Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff have a long history together, and it’s not pretty. The altercation that took place between them was long overdue, and it’s a miracle it didn’t happen sooner.
Fight: Ric Flair vs Eric Bischoff
Date: March 17, 2003
Location: St. Louis, MO
Source: To Be the Man by Ric Flair, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Bischoff on Wrestling Episode #46
UPDATE: This story was originally posted in 2016, however later details came forward when Eric Bischoff gave his side of the story in June 2017.
Eric Bischoff was just a television announcer in WCW at first, but somehow sold himself on being promoted to run the company in 1993 in what was a shocking move at the time. Flair had just returned to the company after a year and a half run in the WWF. While fans were ecstatic to see Flair back in WCW, booker Ole Anderson wasn’t pleased because Flair had just put over Curt Hennig clean on Raw in a match in which the loser left the WWF. He must not have realized that Flair was lucky Vince McMahon let him out of his contract when he asked, because when he first signed Flair in 1991, he gave him his word that if he ever wanted to leave, he’d let him.
Flair returned in February ’93, but didn’t get in the ring until June. In the meantime he was still on TV, mainly on a talk show segment called “Flair for the Gold,” where he met his current girlfriend Wendy (Fifi the maid). Under Bischoff’s direction, the television experimented with new production special effects, some of which were cool and some of which made no difference. As Bischoff grew more comfortable in the role, Flair worked with him to bring in Hulk Hogan in the summer of 1994.
A year after Hulk Hogan came in, the idea for Monday Nitro was formulated, sparked by a meeting Bischoff had with Ted Turner in which he greenlit the show on his TNT network. One year after Nitro debuted in 1995, WCW was red hot on the heels of the nWo angle and Hogan’s game-changing heel turn. The show continued to rise in the ratings as WWF’s Raw ratings continued to sink.
WCW had overtaken WWF as the top promotion in the country in 1997, something that not one person ever predicted or saw coming. Bischoff deserves credit for that, except with all that success came political drama. The Kevin Nash/Hulk Hogan faction, to which Bischoff was loyal, butted heads with the Ric Flair/Roddy Piper faction backstage. Flair was privately unhappy with how the nWo was pushed, steamrolling over everyone and always being made to look strong by laying everyone out. He felt Bischoff and his allies never gave him the respect he deserved, and at one point things came to a head when Piper and Nash briefly got into a scuffle backstage.
The Horsemen were never made to look as strong on television, and Flair resented Bischoff for this. But the ultimate show of disrespect was when Bischoff held a meeting backstage with all the wrestlers, and told them he didn’t want to hear any more talk about drawing money. He said only three men in the room had ever drawn money, and they were Hogan, Piper, and Randy Savage. Flair saw that as a major slap in his face, in front of the whole locker room no less. It was also a slap to others there who had proven to draw money, such as Sting, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Nash, Scott Hall, and even Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero in Mexico and Los Angeles.
Flair wasn’t being used much in early 1998, and right about that time, the WWF was taking over the lead on the heels of Steve Austin and his rise to mega stardom. While Flair was contractually obligated to be at every Nitro and Thunder TV taping (unless he gave 10 days notice), he figured he could miss a Thunder taping on April 9 in Tallahassee in order to attend his son Reid Flair’s AAU national freestyle championships in Detroit. Reid was only nine years old at the time, and Flair was very much involved in his amateur wrestling. WCW called him two days prior to the Thunder taping, saying he needed to be there to announce the formation of a new Horsemen group. He refused, saying he wasn’t going to miss his son’s match.
WCW actually sued Flair over this, which was mind boggling considering how Flair had broken his back for that company for years, saving them time and time again through every single regime change. They’d abandon him for some green, muscled up young guy, then it would fail, and they’d always go back to Flair again. It’s the reason he left WCW in 1991, and 10 years later, it’s the reason he was so happy to see them go out of business.
But Bischoff pursued the lawsuit just to mess with Flair, and he took it personally, as he should have. They could’ve simply delayed the angle by a week, or even a few days, to let him watch his son wrestle. In hindsight, given that Reid passed away at such a young age and how it devastated Ric so much, this legal move by Bischoff seems even more revolting.
WCW dropped the lawsuit months later, and when Flair returned to Nitro in September, it was among the best segments in that show’s history, and certainly it’s most real.
When Bischoff debuted in WWE in mid 2002, lots of people in the locker room had major heat with him. There were lots of hard feelings from those in WCW, and those who weren’t even in WCW disliked him because he tried to put the WWF out of business in 1997 (you know, just like Vince did in the ‘80s with all the regional territories, but somehow those people seem to forget that). But they agreed to work with Bischoff because Vince was the boss and there was no need to give a beating to one of Vince’s prized new employees, especially one who wasn’t a wrestler.
Flair was among those who had heat with Bischoff. But he didn’t choose to do anything about it until almost a year later.
