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[1991-09-21-WWF-Superstars] Funeral Parlor: Ric Flair & Bobby Heenan

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I love Paul Bearer, but again, Flair being a guest here makes this Just Another Angle, not to mention that this would have come across so much better with Flair wearing a suit and being interviewed by Vince, especially since it's by far his best promo this year. I'm also not sure Flair needed Heenan (or later Perfect).

 

"While you were in Hollywood makin' movies, Thunderlips, I was winnin' world titles."

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Flair makes his live-audience debut, still using the original 2001 theme. Flair delivering this promo with the Undertaker music in the background is all sorts of odd. On the plus side, Flair has quickly mastered the ever-changing Funeral Parlor camera angles. And you know WCW would just have him (or Hogan) in front of a green screen. Bearer's "oh SHIT" face as Flair drops the Thunderlips line is great. Flair delivers a tightened version of his Prime Time promo directed towards Piper and Hogan, and brings up how he has a thousand women for every Little Hulkster. I get that late '91 was a far more adult WWF than had been seen in awhile or would be seen again, but it has to be mentioned that talking about women and Lear jets simply isn't going to draw as much heat with Little Hulksters as it did with WCW audiences. The WWF and U.S. wrestling as a whole were in a deep financial rut that I'm not sure any dream program could have instantly saved, but this may have something to do with the allegedly disappointing Hogan/Flair gates.

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Ric Flair in front of the WWF arena audience. Flair is focusing on Piper for spitting on his belt. Piper not buying this threat. Flair moves on to Hogan on how he didn’t have the guts to face Ric over the past 10 years. Watching Bearer’s facials is fun.

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This was one of my favorite periods in WWF history because it seemed like all of the main event storylines were intertwined. Here, Flair goes off on both Piper and Hogan. Hogan, Flair, Piper, Savage, Undertaker, Sid, Jake the Snake, and up until recently the Warrior weaved in and out so perfectly during this point, it was unreal.

 

This was a favorite Flair promo of mine, and outside of the Black Scorpion bit, Flair's been on fire IMO since his '89 Steamboat series in terms of angles and storylines. Looking forward to the rest of 1991 for the WWF stuff.

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Knew we were coming up on the Thunderlips promo and here it is. I agree that a few of the particulars are off from Flair in the WWF so far but he has been pretty super in his promos and that combined with the great Hogan promo seemed to be setting up the slow burn to Mania.

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Goofy context aside, this was Flair at his all-time best. I wasn't sure that a Rocky III mention would be allowed on WWF television since according to Vince's version of history Hogan just materialized out of nowhere on 1/23/84, immediately won the title, and saved wrestling for children of all ages everywhere, but Flair not only brings it up as a taunt, but uses it to score points in his own favor. Now that I think of it, I doubt that Hogan ever acknowledged that he'd been in Rocky III in the context of a wrestling interview while kayfabe was in force. If he did, it was while he was with Verne right after the movie came out.

 

We hear all the stock Flair lines, but here they seem fresh because Flair's role as challenger is fresh. Even when Flair didn't have the belt in JCP/WCW, everybody knew that it was just a matter of time before he got it back, and he was always treated as the man. Here, what is he? Most people know of his history, but does he truly have what it takes to bring down Hulkamania, even with Heenan's help? Will Piper be able to stop him before he even gets to Hogan? The fans surely hope so; this is the most Flair's been booed since he broke Dusty's leg at the Omni six years before, except for a brief period after he and the Andersons hurt Sting at Clash X.

 

I have a hard time believing that a Crockett-style presentation of Flair would have made this angle anything different or better. As Pete said, how could Flair in a suit have drawn any more heat than Flair in a robe? What does the average ten year-old Hulkamaniac care how many cootie-filled girls he has or how many planes he flies? What is a Learjet anyway? Their parents don't own one, so why would they care if he does? It's the belt and the idea that he calls himself a champion just like Hulk that they care about. Heenan, Hulk's bitterest enemy, bringing him in only makes it worse. Maybe this is the guy that weasel's been looking for all these years to finally put Hulk out of wrestling. Remember, we can't think like smart fans on a message board in order to get why Vince presents things like he does; we have to put our Hulkamania T-shits on and get out our thumb wrestlers. The only thing I agree on is that Percy could have been benched for another week. Vince barely uses him anyway, or so it seems, so let Okerlund handle things from the ramp.

