By Mike Mooneyham

Oct. 3, 2004

That, my friends, is how it’s done.

Awash in ridiculous storylines, tired characters and banal dialogue, World Wrestling Federation went to its go-to guy last week on Raw. And, not surprisingly, he hit another one out of the park.

Ric Flair, who has spent the past decade bailing out promotions which were either politically corrupt or creatively shallow, came to the rescue once again Monday night on WWE’s flagship show when he delivered one of his inimitable interviews.

The Nature Boy accomplished more in 10 minutes than the company has done over the past year to help elevate franchise player Randy Orton. And that’s not to say that Orton hasn’t had a lot of supporting help from performers like Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels, who have done stellar jobs in furthering the 24-year-old’s role as “The Legend Killer.”

There’s one noticeable notch, though, missing in Orton’s belt. And that belongs to the man they all defer to and consider the greatest performer in the history of the business.

Ric Flair

Ric Flair

Ric Flair tore the roof off Kemper Arena in Kansas City when he drove home that very point. Orton, obviously inspired by the chance to go toe-to-toe with his childhood idol, was equally superb in his response to Flair. It was arguably his best promo to date, but there’s a simple enough reason for it. Unlike many promos today that are stilted, forced regurgitations derived from the ramblings of a seemingly clueless creative staff, the mic work in this segment emerged from passionate, heartfelt sentiment and emotion.

In other words, as Flair has so succinctly pointed out in the past, it was real. It’s the same premise on which reality TV shows, or at least the good ones, are based.

Occasionally even a blind squirrel finds an acorn, just as the now-defunct WCW did in 1993 when it created a dramatic buildup leading to a title match between Flair and Vader (Leon White). All the vital elements at that time were in place: Flair’s career was on the line against a younger and much bigger opponent, the match was held in Flair’s hometown of Charlotte, and the event was a Starrcade pay-per-view, the forerunner of modern-day wrestling extravaganzas. The finished product was a work of art.

Despite plenty of chances, WCW could never follow Flair vs. Vader because of the political gamesmanship that infiltrated the company brain trust. A seething cesspool of greed, complacency and ego-driven personalities more concerned with protecting their spots than doing what was best for the company, WCW eventually collapsed under its own dead weight.

WWE has the opportunity 11 years later to capitalize on what WCW let slip through its hands.

Flair and Orton, though, should only be the appetizer for the main course. The big payoff should be built, slowly and methodically, toward the ultimate showdown between teacher (Flair) and student (Triple H). There can be teases along the way, as there were Monday night, sprinkled with just the right amount of tension and uncertainty. But, in the end, the fans should be given what they’ve all been waiting to see.

There’s still plenty of gas in the tank of the 55-year-old Flair, who won his first regional title during the Nixon Administration and when streaking was the fad on college campuses. He feels better than he has in 10 years and appears primed for a major program in which he can bring out the real “Nature Boy” character as opposed to the lapdog role he has played opposite Triple H.

One can only imagine the vignettes and production gems leading up to this classic. It could be pro wrestling’s version of “Rocky.” And having the best announcer in the business, Jim Ross, painting the picture doesn’t hurt either.

WWE has the luxury of learning from history. Mistakes made by WCW should not be repeated. Even WWE has been guilty of past miscalculations regarding Flair. This one, however, could cost them money, ratings and positive exposure if handled poorly. Although Flair perennially has been the man to put characters and storylines over, fan interest can just as quickly be dashed if the creative staff falters. If the WWE office is going to treat Flair as a legend, it needs to book him like one. And that means not having him job to mid-carders and putting over performers who don’t mean money in the long run.

WWE has a potential goldmine on its hands. It’s not the Kane-Lita storyline, an angle whose unwieldy execution and awkward conclusion fell neither into the “sports” nor “entertainment” category. It’s not the Raw diva search, which took the company a step back with its low-brow presentation. It is, rather, an emotion-packed story that involves the past, the present and the future. And it has the performers with the star power who can deliver.

A long-term Ric Flair-Triple H-Randy Orton angle, along with a supporting cast that only stands to be elevated by association, could be the best thing WWE has done in a long time. At the very least, it could bring back into the fold former fans who tuned out when WWE turned to more outlandish and unrealistic programming. If the company plays its cards right, it could reap the benefits of providing some of the best television moments seen in quite a while.

Professional wrestling is the one psuedo-sport that can still make dreams come true. It would be a shame for WWE to let this one pass by.

– Pro wrestling comes to Walterboro on Tuesday night with an all-star lineup.

The Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling show, sponsored by the Colleton County DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, will be held at the Colleton County High School gym. Among those scheduled to appear are Lex Luger, Buff Bagwell, Rick Steiner and The Barbarian.

An autograph party will be at 7 p.m. followed by bell time at 8. Gates open at 6:30. Ringside tickets are $10; general admission $5. Tickets are on sale at The Press and Standard newspaper in Walterboro, Piggly Wiggly in Walterboro and at the high school.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Hwy., will air the No Mercy pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

– Matthews Sports Bar and Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., also will air No Mercy tonight at 8 p.m. The $5 cover charge includes a Carolina Pro Wrestling Association show at 5 p.m. at Twin Rivers Lane Plaza.

– The No Mercy lineup shapes up as follows: The Undertaker vs. John Bradshaw Layfield in a Last Ride match for the WWE title; Rey Mysterio and Rob Van Dam vs. Rene Dupre and Kenzo Suzuki for the WWE Smackdown tag-team belts; John Cena vs. Booker T in the final match of their Best of Five series for the U.S. title; Kurt Angle vs. Big Show; Eddie Guerrero vs. Luther Reigns; Nunzio vs. Spike Dudley for the WWE cruiserweight title; and Billy Kidman vs. Paul London.

– JBL, for reasons no one can explain, made the peculiar statement that he had “less athletic ability than a drunk elephant” during an interview with MSNBC Wednesday night. If the WWE champion is serious about his lack of athleticism, national TV probably isn’t the forum in which to make that remark. And if the line merely was an attempt at self-deprecating humor, it really flies in the face of the character he portrays in WWE.

Layfield, who was interviewed along with Mick Foley prior to a debate, had been asked if the debate would remain civil or be fought under WWE rules. Layfield said he wanted it to remain an intellectual debate without anything physical before offering the odd statement.

Layfield and Foley were both said to have come across well in the debate held at the University of Miami, with Foley reportedly getting the nod due to the largely pro-Democratic audience.

– TNA founder Jerry Jarrett was released from the hospital last week after undergoing tests related to an irregular heartbeat.