Monday, August 31, 2009

Mike Rickard Provides the Randy Savage Bio the WWE Didn't Part Two

Two weeks ago, we examined the exciting career of "Macho Man" Randy Savage from his earliest years up until his first feud against Hulk Hogan. As 1986 began to wind down, Savage was in strong control of the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship but that was about to change. A new challenge awaited Savage in the form of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Steamboat had entered the WWF in 1985 just several months before Savage's WWF debut. Like Savage, Steamboat was championship material but he had been mired in feuds against the Magnificent Muraco and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. However Steamboat had refocused himself and set his sights on Savage's I-C belt. Savage now faced the greatest challenge to his title yet.

Savage learned how tough of a competitor Steamboat was during a match taped for WWF Superstars. The fans would also learn the lengths to which Savage would go to hold on to his belt during this heated encounter. The fans watching this match knew they were watching a match for the ages. Steamboat fought with everything he had, putting the champion on the defensive. Steamboat's momentum made it appear almost certain that Savage was going to lose the championship. In fact, Steamboat looked to have won the belt until the controversial arrival of heel referee Danny Davis. Davis interrupted the count, giving Savage a chance to regroup. Savage capitalized and sent Steamboat out of the ring where "The Macho Man" proceeded to assault Steamboat's throat area. After throwing Steamboat back into the ring, Savage took the timekeeper's belt and jumped off the top rope with it, using it to crush Steamboat's larynx. Steamboat was hospitalized and fans wondered if he could ever come back from the devastating injury he had suffered.

Just when it looked as if Savage had ended the challenge (and career) of Ricky Steamboat, "The Macho Man" got a rude awakening when Steamboat showed up at ringside for one of his matches! From there, Steamboat made his presence known and Savage knew that he would have to do battle with the man who had taken all he could dish out and still come back for more!

A rematch was signed for Savage and "The Dragon" to appear at Wrestlemania III. In what is largely regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time, Savage and Steamboat fought over the Intercontinental Championship. The two fought back and forth with neither man gaining the upper hand for long. Finally, after referee Dave Hebner was accidentally knocked out, Savage clotheslined Steamboat and laid him out. He climbed to the top rope and delivered his deadly flying elbowsmash from the top rope, covering Steamboat for the pin. Unfortunately for Savage, the referee was still unconscious and couldn't make the count. Savage then went to repeat the move that had nearly ended Steamboat's career. Frustrated, Savage grabbed the timekeeper's bell and climbed the top rope to deliver the same move that had crushed Steamboat's larynx months earlier.. Perhaps remembering how Steamboat had saved him from the brutal attack of Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik many months before, George "The Animal" Steele knocked Savage off the top rope, giving Steamboat the opportunity to rally back. When Savage bodyslammed Steamboat, Steamboat hung on to Savage and rolled him up for the pinfall victory. Ricky Steamboat was the new Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion.

By now, fans were warming to Savage and he turned babyface. After the WWF Title was declared vacant when Andre the Giant sold the belt to "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, a tournament was held for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania IV. Savage fought his way through three opponents to the finals where he faced "The Million Dollar Man" in the finals. However DiBiase was far from finished with his quest for the gold. True to form, DiBiase, DiBiase, stacked the deck by placing both Virgil and Andre the Giant in his corner. Things looked bleak for Savage but help came in the shape of Hulk Hogan. In the final round, Hulk Hogan lent his support to Savage by blasting DiBiase with a steel chair, helping Savage win the belt.

Shortly thereafter, Savage began feuding with Ted "Million Dollar Man" DiBiase and Andre the Giant. Savage was no match for both wrestlers so he teamed with Hulk Hogan, forming a tag team known as the Mega Powers. The MegaPowers met DiBiase and Andre at SummerSlam. Jesse "The Body" Ventura was appointed as the special referee but fans were skeptical that he would call a fair match given the financial incentives DiBiase would no doubt give him to call things in the Million Dollar Man's favor. In the end, the lovely Elizabeth unleashed her secret weapon- an eenie weenie polka dot bikini which distracted the Megapowers' foes and allowed them to rally back and defeat Andre and DiBiase.

Over the next year, the MegaPowers slowly began to split apart as Savage became increasingly jealous over what he thought was Hulk Hogan "lusting after Elizabeth". Finally, the Mega Powers exploded during a match between the dream team and the team of the Big Bossman and Akeem the African Dream Savage brutally attacked Hogan, setting up a main event match at Wrestlemania V. Elizabeth remained in a neutral corner during the match, in which Hogan regained the WWF Title.

