Sunday, March 1, 2015

Guest Post: May 1st, 1981-- The Tommy Rich Story

(Originally on Today in Alternate History)

On May 1st,, 1981 National Wrestling Alliance superstar Tommy Rich, having already shocked
the wrestling world once by beating veteran Harley Race for the NWA world heavyweight title
five days earlier, made lightning strike twice by defeating Race in an epic rematch at an NWA
live card in Gainesville, Georgia. Rich's win in the return bout against Race solidified his place
in the company as a bona fide top rank grappler and stunned observers who had been certain
Race would easily regain the title from his younger, less experienced foe; it would also lay the
groundwork for a third and final Rich-Race showdown at a televised NWA card in the Atlanta
Omni arena on June 28th, 1981. The Omni match ended in a double countout when Race and
Rich fell out of the ring simultaneously at the 20-minute mark and got into a knock-down drag-
out brawl in the stands.

Fans were solidly behind Rich in his battles with Race and his subsequent clashes against
another former NWA world champion, Texas native and notorious brawler Terry Funk, but that
attitude would change dramatically after Rich lost the title to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. His nerves
stretched to the breaking point by the stress of his feuds with Race and Funk, Rich proceeded
to declare war on the new champion-- a war that ended with Rich regaining the title on March
5th, 1982 in Baltimore and turning on NWA fans with a vengeance. In the course of his second
tenure as world champion Rich would become the most hated man in the NWA; fans cheered
when Flair regained the title from Rich nearly four months later in Boca Raton, Florida. He left
the company for good in October of 1982 and was signed by its archrival the World Wrestling
Federation, where he earned the nickname “Psycho” and defeated Bob Backlund in January
of 1983 to become only the second man in wrestling history to have been both an NWA and a
WWF world champion during his career. Rich's WWF world title reign would end on April 24th,
1983 in spectacular fashion when fan favorite Terry “Hulk” Hogan demolished Rich in scarcely
seven and a half minutes at the first Wrestlemania pay-per-view; Hogan would go on to reign
as WWF world champion for over nine years, while Rich would be gone from the WWF in less
than six months.

After leaving the WWF Rich would sign up with the AWA; he didn't win any singles titles there
but did enjoy two reigns as an AWA tag team champion, first as partners with Bad News Allen
and later as one half of the combo the Living Legends with Larry Zbyszko. Harley Race would
earn the ire of WWF fans in the mid-1980s as a part of manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan's
stable. In 1990 the NWA would merge with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association to
form World Championship Wrestling(WCW); WCW would challenge the WWF for supremacy
in the wrestling business for at least another decade before it was itself absored by the WWF
in 2001. The WWF would rename itself World Wrestling Enterprises(WWE) in 2004 to put an
end to decades of being confused with the World Wildlife Fund and also to reflect its growing
role as a multimedia juggernaut.


In reality, Race easily beat Rich in that May 1st bout to win his fifth NWA world heavyweight
title. Rich didn't compete in the WWF but did have a stint in the AWA as a Southern tag team
champion and Southern heavyweight champion. The AWA went out of business in 1991; the
NWA took some serious blows to its prestige that same year when several promoters pulled
out of the company to form WCW and again in 1994 when a group of East Coast promoters
quit the NWA to establish ECW(Extreme Championship Wrestling), but survived to re-emerge
after the year 2000 as one of the largest and most profitable independent wrestling organizations in the world. Tommy Rich continued to wrestle at indy cards as late as 2010; Harley Race turned from active competition in the 1990s to concentrate on managing champions like Big Van Vader and doing TV commentary.

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