Re: 20 years Ago: Wrestling Observer
Nov. 4 1991
As the World Wrestling Federations's advertisement read, "For over a decade, millions have been waiting for this match.
And now it's here!"
The first, second, third and fourth meeting of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair took place in Dayton, Oakland, Los Angeles and Tempe respectively this past week. [spoiler]The "historic first match" took place without any fanfare, in Dayton on 10/22. The Dayton match, the final bout on a 30 or so match television taping, was unannounced. Hogan replaced Roddy Piper, who was scheduled against Flair in the dark match main event. The Dayton match, which ended with Flair winning via count out, took place mainly because both men, the two biggest American wrestling names of this era, who had never worked with one another before, wanted to give it a go before taking the match on the road three nights later. As the last match of a long taping night, it was more get out there and feel out working together as there was neither the time nor the crowd energy for a classic match.
The first advertised encounter took place on 10/25 at the Oakland Coliseum Arena before approximately 14,900 fans (13,400 paying $157,842). It was not a sellout, nor did it set any kind of a record, but it was the largest wrestling crowd in the building in a couple of years, even with a pathetic undercard. While it wouldn't be confused with a match of the year, and may not have even been the match of the weekend, it was several levels above everything else on the show and didn't seem to leave anyone disappointed. It was only Hogan's second match back (the other being in Dayton) since taking two months off after the Summer Slam pay-per-view show and he seemed to work harder than usual, but not necessarily better than usual. While Flair has certainly had more memorable matches, he lived up to his reputation.
It was clear that the crowd was more "up" for this show, seeing it as something special, than for any regular house show in this area in recent memory. The main event, the battle between the three-time WWF champion and the seven (or is it eight or nine really?) time NWA/WCW champ was put on fourth, before intermission so they'd be able to do the match, and then make the announcement of the rematch before ending the show. The heat and intensity at the beginning of the match didn't equal that of a Wrestlemania main event, but it was a lot stronger than a normal world title match main event on a normal house show. As expected, Hogan clearly was the crowd favorite, but Flair had a core of supporters, estimated (depending on the part of the building you were in) at anywhere from five percent to 30 percent--I'd guess at 15 percent, although he had slightly more support from posters and banners.
Flair entered the ring, with manager Bobby Heenan (who hadn't accompanied him for his previous house show main events with Roddy Piper) to a lot of cheers and even more boos. Hogan entered to an ovation typically thunderous, which wasn't nearly the reaction he received at his peak of popularity but still more than enough to drown out the boos. The bell rang, and the first advertised encounter between arguably the most popular wrestler of all-time and perhaps the greatest wrestler of all-time was underway.
The match outline was predictable. Very good heat, generally solid moves, but certainly no surprises. Hogan shoved Flair down a few times on collar-and-elbow tie-ups. Flair came back with the stiff chops (which Hogan sold). Flair took his flip into the corner, landing on his feet on the apron, running across the apron and getting clotheslined to the floor from Hogan early. The first big break was a typical Hogan match spot. Heenan got on the apron, Hogan went after him, and Flair ambushed him with a knee to the back. Flair did his typical moves, the kneedrop to the forehead, the hard chops, and working over the legs. The battle went out of the ring when Flair smashed Hogan's left knee with a chair. Flair set up the figure four twice, but both times Hogan kicked him off before the hold was locked in. Hogan made a small comeback, but Flair cut him off with a back suplex and a near fall. Then it was time for the superman comeback. Hogan didn't sell the chops, punches, kicks and a flying forearm smash. He came back with a few punches, a foot to the face (that missed by a foot), a bodyslam and the legdrop. Just before the three count, Flair got his foot on the ropes. Hogan got up thinking he'd won. As he and the ref argued, Heenan gave Flair the dreaded foreign object. While the fans at ringside seemed to know that there were no television cameras, and thus, no chance of a title change, in the upper deck for that brief moment, the mood was different. Unlike previous challengers over the past few years, at that moment the fans saw the title change as a probability. Flair hit Hogan with the object and got the 1-2-3 at 11:35. The place erupted. There were a lot more cheers than boos. Flair was given the WWF belt and announced as the new champion.