Savage felt that Elizabeth had betrayed him and replaced her with valet Sherri Martel. "Scary" Sherri often aided Macho Man with the help of a loaded purse and Savage continued his winning ways in the WWF, eventually defeating "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan for the King of the Ring title. The Macho King (as Savage was known after defeating Duggan) then began a feud with the Ultimate Warrior after helping Sgt. Slaughter defeat the Warrior for the WWF Title. Before the match began, "The Macho King" (as Savage was calling himself) attacked the champion to the point where the Ultimate Warrior had to crawl to the ring for the match. Amazingly, the Ultimate Warrior rallied back until the "Macho King" blasted a ruby scepter over the Warrior's head giving Slaughter the opening he needed to clinch his win. Savage and the Warrior feuded, culminating in a retirement match in which Savage lost, forcing him to leave the squared circle. After losing the match, an enraged Sherri Martel attacked Savage but Elizabeth rushed to the ring and saved Savage.

Although Savage could no longer wrestle, he continued to appear in the WWF as a color commentator. He also rekindled his romance with Elizabeth and eventually married her at SummerSlam. However the wedding reception was crashed by Jake "The Snake" Roberts and the Undertaker who attacked Savage and terrified Elizabeth with a snake they had placed in one of their gifts. Unable to wrestle, Savage was unable to exact revenge on Roberts until he received special dispensation from WWF President Jack Tunney. Savage and Roberts would feud for several months before Savage destroyed Roberts in a match on Saturday Night's Main Event.

His feud with Roberts finished, Savage turned his sights to the WWF Championship again (held by Ric Flair who had won the title at the Royal Rumble). Flair and Savage feuded with Flair taunting Savage that Elizabeth was "damaged goods" and that Flair had romanced her before Savage even knew her. Flair and Savage met at Wrestlemania where Savage won his second WWF Title. It wasn't long before Savage lost the title to Flair and began feuding with Razor Ramon (who helped Flair regain the belt from Savage).

Savage began wrestling less frequently in the WWF and joined Vince McMahon as a color commentator on Monday Night RAW. Savage found himself thrust back into the spotlight when his protégée Crush turned on him, blaming Savage for an injury he suffered at the hands of Yokozuna. Savage would face Crush at Wrestlemania X in a Falls Count Anywhere Match, proving that he still had it in the ring. Then, in a surprise move, Savage left the WWF for rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) becoming one of their top babyface wrestlers and teaming with Hulk Hogan. Savage rekindled his feud with Ric Flair and battled Flair over the WCW World Title after winning his first WCW belt in a 60 man battle royal. The Savage/Flair feud was taken to another level when Miss Elizabeth entered WCW and turned heel against Savage by joining Flair.

The Macho Man became involved in one of the biggest angles of all time when WCW was invaded by the New World Order. Savage defended WCW against the NWO, rekindling his feud with Hulk Hogan (a founding member of the NWO). Savage challenged Hogan for the WCW Championship but the continued interference of nWo members made it impossible for Savage to wrest the belt from Hogan.

After his WCW contract expired, Savage disappeared from the company for several months before resurfacing at the 1997 Super Brawl PPV. Savage shocked the fans when he interfered in the WCW title match between champion Hulk Hogan and challenger "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, helping Hogan to retain the belt. Savage was now a member of the New World Order he had spent several months fighting.

Now a member of the nWo, Savage battled WCW's babyfaces such as Diamond Dallas Page and Lex Luger. The feud against Page went on for most of 1997, culminating in a Las Vegas Death Match at Halloween Havoc. After feuding with Page, Savage found himself embroiled against "The Total Package" Lex Luger. After the program with Luger ended, Savage found his rivalry with Hulk Hogan was far from over. With Sting holding the WCW championship, Hogan and Savage found themselves fighting over who would challenge Sting for the belt. Hogan and Savage's rivalry quickly ignited into downright hostility when Hogan tried to keep Savage from winning the belt. When Savage won the belt, the nWo found itself split into two factions with Hogan leading his teammates against the nWo members who had sided with "The Macho Man". Once again, Savage was a babyface as were his comrades in what became known as the nWo Wolfpack.

