wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Is This Really Ric Flair’s Last Match?

June 12, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Ric Flair NWA 73, Gerald Brisco Image Credit: NWA/Twitter

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.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

Hey, ya want a banner?

I’ve been told I should promote my Twitter account more. So, go follow me on Twitter.

Tyler from Winnipeg can’t help that he’s custom made:

Is this really Ric Flair’s last match. I’d venture to guess WWE or AEW would be in a position to really make a monumental pitch to showcase a real send off.

I hate to sound crass, but I am fairly confident that we won’t know what Ric Flair’s last match is until Ric Flair is dead and buried.

I don’t think it has anything to do with WWE or AEW, though. At least as things currently stand, WWE’s policy is to be very protective of its legends and not let them do too much in terms of getting physical, which is a big part of why they’ve not hosted a Flair match since his Wrestlemania retirement bout with Shawn Michaels and why we haven’t seen Jerry Lawler wrestling on Raw occasionally despite the fact that he still does it on the indies. Granted, at some point they could get desperate enough that they reverse course, but to risk the liability of having a living legend die in the ring, they would have to be pretty damn desperate.

On the AEW side of things, there were rumors of the Nature Boy becoming #AllElite when his last contract with WWE lapsed, but nothing ever came of it, despite his now-son-in-law being a contracted performer. (And I’m not talking about Conrad.) However, nothing ever came of it, so the odds of that changing now seem low.

Even though I don’t see Slick Ric popping up in the big leagues again, there will always be an independent promotion that wants to cash in on his name, and with people like Dory Funk Jr. finding ways to wrestle at age 77 or Mae Young managing to have her last “match” in her 80s, there will be plenty of opportunities for Flair to get back in the squared circle after July 31, 2022.

Matt has a question that is perfect for Pride Month:

With genderfluidity becoming more of a thing, how do you see this playing out in professional wrestling?

In independent promotions, there has already been quite a bit of breakdown of the traditional separation of men and women in professional wrestling, with intergender matches becoming the norm in some companies. We’ve even seen some of that bleed through into (barely) televised promotions like TNA, with Jordynne Grace and Tessa Blanchard in particular going up against the guys.

In that environment, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what will happen when genderfluidity and genderqueer performers become more common in professional wrestling. If those who identify with traditional gender roles are already facing each other on the regular, then it’s no stretch to also incorporate those who fall outside the binary into the mix. We saw this in the dying days of CHIKARA, as that company featured a wrestler who then identified as nonbinary named Still Life with Apricots and Pears. Still Life wrestled men and wrestled women, and it didn’t really matter because, in CHIKARA at the time, men were wrestling women and women were wrestling men.

(For what it’s worth, post-CHIKARA, Still Life underwent a ring name change to Edith Surreal and revealed she was a trans woman.)

Of course, in larger promotions, physical confrontations between men and women are anything but the norm and in some companies are expressly forbidden. What, then, about nonbinary individuals when they make their way onto those rosters?

I think that we’ve already seen the beginnings of the answer to that question, as there has recently been a nonbinary wrestler in a promotion of some significance. That person is Max the Impaler, who was part of the Ring of Honor roster in the few months before the company’s hiatus and purchase by Tony Khan. Specifically, Max competed in the promotion’s women’s division and was part of their tournament to crown a new ROH Women’s Champion.

Yes, Max is nonbinary, but they competed in the Women’s Title tournament. I think that is what you will see in the future when nonbinary wrestlers appear in companies with men’s and women’s divisions. The nonbinary competitor will just participate in whatever division they are comfortable competing in. Sometimes, that might be related to the gender that the wrestler was assigned at birth, and sometimes it may not.

Two out of three doctors recommend Bryan over the leading brand:

When Goldberg made his debut, everyone called him a Stone Cold ripoff, but was that avoidable? He can’t help being bald, but do you think, no facial hair, or just a mustache and any color trunks besides black would have prevented those comparisons? His style was a lot more mat based than Austin and he didn’t even talk at first. If they made those slight tweaks would that give him more credibility as an original concept?

Yes, I remember the criticism of Goldberg being an Austin clone. However, those people had no idea what they were talking about, because, even though there were some passing physical similarities, the characters were, as you point out, completely different.

That being said, could some cosmetic changes have avoided that line of criticism?

I’m sure it could have.

