What truly defines a great champion? Is it his personality outside the ring? Is it his charity work? Is it simply being able to be in the right place at the right time? Is the question of whether or not you were a great champion depend on your number of reigns, or your amount of time with the title?
For the latter question, two names come to mind who are on either end of the spectrum. Bruno Sammartino for the quality of time, and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for the quantity of time.
So, which man was the greater champion?
That is what we will take a look at in today's A or B Series suggested by my fellow B/R writer Street Sweeper.
Bruno Sammartino began his wrestling career in the independent circuit in 1960, eventually joining up with Vincent J. McMahon's World Wide Wrestling Federation when the elder McMahon's territory swallowed the local show in Pittsburgh that Sammartino wrestled for.
After not being satisfied with the pay he was receiving and broken promises from McMahon, Sammartino left for a rival promotion and wrestled in Canada for a while before returning to the WWWF in 1963.
It took some heavy convincing from McMahon after some underhanded tricks he had played on Sammartino, but one of the stipulations of Sammartino's return was that he have a run with the WWWF title.
On May 17, 1963, Bruno Sammartino won his first of two WWWF titles.
Now when I say he won two titles when speaking with a casual fan, I imagine the conversation would go something like this:
Casual Fan: Well, thats not a big deal. Hulk Hogan held the title, like, 10 times didn't he?
Me: Twelve actually. And Hogan's reign in days only totaled 2,185 days. Sammartino's first reign was seven years, eight months and one day. At a little under 3,000 days, it still stands as the longest title reign in the history of ever.
Casual Fan: Wow! Why would they have him hold the title that long?
Me: Because he was a good draw. He connected with the fans really well, and they loved him as their champion.
I'm sure nowadays, even in the IWC, we can't imagine someone holding the title for seven years. I know it feels like we have with John Cena (cheap IWC pop!), but Cena is still 1,000 days behind Hulk Hogan.
Sammartino lost his first title on Jan. 18, 1971, which shocked the crowd into silence. He had been their champion for almost eight years. He would not appear on WWWF television for over a year.
After this loss, the WWWF's buyrates were in decline, and McMahon asked Sammartino back. After some business was done, Sammartino returned to the ring 1972, eventually recapturing the WWWF title from Stan Stasiak for an additional three years, four months and 20 days.
Who is the greater champion?
This gives Sammartino the landslide victory in number of days as champion to an unbeatable 4,040 days. Over 11 years as the heavyweight champion.
As Sammartino's career was winding down, another upstart was making his National Wrestling Alliance debut.
Fresh out of training from Verne Gagne and a short stint in the American Wrestling Association, Ric Flair began to make a name for himself in the NWA. He quickly captured the United States Championship, but a plane crash threatened to derail his wrestling career for good.
Flair would bounce back after six months and move on to capture four more United States Championships in the following three years.But it was when he began to refer to himself at "The Nature Boy" that things really took off for Flair.
After beating the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, he moved on to capture his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship on Sept. 17, 1981.
From the evolution of NWA's Mid-Atlantic Territory, to Jim Crockett Promotions, and eventually World Championship Wrestling, and even a brief stint in Vincent K. McMahon's WWF in 1992, Flair would go on to be recognized as a 16-time world heavyweight champion by most major organizations. WWE, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Illustrated all recognize 16 of Flair's self professed 21 reigns as champion.
Which is your favorite promotion from these guys' era?
So ultimately, you have two men who were "the man" for their period of time in the wrestling business, WWWF's homegrown creation in Sammartino and the NWA's embodiment of a champion in Ric Flair.
Ultimately, I have to choose Flair's quantity for this one, but he doesn't win by much. Flair is the mold from which all champions after him were cast. There are entirely too many wrestlers out there who site Ric Flair as their inspiration to get into the business.
With that, I'll turn it over to you guys. Which man of these two men is "the man?"
Until next time, I'm Merlot Williams telling you, D.T.I.!