After watching WWE continue to BLOW IT with Brock Lesnar, I referenced Flair-Hogan ’91 in a prior column. Next time you think VKM isn’t EXTREMELY FLAWED as a wrestling promoter, remember Flair-Hogan ’91.
Ric Flair had finally arrived in WWE after a contract dispute with WCW boss Jim Herd who, among other ideas, wanted Flair to become “Spartacus,” a Roman gladiator. It could have been worse. Flair could have been a Ding-Dong.
It seemed like Herd had handed VKM the ultimate golden goose. Flair never lost the WCW title. He came to WWE with the big gold belt. It soon had to be digitized as per legal proceedings, but that took a negative and made it a positive. It made the fruit that much more forbidden.
At long last, the dream match would occur: The unification of the WWE and WCW belts. Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair. The standard-bearers for two very different kinds of wrestling. Something straight off an Apter-mag cover.
Never happened. Not really, anyway.
Flair and Hogan should have been the main event at WrestleMania 8. Instead, the “feud” mostly played out at house shows. I saw Flair-Hogan in Pittsburgh. Flair sold the whole match, won with brass knux, the ref found the brass knux, then reversed the decision. That was basically the finish at all Flair-Hogan house-show matches, all of which were held FAR AWAY from WCW/NWA strongholds. Hogan simply could not experience an unpleasant moment, like getting booed. Flair’s lineage and pedigree simply could not be recognized, and certainly not at Hogan’s expense.
Flair won the 1992 Royal Rumble (and the vacant WWE title) in a legendary 60-minnute performance, but the finish made sure Hogan was in the spotlight while minting Sid Justice as his new “big man” opponent. Flair was soon feuding with Randy Savage. Flair-Hogan never really got going in WWE.
That was no accident.
Hogan couldn’t work or talk at Flair’s level. Putting that feud under the uncompromising glare of WrestleMania-level hype would have exposed certain cracks even when Hogan won. ‘Mania has always been a show that’s drawn from everywhere, and a lot of them would have been Flair marks. I was at the ’92 Royal Rumble. When Flair won, there was a big pop. Hogan got booed. The sound got “corrected” in post-production, but that’s what happened.
And there was NEVER any intent of acting, even for a second, like Flair might be at Hogan’s level. The “real world champion” gimmick had a lot of potential, but it was always made clear that Flair was “self-proclaimed.” After an initial burst of credibility courtesy of scorching promos by Bobby Heenan, Flair’s title was treated mockingly. As second-rate.
It stands, to this day, as the most egregious example of VKM putting personal grudges ahead of what’s best for business. McMahon’s grudge wasn’t against Flair the individual; it was against the idea that any product, or champion, could be comparable to what WWE promotes. Having Hogan beat Flair wouldn’t be enough. Flair’s heritage had to be obliterated.
McMahon didn’t re-invent Flair. Nobody could re-invent Flair. You can’t improve on THAT. But Flair started with a clean slate, a bogus belt and sub-Hogan status.
McMahon pushed Flair. But he never WENT ALL THE WAY. Flair-Hogan in the main event at WrestleMania, a symbolic unification of wrestling’s two biggest titles, a lengthy feud allowing each to be at his best – THAT is going all the way. Instead, we saw the same mentality that quickly turned Brock Lesnar back into a fake wrestler.
McMahon defenders say – with a straight face – that WWE fans, at the time, had no idea who Flair was. How do you even respond to TOTAL INSANITY like that?
At the time, it was so disappointing. Flair losing to Hogan would have been understandable – though the real money would have been Flair winning the WWE belt, then losing it back to Hogan. But having the dream match dangled in front of us, then denied – no wrestling fan liked that. And it certainly wasn’t what was best for business.
Comparing Flair-Hogan at ‘Mania to Justice-Hogan at ‘Mania is like comparing ice cream to horse manure, as I’ve heard it said.
McMahon is no wrestling genius. He just had the guts and money to bum-rush the business at an opportune time. He’s a bully, period.
UPDATE: By way of retort to a few comments, it's true that the Hogan-Flair house-show matches discussed didn't draw great crowds. But promotion, believe it or not, was minimal. That feud was set up to fail from the get-go. In Pittsburgh, it was presented as just another house show main event: Hogan's bum-of-the-month club. Who's he going to beat this time?
I never got the feeling that Hogan didn't want to work with Flair. If Hogan felt it would draw, he did it. Doing a job? Selling? Different story. When Flair was minimized, it was by McMahon. Flair recruited Hogan to come to WCW in 1994, and Hogan was certainly keen to work with Flair then. But job? Never. Witness Hogan losing by count-out after a masked interloper whacked him in the knee Tonya Harding-style at Clash of the Champions 28. It was the perfect spot to lose the belt via figure-four, then come back career vs. belt at Halloween Havoc. Instead, the match at Havoc was (totally illogically) career vs. career.
When Hogan arrived in WCW, WCW went right to the Hogan-Flair dream match. But, for whatever reason, it just felt TOO LATE. Perhaps it was because of the oppressive, exhausting Hogan hype.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m.weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh, PA(105.9)
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