With the WWE Championship vacant for the second time in it's three decade history, the strap was put up for grabs in the 1992 Royal Rumble match.
Vince McMahon had to decide who would be his company's next figurehead, with four time WWE Champion Hulk Hogan due to head for the exit door.
Hogan was considering retirement post-WrestleMania VIII on April 5, 1992, incredible as that might sound now. I was for a myriad of reasons, not the least beaing bad publicity over his appearance on The Arsenio Hall show on July 16, 1991. During that interview he lied about his steroid usage, against company orders. Suffice to say, Hogan was feeling the heat and wanted to depart the grap game for a minimum of 12 months, if not permanently.
He was undecided.
However, what McMahon did want to do is run the dream match of Hogan versus Flair, before Hogan departed. The first ever meeting between the WWE figurehead versus the NWA flag bearer took place in a dark match at a television taping on October 22, 1991. Flair would win that one via countout.
WWE, encouraged by the favorable responses in the arena, decided to run the match in all of its major markets. It drew their best live event numbers in well over a year. So much so, WWE kept booking the bout until the end of January. By which time, Flair was WWE Champion and McMahon had to begin arranging the WrestleMania VIII card.
Sycho Sid was seen as a potential heir to Hogan, given his massively muscular frame and electric personality. After WWE realized, they had overexposed the Hogan/Flair match, they opted to book Sid against Hogan, in a passing of the torch match-up akin to the Hogan/Warrior bout two years earlier. However, a failed drugs test by Sid, just prior to the 'Mania card, delayed those plans. They were scuppered completely, when Sid walked out on the company rather than serve a suspension.
The returning Warrior was revisited as an option to succeed Hogan, but his first feud following his comeback with Papa Shango bombed and Warrior's star power reduced as a result. He, too, would soon be shown the exit and fired, when he failed a drugs test in late 1992.
In a bind, McMahon had to look to his mid-card for a Hogan replacement. He would find him in the shape of Bret "Hitman" Hart.