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This Day in Wrestling History (July 1): Ric Flair Leaves WCW


26 years ago today, NWA and WCW World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair leaves WCW after he and the company come to an impasse on a new contract. Whether Flair was fired or if he quit depends on who is telling the story.

The story as presented in The Baltimore Sun on July 3, 1991:

He didn't lose a loser-leave-town match.

Didn't go down for the count.

Wasn't caught with a foreign object.

But make no mistake: "Nature Boy" Ric Flair no longer is champion of Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling.

He was fired.

Flair said he was stripped of his coveted gold because he refused a new contract that would have cut his pay by more than half.

Flair, who has been WCW champion and a main-event villain for most of the past 10 years, said the group asked him to take a "drastic" cut from his $780,000 salary by immediately signing a two-year contract.

Flair, 40, whose real name is Richard Fleihr, would not comment on what was offered, but a source said it was about $350,000 a year.

That's a figure the "jet-flying, limousine-riding son of a gun" found most inappropriate.

"I don't know how they could possibly expect me to accept their offer," Flair said yesterday from his home in Charlotte, N.C. "Imagine a baseball manager walking up to Jose Canseco and saying, 'Jose, tomorrow we're going to cut your check in half.' Would they expect him to say, 'Oh, fine?' "

Flair said his attorney, Dennis Guthrie, was notified Monday that WCW would terminate his contract Aug. 1, using a provision that allows the WCW to end the contract with 30 days' notice. The group already has stopped booking him.

WCW announced Flair's firing during a television taping Monday in Macon, Ga., that will air at 6:05 p.m. Saturday on TBS.

WCW executive vice president Jim Herd was in New York yesterday and unavailable for comment. He said in a statement (similar to one he used for the TV taping) that WCW was unable to agree upon a "mutually satisfactory contractual relationship" with Flair and a new champion would be crowned July 14 at the Great American Bash pay-per-view show in Baltimore.

Lex Luger, who briefly played football for the University of Miami in the late 1970s, was scheduled to wrestle Flair in the main event. He will face Barry Windham for the vacant title.

Flair said he doesn't know where he's headed, but one possibility is the rival World Wrestling Federation. After all, he is a free agent.

"I'm stunned," Flair said. "I just talked to Herd two weeks ago and he said I'd be there the rest of my life. They had always called me their flagship wrestler."

So... how did we get here?

It came down to Flair’s relationship with Jim Herd, who was named executive vice-president of WCW following the sale of Jim Crockett Promotions to Turner Broadcasting and subsequent rebranding. Prior to Herd being thrusted in the top role of the second biggest wrestling company in the world, he was a station manager for KPLR-TV in St. Louis, the station that broadcasted the long-running series Wrestling at the Chase. More recently, Herd was a regional manager for Pizza Hut.

In February 1990, Flair was removed from his duties as the head booker for WCW, primarily over his issues in wanting to deliver on the promise to Sting to be the man to defeat him for the NWA world title (Herd wanted Luger to be that man).

Over the next year, Flair’s business relationship with Herd went from contentious to downright toxic. Though Flair was just a few months into his 40s, he was very much still WCW’s (and the NWA’s by extension) most valuable wrestler. Herd didn’t quite see Flair’s value to the company and wanted to phase him out of the main event. Moreso, he wanted to repackage Flair as Spartacus. Like the warrior of the same name.

That’s not all: Herd wanted to rip Flair’s expensive contract, one that paid $700,000 per annum, and cut his pay in half (in fact, the two-year deal he was presented with would have paid him $600,000 total). In addition, Flair would have likely given up his creative control in his new deal. Needless to say, Flair turned it down.

When Flair was accused of holding out for more money by Herd, Ric then offered to drop the world title to Barry Windham at a TV taping in Macon, Georgia (Flair felt Windham deserved at least a token run as champion). Windham would then drop it to Luger at The Great American Bash. It looked to be a done deal... except it wasn’t.

On the morning of the taping, Flair’s lawyers were sent a fax. It was a termination notice. Flair was fired from WCW because he refused to sign the contract he was offered. Ric was stripped of the title and Doug Dillinger, WCW’s head of security, was coming to repossess the belt on the company’s behalf.

And therein lies the problem. Flair was the WCW world champion, sure. But he was also the NWA world champion (though WCW began to promote its own world championship earlier in the year, he who was the WCW world champion was also the NWA world champion), and with being the champion came possession of its title belt; at this time, that was the famous “Big Gold Belt”.