 

We also get one of those annoying things where Piper, who's most likely doing voiceovers from a Connecticut studio, has to play like he's just itching to go down on the set and get at Flair so Vince can scold him about "being a professional", which only works because Piper's in a Connecticut studio. You'll notice that Piper doesn't reply when Vince thanks him for keeping his cool; that's likely because Vince taped that part of the commentary after Piper had left. It's a technical nitpick, I know, but it's still annoying. They should just run the segments without commentary from the booth, like they used to for Piper's Pit 95% of the time, even for major angles like Snuka and the coconut. (The most famous Pit where Vince was heard was when Rod annihilated Frankie Williams, and his commentary actually enhanced that segment, strangely enough.)

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I guess my issue was that this should have been presented as the single biggest feud in the history of the company, which means a sharper departure from normal tropes. The way they did it was fine, but they left most of the potential at the door by just presenting him as yet another WWF superstar instead of someone who defies the term. Anything less than something earth-shattering that permanently changed the face of the company was going to be disappointing for me, because I think Hogan-Flair done right had the potential to be the biggest feud of all time, not just a "strong program". If you read the wrestling magazines and the endless speculation over who would win a match between these two in the decade preceding this, it really was the biggest dream match that had ever fallen into the WWF's lap at this point in time. And I think Flair needed to be presented as far more of an outsider to make it work at that level.

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You're probably right, Loss, but Vince wasn't capable of doing that. He always thought of JCP as what he once called a "very small, regional promotion" which had no real place in the wrestling world, and we all know what he thought of Ted Turner. Why would someone who came from a second-rate company be worthy of that kind of introduction? As good as Flair was, he was, in Vince's eyes, just another minor leaguer looking to step up to where the real big boys played.

 

In one interview with Larry King that the Apter mags reprinted, he said of Flair, "I just don't think he measures up to Hogan". So he doesn't think Flair's as good a wrestler as Hogan, plus Flair comes from a promotion he considers minor league? Even if you account for slight exaggeration, it seems like we're lucky he didn't just debut Flair as another anonymous wrestler with no past. Come to think of it, the reason for the Piper feud may have been to find out if Flair could cut it in the WWF being the character that Vince wanted him to be as opposed to the JCP Flair. Of course, the fans knew who Flair was right off the bat, so he got over better than Vince thought, which meant that the Piper thing was pretty much dropped and Flair moved on to Hogan.

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I understand all of that. I don't expect Vince to set aside his biases, but I would be pleasantly surprised if he did, and I still think it's justified to criticize him for not doing it when the situation warrants it, even if he was acting perfectly in character. This had the potential to be a game changer. Instead it was just a good world title feud that lasted a couple of months on house shows. Yes, anyone could have seen it coming given how the WWF does business. But this is like the Invasion, the NWO, Goldberg coming in and countless other things as something Vince can't make the most of because he didn't create all of the principles himself from scratch. The good that comes out of it is that he can make many things work that have no business working because they are his concepts and he believes in them. The bad is that when he inherits a great opportunity where the interest is already there, he's pretty terrible at capitalizing on it.

 

As far as the Larry King quote, Vince was working. I don't think it was so much about offering an opinion on how good Flair was. But it would be foolish to say in a public forum that the competition has a better world champ, whether he felt that way or not.

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was Pat Patterson telling Dave the company was worried about Hogan/Flair not drawing because their fans wouldn't know Flair legit or was it an excuse to not push the program hard because Vince didn't want to push a non creation of his? It seemed like a defeatist attitude to have before the start of potentially the biggest program ever. Six months later Vince didn't have any qualms pushing Sid to the main event even though in theory the typical WWF fan wouldn't know him either. It's like they didn't want Hogan/Flair to work from the beginning

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I think the story there was that Patterson told Dave he knew Flair/Hogan would draw well, but not as well as something like Hogan/Undertaker since Undertaker was more established on television.

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I agree the setting is all wrong. Why have Paul Bearer giving those goofy facial expressions in the background (great as they are) while this hyper serious threat to Hogan is materializing? Part of being a maverick (which Vince definitely is in wrestling) is stepping outside of your comfort zone when the situation demands it. It seems like Vince only truly did that when his back was up against the wall. Otherwise he had this very limited view of what could be done and what worked.

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