At that point, agent Dave Hebner charged the ring doing the overdone pantomime to signal about the object. Hebner grabbed the belt and placed it on the chest of Hogan, who was still laid out as the ring announcer. Heenan grabbed Hebner while Flair put the figure four on Hogan for a few moments. Finally making the save were The Hammer and The British Bulldog. In their earlier lives, as Greg Valentine and Davey Boy Smith, they were two of the best wrestlers in the business. But now, they are simply bloated weightlifters going from town-to-town in search of a gym to work out by day, and showing up at work each night with no intention of ever breaking a sweat. As Flair and Heenan took off, they helped Hogan from the ring as he sold his leg big all the way to the back. There was no post-match posing routine on this night. I gave the match three-and-a-half stars. Opinions of others who were at the match live who have called in or spoken with me have varied from three stars (four people), three-and-a-half (four), three-and-three quarters (three) and four stars (two). Most reports are that the next night in Los Angeles, which drew 13,800 (12,400 paying $178,740) was just a shade below in quality. It went 13:28 with the same finish but a different body of the match. In Los Angeles, Hogan played Superman a lot more during the early part of the match, which I was told took the match down a tad (ratings ranged from two-and-a-half by two readers, three by two readers and three-and-a-half by three readers). Hogan, the self-proclaimed eliminator of blood in pro wrestling, then bladed at the end from the foreign object. On Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona, which drew about 5,600 paying $67,000, they went 12:30, ending with both men fighting outside the ring but Flair getting in to beat the count while Hogan is distracted by Heenan. Flair grabs the WWF title, but in this finish, Hogan runs both Flair and Hogan off, gets Flair's belt from Heenan and does the posing routine with both belts before kicking Flair's belt defiantly out of the ring to the floor. That match was rated two-and-a-half stars. The Oakland and Los Angeles matches built to rematches on 11/15 at the San Francisco Cow Palace and 11/16 at the Anaheim Convention Center. When they announced the rematch in Oakland for the Cow Palace, despite the fact the match itself drew a huge crowd and had a ton of heat, the reaction to the announcement of the rematch was mild.
When it was over backstage, one wonders what both men were thinking. The match, the subject of fantasy writers ideas and words in wrestling magazines and newsletters for years, that appeared would never happen, finally has, did and will continue to happen for some time to come. For both, it signals the beginning of a big run. Perhaps the beginning of each man's last big run. For one man, the thoughts just weeks earlier were that wrestling was still going to be a part of his life, but a much smaller part, only for occasional appearances. Like Arnold in bodybuilding. He'd stick around, but he's he wouldn't want to be known as just a wrestler, but instead an actor who rose from his junksport to superstardom. But reality hit hard and he's not going to be Arnold. He's bigger than his junksport but the best he'll ever be is the main man in his junksport.
For the other, there are no thoughts of any other business, and to him, it would never be thought of as a junksport. Being main man is good enough. In fact, it's all there is. It's just that anything less isn't acceptable. The ending of a 16-year association with a company, for a decade-plus as the main man, was stymied by a front office who decided that day was over because of the date on his birth certificate or because he made a handier scapegoat for problems with the company by those in charge than self-examination. But instead of it being the end, it turned out to be the springboard for a new beginning. This new career may bring him more notoriety than ever before, that some say he deserved but never quite achieved. But the kind of matches that made him what he is had to be checked at the door, only to be retrieved when he leaves the party. The time needed just won't be allotted. The opponents who could do it have become Bulldogs and Hammers who no longer break a sweat, Roosters and Blazers who since childhood dreamed and prepared to become the best they could ever be, only to find out that it didn't even matter, Dragons wearing a tail drinking kerosene each night, Hit Men who can do it, but don't very often and Tornados whose abilities have blown away. Yet, ironically, it is in this environment that he'll be finishing his career. But this isn't going to be any Requiem for a Heavyweight story. In fact, despite the previous paragraph, in this case, it going to turn out to be just the opposite.[/spoiler]
- There are several changes, due to injuries, in upcoming major cards. The angle on the WCW Halloween Havoc pay-per-view on Sunday night where Arn Anderson & Larry Zbyszko smashed the car door on Barry Windham's hand was a cover story because on 10/22 in Columbus, GA, in a squash match, Windham landed wrong doing a bulldog headlock and broke his wrist in four places. The injury is serious enough that he isn't expected to return for six months to a year, but he was willing to let them slam a car door on his hand to use the legit injury as part of an angle when he returns. Ron Simmons, who worked Havoc's main event with a bad wrist as well, is expected to be out a few weeks as well and the last word I had is he wasn't expected back for the Clash on 11/19. Simmons was in a cast until just before the show and became something of a folk hero for toughness for working the match without any protection for his wrist nor did he take any pain-pills or shots to kill the pain. Ironically, late in the week that was some concern that Simmons wasn't even going to be able to work on Sunday (or perhaps wasn't going to be allowed, as there was concern about him doing the finish). There is expected to be some revamping of the Clash line-up on 11/19 from Savannah, GA, with the top matches scheduled as Lex Luger vs. Rick Steiner for the WCW title and Sting vs. Rick Rude. The plan of pushing Barry Windham & Ron Simmons as the top babyface tag team had already been changed to giving a big push to Windham & Dustin Rhodes as a team, but that plan is out the window as well. The opponents of The Enforcers is unknown for that show, and I believe the Oz vs. Dustin Rhodes match is out the window, but I believe the rest of the card is staying as is.