However, to quote the Rock, IT DOESN’T MATTER. Regardless of the individuals who felt that he was WCW’s shot at creating their own Steve Austin and derided the company for it, Goldberg still became one of the biggest stars in wrestling at the time, to the point that WWE is still using him to credibly headline shows 25 years later. He made WCW money hand over first, and he was successful enough that, if I were in WCW management, I would not care about a handful of dweebs on the internet saying that he looked too much like another wrestler.

Jon is the granddaddy of them all:

Assuming there are no surprise returns (Dwayne), what’s the best main event WWE can put on for next year’s Mania? Male and female.

Assuming there are no surprise returns, next year’s Mania will be a pretty big letdown, because the company doesn’t do too a good job of building stars anymore and most of the matches between their top regulars are played out. That’s why you almost need outsiders in order to make Wresltemania halfway interesting these days.

That being said, if you keep these two wrestlers apart and don’t bungle either of their pushes, the biggest current match that I can see on the men’s side is Roman Reigns defending the WWE Championship against Cody Rhodes. Historically, I’ve not been a big Cody fan, but I have to admit that I’ve been surprised by how hot he has been since debuting with the company. I would keep him undefeated between now and WM, perhaps even winning the Royal Rumble, and see what he could do against the Head of the Table.

On the female side of the roster, the biggest match is a no brainer. It’s Ronda Rousey versus Becky Lynch one-on-one. There’s plenty of history coming out of their three-way main event in 2019, and they have never had a singles encounter. I can’t imagine them doing anything else, and I can’t imagine the fans caring more about anything else.

Brad is looking back on the good old days:

I recently rewatched Bound For Glory 2012 because it was a show I attended, and noticed how many former or future WWE champions performed. In this case there were five: RVD, Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, Hulk Hogan (got physically involved), and Jeff Hardy. That made me come up with an admittedly silly question: What non-WWE PPV holds the record for most former or future WWE champions on the show? Logically, it seems like a WCW PPV from the late 90’s would win.

As we often have to do, let’s first set some criteria for answering this question. For purposes of my answer, I’m considering the traditional WWE Championship, the WWE version of the World Heavyweight Championship that existed from 2002 until 2013, and the current WWE Universal Championship to all be the same thing, because they are functionally, even if not technically.

Also, because it would take a maddeningly long time to answer this question if I were including any wrestler who appeared on a show in any capacity, I’m restricting this solely to wrestlers who were in official matches on the card.

With that being said, Brad’s instinct about the show with the most past or future WWE champions on it was correct. The show in fact comes from WCW in the 1990s. However, what Brad didn’t predict is that there are actually seven PPVs that are tied for the honor. All of them feature a whopping nine wrestlers who, previously or subsequently, held a main championship “up north” as WCW personalities were fond of putting it.

Here’s the rundown of those shows and the WWE titleholders they featured.

WCW Fall Brawl 1996: Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio Jr., Booker T., Big Show/The Giant, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Ric Flair

WCW Road Wild 1997: Booker T., Rey Misterio Jr., Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair, Big Show/The Giant, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan

WCW/nWo Souled Out 1998: Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio Jr., Booker T., Kevin Nash, Big Show/The Giant, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, and Randy Savage

WCW Uncensored 1998: Booker T., Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Big Show/The Giant, Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, and Randy Savage

WCW Great American Bash 1998: Booker T., Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Bill Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Randy Savage, and Big Show/The Giant

WCW World War 3 1998: Chris Jericho, Kevin Nash, Chris Benoit, Big Show/The Giant, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Rey Misterio Jr., Booker T., and Bret Hart

WCW Road Wild 1999: Rey Misterio Jr., Eddie Guerrero, Booker T., Chris Benoit, Sid Vicious, Bill Goldberg, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Kevin Nash

It will be interesting to see whether there is a promotion that ever breaks this record. For what it’s worth, All Elite Wrestling has come close with one of its PPVs. That show is the very recent (as of the time of this writing) Double or Nothing, which featured six men who had a big belt in McMahonLand. Those individuals were Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, and CM Punk. Given that there were probably a couple of future WWE Champions on that card, it’s possible that, one day, Double or Nothing 2022 will break the record we’ve been discussing up to this point.

Night Wolf the Wise is taking us to perhaps the most well-trodden Ask 411 subject since the Invasion. Yes, I’m talking about the WWE Hall of Fame:

1. We’ve all had debates about WWE’s Hall of Fame. We have debated about who really should be in the Hall of Fame when they announce it. People have argued that certain wrestlers shouldn’t be in there because they haven’t had great careers and what not. But there is thing I’m curious about. Is it true that Vince McMahon Sr.’s limo driver is in the WWE Hall of Fame? And if that story is true, what is the reason behind it?

