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WCW were already plotting the return of Ric Flair in the days leading up to Halloween Havoc 1994, where Flair would end up being retired in the career vs career match against Hulk Hogan, the culmination of a six month plus feud that took WCW to new heights in many metrics. While many rightly condemned the idea that Flair's comeback was already guaranteed, there was no doubt that Flair would likely return within a year, it was just a matter of how they'd go about it.
Flair vanished from TV after his defeat as Hogan transitioned into a horribly misguided feud with the Three Faces of Fear. While going to a "career vs career" stipulation at the October PPV was disingenious, WCW were certainly correct in believing the loser of the feud (100% Flair) would be better served being off television completely, rather than trying to rebound from a feud where he couldn't beat Hogan when it mattered.
Plans in January called for Flair's return (to television, at least) at the 30th edition of the Clash of the Champions. Flair, it was said, had bought his own ringside tickets for the show, and he had. Except Harley Race ended up in a real-life car accident that seemingly scuppered plans for the big angle/story that was planned. It made his arrival at the Clash very anticlimactic, but the eventual alliance between him and Vader was on track, regardless.
We shoot ahead to the February pay per view - Superbrawl. Hogan and Vader were finally getting their story in tune, and Flair had returned to WCW Saturday Night, seemingly as an impartial observer. Flair's mantra was clear: he couldn't wrestle, nor did he want to, but he wanted back in. Some way, somehow. Be it as a manager, or even if he had to buy WCW himself - he would be back. Once again, he promised his presence would be seen at Superbrawl - but he wasn't pro Vader, nor was he pro Hogan, he just wanted the best man to win.
Superbrawl arrived and Hogan and Vader had clearly done something right. By the time the main event rolled around business felt like it was picking up, WCW had created a genuine big fight atmosphere the likes of which they certainly hadn't seen since the first Hogan vs Flair match in June - I'd argue it was stronger than that. There was one problem, though, who would lose the match. This issue would mainfest itself much more seriously at Uncensored, but hopes that Vader might win the title clean were misguided, Flair ended up attacking Hogan forcing the DQ. A tad of a shame but a very logical finish given where things were headed next.
On television, Flair was now a full blown heel. It became clear over the course of the weeks that followed that he hadn't taken to "retirement" well, and he blamed Hogan for that. While he couldn't wrestle Hogan himself, Vader could be his designated hitter. This lead to some of the best WCW television in a long, long time as Vader and Flair whipped things up into a frenzy. Flair went so insane on camera Bobby Heenan (yes, Bobby Heenan) came to his aid as Flair let loose on Dave Sullivan. Heenan would subsequently claim he was "saving Flair from himself".
Vader had been granted his rematch at Uncensored in a "strap match", the Hogan/Vader feud becoming a bit detached as Hogan didn't appear at the final two weeks before the show in person. Instead, the Hogan end of the feud was limited to Hogan unveiling his next step in his grand plan of reuniting the mid-80s WWF roster in WCW. They couldn't get Ultimate Warrior, so they instead promised the "Ultimate Surprise" at Uncensored.
None of this answered the one question that would've been going around backstage - who was going to lose between Hogan and Vader? Vader, as heavyweight champion of the UFWI promotion in Japan, couldn't lose while as champion as it was, but when Vader worked out Hogan wouldn't put him over, he didn't want to put Hogan over anyway. The third part of this perfect storm - given the pay per view was called "Uncensored" (WCW were marketing it as an unsanctioned PPV with no rules) they decided that a DQ finish was out of the question also.
Uncensored arrived and it was a bloody mess. Dustin Rhodes and Blacktop Bully got fired for blading during a King of the Road match on the back of a moving truck, Jim Duggan competed in martial arts match and the Nasty Boys and Harlem Heat competed in a Falls Count Anywhere match that was barely fit of the name. Oh, and Ric Flair appeared dressed in drag.
Yes! Flair, despite being head booker, wanted to go the extra mile to prove that his character had gone insane. Flair ran in through the crowd and attacked Randy Savage in his match against Avalanche (oddly enough, forcing a disqualification on a show without rules). The Flair character then cut a promo aligned with Vader (roughly an hour later), he wasn’t dressed in drag but was still visibly wearing eye-liner and nail varnish commitment to the cause, indeed.
Into the main event, Vader and Flair seemed set on double teaming Hogan, until “The Ultimate Surprise” debuted. It wasn’t the Ultimate Warrior, although his music sounded uncannily like it. It was “The Renegade”. The company stopped short of calling him “The Ultimate Renegade” and they bailed on going for Warrior face-paint in place of a red and yellow “R”. Renegade provided the opposition to Flair, evening up the numbers.
The match was a sideshow, the antics of Flair and Renegade took away from what teased being a half decent strap match. In the end, the match ended not with Vader dragging Hogan to all four corners, nor with Hogan dragging Flair to all four corners. It ended with Hogan dragging Flair to all four corners. It made no sense, but it was reflective of the circumstances at the time.
Flair was head-booker, but had no power of Hogan’s storylines. The power base of Hogan and Jimmy Hart was growing such that sometimes the entire booking committee was flown to Hogan and Hart rather than bothering Hogan flying him into Atlanta. There were big backstage issues that cause the Uncensored finish, in the end it was less a compromise and more art imitating life. Hogan dragging Flair to all four corners.
After Uncensored Flair was suspended by the ever excellent Nick Bockwinkel. Savage and Hogan pleaded for his reinstatement, wanting Flair back on the inside rather than having to deal with him from the outside. We went to a vote with the WCW board, who voted two four, two against and one abstention. For then, at least Flair remained retired. But Flair had a plan, and he had the money to buy the TV time on WCW to prove it.
Bring forward two of the best segments in the two years I have been covering these shows. Flair wanted people to “Be Fair To Flair”, the first he gave us ten reasons why Flair should be allow to return. One of the reasons, simply, was that he hadn’t returned already. Another was that people were going crazy, so much so that a woman attacked Savage at Uncensored. The final one was simply: “Woooo”. The second was one stood in front of a cardboard cut-out of Hulk Hogan repenting on his sins.
We eventually got back to a second vote by the WCW board, the difference was very little, but the vote was 3-2 in favour of Flair returning. In the end it was inevitable, but I will give WCW credit for creating a credible set of stories that at least made Hogan and Savage (the two main babyfaces) credible and realistic in why they did what they did.
How did Flair celebrate his unretirement? He flew to North Korea and main evented a record breaking pair of shows that entertained in total around 340,000 people.