By Mike Mooneyham
Nov. 12, 2006
It wasn’t that long ago when Eric Bischoff ran the most successful wrestling organization in the world, and Ric Flair was one of his top stars. For both, however, it now seems like an eternity.
It was at the height of the Monday night wrestling wars when Bischoff, the major power broker at the Ted Turner-owned WCW, suspended the 16-time world champion and threatened to sue him into bankruptcy. He even broadcast his intentions in front of a full locker room of WCW talent, calling Flair “garbage,” accusing him of a breach of contract over a missed wrestling engagement and essentially drawing a line in the sand. Flair, feeling embarrassed and violated, promised to return all his legal fire.
The acrimony resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses on both sides and a real-life drama that was later turned into a wrestling storyline.
Bischoff, who had been credited with using Turner’s purse strings to acquire top talent and implement innovative measures, eventually was replaced as company head as a result of declining ratings. Flair stayed the course and was accorded the respect of wrestling the final match in the history of WCW. Bischoff, on the verge of a deal that would have put him back in power in early 2001, was forced to suffer the ultimate indignity when he could only watch as Vince McMahon appeared on “his show” – Nitro – and proclaimed himself the victor of the Monday night war.Fast-forward nearly a decade, and the two are working together again, but this time for a new company, WWE, and a new boss, McMahon.
They say time heals all wounds, but some memories are just too painful to forget, says Flair, who joined WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) in late 2001.
“We get along. We agree to get along. But we’ll never be best friends. I won’t ever forgive him for what happened,” Flair said Wednesday in between stops on a European tour.
Bischoff maintains the two now have a cordial -if not overly friendly – relationship. But it wasn’t always that way in the now-defunct WCW.
“We’ve had a weird, roller-coaster kind of relationship,” Bischoff recently told The Post and Courier. “There were times when I felt we were close. We hung out a lot, our families did a lot of things together. And then there were times when I felt he just wanted to take a baseball bat to me. Some of that I probably deserved, but some of that is because of the way Ric is wired. Ric is a very, very sensitive guy who’s been through a lot of ups and downs emotionally. The end result is there were conflicts.
“When I see Ric now at TV, we say hello, we shake hands and maybe have a drink together if we happen to be in a hotel lobby at night after the show. We laugh and joke and kind of put it all behind us. It’s a little like Vince McMahon and myself. Ric and I are never going to be close friends, but we’re friendly and we’re professionals.”
Bischoff , while stressing that he would do nothing different if he could do it all over again, admits that he probably should have displayed more respect for Flair, who he once referred to as “the Babe Ruth of wrestling.”
“Despite a lot of the rhetoric and despite the feelings Ric had about I how felt about him, for the most part they were wrong. I never wanted to shorten his career. Because of my personality and because of timing and everything that was going on, I probably didn’t articulate or show Ric the kind of respect that he felt and probably deserved. I think that was the core to most of the problem between us. It was more or less the way I treated him as opposed to what I actually did to him. At no time during any of my thought processes did I have any idea at all about shortening his career or minimizing him or sending him out to pasture. I think, though, that he really believed I did in his own mind.”
In his new best-selling book, “Controversy Creates Ca$h,” Bischoff rightfully credits Flair with brokering the deal to bring Hulk Hogan into WCW, a monumental move that ushered in a new era for the company.
“Ric Flair helped me and was instrumental in convincing Hogan to come to WCW,” wrote Bischoff. “He traveled with me over a dozen times to meet with Hogan. He talked about storylines, about wrestling politics and assured Hogan that if he came over, he’d have a team of people in the locker room who would work together to make it successful. I can’t give Flair enough credit. I couldn’t have gotten Hogan on board if it weren’t for him. Trust was a bigger issue for Hogan than money.”
Although Bischoff and Flair now maintain a working and professional relationship, things haven’t always been rosy, even during their time together in WWE. Pent-up feelings surfaced at a Raw in St. Louis in 2003 when Flair finally dished out what he considered a measure of comeuppance. Hearing Bischoff boast in a hallway about the success of a “Girls Gone Wild” project he had co-produced for WWE, Flair says he had enough.