Yes, Vince McMahon Sr.’s limo driver is in the WWE Hall of Fame, though there’s a bit more to the story than that.

The man we are talking about is James Dudley, an he was inducted into the HOF in 1994, which was the first full class of inductees after Andre the Giant was put into the Hall solo when it was first established in 1993. Back in the 90s, there were no public ceremonies tied to major wrestling events, just small affairs in hotel banquet rooms with no fans allowed that were turned into video packages that would take up a couple of minutes on WWF programming.

That’s why a lot of more modern fans don’t say much about Dudley’s inclusion in the Hall and instead hold up Koko Ware as the supposed prime example of somebody who maybe ought not to have gotten the nod. They just don’t know who Dudley is.

It is true that Dudley was a chauffeur for the McMahon family, but that’s not the entire sory. Most of that story was recorded in an article about the man that ran in the February 22, 2002 edition of Washington, D.C.’s City Paper, which was written as a result of Dudley having a cameo on an episode of WWF Smackdown earlier that month. That article and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter serve as the primary sources for this answer.

As noted, Dudley was definitely a chauffeur. After a career playing professional baseball in the Negro Leagues, Dudley went to work behind the scenes for McMahon . . . but not either one of the Vince McMahons. He went to work for Jess McMahon, who was the father of Vincent J. McMahon and the grandfather of Vincent K. McMahon. Details are sketchy on what exactly Dudley did for Jess McMahon (because we’re talking about the early 1950s), but he was a respected enough employee that he was later brought on by Jess’s son, Vincent James McMahon. Dudley had a variety of roles for the elder Vince, including driving.

However, he would also work in the box office of Turner’s Arena in Washington, D.C., which in many ways was the epicenter of McMahon Sr.’s wrestling promotion, as it was where the company’s regional television program was taped for broadcast throughout the northeast. Though he began selling tickets at the arena, eventually James was given more and more responsibility to the point that he was actually promoting the venue’s cards. This did give him a fairly significant distinction in professional wrestling history, as, near as anybody can tell, he would have been the first Black man to promote an arena wrestling show.

It’s also worth noting that, when Dudley was inducted into the WWF HOF, it was claimed that he was a prominent manager in the company. That’s technically accurate, because he did manage on some cards and was most likely the first Black person to manage in Capitol Sports/WWWF/WWF/WWE, accompanying Black babyfaces like Bobo Braizl. By all historical records, though, his time as a manager was short-lived to the point that almost nobody remembered it until they conducted research to determine whether the claims made at the Hall of Fame ceremony were accurate. Though he did manage somewhat, really he was not a hall of fame level manager. He was a guy who got into the Hall because he was an incredibly loyal solider working behind the scenes for the McMahon family during a foundational period for what is now WWE.

In fact, he was such a loyal employee that, when Vince Sr. transitioned control of the promotion to Vince Jr., Dudley was on the short list of folks that the father told his son he should make sure were always taken care of, alongside names like Freddie Blassie, Lou Albano, and the Fabulous Moolah. After Vince Jr. became the head honcho, James Dudley was put back on the WWF payroll even though he was no longer actively working for the company.

James Dudley passed away in 2004 at the age of 94.

2. And if that story is true, is he the reason why WWE will induct anyone into the Hall of Fame as the stories say?

Given that he was inducted with the first full class, he was certainly the starting point for that criticism. Even the people who don’t necessarily have a problem with James Dudley being in the Hall of Fame in the abstract still think that it’s ridiculous that any legitimate WWF HOF would include him before names like Antonino Rocca and Bruno Sammartino, who were significantly more important to the promotion but were still beaten into the Hall by the former driver.

However, over the years, the Fed has done plenty to show that they will still induct whoever suits them, regardless of whether that person would belong in a legitimate wrestling hall of fame. Even putting aside the celebrity wing, you’ve got guys in there like Johnny Rodz, Mikel Scicluna, and Arnold Skaaland, all of whom were mostly just prelim wrestlers on a level even lower than Koko B. Ware when he was in the WWF in the 1980s and 1990s. (Though Skaaland was a least a manger of two WWWF Champions and a long-time backstage employee, even if his in-ring career wasn’t spectacular.) Also, Mike and Chris Von Erich were inexplicably included as part of the Von Erich family group induction, despite the fact that they had brief, nepotism-fueled careers that were frankly just sad to watch.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. 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.