Now That’s What I Call Wrestling: I’m Ric Flair, You’re Not

Tonight’s the night and for the third consecutive year it’s time TheBigBoot to look back at the WWF Title match from twenty years ago this WrestleMania.

The Background

“Woooo! You know what this (points at photo of himself and Elizabeth) means? It means that, Randy Savage, Elizabeth was mine before she was yours!! Woooo! Yes! One more time, Randy! It means that Elizabeth was mine, Big Man, before she was yours. And yes! If you’re thinking to yourself ‘How am I gonna follow that act?’ You can’t.”

(Ric Flair, 14th March, 1992)

For those of us in UK, WrestleMania VIII was shown live (the first WrestleMania to be so since ‘The Ultimate Challenge’ back at VI on Sky Movies on 5th of April… one day before my birthday.

Yes, this was back in the days when I had friends who watched wrestling. The next day I had a ‘WrestleMania‘ party where I invited a bunch of friends over to watch the tape of the event from the night before.

We had a buffet table set up in the corner of the room, everyone dressed as their favourite wrestler (embarrassingly, I was Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake) and I’d sworn everyone coming not to watch it (or at least not to spoil it if they had).

The toughest part was going to school on the sixth and, with this being a time when WWF was at or around its all time peak in popularity over here, trying to avoid hearing any of last night’s results. Of course, it didn’t work and I ended up hearing about the big surprise comeback, etc. before I watched the damn thing.

When you spend all day around people shouting about “the greatest match of all time” and “new World champion” it’s basically the ‘real life’ equivalent of those Spolierific internet thread titles you see the day after a big PPV.

“And look here at the stable. Here she is with her two favourite studs.”

(Ric Flair showing off a photo of himself, Elizabeth and a horse prior to WrestleMania)

The build-up had me hooked. Following what remains arguably the greatest Royal Rumble match of all-time (although I loved 1990, 2001, 2004 and 2008 as well) it was really interesting to see how this card came about.

ric-flair-2

Onscreen the card changed quite a bit from the proposed line up as the ‘announced’ Hogan vs. Flair Dream Match for the WWF Title (cleverly used to add fuel to the Hogan/Sid confrontation instead), with Savage against Roberts in what would surely have been a memorable end to their intense blood feud transitioned to Hogan vs. Sid, Roberts vs. Undertaker (who had also been involved with all the main protagonists in the WWF Title picture since Survivor Series) and Flair vs. Savage for the WWF Championship.

randy-savage-fan-elizabeth

The Savage/Flair grudge was one of my favourite feuds of the Nineties – a programme that would cross-over both of the ‘Big Two’, uniting the end of the Hogan boom with the Monday Night War Era.

For fans like me who followed both major U.S. companies, the ‘Nature Boy’ against the ‘Macho Man’ was something of Dream Match at the time. This was a feud both men themselves had been itching for since Flair almost headed to New York back in ’88. For WWF-only fans it may not have meant as much. Fortunately they had a storyline to add heat to the rivalry

Gorilla Monsoon: “Just because you’re on ‘The List’ now you’re starting to panic.”

Bobby Heenan: “The only ‘list’ I want to be on is the list of invitations to parties”

(Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan during the March To WrestleMania VIII: A Tribute To Hulk Hogan)

Ric Flair and Executive Consultant/sidekick Mr. Perfect revealed some exclusive of photographs featuring Ric Flair and the ‘Macho Man’s’ better half The Lovely Elizabeth TM , which they revealed to ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund in a series of weekly segments, claiming those as ‘proof’ of a prior relationship between Naitch and Liz it was Savage, who from all accounts really was on the (over?)protective side, went convincingly bonkers.

randy-savage-ric-flair-throw

He even put together his own ‘Hit List’ consisting of announcer Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan (who also served as Flair’s ‘Financial Adviser’, Flair, Perfect and the Editor of WWF Magazine.

If any non-Freebird threesome had more fun together in wrestling skits than Flair, Hennig and Okerlund in 1992 I haven’t seen them. Flair was in total chauvinistic heel mode throughout.