Until now, the only account of what happened has been Flair’s side of the story. Vince McMahon had ordered everyone to pretend as if the altercation never happened.
Because of that, for years we had all gone by what was written in Flair’s book To Be the Man. This passage is taken from pages 438-439, describing the altercation (ironically this happened on the same day Flair filmed comments for the Monday Nights Wars DVD):
“Finally I told myself, I’ve let him get away for too long. If I want to raise my boys to be men, it’s about time I acted like one. On March 17, 2003, before a broadcast of Raw, I saw Eric in the dressing room on his cell phone, talking about some Girls Gone Wild Pay-Per-View that he’d gotten involved with and how it was going to “revolutionize” television. I heard him use the classic cliché, “It’s taking on a life of its own.” I went into the catering area and asked Arn Anderson if I could speak with him. He followed me into the hallway, and I said, “Please, just watch the door.” He had no idea what I was talking about. I returned to the dressing room and approached Bischoff. “I need to talk to you,” I said. He held up one finger so I would wait, but I had already waited too long. I slapped him hard across the face, knocking the cell phone out of his hand. He began backing up. I swung at him three times, but couldn’t connect because he was moving so fast. When Bischoff got to the wall, I pushed him onto a couch, climbed on top of him, pressed my finger against his eye, and said “I could take your f*ckin’ eye out right now.” (I could have also used my fist to bust open his face while he was cowering underneath me, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted him to get up and fight.) I backed away so he could rise from the couch. “Let’s go! Right Now!” I yelled. I swung my leg around and kicked the back of his leg, hoping it would jar him out of his seat. “I’m not going to fight you,” he said, but I wasn’t going to give him a choice. Suddenly, Sergeant Slaughter–who’s now a WWE road agent–was standing between us. “Ric, what are you doing?” he asked. “Just paying a debt,” I told him. Personally, I’m sure that Slaughter would have just as soon pulled me off a bloody Bischoff than separated us. But Vince doesn’t want his agents to lose control of the dressing room, so I let Slaughter led me away.”
During all that, Flair also shouted at Bischoff for how he had screwed him, Arn, and others during his time in WCW. He also brought up all the money he cost him in defending the lawsuit.
Not stated in the book is that Bischoff also went up to him in catering later on to discuss things. It got heated again, and they had to be separated. Bischoff also got into a loud argument with Arn Anderson, and HHH had to come out and calm things down again.
Eric Bischoff’s Version
In early June of 2017, Eric Bischoff gave his side of the story on his podcast after he was asked about it by his co-host Nick Hausman.
Bischoff called Flair’s version a “Very creative recollection of what really happened.” He also said there was another witness in the room, whom he wouldn’t name, who saw it all happen and could back up his story (more on that later).
Bischoff admitted that he obviously had his issues with Flair, but that was in 1997 and 1998, and since that time they had worked PPVs together and even worked a match together (after which Flair called Bischoff in his hotel that night and told him he loved him). By the time he showed up in WWE in 2002, he figured there wasn’t heat between them anymore. Sure enough, a week before this altercation, Bischoff had gone out with Flair and Arn and had beers together as if everything was fine.
Bischoff confirmed he was on the phone at the time, but not having anything to do with “Girls Gone Wild.” He was instead talking to his wife and their real estate attorney, attempting to close a transaction on an investment property the two had. He was in what he called a ‘green room,’ which is where he claimed to always stay at WWE tapings in case any producers needed him for something. Rather than hang out at catering or in the arena, Bischoff was always in the green room on his laptop or reading a book.
As he was sitting in a chair, Flair came in with Arn Anderson and another person (again, more on him later). Bischoff said Arn didn’t “watch the door” as Flair claimed in the book, but was there with him to watch Flair’s back. Flair then walked up to him on the chair and started calling him out and putting his fists up. He screamed at Bischoff to get out of the chair, calling him a son of a bitch and saying he was going to kick his ass, etc.
More than anything, Bischoff felt confused. As noted, they had all gone out drinking the week before, not to mention all the times they had worked together since the lawsuit. He kept thinking that maybe this was a rib since it made no sense for Flair to still be so hot after all that time.
Bischoff tried to keep his phone conversation going, as he was trying to close the transaction (this is likely where he held up his finger as if to say ‘Give me a minute, please’ as Flair noted in his book). He then said Flair was so angry that he had bit his lip and was bleeding from the mouth. It was at that point he realized this wasn’t a rib and that Flair really wants to ‘go.’
Bischoff was trying to get off the phone, and now Flair started firing shots as he was sitting down on the phone. Bischoff called them “working punches” that weren’t connecting, which only confused him more because he figured if Flair was so upset he’d be hitting him as hard as he could.
Going by Flair’s version, he too admitted the punches didn’t connect, but said it was because Bischoff kept moving. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Bischoff said he finally got off the phone (not slapped away like Flair claimed) and stood up. He realized Flair has flipped his lid and really wants to fight. Bischoff said anyone who knows him knows he’s not afraid to fight, and that even though he doesn’t like to do it, it doesn’t mean he’s not good at it. Still, he said he didn’t want to fight Flair because he was a friend, and that is consistent with Flair’s version where he said he didn’t want to fight him.
