Ric Flair and the WWE made pro wrestling history 18 years ago today. On September 9, 1991 Ric Flair debuted on WWE Prime Time Wrestling with the WCW title. Flair did the unthinkable, leaving WCW without dropping the title and bringing it to the rival. Now you know why Vince McMahon was so afraid of Bret Hart jumping to WCW with the belt?
This was truly a top ten moment in the history of pro wrestling. I remember thinking at the time that it was the greatest thing I had ever seen as a wrestling fan. For years, the Dream Match between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair had been talked about. Finally, it would happen. On top of that, Flair never dropped the WCW belt and brought it with him. It didn’t get any better for a wrestling fan in 1990.
There was never and probably never will be another moment like this in my lifetime. For one, there is no WWE competition at the level of a Ric Flair in 1990 to steal. Secondly, there are so many legal ramifications in this generation that nobody is going to risk such an act. This was truly one of the last outlaw moments in pro wrestling.
Not everyone was excited about this moment. I talked to several WCW wrestlers at the time who were very angry. Tom Zenk who wrestled as the Z Man in WCW at the time was one of those wrestlers. A lot of the WCW wrestlers took it as a personal slap in the face by Ric Flair. Even one of Flair’s best friends, Barry Windham recently told me that he still hasn’t completely forgiven Flair for what he did in 1990 with the WCW belt. As a WCW wrestler, it didn’t get any more personal than this. Scott Steiner is another WCW wrestler at the time who continues to express bitterness over Flair’s jump.
The story has been told several times by Ric Flair. Flair’s side of the story is that he and WCW executive Jim Herd were constantly at odds. Both were in the middle of a contract negotiation. Herd demanded that Flair drop the belt to Barry Windham. Flair hung up on him and refused. Flair called Vince McMahon, made a deal, and took the belt with him.
It was expected that Flair and Hogan would break records. For whatever reason, Flair was a flop in New York. Former WWE office employee J.J. Dillon has written in his book about the fact that the match didn’t draw and bombed at the box office. In an unheard of move at the time, the WWE canceled their planned WrestleMania main-event of Hogan and Flair a few weeks before the show because of this. The buzz was there, but WWE fans weren’t buying the Nature Boy’s act.
Flair would leave the WWE only a few years after joining the company. Flair returned to WCW amidst controversy. In retrospect, it is quite shocking that Flair was allowed to come back to the company. Flair refused to drop the belt and brought it to the competition with intentions of putting WCW out of business. This wasn’t business for Flair, it was personal. Eric Bischoff was one of the few guys to recognize this and gets a lot of heat today for disrespecting Flair. In hindsight, did Flair deserve anything less?
It is funny to me in looking back on this story. Flair has done a lot of interviews criticizing guys like Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, and Bruno Sammartino. Flair is first to point out a guy like Lex Luger or Bret Hart for disrespecting the business he professes to love so much. At the same time, none of these guys ever performed such an egregious act in the business as Ric Flair.
Vince McMahon is another one who has dirty hands in this mess. The whole idea behind the screwing of Bret Hart was to prevent him from leaving as champion and taking the belt to WCW. Unlike Flair, Hart had too much class to do something like that. I truly believe him when he says he wouldn’t do it. Someone growing up in a wrestling family at that time in the business would never dream of such a thing. People wonder where Vince McMahon even got the idea of a screw job. It is easy, Vince was scared of retribution!
Happy Anniversary Ric Flair!