Of course, it all turned out to be a big hoax. In a sitdown interview with Vince McMahon, broadcast a week before the show Elizabeth revealed that doctored footage from her and Randy’s private photo collection.

WWF Magazine later issued and apology complete with the original photos. Of course this didn’t stop Flair from rubbing it in as he still claimed to have a “life-size centerfold” which Mr. Perfect planned to hold up during the event if his man got into any trouble.

As it turns out, Perfect never got the chance as Savage tore it to shreds before we got the chance to see anything.

“Randy after taking the worst beating of your life, when your flat on your back, look up to the big screen cause Mr. Perfect will be waving the fold-out of Liz. And pal, she’s all the way live!”

(Ric Flair, pre-match promo WrestleMania VIII)

Perfect and Flair show some real chemistry in their pre-match promo with Sean “Shut up Mooney!” Mooney as Naitch rubbed it in about his alleged relationship with Macho’s wife:

The Match

“You’re gonna be damaged goods just like Elizabeth. You gotta Walk That Aisle, you gotta face The Best Wrestler Alive Today – the WWF Heavyweight Champion… I’m Ric Flair, Elizabeth knows that, and you’re not… Remember this Savage, I’m going to dump you just like I dumped her.”

(Ric Flair, the week prior to WrestleMania VIII)

Seeing an NWA/WCW legend like Ric Flair “walk that aisle” as the World champion of the ‘competition’ at the biggest event of the year remains one of my favourite memories as a wrestling fan.

Savage was a bona-fide madman, RUNNING to the ring, Ultimate Warrior style. Flair was at his heelish best here – all bravado in the pre-match promo and during the grand entrance but the second Savage gets in there he jumps out and starts the match by running away!

There is a nice contrast of styles here as Savage is super intense, jumping Flair on the outside with punches, rubbing his face into the Hoosier Dome floor, etc. When Flair gets control after backdrop ping Savage over the top rope he is much more methodical as if he has to slow this crazy man down with stomps, chops and by trying every move in his arsenal. I particularly like the delayed suplex followed by the belly-to-back suplex

And then there’s the commentary: Heenan is great as ever, from his “Eat your heart out toots!” (re. the blonde starring at Naitch during his entrance), to the great job he does putting over the ‘picture’ of Liz, managing to be simultaneously humorous and heelish as he gets in numerous digs at the late great Elizabeth’s expense.

Bobby Heenan: “She winked at him!”

Gorilla Monsoon: “She did not!” 

Bobby Heenan: “She did too!”

(Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan during WrestleMania VIII)

Savage’s comebacks are as intense as ever and I liked the variation of the Flair climbs the ropes-gets slammed off spot with Macho actually standing on the bottom rope when he does it.

Of course maybe the most famous thing about this match is the way Flair violated the no-blading clause and he got into trouble with McMahon for it (Bret Hart bladed on the same show but was somehow able to convince Vince that it was ‘hardway’).

You can tell something is up from Gorilla’s voice when he notices it but seemingly doesn’t want to say anything to draw attention to it. To be honest, the way they do it is pretty cool with Savage hitting an axehandle to the floor causing Naitch to fall forwards into the guardrail.

wwf-randy-savage-roc-flair

Perfect was really good as Flair’s Executive Consultant – willing to do anything to help his client keep the strap, even if it means getting him disqualified.

So when Savage hits the trademark elbow, Perfect leaps all the way into the ring and pulls him off breaking up the cover.

Another highlight is Perfect’s rather stylish way to pass Flair the brass knucks  with Hebner getting sandwiched between the arguing Perfect and Savage allowing him to slide them across the ring to Flair. Flair uses them, passes them back to Perfect as the ref recovers, and gets a near fall. There’s cheating and there’s cheating with class – Nature Boy does the latter.

From then on out, Hennig literally does everything in his power hitting Savage in the knee with a chair (which brings out Miss Elizaebeth) and assisting Flair with the figure four. He would have made a good manager for someone today.

