Ric Flair vs. Jerry "The King" Lawler (8/14/82)
This here is an example of the kind of stuff the old territory system was capable of producing. When Vince McMahon bought all the territories (or stole their biggest stars) and booked Hulk Hogan against Roddy Piper or Paul Orndorff in every arena in America, ticket sales skyrocketed for Vince, but created the potential for stale feuds. If you go to a wrestling site and check any three sets of house show results for WWE, you’re likely to see Edge beat Dolph Ziggler, Edge beat Dolph Ziggler, and Edge beat Dolph Ziggler. This, of course, is rounded out by a steady diet of Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler matches on TV, supplemented by the sixth encounter between Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio, and the fourth match between Jack Swagger and Kofi Kingston. In the territory system, one World Champion flew around the country and faced the top draws in every area. In the Mid-Atlantic territory, Ric Flair would face Dusty Rhodes. In Texas, he’d face Kerry Von Erich. In Minnesota, Nick Bockwinkle. And in Memphis, he’d face Jerry Lawler.
And while the match might be a little disappointing (another ten minutes would have been fabulous), the lead-in is anything but. Flair comes in during the middle of a two year long title reign, the man of long limousines, jet airplanes and custom made clothes, and he pays Memphis a few backhanded compliments. It ain’t Atlanta, Charlotte, or Chicago, but he expected a bunch of hicks. Flair sees himself as an ambassador from the first world, a savior to a wrestling-starved territory, and he’s going to do everybody in Memphis a favor by putting up his belt against the Southern Heavyweight Champion at an unspecified date in the future. Out comes Lawler, the Southern Heavyweight Champion, who challenges the cocky Flair to a 10 minute match with the belt on the line, and you’ve got your match.
The thing that makes it is Flair’s reaction to Lawler’s skill. “You country bumpkins, you rednecks,” he shouts, “you try to put something over on Mr. Cool. No way, daddy. Not today.” Not only does he keep his title, but he’s under no obligation to give Lawler a rematch. The NWA Board of Trustees isn’t going to recognize the match, and the contract he signed (on the championship belt, no less) is undated. But Flair man, he’s not going to take embarrassment from the King lightly, so he hires Jimmy Hart to find a guy to mail a piece of Lawler to him, to find a guy capable of taking out Lawler, and having his wrestling career finished. This sets off Jimmy Hart’s quest to find that man because, honestly, it isn’t going to be Andy Kaufman or his stable of schlubs.
This is an absolutely brilliant angle from start to finish. In one night of television, two years of storylines were set-up, as Hart would try again and again to find somebody up to the task of taking Lawler out, all for a $10,000 bounty. The real shame of it is that Flair never came back to Memphis to take the King out himself, but Flair’s a man of his word and said that there’s no way Lawler was getting another shot. This, like the Lawler/Terry Funk empty arena match I posted a month ago, is a prime example of two brilliant wrestling minds coming together for one tremendously booked angle, and its influence is vast. Well, at least on one guy:
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Chris Jericho wins the WWF Title
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Triple H vs. Chris Jericho (4/17/00)
Paul Arrand Rodgers
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