Court isn’t just the inept booker of the ill-fated Major League Wrestling. No, Court is also where you go when have a dispute and you don’t want to fly all the way to North Carolina to kick the other guy’s ass. Welcome to Writer’s Court. Honorable Judge Simon presiding.
Bret Hart. Ric Flair. These four syllables represent two of the GREATEST “greatest wrestlers of all time.” Two bad they don’t agree with the rest of us. If you’re a wrestling fan and you’ve turned on a computer within the last month, you know damn well what I’m talking about. Ric Flair’s book, “To Be The Man” took some jabs at Bret Hart, prompting “The Hitman” to fire off some shots of his own in Flair’s direction. The whole brouhaha has lead to debates among just about everyone. As always, it all boils down to one simple question: Bret vs. Ric: Who’s better?
Well, enough is enough. Today we will compare and contrast the two in 12 case studies that span the entire visible spectrum (and even parts of the invisible spectrum, for that matter). This Court will settle their dispute once and for the next five minutes.
Writer’s Court will now hear The Case Of (Hit) Man vs. (Nature) Boy.
CASE STUDY #1: CREDIBILITY. Which of these guys would you buy a used car from?
Ric Flair: The opinions expressed herein have been bought and paid for by Vince McMahon and are the exclusive property of WWFE Inc. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Here are some of Slick Ric’s recent highlights:
* He went on ESPN and downplayed steroid use in wrestling.
* He once cut one of those woot (worked shoot) promos that Vince loves, claiming that all the years he told people the NWA was #1, “he lied.”
* He told a newspaper that HHH was “the greatest wrestler ever.”
Bret Hart: Bret vowed never to return to the WWWFE, and as of this writing, he hasn’t. Bret has always been something of a soft-spoken spokesman for the wrestling biz, and whether you agree with his opinion or not, he doesn’t waffle and he sticks to his guns. Rare enough in the real world, but practically unheard of in the rasslin’ biz. Also, during an appearance on Off The Record last year, he referred to HHH as an “asskiss (who was) never one of the boys.”
Winner: Bret Hart. It’s not even close. Ironically, Flair can’t even take Vince’s cock out of his mouth long enough to try and defend himself.
CASE STUDY #2: PROFESSIONALISM. Who has been a better ambassador for the sport of kings?
Ric Flair: Selfless to a fault, Flair is infamous for putting over guys at the expense of his own career (case in point: Hogan’s first five years in WCW). The only well-known instance of Flair actually refusing to job was when jackass booker Dusty Rhodes suggested that Flair put over Rick Steiner for the World Title at Starrcade 88…in less than five minutes. Oh yeah, and Flair apparently spazzed out on Eric Bischoff backstage last year, too. I can’t really blame Naitch for either of those. What I CAN blame him for, though, is having a psychotic episode on a flight, wango’ing his tango in front of several horrified passengers and flight attendants (allegedly). What, you thought this was the first time Flair found himself in court?
Bret Hart: Yeah, I know, I know. Montreal. You wanna go there? Fine, I’ll reserve a corner booth for us. Let me ask you this, Bret-bashers of the world:
* Who was the one who agreed to Bret’s “reasonable creative control” clause in the first place?
* As soon as Vince knew he was going to get rid of Bret, why didn’t he take the belt off him ASAP?
Seven years later, and you still have no answers for me, do you? And I know, I know. He missed two shows in 14 years of employment. What a jerk, huh?
Winner: Bret Hart. Say what you will about Vince, HBK, and Montreal, but Bret never PUBLICLY EMBARRASSED HIS FUCKING COMPANY BY GETTING SUED FOR ASSAULTING STEWARDESSES WITH HIS BEAST (allegedly). This should have been an easy win for Ric “I’ll job for anyone, anywhere” Flair, but he just couldn’t keep Li’l Naitch under wraps (and I don’t mean Charles Robinson). Don’t feel too bad, Ric. Civilizations have crumbled under similar circumstances. Ever hear of Cleopatra? Or Helen Of Troy? Remember them? Hell, you probably banged ‘em both.
