1992. Twenty years ago.
I have a feeling a lot of readers will either not have been born in 1992, or were so young that to them it’s now just the year in history when Bill Clinton became president and Nirvana’s Nevermind reached the number 1 spot on the album charts.
In 1992 I was already out of university with my first degree, and working part-time, trying to find a job that would allow me to utilise what all those years of study had apparently prepared me for. But 1992 was interesting for another reason. You see, in Australia, by 1992 the only way to see WWF Pay Per Views was on video. Pay-TV was still 3 years away, and free-to-air channels hadn’t shown anything since Wrestlemania 6. And that meant waiting for up to 6 months after the event to see anything. But one of my friends from university had gone on to further study in the United States (Michigan, to be precise) in 1991, and he managed to get the PPVs. And, more than that, he recorded them and mailed them to a group of us so we would see them only 3 weeks late (yes, one of us had a NTSC-compatible VCR). This actually coincided with the US wrestling mags reaching us, so our news kept up to speed with our PPV watching, meaning the television shows we missed and the ongoing storylines were covered nicely.
Thus it was that in February 1992 I saw the Royal Rumble.
It is still one of my favourite PPVs. In the undercard we saw Roddy Piper win his first WWF/E title in a match against the Mountie that was not that good from an in-ring perspective, but the emotion after it was awesome. The smile on Roddy’s face is one of the most genuine emotions I’ve seen in wrestling.
And then the Royal Rumble match itself. Ric Flair came in at number 3 and held on to win the whole thing, which meant he also won the title. Wow. To say that was a shock is an understatement. For a start, the talent in that Rumble included, out of 30 men, more than 20 who had won or would go on to win a World Title (WWF, WWE, WCW, AWA), the WCW US title, the WWF/E Intercontinental Title, or the WCW or WWF/E tag team titles. That’s a hell of a lot of gold in that ring, back when titles meant something. The actual result, according to Flair, was kept from him until the morning of the show. Bobby Heenan claims that it was his idea for him to win from number 3, but Vince McMahon has also claimed it as his idea, and I’ve even read where Pat Patterson said it was his idea. Whoever came up with it, it was a piece of genius.
But the biggest thing was Flair himself. You see, Flair had never lost the WCW title when he had jumped ship. The reasons have been put forward in so many books and DVD documentaries and Confidential programmes that it hardly warrants repeating… but I will anyway. Jim Herd wanted Flair to drop the title to some one Flair felt was not worthy of holding the belt, so Flair refused, and Herd then decided he wanted the title belt anyway to do with as he wished. However, Flair (rightfully, in my opinion) demanded that he get back his deposit on the belt (I’ve heard figures as high as $50,000 touted). Upon hearing this, Herd refused, so Flair simply walked… and he still had the belt.
So not only was this jump shocking in the extreme – the current world champ appearing on the opposition’s television show – but then, by winning the Rumble, he became, technically, the holder of both world titles at once. Until the fall of WCW and its subsequent take-over by the WWF/E that was something that no one would have ever thought possible.
It is so hard to comprehend just how huge this was 20 years ago when today – after the years of the Monday Night Wars – we have become used to people promotion-hopping on a whim. But this was the start of the gloves-off, anything goes war between WWF/E and WCW. Sure, it might not have started in earnest until WCW signed Hulk Hogan in 1994, and then not been a real battle until 1996 and the advent of the nWo, but this started it. This meant that nobody was off-limits, and pushing the champion of the rival was no longer taboo. Up until Flair entered the WWF, the prevailing wisdom was if the rival’s champion came to your fed, he started off as a glorified jobber, just to show the superiority of your fed over the rival. Ric Flair in 1992 changed all of that. Now it was fine to acknowledge your competitor as a genuine federation. Which is why, today, when TNA champs jump to WWE and are treated like cannon-fodder for Cena, Orton or Santino, it shows how little regard the ‘E has for TNA.
However, back to 1992. For we now come to my 20 years ago this month, for it was the start or middle of May when we received the tape of Wrestlemania VIII. In the pre-Internet age, with only those 3 week late magazines as sources of information, we were hanging out for the Flair-Savage match and all of us hoped this really would be the last Hulk Hogan match ever. (Ha! So naïve…)
That Hogan-Sid match was ordinary, but the Ultimate Warrior’s return made it work, and led to that SummerSlam match of Warrior-Savage II. Man, did Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage have awesome chemistry together or what? In the undercard, the only match worth worrying about was the Bret Hart-Roddy Piper Intercontinental title match, probably the best match I’ve ever seen out of Piper. But the co-main is what I’m interested in here.
Savage and Flair could not put on a bad match together if they tried. Savage was one of the best wrestlers ever, managing to get good matches out of anyone, so long as he was motivated. But this time he was in there with Ric Flair, another man who could get a good match out of virtually anyone, and the result was wonderful. The subtext of proving who the best was, with the extraneous rubbish of Elizabeth being with Flair before Savage has been mirrored in the Chris Jericho-CM Punk feud of recent times. But these two were there first. And, in my opinion, the best. In the end Savage pulled out the win on one leg, to finally get the title without Hulk Hogan standing beside him to hog the limelight, battling not only Flair but Curt Hennig in Flair’s corner.
And so Flair lost, and that meant his incredible run of being, essentially, a two-fed champion was also over. A once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. And it resulted in one of the best Royal Rumbles ever (including some of the best commentary ever, courtesy of Bobby Heenan – seriously, the guy sold his commentary for over an hour!) and one of the best Wrestlemania matches ever.
Twenty years ago – it was good to be a wrestling fan!
Speaking of being a wrestling fan – here’s the highlight package from last month’s RCW show:
And for this fortnight’s bit of Australiana, the trailer of one of my favourite Australian movies:
And that’s the view!