wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Who Is Ric Flair’s Most Underrated Rival?

December 18, 2023 | 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.

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Michael is drinking liquefied mushrooms:

It seems when people talk about Ric Flair’s greatest rivalries, the same names come up (and for good reason): Steamboat, Rhodes, Savage, etc. But who do who think his most underrated rival was? Mine is Kerry Von Erich. They had heated matches (primarily in Texas) for years that I think have been generally forgotten outside of Kerry’s title win.

I’m going to go with Vader.

They didn’t have a ton of matches but, when they did, they were pretty darn awesome.

I think that these bouts are largely forgotten because most fans consider Ric Flair’s best work to be what he did as a heel (and I don’t disagree), but the fact of the matter is that he’s been an excellent babyface at points as well, and his fighting from underneath against Vader at Starrcade 1993 is a master class and how to sell and believably make a comeback against a monster heel.

Jon Eff Dubya Two is going to get me yelled at in the comment section:

If Seth F. Rollins vs. CM Punk goes last on Saturday, would you argue that Punk main evented WrestleMania?

It depends.

The “main event” on a show is the match that is the focal point of the card. It’s the match that receives the greatest level of hype and that the promoters are counting on to draw the house more than anything else they have booked.

If Seth Rollins vs. CM Punk is that match on Wrestlemania, then it’s the main event. If some other match is promoted as the biggest deal on the show, then that match is the main event and Rollins/Punk is not.

Placement on the card has nothing to do with it. It is true that a main event usually goes on last but, throughout the history of wrestling, there have been main events that have occurred in every position on the card, whether it’s a world title match going on in the middle of a territory-era house show so that the champion can get on the road to his next shot, whether it’s a bout with a controversial finish occurring early in the card to encourage fans to buy tickets to the rematch before they leave the building, or whether it’s Hulk Hogan’s match going second or third on Saturday Night’s Main Event so kids can see him before they get put to bed.

So, I can’t really answer the question. I would need to know more about the rest of the card to determine whether Rollins/Punk is the main event.

Sim‘s t-shirts are too tight too, Billy:

About the Botchamania intro (the classic Smackdown one), some clips in it I don’t understand why they’re considered as botches (and therefore are part of in the intro), for example the “here comes mango” line, or Taker choking Shawn (i know it used to be part of the “you talk too much” segment, but that’s no botch is it?)

Is it possible to provide more context on them? Or at least for the most obscure of them?

Here’s the intro:

Not everything in the intro is a botch.

For example, the first shot in the intro is Steve Ray just standing there and making a goofy face. That’s not a botch, that’s just a guy making a face. There’s also a shot of Sid Vicious jumping on a flattened car as part of a WCW angle. That’s not a botch, it’s just a memorably stupid angle. Finally, there’s a clip of an Oompa Loompa from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That’s not a botch – it’s a reference to how the Botchamania series sets up clips involving Tazz.

Thus, I really do think that the Undertaker/HBK chokehold is there just because it was used to set up the “you talk too much” segment. There’s nothing more too it than that.

On the other bit you asked about, it’s not “here comes mango.” It’s “here comes Mongo,” a line from the classic Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles, in which one of the main heels is named Mongo. In the intro, it’s played over the top of a clip of Steve “Mongo” McMichael entering the arena on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro, basically tying the pro wrestler to the similarly-named movie character.

Due to company policy, I’m from this point forward replacing all references to Tyler from Winnipeg with references to Stevie Richards:

As far as triple threats go, was HHH vs HBK vs Benoit the best?

This is a somewhat difficult question for me to answer, because I really don’t care for triple threats that much. If you give me a choice between a three-way and any two of the three wrestlers in that three-way having a one-on-one encounter, I am almost always going to choose the one-on-one encounter.

That being said, the Wrestlemania XX World Title match probably is among the top three-way matches of all time. Some other people would probably make an argument for Christopher Daniels vs. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe from TNA’s 2005 Unbreakable pay per view or even the original TLC matches between the Hardys, the Dudleys, and E&C.