Unfortunately for "The Macho Man", years of wear and tear had taken their toll on his body, forcing him to undergo knee surgeries. This would lead to Savage's absence from WCW for most of 1998. When he returned, Savage introduced his new female valet Gorgeous George. He also introduced the fans back to his heel side as he allied himself with Sid Vicious as well as two new female companions, Madusa and Miss Madness. This team would see Savage capture the WCW title once again, this time in a tag match at Slamboree. The reign lasted all of one day with Hogan defeating Savage the next night on Monday Night Nitro.

By 1999, WCW was beginning to tailspin as the WWF overtook it in the Monday Night War. Savage continued working for WCW until his contract expired in 2000. His last major program saw him allied with WCW's veterans known The Millionaire's Club against the young upstarts known as The New Blood. Savage then disappeared from the world of wrestling for several years.

Despite his absence from wrestling, Savage remained busy, appearing as a wrestler in the blockbuster film Spider-Man and recording a universally panned rap album entitled Be a Man. During his hiatus from wrestling, Savage challenged Hulk Hogan to a shoot wrestling match for charity. The match failed to materialize but rumor has it that the two ran into each other at a TNA show.

With WCW out of business, fans began to wonder if Savage might show back up in the WWE. Over the years, rumors have flown that Savage is persona non grata at the WWE. While no one knows the reason why, Vince McMahon has made it clear that Savage is one of the very few people who he will not do business with. Fans wanting to see the Macho Man in action were excited when Savage returned to the ring for Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in 2004. Sadly, his appearance was short-lived and fans were shocked to see that the once muscular Savage had become a shell of his former self.

Since this time, Savage has been noticeably absent from the world of wrestling. However he still remains one of the most popular men in the history of the business. Despite a fifteen year absence from WWE television, Savage's Macho Madness DVD proved to be a success, demonstrating that while he is gone from the airwaves, he is not gone from the hearts and minds of wrestling fans everywhere.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Epic Fail: Cock a doodle doo!

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops. The book reminded me that for every Star Wars, there's ten Battle Beyond the Stars and that no artist has a perfect track record (just look at Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and I'll rest my case). In the spirit of kicking a man while he's down, I've decided to take a look at some of wrestling's biggest flops of late Join me as I look at some of the biggest misfires in the history of the squared circle.

Whether you call them gimmicks or characters, wrestling fans have come to expect their wrestlers to have something that sets them apart from the pack (besides talent). While some traditionalists argue that wrestlers never needed gimmicks or characters to get over, that's really not true. Wrestlers have used gimmicks or played characters for decades. Cowboys, wildmen, the All-American, the dastardly foreign menace- all of these archtypes have made it easier for promoters to book wrestlers by adding a little razzle-dazzle to them.

That's why it's no surprise that when Vince McMahon decided to highlight the show business aspect of wrestling, his promotion was heavy on characters with wild gimmicks. Once McMahon got the Rock and Wrestling Era into full gear, wrestlers sported musical entrances, flashy costumes, and a menagerie of bit players ranging from Damien the snake to Frankie the macaw.

At its best, a gimmick can help a wrestler make the jump from star to superstar. The Undertaker's gimmick helped wrestler Mark Calloway go from "Mean" Mark Callous in WCW to the top of the pack in the WWF. Gimmicks (like managers) can help guys get over who might not seem like star material on their own. While gimmicks can be a good (or even great) thing, they can also harm a career. In one wrestler's case, a gimmick took what looked to be a promising career and permanently damaged (some would argue destroyed) it. In this case, the wrestler was Terry Taylor and the gimmick hardly needs any introduction. It has become synonymous with bad booking and how a lousy idea can stick with someone for the rest of their life. Of course I'm talking about the gimmick known as "The Red Rooster".

Born Paul W. Taylor III, the man who would become better known to wrestling fans as Terry Taylor got his start in the South. Taylor's good looks nearly saw him become one half of the innovative tag team the Fabulous Ones but Steve Keirn would eventually earn the spot, forming the team with Stan Lane. Undaunted, Taylor continued wrestling, attracting the attention of both fans and promoters alike with his fluid ring-skill and good looks. A subsequent run in Bill Watts' Mid South Wrestling proved to the fans that Taylor was more than just a pretty boy, cementing his popularity with male fans who might have questioned his toughness.

Naturally, Taylor's good looks didn't hurt him either. Female fans flocked to see him, making him one of the more popular wrestlers alongside other heartthrobs such as the Rock and Roll Express, the Von Erichs, and Magnum T.A. Taylor soon found himself being profiled in wrestling magazines, a sign of his growing popularity. In the ring, he earned various regional championships and became a viable contender for the NWA World Heavyweight championship.