But nobody possesses NWA’s world title belt for free; all NWA world champions were required to put down a $25,000 deposit. The idea, dating back to the earliest days of the conglomerate, was that upon winning the belt, the champion would put down the deposit so they don't take off with it to some other promotion. In exchange, their deposit plus any interest accrued over their title reign would be returned to them upon losing the title.

Flair, a long-standing (and often long-reigning) champion, never opted to get that deposit back previously, seeing that the NWA went back to him often for world title runs (eight times total if you’re wondering, and that’s counting only recognized runs). With Flair done with WCW and the NWA, it was finally time to collect on that deposit plus interest, which came out to about $38,000 (over $68,000 today when adjusted for inflation). Herd, still salty over Flair turning down the offer, refused to pay him what he was owed. In Flair’s mind, if he wasn’t getting the deposit back, the belt was his. Legally.

In theory, Flair, who was still NWA world champion, could have gone to any other NWA affiliate and defended the title. Meanwhile, as fans chanted “WE WANT FLAIR!” at WCW house shows, the company tried to bring their biggest star back into the fold, even offering them a one-year deal worth $750,000 just a week after he was fired. It was a token offer, mainly done to cover Turner legally (WCW firing Flair for turning down a pay cut was not considered probable cause). But the damage was done. The reigning NWA and WCW world heavyweight champion was gone, and as of August 1, he was an unrestricted free agent.

Flair discussed the situation in The Definitive Ric Flair Collection in 2003:

"(Jim Herd) lied to me about my contract. Then he called me in Daytona and said 'I want you to lose the title.' They wanted me to lose the title to Lex Luger. I said, 'No. No way. You promised it to Sting.' Jim Herd went, 'I don't care what I promised Sting.' I said, 'I do and I'm keeping my word to him.' We had spent all this time building Sting up and he was ready to be the champion. I just said, 'I'm not doing it with Luger and that's all there is to it.' I said, 'I'll be more than happy to send you my contract.' He said, 'You're not holding me up,' I said, 'I'm not holding you up, I'm holding you to your word.'

And I already had an opportunity to come up here again. I called him back and I said, 'I'll tell you what I'll do -- I'm not waiting to Baltimore but I'll fly home from my vacation and I'll come to TV in Columbus next week and I'll lose the title to Barry Windham.' He said, 'Well, why Barry?' I said, 'Because Barry deserves it.' And he said, 'Let me think about that.' So I got in a plane, left my family, flew to Charlotte, packed my bag and he called me on the phone and said, 'Just forget about it, I'm sending Doug Dillinger over to get the belt.' And I said,'You better send a check for $25,000 plus interest because that's how much deposit I've got in the belt, which I've never gotten back.' And he said, 'F*ck you.' And I said, 'It ain't f*ck me, it's f*ck you.'

Then I called Vince. Doug knocked on my door, I said, 'Sorry, Doug.' He already knew, Doug and I were friends. He didn't like Jim Herd either; nobody did. So I called Vince and I said, 'I'm ready to come.' And he said, 'Really?' And I said, 'Yeah and I got the belt, too.' So that's the way it went down."

Two days later, the announcement is made at a WCW house show in East Rutherford, New Jersey to a chorus of boos (that's the video above). Without Big Gold in their possession (a new championship belt was in the works, but not ready in time for the PPV), the company used a makeshift belt for The Great American Bash. As was the plan all along, Lex Luger defeated Barry Windham for the WCW world title, but Flair continued to be recognized as the NWA world champion.

Flair's WWF debut would be teased for the remainder of the summer, most notably when future manager Bobby Heenan teased Flair's debut while holding the Big Gold Belt. Ric officially signed with the WWF on September 5, with his in-ring and television debut happening four days later (Flair had mailed Big Gold to Vince McMahon, thus the reason the belt appeared weeks before he did). Just a day before his debut, Flair was stripped of the NWA world championship, making the title vacant for the first time since its inception in 1948.

As it turned out, though Flair contended he was gifted Big Gold by Jim Crockett, Jr., the belt wasn’t exactly his to keep. After a late 1991 lawsuit between WCW and Flair, the company got their belt back and Flair got a cash settlement, believed to be more than the $38,000 he was owed. Flair would win the WWF Championship twice in 1992, the first of which as the result of winning the Royal Rumble match. He returned to WCW in February 1993 and would remain with the company until its sale to the WWF in March 2001.

