“That’s not fair to Flair!” Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
I’m not one to disappoint “The Brain”, so I figured I’d be exceedingly fair to Flair. How can you not be fair to the fair-haired Flair? How can you not see him as an all-time great? But then again, to be fair is to be “moderately good, though not outstandingly so”, according to Google definition of ‘fair’ which seems fair to me, which is why I’m writing about the one, the only, Nature Boy (well, the only one calling himself that for what, 25 years).
Even if they won’t call it anything other than sports entertainment.
By the way, as I digress immediately, if the man once known as Tyler Black slipped on a banana peel in the ring, literally and not figuratively, would those other professional wrestling promotions write the same crap in two hours, two weeks or two months.
Yeah, it’s a tough question to answer.
Back to Flair, my friends. Ric Flair dominated the 1980’s, as NWA Champion, much like Lou Thesz dominated the 1950’s (over 2600 days) and much like Bruno Sammartino in the 1960’s and 1970’s (over 4000 days in two runs).
I think it is very fair to say that Flair dominated the NWA more than Hogan did the WWF.
In the grand scheme of things, Flair as WWF Champion totaled 118 days, so his prominence these days as elder figure of the WWE seems so ridiculous when you think about it. And then when you look back at the connections to the WWE, you have to start with the WCW Championship, which the WWE certainly owns and certainly counts as part of its history.
But Flair as WCW Champion lasted a total of 500 some days, with 8 reigns. Of those, two lasted more than 100 days, and two were less than 9. So the face of the WWE was only Champion of this promotion and its history for somewhere over 600 days. Sure, there’s a lot of overlap with Flairs reigns in the NWA in the early 1990’s, but can you really count the NWA belt as part of the WWE history?
I don’t think TNA or the NWA itself would be too happy about that.
So the big picture about Ric Flair is his vast number of Championships.
Setting aside that so many opponents in the 1980’s and 1990’s have already provided the best dismissal of that (he lost the Championship that many times!), the prominence of this vaunted number, whether it is 17 or 19 or 23, is that Ric Flair was a great Champion because he had so many championships.
If so, why not add all the controversial ones to his number and make it bigger?
He lost to the Midnight Rider, to Jack Veneno, to Carlos Colon and there’s that switch with Harley Race in the Pacific. There’s also that joke of a switch in the dying days of the Russo era of WCW. If that counts, why not the others. Why not build it up to over 20, so Cena can chase that and so HHH can be the Champion of Champions to prevent his buddy from losing that vaunted slot.
(What’s weird is that HHH was trained by one of the all time best in Killer Kowalski, and yet he’s so enamored with Flair, a man who laid the foundation for everything that Kowalski was not – predictable, devoid of interaction with the fans, overly willing to do what promoters ask and predictable.
Oh, I said that twice. Sorry.
But back to the main point…. what point does touting the number of Championship runs make sense?
All the controversies, overlaps and reigns of 50 days or less total ten reigns. Counting in the reigns lasting less than 120 days gives us 16.
Flairs great runs (his first, the one from 1984 to 1986, and the ones that ended the 1980’s are impressive and rank with Sammartino and Thesz as being truly dominant. Those four reigns are over 2500 days…
it took four reigns to add that up, where Bruno and Lou held a major title for about that many days in one stretch. Those other two greats held the belt, defended the belt, toured their promotion relentlessly, placed those promotions on their backs, and were rewarded with money and long championship reigns.
It logically leads to my biggest gripe about the “legend” of Rick Flair and his place in the history of the industry of professional wrestling. Because If a wrestling champion is the Champion because of business decisions, and ability to draw, then what does that say about Flair?
There was a story, touted on this site, that said that Flair almost showed up on RAW once in the late 1990’s, when he had yet another contract situation with WCW. If fans want to study up, or historians want to spell it out, the gist of it from my recollection is that WCW was pushing Flair out the door since the late 1980’s as being too old, and going back, you can see that a number of those title changes took place because he wasn’t wanted.
Kinda hard to tout the man as Champion when you consider all of that.
I would be a lot more inclined to count Flair’s numbers as being Champion if he switched back and forth with Ricky Steamboat, or had a stretch where he traded back and forth (and not just to put over the next guy (Ronnie Garvin, Lex Lugar, Sting) supposed to carry the promotion) and instead we count all these times where WCW didn’t want him, or the WWF didn’t really want him as Champion all that long.
Sure, there are similar issues with Thesz in the late 1950’s, and with Sammartino in the 1970’s – but only in terms of not being able to follow the big man. Lou’s hand-picked ‘replacements’ never stuck, and Buddy Rogers wasn’t exactly the guy the NWA wanted. Bruno’s ethnic replacment in Pedro didn’t do much outside of New York, and the All-American Bob Backlund benefitted greatly (as did Hogan) by Bruno’s appearances on the card, and Bruno’s returns across the circuit to boost attendance. (There are those that say that Vince (Sr) was too stubborn to admit he was wrong about Backlund and replacing Graham that he kept the 1980’s version of John Cena (well, Backlund was a better wrestler, but wow did he have his detractors) at the top when he shouldn’t).
On the contrary, WCW and the WWF both seem to have told Ric that he wasn’t wanted.
There is that Spartacus story, though. And Flair really was an icon to the heel fans of the 1980’s and became this darling of the newsletter writers and the internet smart mark set and so many people who never saw him go 60 minutes and yet tout him as the greatest… well, just because he was Champion 20 times.
Which leads me to three concluding points.
For one, the iconic Ric Flair and the immortal Hulk Hogan did do battle in the biggest dream match, and a feud for all ages… and yet like the time they hooked up in Australia twenty years later, the crowds didn’t come and the matches weren’t all that (though they didn’t use blood in the first run) and a lot of grandiose plans were scrapped very quickly when reality set in.
For those who say Hogan and Flair are great draws, I still can’t figure out the logic.
A second point is this. After Thesz, the NWA was still going strong, even after losing its national grip on the professional wrestling industry. After Sammartino, the WWWF became the WWF and we know what it is today.
The NWA was no longer prominent and became smaller and less influential as Flair dominated the 1980’s. WCW became a Southeastern promotion during his reigns, and began to implode when he made business decisions. His career lingered for fifteen years longer, where he counts up a dozen title reigns with no longevity to any, nothing much than a joke with many, and ultimately became a parody of himself with fake heart attacks and his only lasting mark (more on that with another column coming up) appears to be fans in professional wrestling shouting “WOOOOOOOOOOOO” when someone does an open hand chop on an opponent’s chest.
(Ok, that does pervade into other sports…. I’ll admit that. But if I say Lou Thesz, you probably say “great wrestler” and if I say Bruno, you probably say “champion”, yet if I say Ric Flair, the Pavlovian smart marks scream “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”. Wow. That’s amazing).
And the last big point: if the number of Champions held makes a man a greater Championship, can someone tell me how many times Crash Holly held a WWE Championship?