Ric Flair: A Look At The Nature Boy's WWE Tenure
Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
I've been wanting to write this one for a couple of weeks now. . .we've been so busy getting ready for FULL THROTTLE next Saturday that I haven't had time to write as in-depth as I wanted to. . .
If you haven't noticed, Ric Flair hasn't been seen on television for several weeks. Flair has left WWE over the unforgivable way he's been booked over the past year or so, and any fan that realizes what the "Nature Boy" brings to the table has to be supporting the decision. With all of the suspensions of WWE talent, you'd think WWE would go out of their way to have Flair return with the most shallow talent depth they've ever had.
Flair was scheduled to begin a year long storyline that would culminate at WrestleMania 24 in Orlando along with his Hall of Fame induction the night before. Steve Austin contributed many ideas at this years WrestleMania, as he, like millions of fans, couldn't understand why Flair wasn't booked on WrestleMania 23. Some of the "writers" in WWE didn't grow up as wrestling fans and don't grasp what a true legend Flair is, which is why he's never protected or booked to look strong. I guess that last sentence highlights the reason why I believe that there are currently more professional wrestling fans that aren't watching wrestling as opposed to those that do. . .
I have no doubt that Flair will return to WWE, as he owes the company a boatload of cash. However, where he's just opened up his Ric Flair Finance company, he has the luxury of waiting for the right time to strike. WWE hasn't fully capitalized on Flair during either of his two runs. . .
In 1991, Flair left WCW/NWA as champion over a contract dispute. Since he was never reimbursed for the $25,000 deposit he put down on the championship belt, it was his property. The belt showed up on WWF television before Flair did, as Bobby Heenan said "the real worlds champion" was coming to the Federation. It started off as a great storyline, but the announcers never gave it credibility. . .instead of pushing Flair as a world champion without mentioning the WCW name, they passed him off as a fraud. Flair attacked old friend Roddy Piper on WWF Superstars, leading to wild brawl where Randy Savage tried to control traffic and Piper accidentally nailing Vince McMahon with a chair. Great angle. . .
Most fans expected Flair to work Hulk Hogan at the following years WrestleMania. A few things happened (including a real life media controversy just as big as what's going on right now) that prevented that from happening. Sid Vicious jumped ship to WWF and was promised the main event with Hogan at WM. Then, after Hogan made an asshole out of himself by lying about his steroid use on Arsenio Hall, he left WWF for about a year after WMVIII due to the media attacks on him.
Hogan and Flair wound up working many weekend house show runs in October 1991 (Hulk being Hulk, he only worked the weekends, while Roddy Piper had the weeknight main events with Flair). This dream match didn't even do sell-out business, it was shocking. Flair went over as the sole survivor at Survivor Series, then helped Undertaker defeat Hogan for the title. That led to a rematch on This Tuesday In Texas a few days later which led to the championship being held up. In one of the great matches and great performances in WWF history, Ric Flair won the title by winning the 30 man Royal Rumble in January 1992, dumping Sid with the help of Hogan.
Flair was then booked in a program with Randy Savage, claiming that he had a past with Miss Elizabeth (but boy, did he have a future!). These supposedly doctored photos appeared in WWF Magazine and it built to a championship match at WMVIII. Randy beat Flair for the title in their first match, and it took all of the steam out of their feud. Would Randy going psycho in the middle of the match to get DQ'd to build to a summer long chase have led to stronger follow-up house show business?? I believe so. But, when Randy beat Flair, the fans basically had their payoff. Elizabeth soon fell off the face of the planet and WWF Magazine had a real life piece about Randy and Liz getting divorced that fall (Hogan knows best).
Flair regained the belt from Savage in September 1992 in a match that was so bad it was re-taped and I don't believe the entire match was ever shown on television. A month later, Flair dropped it to Bret Hart in Canada. They never had a rematch on television, as Flair was paired off in a feud with Mr. Perfect, but had a string of house show main events, including two in Boston, one in December 1992, and a one hour marathon match in January 1993 (where Bobby Heenan made a guest appearance as Flair's manager).
Vince McMahon made a promise to Flair where he could leave WWF if they weren't using him as main eventer any longer. The next program for Flair was to work and put over Tatanka. Flair didn't like it and McMahon kept his verbal promise. Later in January, Flair jobbed to Mr. Perfect on the second ever Monday Night Raw in a loser leaves town match and it was back to WCW. He had a strong first year, up until WCW signed Hogan. You know how the rest goes.
In 1998, Eric Bischoff fired Flair for "no-showing" a television taping Flair claims he requested time off for. Considering how the inmates were already running the asylum as WCW went down the toilet, it came off as a personal attack as the two men did not get along. Rumors swirled that Flair was going to be WWF bound, as they had no real top heels and were to the point they were going to build Steve Williams and John Tenta to work with Steve Austin. In the end, Flair stayed, leading to a tremendous return in September 1998 where Nitro defeated Raw for the final time. Fans wondered "what if?"
The death of "professional wrestling" came in 2001 as the Monday Night Wars finally ended with WWF buying WCW. Flair wrestled Sting for the final time before WWF got a final plug in for WrestleMania. Many of the top WCW guys had huge contracts that were paid by Time Warner as opposed to WCW. WWF didn't want to pick many of those bloated contracts up, so many of the superstars that could have made a real impact during the WCW Invasion where sitting home collecting cash, while WWF's attempt at giving the fans a dream feud flopped after a few months. In fact, they signed one of WCW's biggest stars to debut the night after the Invasion feud ended. . .
