This week – the 14 of July – marks 25 years since Lex Lugar beat Barry Windham at 1991 Great American Bash to win the vacant WCW title. The title was vacated after the firing of then champion Ric Flair. To mark that 25th anniversary, we take a look at the events that led to the dismissal of Flair.
In early July 1991, the WCW opened contract negotiations with their then champion, Ric Flair. Flair’s contract at the time ran until June 1992 and was worth between $700,000 and $750,000 per annum. The new deal offered to the champion was $350,000 and $250,00 over the next two years.
Unsurprisingly, Flair declined the offer. In the July 14 1991 edition of the PW Torch Newsletter (Issue 129) Wade Keller reports that “The WWF most likely will offer Flair a job, and if Flair accepts, it will appear to most fans that the WWF finally stole Ric Flair from WCW. In reality, they let him go as Sid Vicious was offered more money to stay in WCW and not jump to Titan, and Sid never drawn (sic) WCW consistent money.”
The rejection of the offer, led to WCW officials approaching Turner Home Entertainment to request to remove Flair from the scheduled Great American Bash 1991 main event against Lex Lugar. Despite this, Flair was scheduled to appear at the Monday tapings ahead of the PPV, where he would lose to Barry Windham resulting in Windham defending against Lugar the following Sunday.
However, on the morning of the tapings, Flair’s lawyers were notified by the company that he was fired for not agreeing to the contract negotiations and was stripped of the WCW title although still, as would become quite an issue, in possession of the belt.
Flair had won the gold in January of that year by defeating Sting at a house show. He was WCW’s inaugural champion after the company split from the NWA and had held the title for 171 days before being stripped of it.
Previously Flair had been an 8 time NWA champion – 9 if you include a title change to Harley Race that the WCW briefly recognised by neither the WWE or the NWA do. The legendary performer had been the face of the NWA/WCW/Jim Crockett promotions throughout the 80s. To the extent, in fact, that it had led to many fans during the 80s dreaming of a Flair vs. Hulk Hogan match – something, again, we will return to further down the line.
In reality what happened in WCW at the time was that it was announced that Flair wasn’t at the tapings due to a contractual dispute. Furthermore, the main event of Great American Bash was changed and was now the two top contenders for title, Lex Lugar and Barry Windham, facing off to win the vacant belt.
In the end, it was Luger who won, what was widely considered a substandard, match. When the two could, and really, should have put everything into the bout to try and get fans forget about Flair, instead there were enough slow points to frustrate fans, resulting in chants for the Nature Boy.
As for Flair, well he was still officially recognised as the NWA champion as the WCW only had the power to strip him of their belt. Flair owned the big gold belt that he wore as WCW, thus remains the NWA champion. It meant he could wrestle in independent territories or in Japan as the NWA champion, what with the NWA still have some name value at the time.
Issue 131 of the PW Torch carries quotes from an interview WCW Spokesman Barry Norman made with a San Antonio newspaper ahead of the Great American Bash. He said that the loss of Scott Steiner, due to injury, was a greater loss than Flair. Furthermore, due to it being illegal for the WCW not to honour Flair his original contract because he refused a pay cut, WCW had to re-offer him his original contract worth approximately $750,000.
Flair signed with the WWF in August of 1991 and began appearing on television with the “Big Gold Belt”, calling himself “The Real World Heavyweight Champion.” The WCW sued Flair in an attempt to reclaim the belt but Flair claimed that he owned the belt in lieu of the $25,000 deposit paid by NWA champions upon winning the title, which had not been returned to him when he was fired from WCW.
In early 1992, Flair would win the Royal Rumble to capture the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship, lasting nearly sixty minutes in the process. He had won the WWF championship just 113 days into his run with the company. The 80s dream match against Hulk Hogan, had been scheduled for WrestleMania 8 however, the company were disappointed with the reaction to the match on the house show circuit and nixed it. Instead, Flair would face Macho Man Randy Savage whilst Hogan would lock horns with Sid.
Flair would drop the title at WrestleMania 8 and would continue his programme with Savage throughout the summer. He would regain the belt from Savage in September 1992 but dropped it the following month to Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart at a house show.
By February 1993, he had returned to the WCW but a no-compete resulted in him having to front the short-lived talk show ‘A Flair for the Gold’.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think that the WCW would fire a man so synonymous with the company after offering him less money than they offered Sid, who left the company for the WWF regardless. After his return to the WCW, he would remain one of its top players until the company went under in 2001.