Ric Flair

Ric Flair

By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 4, 2002

It was less than five years ago when Vince McMahon declared that Eric Bischoff would never know how to properly use Bret Hart. McMahon, of course, was right. Neither Bischoff nor his supporting cast of bumbling WCW administrators could come up with a plan that capitalized on Hart’s now infamous split with the World Wrestling Federation.

Now, nearly five years later, it appears that the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. Despite a promising start, Vince McMahon has squandered opportunity after opportunity with Ric Flair, whose re-emergence in the WWF (now WWE) last November was heralded as a strategic move that would help right the company’s foundering ship.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]But ever since Flair subdued McMahon with his figure four leglock in a bloodbath at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in January, the Nature Boy’s career path has been steadily heading downhill. An ill-conceived heel turn as the overdone “evil owner” of Raw only served to cast the 53-year-old Flair in the role of perennial loser, effectively defeating the purpose of the angle. And just when it looked like Flair’s heel character might be given a boost by a high-profile program with Steve Austin, the Texas Rattlesnake jumped ship and Flair was inexplicably turned back babyface in one night. To make matters worse, McMahon inserted himself in a main event on Raw with Flair to determine control of the company. Flair found himself on the losing end yet again, but this time leaving him without any storyline.

Flair had vowed that he had one more glorious run left, and with that declaration he was promptly fed to Hulk Hogan and Brock Lesnar. Flair’s “glorious run” produced only a single victory on Raw, and that came against little-used undercard performer Stevie Richards.

The latest botched opportunity was Monday night on Raw from Greensboro, N.C., smack dab in Ric Flair country, when Flair was hastily matched against The Rock in the show’s main event.

A promo that ate up far too much time featuring the Hollywood-bound Rock making crude jokes about announcer Jonathan Coachman followed by an in-ring interview and backstage segment involving Triple H combined to help cut a healthy eight minutes out of a potentially epic showdown that should have meant more than an afterthought announced the day of the show.

It would have been a dream match four years ago had Flair followed through on threats to leave WCW after a highly public out-of-ring feud with then-WCW president Eric Bischoff. But even today it should have been promoted as something special. The Rock has said on numerous occasions that Flair was his idol growing up and that he even patterned his style after the Nature Boy. The past history between Flair and Rock’s dad, Rocky Johnson, could have given the match added flavor.

Flair vs. The Rocky had huge potential. It was the first-ever meeting between the two. Rock said he had been waiting his entire life for this match.

So had a lot of fans. As it turned out, though, Flair wasn’t even given interview time Monday night.

The lack of buildup for a match that should have meant something special is one of the reasons the WWE finds itself in its present situation. It’s exactly this type of booking and short-term planning that has sent the product into a downward spiral.

The seven-minute, non-title match, as most would have predicted, went to The Rock. Flair received his normal pop, now out of respect more than anything else, from his North Carolina audience – at least the ones who still come to the shows.

While it was a nice gesture for The Rock to get his match with Ric Flair, the encounter did little to heal the wounds that Bischoff inflicted on the heart of Flair country during the final few years of WCW’s existence. Bischoff could have made money with Flair, but instead he seemingly went out of his way at every turn to make Flair and his friends look bad in their home territory.

Vince McMahon could have made great strides in this part of the country and healed some old wounds last week.

Perhaps, though, he realized that many of those fans quit watching a long time ago.

- Raw’s rating dropped from a 4.3 the previous week to 3.7 for last Monday night’s show. Numbers for last week’s Smackdown were equally as disappointing (3.1) despite a strong show.

- Reports that Bret Hart, who suffered a stroke a month ago, was stricken for a second time were unfounded.

The rumor circulated around the WWE locker room at Raw tapings on Monday night, and a number of performers signed a get-well card for Hart.

Hart, 45, suffered a stroke in late June while cycling on a bike path along the Bow River in Calgary. The former WWF and WWE heavyweight champion developed a blood clot in his brain seconds before or after he fell off his mountain bike. Hart, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, landed on his head but was able to call for help on his cell phone despite having lost feeling on his left side.

