Greetings Grappling and Law fans. Sorry for the delay in posting part 2 of the Mr. R series. As is sometimes the case, our legal duties took precedence yesterday. But, it is a beautiful morning here at the Anderson abode, the Dragon (our Goldendoodle) is enjoying the outdoor air, I am enjoying my coffee and morning cigar (My Father Robusto) outside and it is time to get back to the series.
As you may recall, our last post in this series addressed who actually owns a championship. Having established that a champion only has a right to possession and not ownership, we have established that at the time Ted Dibiase was champion he had the right to possess the championship, subject to the will of the wrestling commission or promotion or whatever governing body was being claimed at the time.
We got that. So what does that have to do with contracts?
A great deal. In the kayfabe world of pro wrestling, champions were expected to defend their titles against worthy challengers. Though what made someone a worthy challenger was always subject to the needs of a storyline. Oddly, a great way of getting title shots was often to attack the champion or his close friend or family members. This is what I like to call “How to use assault and battery to your benefit” (a subject we will delve into more deeply at another time”). In this case, Mr. R received title shots because Dibiase was obsessed with proving he was Tommy Rich. Of course, everybody figured out it was Tommy Rich, but let us not get distracted from the story.
Champions were often allowed to offer title matches to almost whoever they chose and the governing body went along with it. And that is where contract law comes in. Because in this case, Mr. R and Ted Dibiase had an oral contract to place a career against the National Heavyweight title.
Wait a minute! I thought Oral Contracts were not as good as the paper they were written on?
And you thought wrong. Barring statutory rules, oral contracts can be quite binding. That is because a contract is merely an agreement between two or more persons which creates an obligation to do or not do a thing. To do that, you need competent parties (both men, despite being pro wrestlers were mentally competent), subject matter (they agreed to have a match with the National Heavyweight title at stake), legal consideration (in this case, the promise to perform certain acts was sufficient), mutual agreement ( both men agreed), and mutual obligation (if Mr. R lost he surrendered the mask and Rich would be banned from wrestling in the National Wrestling Alliance for life, and if Dibiase lost he surrendered the belt and his claim to the championship).
The essential elements are often an exchange. Either a promise in exchange for a promise or a promise in exchange for an act. How many of you have written agreements with your gardener? I suspect very few of you do. Yet, that contract is usually valid. Your promise to pay him money if he maintains your yard. He then does the work, thus having performed his end of the contract, requires that you now pay him. The order may differ but in the end it is a contract.
So if a guy orally promises to sell me his house for $100 if I mow his lawn he has to?
No. Real Estate falls under the Statute of Frauds, which requires that the agreement be memorialized in writing.
I see. So Ted Dibiase and Tommy Rich had a contract?
No. Ted Dibiase and Mr. R had a contract. And this is where things get interesting. Remember the element of mutuality? Contract law also requires a meeting of the minds. In other words, the two parties should be agreeing on the same thing. For example, if two parties agree to sell a boat named “The Sea Wench”, and there are two boats with that name, the contract is valid only if the two were referring to the same ‘Sea Wench”. Otherwise, nothing is clear.
In this case, Ted Dibiase made a contract with Mr. R believing Mr. R was Tommy Rich. In fact, the Mr. R he made the deal with on TV was Tommy Rich. He had no agreement with Brad Armstrong under the Mr. R guise. On that basis, having not contracted with Armstrong, the title change could be deemed illegal because the opponent he bargained with was not the opponent he wrestled.
So, Ted Dibiase should still be National Champion? He was robbed!
Not, so fast my friend. Yes, Dibiase expected that Tommy Rich would be under the mask. But, he made a deal with a masked man who was not publicly identifying himself. Mr. R, for all intent and purposes, could be just an entity that changed every night. Surely the possibility existed that he could have been someone else on any given night. Dibiase, a veteran with worldwide wrestling experience and hailing from a wrestling family, should have known that it could be anyone who stepped in the ring with him. Furthermore, Dibiase entered into the contract based upon an expectation that if he won he would be unmasking Tommy Rich, but there were no promises that it would be. Arguably, he gambled and he lost.
That seems like a cheap explanation for poor Ted.
Welcome to pro wrestling and the law. But, do not worry we have other reasons why the title change should be legal including a look at the importance of conditional contracts and the unclean hands of Ted Dibiase. That will come in Part III.