By 1987, Taylor was a top star in Bill Watts' Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), the successor to Mid South Wrestling. However when Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) bought out Watts' financially troubled UWF, Taylor (along with most of the stars of the UWF) had the rug pulled out from under him as the UWF stars became little more than jobbers for Crockett's wrestlers. In Taylor's case, he was put into a short-lived program where he was jobbed to Crockett's star Nikita Koloff. Taylor's experience in UWF would be a harbinger of his next trip to greener pastures.

In 1988, Taylor entered the WWF with a reputation as a solid worker with an enthusiastic fan base, a fan base eager to see how he would fare in the WWF. Some fans were skeptical, believing that Taylor would have trouble succeeding in a promotion that revolved around pushing big muscular wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior as opposed to technically proficient workers like Taylor. Others pointed out that while the WWF favored big men, it also recognized the need for good workers and that wrestlers such as Ricky Steamboat and Ted DiBiase had shown there was room for success for guys like Taylor.

One of the keys to Taylor's future in the WWF would be the gimmick the WWF gave him. By the time of Taylor's debut, everyone had a gimmick, regardless of their reputation prior to entering the WWF. This point was driven home when seven-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race entered the WWF as "King" Harley Race. Race's record-breaking reign as NWA champion was ignored in favor of booking him in his new persona as the arrogant king of wrestling. While some fans didn't care for the WWF's reliance on saddling everyone with a gimmick, it was the way the company did business. Taylor had the skills to get the job done in the ring. Now, his fans could only hope that their favorite would get a good gimmick that he could use to springboard himself into the WWF spotlight and then show the fans the skills that had served him so well thus far.

Sadly for Taylor, the gimmick that could have done this ended up going to another man. Legend has it Taylor was originally considered for the role of "Mr. Perfect", a role which could have propelled Taylor to the top of the federation (as it did for the man chosen to play "Mr. Perfect"- Curt Hennig). Instead, Taylor was saddled with a gimmick known as the Red Rooster. It would be a classic case of one person getting the gold mine and the other getting the shaft.

As bad as the gimmick sounded, it was even worse in practice. Sporting red hair spiked to look like a rooster, Taylor entered the ring in red tights strutting around the ring like, well...a rooster! The gimmick itself was just so bad and so was the way in which it was implemented. Normally, having the top heel manager of the promotion (in this case Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) guiding your career was a good thing. Instead, Taylor was portrayed as having Heenan take him under his wing (no pun intended) in order to show how Heenan could manage anyone to the top. From there, things got even worse when Taylor entered the ring. As if strutting around the ring like a rooster wasn't bad enough, WWF announcers had fun with Taylor's looks and name during matches. For example, during a Taylor/DiBiase match, Vince McMahon recalled famous chickens such as Chicken Little and remarked on Taylor's smoothness in the ring as "poultry in motion". After DiBiase defeated Taylor and stuffed a one hundred dollar bill in his mouth, Jesse "The Body" speculated on how much chicken feed Taylor could buy.

Eventually, Taylor parted ways with Heenan, turning babyface and wrestling on the undercard at Wrestlemania V. At this point, the WWF could have had Taylor dump the "Red Rooster" persona (just as he had dumped Heenan as his manager) and make a fresh start. Instead, the WWF kept the gimmick on him and began jobbing Taylor out to the company's heels. Showing his professionalism, Terry Taylor continued to put on good matches even though he was doomed to count the lights by the end of the match.

In the end, the "Red Rooster" gimmick devastated Taylor's career. No matter how good Taylor looked in the ring (and he could put on one hell of a match), the gimmick killed him. He became the laughingstock of wrestling with fans mocking him and wrestling magazines wondering how someone so talented could sink so low. Fans who had never seen him before his entrance into the WWF wondered why his fans were so big on him. The fans who had supported Taylor's career prior to his WWF days were shell-shocked. How could such a talented wrestler end up as the butt of so many jokes?

In a testament to Taylor's ability as a wrestler, he actually managed to salvage his career when he left the WWF for WCW in 1990. Unfortunately for Taylor, WCW (which was doing its best to be a poor man's version of WWF) saddled him with lackluster gimmicks such as Terrance Taylor and "The Taylor Made Man", hardly the way to rebuild his reputation after the "Red Rooster" debacle.

