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FROM THE DARK SIDE
Ten Years Ago Is a Really Long Time

So, I'm sitting around last weekend, trying to decide about what this column will be written. Griping about WWF booking? Tired of it. Extolling the virtues of Lucha Libre or Puroresu? Nothing new to say at the moment. This is when those of us in the journalism business go to "the evergreen folder" - for ideas that are worth discussing, but aren't germane to anything contemporary.

When I moved into my new apartment a few months ago, one of the things I did was finally organize my big box of Observers. Let me tell you - ten years' worth of newsletters is a lot of paper and staples. That's more or less 500 issues of a publication that doesn't look that thick until you stack up that many of them.

One of the good things about having them all in one place means it's much easier to do research for this space or other projects I may be writing. Another is that when you have nothing better to read on a slow TV night or need "sit-down reading," grabbing a sheet from 3 or 4 years ago is a great hoot. It's really fun to see how the industry has evolved over time, for better or worse.

All of which brings us to today. Or rather, brings us to 10 years ago, today. Not today, literally, but 10 years ago at roughly this point in the year, when the world of the wrestling fan turned upside down.

Ric Flair shows up the WWF.

If you were, like I was at the time, a hardcore NWA fan that vehemently despised the cartoony WWF product. Don't forget - Summerslam 91 was the official end of the Hogan/Sgt. Slaughter Gulf War-related feud that may have turned more people in the mainstream against Vince McMahon than the XFL. (It was also the on-screen wedding of Randy Savage and Elizabeth, but I digress # 1.)

It was one thing when Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard had jumped to the WWF three years earlier. Yes, they were one-half of the Four Horsemen, but they weren't the standard bearers. They weren't "The Man." Plus, and this actually is an important suspension of disbelief point, they left the NWA after doing a job and losing the World Tag Team belts to the Midnight Express. (A match I should have gone to, but didn't feel like making the drive, a decision that haunts me to this day, but I digress # 2.)

No, Flair, locked in a contract struggle with empty suit Jim Herd. The next thing you know, Tony Schiavone comes on NWA World Wide (the functional equivalent of WWF Superstars) and announces Flair has been stripped of the title. His upcoming PPV match against Flex Luger will now be a match for the held-up title between Luger and Barry Windham (who was still a good worker). And what followed two weeks later was the infamous 1991 Bash, AKA the "We Want Flair" show, where the crowd in Baltimore chanted for the Nature Boy for 2 hours, while sitting through some truly hideous wrestling matches. Us NWA fans were mournful. But it would get worse. Flair was going to the enemy. It's like Eisenhower teaming up with the Desert Fox. Then there was the long tease. Bobby Heenan started showing up on WWF TV with the ten pounds of gold, at one point saying comparing it (and it's title holder who couldn't be mentioned by name yet) to the WWF title and Hogan was like comparing ice cream to horse manure.

And then, after Summer Slam, in September of 1991, the Man showed up in all his glory. How important did Vince make this arrival? He took a bump in the first time in anyone's memory. Roddy Piper, looking to attack Flair, swung a chair and missed the Nature Boy, but hit Vince. Vince even did a stretcher job. You knew this was a big deal.

In hindsight, this may have been Flair's peak with the company. Yes, he won the WWF title in the Royal Rumble (Be Fair to Flair). Yes, he had great matches with Hart and Randy Savage (with the great feud over whether or not Flair had "had" Elizabeth before she married Savage). But Flair got basically squashed in his aborted feud with Hogan, as we all knew he would, since Vince would not put the NWA champ over, even for an instant. (The more things change, .)

Ironically, ten years later, the longtime fan is now clamoring for Flair's return to the WWF. Some want Flair to go out the right way, with a bang, not a whimper. Some just want him back on TV because they miss him. Only those new to the sport don't want to see the old crazy man who disrobes on TV at the drop of a hat. Fortunately, those of us who worship at the shrine of the Nature Boy have reason to hope, since an interview done recently with David Flair hints that his father has more matches left in him.

And for your amusement, here are some of other tidbits from the late summer of 1991:

  • At Summerslam, the Road Warriors became the first (and only) team to win the AWA, NWA and WWF tag team titles.
  • For you Lucha fans, AAA did not even exist yet.
  • Meltzer says the biggest story in Japan is the possible retirement of Riki Choshu. It was years and years later when Choshu "retired" and that was only for a few months at best.
  • Ken Shamrock was still called Wayne Shamrock.
  • Global was still around and still on ESPN.
  • There were rumors that Jim Herd's Hunchbacks gimmick/idea would debut at Havoc.
  • Bill Watts did a sheet interview saying how he could turn around WCW.
  • Yoshihiro Asai had not become Ultimo Dragon yet.
  • The leading candidate for Rookie of the Year was the Lightning Kid (Sean Waltman).
  • Debuting in WCW were Firebreaker Chip and The Patriot Todd Champion. One of my favorite memories from the era was Meltzer dubbing Todd Champion "CF" where the C stood for Clumsy and you can guess what the F stood for.
  • Scott Hall was still the Diamond Stud and Kevin Nash was still Oz
  • Jesse Ventura debuted as an announcer on the game show "Grudge Match" (remember that one?)
  • Mick Foley became the first wrestler to appear on the Howard Stern show
  • Curt Hennig went from being managed by The Coach (John Tolos) to the Genius (Lanny Poffo)
  • DDP was still just a manager
  • Van Hammer was scheduled to debut at the next Clash of Champions

    And lastly, the WWF shot one of those sadly unforgettable angles. To help re ady him mentally for feuding with the Undertaker, The Warrior goes to Jake Roberts for help. The Snake responds by locking him a room full of snakes and, of course, Jake turns heel and the Warrior gets bitten. This again leads to Roberts to giving his infamous "this is what happens when you trust a snake" speech.

    History can be a funny thing sometimes.

    Mark Coale
    Odessa Steps Magazine

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