Saturday, March 24, 2018

Johnny Carson by Day, Conan the Barbarian by Night

Also Featuring Ole Anderson and a Trip to Von Erich Land
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

This is another one of my favorite Ric Flair interviews of all time. This is from Georgia Championship Wrestling's Saturday evening TV show "World Championship Wrestling" on June 16, 1984. For context, it was just three weeks after Flair regained the NWA World title from Kerry Von Erich, but also sadly only a month before "Black Saturday."

You'll notice Ric's hair is still wet from the shower. He had wrestled on Georgia TV that day, but was now in his three-piece suit, and you'll hear someone whistle as he enters the shot. As only Ric can say it, with his trademark smile, he delivers this little jewel:

Gordon Solie: "As usual sir, a vision of sartorial splendor..."

Ric Flair: "Let's give 'em a chance, I like to be fair with everybody...the ladies wait week in and week out to see the man that looks like Johnny Carson by day and Conan the Barbarian by nighttime."

For context, "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson had ruled the late night television landscape for decades and by 1984 was a cultural icon. He was known to be an impeccable dresser and Flair made many self-comparisons to Carson over the years.  

"Conan the Barbarian" was a successful action film in 1982 during a time, unlike today, when comic book adaptations were not very successful. "Conan" made Arnold Schwarzenegger an overnight sensation as an action film star and sex symbol. Ric thought he fit that mold, too!

Flair then told host Gordon Solie he was headed for "Von Erich land."

"I'm going to Texas - - Amarillo, Lubbock, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio - - it makes no difference: the first Von Erich I see - BOOM! - you go down."

I loved Ric's interviews on Superstation WTBS during his early years as NWA champion because he would often mention where he was going in the coming weeks to defend his title. He would namecheck wrestlers he would be facing in other territories, some of whom would never be seen on WTBS, but Flair would always put those guys over as he got ready to go to their area.

This particular mention was very cool in a very Ric Flair sort of way. He mentions he's headed to Texas, and predicts it won't end well for any Von Erich he runs into. As mentioned above, he was only a few weeks removed from having regained the NWA World title for a third time from Kerry Von Erich, who had defeated Ric for "the ten pounds of gold" in Texas Stadium in May. So he took delight in mentioning he was headed back for a big tour of the Lone Star State.

And interestingly enough, that Texas tour included the huge one-night 15-man tournament in San Antonio on 6/23/84 for the vacant Texas Heavyweight Championship. It was an emotional night because the title had been vacant since the death of David Von Erich, the last man to hold that championship. Incredibly, Ric Flair entered the tournament with intentions of proving he was better than any man in Texas, and vowed to retire the title after he won it. He declared he would take the belt with him and be the final Texas champion to ever hold the belt. It was a rare situation for the reigning NWA World Champion to contend for a regional or state title, but Flair entered nonetheless. He made it to the finals only to be defeated by Gino Hernandez. World Class Wrestling fans may have hated Gino, but they were happy to see a Texan win that title and not Ric Flair. 

At the end of the segment, something happens that was particularly fun to see from a Mid-Atlantic perspective. Booker, producer, and co-host Ole Anderson is standing off-camera during all this and Ric asks him to come on camera and join him. Ric calls Ole his cousin, which was part of Anderson lore going back to 1975 in the Mid-Atlantic area, but had not been much of a storyline in recent years. That would change in a big way a year later when Arn Anderson would come to Jim Crockett Promotions and Ole Anderson would become an active competitor again.

Ric mentions that he and Ole usually didn't want to be seen on camera together because they have had some of the "hardest, toughest matches ever wrestled anywhere." He is referring to the long running "family feud" between Flair and his "cousins" Ole and Gene Anderson that began in late 1976 when Flair and partner Greg Valentine feuded with the Anderson Brothers for over two years over the NWA World Tag Team championships. Furthermore, Flair's first challenger for the NWA title in 1981 in the Mid-Atlantic area was Ole Anderson. But Ole was no longer an active competitor at this time, and Flair told him he was proud to stand there and shake his hand. It was a cool moment, lost on most fans I'm sure, but brought back a flood of memories from my days as a teenage fan of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. (For more on Flair's family history with the Andersons, every detail is outlined in the book "Minnesota Wrecking Crew.")

Lots to love about this interview. Ric's interviews like this stood out as totally different and totally special in comparison to anyone else at that time. No one was better than the Nature Boy.

See also: "Doggone, I'm The Greatest" (another classic Ric Flair interview!)

Don't miss these recent posts on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway!

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: First Tournament in Greensboro
Part Three: Charlotte
Part Four: Richmond
Part Five: Atlanta (Coming Sunday!)