By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 10, 2003

Many consider him the greatest the game has ever produced. He drew sellout crowds before some of today’s stars were even born, and is responsible for making the careers of a host of others.

Even at the relatively advanced age of 54, Ric Flair remains an above-average worker in the ring and one of the best in the business on the mic. An automatic ratings spike, despite being overexposed and misused at times, he is still a force in today’s new version of sports entertainment.

But is the Nature Boy getting his just due?

Sure, his fellow wrestlers admire him, and many hold him in awe. The announcers never fail to mention his legendary position in the business. Even the owner of the company acknowledges Flair’s iconic status.

Ric Flair

Ric Flair

But it’s obvious that the writing staff doesn’t have a clue. As Vince McMahon is wont to say about his critics, his own creative team apparently doesn’t “get it.”

To newer fans of the business, it might be easily dismissed as an oversight or an emphasis on building new talent. To veteran followers, however, Flair’s treatment smacks of either downright incompetence or utter disrespect.

The latest blunder by WWE’s creative crew surfaced last week on Raw when it was announced that the main event for Summer Slam, one of the company’s biggest pay-per-views of the year, would be a six-man Elimination Chamber match featuring Triple H, Bill Goldberg, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho and Kevin Nash. Originally scheduled as a singles bout between Triple H and Goldberg, the event was revised to help camouflage a groin injury Triple H suffered during a dark match with Goldberg two weeks ago.

The omission of Flair from the lineup should be considered a slap in the face to the 16-time world champion, who recently returned from a tour of Australia, where he and Michaels tore down the house, according to a number of reports. To “reward” Flair for his efforts, his involvement at Summer Slam will be relegated to a subservient managerial role in which he most likely will serve as bump fodder for the main participants. That’s no way to treat a legend.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Nash, who has ridden the pay-per-view-coattail of Triple H several times this year, is in line for another big-money payoff. Crowds have been overwhelmingly negative toward the injury-prone Nash, even though he’s cast as a babyface, and his in-ring work quality has slumped to an all-time low, making him an unlikely candidate for a main-event spot in a high-profile PPV.

It also might be noted that Nash is among a list of characters over the years who have used their political muscle to try to bury Flair. While serving as booker for WCW during its dying days, Nash made it a point to put Flair in as many unflattering storylines as possible. But like so many others before him (Dusty Rhodes, Jim Herd, Eric Bischoff, etc.), Nash learned the hard way that it’s not easy to kill off an icon.

Behind the scenes in WWE, Flair has been a morale-booster for a crew that often needs it. His presence alone has been a positive influence in the locker room, especially to the many younger performers on the roster who idolized Flair growing up. Current WWE Raw champion Triple H has fashioned his character as a modern-day version of the Nature Boy. Even The Rock admits to patterning his image after Flair. “There are certain ingredients of The Rock taken from some of the Nature Boy,” says Rock. “Nowadays the word icon is thrown around like an egg-white omelet is thrown around. But he definitely is an icon.”

While some athletes want to “be like Mike,” most in the wrestling business want to be like Ric Flair.

“I believe that God has a purpose for me,” WWE Smackdown champ Kurt Angle recently told the company’s Web site, “and that’s to be the best wrestler there ever was. That’s really why I feel I’m here. I want to be like Ric Flair, a man who is considered the greatest not only by the fans, but his peers.”

No one in the wrestling business has a resume like Flair’s. It’s doubtful anyone ever will.

Those qualities, however, seem to be lost on a writing staff that apparently is too hip to rely on tried-and-true, old-school wrestling formulas, yet not hip enough to produce a cutting-edge product that will deliver the kind of numbers that came in just a few years ago.

With so many main-eventers currently working limited schedules due to injury or special contract stipulations, Flair most likely will be asked to take up the slack on the road. And if past history is any indicator, he’ll probably fill his role as the consummate team player.

– The Atlanta-based USA Championship Wrestling, one of the stronger independent groups in the country today, will present an impressive lineup Friday night at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville.

Headlining the show will be a return match between second-generation performers David Flair and Terry Ray Gordy Jr., son of the late “Bam Bam” Terry Gordy. Michael Hayes, who teamed with the elder Gordy as The Fabulous Freebirds, will be in the corner of his ex-partner’s son. A yet-to-be-announced, former member of The Four Horsemen (not Ric Flair) is scheduled to be in David Flair’s corner.