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- She may have never taken a bump, but she was one of the most talked-about characters from the Carolinas to Tennessee to Oklahoma. Thelma “Sis” Cornette, known to many wrestling fans during the ‘80s as “Mama Cornette,” passed away on July 27 at the age of 68 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Mrs. Cornette, mother of longtime wrestling manager and promoter Jim Cornette, helped nurture her son’s passion for the business by driving him to area matches when he was a youngster living in the Louisville area, and later taking him to all of his bookings the first three years of his career, which he officially started at the age of 13 as a wrestling photographer. She will be fondly remembered by many longtime fans as “Mama” Cornette, the ultra-wealthy mother of the spoiled and pampered Midnight Express manager James E. Cornette, who used his “Louisville Slugger” tennis racket as a weapon and bragged about how he could buy anyone in the wrestling business with his mama’s money. (It was all storyline, of course, but Jim was an only child and I’m sure he’d admit he was pampered).

In memory of Mrs. Cornette, there was no Ohio Valley Wrestling show July 31 at Davis Area in Louisville. Jim Cornette had taken a leave of absence to be with his mother in the days preceding her passing.

- The NWA-TNA, run by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett, last week filed a lawsuit against former TNA consultant Jay Hassman, BTP Consulting, Hassman associate Len Sabal and K-4 LLC. Hassman recently was fired after the Jarretts discovered that he worked for Team Services, which also markets WWE events.

According to the official NWA-TNA press release: “The complaint alleges that Hassman failed to disclose his affiliation with Team Services, a company which markets the competing World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) pay-per-view programming. The suit further contends that Hassman conspired to defraud JSE by providing false information about the extent of the NWA-TNA pay-per-view programs, the availability of the NWA-TNA pay-per-view programs, and about the actual number of pay-per-view buys for NWA-TNA.”

Thirty-nine million homes have access to NWA-TNA through pay-per-view, according to the Jarretts, who claim Hassman assured them that the availability would be 50 million homes.

- The WWF announced last week that it has established WWE Films to focus its efforts on expanding its role within the film and television industries and has appointed Joel Simon to be the new division’s president. Simon, a well-known producer of feature film and television, will be based in WWE’s new Los Angeles office.

“We’re very excited to open WWE Films in Los Angeles. This new division will focus on developing movie and television projects,” said WWE CEO Linda McMahon. “In Joel Simon, we have someone with the tenure and expertise to make this new venture a success. WWE Films will create and produce new and exciting material that will appeal not only to our loyal fans but to a larger public as well.”

Simon is the former president of Quincy Jones Media Group.

- Kane (Glen Jacobs) has been released from doctor’s care after his torn bicep and should be back in the ring soon.

- Bobby Heenan blasted former WCW co-announcer Tony Schiavone during a recent radio interview.

Heenan called Schiavone “a pig” and said Schiavone “knew the end was coming but wouldn’t tell anybody and wouldn’t even talk to me” in reference to the final days of the company.

Heenan also downplayed Schiavone’s baseball announcing skills, saying that anybody can call a “fast ball at 30 miles an hour in the minor leagues.”

- Lance Storm will achieve a lifelong goal when he gets the opportunity to square off against Ric Flair in the main event of a Raw house show tonight in Pittsburgh. Storm will team with Christian to defend their WWF tag-team belts against Flair and The Undertaker in the main event.

“That is going to be so much fun for me,” Storm wrote on his Web site. “I thought I had the day off but when I found out I’d be wrestling these two guys I was glad I had to work. We throw the title ‘superstar’ around a little too often in our business, but these two guys are legitimately that. Taker and Flair, it doesn’t get much bigger than that. Maybe Hogan and Rock, but hey that was last week. What can I say it’s been a good month.”

- Jim Ross reported that Chris Kanyon (Chris Klucsaritis) is improving daily and resting comfortably at home, but lost at least 25 pounds while sick and in intensive care. Ross expects him to make a full recovery and return to the ring eventually.

Kanyon, who recently came off the WWE’s disabled list, suffered a serious arm infection after recently separating his shoulder. After having his shoulder drained, he developed breathing problems due to fluid in his lungs.

- Diamond Dallas Page (Page Falkenburg) and wife Kimberly are moving from Atlanta to Hollywood where Kimberly plans to further her acting career. Page recently retired from wrestling after doctors warned him that he risked the chance of paralysis if he returned to the ring.

- Dusty Rhodes and Kevin Sullivan will battle in the main event of an independent show Aug. 24 at the former ECW Arena in Philadelphia.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies & Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” which debuts today at No. 27 on The New York Times Extended Bestseller List.