By Mike Mooneyham

March 3, 2002

The Undertaker will get a chance to prove he is the WWF’s true locker-room leader when he meets Ric Flair at Wrestlemania on March 17 at the Toronto SkyDome.

Taker has been one of the most enduring characters in the wrestling business over the past decade, as well as one of the most respected performers among his peers, but his reputation has taken a hit in recent years due to his penchant for not selling his opponents’ offense.

The buildup for Taker’s match with Flair has been excellent thus far, and the bout could be one of the better ones on the show if Taker displays some uncharacteristic vulnerability. Since the plan is for the 53-year-old Flair to don the tights on a more regular basis, it would make no sense for Taker to use him as squash fodder. Only in rare instances, such as matches with Steve Austin, The Rock or Triple H, has Taker shown that vulnerability, but he needs to rise to the occasion in his high-profile bout with the man many consider to be the greatest performer in the history of the business.

If Taker does concede to do the job, don’t look for a clean finish such as the one in which Flair overcame the odds to defeat Vader at Starrcade ’93, a perfectly booked match that contained all the ingredients of ring work, intensity and emotion. But even a Flair win over Taker with outside interference would reinforce the Nature Boy’s reputation as “the dirtiest player in the game” and would undoubtedly enhance Taker’s image even more among the boys.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Flair, meanwhile, once again showed why he – not Larry Zbyszko or Chris Jericho – is the true “Living Legend” with his dramatic appearances on Smackdown last week in the wake of Taker bloodying Arn Anderson on Raw. Expect more fireworks as Taker methodically forces Flair to accept his Wrestlemania challenge, ultimately bringing a family member into the angle to help seal the deal.

– The WWF opened its international tour Friday night in Yokohama, Japan, before a sellout crowd of more than 16,000 fans and a million-dollar gate (tickets sold out the day they went on sale). Chris Jericho retained his WWF title against The Rock in the main event. A highlight of the show was the appearance of Ric Flair, who mentioned the many stars he has wrestled during his tours of Japan over the past 30 years, including Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Tatsumi Fujinami, Great Muta, Terry Funk, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Riki Choshu and Masa Chono. Flair received a huge ovation when he applied his figure four leglock after an attack by William Regal. Flair and The Rock shook hands with TV commentators Keiji Mutoh (Great Muta) and Naoya Ogawa during the show.

The WWF also has programs planned tonight in Singapore and Monday night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in addition to a house show tonight in Fort Worth and Raw Monday night in Austin.

– Sources report that the WWF is hot on the trail of Scott Steiner, who recently passed a physical administered by Dr. Jim Andrews in Birmingham. Steiner still wears a brace due to the foot injury he suffered during the final days of WCW, but it is believed that is no longer a factor in the negotiations between Steiner and the WWF.

Steiner appeared at the World Wrestling All-Stars pay-per-view last Sunday in Las Vegas, but didn’t wrestle. – Randy Savage certainly didn’t help his cause by backing out of the WWA pay-per-view at the last minute after promoters failed to meet his money demands. WWA promoter Andrew McManus probably dropped the ball when he failed to sign Savage to a written contract. Savage had verbally agreed to do the show, but negotiations broke down when Savage’s business manager reportedly upped the ante at the eleventh hour.


Road Dogg (Brian James), who was scheduled to appear in one of the top bouts on the show, also bailed out on McManus.

– Former ECW champ Jerry Lynn, who made a surprise appearance to challenge Eddie Guerrero at last weekend’s WWA PPV, had been released by the WWF last November. His contract, however, did not officially expire until two days prior to the show.

– The WWF will no longer do its Sunday Night Heat show from its WWF New York restaurant. Heat will be taped each week at Smackdown.

– Raw posted a 4.7 rating for the second week in a row. Smackdown finished with a 3.8, a sizable drop from the 4.5 posted a week earlier going up against the Olympics.

– The WWF edition of “Fear Factor” on Monday scored a strong 7.8 broadcast rating and a second-place finish in the 8-9 p.m. time slot. The reality show beat out all of the competition except CBS’ comedy duo of “King of Queens” and “Yes Dear.”

– A press release issued Friday stated that several independent promoters met in Atlanta on Feb. 16 to form a new international wrestling promotion that will operate under the name “Ring Warriors.” Dusty Rhodes chaired the meeting that included Howard Brody from Tampa, Fred Rubinstein and Joe Panzarino from Atlantic City, Ernie Todd from Winnipeg, David “Slim” Baucom from Charlotte and Sheldon Goldberg from Boston.

The promoters, along with many of their front-office staffs, met to develop their business plan, discuss their strategic partnership and explore business opportunities both in and outside North America.

According to the release, the “Ring Warriors” brand name was developed by the late Hiro Matsuda for the international repackaging and distribution of New Japan Pro Wrestling television shows throughout the world. Matsuda was working on creating a multi-continental based “Ring Warriors” promotion with offices in Tampa and London that would tour with its own events before his passing in November 1999.

– The Billy Gunn-Chuck Palumbo vs. APA match has been scratched from the Wrestlemania lineup.

– The WWF parents’ Web site specifically cites: “Actions you will not see WWFE characters portray are murder, rape or robbery. Neither will WWFE characters use guns or knives.” Wonder if net guns, such as the one Austin used on Nash in that lame Smackdown angle, count?

– Former wrestler and longtime Lubbock, Texas, promoter Nick Roberts died Feb. 23 at the age of 62 from pancreatic cancer. Roberts was married to Lorraine Johnson, one of the top women stars of the ‘50s and ‘60s who once held the ladies’ tag-team title with Penny Banner (the former Mrs. Johnny Weaver). His daughter, Nickla Roberts, portrayed the infamous Baby Doll during the ‘80s while working for Crockett Promotions.

– Former WWF developmental worker Robert “Robbie D.” Dicks Jr. died Feb. 18 in Culver City, Calif., at the age of 32.

– The recent passing of Mid-Atlantic legends Nelson Royal and Swede Hanson has evoked an outpouring of sentiment from fans who grew up watching the two perform here in the Carolinas.

“I also share in the grief of the Big Swede and Nelson passing,” wrote Robert Sherrill of Rockingham, N.C. “I spent many a Saturday afternoon listening to Big Bill Ward and watching the heroes beat the bad guys. I had the pleasure of meeting Nelson several times. I used to stop by his store in Mooresville, and he always took the time to tell me a wrestling story.”

“I didn’t get to see Swede Hanson wrestle much as I started out my wrestling fandom at age 12,” wrote William Hunnell. “I do remember hating him (probably more than any other wrestler) as he tore through wrestlers like ‘Wildfire’ Tommy Rich during a stint in Georgia Championship Wrestling. Of course now I have seen old footage of classic wrestling matches and wish there was another Swede Hanson that would come along and really do something with the biz, but alas, just as there will be no more Nelson Royals there will NEVER be another man like Swede Hanson. God rest both of their souls.”