- On the WWF side, Sid Justice had surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon on 10/24. He's expected to return around February or March, which is in enough time for Wrestlemania but he's out of the next three PPV shows. Randy Savage will continue to take his place on house shows for the time being, although Justice is still being advertised everywhere and will remain so until the weekend of 11/9, when the injury will be acknowledged on television, and all the house shows with him on top after that point will be changed to Savage. Savage will still technically be suspended and work as Mr. Madness, since he won't be reinstated until after Thanksgiving. The WWF has its reasons (mainly because Justice still had interviews and matches in the can that would air on television this coming weekend and their rationale is that acknowledging the injury on television before 11/9 would have exposed that the television shows were taped ahead of time) and they are consistent in their policy even if it still is advertising someone in a main event that they know won't be appearing. Anyway, as for the Survivor Series, Justice is out, as is The Dragon, and right now we've got no word on the replacements in either match although I was told Savage won't replace Justice at Survivors.
- Contrary to what has been printed elsewhere and just about everywhere, Justice was never scheduled to win the WWF title at the 12/3 PPV show in San Antonio. In fact, Justice was booked originally to appear on the show in a dark match against Jake Roberts, which obviously will no longer be taking place. The top matches on the San Antonio PPV show I believe will be Hogan vs. The Undertaker (that one is the definite main event) for the WWF title, Flair vs. Roddy Piper, Bret Hart vs. Skinner for the Intercontinental title and Ted DiBiase & IRS vs. Big Bossman & Virgil.
- Mike Tyson was injured as well, as you all know, and there was talk last week about the Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight being moved to either January 18 or January 20 (the Royal Rumble PPV is January 19), which would necessitate moving the Rumble PPV. Titan had some preliminary talks with TVKO (Time-Warner), the promoters of the fight about moving the Rumble date and were willing to do it if TVKO paid a fee, reported in the New York press as $500,000, but the deal fell through, having nothing to do with the fee the WWF was asking, but because all the various parties involved in making the boxing match were unable to come to any sort of an agreement and the fight is in grave jeopardy of ever taking place.
- The biggest surprise on the WCW PPV show was the return of Paul E. Dangerously, as the manager of Rick Rude and Madusa. A lot transpired over the past week in that situation, which was still touch-and-go until two hours before the show was scheduled to begin. Dangerously had announced a press conference on Friday at the China Club in New York to talk about his suspension. Two days before the press conference, at the WCW steering committee meeting, Jim Crockett brought up bringing Dangerously back as the lead manager (a position first offered to Jim Cornette, who turned it down much to everyone's expectations although they did make the offer). It's seems to be pretty much accepted by everyone that the company made a mistake in suspending Dangerously for something it seems he never did and there was no proof whatsoever that he ever did and that even if he did it, it wasn't an offense worthy of suspension to begin with. But anyway, rather than be stubborn about holding firm to their position just to prove they can (which they can), movement was made to bring Dangerously back, although they wanted him as a manager rather than a commentator to begin with. According to our sources, Jim Ross, Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A. all agreed with Crockett's proposal which constituted a majority of the six-person committee. I'm told Jim Herd wasn't hot about the idea at first, but didn't try and block it, either. Dangerously held his press conference two days later and made the statement that if WCW didn't at least schedule a review on his suspension within 72 hours (or by the end of the PPV show), that he'd take legal action. By the time he said that, the legit suspension was being worked into a pro wrestling angle. It was expected by that time he'd start back as a manager, although it wasn't a definite but since the plan was already made for him to be in Chattanooga, one had to assume he inevitably was being brought back. But there were still details of the angle to be worked out, and Dangerously wanted to create an angle from his suspension, which wasn't agreed upon until late Sunday afternoon. There were a few shoot remarks by Dangerously in the first interview, although in his "storyline" he wants his suspension to be because he was too controversial a television commentator and one by Ross as well.
