Today In History 9/14: Ric Flair Returns To WCW In Emotional Nitro Moment, Kidman Wins 1st Title

* 17 years ago in 1998, WCW ran one of the most memorable episodes of Monday Nitro in the show's five and a half year run. While it was not the only segment on the show, which aired live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, South Carolina, the return of Ric Flair was the night's emotional high point and most memorable moment.

Early in the year, Flair's contract was up, and during the negotiations, he signed a letter of intent to sign a new contract. Meanwhile, he had made arrangements to have the April 9th Thunder taping off to see his son Reid's amateur wrestling meet. Flair was asked to work the show last minute in a throwaway segment, and he said no. He was quickly suspended and eventually sued for breaching his contract.

Given the prevalence of no-shows in both the business in general and WCW itself back in the day, it set an odd precedent to file suit. Within a few months, Flair had already spent $75,000 in legal fees and was unable to get even an off the record offer from the WWF for whenever he was legally clear. He had no choice: He had to make a deal to go back to WCW.

Meanwhile, a year earlier, Flair had dissolved the Four Horsemen. Arn Anderson had retired due to a neck injury, and his replacement as "the Enforcer," Curt Hennig, turned on the group to join the NWO, injuring Flair in the process. So he left Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael to their own devices. In 1998, while Flair was missing in action, Benoit and his friend Dean Malenko tried to convince Anderson to reform the Horsemen, but Anderson resented Malenko sticking his nose in Horsemen business. Even former Horsemen manager turned WCW Commissioner J.J. Dillon asked, and Arn still said no...for a while.

That takes us back to September 14, 1998, right in the middle of the old Jim Crockett Promtions territory. With the lights dimmed, J.J. Dillon walked to the ring in a tuxedo as a thunderous "WE WANT FLAIR!" chant started, and invited Arn Anderson to the ring. He apologized to Arn for how he had spoken to him during their last public conversation, and then Arn took over. It was not a secret what was about to happen, and the building was filled with Ric Flair/Four Horsemen signs that the camera didn't shy away from.

Arn announced it was a new beginning for the Four Horsemen and invited "the other three Horsemen" out one by one: McMichael, Benoit, and the newest Horseman: Dean Malenko, all in matching tuxedos. He spoke to each about what they meant to Horsemen, including apologizing to Malenko: "I said you that you didn't get it. Well, *I* didn't get it." Arn cut a promo about this version of the Horsemen ushering in the new millennium, even delivering it with a line that sounded like he was done. Then, a beat. "My God! I forgot the fourth Horseman! RIC FLAIR, GET ON DOWN HERE!"

Flair, trying (and largely failing) to fight back tears, made his way to the ring as the crowd exploded, jumping up and down and giving him a standing ovation long after his entrance music stopped. After thanking the fans for reminding him why his career was worth it, he turned it back on and cut his promo on Eric Bischoff, who soon ran to the ring. When that happened, Flair went off on what is probably, word for word, the most memorably quotable rant of his his career:

You're an overbearing a--hole, that's right! You're an obnoxious, overbearing a--hole! That's right! Cut me off. Abuse of power! Abuse of power! You suck! I hate your guts! You are a liar! You're a cheat! You're a scam! You are a no-good son of a b---h! Fire me! I'm already fired! Fire me! You're already fired!

It probably wasn't a total coincidence that when WWE held a post-show tribute to Flair after a 2003 Raw main event against Triple H, it was in the same building as his Nitro return. Flair even said as much during the celebration, remarking that there's something about him and emotional moments in Greenville.

Also on Nitro in Greenville, Billy Kidman won the WCW Cruiserweight Championship for the first time from Juventud Guerrera. The two wrestlers had one of WCW's standout rivalries that year when Kidman was a heel in Raven's Flock, and now, with Kidman and his stablemates "freed" by Perry Saturn, he became the Kidman we all remember. They had was was probably the best match of their feud to that point and the crowd was with them every step of the way. For the finish, Juvi went to the top rope for his 450 splash, Kidman got up, caught his rival with a BK Bomb/Sky-High/Rydeen Bomb as a counter, and hit the shooting star press to take the title as the crowd went nuts.

Kidman was, refreshingly, booked as the dominant centerpiece of the division. His matches could be a bit patterned at times, but he was a breath of fresh air as champion and gt really over thanks to both his work and the protective booking. The peak of his reign was probably at Starrcade, where in back to back incredible matches, he defeated Guerrera and Rey Mysterio in a three way...

...before beating Eddie Guerrero in an impromptu match immediately thereafter. It was as good as the match that preceded it, which was no small task, and for a one night performance, it was the best of Kidman's career. The next night, he teamed with Mysterio to defeat Eddie and Juvi in another spectacular match. He still had some great matches, but it's hard to look at anything else as his peak as "the man" in the division.

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