the proverbial shot of adrenaline


Inspired by Tomás, I thought I'd offer up a remembrance of a night at the Oakland Coliseum ... I can't believe I've never written of it here, but a quick search says no, so I'll go for it.

Back in 1991, Ric Flair moved to what was then still called the WWF. Flair, probably the greatest pro rassler of all time (despite the fact that he only had about four moves), was the top choice of the wrestling cult fans, while Hulk Hogan, the WWF champ at the time, was the #1 guy with the more casual fans ... in those days, as is still true, most people knew who Hulk Hogan was, he was a national pop culture hero. Flair, who like most rasslers switched back and forth during his career between good guy and bad guy, was always better as a heel, and he didn't really need good-guy ("face") status, because his fans rooted for him whether or not he was "good." His coming to the WWF was a very big deal in the wrestling world, even though Flair was already in his 40s.

Obviously, Flair vs. Hogan was going to get a big marketing push, and their first-ever match came in Oakland at a "house show" (i.e. one that wasn't televised). Flair had been the champ in his previous federation, WCW, when he came to the WWF, and there was a dispute over the championship belt, which Flair kept even after he left WCW. Meanwhile, Hogan was the WWF champ at the time and the Oakland match (as, I'm sure, all of their matches during that tour) was billed as a battle of champions, as well as an actual WWF championship matchup. The match's plot was simple: after some extended brawling that had both men in front, Flair cheated his way to a victory, in the process winning the WWF championship. Since wrestling championships very rarely change hands in a non-TV bout, you expected something would happen, and indeed it did, as a WWF official came out, explained to the ref that Flair had cheated, and declared Hogan the winner. If you feel like watching 15 minutes or so of early-90s WWF action, here's a match from later in 1991, after Hogan had lost his title to the Undertaker, which follows the same basic plot:

What made this all worthy of a blog post was the crowd. I have no idea what it was like in other parts of the country, although I suspect that Flair played well in the South where he'd been centered for so long, while Hogan was the man everywhere else. But in the Bay Area, Ric Flair and WCW had a hardcore fan base, and so the crowd at the Coliseum that night was split pretty much 50/50 between families with little Hulkamaniacs in tow, and Ric Flair fans ready to root on their favorite. It's worth noting that, at least to my eye, there was a fairly substantial racial breakdown to this split, with Flair having most of the African-American fans on his side. They all had their old Ric Flair posters and stuff, and they kept waving four fingers in the air (Flair being part of the Four Horsemen in his WCW days). Oh, and they all went "WOOOOOO!" on a regular basis, that being the Nature Boy's most popular catchphrase.

The result, in our section if nowhere else, was funny and ugly at the same time. You had these kids shouting WOOOOOO and waving the fingers and getting in people's faces ... in a fun sort of way, it must be added, that's what you do at rassling shows ... and then you had these Hulkamaniac tykes and their parents, none of whom seemed to know who Ric Flair was. The best/worst was this guy, I don't know, he was in his 40s I guess, who loved Hogan, hated Flair, and hated Flair's followers as well. He was a truly vile man ... he'd shout out "FUCK RIC FLAIR!" and "RIC FLAIR'S A FAGGOT!", and at one point I said hey man, there's kids here, which isn't something I'd usually worry about, but this guy was too much even for me. He made this terrible face and gave me another "FUCK RIC FLAIR!" Meanwhile, the Flair fans were laughing at him and holding up four fingers in his face.

Ah, the memories. You can imagine how bat-shit crazy the Flair supporters went when he "won" the title (yes, that includes me). Then we had to put up with the payback from the Hulkster's crowd once the decision was overturned. Didn't matter ... like cult fans in every endeavor, we knew our guy was the best, no matter who was more popular or owned the title.

Years later, after Flair had returned to WCW, Vince McMahon bought the company, leading to this, Flair's final promo for WCW: