Worst Wrestling Returns VIII: Tommy Rich

Of all NWA stars, Tommy Rich is one of the wrestlers most synonymous with the Georgian territory, Known for his iconic feud with Buzz Sawyer and shotgun NWA World Heavyweight title win in 1981, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich was a relic of the NWA, thus it was surprising when he was brought into a more modern WCW in 1989. Although initially pushed as “The Comeback Man Of The 1990s”, the wildfire was soon extinguished. 

First Impressions Of Tommy Rich

Cuban Assassin

Rich returned to WCW in a pre-taped match airing on July 1st, 1989 in which he saw a convincing win over “Wild” Bill Irwin. Rich’s clashing with the modern day was made clear with his finisher: a Lou Thesz press. Sure, the Thesz press was a legit move, often used by amateur wrestler shooters but it was not a serviceable finisher in 1989. 

Rich then started a house show series challenging for Lex Luger’s United States belt although of course unsuccessful. This included Clash Of The Champions VIII. 

Rich made his PPV return the next month, in an enhancing win over The Cuban Assassin. What should have got Rich over to the crowd turned sour as, after a botched spot caused the audience to turn on the competitors, with the workers unable to recover. 

Slow Decline 

Rich formed largely unsuccessful teams with Eddie Gilbert, Mike Rotunda, and Ricky Morton (pictured).

At this time, WCW dropped how heavily referenced his ex-world title reign was. The company was keen on pushing bigger and younger stars than the swathe of older employees hired in this era. 

At Clash Of The Champions IX, Rich got pinned easily by Doom in less than five minutes. 

Rich started losing more commonly on programming including singles losses to Ric Flair and Mark Callous as well as tag losses to the likes of Cactus Jack & Kevin Sullivan. This included at the next PPV Capital Combat (yes, the Robocop one), where he lost to The Samoan SWAT Team. 

Rich went on to a string of victories but largely off-screen. He did get television victories over both Bam Bam Bigelow and Stan Hansen…both by DQ, in which Rich was not the main focus of the storylines but more of an afterthought. 

In February 1991, Rich became one of the inaugural holders of the WCW Six-Man Tag Team titles with Ricky Morton whom he teamed with to a lot less success than The Rock’n’Roll Express and Junkyard Dog. The reign lasted just over 100 days before dropping them to The Fabulous Freebirds. 

Lower Card Fodder 

Tommy Rich in WCW
The aging Harley Race got a clean win over Rich, apropos of nothing.

Rich really started to become fodder for bigger stars by mid-1991, including a squash match loss to the recently returned Nikita Koloff in less than five minutes at SuperBrawl I. 

To show you the lower-card positioning of Rich, just look at July’s Great American Bash. 

At the event, Rich fought old rival Harley Race. Race, now a manager and no longer wrestling, dominated the match and got the clean win; it was the last major match of Harley’s career. 

“Wildfire”’s career trajectory is further established by his Clash Of The Champions XII where he was again facing Bill Irwin. Although leaving victorious, it lasted four minutes and was in no way a feature match. 

Losses stacked up as Rich saw TV losses to the likes of Buddy Landel, Michael Wallstreet, and Moondog Rex. 

So with that, Rich needed something to turn around his prospects…something modern. 

The York Foundation 

Rich in the bottom center. (Photo courtesy of WhatCulture)

Arguably the peak of Rich’s return run was in The York Foundation. 

For the uninitiated, The York Foundation was a stable led by Miss Alexandra York (Terri Runnels) who was comprised of formal and professional workers. The group appeared with suited businessmen, used computer data for the best way to win matches, and all the members formalised their names (so Tommy Rich became Thomas Rich). It was, not sparing my words here, the fucking tits.  

Mr. Hughes left the stable – where he was the bodyguard to “The Computerized Man Of The 1990s” Terrence Taylor – and was replaced by Rich. It was a muted heel turn but turned out with some success as Rich regained the Six-Man belts, winning them on Main Event. 

Despite a title win, Rich was still a third wheel in a mid-card-at-best stable. It would be the only title the faction won as they saw little success outside of the Six-Man belts. It was incredibly damaging than when the titles were abandoned in late 1991, with the faction disbanding early next year. 

Rich, who had been a bit-part player in previous PPV multi-man matches, had a final big match in January in which he lost to newcomer Vinnie Vegas in less than a minute. He was out the door within a few months’ time. 

Reasons For An Unrich Return 

I think the main reason for Rich’s bad return is simply that he was always going to be a minor player. Rich was never exactly going to mix it up in the main event scene so was never going to have an extremely fruitful run, with his position always likely to be in the lower card. 

The grudge of Ole Anderson, the main booker for WCW, was never going to aid him either. In his own words, “Crockett wanted to hire me…to kill me on TV, destroy me.” 

Vitally, WCW – although never positioning him highly – was set to focus on bigger and newer stars, which hindered his run further. Bigger names like Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, and Lex Luger were pushed above Rich, and rightfully so. Meanwhile, young talents like Sting, Tom Zenk, Brian Pillman, The Great Muta, Steve Austin, The Steiner Brothers, Dustin Rhodes, and others were all much younger and the potential futures for the company whilst Rich’s time had largely come.  

Rich too had not moved on, with a passe look and style. This expands to his Lou Thesz press finisher. 

Rich was also not a big enough star to draw across the country. Whilst a star in the south, Rich could not be a commercial star for the wider national audience of WCW compared to the NWA territory system. 

Ultimately, Tommy Rich became little more than enhancement talent after a lukewarm push. Tommy eventually went on to a much more successful run in The F.B.I. in ECW (having had only 1 WWE match) but when he went down to Atlanta, Rich’s fortunes were poor. 

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