A talented wrestler, Taylor would never have trouble finding work but he would have trouble finding main event success. His career never rebounded from the Red Rooster gimmick. Fortunately for Taylor, his reputation in the ring saw him find work backstage as a booker and agent and recently, as head of talent relations in TNA. To this day, fans still wonder how Terry Taylor's career would have gone had he played "Mr. Perfect" (or just about anything but "The Red Rooster"). Instead, they can't help but equate "Red Rooster" with epic fail in the gimmick department.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mike Rickard Provides the Randy Savage Bio the WWE Didn't Part One

Recently, the WWE released Macho Madness: The Ultimate Randy Savage Collection, a three disc set featuring some of the "Macho Man's" greatest matches. What it didn't feature though was a career retrospective of Savage, leaving some fans feeling left out in the cold. While everyone has their reasons why Vince McMahon harbors a grudge for Savage, the bottom line is that the fans were denied an opportunity to explore Savage's rise to greatness. In light of this, allow me to provide a little background on a man who personified excitement in the ring and on the microphone.

Randy Savage's (born Randy Mario Poffo) first brush with professional sports wasn't in pro wrestling but as an outfielder for the farm team of the Saint Louis Cardinals (and others). Savage competed both as a baseball player and a wrestler, donning a mask to hide his identity when he wrestled (At the time, it was not uncommon for sports players to work wrestling during the off-season). Eventually, Poffo's father Angelo started his own promotion, inviting his sons Randy and Lanny to join him there. Angelo, a successful wrestler during the 1950's and 60's formed the International Championship Wrestling (ICW) promotion, an outlaw promotion that operated in the Southeast.

Savage joined his brother Lanny Poffo working in the ICW and battled his brother for the ICW Championship. After the ICW folded, Randy began wrestling for the Memphis based Championship Wrestling Association (CWA) promotion, the same organization the ICW had once competed against. Joined by his brother and father, Savage quickly captured the spotlight as a much hated heel, feuding with the Rock-n-Roll Express and Memphis heroes Austin Idol and Jerry "the King" Lawler.

With his chiseled physique and lightning fast speed, Savage was a sight to behold in the ring. "The Macho Man" combined the excitement of the high-flyers along with the action of the brawlers. Although Savage was not wrestling for a large promotion, he captured the imagination of wrestling fans from around North America after a thrilling match with the Rock-n-Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) highlighted by one of the most brutal spots in wrestling. The spot saw Savage piledrive Ricky Morton through a bench after the match ended,perhaps the first time such a move had been executed. The spot was soon talked about by fans everywhere and thanks to its inclusion on the compilation tape Lords of the Ring, earning Savage nationwide fame amongst the wrestling community.

The bench-breaking incident was just one of many highlights for "The Macho Man" in Memphis. In addition to his outrageous interviews, Savage continued to taunt the fans by making brutal attacks on the area's babyfaces. One such attack occured when Savage used a baseball bat to beat up "The Universal Hearthrob" Austin Idol, making short work of Idol and leading to a title win for Savage. Savage would later feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler, capturing Lawler's Southern Heavyweight Championship.

After bowing to defeat in a loser leaves town match against Lawler, Savage surfaced in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the peak of the Rock-n-Wrestling Era (joined by brother Lanny Poffo whose family tie to Savage was ignored). The various managers of the WWF courted Savage as their client but Savage shocked the wrestling world when he chose newcomer Miss Elizabeth as his manager. While no one had seen or heard of Elizabeth, she captured everyone's attention with her stunning good looks. Still, the fans could not help but wonder what Elizabeth brought to the table besides the obvious.

Looking back at Savage's early days in the WWF, one has to acknowledge what a brilliant move it was to have Miss Elizabeth manage Randy Savage. While Savage's work in the ring was phenomenal, his pairing with Miss Elizabeth catapulted him to the front of the pack in the WWE. The unique relationship between Savage and Elizabeth quickly had fans talking. It was a classic case of beauty and the beast with the lovely Elizabeth (a name that would become as synonymous with her as "Miss Elizabeth") providing a doting mild mannered contrast to the boisterous larger-than-life "Macho Man". Even more curious was what Elizabeth saw in Savage. While "The Macho Man" was a clear-cut heel, there was nothing heelish about her. Unlike other managers of heels, Elizabeth never cheated on Savage's behalf. The fans began wondering why Elizabeth (who seemed like a decent person) managed Savage, especially given the way he constantly belittled Elizabeth, even using her as a shield against babyface opponents.