“I walked into his office, closed the door and punched him about four times until (road agent Sergeant) Slaughter got there. I guess all that finally just caught up to me one day.” Flair said he at least waited until after WCW had folded and Bischoff had been hired by WWE to stage a confrontation.
“I had a thousand reasons for never punching out Eric Bischoff in WCW. He was an executive. I had dragged my family through one lawsuit, and didn’t want to get caught up in another – particularly one I would lose. But, when I was alone, I’d think, ‘Why didn’t you just beat the hell out of him?’ And I blamed myself for never doing it.”
Flair, who turns 58 in February, says he’ll never forget the time Bischoff called him garbage in front of his peers.
“I guess he doesn’t remember getting in front of all the guys and saying that he was going to break me and destroy my family. It was one of those things where I could have owned the company. An executive vice president from Turner Broadcasting just can’t talk like that in a public forum. My lawyer told me that those kinds of comments were worth a lot of money. That was a huge lawsuit I could have pursued. But it would have also ended my career.”
Flair, universally regarded as one of the greatest performers in the history of the industry, saw his value in WCW increasingly downplayed as newer acts such as Bill Goldberg and The NWO took hold. But, says Flair, it wasn’t the caliber of those stars that he had a problem putting over. It was jobbing to lesser talent and being put in humiliating situations that made no storyline sense to the Nature Boy.
“He put guys with little credibility ahead of me every day,” says Flair. “He had me put over guys like Konnan. Give me a break. And they paid me one third of what they paid everybody else – literally a third.”
Flair recalls high-profile matches with Sting and Bret Hart as examples of Bischoff’s indifference.
“How about the time I put Sting over in that match in Jacksonville? He kept me in the Scorpion for five minutes, and fans went crazy. Sting walked in the locker room, and Bischoff hollered, ‘Sting, you’re back! Sting’s back!’ But nothing about the match I gave him.”
Before a pay-per-view bout with Hart, says Flair, Bischoff casually walked by him, saying, ‘Twenty minutes, sharpshooter,’ nonchalantly giving him the finish in a manner that made Flair’s stomach turn. “There was no respect at all.”
“We had a big meeting one time, and the whole company was there,” adds Flair. “He (Bischoff) said there were only three guys in the room who were drawing big money – Hogan, (Roddy) Piper and (Randy) Savage. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He was just drawing straws.”
Bischoff, 51, says part of the problem between the two stemmed from Flair’s adamant desire to work as a heel in spite of the fact that he was beloved by the audience.
“I always saw Ric as a guy, no matter how hard he tried, the fans were never not going to like Ric Flair. You can’t be Ric Flair and be in the business as long as Ric Flair’s been in the business without becoming a kind of a Babe Ruth icon. Ric was always the guy who wanted to be a heel. But there’s a certain point in your career where you’ve got to recognize that no matter what you do, the fans are not going to hate you, therefore you’re not going to be an effective heel no matter how much you want to be. And that was always the nature of the conflict between Ric and I – the character he wanted to be versus the character people saw him as. And to this day, he can go out and play the role of a heel all he wants, but people love him. It’s a little bit of a problem from a creative point of view.”
– WWE returns to the North Charleston Coliseum on Dec. 4 with a nationally televised Monday Night Raw along with an ECW taping on the same bill. Both brand shows will air back-to-back beginning at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $41, $31, $26 and $21 (plus applicable fees). Tickets are available at the Coliseum box office, all Ticketmaster outlets (including select Publix grocery stores), online at ticketmaster.com or charge at 554-6060.
– The Christian Wrestling Alliance will hold a show Dec. 2 at Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg with a main event featuring Road Warrior Animal and Demolition Ax against The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey). Advance tickets and information are available by calling Kick Booty Motorsports at 803-533-1111, Roger Gleaton at 803-707-4072 or David Garrick at 803-308-5357. Bleacher seats are $10, floor seats are $12 and ringside $18. Doors and concession stand open at 6 p.m. with a 7:30 bell time.