August, 1983 – New York
Vince McMahon took one last look at the torn-in-two cashier’s check meant for Hulk Hogan that Verne Gagne had sent back to him. Vince had thrown the accompanying letter away as soon as he read it; no sense living in the past and Hogan was (as far as Vince was concerned) the past.
Vince was, however, supremely interested in the near-future, which is why he was flying to Minneapolis, MN after breakfast.
Then – regardless of the outcome of his meeting with Verne – Vince was sliding into a rental car and driving 90 minutes to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, to pick up his current champion “Superstar” Billy Graham.
Once back off the plane, Vince would personally accompany Graham to a drug & alcohol treatment center in upstate New York, where The Superstar could rest, recuperate and be completely shielded from the fact that he was about to lose his Heavyweight Title, without having ever stepped into the ring.
The crowd wasn’t buying the All-American Hero part that Vince had written for Graham.
Vince assumed he could rewrite Billy’s history, but the fans hadn’t forgotten and they wouldn’t buy T-shirts or videos or any merchandise, really, so long as the formerly-egotistical Superstar graced it.
Vince had miscalculated, but it was a reasonable gamble: Graham had many imitators and other grapplers whom he had inspired. So shouldn’t the fans get behind the Original?
It was a gamble that would cost Vince more than he realized.
Ric Flair swallowed a mouthful of gin and tore his contract with the WWF into two pieces. The gesture was ceremonial; Vince didn’t care. Everything Vince had said to get him to sign on the dotted line was a lie.
Hell, Flair’s contract had been up three days ago and he hadn’t heard from Vince in a week.
“Just a pawn,” Flair said to himself softly.
He’d had a run with the championship after 1st signing with Vince, but it was so short-lived, it might as well have happened in New Zealand.
Flair had lost to “Superstar” Billy Graham cleanly, at Madison Square Garden and now, Vince was treating him like he was past his prime. Worse, he’d used Flair’s star-power to put over a steroidal, drug-addicted, ego-maniac who had no intention of returning the favor.
(2 Weeks Later)
Bob Geigel (promoter/President of the NWA) and Harley Race handed a fountain pen to the next NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
Ric Flair happily signed his name.
Verne Gagne had given Hogan everything he wanted: more money, a higher percentage of the gate, insurance…an iron-clad contract.
Since returning from Japan and getting everything he claimed he wanted, Hogan was now – without a doubt – the highest paid jobber in the business.
Verne had utilized Hogan’s recognition from his role in Rocky III for less than a month and was now burying him. Terry Bollea longed for the moniker of “Jobber to the Stars” as he was spending most nights staring up at the lights, being pinned by the likes of Greg Gagne and a young, 2nd-generation wrestler whose named Terry couldn’t even remember.
Here’s how things were supposed to go: Hogan returns from Japan, Bockwinkel and his cronies “injure” Hogan so that he’s out of commission for a while and that makes Hogan’s eventual comeback, road to victory and Championship run all the more sweet.
But it never happened. The crowd was behind him but Verne wasn’t. The announcers made it sound like Hogan’s nagging injury had demoralized him and pretty soon, the fake injury was causing real problems.
And all the plans that Hogan had; the extra money from merchandise, the gate at house shows…who buys a perennial loser’s t-shirts? And the insurance; the Holy Grail for wrestlers? Verne made sure the current storyline couldn’t possibly entail Hogan suffering a legit injury.
Sure, business was up, so Hogan was making a bit more money from live attendance, but he was on 2nd or 3rd every night. It wasn’t right or fair; Terry knew he was being punished.
If a change didn’t come soon, the Hulk Hogan character would never recover. Hogan wondered if it even mattered.
Kerry & David Von Erich were the Tag Team champs of their father’s promotion. Kevin would join his brothers when the 6-Man tag Belts needed to be defended.
The family’s feud with the Fabulous Freebirds had been going on for almost a year. The whole territory was hot. Sometimes the shows at the Sportatorium lasted 4 hours. It was like a PPV Event and with the recent syndication deal, wrestlers from all over the country were hounding Fritz’s office, wanting to know if there was an opening. Fritz signed everyone he could, whether or not he had a plan or storyline for them.
Everyone was happy, well, the Von Erich’s and WCCW’s roster was happy.
Jim Crockett Promotions
Just last year, Jim Crockett, Jr. had been President of the NWA.
1 Million dollars had recently been spent acquiring a mobile television unit for the company’s flagship organization: Georgia Championship Wrestling (recently changed to WCW).
Jim Crockett, Jr. was about to go National and Jake Roberts, Ronnie Garvin, The Road Warriors, Larry Zbyszko, Wahoo McDaniel, Don Muraco, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & many others were going to lead the way.
Unfortunately, Jim Jr. didn’t know that the NWA was against him and that his own inner circle was plotting his company’s demise.