That's right, Ric Flair returned to Monday Night Raw the night after Survivor Series 2001. It was a wild night, as Paul Heyman got the boot, Jerry Lawler returned, Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle turned heel, and Steve Austin finally turned babyface since the fans didn't want to boo him. Flair was back, supposedly purchasing half of WWF from a consortium, that had purchased that WWF stock from Shane and Stephanie when they unloaded their WWF stock to buy WCW and ECW, respectively. Flair and Vince were dueling co-owners, leading to a showdown at Royal Rumble 2002 that did a huge buyrate number. That was followed up by another strong feud with Undertaker that led to a great match at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto. After the WCW Invasion bombed, and WWF decided to split Raw and Smackdown into two different promotions. A draft was held with Flair and Vince making the picks. Soon after Raw was it's own "brand," Flair turned heel and had a short feud with Steve Austin and I believe joined the NWO (or was at the very least aligned with them). "Stone Cold" was having his own problems with WWF, and in early June 2002, he walked out on Raw other than do a punishment job with zero hype or build up to Brock Lesnar. . .
Who will ever forget that night?? Vince McMahon even saluted Stone Cold and left a beer in the middle of the ring to mark what he claimed would be his final appearance for no-showing. For whatever reason, they booked a match between McMahon and Flair that night (with no hype or build up) on Raw where the winner would own both Raw and Smackdown. That was a PPV money match that they threw out on free television. Considering how much King Of The Ring sucked that year, I'll say it was a mistake to mark out over Raw ratings when the war was over instead of playing it out so fans would pay for something they wanted to see. Flair (obviously) jobbed out and was back as a babyface that summer.
After doing a job to Rico (remember him?) that fall on Raw, he was put together as Triple H's manager/advisor/partner, etc. In November, he also debuted as Batista's manager at a Raw taping in Boston. Batista had come over to Raw after appearing on Smackdown as the guy that collected money during Brother Devon's matches when he was a minister (remember that great gimmick?). The night after one of the worst championship matches in WWE history at Royal Rumble 2003 (Triple H vs Scott Steiner), Randy Orton returned from an injury and joined Triple H, Flair and Batista to form what would become Evolution. A couple of months later, Orton and Batista were out of action with injuries so HHH and Flair were a two man team until the summer time. In 2003, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series were Flair-less. Can you believe leaving one of wrestling's living legends off of your major shows??
In late 2003, Flair and Batista became tag team champs, battling the Dudley Boys at Royal Rumble 2004. Flair was going to be back as more of a manager headed into WrestleMania XX, but Mick Foley (of all people) came up with ideas to include the Nature Boy in the Foley/Rock vs Flair/Orton/Batista match that some felt was the true main event of the show. In the summer, it was comedy with Eugene, in the fall, battling Randy Orton as the teasing of Batista's turn began. Again, no Flair on major shows where fans pay, but plenty of jobbing out on free television. . .
Flair was back in house show main events in early 2005, teaming with HHH against Orton and now babyface Batista. WrestleMania time, Slick Ric was in HHH's corner against Batista, and remained there during their rematches. After some divine intervention, HHH realized that he was just a tad bit over exposed and took the summer off, preparing for WWE's return to USA that fall and a WrestleMania program with John Cena. Since the fans love him no matter what, Flair went back to being a babyface, feuded with Carlito, wore IC Championship gold for a bit and even worked HHH in his return. . .actually going over in a steel cage match before getting jobbed out at Survivor Series in a brutal beating.
In 2006, Flair came back from the bloody attack never even acknowledging it happened. He actually got to work the Money In The Bank Ladder Match and the fans in Chi-Town ate it up. That summer, he was part of one of the most memorable WWE angles to date, working a long program with Mick Foley that culminated in an I Quit Match at SummerSlam (that had far more juice behind it than the Hogan-Orton match the same night even though not pushed nearly as hard). Flair went over in what turned into a joke of a match, where Foley quit to protect Melina getting hammered. The next night, it turned into a big work, as Melina turned on Foley, who was fired by the McMahons and left with Melina. Yeah, I know, it was never followed up on. Nothing was ever followed up on with the Nature Boy.
He was put into a tag team with Carlito, where the plan was to turn Carlito heel on Flair and have them work each other at WrestleMania. Instead of having Flair work a match at WrestleMania, Melina and Ashley had a match that no one wanted to see and no one bought to PPV to watch. Another waste of Flair as his career winds down. Carlito did turn on Flair, they worked a B pay-per-view and that was it. During this years draft/lottery, whatever they call it, he was moved to the Smackdown roster where he was promised a bigger push. He did work some singles and tag team main events on the show, including title matches with Edge and later Great Khali. A decent push for some, but certainly not for Ric Flair, whose plan was to retire at the next WrestleMania.
There are times it seems like WWE is "afraid" to let Flair get over. He went months without cutting a promo. . .they wouldn't let him say "Whooo." They didn't develop any new Flair merchandise, even though his book and DVD's were among the better sellers they ever had. Who was that insecure?? After all, isn't it a business about making money by giving fans something they're willing to pay to see??
WWE never really pissed on Flair like WCW did, but the end of his career with the company has been a great disappointment. Hopefully he can have the send off he truly deserves. . .