CASE STUDY #3: BIGGEST POP. What better way to judge a wrestler than by the biggest crowd reaction to him?
Ric Flair: Nitro (Fall, 98). After almost a year in Bischoff-imposed exile, Flair finally returned to the heart of Horsemen country. The Horsemen were all decked out in tuxedos (even Mongo looked cool), and Arn Anderson cut the promo of his career (!), vowing a new era of excellence for the 4H. He brought out Steve McMichael, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko, putting over each one as they joined the party. The fans had already gone past mere “edge of your seat” and were already standing in anticipation of the return of the Dirtiest Player In The Game. As Anderson wrapped up his promo, he cut himself off. “What a goof,” Arn mused, slapping himself in the head. “I get accused of having a touch of Alzheimer’s.” There was one brief moment here where you could have heard a pin drop. Arn looked up at the camera. “My God! I almost forgot the fourth Horseman! RIC FLAIR, COME ON OUT HERE!!” The pop was simply indescribable. No matter how many times I watch this angle, I know it’s coming, but it still gives me goosebumps every single time I watch it.
Bret Hart: Canadian Stampede PPV main event (7/6/97). Bret & Owen & Davey & Neidhart & Pillman came out one-by-one for their 10-man-tag main event. Each pop was louder than the last one, and when Bret’s familiar theme filled the arena, the crowd just went APESHIT. After Owen pinned Steve Austin to win the match for the Foundation, Hart family members filled the ring while the Calgary crowd ate it up and asked for seconds. The greatest feel-good moment in WWWFE PPV history.
Winner: Ric Flair. As unforgettable as Stampede was, Flair’s return to Nitro was the single biggest mark-out moment of the 90s. Hell, it was the single biggest mark-out moment of the 1900s.
CASE STUDY #4: LOWEST POINT. To answer my question from the last case study, it’s easy to judge someone during their finest hour (which is why I just did it. Duh!), but a better measure of a man is how he handles professional adversity.
Ric Flair: The nuthouse (Nitro, 1999). Several skits aired during a Nitro that chronicled the adventures of Flair in the looney bin. Not only was it painful to watch, it was downright uncomfortable.
Bret Hart: The Will Sasso feud (Mad TV/Nitro, 1999). They went for Lawler vs. Kaufman, but they ended up with a horribly convoluted “shoot” that the MadTV audience reacted to by laughing their collective asses off.
Winner: Bret Hart. Bret busted his ass to get a credible match out of Sasso, and while it was the worst match of Bret’s career, at least it was still something resembling a wrestling match. The nuthouse thing was just plain, well, nuts.
CASE STUDY #5: BEST FEUD. You’re only as good as your best opponent. Bret and Flair both were very, very good.
Ric Flair: Flair vs. Steamboat. Flair was a ladies man; Steamboat was a family man. Their clash of values and lifestyles was enhanced by the simple fact that they also just happened to be the two best wrestlers on the planet. Throughout 1989, the Ric(k)s had three amazing main events that were all so good, fans still argue over which was actually the best one. Their feud climaxed with their famous match at WrestleWar 89, which many consider the greatest match in the history of the company.
Bret Hart: Bret vs. Austin. Ironically, this was similar to Flair-Steamboat in that Bret and Austin were polar opposites. Bret was the old-fashioned moral hero, while Austin was the foul-mouthed harbor-pearling anarchist. However, mirroring society’s decline, AUSTIN was the babyface. In an inspiring instance of fans totally hijacking a feud, Bret and Austin pulled off the greatest double-turn in the history of the biz in 1997. In a testament to just how good this feud was, the famous quarter-hour of Raw when Austin attacked Bret in an ambulance outperformed Nitro’s offering for the same 15 minutes. It was the first time a Raw QH beat a Nitro QH in almost a year. Bret vs. Austin hit a high point with their famous match at Wrestlemania 13, which many consider the greatest match in the history of the company…and the guys were just getting warmed up.