- Just as we were going to press last week we received the details regarding the departure of Ricky Steamboat from the WWF. While the basic particulars of the story were correct, with the brunt of the WWF office on location for television tapings, there is another side. Apparently the WWF was scheduled to shoot its first angle with Steamboat (where he would blow fire at a bunch of money of Ted DiBiase's) at this past television taping. This would lead to matches between the two of them starting after the Survivor Series. Steamboat gave notice more than a week before the taping, more for personal reasons of wanting to spend more time at home, effective 12/16. Later, according to WWF sources, Steamboat asked if he could finish up on 11/28, which would eliminate already booked matches for the first two weeks of December with DiBiase. Steamboat, who agreed to do any jobs asked at arenas, was asked to do jobs for Undertaker and IRS for television at the tapings on 10/21 in Fort Wayne, refused, and was history. The WWF slant to it is that they had spent six months pushing The Dragon character on television and were finally in a position where it was ready to be put into an angle that could help draw money. But when Steamboat gave notice, since he claimed he would be getting out wrestling except for working independent shows near home, they wanted him to help others get over on his way out and help build ratings for the sweeps period.
At the TV tapings in Fort Wayne, the cobra did bite Randy Savage in the arm and he juiced from the arm which should make a horrifying television angle.
El Matador will be replacing The Dragon in the post-Survivor Series program with Ted DiBiase.
- They were a lot more successful on 10/22 in Fort Wayne, IN with Sgt. Slaughter. They set it up with both Nasty Boys doing a two-on-one on Jim Duggan and Slaughter coming out to make the save. They may put Duggan & Slaughter together as a team, but it's not definite.
- Expect Chris Chavis to be brought in as a regular at some point in the near future.
- Bret Hart and Undertaker had a match taped for Coliseum video in Dayton on Tuesday. It was said to have been a great match.
- Conan is expected to have a try-out with his robot suit possibly at the next television taping.
- Pat Tanaka is gone for now in an amicable split. They decided to drop the Orient Express as a tag team. At the same time, Tanaka wanted time off and gave notice since they didn't have a spot to really use him.
- All-American wrestling did a 2.4 rating on 10/20 while Prime Time did a 2.2 on 10/21.
- Ric Flair won't be working the 12/12 show at the Tokyo Dome.
- Playgirl Magazine has a photo spread in its December issue on WWF wrestlers, nothing more than wrestling shots of Tito Santana, Hulk Hogan, Kerry Von Erich and a few others.
- Savage appeared on CBS' World Series pre-game show on Tuesday. After WCW got a lot of national newspaper press with Jim Herd inviting Kent Hrbek for a try-out, WCW attempted to get Dusty Rhodes on the pre-game show however Tim McCarver is friends with Savage and he got on the show instead.
- Bret Hart is running a weekly pro wrestling column in the Calgary Sun newspaper.
- Correction from last week regarding Arachnaman, Spiderman is owned by Marvel Comics, the same company that owns the Hulk trademark, not DC Comics.
- On this past weekend's WCW during the Austin vs. Graham TV title match, Jim Ross made some comments regarding that "You wouldn't believe the big guys that don't want any part of Mike Graham. You'd never believe the names he's backed down." They used way too much of that tinny fake crowd noise during the show, which ruins the atmosphere, but I guess it was necessary because when Van Hammer does his three-clap routine, the audience at Center Stage breaks into a "We Want Flair" staccato chant and the chants at Kazmaeir were also audible, but drowned out enough by the fake crowd noise. They need a good job on television editing out the Kazmaeir run-in during the Eaton & Sting vs. Abdullah & Jack match which occurred too early.
- WCW received a reported $35,000 guarantee to run a card on Halloween night in Phoenix as part of the Arizona State Fair, so from a financial standpoint, that will be a successful show.
- World Championship Wrestling and Main Event both drew 2.4 ratings on 10/19 and 10/20 respectively, whichare okay compared to some of the poor ratings of the summer, but for this time of the year when the ratings traditionally kick back up, they're not that hot either. Power Hour did a 1.5.