While the fans continued to question the dynamics of the Macho Man/Elizabeth relationship, Savage won match after match. Savages success in the ring eventually earned him the #1 contender's spot for the Inter-Continental Championship, a belt held by babyface Tito Santana. Savage proved to be a formidable opponent for Santana with the champion fighting off Savage's challenges until an epic encounter in the Boston Garden. On February 8, 1986, Savage wrested the belt from Santana but his win was not without controversy. Late in the match, Savage grabbed a foreign object, blasting the champion with it as Santana suplexed him into the ring. The blow kayoed Santana, leading to an easy pinfall and championship victory.

Following his title win over Santana, Savage began what would become one of the greatest Intercontinental Championship title reigns of all time. Savage defended his belt against Santana as well as WWF veteran George "The Animal" Steele. Smitten with Elizabeth, the simple-minded Steele battled Savage not only for the I-C belt but for the heart of Miss Elizabeth. While Steele's matches weren't much in the ring, the added drama of him trying to woo Elizabeth made for an interesting program.

While the Intercontinental Championship brought prestige to Savage's career, "The Macho Man" had his sights on something even bigger. As I-C champ, Savage was the defacto number one contender for Hulk Hogan's WWF Championship, a belt that was his ultimate goal in the WWF. Savage pursued Hogan's belt with an intensity that fit his surname, waging war with the Hulkster in a classic series in Madison Square Garden. Savage took Hogan to the limit and although he failed to capture Hogan's belt, it was just the beginning of many classic encounters.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Greatest Story Never Told: The Battle of the Nature Boys Flair vs. Landell

Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.
-Mason Cooley

Professional wrestling has many examples of the adage "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". Back in the 80's, the Road Warriors spawned more knock-offs than Gucci handbags on New York City street corners. However wrestling also endorses the idea that "there can only be one". In a business driven by ego, there's only room for one. This was seen in the classic "Battle of the Nature Boys" in the late 1970's and nearly came to repeat itself a decade later. The first battle was a short-lived but memorable classic while the second became better known as a case of "what might have been".

The battle of the Nature Boys. A memorable encounter that played an important role in Ric Flair's ascension to greatness. The brief but memorable encounter saw Ric Flair battle the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in a match to determine who would hold the title of "Nature Boy". Rogers, a legend in the sport and one of the wrestlers who inspired Flair to enter the business, had come to Flair's stomping grounds in the Mid Atlantic area's Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP). With two egos as big as Flair and Rogers, there could be no sharing of the name, thus a battle between Flair and Rogers was inevitable. Rogers, the man who originally soared to fame under the "Nature Boy" nickname had seen better days but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. The cagey veteran was ready to show Flair why he had enjoyed so much success (part of which involved him being the first man to hold the NWA World championship and the World Wide Wrestling Federation championship) and maintain his claim to the title "Nature Boy". However when the battle was over, Flair stood triumphant, once again proving that "to be the man, you've got to be the man."

As wrestling promoters has proved time after time, good angles are made to be used again and again. Flash forward several years later to 1985. Jim Crockett Promotions is holding its own against the national expansion of Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and one of the key pieces in JCP's success is its world champion, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. By this time, Flair is at the peak of his game, having honed his craft to perfection and developed a reputation as the man who could wrestle a broom to a five star match.

While Flair was enjoying his time at the top of the mountain, a hungry young competitor by the name of Buddy Landell was making a name for himself elsewhere. Landell broke into the business in 1979 after training under famed grappler Boris Malenko. Malenko's reputation helped Landell gain entrance into the business and soon he was wrestling throughout many of the territories at the time including Mid South, Memphis, and others. Landell's big break came in 1983 when he was asked to dye his hair blonde and work in Puerto Rico as a heel. From there, his career began to build momentum and he began working as "Nature Boy" Buddy Landell.

For decades, it was common for wrestlers to adopt the gimmicks of other successful wrestlers, especially when most fans' knowledge of wrestlers was limited to what they could tune in on their local television channel. If a promoter saw that "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes was over big in Florida, they could make their own version of the Dream (as happened in Memphis when Dusty's "cousin" Dirty Rhodes began wrestling for Jerry Jarrett). In most cases, the copycat wrestler was a cheap imitation but in the case of Buddy Landell, imitation was turning into innovation. It only became a matter of time before fans began speculating who was the better Nature Boy.

