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Ask 411 Wrestling: How Should WCW Have Handled Ric Flair’s 1991 Departure?

August 4, 2023 | Posted by Ryan Byers
World Championship Wrestling Jim Ross Ric Flair Image Credit: WCW

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Donny from Allentown, PA has the rare fantasy booking question that I don’t find interminable:

If you were in charge of WCW in the summer of 1991 and your World Champion Ric Flair quit the company, how would you handle the now vacant World Heavyweight Championship going into the Great American Bash? Would you keep it at Lex Luger versus Barry Windham or hold a mini-one night tournament? And this answer you give does not involve Ric Flair at all so take him out of the equation.

I think Donny predicated the first part of my answer there, because I think that, first and foremost, if I were in charge of WCW during the summer of 1991 I would do just about everything in my power to ensure that Ric Flair did NOT leave the company. WCW wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire from a business perspective in ’91, but losing the Nature Boy really pissed off those fans that they DID have, and if you’re already not doing well, the last thing you want to do is alienate your base. (Just ask the Republican Party about that.)

In any event, my preference is almost always that, if you have to vacate a championship, you do something more to fill it than just a singles match between two guys who didn’t do anything in particular to qualify for it (though admittedly in this case Luger already was the number one contender). If you can have your new champion come out on top against a significant portion of the roster, be it through a tournament, a battle royale, or something similar, it goes a long way to making them look like less of a paper champion, which can always be a problem when your new champ did not beat the prior titleholder.

I would be inclined to scrap most of the Great American Bash card and book a one-night tournament for the championship. As a promoter, I wouldn’t necessarily feel too bad doing that, in part because of the circumstances but also in part because it was really only a two-match show with Luger-Flair and Sting versus Nikita Koloff, the second of which I still have plans to deliver on as outlined below.

The first round matches in my tournament would be Dustin Rhodes vs. Barry Windham and Lex Luger vs. Ron Simmons. The winner of those two matches would face each other, and THEN the winner of that match would face the winner of the previously booked Sting/Koloff Russian chain match for the championship.

The justification for giving the Stinger and the Russian Bear what is effectively a first round bye would be that the promotion still wants to give the fans the chain match they were promised, but you cannot book that as a regular first round tournament bout because it is more grueling than a normal match and would thereby put Sting and Koloff at a disadvantage.

As for the results, Windham would beat Rhodes and Luger would beat Simmons, with Koloff defeating Sting as happened on the actual show. Then, Luger could defeat Koloff in the finals. You’re getting to the same place in terms of who holds the championship, but the hope is that by having Luger triumph over so many opponents in one night that he would feel like a more legitimate champ. Plus, you’ve loaded up the card with more marquee matches, which would (hopefully) better distract the crowd from the fact that they no longer have Flair.

The chain match stipulation between Koloff and Sting could also be use to set up a series of Koloff/Luger rematches for the title, with Koloff perhaps attacking Luger on a subsequent show and afterwards claiming that there is no way the Total Package would have become champion if Koloff hadn’t had to wrestle such a grueling chain match earlier in the evening.

That’s my best effort to make something good out of a lousy situation.

Tyler from Winnipeg is steppin’ to school:

What’s 2 Cold Scorpio up to nowadays?

He’s still wrestling from time-to-time at the age of 57. He’s had at least four matches thusfar in 2023, including one over Wrestlemania weekend on GCW’s “For the Culture” show that highlighted past, present, and future Black stars of professional wrestling.

There were some headlines circulating in 2019 that reported he had become the head trainer of a wrestling school in Colorado, but in coming up with this answer I wasn’t able to find anything that said how long he stuck around in that position.

Big Al is trying to keep is workload light:

Isn’t the brand to be on right now Smackdown?  A wrestler can compete on Smackdown on Friday and then a house show or PLE on Saturday and they fly home for 5 days right?

AEW still isn’t even really running house shows regularly, and, when they were most recently, the lineups were incredibly light on their biggest stars. So, actually, if you sign an AEW contract and get a mid-to-upper card slot, you can still get away with being on one show per week many weeks.

Clyde is the cock of the walk:

Who thought the Red Rooster was a good idea? He was kind of treated the way Dusty was when he got in the WWF (I’ve heard he was almost Mr. Perfect)?  It seems like Terry was made a joke of the whole time – heel or face.

First off, Bruce Prichard on his podcast has multiple times shot down the “Terry Taylor was almost Mr. Perfect” rumor. Prichard’s comment was that it’s not as though the WWF sat there with a list of potential gimmicks for wrestlers and then figured out who the right fit for the pre-made gimmick was. Instead, they looked at individual wrestlers and figured out a character for them based on their own attributes. Per Prichard, Mr. Perfect was created specifically for Curt Hennig because he really was athletically gifted in just about everything he ever tried.

