The formula was to have been fairly simple for last week's Monday Night Raw at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Ric Flair, the greatest performer in the history of the business, would make his first live local wrestling appearance in more than three years. The moment would be even sweeter considering he had returned to WWE a week earlier following a hiatus of several months. His promo on that week's edition of Raw, which aired from his hometown of Charlotte, was the highlight of the show, and his non-title win over WWE champion Randy Orton drew one of the best numbers in months for the highly rated mat program.
Some local fans remained skeptical, however, recalling past WWE shows in which Flair was pulled at the last minute for storyline reasons (selling an injury) and off-camera circumstances (fallout over a highly publicized divorce and an alleged road rage incident in which charges were later dropped).
But this event, Flair followers reasoned, would be different. Vince McMahon's "lose and you retire" stipulation was the beginning of a can't-miss, Rocky-like storyline, with fans tuning in each week to see if the 16-time world champion could beat the odds. And while Charlotte may be the Nature Boy's hometown, Charleston ranks a close second, being smack dab in the heart of Flair country.
Even of more import historically was that last Monday night most likely would have marked the 58-year-old Flair's final match in Charleston, a town where he first laced up the boots back in 1974, making his appearance that much more special. With the plan calling for Flair to retire at Wrestlemania next March, another local showing before then would be highly unlikely.
There would be no early Christmas present for local wrestling fans Monday night. Flair, once again a victim of company politics and a contract dispute, was pulled from the show. Those in attendance at the North Charleston Coliseum were left wondering why in the world were they deprived — yet again — of seeing the beloved performer who helped define a generation of wrestling in this area.
Local response was fast and furious.
"I am incensed. I don't understand," said longtime fan Robert Ellington of Charleston. "We're in Charleston, South Carolina, and this is Ric Flair country. Why did we not at least even see Ric Flair get a chance to cut a promo or do a run-in? Anything with Ric Flair would have been fine. It didn't have to be a full match. We didn't even get to hear him talk. I just don't understand it. That was really a bad move. WWE needs to do better than that."
Ellington said he hasn't seen Flair in a live appearance since 2002 and was greatly looking forward to Monday night's nationally televised event.
"It was a decent show, but it could have been that much better with Ric Flair. The pop would have been amazing."
Greg Pitt of Charleston also voiced his displeasure with the decision to scratch Flair from the show. He harkened back to the days when Flair worked for WCW and often found himself the victim of backstage politics.
"When WCW — and mainly Eric Bischoff —were trying to bury his career, it made me extremely angry and sad. One year after WCW folded, it was great to see the Nature Boy back on TV, and this time getting the respect he so richly deserved. As usual, though, over time he's put in a mid-card role and putting younger talent over. It's tremendous for the younger talent because they launch their career by getting one over on the greatest professional wrestler of all time. On the other hand, year by year, Ric has done what's best for the business only to be put down and not given what he deserves — one final title reign."
Pitt also pointed to why Flair has had to play second fiddle to Hulk Hogan during their respective careers in WWE.
"Vince McMahon made the overrated, overpaid Hulk Hogan ... but he didn't make Ric Flair. Ric was already the best when he went to the WWF the first time. That's the only reason why Vince gives Hogan more liberty and Ric less. It looks as if Ric's last match will be at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately I probably won't see it.
"Shame on Vince McMahon and the entire WWE for not doing the right thing for tradition and the business ... No one can take away what Ric Flair means to this business, this part of the country and tens of thousands of fans."
It should come as little surprise that Raw's ratings, which held up nicely the previous week on the strength of Flair's return, dropped to a 3.2 for last week's lackluster show. A strong Monday Night Football game, combined with viewers tuning out after realizing there would be no Flair, the numbers suffered.
WWE is rolling the dice with this week's installment of Raw. The company is presenting a three-hour celebration commemorating Raw's 15 years on the air, advertising such past and present WWE luminaries as Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Bischoff and Lita (Amy Dumas). Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, one of the biggest stars in the company's history, turned down an offer to appear on the show.
Flair is being listed for the special as part of an Evolution "one night only" reunion with Triple H, Batista and Orton.
--WWE has extended its contract with USA Network for two more years. Its current deal, which expires at the end of September 2008, was renewed until September 2010. The contract includes two specials per year on NBC.
--It appears that Scott Hall's short-lived stint with TNA is over. Hall no-showed the company's Turning Point pay-per-view last Sunday night. He claimed to have had food poisoning. No one bought the excuse, however, and Samoa Joe buried him in a promo during the event.
Hall, 49, whose career has been beset by personal problems, most likely squandered his last opportunity to work for a major wrestling promotion.
--Old School Championship Wrestling will hold a show tonight at Weekend's Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. Main event will be an elimination match for a chance at "King of the Ring." Semifinal will be pit Josh Magnum against Roughhouse Matthews. Bell time is 6 p.m. Adult admission is $8 (kids 12 and under $5). For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com. X-Media Productions features wrestling commentary podcasts, including OSCW shows, at www.livefromthesunsetflip.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at (843) 937-6000, ext. 3090.