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The feud was designed to make WCW a genuine competitor of the WWE in 1994 and hopefully beyond, pitting the two greatest wrestlers of their generation against each other. Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair was hoped to be the magic bullet, the feud that WWE never did (on TV at least), but did the WCW get the most out of their golden ticket?
Rumours about Hogan joining WCW had started in early 1994. Hogan was on set at Disney MGM filming Thunder in Paradise, the same place WCW taped their sydnicated TV shows. Hogan had departed the WWF in June of 1993, seemingly to pursue a career in acting, signing for WCW - it seems - was never an option when he left, but when WCW came in with a big offer, that the WWE couldn't match (despite having the option to) Hogan joining WCW was on.
Hogan was being paid a lot of money by WCW. They had cut back a long way on contracts and other expenses in the year or so prior, but Hogan's base salary was big, as was his cut of all merchandise sales. The kicker, the incentive if you will, was Hogan would receive a cut of the % increase of pay per view buys compared to the average before he arrived.
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Ric Flair, meanwhile, was back a top the WCW tree. Having defeated Vader at Starrcade for the World Heavyweight Championship he was the top man in the first half of 1994 - main eventing PPVs and Clash of the Champions events against Vader, Ricky Steamboat and Sting, the third of which he would unify the World and "International" (formerly NWA) title with at the Clash in June.
Flair was a babyface during the Vader feud, but as head booker he was slowly able to transitional himself to being a heel by March/April time once it became clear that Hogan's arrival would eventually become a formality. Hogan's name would first start appearing on WCW TV in April, Flair was being interviewed by Mene Gene Okerlund about the upcoming match with Ricky Steamboat at Spring Stampede - five questions would be about Hogan, the sixth and final about Steamboat.
The action began at the Clash of the Champions in June 1994, with Hogan making his first live appearance. WCW rolled out the red carpet with Hogan arriving in a limo with a police escort. Hogan would receive a mixed reaction, including some boos in front of the live crowd, but would cut a largely uneventful promo promising to defeat Ric Flair for the WCW World Title. You'd think they might wait until after Flair defeated Sting in the main event before having Hogan commit to his first opponent, but watchers of WCW Main Event already knew what the result was, as WCW aired the wrong control centre package on the Sunday before the clash – the segment was shot to air AFTER the Clash, and gave away the result of the main event as well as other matches on the card!
Flair and Hogan would square off at the Bash at the Beach PPV with the now unified WCW World Heavyweight Championship on the line. This was about as good a match as you could ever expect these two to have – Flair doing the bulk of the legwork, Hogan making a comeback before being cut-off by the excellent Sensous Sherri at ringside. Hogan would fight off all the odds, drop the leg and win the WCW World Title to a big pop. The show would do an estimated 1.02 buyrate grossing $2.58m on PPV, compared to a 0.5/$1.18m for Beach Blast the year before, headlined by Sting/Cactus Jack vs Vader and Sid.
Their clash at the Clash is perhaps the zenith of the entire program. Not for quality, necessarily – as Colin argued on the August 1994 podcast the angle that underscored the entire show took away from a lot of the other in ring action (although that might sum up Hulk Hogan). Hogan would come out for an interview early on in the show, only to be struck on the knee by a lead pipe from a masked man (who was meant to ultimately be revealed to be Mr Perfect – more on that later). Hogan would go down clutching his knee in a sea of bad acting and overreaction from Mene Gean Okerlund.
The scene that would underscore the show would be whether Hogan, who was rushed to a nearby hospital, would make it back to the arena in time. The angle dominated many of the other matches on the card, as announcers debated whether Hogan could even make it back. Nick Bockwinkel said that if Hogan couldn't defend his title, then he would be forced to hand it to Flair.
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But Hogan did make it – with a limp. Flair took an age to begin attacking Hogan's injured knee, the drama wasn't in short supply as Hogan appeared to submit, when being asked by the referee whether he was submitting in the Figure Four, Hogan would briefly say yes, before retracting it. The match would end with Flair winning... by count out... as Hogan hung out of the ring still wrapped in the Figure Four.
Whether the action or the angle at the Clash was unsatisfactory, the show was a big success. It was the most widely viewed wrestling match ever on cable television – seen in over four million households, as well as the largest audience for any modern NWA/WCW event. The aftermath of the event saw Flair leave with the Championship belt and WCW Commisioner Nick Bockwinkel suspend both Flair and Sensous Sherri from WCW action in the continental United States (morals seemingly out of the window for WCW's upcoming European tour).
September was a month off for the pairing – with Hogan's lucrative WCW contract only allowing a certain number of PPV dates. This left the Nasty Boys and Dustin and Dusty Rhodes to face off against Col. Robert Parker's Studd Stable, with Parker inexpicably replacing the powerhouse Meng to team with Terry Funk, Bunkhouse Buck and Arn Anderson in the War Games main event at Fall Brawl.
But fear not, just because Hogan wasn't being paid to wrestle didn't mean this feud would sit on the back burner. Instead we got Hogan vs Flair in a dueling phone promo segment, with Hogan in his gym in Florida and Flair, now happy in “retirement” in Las Vegas. In an only-in-wrestling segment Hogan, the real champion, would put his career on the just to get Flair to come back and face him one more time. Flair would accept gleefully, but it would only be two weeks of television before Flair was offering his own career in a similarly flimsy angle.
But the stage was set, Halloween Havoc, Hogan vs Flair, career vs career, inside a steal cage with Mr T. as special guest referee. This match was a mess in so many ways, with both Sensous Sherri and the masked man climbing inside the cage before Hogan would fight all three of them off. Oh, and did I mention Mr T. ends up handcuffed to the rope? The result, as expected, was Hogan winning the match and Flair silently retiring into the sunset. Well, except WCW (with Flair as head booker) were already planning Flair's comeback. Hogan would move onto a feud with the newly formed “Three Faces of Fear” lead by the masked man (now Brutus The Barber Beefcake aka Brother Bruti aka Big Brother aka The Butcher).
Was “career vs career” worth it? WCW hoped that 2.0 buyrate was possible, while those in the industry predicted something in the region of a 1.5. So to say the 0.95 was a shock would be an understatement. Still, the company would gross nearly $2.5m on the PPV, of which Hogan would earn $600k as his contract guaranteed him a % of the increase on the average buyrate before his arrival.
Was Flair vs Hogan a success? In my view yes it was. Hogan perhaps wasn't the awesome ratings or number draw that WCW had hoped – TV ratings (barring the Clash) barely moved, house show numbers weren't that strong either. The two big pay per view buyrates, however, were still a big increase on what WCW were doing pre Hogan.
More importantly, perhaps, was that it made WCW feel relevant. At a time when the WWF was reeling with the steroid trial as well as an under par TV product, WCW made hay with a an effecticve and predictable feud that produced probably more than anything else WCW could've put on. The big question was whether Hogan could do it now Flair was gone? WCW's next big match? Hogan vs The Butcher...
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