SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, November 23, 2001

Flair's return a blessing or a curse?

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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No matter what your point of view, there was enough big wrestling news this week to please just about every kind of wrestling fan. For World Wrestling Federation fans tired of the clunker Alliance storyline, the WWF came out on top at Survivor Series, eliminating their competition. For fans of the former WCW, the return of Ric Flair may have been a sight for sore eyes. Back on the WWF side, Linda McMahon's announcement this week of the formation of a second, separate promotion in the near future is an intriguing prospect.

I could probably write a column about the end of the Alliance. Or I could save all of us some time and just say that the Alliance storyline was a dead horse and it was about time the WWF buried it. It was botched from the beginning and toward the end, took away more value than it added. I could discuss Linda's announcement, but that second promotion has been ‘almost upon us' ever since the WCW purchase. I'm not holding my breath just yet. Ric Flair, on the other hand, is always worth discussing.

When WCW aired its final Nitro broadcast, few were complaining about the chosen main event. Sting going over Ric Flair is as appropriate a final WCW match as anyone can hope for. Equally, when there were talks that the WWF would try to run WCW as a separate promotion, the one man that everyone said they needed to hire to make that work was Ric Flair. Not Goldberg, not Scott Steiner, not the Outsiders, not Hulk Hogan, perhaps Sting, but definitely Flair. Instead, WCW fans were offered Buff Bagwell and Booker T and Shane Helms and Shawn Stasiak, which they soundly rejected.

With the WCW storyline going nowhere, Paul Heyman and much of the former ECW roster were used to bolster the lineup and form the Alliance. That was a welcome development when it happened, earning a great buyrate for the Invasion pay-per-view. The angle soon fizzled, be it because of an over-focus on the McMahons or for some other reason.

Now, the Alliance storyline is dead and Ric Flair has been brought in as a 'half owner' of the WWF, which then reiterates that it will be starting up that second promotion soon. Most folks are drawing the conclusion that Flair will be instrumental in setting up the angle that starts the second promotion, and may play Vince McMahon's role in it. That leaves people wondering whether the second promotion will be another attempt at reviving WCW, or something entirely new. With all the rumours circulating about a possible return for the Outsiders, WCW seems as likely the name for the new promotion as anything.

Either way, hiring Ric Flair strikes me as a move to appease former WCW fans. Even if not, one of the great advantages that Flair brings to the table with him is his long history. He arguably carries a piece of the WCW brand value with him. He represents more of World Championship Wrestling than most of the talent the WWF acquired from them, at least.

The problem, though, is that the WWF has already alienated WCW fans. Many fans were turned off just by the thought of a WWF-owned WCW. The appearance of Vince McMahon on the final Nitro and Shane McMahon at the final Nitro didn't help and made WCW seem like a minor league WWF promotion. The first few matches offered under the WCW name in the WWF, between the likes of Buff Bagwell and Booker T, were terrible. WCW was quickly buried. Ratings showed that the WWF lost the extra ratings they gained after Nitro's demise. They're back to 1998 levels, when they competed with a healthy Monday Nitro.

All of this to suggest that bringing in Ric Flair at this point won't help bring anyone on board for a WCW revival. He's a great talent, and you don't need to hear that from me, but he can't resurrect WCW by himself. If anything, unless he's better marketed than his WCW predecessors, he may find himself devalued too.

Flair brings a lot to the table to the WWF, but if they think he can make up for their mistakes this past year, they're wrong. If they expect that from him, then wrestling fans will be complaining about how stale Flair's act is by Wrestlemania. If, however, they use him for his own skills, or to build an entirely new second promotion, then Flair will be worth his weight in gold.

Have a good one.

Here's the mailbag.

Frank Rodasky, from, writes:

Eric --

Love your column. I'm writing in response to the new direction of the WWF promised by Vince McMahon. Say this for the Vin-man, when he promises something, he delivers! With fresh, creative, cutting edge entertainment. Oh, sure, maybe it was a little confusing as to why Kurt Angle turned heel after turning face this summer, heel a month ago, then face at Survivor Series. But he made up for that by pushing the 'Attitude' envelope with the Regal ass kissing segment! Brilliant! And you thought you'd seen the height of television with Sexual Chocolate/Hermaphrodite segment, or the Mae Young pregnancy! WWF viewers, you ain't seen nothing yet!

