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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Prime Time Warp - Spartacus

    There is huge news in the world of wrestling, and it is just the kind of news that WWF fans will want to hear. With Hulk Hogan leaving the company after his rather strange win over Sid Justice at Wrestlemania VIII, the company is in need of some more star power. Sure, Hogan doesn’t burn as intensely as he once did, but he’s still the biggest deal in the company, and his loss will be felt; which is why it’s so important that Ric Flair has joined the WWF and will be appearing on TV for the first time in the coming weeks.

    And the key thing, far and away the most important thing, is that this is the return of Ric Flair. A huge part of the deal to bring him in and end his torrid time with WCW is that he gets to return to the iconic character that made him the greatest NWA Champion in history, the man who wrestled Steamboat and Funk in 1989 to prove he still had: quite simply, ‘the man’.

    I must admit, though, that I’m a lot less convinced.

    It has been more than a year, now, since the Ric Flair gimmick was retired in WCW. By all accounts when Jim Herd presented Flair with the idea for his Spartacus gimmick, the 7-time champion was sceptical. Cutting off his hair seemed like a mistake in itself, given the iconic nature of the Flair image. Changing his name seemed like sheer madness. While the idea of a Spartacus style character, an underdog who is able to challenge the powerful elites in the company seems like it could work in practice, what you really need is for that to be handed to a younger star, a midcarder who can try and get it off the ground. There’s no telling whether it would be successful – this kind of characterisation smacks of the WWF and of the kind of thing that the Crockett/WCW audience usually distance themselves from – but it would at least have the obvious benefit of not taking an established mega-star and putting him through a total rebrand.

    Still, we know how this played out. Whether it was the thought of leaving the company where he made his name, or whether Herd was just more persuasive than people thought he could be, Flair eventually agreed to go along with the change in early 1991. And to give him his due, he was able to make it work – to a degree. There were some very passable matches along the way, and ‘Spartacus’ was still very much a leader in his losing efforts Sting and Lex Luger.

    So Ric Flair was able to play a full part in WCW for his last year with the company. But that full part was still smaller, less effective than it had been. While the previous Flair had felt like an eccentric but essentially real figure, he never quite sat comfortably in the new role. His promo style, in particular, felt like Ric Flair trying to act as if he were a Gladiator in some strange Hollywood parody. When fans bought into him less, his position on the card suffered, and though there were matches with Sting and Luger that passed muster as the year progressed the former nature boy found himself further and further down the card. Whatever their talents, there’s no denying that PPV and Clash matches with the Diamond Studd, Big Josh and Van Hammer represented a step down from where Flair had been.

    This is why I’m less convinced than other people about Flair pitching up in the WWF at this point. Everyone is excited because they think that they are getting the Flair of 1989-1990 and that he’ll be the obvious successor to Hulk Hogan.

    I could point out the obvious things here – that on the one hand, Flair can play babyface but has spent a far greater part of his career as a top heel. In a sense, then, he’s far from a like-for-like replacement for Hulk and would be moving into a company that has a strong preference, going back at least as far as Bruno Sammartino, to have a strong babyface at the head of the company. And that is not to mention that Ric Flair is now 43 years old – and yes, he had the classic match with Terry Funk at the age of forty, but everyone must be wondering how much longer he can be an elite level performer.

    But on top of those is the added factor that Ric Flair also has to find the Flair character again himself. He is not coming in, as he might have done in another lifetime, as someone associated primarily with the world title. There is something intriguing about the prospect of Flair coming in during 1991 and adding another dimension to a show dominated by an underwhelming feud between Hogan and Sid, not least because of the proven chemistry that he has with guys like Roddy Piper. But he is now arriving in the WWE after a semi-successful stint with a gladiator gimmick, and as a man who has taken some of the lustre off his career with the last few months. So Flair needs to get back into the mode that he used to work in and prove himself all over again – show people that he still has what he had in the 1980s, that Spartacus was just an embarrassing blip.

    If he can do it, I think there is potential here for Flair to rise through to the top of the WWF card and stay there for the rest of his career. The way he has been paraded on WCW shows for the last year makes it hard to imagine ever going back. He could be a lifer now, and if he can stay in the WWF and hit the form of the past then WCW might not even exist in a couple of years’ time – if the WWF can do the biggest characters and boast the best wrestlers, then what really is the point of the alternative?

    But there’s also a chance that they might not get the Ric Flair of old in the Summer of 1992. This could be another situation like the one that the WWF found themselves in back in the mid-1980s when finances dictated that a past-his-prime Harley Race had to get back into the ring. While the Harley Race who had dominated the NWA title scene in the 1970s would have been a veritable boon, King Harley was less memorable and made very little impact on the WWF audience. The question now is can Ric Flair come in at an equally large remove from the world title, put his Herd nightmare behind him, and win over the new crowd.

    If nothing else, I hope he’s had time to grow out his hair.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    I don't know if this intended to be funny but it certainly was. Also, the fact this was probably how a column would have been produced if the IWC was around at the time. I actually googled this to see if it was true because I have no knowledge of this but according to a whatculture.com this was an actual rumour going around at the time. Thankfully this never came to pass or Flair's legacy would have been diminished

    I enjoyed this. It was something different. And thanks to this column, once googled this gimmick you were speaking about here I found some other cringeworthy gimmicks that were rumoured and I got quite a laugh out of it.

  3. #3
    The Brain
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    I won't lie, a Ric Flair/Matt Borne match would probably be awesome, but I still don't want to live in this world. As someone who just recently watched through Flair's first WWF run, I can say it's not perfect but it's a lot of fun, and I think if it had started that much later it would have been much the worse, especially if Flair had spent the previous year being devalued with that terrible gimmick. He was already a little declined from his peak in terms of name value when he did jump (but who wasn't by that point?), and pushing it back would have been a true bummer. And bringing him in to be a babyface, yeesh! Any fans hoping for that would have had another thing coming, that's for sure. Great piece, love these little thought experiments Pete.

  4. #4
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Don Franc - thanks mate, I don't know if I'm always going for funny throughout these things but I won't lie there's a few bits I hope will at least raise a smile in them. From what I can tell this isn't so much a rumour as actually something that Jim Herd wanted to do, but Flair said no. The whole column came about thinking around what would have happened if Herd had been more convincing, or Flair had taken one for the team, as it were. Glad this led you down a rabbithole of some of the weird shit around wrestling!

    Mizfan - Big fan of Matt Borne so I get where you're coming from there, but agreed, there isn't really enough in this world to make you want to stay in there. The first thing that really came with this to me was, how different would Flair's reputation have been, not only if he took the gimmick and lowered his value that way, but if he came in to the company so late that he didn't have the 1992 Royal Rumble and the Savage match at 'Mania on his resume? And no 'real world's champion' angle, either? Start to think of it that way and you're really ripping the heart of his WWF career out, and it got me interested and hooked me in as being something worth exploring a little bit.


    Thanks for reading guys, glad you both enjoyed it.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

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