Winners: Bret Hart and Steve Austin. As great as the War Of The Ric(k)s was, Bret-Austin MADE Austin’s career, revitalized Bret’s career, and totally re-sparked their whole damn company from a creative standpoint. Not since Raven vs. Dreamer in ECW has one feud gotten so much out of so many (Owen, Davey, Pillman, Neidhart, Foley, HBK, etc).
CASE STUDY #6: THE FORKLIFT FACTOR. How many scrubs did they carry to passable-to-good-to-very-good matches?
Ric Flair: El Gigante, Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, Vince McMahon, every Von Erich kid not named “David.”
Bret Hart: Will Sasso, Big Bully Busick, Kamala, Papa Shango, Jean Pierre Lafitte, Warlord, Kwang, Adam Bomb, all three members of Demolition.
Winner: Ric Flair. Trust the big guy to put it over the top. At seven feet and change, El Gigante was the tallest wrestler in history. Also, he was the WORST wrestler in history. The key to this case study is that Bret made you believe his opponents were wrestlers, but Flair made you believe that his opponents were actually BETTER than him and capable of defeating him. And that took some doin’.
CASE STUDY #7: FACTION ACTION. Did the children play nicely with others?
Ric Flair: The Four Horsemen. The Symbol Of Excellence gained heat as they primarily served as lackeys for Flair, constantly helping Naitch retain his World Title against all odds. The Horsemen wrote the book on sneak attacks, gang beatdowns, and general debauchery. The Horsemen are still the standard by which all other factions are measured (Mongo and Roma notwithstanding).
Bret Hart: The Hart Foundation. The original Hart Foundation “faction” was back in 1987 with Bret, Jim Neidhart, manager Jimmy Hart, and evil-referee-turned-evil-wrestler Danny Davis. Bret was kinda lost in the crowd. But the Foundation hit its zenith ten years later as a group of Canadian heels (well, they were faces in Canada, but you know what I mean) headed up by Bret. Along with Owen, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and “associate” Brian Pillman, the Harts ruled the WWF with an iron hockey stick and they were damn great while doing it.
Winner: Ric Flair And The Other Three Guys. As great as their 1997 was (and it was the single best year to be a wrestling fan in our lifetimes), the Foundation’s one year on top can’t compare to the 4H’s years of making the mold…and breaking it. Plus, Horsemen live longer. Out of the 15 guys who have been Horsemen over the years, the only deaths so far are Curt Hennig and Brian Pillman. Compare that to the five-man Foundation, where 60% of its members have passed on (Owen, Davey, Pillman). When you take Pillman out of the equation (Dyin’ Brian was the only wrestler to be a member of both the HF and FH), it’s an even more lopsided win for the Horsemen.
CASE STUDY #8: PROMOS. They walked the walk, but could they talk the talk?
Ric Flair: One of the most charismatic promos and best deliveries ever.
Bret Hart: Quoted Phil Collins during his pre-match promo at SummerSlam 90.
Winner: Ric Flair. Even when he said nothing, he delivered it great. Don’t get me wrong, when Bret was inspired, he could go mic to mic with the best of them. But Flair is one of the five best promos ever, and Bret just can’t stack up to him in this department. My buddy Scott used to have a wrestling tape collection that would make you sick. When he finally unloaded it, the only tape he kept was a six-hour compilation of Flair promos. Smart guy, that Scott.
CASE STUDY #9: IN-RING BELIEVABILITY. The art of wrestling is to make it look real. Who did it better?
Ric Flair: Mark Madden put it best during SuperBrawl X when he stated, “You know, Ric should really stop trying (moves off the top rope). It worked against Harley Race at Starrcade 83, but he hasn’t had much luck with it since then.” The face-first flops are bad, too. They’re why your friends laugh at you for watching wrestling.
Bret Hart: WrestleCrap guru R.D. Reynolds put it best: “When Bret hit a guy, you believed he was knocking his block off. When Bret locked in the sharpshooter, you believed he was twisting the guy’s back out of whack.” When it comes to believability, Bret was the best I’ve ever seen. Period.
Winner: Bret Hart. Flair’s face-first flops and constant top-rope tomfoolery snap the suspenders of disbelief.