As for the NWA world title, it would remain vacant until August 1992 when Masahiro Chono defeated Ravishing Rick Rude in the G1 Climax final to win the title. Ric would hold the NWA world title one last time in July 1993. That September, Flair was stripped of the title again when WCW withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance. That vacancy was infamously filled by Shane Douglas in August 1994, who promptly vacated the title when Eastern Championship Wrestling withdrew from the NWA. After going 42 years without a vacancy, the NWA world title had been vacated three times in as many years.

As for Jim Herd, he never recovered from the critical backlash he received from fans and wrestlers alike for letting WCW’s franchise player go. On January 8, 1992, just over six months to the day he fired Flair (and less than two weeks before Ric won the WWF Championship), Herd resigned.

33 years ago today in Atlanta, Georgia, Ron Garvin defeated Jake Roberts to win the NWA World Television Championship. On the same show, The Spoiler defeated Brad Armstrong to win the NWA National Heavyweight Championship.

18 years ago today, WWF announces on their website that they have signed Chris Jericho to a multi-year contract.

How it all went down as told in the July 10, 1999 issue of Pro Wrestling Torch:

Chris Jericho signed a multi-year contract with the WWF last week, a decision the WWF proudly announced on their website. WCW, it turns out, didn't aggressively pursue Jericho. Jericho's current WCW contract, which expires July 27, pays him $225,000 a year. WCW last fall put Jericho on a priority list of seven wrestlers whose contracts were coming due before the end of 1999. They were planning to offer him a raise to $450,000 a year for three years. It was the same deal that they planned to offer Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko - all of whom renewed with WCW months ago. (All three had been making $250,000 a year.)

As is standard, Jericho gave his 90 day notice at the end of April which made it legal for him to negotiate with the WWF. The WWF was excited about the prospects of signing Jericho, but whether they would be able to put in a competitive bid was in question. The WWF's "downside guarantee" pay structure for a wrestler at Jericho's level would slot him around $350,000. Granted, he would have an opportunity to make more than that if he becomes a featured performer and avoids injury. But, in a worst case scenario, he could make less than the initial WCW offer.

There is no reliable word on what WCW's final offer to Jericho was, but apparently Jericho signed with the WWF in great part because WCW didn't give the impression resigning him was a priority. Jericho is widely regarded as a potential future superstar, but given how disorganized WCW is and given the political climate that prevents talent from being utilized to their potential, Jericho's best chance at longterm stardom is in the WWF.

He will get that chance when he debuts, probably in early August. There has been a lot of talk that Jericho is "the next Shawn Michaels." Jericho is shorter than the average wrestler Vince McMahon targets as a main eventer, but his in-ring skill, mic skill, quick wit, enthusiasm for the business, and marketable looks apparently make him an exception to McMahon's rule. He isn't remarkably different in height from Ken Shamrock, whom the WWF also hopes to build into a main event heel. Rather than a Shawn Michaels role, Jericho may be more effective in an obnoxious heel role similar to Roddy Piper in the mid-'80s. A "Jericho's Pit" segment might take full advantage of his personality where he would interact with wrestlers in a weekly ratings-drawing segment, perhaps a staple of the new UPN show.

To cover the waiting period for his debut, they promote him via a “Countdown to the Millennium” clock that played on all WWF programming. The countdown would not expire until shortly after 10pm ET on August 9, the time and date of Jericho's WWF debut.

Though he struggled in his early months, he would go on to a moderately successful career, winning every championship available in the company, most notably the WWE intercontinental Championship a company record nine times, the World Heavyweight Championship three times, the WCW World Heavyweight Championship twice during the Invasion era, and become the first WWF Undisputed Champion in December 2001.

15 years ago today on RAW from Manchester, New Hampshire (WWE Network link), The Undertaker defeated Jeff Hardy to retain the Undisputed WWE Championship.

The bout was nominated for RAW Match of the Decade at the RAW 10th Anniversary Special in 2003 and in the leadup to RAW 1000 in July 2012, the match was selected the fifth best in the show’s history.

14 years ago today at a Smackdown taping in Rochester, New York (WWE Network link), Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) defeated Eddie Guerrero & Tajiri to win the WWE Tag Team Championship.

