Monday Night Means Wrestling: Ric Flair vs. Mr. Perfect (1/25/93)
Background: In 1992, The Ultimate Warrior, according to official WWE company line, pulled one of his stick-up jobs on the WWE. Vince McMahon, bearer of the world’s largest grapefruits, did not budge in the face of Warrior’s demands and changed the main event of Survivor Series 1992. Instead of Warrior and Randy Savage taking on the team of Ric Flair and Razor Ramon, Savage would seek help from an unlikely source: Flair’s friend and ringside advisor, Mr. Perfect. Wondering how such a thing came to pass? You’ve clearly never had Bobby Heenan antagonize you:
The Flair/Heenan/Perfect triumvirate was one of the great combinations in WWF history, the culmination of years of Bobby Heenan chasing the WWF Championship with his ever-growing Heenan Family of wrestlers. Not that Ric Flair needed a manager (let alone two), but he was the missing piece of the puzzle, and Perfect, recovering from a back injury, brought the physicality that The Brain no longer could. However, as the video above illustrates, the bonds that held Mr. Perfect and Ric Flair together were tenuous at best. In the end, all Macho Man had to do was ask for the aid of a perfect partner. When Flair informed Vince McMahon that he intended to return to World Championship Wrestling at the end of his WWF contract, the stage was set for the first match on the WWF’s new flagship program with any kind of stakes.
The Match: Foreshadowing a future where matches that would once find their way onto pay per view are instead given away, Curt Hennig and Ric Flair have one of the best matches of 1993, a match that still stands as one of the best in Raw history despite taking place way back on episode three. The miserable Rob Bartlett remains silent for the duration of this match, leaving Vince McMahon and a panicked Bobby Heenan to orate Flair’s final WWF appearance until the spring of 2002. Heenan, in addition to being the greatest manager of all-time, can also lay claim to being the best color commentator in wrestling history, and he was never better than when calling Ric Flair’s WWF run. Though not as virtuosic as his performance during the 1992 Royal Rumble or Flair’s WrestleMania showdown with Randy Savage, Heenan’s association with Flair was so strong that WCW exploited it in 1996, when Heenan would temporarily come out of retirement as a manager to advise Flair and Arn Anderson against the NFL team of Steve “Mongo” McMichaels and Kevin Greene. And when Hennig made his long-awaited WCW debut, making overtures to Flair about joining the Four Horsemen, it was Heenan who lobbied hardest for his inclusion during Nitro broadcasts, making the sting of his eventual nWo defection.
Atmosphere is what sets this match apart from the majority of main events from the early days of Raw. The prospect of Ric Flair or Mr. Perfect leaving the WWF forever was huge: both men were capable of winning the WWF Championship on any given night, but both were a mere three seconds away from packing their bags. Only the first match between Razor Ramon and The Kid matches it in terms of notoriety. Though McMahon kind of spoils the psychology of both men starting the match out slowly, the match builds from their feeling out process to a war of attrition, Hennig’s cartoonish bumps and Flair’s cowardice culminating in a series of breathtaking nearfalls. In serving as a swan song for Flair’s WWF tenure and a proper set-up for Mr. Perfect’s first run as a fan-favorite since Hennig was a fixture in the AWA, this is almost a perfect match. Both men are desperate, both men are crafty, but, bleeding from the forehead and jabbing at Flair with the poise of Ali, it’s Perfect who has the fortitude to keep his career in the World Wrestling Federation going.
Hennig’s run as a face didn’t last long, which is what happens when you go by the name Mr. Perfect. A slew of injuries and a gigantic insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London set Hennig pinballing between roles: he wrestled, he commentated, he served as a guest referee, and he acted as the advisor for a young Hunter Hearst Helmsley. With the exception of 1993, Hennig wouldn’t wrestle a full schedule until 1997, and though his WCW run has its fair share of remarkable matches, he’d never again reach these dizzying heights. Flair, of course, picked up right where he left off in WCW, putting on a classic match with Vader at Starrcade 1993 and rekindling his legendary rivalry with Ricky Steamboat in 1994. With the arrival of Hulk Hogan that summer, Flair would quickly find himself shuffled to the bottom of the main event scene. He won his fair share of championships and could be counted for your typical good Ric Flair match, but it wasn’t until Hennig’s arrival in 1997 that the Nature Boy of old woke up. Though they’ll always be remembered more for how good they were as a unit, matches like this make me wish they had more history as adversaries.