CASE STUDY #10: THE TWILIGHT YEARS. Could they still go in the ring when they had to get up and “go” several times during the night?
Ric Flair: Years after his prime, Flair was getting three-star matches out of Hogan, Russo, McMahon, and tons of other guys who had no business inside a wrestling ring.
Bret Hart: Beats me. By the end of his career, Bret was uninspired, but he was still just entering the “past his prime” era. He could still turn it out like a mofo when inspired. If you don’t believe me, go buy the new Chris Benoit DVD immediately and watch the Bret-Benoit “Owen tribute” match. Maybe if Bret were still working today, he’d be carrying the Tyson Tomkos and John Heidenreichs of the world to the promised land, but we’ll never know.
Winner: Ric Flair. Not a level playing field, but if there’s one thing Bret has learned about wrestling, it’s that life ain’t fair.
CASE STUDY #11: BIGGEST KNOCK AGAINST THE GUY.
Ric Flair: “The Flair flops.”
Bret Hart: “Same five moves.”
Winner: Bret Hart. Every time I meet a Bret-basher who puts this forth as an argument, I point out just how weak it is. Then I politely ask them to supersize my fries. Bret’s reverse atomic drop, backbreaker, and Russian legsweep all softened up his opponent’s back for the sharpshooter, with the diving forearm knocking the wind out of him in order to slap on the finisher. In other words, IT MADE SENSE. Besides, Flair does the same stuff. Remember how Flair likes to place his opponent’s leg on the bottom rope, then jump down upon it with the full fury of his ass? Or how about that weak shinbreaker? Like it’s Bret’s fault that he was booked better than Flair to the point where most of his opponents actually SUBMITTED to his submission finisher.
CASE STUDY #12: CHEAPSHOT. Which low blow had the most hair on its sac?
Ric Flair: “It seemed to me that Bret cared more about getting ‘screwed’ in Montreal than he did about Owen's death, and he used his brother's tragedy to grind his ax with Vince.”
Bret Hart: “Ric has never been able to do anything but his one routine match, which consists of cartoon high spots borrowed from Jackie Fargo and midget wrestlers, along with an assortment of tired old ripped off Buddy Rogers high spots.”
Winner: Bret Hart. I have tried to be impartial for the most part, but Flair’s line about Owen made me say out loud, “Ric Flair, you are a fucking cocksucker.” I’m somewhat shocked that anyone in the WWWFE would let Flair poke at the hornet’s nest that was Owengate in the first place. It was Vince’s stubbornness that caused a man’s death. Two different rigging companies told the WWWFE that the stunt was far too dangerous, but Vince found a third and Owen and his family (yes, including Bret) paid the price. I’ll say it again: Ric Flair, you are a fucking cocksucker. While both swipes were weak, Flair’s was just plain out of line. Even if I’m accepting Flair’s birdbrained statement, I would suggest that if a guy kills your brother, that’s a pretty good reason to “grind your ax” with him. That said, though, Bret’s not off the hook, either. Honestly, Bret. “Midgets??”
WEIGHING IN ON THE SCALES OF JUSTICE AT WRITER’S COURT:
12 Case Studies
Judgments for Ric Flair = 5
Judgments for Bret Hart = 7
FINAL VERDICT: Bret Hart is better than Ric Flair. Flair was a better promo, and in his heyday, he was the best vulnerable heel champion ever. But Bret made his matches look so good, it brought a believability to the ring not seen since the golden age. Add that to Flair placing his famous “RF” boot squarely in his mouth on several occasions and The Excellence Of Execution handily trounces The Limousine-Riding-Jet-Flying-Wheeling-Dealing-Alleged-Penis-Exposing-Sonuvagun.
So remember, the next time you need a hook to sell your autobiography that took three people to write, tread softly. For the ice runs thin in Canada, and skins run thin in the wrestling biz. If you’re not careful, the whole thing might snowball until your ass finds itself stuck in an uncomfortable defendant’s chair in Court. WRITER’S COURT. In summation, gentlemen, I hope that you both can put this unpleasantness behind you, shake hands like professionals, and start bashing Hogan.
Today’s Court is adjourned.
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
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