It should be noted that despite his pretty boy game show host looks, it is absolutely true that Bischoff is a fighter and doesn’t back down from anybody. He has long been on the record that he grew up fighting on almost a daily basis because of his rough neighborhood, and has trained in kickboxing. He has also gotten into several bar fights, and once wanted to fight DDP (who is considerably larger) when both were in the AWA before cooler heads prevailed. I was also at a ‘Monday night wars’ debate in 2015 in which Sonny Onno attested to Bischoff’s toughness and said he has personally witnessed it.
Bischoff said Flair backed him up against the wall, and at that point Flair said what he did about being able to take out his eye. The confrontation got very loud at that point, so road agent Sgt Slaughter heard it and quickly broke it up.
The Mystery Witness
As noted, Bischoff said there was a fourth man in the room who witnessed everything. We know Bischoff, Flair, and Arn Anderson were there. The fourth man has never been identified.
However, Bischoff gave a few hints. He said the person is someone we’d all know, that it was a listener to his podcast, and in the best clue yet, said he had even been on Bischoff’s podcast as a guest. He also said it was neither a wrestler nor a person in creative (which rules out Bruce Prichard, the obvious first guess).
I’ve heard every single Bischoff podcast since it debuted, and I save them all. A quick look at the men who fit those clues reveals five possibilities: Teddy Long, Gene Okerlund, Jim Ross, Jonathan Coachman, and Joey Styles.
Let’s go through each one by one to determine the mystery witness:
Teddy Long: It’s quite possible it’s Long, as he was working in WWE at the time, often in a prominent role. He and Flair and Arn have a long history together dating back to their Crockett days, so it’s conceivable they were hanging out together.
What makes me think it’s NOT Long is that I doubt he’s a listener of Bischoff’s podcast. Long strikes me as someone who isn’t exactly downloading podcasts on his phone and listening to them in his spare time. Long likely has very little ties to the business today, even though he was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
Also, when Long was doing media to promote the Hall of Fame, he was asked about fights he had seen. He never mentioned this one. He instead mentioned the Hawk fight with Dan Spivey (which wasn’t really a fight, but Spivey stiffing Hawk with potatoes to give him a receipt), which was wrong in the first place because he insisted it wasn’t televised (it was). He also mentioned a Steve Williams fight with Hawk that thankfully never materialized, although Long wasn’t aware the fight never did happen.
Gene Okerlund: What makes Okerlund interesting is that he and Flair are very close friends, so it would make sense he’d be hanging out with Flair. At first I thought it couldn’t be Gene because he wasn’t on the road with WWE in 2003. But if you recall, this incident occurred the same day WWE was filming talking segments for the Monday Night Wars DVD, which Gene is featured prominently on.
Still, I don’t know why Gene would be in St Louis to do film those segments when he could just do them in Stanford. I also doubt Gene is a regular listener to the podcast, for the same reasons Long wouldn’t be. This makes me think it’s NOT Okerlund.
Jim Ross: It’s very conceivable Ross would be hanging out with Flair and Arn. It’s also very likely Ross is a regular listener to Bischoff’s podcast.
However, Ross was in a very senior position with WWE at the time, heading up talent relations. In his role, he would’ve almost certainly broken up the fight or at least called for help (remember, neither Arn nor the mystery witness had any idea Flair was going to do what he did). Ross has also never hinted at being present for this altercation, not that he necessarily would have.
It’s possible it could be Ross, so we’ll call him a MAYBE.
Jonathan Coachman: Ding ding ding! Coachman makes the most sense, as he was known to frequently hang out with the boys. He and Flair are both avid sports fans, so it’s very possible they were hanging out. It’s also very likely Coachman is a regular listener to the podcast. And while he was prominent on television, he was not in a management position and wouldn’t have felt obligated to break up the fight.
For those reasons, we DO think Coachman is the mystery witness. We don’t have that confirmed, however, and it could very well have been Ross or Okerlund.
Joey Styles: Not a chance. Joey wasn’t in the company yet, and probably wouldn’t have been hanging out with Flair if he was. Not Joey.
McMahon called a meeting with them and worked it out, as he always seems to do when these things happen. He asked Flair if he planned on doing this to anyone else, and Flair replied, “Yeah, Hogan.” Vince just said to please not let that happen, and then ordered everyone in the company to pretend this incident never happened. Bischoff denied it to people later when they asked him, while Flair just stayed quiet and wouldn’t say anything if asked.
Flair and Bischoff are on good terms now, and he’s done Flair’s podcast and everything is fine. Bischoff has said they kind of agreed to never talk about it with each other again, although clearly he was bothered by what he felt was an unfair portrayal of what really happened in Flair’s book.