It’s also funny twenty years later to see a young Shane McMahon as one of the officials trying to hold Elizabeth back.

Unique finish as well with Savage blocking a punch, hitting one punch of his own and then rolling Flair up with a handful of tights – seemingly came out of nowhere but it works really well.

The Aftermath

Gorilla Monsoon: “You don’t fool around with someone like the Macho Man. If you can beat him, you beat him.”

Bobby Heenan: “That’s what you’d do. You must be lacking confidence.”

(Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan during WrestleMania VIII)

An interesting trivia note is that both times Savage won the WWF title cheating was involved. That in itself is not unusual but it is when you consider he was supposed to be the company’s top babyface both times.  Equally it was rather unusual to see the heels beat down the new World Champion after the match.

The post-match angle got Flair even more over as heel. In the post match promo we see that even though Savage won the title, he’s not celebrating as he’s driven insane by a bloody Flair kissing his woman. Savage really was one of the more interesting babyfaces that company has had because he always had a side to him that other Mega-Stars lack.

For the second year in a row Savage was involved in a classic. Albeit one totally different from Savage/Warrior the previous year. That match, much like Hogan facing his ‘Ultimate Challenge’ a year prior to that, was a battle between two gladiators with almost supernatural powers as Savage and Warrior kicked out of each other’s finishers and adopted a heavy theatrical approach. Whereas the Flair match feels much more like an old school ‘down and dirty’ fight over respect and honour.#

Bobby Heenan: “Give me one Monsoon, give me one”;

Gorilla Monsoon: “What?”

Bobby Heenan:  “Wooooooo! Spit that banana out and do it”,

(Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan during WrestleMania VIII)

But wait! That was not all! On the 5th May, 1992 edition of Superstars during a vignette featuring Flair and Perfect had ‘The Perfect Picnic’ the heels played an alleged voicemail from Miss Elizabeth  claiming she was still in love with ‘The Nature Boy’.

Savage and Liz were having marital problems in real life and Elizabeth disappeared from TV soon after. Macho and Flair would continue their feud for the rest of the year, including the memorable ‘Which Corner Will Mr. Perfect Be In’ during Savage’s defense against The Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam ’92 (an event I attended in person), Flair regaining the WWF Title from Savage that September, and the tag match between Flair and Razor Ramon and Savage and a newly-turned Mr. Perfect at Survivor Series.  They may well have had another go had Flair not left the WWF to ‘Go Home’ to WCW (being written out of storylines via a Career vs. Career Match with Mr. Perfect on an early episode of Raw).

They would meet again when Savage joined WCW, renewing their rivalry in a series of brawls that revived House Show business, putting WCW on the right tracks pre-New World Order, and proved the ‘Washed Up Old Boys’ could still outwork the majority of

the ‘Big Two’s’ combined rosters.

The most memorable part of that feud came when Elizabeth (now divorced from Savage in real life) turned heel on the ‘Macho Man’ costing him the WCW Title in a Cage Match with Flair at SuperBrawl VI .

RIP Randy Savage – There will never be another quite like you.

How memorable was this match? Put it this way, I watched the event once that night with a bunch of mates and then… I didn’t see it again until 2005. Basically, my younger brother leant it to a friend of his the next day (I was hoping he’d have left it until the day after so I could see it again, this time without my mates shouting one-liners over the top) who never gave it back. I have a good memory anyway, but the weird thing was I remembered pretty much all of it in detail from the first time I saw it. Flair/Savage was the kind of match you remember for a lifetime. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling.

P.S. My main birthday present that year was tickets to the house show in Wembley Arena (the second WWF Show I’d seen live after Battle Royal at the Albert Hall). That show featured both Flair (losing to The British Bulldog) and Savage (defending the WWF strap against The Mountie) – none of that roster is around now, the one constant is old faithful fans like me. Twenty years later and I will be at The O2 Arena for Monday Night Raw in a couple of weeks time. Feel free to say ‘hello’.

Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson

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