Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jumping Ship

By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger on Twitter

One of the things I miss about having two or three big competing wrestling companies (like WCW and WWE in the 1990's, and throw in the AWA in the 80's) was the fact that wrestlers could jump ship when their contact expired.

Today, it just doesn't seem the same.  I think part of it is the WWE is really the only show in town (Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor are trying their best, but are a distant 2nd and 3rd).   I also blame the Internet for providing spoilers and background information on guys contact statuses and letting fans know of their comings and goings.

I was thinking about it earlier today, who were some of the more shocking jumps back in the 80's and 90's, before the dawn of the Internet and smart fans?  Here are three that came to mind pretty quickly.

Bobby Heenan & Ric Flair (WWE)
For me, the most shocking will always be Ric Flair's defection to the WWF in 1991.  I still remember watching a WCW show while on vacation and them running a scroll at the bottom of the screen explaining that Flair wouldn't be wrestling at an upcoming event because of some kind of contract negotiations.  I didn't think much of it at the time, then a couple of weeks later this happened...

I completely marked out after this ran on WWF Superstars back then. As a huge fan of Flair's, I was excited to see him in my favorite wrestling company.  Of course I don't totally agree with the way he was booked in his 18 months there, but it was a fun time, highlighted of course by him winning the 1992 Royal Rumble and the WWF champion.

"The King" Harley Race
Harley Race was a 7 time NWA world heavyweight champion.  He was the embodiment of the company. I saw "Handsome" Harley wrestle several times in St. Louis, defending the Missouri State Championship.  It seemed that he lived and breathed NWA.  Then one day in 1986 I remember watching WWF Superstars and the announcers were going over the next week's card.  They said "the King" Harley Race would be there with his manager Bobby "the Brain" Heenan.  Remember, this was before the Internet, and the Bill Apter magazines were usually about 6 weeks behind real time, so this was a real shock to me.  I couldn't believe it.

All hail...
Harley's stint in the WWF only lasted a couple of years.  He came in with the King gimmick, which I didn't really care much for.  Race was a big enough name and superstar from his time in the NWA that he didn't need a gimmick.  Of course this was a time when Vince McMahon didn't want to acknowledge other wrestling companies, so I guess it makes sense.

I got a chance to see Race wrestle at the King.  It was a King of the Ring tournament in St. Louis.  He pinned Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat in the finals.  Race feuded mostly with midcard talent like Junkyard Dog and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.  He also had a chance to win the WWF world title in a series of matches with Hulk Hogan.  Race would eventually leave the WWF shortly after losing his "crown" to King Haku.  I'm glad however that the WWE has since inducted the legend into the Hall of Fame.

Lawler confronts Bret Hart
Wrestling's other "King" Jerry Lawler also surprised me with his decision to join the WWF.  Now it seems only natural as the King has been with the company for nearly 20 years.  It was another one of those situations that happened BI (before Internet).  Lawler was brought in to replace Mr. Perfect on the Prime Time Wrestling panel.  Perfect was gearing up for his return to the ring, so Lawler filled the void.
I think I was so surprised by his appearance because he was such a fixture in Memphis, the USWA, and AWA.  Of course, he continued to have a presence in Memphis and still does to this day.

Through the years of course he's gotten into the ring in the WWE, most recently challenging the Miz for the WWE title, his first shot at the gold.  Other notable feuds include Bret Hart, Roddy Piper, and Ultimate Warrior.

Other big jumps of course included Hulk Hogan going to WCW, but the Apter mags had run a cover story on it before it actually happened.  And the Internet ruined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash's invasion on WCW, as well as Chris Jericho's countdown to Y2J.

Which jumps were the most surprising to you?  Post your thoughts here, on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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