A blast from the past and contract law

In 2012,I was saddened to hear about the death of Brad Armstrong. Armstrong was an amazing and underrated wrestler who was well-known in the industry as a man who was well liked and did everything possible to make his opponents look good in a match. It was a true loss for the industry because he was capable of teaching so much to so many.

So what does that have to do with the law? As I reflected on Brad Armstrong, I was reflecting upon when he first came into the national scene, wrestling in Georgia. He was a part of an incredible angle (or storyline if you prefer) that upon reflection can be used to take a look at the law.

The Background
Brad Armstrong hails from a prominent wrestling family, led by his father, the legendary “Bullet” Bob Armstrong. When Bob suffered a horrid injury to his face, wrestling being wrestling, needed an explanation for why Bob would be unavailable to wrestle on wrestling cards for the foreseeable future. The answer was found in the man the Bullet was then feuding with, second-generation wrestling star, Ted Dibiase. This is indeed, the same Ted Dibiase who would go on to become “The Million Dollar Man” in the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). The claim was that Dibiase attacked Bob Armstrong outside the arena and the “Bullet” was horribly injured.  Enter of course, Bob’s young son, Brad, to avenge him.  Brad, a talented and popular kid was not at main event level, however, and Dibiase dispatched him. But, Dibiase was then thrust into a feud with Georgia hero, and former National Wrestling Alliance World Champion, the ever-popular Tommy “Wildfire” Rich.

The Set-up

Rich and Dibiase then did battle over the National Heavyweight Title, a prize near and dear to the hearts of wrestlers across the land.  Because of the Superstation status of WTBS in those early days of cable, the National Heavyweight Champion was actually seen across the nation, unlike many other champions.  A higher profile meant more money to the grapplers of the day, so both within and outside of the storyline, this was major. Mr. Rich and Mr. Diabiase engaged in a great gimmick match to end the feud: A Loser Leaves Wrestling Match. In other words, the loser did not have to leave town, but had to retire from wrestling, a stipulation with severe consequences (that we have yet to see actually fulfilled). Mr. Dibiase won the match with the assistance of a “loaded glove” that he used on Tommy Rich. And that was the end of Tommy Rich.  But this being wrestling, it was only the beginning.

Shortly after this match a masked wrestler began appearing on Georgia television and house shows named, Mr. R. Mr. R wore a t-shirt tied in the same fashion that Tommy Rich did, then began wrestling in a track suit (yes, seriously).  He used many of Tommy Rich’s signature moves. Dibiase became incensed, insisting that Mr. R was none other than Tommy Rich.  The two men then engaged in several matches, with Dibiase determined to prove that Tommy Rich was not fulfilling the terms of the previous match conditions. Finally, Dibiase challenged Mr. R to a match in which Dibiase would place his National Heavyweight Championship on the line if Mr. R. would agree to unmask if he lost the match.  Mr. R agreed, and the match was shown, live, on the Superstation WTBS.  In those days, to see such an event on National Television was almost unheard of.  The stage was now set for what many fans thought would be either Ted Bibiase receiving his comeuppance or Tommy Rich being humiliated.

The Sting

The match began with Dibiase and Mr.  going back and forth in battle, with Dibiase obsessed with unmasking Mr. R. At one point he had Mr. R down and as he was unmasking him, the studio audience began cheering wildly, as Dibiase pulled off the mask he revealed..Brad Armstrong.  A clearly shocked Dibiase then turned to the focus on the fans’ cheering to see, next to announcer Gordon Solie, a smiling Tommy Rich.  Dibiase,  yelling angrily at Rich for the deception, was then rolled up from behind by Brad Armstrong for the winning pin.  With that, Brad Armstrong gained a measure of revenge for his father and the National Heavyweight Championship. Justice was served. Or was it?

What does this have to do with the law?

Proving that law school will change the way you view everything, I look back at this angle and ask the question, “Was the title change legal?”

What do you mean “Was the title change legal?”

I mean from a legal perspective was the title change legal? What made it legal if it was and what makes it illegal if it was not? And if it was not, then who suffered and what  are the remedies?

So where do we begin?

For starters, we need to establish who owned the championship belt that signifies the holder of the National Heavyweight Championship.

So who owned the belt?

Though wrestlers act as if they own the championship belt, and in some cases have made their own, traditionally the belt itself belongs to the promotion. The promotion, in turn grants to the individual it recognizes as champion a Right to Possession. The wrestler has been granted the right to hold, carry and defend that belt as a symbol of the promotion’s recognition of his title. However, the right to possess is a conditional one, unlike the Right of Property. The wrestler may be required to successfully defend that title within a certain time frame or against certain opponents. There may be conditions placed on how that Championship can be defended and the promotion may even have conditions regarding the wrestler’s conduct as champion.

In the case above, based upon his September 25, 1983 victory over then champion Brett Sawyer, Ted Dibiase gained the right of possession to that championship belt with all of its rights, privileges and duties.

TOMORROW: Who was that masked man and why do have to honor a contract with him?


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