And then we get the Jericho turn, which makes perfect sense, since now the WWF only has two main faces, the Rock and Undertaker. Oh well, the Big Slow's waiting in the wings to challenge Y2J's popularity.

We follow that with the return of the face Austin, and the renewal of the Austin-McMahon feud. Thank God, they hadn't pounded that angle into the ground. "If you want to see ol' Stone Cold stomp a mud hole in Vince McMahon's ass, gimme a 'What!'"

Let's not forget Vince's best move. Letting one of the greatest performers of all time, one of the greatest mic men, one of the most loved men in the history of the business, Mick Foley, walk away from the WWF. Foley doesn't like the direction of the WWF? Screw him, who the hell needs Mick Foley? What did he ever bring to the show, besides being the only reason a good portion of viewers didn't quit the WWF all together after the '97 Survivor Series debacle.

Oh, but Vince did drop the ball with the rehiring of the King. I mean, they had Paul Heyman on color! How much better can you get than that? Oh well, maybe Heyman can find a job at CNN, doing the next Presidential election coverage--

Heyman: Estimates for the state of California are in. We predict that the winner of all 54 electoral votes to be... Gore! Gore! Gore!

Oh yeah, I guess it's okay that Flair is back. Hopefully, though we can get that charismatic dynamo, Test, to give him a few pointers on how to do an electrifying promo.

I'd been very interested to hear your comments on the recent direction of the WWF.


-- Frank Rodasky.

I'm obviously pleased about Flair, but I'm equally disappointed they let go Mick Foley. At this point, I don't think that Flair is a whole lot more entertaining in the ring than Foley, so both of them are on the payroll for their personalities. In that sense, I think the WWF may have lost as much as they gained.

As for all the turns, I'm of two minds. I actually agree with a lot of the actual moves made. Assuming Triple H returns as a heel, then having Austin as a face could be beneficial. What I'm against is the constant turning itself. Each turn diminishes the value of all subsequent turns, not only for that wrestler but for others too. If Triple H himself turned face the moment he returned, few people would care since so many others of his caliber have already switched sides this month.

I'm not sure I quite share your cynicism. I'd like to give the WWF the benefit of the doubt and judge the work they do between now and Wrestlemania, but I'm not entirely optimistic about their recent direction, either.

Shawn F Bowman, from, writes:

Yeah, I know you haven't proclaimed yourself to be the ultimate source of wrestling knowledge, able to answer any and all questions. But quite a few years ago, I had a question I wanted answered and just recently it's come up again.

The question I have has to do with the British Bulldog / Warlord match at Wrestlemania 7 (at least I THINK it was 7).

First, before I continue, yes - I DO in fact have a life. :) But just the other day I dusted off the old Wrestlemania 7 tape and was watching it for "old times' sake". Now I remember watching the Event on Satellite TV and seeing the match between the British Bulldog and the Warlord, but it didn't make the videocassette when it was released.

I was wondering if you have ever heard if there was more to this than simply some kind of time-editing. It wasn't actually a half-bad match, I thought at the time, with the standard fare for a power-match, and there were even a few nice suplexes. The match had some fairly good heat, it seemed as well.

What do you think? Can you answer this question?

-- Shawn Bowman, Ottawa.

I'm glad I don't have to reiterate that I'm not the world's foremost expert on wrestling history. I can offer only three insights. First, I remember watching that pay-per-view when it happened and I recall the match, so it did happen. Second, my tape of the show (a copy of a friend's purchased videocassette), lacks the match. Third, I know that sometimes matches are edited out of shows, and for a variety of reasons. It could be a time issue. It could be a quality issue. You may have liked the match, but I don't remember it as fondly. Or, it could be some kind of strange copyright issue we don't know about. I'm never sure about these.

What I do know is that this web site's editorial staff and readership are full of experts and historians, so if anyone knows what's up with this issue, please write in so we can ease the mind of our friend Shawn from Ottawa.

That's all for this week. Have yourself a belated happy American Thanksgiving, and if you're Canadian, happy American football weekend.

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