Chris Benoit will make an appearance at the event to introduce the American debut of Teddy Hart and Harry Smith. The third-generation members of the Hart family will face each other with Benoit looking on. Hart is the nephew of Bret Hart, and Smith is the son of the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith.

In other bouts: Raven vs. Buff Bagwell in a falls count anywhere return match with the winner getting an NWA-TNA world title shot with Gainesville’s AJ Styles at the promotion’s next event; Lollipop vs. Bambi; and “The Role Model” Jason Cross vs. “The Original XTC” Jimmy Raven. NWA-TNA tag-team champs America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm) also will defend their belts on the card.

Others scheduled to appear include Paul Orndorff, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jimmy Hart, Tony Schiavone and Mr. Hughes. Former NWA world champion Ricky Steamboat will make a special appearance. I’ll also be signing my book, “Sex, Lies and Headlocks,” at the show.

Tickets are available at the Georgia Mountains Center box office or by phone at (770) 534-8420.

– The Rock was backstage at last week’s Raw in British Columbia, where he has been filming for an upcoming movie, but wasn’t used on the show since he wouldn’t have fit into plans for Summer Slam.

The Aug. 24 pay-per-view is shaping up as follows:

Triple H, Bill Goldberg, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash in an Elimination Chamber match for the Raw version of the world heavyweight title; Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the Smackdown version of the world heavyweight title; Kane vs. Rob Van Dam; Shane McMahon vs. Eric Bischoff; Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Rhyno in a Triple Threat match for the U.S. heavyweight title; and The Undertaker vs. A Train.

– Triple H vs. Bill Goldberg and Kane vs. Shane McMahon have been advertised as the top matches for the Raw brand’s Unforgiven pay-per-view in September.

– WWE appears to have pulled the plug on another unsuccessful experiment. Jonathan Coachman, who has taken Jim Ross’s place on play-by-play while Ross has been working the burn injury angle, has no doubt had his share of Vince McMahon shouting in his earphones as he has attempted to fill the shoes of the man widely regarded as the top announcer in the business today.

At times color commentator Jerry Lawler has been noticeably lobbing cutting remarks toward Coachman in a blatant effort to ruffle his feathers and evoke some emotion. Coachman also has struggled in describing certain moves and even some finishers.

Ross is expected to return to the booth this week to help push Summer Slam. – The hair vs. hair match between Kevin Nash and Chris Jericho is scheduled for an upcoming Raw, but no date has been released since Nash is undergoing tests to determine the cause of a recent fainting spell during the Australian tour. The most likely cause is a pinched nerve.

– One has to wonder just how long it’s going to take before WWE hires Jim Mitchell. The man behind the characters Daryl Van Horn, James Vandenberg and The Sinister Minister, Mitchell is one of the best talkers in the business today and knows how to advance a storyline. Currently plying his wares as manager of The New Church, Mitchell has been a proven commodity in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, WCW, ECW and now NWA-TNA. He could be a very valuable asset in WWE.

– Eddie Guerrero could easily be the most over performer on Smackdown. And that’s saying a lot, since the list includes a considerable array of talent including Zach Gowen, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon, Chris Benoit and others.

– Matt Hardy and Shannon Moore are expected to make a babyface turn within the next few weeks.

– NWA-TNA will offer a “One Cent PPV” on Sept. 10 that will feature some of the greatest matches from the company’s recent history and other highlights from its weekly programming.

“This special pre-recorded event is designed to give viewers a chance to sample TNA’s fresh brand of professional wrestling for practically no cost,” according to a company release. “The ‘One Cent Special’ is anticipated to receive the highest level of television exposure that TNA has experienced since its debut in June 2002. TNA Entertainment, LLC – the parent company of TNA Wrestling – has visibly committed to working with the cable operators and pay-per-view networks to regenerate the wrestling category. Employing a strategy of ‘Winning Back the Disillusioned Pay-Per-View Wrestling Fan,’ TNA has joined with the cable industry to acknowledge the downward trend that pay-per-view wrestling events have experienced since competition was eliminated from the wrestling world two years ago, as well as the vast pool of revenue that is currently available to be targeted.”