However, when you’re talking about this caliber of match, choosing between them is more a matter of personal preference than it is anything else.

Did Steve ask you this, perchance? Steve:

For the first, say, 20-25 Wrestlemanias, which ones have the most wrestlers still alive, and which one has the most deceased? Your choice to include announcers and managers, if you want.

First off, let’s set some rules. I decided to use the first twenty Wrestlemanias for reasons that should probably be obvious – Manias 21 through 24 are still fairly recently in the grand scheme of things and thus produce a series of similar results. I also decided to leave off announcers and managers and just focus on in-ring performers, mainly for the sake of simplicity.

Jumping into the data, I think it should first be noted that there can actually be pretty significant variance in the number of wrestlers who are on Wrestlemania each year. Thus, though I have answered Steve’s question about the sheer number of dead and living wrestlers who are on each Mania, I am also going to provide information abut the percentages of performers on each show who are still with us and who are no longer.

Since I had to gather the information in order to calculate the percentages, let’s start with just taking a look at the number of wrestlers who have been on each WM.

Four shows are tied for the top spot here, as Wrestlemanias 4, 14, 17, and 20, which each saw 48 competitors lace up the boots. It’s not surprising to see three later Manias sharing this distinction, because post-Attitude Era shows seem to exhibit more of a “get everybody on the card” mentality. Wrestlemania 4 sticks out as a bit of a sore thumb, but a big battle royale to open the show plus a one-night tournament to crown a new WWF Champion bump it up the list.

Wrestlemanias 2 and 16 are next, with 46 and 45 wrestlers, respectively. Again, a battle royale gooses the numbers for WM2, while WM16 is helped up the list by a large number of three-and-four-way bouts.

After that, it’s Mania 5 with 39 wrestlers, Mania 3 with 38, Manias 6 and 7 with 36 each, Mania 18 with 32, Mania 13 with 26, Manias 8 and 15 with 25 each, Mania 19 with 24, and Mania 1 with 22.

Then we get into the lean years, namely Manias 9, 10, 11, and 12. These shows occurred during a strong financial downturn for the company where costs were cut left and right, including talent costs. This resulted in the four shows featuring only 20, 19, 18, and 16 wrestlers, respectively. Imagine a Wrestlemania in the 2020s with only 16 wrestlers on the card. Online fans would be livid about their favorites getting left off the show.

Moving on to who’s alive and who’s dead, it’s not surprising that, of the first twenty Manias, Wrestlemania 20 is the one that features the most currently living competitors, with 45 of its 48 wrestlers still being around. Mania 14 is next with 42 living wrestlers, followed by Mania 17 with 39 and Mania 16 with 38.

After that, there’s a bit of a drop, as Mania 18 sees 31 of its participants still walking this earth, while Mania 4 has 30, Mania 5 has 25, Manias 15 and 19 are tied with 22, and then it’s a three-way tie between Manias 2, 7, and 8 with 21 each.

There are still 20 surviving wrestlers from Mania 3, while Manias 6 and 13 each have 19 guys still out there. Mania 9 is doing a bit less well with 14, while Mania 1 and 10 each have 11 and Mania 12 is at the bottom of the list with only 10 of its wrestlers living on to this day.

However, like I said, because of the variance in the number of wrestlers on each card, it is really percentages that tell the story here.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the three most recent Wrestlemanias that we’re looking at have the highest survival rates, with WM18 having 96.9% of its wrestlers living today, WM20 with 93.8%, and WM19 with 91.7%. The next three are also relatively recent shows, namely WM15 with 88%, WM14 with 87.5%, and WM16 with 84.4%.

Interestingly, WM8 is a bit of an outlier, as it’s the first ten shows but still has 84% of its roster surviving. It’s followed by WM17 with 81.3%, WM13 with 73%, and WM9 with 70%.

