James Herd (born March 24, 1939) is a former professional wrestling executive. Herd was the Executive Vice President of World Championship Wrestling from 1988 to 1992 following Turner Broadcasting's acquisition of the National Wrestling Alliance-affiliated Jim Crockett Promotions in 1988. However, his tenure received much criticism from wrestlers and fans alike.
Early life and career
Before beginning his role in WCW, Herd had been a station manager for the St. Louis TV station KPLR-TV, which broadcast the then-popular wrestling show Wrestling at the Chase. Later on, he served as a regional manager for Pizza Hut.
World Championship Wrestling
Herd was hired as Executive Vice President of World Championship Wrestling in 1988, through his connections and friendship with Turner Executive Jack Petrik. His tenure officially began on January 3, 1989.
Many wrestling personalities, fans, and workers have openly criticized Herd for his lack of knowledge of the wrestling business and lack of respect for established wrestlers. Ric Flair in particular stated that Herd "knew nothing about wrestling, other than the fact that the station he ran had a hot show". During his run in WCW, Herd tried to compete with Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation by introducing the same kind of gimmicks that were a part of McMahon's WWF at the time, alienating the diehard NWA audience. For example, he once tried to come up with a tag team called The Hunchbacks (with the gimmick in which they could not be pinned because their humps would prevent their shoulders from touching the mats) and after that idea was rejected by the booking committee he came up with the bell-wearing team, The Ding Dongs (portrayed by The Rock n Roll Rebels). After that, he came up with Big Josh, a lumberjack who was accompanied by dancing bears. Stan Hansen left the organization to return to All Japan Pro Wrestling after the idea was pitched to him to become a part of the comedic cowboy stable called The Desperados. Jim Cornette and Stan Lane also left the organization in October 1990, breaking up the Midnight Express and leaving Bobby Eaton on his own, after Herd would blame his many failures on Cornette and others. Even The Road Warriors, as Animal has stated on WWE Home Video's Road Warriors DVD, had a fallout with Herd as well and resigned from WCW in June 1990.
Herd regularly clashed with the then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion and booking committee member Ric Flair. According to Flair, Herd wanted him to drop his entire "Nature Boy" persona, cut his hair (even though Flair's bleached blonde hair was one of his most recognizable trademarks) and adopt a Roman gladiator gimmick by the name of Spartacus in order to "change with the times". This did not sit well with Flair and the committee (committee member Kevin Sullivan was quoted as saying: "While we're doing this, why don't we go to Yankee Stadium and change Babe Ruth's number?"). Herd believed Flair's time was over as a main event player and the big money was with Sting and Lex Luger. This backstage feud hit its breaking point when during contract renegotiation Flair refused to take a pay cut and be moved away from the main event position as he was by far the company's biggest draw. He also refused to drop the title to Luger as Herd wanted, saying that he had promised to drop it to Sting and Herd had previously agreed. Herd did not care what he had said earlier and accused Flair of holding up the company, but Flair said he was simply holding Herd to his word. Flair tried to compromise with Herd and offered to drop the title to fellow Horsemen Barry Windham, feeling that Windham was long passed over and deserved a run with the title. However, as Flair was planning to leave to wrestle Windham so he could lose the title, on July 1, 1991, two weeks before the Great American Bash, Herd fired Flair from WCW and stripped him of the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. However, Flair was still in possession of the physical championship belt.
Flair brings the belt to WWF's TV programs
Upon notification, Flair called Vince McMahon of the rival World Wrestling Federation to inform him of the situation. McMahon offered Flair a deal with the WWF in exchange for him sending McMahon the belt and Flair obliged. A couple of weeks later, promos were being shown of Bobby Heenan with Flair's belt on WWF television. NWA and WCW officials expressed frustration at Herd's actions and amidst loud "We Want Flair!" chants at WCW events during this period made a final attempt to save face by offering Flair substantially more money to return, but their efforts failed.
Lasting impact on the NWA
Flair was in his legal rights to take the NWA/WCW World title belt with him to the WWF because Herd refused to give Flair back the $25,000 deposit that the NWA required of every wrestler upon winning the world title to keep him from appearing in a rival promotion (like the WWF). According to NWA bylaws, the deposit would be paid back upon losing, plus interest. Without Flair, the 1991 Great American Bash became what many fans[who?] consider one of the worst wrestling events in history as the Baltimore audience loudly chanted "We want Flair!" throughout the entire show. Many fans there and at the event also saw the title match between the top two contenders for the title, Lex Luger and Barry Windham, as a sham because Flair still had the actual title belt (they had to resort to taping World Champion on one of Dusty Rhodes's old belts due to their new WCW World title belt not being ready in time and giving it to Luger after winning the match) and was never beaten for it, thus the "real world champion" angle the WWF created upon Flair's arrival had legitimacy and the NWA suffered tremendously.
Legacy and aftermath
Many wrestling insiders look at this incident as the major reason why Vince McMahon took the WWF Championship title belt off of the soon-to-be departing Bret Hart at the 1997 Survivor Series event in the infamous Montreal Screwjob in order to avoid it being shown on rival WCW's Monday Nitro show the following day (a similar incident occurred in December 1995 when Madusa Miceli came out with the WWF Women's title belt on WCW Monday Nitro and threw it in the trash can). Many felt that his company, who was losing the ratings war to WCW at the time, simply could not afford the same public relations nightmare that had befallen the NWA back in 1991 and took extreme measures to prevent it by ordering the referee (Earl Hebner) to call for the bell seconds after Shawn Michaels put Hart in a sharpshooter submission hold and awarding the belt to Michaels.
The matter with Flair caused a lawsuit between the two companies, but eventually the lawsuit was dropped. In the 2008 WWE DVD Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection, Flair said he kept the "Big Gold Belt" because he was never paid back his $25,000 initial deposit for the NWA title, plus interest, which totaled $38,000. Herd resigned from WCW on January 8, 1992 and was replaced by Kip Allen Frey.
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Jim Crockett, Jr.
| President of the National Wrestling Alliance