When Ric Flair entered WWE in 1991, he and Hulk Hogan engaged in a series of promos hinting at a possible feud. Yet during this entire run leading up to 1992, they wrestled at several house shows (live events) on the main event of these cards all over the United States.
While the idea of Hogan or Flair ’"coming to your local arena’’ generated a lot of excitement in the fans’ eyes, house shows were not what they once were. They were now mainly an added bonus or an accessory.
The big money train in wrestling now had a more national scope.
Instead of a major feud in front of a nationally televised audience that led up to a showdown in the main event at WrestleMania VIII, we only got substandard results: a secondary feud where they merely crossed paths a few times.
What ended up happening was a couple of title matches on pay-per-view between Hogan and The Undertaker where Flair interfered both times resulting in questionable finishes leading up to The 1992 Royal Rumble where Flair became WWE champ after helping Hogan eliminate Sid Vicious (known as Sid Justice at the time).
It was initially announced Hogan would face off against Flair in the main event for the title at WrestleMania VIII.
However, the card was quickly changed to a double main event involving Hogan vs. Sid in a feud brewing from their Royal Rumble encounter and Flair dropping the title to Randy Savage.
There have been many reasons given as to why Hogan and Flair were not booked to face off in the main event, such as Vince McMahon wanting to push Sid as a main-event level heel (bad guy) for Hogan to face off against, along with feeling Savage was a better technical match for Flair.
Another possible reason is that McMahon was apprehensive that Flair would not be able to get over with a more WWE-centric crowd—a more mainstream crowd used to kid-friendly, showbiz-style theatrics as opposed to the older and more traditional fanbase Flair was used to down South.
This was also around the time the steroid scandals were breaking out, and Hogan was known for taking them in his prime. So it was believed he chose to lay low until his required testimony at the trial.
Hogan then also had a family and wanted to focus more on being a husband and father, along with his commitment to star in the film Mr. Nanny.
Some more factors to note are the different psychologies used in booking both Hogan and Flair as world champs or main-event draws during their respective careers. Possibly an important reason why Vince McMahon held back the Hogan-Flair feud that could have been a huge money maker in 1991-1992.
The marketing and promotion of Hulk Hogan was McMahon carrying on his father’s "New York" approach of booking larger-than-life stars such as Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham by promoting such stars as unstoppable monsters or superheroes who never got beat.
Often, such wrestlers with a large build or a marketable look were limited in the ring, yet a huge money draw with the fans. Such main events in these cases usually had such headliners win only 10- to 15-minute matches—quick, entertaining matches that would put the fans of the edges of their seats.
While this is commonly thought to be a McMahon-based tactic, this was also the technique used by other promoters in booking Hogan and other "big men" in their careers.
Vince McMahon’s territory is simply the most prominent example of this.
The psychology behind booking Ric Flair as NWA world heavyweight champion was much more layered. He was the last major example of the "traveling" champion who went around to each of the regional territories defending his title against that area’s contender. These main event were between 45 minutes to an hour long.
Yet the champ was never portrayed as some invincible "big man" in the style of Hogan or any larger wrestler in New York. Instead, this method involved putting over the regional contender as one who was capable of beating him for the world heavyweight title.
So whether through technical skill or underhanded means such as cheating, outside interference or foreign objects, Flair had to fight to keep his championship.
Other NWA world champs such as Lou Thesz, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race and Jack Brisco also built their careers on this approach.
It is also said that the difference in these two psychologies are another reason that the Hogan-Flair main event at WrestleMania VIII did not come to fruition.
Another factor that could have contributed to the double main events involving Savage and Sid.
Hogan allegedly wanted the 15-minute "big man" style main event that gave WWE fans more of a bang for their buck while Flair was more or less willing to compromise with a 30-minute main event—one that would honor both the former approach that more casual fans loved and the hour-long psychology marathons more serious fans appreciated.
There were many approaches Vince and others behind the scenes could have attempted to make this work.
Yet it was not meant to be.
A long-running feud could have been the cap on one of wrestling’s greatest periods in the 1980s—one that could have provided a boost to a business that was drying up because of the oncoming steroid scandals.
Whatever the reason this potential money maker never come to fruition, the Hogan-Flair feud of 1991-1992 has gone down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in wrestling history, one of many through the course of its existence.
While their 1994-1995 WCW feud was a solid effort, the "right time, right place" factor was long gone after these scandals. Also, the WCW crowd was less than friendly toward Hogan, since the promotion was Flair territory.
The exact reversal of 1991-1992.
When wrestling hit another boom in the late 1990s, Hogan was riding the wave of the nWo angle while Flair was regarded as an elder statesman with a later version of his legendary group, The Four Horsemen, confirming the dynamics had changed completely.
Despite remaining active wrestlers long past their primes, both Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair have left indelible marks on this business, most likely to be remembered for their runs as world heavyweight champions for the top two competing promotions and getting mainstream attention while doing so.
Hogan will always be thought as a cartoonish Saturday morning-esque hero who many kids spent their entire childhoods looking up to, almost literally. If anything, he was the seminal figure who brought wrestling to mainstream attention for the first time in three decades as a result of his brief appearance as Thunderlips in Rocky III.
Flair will have a legacy to most casual fans for his flamboyant personality as a ladies' man who lived the high life and also for his charismatic interviews.
Yet beneath it all, he will be reflected upon by older and more serious wrestling fans as one of the last true ring technicians.