Today In History 9/8: Ric Flair Stripped Of World Title For Signing With WWF, Beloved Referee Dies

* 24 years ago in 1991, with Ric Flair having signed with the WWF and set to debut the following night at the Superstars tapings in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the National Wrestling Alliance board finally stripped Ric Flair of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. While Flair had split with WCW two months earlier, the WCW and NWA World Heavyweight Championships were technically two separate titles. WCW's was a company title that was just a few months old, while the NWA's was voted on by their board of member promoters.

There had been some hope that Flair would defend the title for the few remaining non-WCW members of the NWA before signing with the WWF, but that never happened. There was even speculation that the WWF would join the NWA to help put over the Ric Flair as "Real World Champion" vs. Hulk Hogan as WWF Champion feud, but that never came to pass, either. So when Flair finally signed with the WWF, which hadn't been a NWA member since the annual promoter meeting in 1983, it became clear that the board had no choice but to strip Flair of the title.

When WCW won their court case against the WWF and regained possession of the iconic "Big Gold Belt," that got the ball rolling on the eventual return to WCW of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Seiji Sakaguchi of NJPW was voted new president of the NWA, and in the Summer of 1992, WCW and NJPW announced two tournaments for NWA world titles: A WCW-hosted tournament for the NWA World Tag Team Championship (existing for the first time as a NWA board approved title and not the name of a regional title) and NJPW awarding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to the winner of the second annual G1 Climax tournament. Masahiro Chono won the heavyweight title by defeating Rick Rude in the finals, while Steve Williams and Terry Gordy defeated Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes to win the tag team titles.

* 16 years ago in 1999, Brian "Mark Curtis" Hildebrand, best known as a referee in WCW and Smoky Mountain Wrestling, passed away at 37 years of age due to complications from stomach cancer. One of the best referees and most beloved people in the pro wrestling business, his death was felt throughout every promotion since he had made friends everywhere he went. You may also know him as the inspiration for the referee character in the WCW/NWO Revenge video game for the Nintendo 64.

Hildebrand broke in at Dominic DeNucci's wrestling school in the Pittsburgh area around the same time that Mick Foley and Shane Douglas, but was so small that his prospects in wrestling were limited. He was, by all accounts, actually a really talented junior heavyweight wrestler, but only got to show it very occasionally, working under a mask as "El Technico Rudo" on independent shows (as well as Cowabunga the Ninja Turtle later on in SMW). Eventually, he settled into refereeing and managing as either Mark Curtis or Dr. Jack Curtis, but is was his talent as a referee that got him hired by Jim Cornette in SMW, where he also worked in the office.

It was the SMW run where, not only did he occasionally get to show off as a wrestler in his turtle suit, but he also got to be a manager on a bigger stage. During 1995, the company's last year of operation, SMW feuded with the other full-time territory in the state of Tennessee, Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett's USWA out of Memphis. Each group's talent were heels in the other promotion...and that included referee Mark Curtis.

He feuded with USWA General Manager (his actual real life job title, not a gimmick) Randy Hales in fun undercard comedy matches, getting to cut great promos, show his ability as a heel in the ring and at ringside, etc. He loved SMW, so he was sad when it closed down, but WCW came calling before too long.

The most famous moment of his career took place during a Dean Malenko vs. Psicosis match that wasn't supposed to mean much of anything. All of a sudden, as happened too often in WCW, a fan hit the ring. Tiny little Brian Hildebrand kicked him in the face before he could get through the ropes and calmly held him in a front facelock until security showed up. Bobby Heenan cracked up on commentary, exclaiming that "The smallest referee in the world just took him down! How tough is that guy?" Heenan nicknamed Hildebrand "shooter," and when Brian passed away, Bobby and his wife Pam made black armbands with a drawing of a gun for WCW talent and staff to wear so they could honor their fallen friend.

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