I just finished reading Dusty Rhodes' autobiography (pictured above) and it was a pretty good read (not the best wresting autobiography I've read but one well worth reading) and it got me thinking about what might have been in wrestling history.
Back in 1987, Dusty was the head booker for the remnant of the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) based out of the Carolinas under the ownership of Jim Crockett Promotions known as World Championship Wrestling (WCW). They were the main competition to Vince McMahon's WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and both promotions were riding high on the rising tide of popularity that wrestling was experiencing at the time.
In fact, it was in 1987 that I began watching wrestling and I really liked both federations with a slight edge going to WCW over the more-cartooney WWF (but my favorite wrestler, along with everyone else was Hulk Hogan). WCW had the better wrestling and since it was a more Southern based company and style of wrestling, I gravitated more to it.
As I said above, Dusty was the head booker for WCW, which means he was the match-maker and in charge of all the storylines of all the wrestlers. Basically, he was the boss and the creative force behind WCW.
In late 1986, Ric Flair was the WCW World Heavyweight Champion and a creative calamity and personal tragedy had occurred in WCW when Magnum T.A. (Terry Allen) had had a career-ending, life-threatening car accident. Magnum was booked (meaning it was planned) to defeat Ric Flair for the World title at Starrcade 86 in November 1986. Magnum was a handsome, charismatic, and talented wrestler (he looked a lot like Tom Selleck, hence the Magnum name) and it was thought that he was the best wrestler to challenge the popularity of Hulk Hogan (who was the WWF World Champion). However, life intervened and all those plans had to be shelved permanently when Magnum was hurt and subsequently had to retire from wrestling.
So, the thinking was to stick with Flair as champion and make him even more of a heel (a bad-guy wrestler) than he was before. Flair became one of The Four Horsemen (a bad-guy faction of four wrestlers who then went on to dominate most of the titles of WCW with Flair as the World Champion). Flair was on something of a roll as he had just come off of being voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year for 1984, 1985, and 1986 (the first wrestler in history to win three Wrestler of the Year awards, much less three in a row). The thinking was that Flair would be the direct opposite of Hogan positioning WCW as the opposite of the WWF. The flaw in that thinking was that Hogan was the most popular wrestler up to that time and maybe of all time and WCW had no one to battle that popularity. The hope was that the superior wrestling product of WCW would trump the glitz and merchandizing of the WWF.
That brings us to 1987.
In 1987, the WWF presented Wrestlemania III with a main event of Hulk Hogan defending the World title over Andre the Giant. It was the biggest event and match of all time (up to that time) and a huge success.
WCW had no answer.
The only thing they could come up with was to have a temporary champion defeat Flair for the World title and then have Flair regain the title at Starrcade 87 in November. The only problem with that is that no one was rooting for Flair to win the title back due to his heel status and WCW (with Dusty calling the shots) had Flair win the title clean (no cheating) at Starrcade which also didn't contribute to his heel status. All it did was confuse the fans by making them want to root for Flair which was contrary to the business model that WCW had laid out over the previous couple of years for Flair and the company against the WWF.
So, lets play what-if for a moment.
It has always been my opinion that WCW stuck with Flair too long (he dominated the World title picture until 1991 when he left the company for the WWF). Dusty could have ended it right there in 1987 and gone a different direction which is what I'm about to propose.
In 1987, there was a young wrestler named Barry Windham. He was a tall blonde Texan with tons of wrestling ability (and the son of legendary territorial wrestler, Black Jack Mulligan who was one of Dusty's greatest foes). Barry wasn't the most charismatic wrestler in the world but he had some great matches with Flair in 1986 and 1987 and would have been a good choice to move the title too at Starrcade 87. Then in 1988 they could have proceeded to have up-and-coming Lex Luger (who was a member of The Four Horsemen and a Hogan-like power wrestler) challenge Barry for the belt (they could have even switched the places of Barry and Lex having Lex leave the Horsemen and Barry join, which actually did happen but Barry wasn't the World Champion and never achieved that title remaining one of the great underachievers in wrestling history). In short, it would have been a move to a newer generation of wrestlers.
In reality (and history), WCW didn't move to a newer generation but held on to Flair as champion and by 1989 the company was bankrupt, Dusty was fired, and WCW was sold to Ted Turner and continued on till 2001 when WCW was finally bought out by Vince McMahon and shut down permanently and a great chapter of wrestling history was closed forever.