8 years ago today, WWE signs Serena Deeb to a developmental deal.

She joins the main roster about six months later as a converted audience member of the Straight Edge Society. Deeb is released in August 2010 allegedly for not living out her gimmick in public.

8 years ago today, Xtreme Pro Wrestling owner Rob Zicari, aka Rob Black and his wife Janet Romano, aka Lizzy Borden, were sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison and two years of supervised probation. The sentence comes three months after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute obscene materials.

The couple were indicted in August 2003 for selling graphic pornography through the mail and the Internet and sending said materials to a post office box in the Pittsburgh area. The federal investigation of the couple and their company, Extreme Associates (the parent company of XPW), came after a 2002 film featuring his wife in simulated rape scenes was profiled on the PBS Frontline.

Had the couple stood trial and were found guilty, they could have been fined up to $5 million and sentenced to a maximum of 50 years in prison.

Zicardi regained ownership of XPW in 2012 from Big Vision Entertainment (he first sold it in 2004), and though a couple of reunion shows were done, a planned reboot has never materialized.

5 years ago today, Lauren Williams, best known to wrestling fans as Angelina Love, announces via Twitter that she had requested and has been granted her release from the company. Her statement:

"To all my wonderful fans, just want to let you know I have been granted my release from TNA. It was completely amicable parting of ways and I want to thank TNA and all of its employees for the wonderful journey I've had there over the years. Now I'm on to the next amazing chapter of my life! If you are looking to book me please contact John at Thank you so much!"

Of course, Williams didn't stay gone; she returned to the company in March 2014. She found love during this run, dating and eventually marrying Wesley Richards, aka Davey Richards. Angelina gave birth to the couple's first child, David Vincent Richards, in March 2016.

It's a happy 35th birthday to Carmella Danielle Garcia, born Carmella DeCesare.

The 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year was the subject of a lot of controversy during her brief time in WWE. She was a contestant on the RAW Diva Search, finishing first runner-up to Christy Hemme. Despite not winning the competition (and not being very well-liked among the locker room), she was signed on to the company, but did not last long; she was released following Taboo Tuesday in October.

In 2007, DeCesare married NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia. The couple have four children together. Today, Carmella is the vice-president of Garcia's charity, the Garcia Pass It On Foundation.

It's a happy 50th birthday to Pamela Denise Anderson.

The Canadian-born actress/model/producer/author/activist has appeared on more Playboy covers than any model ever with 14, including their last ever nude issue released in December 2015 (the magazine has since reversed course on this, restoring nudity to its issues earlier this year).

Wrestling connection: Pamela was the big selling point for the 1995 Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania XI. Originally scheduled to valet for Royal Rumble winner Shawn Michaels, she valet instead for WWF Champion Diesel.

Interesting side note: Anderson is, believe it or not, Canada's Centennial Baby, being the first baby born on the one hundredth anniversary of the country's founding.

Now that the archives are cooperating more, today we bring back The Best of cSs. These were the most commented on posts on this day (not counting live blogs, results, and the Rumor Roundup). Note: you can’t comment on the posts, but do feel free to look if you want.

2016: Ted DiBiase: Roman Reigns is not a dope addict, he’s not addicted to anything — he deserves a second chance (WWE Hall of Famer says Roman Reigns is no drug addict in the wake of his suspension)

2015: Paul Heyman not accompanying HIS CLIENT, BROCK LESNAR to WWE Beast in the East (Paul Heyman not making the trip to Tokyo, says PWInsider)

2014: Hi, My Name is: Kevin Dunn (Cagesiders weigh in on the longtime producer; let’s just say there was a lot to be said)

2013: Bray Wyatt debuts on Raw next week (July 8) in Baltimore (Bray Wyatt’s coming to RAW… RUN)

2012: Will Rey Mysterio and The Miz be at WWE Money in the Bank? (Spoiler: Miz, yes; Mysterio, no)

2011: More on TNA lawsuits, TNA's History of Sexual Harassment (S. Bruce breaks down TNA’s legal issues and troubling history of sexual harassment)

2010: Bret Hart on Martha Hart's lawsuit: "I do suspect this lawsuit is more about publicity, ego, and small-mindedness than it is about pro-wrestling and all of those that are in it. " (Bret Hart goes in on Martha Hart suing WWE again)

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