Meanwhile, the Red Rooster was always meant for Taylor because of his own “cocky” nature.

Was the Rooster a good idea? No, it wasn’t a good idea if the intention was to book Terry Taylor as a championship level wrestler. But, here’s one thing I think fans often lose sight of when they’re talking about gimmicks like this: Not everybody is meant to be a championship level wrestler. You need wrestlers in the opening matches. You need wrestlers who are going to lose more than they win. I do think that the Rooster gimmick was pretty dumb on the whole, but it’s significantly less dumb if you realize that it was put on a guy that the promotion never intended to be a top star.

Will asks the second question about Bob Backlund that I’ve had in as many weeks, which is an odd pattern to see developing:

I have a question about wrestlers who ‘deadlift’ their opponents. I watched a match from 1980 where Bob Backlund wrestled Hulk Hogan, and, after rolling out from an armlock, Backlund seemingly ‘deadlifted’ Hogan with one arm up to shoulder level. I’ve seen Roman reigns do the same. My question is, what’s the trick to this? We all know Backlund can’t curl 300 pounds, but it sure looks like he does it. What about Cesaro? He deadlifts 300 pounders and makes it look effortless.  I’m sure there is a trick to it, but can’t figure it out.

There’s really not that much of a trick. You are just watching some freakishly strong men.

Are their opponents cooperating? Yes, absolutely they are. If you look closely at the Backlund/Hogan spot in the question, Hogan is keeping his arms locked around Backlund’s arms in a way that makes him relatively compact and easier to lift. If Hogan didn’t have himself rolled into a little ball, expanded his body, and deadweighted his opponent, there was no way Backlund was getting him up and over. Backlund actually did this spot with a lot of guys over the years, and they all locked their arms in the same way the Hulkster did, so it’s obviously a necessary component of the move.

However, it’s apparent from the footage that none of these men, Hogan included, are doing anything to lift up any of their own weight. They’re in a position in which it is virtually impossible for them to do so. Backlud isn’t just “curling” Hogan as the question says. He’s actually using quite a bit of his body and many muscle groups working together in order to do the deed.

Bob Backlund may not have looked like a bodybuilder like Lex Luger or even a monster like Brock Lesnar, but he had the genetics of a top level athlete and spent hours upon hours upon hours every week training. There is quite a bit of information about his workout routine from his peak if you Google it, and he would do absolutely bonkers things like performing rollouts on an ab wheel for close to an hour. Combine that with the aforementioned genetics, and you just have core strength that is unparalleled, especially on a pound-for-pound basis.

Mike has a sock on his head:

I was watching a late 1982 episode of Mid-South Wrestling, following along with Adam Nedeff’s reviews (shout out), and I noticed once JYD became Stagger Lee their three top babyfaces were masked wrestlers (JYD, Mr. Olympia, Mr. Wrestling II).  Is there any other time where a promotion in the United States had as many masked wrestlers in top stops?

I racked my brain to try to come up with something, and honestly I couldn’t with one possible exception, which is a bit of a stretch . . . and that stretch is Lucha Underground.

The majority of the top stars in that company were masked, though it was quite a bit different than Mid-South or the types of promotion that you’re probably thinking of, in part because it was attempting to emulate Mexican wrestling and in part because it was so far out of the mainstream of U.S. wrestling and pop culture that it’s hard to compare it to other promotions.

Bryan tends to get in the way:

Do you know why in the early 2000s, the WWE switched from barricades outside the ring to the current waist level wall separating the fans from the ring? It can’t be more cost effective, was it aesthetic or a liability thing? Personally, I prefer the steel barricade because it’s more, “scary looking” less corporatized . . . more of an underground feel. What says you?

I’ve never read and was unable to find the actual reason, but from a liability perspective I would advise WWE or any wrestling company to use the walls over the “bike rack” style barricades any day of the week. (For what it’s worth, the walls actually are the old barricades just with padding over them – or at least they were originally.) With the gaps in between the bars of the old school barricades, there are all sorts of opportunities for wrestlers or fans to get their limbs trapped in the things, which could lead to bad incidents.

Plus, if wrestlers are going to be whipped into the barricades, the padded black walls are probably a lot more pleasant than the exposed metal of the older model, similar to having pretty black mats on the arena floor as opposed to exposed concrete. There were people who complained about ringside mats when they first showed up, too, but why not make the bumps a little bit safer and thereby extend people’s careers?

