‘A Moment in Time‘ makes a return today, after a brief hiatus, to look at the events surrounding Tatsumi ‘The Dragon’ Fujinami winning the WCW/NWA title back in the early 90s, a reign that was never recognized by World Championship Wrestling.
As many fans know, for a period of time, the NWA world title aka the “Big Gold Belt” was THE most prestigious title in all of pro-wrestling. By the early 1990’s, however, things started to change. Ted Turner now owned the NWA’s top affiliate Jim Crockett Promotions which was now being re-dubbed as World Championship Wrestling (WCW) The top brass of WCW were starting to slowly wean themselves away from the dying NWA.
The promotion started calling the Big Gold Belt, the WCW world title more and more and referring to it as the NWA world title less and less. Despite the changes, WCW was attempting to make here in the United States, the NWA was still a powerful and extremely recognizable brand name in Japan. With business quickly fading in the States, WCW decided to hit the road and return to Japan to muster up some business. WCW went into a partnership with Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling.
A super show was going to take place with a big title versus title match pitting the NWA/WCW world champion ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair versus the reigning IWGP heavyweight champion Tatsumi ‘The Dragon’ Fujinami. The event, as with most major New Japan shows, took place at the Tokyo Dome. Not surprisingly, the event was a tremendous financial success for both New Japan and WCW. Over 64,000 fans packed the Tokyo Dome and brought in a gate of 3.2 million dollars.
The huge main event between Flair and Fujinami was decent but not without controversy. The WCW booker Dusty Rhodes decided to end the match with one of his classic “Dusty Finishes.” The original referee for the contest (Bill Alfonso) was knocked unconscious, so famed New Japan referee Tiger Hattori ran in to continue the match. Fujinami would then throw Ric Flair over the top rope, a move which is illegal in the NWA, but was not disqualified by the Japanese official. The match continued which saw Fujinami pin Flair’s shoulder to the mat and seemingly win the NWA/WCW world title.
Tatsumi Fujinami would make history as the first man to simultaneously hold both the NWA world and IWGP championships. Or so New Japan and their fans thought. During a press conference with the champion Fujinami after the match, Flair barged in, grabbed the big gold belt and stormed out with it. That was WCW’s way of keeping the belt with Ric Flair as he returned to the states.
The thing was, New Japan and the NWA board of directors were now happy to recognize Fujinami as the new NWA world champion. This while WCW was still claiming Flair to be the WCW world champion. It was the first time that the NWA and WCW were splitting up the world title into two different championships. WCW was in no panic to call Fujinami champion because they were in possession of the actual title belt.
To try and make things right with the NWA board and New Japan, a rematch between Ric Flair and Tatsumi Fujinami was made in the United States. This event was titled ‘Superbrawl’ and took place at the Bayfront Arena in St. Petersburg, Florida. The official for this match would be Tiger Hattori. The main issues for this event was that there was no proper build up for WCW fans. Fujinami came in practically unannounced with no build up. WCW fans who were not familiar with the events at the Tokyo Dome were left with “just this Japanese wrestler” challenging Flair for the WCW belt.
While Fujinami was billed as the babyface and Flair was the heel, WCW fans chose to cheer for Flair in the match and also chant USA, USA. Many had no idea that Fujinami had beaten Flair in Japan and was considered by many to be the champion and, not in fact, the challenger in the match.
The crowd overall was dead and bored with the pace of the match. In the end, the referee Hattori would be knocked out and Bill Alfonso would run in. Flair would roll up Fujinami grabbing his tights for the victory. In essence, regaining the title, even though he was already in possession of it before the match.
Superbrawl was a decent show with everybody working especially hard on the card. The crowd at the time just didn’t have the proper build up and was pretty much dead for it. The aftermath of Superbrawl is what is most interesting. Some believe that this event was the death for Ric Flair in WCW. As Jim Herd used this show as an excuse to fire Flair because he felt he was no longer a big box office draw. The tensions between the old NWA and WCW continued to increase with WCW eventually dropping any and all affiliations with the National Wrestling Alliance.
Tatsumi Fujinami was never recognized as a former WCW world champion despite pinning Ric Flair in Japan.
You can read all previous ‘A Moment in Time’ pieces here.