by Dick Bourne
When Ric Flair first won the NWA world title in September of 1981, it is fair to say that it came out of nowhere. That's not to say that Flair wasn't considered one of the top contenders for the NWA championship; he certainly was and in our minds at least, the most worthy contender of them all. It's just that there was no indication that the title change was getting ready to happen right at that moment. And that was consistent with most world title changes in the 1960s and 1970s. When the "big show/pay-per-view" era began in the mid-1980s, it usually became clear when world title changes were going to happen. All things built towards those big shows. But there was no "big show" here.
The first notice fans in Charlotte got that Ric Flair had won the NWA title on Thursday 9/17 was from a short article in the Charlotte Observer Saturday morning 9/19 promoting Jim Crockett's show at the Charlotte Coliseum that night.
I was just starting my junior year at nearby Davidson College, and remember vividly sitting stunned on the couch in my dorm room reading that blurb in the paper. It was almost hard to believe that it had finally happened.
I looked up the number for Jim Crockett Promotions, picked up the phone and called the office, hardly expecting anyone to answer on a Saturday morning. The voice that answered was unmistakably that of the one and only Johnny Weaver.
"Is this Johnny Weaver?" I asked, incredulous.
"Yes, it is. How can I help you?" he replied. (Okay, I was already marking out before getting to my question. I was talking to Johnny Weaver on the telephone!)
"Oh my goodness," I replied. "Is it true? What I just read in the paper? Did Ric Flair win the world heavyweight title?"
"He sure did!" Weaver replied enthusiastically. "Won it Thursday in Kansas City."
"That's fantastic!" I was almost giggling like a little school girl at this point.
"It sure is," Weaver replied. Ric Flair had won the world title and I was talking to Johnny Weaver on the phone about it. Was this happening?
I know it comes across that I was perhaps a little too excited about all of that, but you have to remember - - in 1981 Ric Flair was a bona fide local hero in Charlotte and the Mid-Atlantic area. He was our guy. He was the guy we had watched chase Harley Race and the NWA title for years. The world title changing hands was relatively rare and a big deal in those days. I'm not sure anybody really thought he'd ever win it. Not that he wasn't worthy, that's not my point. It was just that nobody from our area ever won the world title. It seemed like all the world champions in those days came from St. Louis or Texas or Florida. But not the Mid-Atlantic.
Johnny Weaver had been the living legend in the Mid-Atlantic area for the decade before Flair's rise to the top spot. To folks in this area in the late 1960s, Weaver was just as big of a household name as Richard Petty or Joe Louis or Johnny Unitas. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. So to have Johnny Weaver telling me on the telephone that Ric Flair had just become the world champion was surreal to me as a 20 year old fan.
Frustratingly, but understandably, there was no mention of Flair winning the title on "Mid-Atlantic Wrestling" or "World Wide Wrestling" television that weekend. Those shows had been taped on that previous Wednesday night at WPCQ-36 studios in Charlotte, before the title change had taken place. Flair did fly in to Atlanta Saturday morning for the taping of "Georgia Championship Wrestling" that aired that same evening on Superstation WTBS. Some fans may have known it from that if they had cable.
I didn't attend the show that night in Charlotte, but it would have been interesting to hear the buzz that certainly had to be moving through the fans there about what had happened two nights earlier. I've always wondered what kind of announcement was made. Jake Roberts replaced Flair in the six-man main event that night. I'm guessing there was a mighty big roar in the Charlotte Coliseum that night when ring announcer C. J. Underwood announced why.
I remember that short Saturday morning telephone conversation with Johnny Weaver like it was yesterday. I remember the enthusiasm that I heard in Johnny Weaver's voice, as if he, too, were celebrating the fact that their local boy had just won the world title.
For memorabilia and video related to that big night in Kansas City, navigate here: A Championship Anniversary: Ric Flair Wins the NWA World Title
For those of you that follow our Bloopers series on the Gateway, you've probably already noticed the two in the newspaper clipping above:
(1) RICKI Steamboat (Really?)
(2) JOEL Youngblood (Who knew? Jay, Mark, Chris, and JOEL)