Besides, if you want that extra element of danger for a particular match, you can always have the wrestlers pull the padding back.

Brad is tapping out:

What would be considered in your opinion to be the most successful Submission hold? You can choose what makes it successful.

I’m going to go with the sleeper hold. It has persisted for decades, being in the oldest matches that I’ve seen and even some of the newest matches that I’ve seen. I would also say that it’s probably the submission hold that has the most mainstream recognition. I’ve heard people who are not pro wrestling fans at all reference being put in a sleeper hold and being put to sleep, and they’re not doing the same with a figure four leglock or whatnot.

Granted, some of that is because the sleeper also has been used in real life contexts like law enforcement, but, still, its longevity and recognition makes it the most successful in my mind.

You could also make a similar argument about the full nelson.

Be sure to chant for CaseyDub at your next Philadelphia wrestling show to really confuse Paul Heyman:

Who has faced more recognized Hall of Fame wrestlers – Chris Jericho or Hulk Hogan?

This was a question that interested me when I first read it, because I wasn’t entirely sure what the answer would be. Hogan obviously has wrestled more individuals from an earlier generation of wrestling, but Jericho has wrestled more recent stars who have made their way into the HOF and also has more extensive experience in Mexico than Hogan does, giving him an additional base of Hall of Famers that the Hulkster would not have.

Let’s start with some context before we get into the Jericho/Hogan matchup. Over the years, there have been 248 inductions into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, which I chosen to use for the answer to this question because it is the only worldwide wrestling HOF that has defined induction criteria and is selected by a panel of voters as opposed to entries being controlled by one or two people.

If you take that 248 number and account for the fact that some of the inductions were tag teams or stables, you have 268 individuals inducted. Then, when you delete those individuals who were inducted as promoters or announcers and never had a match, you’re back down to 244. (For purposes of this question, I did leave in individuals who were not wrestlers primarily bu did have matches from time to time, for example a Paul Heyman or a Jim Ross.)

If we take a look at whether the Immortal from Venice Beach, California or the Man of 1,004 Holds has wrestled against more of those HOFers, your winner is . . .

Hulk Hogan, brother.

Hogan has had matches against 67 members of the Observer Hall of Fame, while Jericho has tangled with 53. That’s 27.4% to 21.7%.

Note that, in compiling these counts, I used a fairly broad definition of what constitutes two men having wrestled each other, so I logged the wrestlers as having opposed each other even if they just competed in the same battle royale. However, because Casey’s question asked who “faced” more Hall of Famers, I didn’t include wrestlers who tagged with Hogan or Jericho if they never wrestled against each other. They had to be opponents in some respect.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers could still change, since Jericho remains an active wrestler and is still having matches against Hall of Famers for the first time. He had never wrestled Sting until just about a month ago, for example.

In case you’re curious, the Hall of Famers who Hulk Hogan has wrestled that Chris Jericho has not are: Abdullah the Butcher, Perro Aguayo, Andre the Giant, Nick Bockwinkel, Bobo Brazil, Jack Brisco, Riki Choshu, Ted DiBiase, Tatsumi Fujinami, Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk, Billy Graham, Stan Hansen, Bobby Heenan, Antonio Inoki, Akira Maeda, Pat Patterson, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Road Warrior Hawk, Road Warrior Animal, Billy Robinson, Ray Stevens, Maurice Vachon, Vader, Edouard Carpentier, Keiji Mutoh, Wahoo McDaniel, Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy, Stan Lane, Masa Saito, Chris Jericho, Kensuke Sasaki, Pedro Morales, and Jerry Jarrett

And here’s the opposite list, the guys who wrestled Jericho but avoided Hogan: Negro Casas, Hulk Hogan, Atsushi Onita, Ricky Steamboat, Dos Caras, Jushin Liger, Mick Foley, El Satanico, John Cena, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Robert Gibson, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bryan Danielson, Dr. Wagner Jr., Gedo, El Signo, El Texano, Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Mistico, and Tetsuya Naito

And finally, the HOFers who faced both Hollywood and Le Champion: El Canek, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Jerry Lawler, Mil Mascaras, Vince McMahon, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Genichiro Tenryu, Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Bob Backlund, Masahiro Chono, Ultimo Dragon, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Eddie Guerrero, The Rock, Konnan, Bobby Eaton, Rey Misterio Jr., Ricky Morton, Brock Lesnar, Sting, AJ Styles, LA Park, Yuji Nagata, Villano IV, and Villano V.

And now to close the column here is, for no particular reason other than I like it, a video of Arn Anderson set to “Natural Born Killaz”:

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.