The Model of Success: Rick Martel’s WWF Heel Turn

Brian Damage

To many wrestling fans of a certain age, Richard Vigneault, better known by his ring name Rick Martel, is best remembered for his ‘arrogance’ spraying heel persona. It is that gimmick which is the focus of today’s piece.

Rick Martel got his start early in professional wrestling. He was just 16 years old when he broke into the business. Rick was trained by his older brother Michel, who also took his younger brother under his wing. Rick was the perennial babyface who traveled through the various territories garnering a great deal of success. Martel would win various titles along the way including the AWA world title and the WWF tag team titles twice with Tony Garea.

When Martel returned to the World Wrestling Federation in 1986, he was paired with another good looking wrestler named Tom Zenk and together they were known as the Can Am Connection. The plan was to push Martel and Zenk as the ultimate babyface tag team and award them the world tag team titles. That never materialized, because the team had personal issues with one another that ultimately led Tom Zenk to quit the company. Martel would briefly return to action as a singles wrestler, but Vince McMahon had other plans.

He paired Rick up with fellow veteran Tito Santana and they formed a tag team called ‘Strike Force.’ The team was given the same push that was initially planned for the Can Am Connection complete with the theme song ‘Girls in Cars.’ They were both pushed as eye candy for the ladies and were also awarded the WWF tag team titles. Strike Force would lose the titles against Ax and Smash of Demolition at Wrestlemania IV.

Around this time, both Martel and Santana were getting bored with being a tag team. While they were friends behind the scenes, both wanted to explore different things in their careers. Mostly, having runs as singles wrestlers again. Individually, both Rick Martel and Tito Santana approached Vince McMahon about splitting up Strike Force and going in different directions.

Both wrestlers had the same idea, they wanted a run as a heel in the company. Tito was first to suggest a heel turn for his character and was refused by McMahon. Martel would also suggest that he turn heel and was refused as well. The difference between Santana’s approach and Martel’s was that Martel threatened to quit the company if he didn’t get his way.

Vince McMahon eventually agreed to turn Rick Martel heel, but also promised a big singles push for Santana as well. McMahon envisioned Tito as a big star that would help garner Latino viewers to WWF programming. As for Martel, he saw Martel’s good looks as an asset to use for his turn. The Strike Force break up took place at WrestleMania V, when Strike Force took on the Brain busters of Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson.

Tito Santana accidentally hit Martel with his flying forearm. This led to Martel getting angry and walking out on his partner, leaving Santana to lose to Arn and Tully on his own. That led to Rick Martel’s heel turn in which he was given a manager in Slick. The partnership didn’t last very long as McMahon felt that Martel would be better off going solo with his new gimmick. The gimmick was that of a narcissistic wanna be model. The idea was the brainchild of both McMahon and Pat Patterson.

Slick was replaced by an atomizer filled with a perfume/cologne called “Arrogance.” He would use it as a weapon to blind his opponents during matches. The ‘Model’ Rick Martel had some success on the mid card leve, but never reached main event status. Towards the end of his WWF run, there were plans to form another tag team with the Model and a young Canadian in Don Callis. They were to be known as The Supermodels, but Martel would jump ship to WCW. As for his old tag partner in Tito Santana, he would eventually be given a matador gimmick that really went nowhere and he would ultimately leave the company as well.


3 thoughts on “The Model of Success: Rick Martel’s WWF Heel Turn

  1. Rick Martel’s heel turn was brilliant. Plus, he was a great heel as I just love that persona he played and the swagger he carried. He was so detestable for all of the right reasons. He needs to be in the WWE Hall of Fame and have Tito Santana induct him into the Hall of Fame.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As good as he was as a babyface in Strike Force, he was that much better as a heel. Between him and Rick Rude, that was a great time for heels you loved to hate. Those guys were so good at their jobs!


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