Where Are They Now? Rick Martel
As one of WWE's most beloved and most hated competitors or the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rick Martel built his success over the years with the right attitude, the perfect personality and an undeniable connection with each member of the WWE Universe. Extremely talented from the moment he set foot in a ring, Martel's career would span close to 25 years, with his humble beginnings as a teen to his inspirational comeback in the late ‘90s.
"In 1975, I got my start in Florida with the Grahams, and I could hardly speak English," Martel said. "I was 19 years old when I got to Florida, and from there I went to Texas with the Von Erichs and did pretty good, but the turning point of my career was in 1977 when I went overseas to New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Being over there really helped me fine tune myself as a competitor -- so when I came back to the States in 1978, I was first in Hawaii, and then things just started really happening for me."
But Martel admits he was torn when he first made his way to WWE, after a family tragedy almost had him walk away from the ring.
"I had just lost my brother in 1978 after a wrestling match in Puerto Rico," said Martel. "My brother was everything to me -- my mentor, my idol, my best friend and one of the reasons I got into wrestling." Martel credits WWE Legend Tony Garea with helping him during the transition into WWE. "When I met Tony, he became like a big brother. WWE teamed us up and it was just a natural connection, and that was just perfect."
That synergy led Martel & Garea to the World Tag Team Championship on two occasions, before Martel parted for AWA. While in AWA, Martel carved out his greatest success as a singles competitor, capturing the AWA Championship by defeating Jumbo Tsuruta.
"I felt very comfortable going out on my own, and winning the title was probably the greatest accomplishment of my career. To hold onto the gold for 19 months was just incredible." Martel continued, "Being the champion also gave me the opportunity to face Superstars such as Nick Bockwinkel, Stan Hansen and Ric Flair."
After his successes in AWA, Martel decided it was time to return to WWE. He rejoined the tag ranks, forming the unforgettable Strike Force with WWE Hall of Famer Tito Santana.
During WWE's climb to the top of the entertainment industry, the company's defining event, WrestleMania III, took place in 1987, and Martel had a tough task put to him.
"To be part of WrestleMania III like that, to kick it off was just phenomenal. Being the first match gave us butterflies though -- we just wanted to start the show right," recalled Martel. "I remember just focusing on the match, and then afterwards I took my time and looked around -- and wow, the memories are still with me -- I get goose bumps every time I think back to that feeling. After the match, I made sure to get changed to watch Hulk Hogan take on Andre. When I first got to AWA, Hulk and I were roommates, and Andre and I were very good friends because we both spoke French and traveled together -- so I knew what this match meant for both of them personally and professionally."
From there, Martel and Santana had their differences, leading the duo to split up, and ushering in Martel's new persona -- The Model. While many were against Martel making the change, it worked just as the Superstar had hoped -- getting heated reactions from the WWE Universe every time he played the part. With his Arrogance in hand, Martel became involved in another first at WrestleMania -- a Blindfold Match against Jake "The Snake" Roberts, after he blinded Roberts with his fragrance bottle.
"I never had done a blindfold match before, and it was so weird. I was nervous enough as it was, with it being WrestleMania. As we got into it, Jake and I both just had fun doing it, and then to watch it afterwards was just mind-blowing."
After solidifying himself as one of the biggest stars in WWE, including lasting a memorable 53 minutes in the Royal Rumble, Martel took some time off before resurfacing in WCW in 1997.
"Everything had changed when I got to WCW. I trained really hard before getting back into the ring, because I didn't want to come back and look like I didn't belong there. I was happy, but unfortunately, I injured my knee -- I knew it was bad the minute it happened. In 25 years I hadn't had an injury like it, and it just was one of those ‘damn' moments," remembered Martel. "So I trained again, ready to come back to the ring, and trying to protect my knee in a match against Stevie Ray, I injured my neck. At that very moment, I said, ‘That's it, it's over.'"
Rick Martel made one more WWE appearance, alongside former partner Garea at Vengeance: Night of Champions in 2007.
"When we got there, they introduced us to the crowd, and then they showed images of us back in 1980, and Tony and I just laughed and kept saying to each other, ‘Who are those guys?'" Martel joked. "Then Deuce & Domino made fun of us, and after the match, we got in the ring, and the energy from the crowd was fantastic. I felt I could jump buildings. I took off my jacket and tie, and it was great to feel that emotion again and to feed off the crowd for the first time in close to 10 years. But at the end of the day, I know I am retired."
Martel's first priority after retirement was his wife of 25 years, Johanne. And these days, Martel and Johanne are happy to travel the world and spend time at home in Québec City with their 7-year-old daughter, Coralie.
"With me having been on the road for so long, Johanne just was so patient," said an enthused Martel. "We didn't have much a social or family life, so now we just have all the time in the world. Every day I take my daughter to school, and now I get to share my world with her."
Part of that bond with his daughter and wife is traveling around the world.
"My goal, believe it or not, is to see the world a second time, but to enjoy it all with my family. I get to tell my daughter all the places I have been, so then we go there so she can see for herself, and she loves it. One thing I miss about my time in wrestling is the traveling."
While Martel may no longer wow the WWE Universe in the ring, he considers his time with WWE a cornerstone of his life.
"I have such a sense of pride to be able to say I was part of the greatest organization in the world -- I wouldn't have what I have today if it wasn't for WWE."
And these days, Martel has the entire world in his hands, and just like his trademark Boston Crab, he doesn't plan on letting go.