With the rise of cable TV, fans became aware of other wrestling promotions and their wrestlers. Inevitably, fans who saw a "Nature Boy" in one area couldn't help but wonder how their "Nature Boy" would stand up against the other. Typically, these confrontations never took place as rival promoters didn't want to pit their version against another, especially when they were dealing with an imitation. However in the case of Buddy Landell and Ric Flair, a confrontation was put into place.

In 1985, JCP began planting the seeds of what they had to have hoped would be a big money feud between National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair and a talented upstart. Things began with Landell entering the Crockett territory with manager James J. Dillon at his side. Landell wasted no time making it clear who the real Nature Boy was. During a TV interview, Landell recalled how his career was floundering until he got a phone call from manager James J. Dillon. Landell knew that Dillon saw a diamond in the rough and it was his call up to the big leagues i.e. Jim Crockett Promotions. Landell recalled how Ric Flair had taken the name "Nature Boy" from another man and the history books would one day show that Buddy Landell had seized the title "Nature Boy". Flair was a great champion but he was an old man and it was Landell's time to take his place.

More interviews followed with Landell positioning himself as "The Real Nature Boy". JCP even filmed vignettes involving Landell and his bid to topple Flair. One involved DIllon trying to watch a Flair match and analyze it with Landell only for Landell to yawn and tell JJ that Flair bored him. The vignette continued with Landell partying the night away while Dillon reluctantly joined along, no doubt concerned that Landell was taking his opponent too lightly.

As the program slowly unwinded, Landell continued boasting of being the real thing while he wrestled his way up the ladder. Eventually, Ric Flair began to take note of Landell's boasts and a confrontation seemed inevitable. While a few matches did take place at house shows, JCP was unable to pull the trigger on what could have been a big feud due to Landell being fired after falling prey to personal demons. What might have been a great program never saw the light of day.

According to interviews with Landell, Flair was slated to take time off from JCP in order to deal with a family crisis. This would lead to a match with Landell defeating Flair for the title and him holding it until Flair's return. As we know, this never happened but what if it had? How successful would Landell's run as world champion have been? Anyone familiar with Buddy Landell's work at the time knows that he was a good worker with good microphone skills (A great example of this is Landell's work in Memphis around 1986 with "Superstar" Bill Dundee during their program against Jerry "The King" Lawler).

If a Landell vs. Flair program had taken place, wrestling as we know it might have been very different. With James J Dillon managing Landell, would the Horsemen have ever formed? Would Flair have stayed as a face rather than turning heel as he did around this time? Bear in mind that around the time of the proposed Flair/Landell feud, Flair was just beginning down the road that would lead to the formation of the Four Horsemen. Around this time, the fans in the Mid-Atlantic area still held a soft spot for Ric Flair, cheering him even while fans in most other promotions booed him for his heelish tactics. In JCP, Flair wrestled against babyfaces as well as heels but by September 1985 (the time when the Landell program was beginning to pick up speed), the promotion seemed headed towards booking Flair as a straight out heel, particularly following his infamous attack on Dusty Rhodes in a cage (the classic beatdown that eventually led to the formation of the Four Horsemen).

However, with Landell's program with Flair, things could have been much different. Flair clearly would have been the face in a program against Landell and his heel manager James J. Dillon. Thus, JCP could have continued its booking style of having Flair work as a babyface or heel, depending on his opponents. Assuming this happened, it's difficult to imagine Flair working as a Horsemen, especially with J.J. Dillon out of the mix. That isn't to say however that the Horsemen might not have been formed with Landell filling Flair's spot, especially when one remembers that Dillon was also managing Tully Blanchard (one of the original Horsemen) at the time. Without the Horsemen (and a heel Flair), would JCP been able to compete as well as it did against the WWF?

Like any "what if", we'll never know what might have happened and we can only speculate. The wrestling world might have been very different or things might have taken a different path to where they ended up in the real world. After defeating Landell, Flair could easily have turned heel with Dillon dumping Landell and joining Flair's side. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination.

Ironically, the Battle of the Nature Boys would be revisited in the 1990's when Landell was set to face the original Nature Boy, Buddy Rogers. The match was set up in the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance after Rogers special refereed a match involving Landell and Landell attacked Rogers. After a Rogers comeback, the match was signed but sadly, the promotion folded and Rogers died not long after.

In the end, wrestling fans were denied the chance to see what could have been a memorable feud. What would have happened? We can only speculate as we look back on one of the greatest stories never told.