The year was 1991. The WWF was having serious problems. That year’s Wrestlemania (featuring a main event of Hulk Hogan vs. the now-Iraqi-sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter) had had such horrible ticket sales it was moved to another location (officially it was for “security concerns,” however, it’s long been believed that the real reason was that McMahon didn’t want a half-empty arena for his biggest show of the year). Add to that the fact that Hogan’s appeal was dying and you had trouble brewing.
Things weren’t much better down in Atlanta. At that year’s Superbrawl, Ric Flair had won the WCW title from Tatsumi Fujinami, only to become embroiled in a bitter fight backstage with new booker Jim Herd. Herd wanted Flair to drop the robes and cut his hair, completely revamping Flair’s character. Flair refused. Herd responded by eventually firing Flair without having him drop the title. This was a mistake. You see, the NWA champion (and at this point, the NWA and WCW were not separate entities yet and wouldn’t be until 1993 – for simplicity’s sake I’m referring to the “big gold belt” as the WCW world title) had to put down a deposit of $25,000 for the title belt. Flair had done so, and didn’t get a refund when Herd fired him. Therefore Flair took the belt with him. At July’s Great American Bash, Herd moved the title to Lex Luger after he defeated Barry Windham in a steel cage match. Problem solved, right?
Wrong. On August 10, Bobby Heenan shocked the world when he reached under the commentary table on the WWF’s Superstars of Wrestling program and pulled out the WCW world title belt. He promised that the real World’s Champion was on his way.
Heenan delivered on September 19. On Prime Time Wrestling, Flair walked out and made his WWF debut. He still carried the WCW title, at least until WCW filed a lawsuit. Finally Flair got his money and Herd got his title belt back. The WWF, however, simply began having Flair come out with an older WWF belt which was distorted for television.
November 28, 1991 – Survivor Series 1991
Hulk Hogan was taking on the Undertaker for the WWF world title. In the middle of the match, Ric Flair walked out to ringside to observe. Well, by “observe,” I mean, “tried to steal the WWF title belt.” Hogan stopped him and went back to work on Undertaker. That didn’t last long, as Paul Bearer interfered with Hogan’s lethal Legdrop. While the referee was distracted by Bearer’s antics, Flair took the opportunity to slide a chair into the ring. Taker then took immediate advantage of this by tombstoning Hogan on the chair and then covering him for the pin.
WWF President Jack Tunney was furious by the interference and ordered a rematch at the first possible opportunity. That opportunity was less than a week later, in what had been a house show in Texas. Yes, the WWF was running another pay-per-view less than a week later. This experiment would flop, and not be repeated until recently with the roster split.
But I digress.
December 3, 1991 – Tuesday in Texas
After incredible matches like Bret Hart vs. Skinner and Davey Boy Smith vs. the Warlord, Jack Tunney settled in at ringside to watch the main event and prevent any interference. This didn’t stop Flair, who once again made his way down to ringside. Hogan quickly nailed Flair with a chair, which sent him careening into Tunney, removing the WWF president from the equation. Flair finally got up and grabbed a chair only to have Hogan send Taker into it. Next it was Paul Bearer’s turn to screw up as he accidentally hit Undertaker. Hogan grabbed the urn from Bearer, grabbed a handful of ashes, then threw them into Undertaker’s face, blinding him. Hogan then made the easy pin.
Jack Tunney was even less pleased by this turn of events. He stripped Hogan of the title and announced that it would be awarded for the first time to the winner of the Royal Rumble.
January 19, 1992 – Royal Rumble 1992
As the match began (and in fact for most of the pay per view) Bobby Heenan was terrified of what number Flair had drawn in the Rumble. He breathed a sigh of relief as #1 and #2 were announced as the British Bulldog and Ted DiBiase. His relief didn’t last. #3? Ric Flair. Despite every new entrant heading straight for Flair, he managed to hold on as the numbers climbed higher and higher. Finally we reached the final four – Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sid… and Ric Flair.
Savage was the first to go. Then Sid pitched Hogan over the top (to begin setting up their Wrestlemania match), but Hogan did not release his grip on Sid. Flair took advantage of the opportunity and flipped Sid over the top rope. For the first time, Ric Flair was announced as the WWF champion.
If you wanted a definition of how to build a new guy up, this is it. One notable thing was the fact that Vince McMahon actually used the fact that Flair was a world champion to build Flair up. With previous champions such as Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes, this fact had been ignored. Race had been brought in and described as a rookie despite his 8 NWA title reigns (the earliest of which was over a decade before his WWF debut), and Rhodes had simply been used as a joke (despite the four NWA world title reigns of his own).
From the very beginning of this storyline, Flair was built as a major force. Undertaker possibly could not have beaten Hogan without his help. Hogan could not have defeated Undertaker without Flair’s chair, Bearer’s missed shot, and the ashes from the urn. This made all three men look stronger in that they were not defeated in a simple one-on-one match. Plus, Flair was established as a major heel and was ready for a feud with Randy Savage that would lead to Wrestlemania.
Another great thing is that this didn’t linger. Most of the storylines we’ve looked at in this column have just kept going and going. This one wrapped up quickly, as did Flair’s run in the WWF. By 1993, Flair was unhappy with the fact that he was sliding down the card and asked Vince to let him out of his contract. McMahon did so, and Flair returned to a Herd-less WCW.
Where Are They Now
Ric Flair and Undertaker are still active on WWE television with Undertaker on Smackdown and Flair on Raw. Hulk Hogan, although not currently active in the ring, is scheduled to be inducted to the WWE hall of fame as part of this year’s Wrestlemania festivities.
We stay with the WWF, as we take a look at an Invasion. And it’s not the one you’re thinking of…