wrestling Association
- NWA Tri-State / Mid-South Wrestling Association
- Peach State Wrestling
- PSW Cordele City Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI Feud of the Year (1986) vs. Hulk Hogan
- PWI Match of the Year (1985) with Roddy Piper vs. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T at WrestleMania
- PWI Most Hated Wrestler of the Year (1986)
- PWI ranked him # 38 of the 500 best singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 1993.
- PWI ranked him # 49 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Southeastern Championship Wrestling
- NWA Southeastern Tag Team Championship (2 times) - with Dick Slater (1) and Norvell Austin (1)
- Universal Wrestling Federation
- UWF Southern States Championship (1 time)
- World Championship Wrestling
- World Wrestling Entertainment
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Feud of the Year (1986) vs. Hulk Hogan