Dropping into the sixties, WM11’s survival rate is 66.7%, WM5 is 64.1%, and WM4 and WM12 are both 62.5%. They’re still doing better than WM7, which is at 58.3%, while WM10 is at 57.9%, WM6 is at 52.8%, and WM3 is just slightly worse with 52.6%.

Then, we get into some grim numbers. If you want to know whether a wrestler who appeared on the first Wrestlemania is still alive, you may as well flip a coin, because its survival rate is an even 50%. However, that’s still better than Wrestlemania II. That show has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Wrestlemania that features more deceased wrestlers than living wrestlers, as its survival rate is only 47.5%.

And now we get to the figures related to dead wrestlers, which his not just a song by Bis.

As you might expect from the low survival rate, WM2 features the highest raw number of dead wrestlers, that being 25. The next highest contender, WM3, has 18, as does WM4. WM6 checks in next at 17, then it’s WM7 at 15, WM5 at 14, and WM1 at 11.

Dropping down into single digits, there are 9 dead guys on WM17, 8 on WM10, 7 each on WM13 and WM 16, and 6 each on WM11, WM12 and WM14.

WM8 has 4, WM15 and 20 each have 3, and WM19 has 2.

The real winner in this category, though, is Wrestlemania 18, which has the distinction of there being one and only one deceased grappler on the entire card. That man is Scott Hall. Though Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero add the body count for Wrestlemanias that occurred close in time to 18, it just so happens that, at the time of WM18, Benoit was injured and Guerrero was in between runs with the company, having been fired in 2001 to return later in 2002.

In terms of percentages of dead wrestlers, you could figure these out on your own by looking at the percentages of live wrestlers and doing a bit of simple math, so we’ll just run them down really quickly. The percentages of dead wrestlers, in order, are: WM2 (54.3%), WM1 (50%), WM3 (47.4%), WM6 (47.2%), WM10 (42.1%), WM7 (41.7%), WM4 (37.5%), WM12 (37.5%), WM5 (35.9%), WM11 (33.3%), WM9 (30%), WM13 (27%), WM17 (18.7%), WM8 (16%), WM16 (15.6%), WM14 (12.5%), WM15 (12%), WM19 (8.3%), WM20 (6.2%), and WM18 (3.1%).

I hope everybody likes reading endless lists of numbers!

Wrestling Fan Since 1977 is landing in the 1980s:

Were there any plan to move Pistol Pez Whatley up the card after his heel turn?

For those who may not know the story, in the mid-1980s in the mid-Atlantic territory, Pez Whatley and Jimmy Valiant were a regular tag team, though Pistol Pez turned on his partner when Valiant referred to him as the “greatest Black wrestler” in the business as opposed to simply referring to him as the greatest wrestler in the business. The two had a fairly memorable feud for the era, but, no, I never heard of that as being a jumping off point for any greater plans for Whatley. I think it was just something done to have an engaging upper-mid-card feud.

Uzoma has a surprisingly deep voice:

Based on how poor the beatdown Kaval got was, was it clear that he was not planned to win NXT Season 2? Furthermore, who did WWE (or, more specifically, Vince McMahon) wanted to win said season?

The underlying assumption on this question is incorrect.

As a refresher, when Kaval (also known as Low Ki) won the second season of NXT in August 2010, there was an angle in which all the other cast members of the show beat him down immediately afterwards. The brawl was incredibly sloppy and looked fake, which I suspect is why Uzoma thinks that it was not planned.

However, according to the September 13, 2010 Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the brawl was planned all along, but it was poorly executed because the show was running short and thus the fracases had to run longer than everybody thought it would. Because the majority of the participants were inexperienced, they had difficulty getting it to work out. In fact, at one point, they had the NXT pros intervene in the fight – which was not originally planned – in order to help give the rookies guidance on what to do next.

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.