By Mike Mooneyham
Nov. 24, 2001
Ric Flair is back in wrestling, and all is right with the world.
The WWF, which has been bumbling and stumbling ever since buying out its competition, took a major step in the right direction when Vince McMahon purchased Flair’s AOL Time Warner contract and immediately debuted the Nature Boy in his Charlotte stomping ground last week on Raw. The timing couldn’t have been better and, unlike previous WCW regimes that used the Mid-Atlantic area as a backdrop to portray Flair in unflattering storylines, McMahon and company introduced the two-time WWF world champion as the new co-owner of the federation. The high-profile role offers Flair unlimited opportunity to display his unmatched mic skills, and WWF fans may be in for some of the most entertaining segments seen in quite some time. Flair’s interplay with the likes of McMahon, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and Kurt Angle will undoubtedly provide some magical moments for an audience whose numbers will certainly increase as a result of Flair’s considerable drawing power.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Flair, whose AOL Time Warner contract didn’t expire until February 2003, walked away from a multi-million dollar deal to join the WWF. If McMahon plays his cards right, what he spent to acquire Flair’s services will be recouped in a matter of months. For that reason alone, he should be careful not to play into the hands of any top-tier jealousy that could surface as a result of Flair’s tremendous popularity. The top of the WWF heap, at least for the moment, is strongly pro-Flair. The “DTA” (don’t trust anyone) philosophy and the backstage backstabbing so prevalent in WCW in recent years isn’t a factor in the WWF where the buck generally stops with Vince McMahon.
As for the top talent, The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) idolizes and even patterned his style after Flair, who fondly remembers changing a young Rock’s diapers when dad Rocky Johnson used to bring him to the matches. Kurt Angle wasn’t a big pro wrestling fan growing up, but always considered Flair the best he ever saw. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, in an interview earlier this year, also called Flair the “best worker of all time.”
Flair connects with the crowd like no other star in the business. He needs to be kept in front of the live audience, doing what he does best, and not mired in the kind of nonsensical backstage skits and silly roles that Vince Russo asked him to play during one of WCW’s final incarnations.
Unlike Eric Bischoff and others who blew countless opportunities by abusing and misusing Flair, McMahon owns his outfit and is responsible for the bottom line. He should want what’s best for his company and the WWFE’s shareholders. The best thing he, and his creative team, can do is get out of the way and let Ric Flair be Ric Flair.
– The buzz surrounding Flair’s appearance produced immediate dividends for the WWF. Raw posted a 4.8 rating, one of its biggest numbers in recent months, and the overrun featuring Flair drew a 5.4.
– Longtime Four Horsemen stablemate Arn Anderson, now a WWF road agent, was one of the happiest WWF employees to see Flair arrive on the scene.
“He walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract to sit home,” Anderson told the WWF’s Web site. “My God, that’s something that people like you and I only dream about. But the fact is, there has got to be life after that 14 months or whatever it was that was left on the contract.”
“He’s made a lot of friends in the business over the years,” added referee and fellow Charlotte native Charles Robinson. “There’s a lot of great talent that’s new that he wants to get to know. He’s very excited to be here.”
“I think it’s great that he’s getting one more shot,” said son David, who attended the Charlotte show while on Thanksgiving vacation from Ohio Valley Wrestling. “(In the old WCW regime), they weren’t using him right. They weren’t treating him right, with who he is and what he’s done for the business. I’m glad for him because I knew he wouldn’t go out like he did with them. He needs to go out with a big bang and I think this is a great opportunity for him, working for the greatest wrestling organization and Vince McMahon. He’s excited.”
Flair called Monday night’s appearance one of the three biggest moments of his career.
“It was great to be relaxed and to see people who don’t have anything but nice things to say,” said Flair. “It’s a nice, looser, freer atmosphere. People are happy to be at work. It’s a different situation than what I’ve encountered recently.”
– It was also refreshing to see Jerry “The King” Lawler back in his old familiar announce seat alongside Jim Ross. Paul Heyman did a commendable job taking Lawler’s place, but he isn’t The King. He and J.R. simply lacked the chemistry that made The King and J.R. such a unique broadcast team.
Kudos go out to Jimmy Hart, Brian Knobs and the folks at the Florida-based XWF who willingly let Lawler out of his 45-day contract with their company to accept the WWF offer. That’s a really refreshing gesture in these days of cutthroat politics.
– I think most fans, however, could have done without seeing Sir William Regal plant a kiss on Vince McMahon’s buttocks. I realize it’s the kind of thing that gets people talking, but it’s also the kind of thing that turned off some sponsors in the past, and there’s no need to fan the flames of a fire that seems to have subsided in recent months. Advertising PlayStation and airing a butt-kissing on the same show shouldn’t go hand in hand.
– And, while on the subject of “sports entertainment,” that’s one overused phrase that I really wish would disappear from the pro wrestling lexicon. Like Arn Anderson used to point out, “It still says pro wrestling’ on the marquee.” Vince Russo may have aspired to put on a show without a wrestling ring, but I believe I speak for many who would prefer seeing a beautifully executed wrestling match and a realistic, nonscripted promo than the ridiculous and insulting “sports entertainment” skits that Russo and other “creative” minds pushed.
– Superstar Billy Graham, one of pro wrestling’s most colorful performers and the prototype for Hulk Hogan and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, has an autobiography coming out soon and is publishing excerpts from the book weekly on his superstarbillygraham.com Web site. Graham holds no punches as he recounts his extraordinary career in the wrestling business, dealing with subjects ranging from his near-fatal battle with steroids to his behind-the-scenes dealings with Hogan and Vince McMahon.
– Scott Steiner will return to the ring at the World Wrestling All-Stars tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland. It will be Steiner’s first wrestling appearance since WCW’s final Nitro where he lost the WCW title to Booker T.
“Time’s up. I can’t stand sitting and waiting any longer,” Steiner wrote on his Web site. “December 1 is the date. The contract that’s kept me under wraps for almost a year is finally up. England is the first country to see the return of the Genetic Freak. It will be a 10-day rampage through cities large and small. But that’s just a teaser. Midajah and I will be getting ourselves back in gear for the big return coming after the holidays … watch for it. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
– The Calgary Sun reported last week that Martha Hart is filing a lawsuit against her sister-in-law, Diana Hart, for “inaccurate and irresponsible statements about her and her family” in Diana’s new book. Martha, in a press release, wrote: “The book is filled with distortions, misstatements and unjustified slurs that attempt to destroy the reputation of my family and me, and undermine the memory of Owen. I have no choice but to deliver a formal libel notice. If necessary, we will take further legal action to correct these distortions and vindicate our reputation.”
The suit is calling for a retraction, apology and the withdrawal of the book in its present form.
– Three matches have been announced for the WWF’s Vengeance pay-per-view. The Rock will defend his WCW title against Chris Jericho. Steve Austin will defend his WWF title against Kurt Angle. The winners of those two bouts will then meet in a match to unify the titles. Triple H is expected to return to challenge the new unified champion.
– The Rock will be featured in a TV Guide magazine cover story that will hit newsstands on Monday.
– NBC will re-run the WWF edition of Weakest Link Sunday at 7 p.m. The WWF episode originally aired on Nov. 12 and was the second-highest Weakest Link episode on a Monday night this season.
– Eddie Guerrero, who was recently released from the WWF following a DUI arrest, is scheduled to work an independent show Nov. 30 in Queens, N.Y.