Be Fair to Flair

Nick Paglino

Ric FlairAs a die-hard Ric Flair fan, I was overjoyed to see Ric return to WWE TV – and get treated with the respect and push his pedigree and talent deserve.

Ric’s not going to wrestle, at least as far as I know. He’ll have the occasional physical involvement, but after Jerry Lawler’s heart attack, I can’t imagine WWE wanting to put a 63-year-old man at risk. Ric’s workrate, even at his age, might put a lot of younger guys to shame. Ric should be a special attraction.

I’d still have him manage Dolph Ziggler. That might put Ziggler over the top. Or what about Ryback? Ric Flair, babyface spokesman for Ryback. Awesome.

I just want to hear Ric Flair talk. The context doesn’t much concern me.

To hear Ric referred to as “the greatest ever,” in the company that didn’t make him, did my heart a lot of good. And you can never go wrong telling the truth.

What happened between Flair and Eric Bischoff in WCW still boggles my mind.

Bischoff just would not give Flair his due. Bad-mouthed him every chance he got. Threatened to bankrupt Flair and put his family out in the street. What kind of corporate executive spews nonsense like that, especially in public?

That’s right, a wrestling executive. It is such a bastard business.

Bischoff felt like WCW didn’t exist before he assumed control. What Flair did, didn’t count. Once Hogan came in, Flair was too often minimized. Logic was ignored. Making it clear that Hogan > Flair became an intensely executed priority.

Hogan came to WCW in 1994. He quickly got the world title. At a Clash of the Champions to set up Halloween Havoc, Flair beat Hogan via countout after a masked man bashed Hogan’s knee a la Nancy Kerrigan. Since Hogan was going to put up his career at Havoc, Flair should have won the title. Title vs. career makes sense. Babyface courage and confidence against a heel turning the screw.

But Hogan wouldn’t drop the title to Flair, not even because of outside interference. It skewed the logic of Havoc’s cage match. Why would Hogan voluntarily put up his career? He’s a babyface, and he’s got guts, but that’s STUPID. Then Flair put up his career, which is a BABYFACE MOVE.

Hogan didn’t care. Nor did Eric. What Hogan wanted, he got. Flair’s track record with WCW, and the loyalty he generated among WCW fans, didn’t matter.

(At this point, some of you are going, “Oh, he’s bashing Hogan again! WTF?” Yes, indeed, WTF? Thing is, everything I’m writing is true. So I will continue to bash Hogan, and with pleasure. Hogan’s days as a true, Austin-level, big-time draw ended when he left WWE in 1993. After that, he was good for name value, notoriety, and siphoning out more cash than he brought in. That continues today.)

It only got worse between Flair and Bischoff. Flair made WCW, carried the NWA for so many years, and Bischoff had zero respect for that. And, despite the occasional conciliatory tweet, I’d bet he still doesn’t.

Contrast that with Flair’s treatment in WWE. Not just Monday. But every time Flair worked for Vince McMahon.

When Flair debuted in WWE in 1991, Flair fans were terrified. Terrified that what he’d done wouldn’t count. That who he was would be reinvented.

Things weren’t perfect for Ric. WWE recognized his world title, but branded it second-rate. He never got the big PPV “unification” match with Hogan. But McMahon didn’t change his character. He let Flair be Flair. No re-branding.

Then came the 1992 Royal Rumble in Albany, NY. Third man in. Sixty minutes. WWE champion. I attended that match. When Flair came out early, I was scared that he was going to be trivialized. Put in his place.

My best-case scenario: Flair goes 60 minutes and loses. But Flair went 60 minutes and WON. Better yet, nearly every wrestler made Flair the brunt of his attack. Flair bumped around like a ping-pong ball. But he survived, and he won. When the Rumble was over, every WWE fan knew what Ric Flair was all about.

Flair was revered for most of his days as traveling NWA world champ. When the NWA basically morphed into WCW, with one office running things, the contempt started: First with Jim Herd, later with Bischoff. To this day, I don’t know why. What company disrespects its own legend? But WCW tortured Flair.

That never happened in WWE. When some hack botched his attempt at Ric’s autobiography and I was brought in to save the product, I had a brief meeting with McMahon. His words: “I feel like your friend here is the greatest performer of all time in our business. I’d like this book to reflect that.”

McMahon meant what he said: The ’92 Royal Rumble, two title reigns, the sendoff against HBK, Monday’s return: McMahon has always done right by Flair.

For that, I will always feel indebted to McMahon. As a Flair fan and a Flair friend, I could never thank him enough.

Greatness rubs off. On Cena. On Punk and Heyman. On Kane and Bryan. On The Shield. Raw seemed that much better. At 63, that's what Ric Flair still does. I don’t know how Heyman kept from smiling when he was locked in that figure-four.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM, Pittsburgh, PA(105.9) . Check out his web page at Contact Mark by emailing wzmarkmadden@hotmail. com. FOLLOW MARK ON TWITTER: @MarkMaddenX

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