Arnold Furious: When WWE started realising the potential for DVD releases, tied in with their newly acquired back catalogue, they happened to have Ric Flair working there. He was in the midst of a hot angle, the wise old veteran guiding Evolution along. WWE had already put out a Hulk Hogan DVD and a Shawn Michaels disc, featuring HBK’s best matches, but the potential for a big Flair release would eclipse even that. For the fans it was a chance to obtain high quality versions of classic matches. Going back to 2003 when this was released, the only way you could get Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat in the UK beforehand was to watch a dodgy pirated copy. In the days of tape trading I had several Flair-Steamboat matches on various comp tapes, including ones not shown on TV. I had a tape called Flair: Rare and Unseen and another that was three hours of Flair promos. That was what we did. The market was out there long before WWE came along with their glossy DVD sets. Even on first glance, this release doesn’t disappoint. For starters more than two-thirds of the content comes from the NWA/WCW, demonstrating that WWE had listened to fans who wanted to see Flair in his prime. Only disc three is devoted to his WWE career, and even then it still features the Clash of the Champions XXVII match with Sting. It must have been tough to pick and choose what to include on here, and we basically end up with six NWA/WCW feuds and the 1992 Royal Rumble match. But hey, it’s almost all gold.
WWE didn’t draw the line at using NWA footage to sell the DVD set, they even acquired Dennis Brent’s Pro Wrestling Illustrated photographs to use on the inner cover, rather than relying solely on in-house photography or video stills. It’s the little things that make a big difference. WWE hasn’t always been willing to acknowledge things exist outside of their bubble, so when they do it’s a pleasant surprise. Some modern fans might be a bit sceptical about the true genius of Ric Flair, as more than a few people have lined up to knock him (including industry legends Bret Hart and Mick Foley), but this DVD set will go a long way to converting even the most staunch anti-Flair guy. If there is such a thing.
Tangent: WWE DVD’s around this time featured an epic video package shilling WrestleMania as the showcase of the immortals. What’s really weird about it is a video talking about legacies, and one specific line; “One day we will die,” accompanied by a picture of Eddie Guerrero. It’s a little creepy, considering Eddie’s passing only a few years later.
Ric’s DVD features a lot of set-up for the matches included. So for the opener, the Flair vs. Harley Race match from the first Starrcade features a brief video package from the previous two years, including modern interviews and promos from the time. I won’t provide too much detail on these interviews, as they’re all basically just clips to enhance the viewing experience.
Steel Cage Match
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Harley Race (c) vs. Ric Flair
[NWA Starrcade ‘83 – 11.24.83]
‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ booming around the Greensboro Coliseum before silence takes over and Flair emerges to rapturous applause through a cloud of dry ice is one of the most majestic entrances in the history of professional wrestling. Ric Flair first won the NWA World Title in 1981, taking it from Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City. He held the strap for, what could have been, a career-defining 631 day stretch until being unseated by Harley Race for Harley’s seventh World Title. This match would go a long way to show whether Flair would be a one-time champion or head toward building his own legacy, like Harley across the ring from him. Race is the heel, Flair is the incredibly popular babyface. The third man in the ring, in a somewhat unfortunate appointment, is former NWA Champion and wrestling legend Gene Kiniski. The tough Canadian was the NWA standard-bearer in the mid-late 60s, having taken the strap from the legendary Lou Thesz, but unfortunately Kiniski is squarely to blame for a lot of the issues in this match, scooping a lot of Flair’s heat by working a mini-match within the match against Race. Having a babyface official almost makes it a handicap match for Race. But that’s not the worst of Kiniski’s work in the match, as he’s also agonisingly slow, makes strange decisions that detract from the story the wrestlers are trying to tell, and generally ruins the contest.
Starrcade ’83 had been the NWA’s first gambit on closed-circuit television, pre-dating the WWF’s WrestleMania by sixteen months. It was a loaded card, with the title match following on from a bloody show-stealing dog collar match between Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine. Also on the bill were title switches for the NWA Mid-Atlantic TV Title and the NWA World Tag Team straps, won by Rick Steamboat and Jay Youngblood. Make no mistake about it though, the pressure was mostly on Race and Flair to deliver a memorable main event. Race is a guy who never wanted to disappoint and even toward the end of his career and an underwhelming WWF run as “King” Harley Race, he delivered as best as he could. Flair called him the “toughest wrestler” he’d known in a career spanning over thirty years. Race, perhaps annoyed by Kiniski, works a deliberate pace, purposefully driving knees into Flair’s head. The slow pace is perhaps a little jarring if you’ve not seen wrestling from that era before, as it’s very deliberate. Luckily both men are master storytellers. Another pointer for those experiencing early 80s action for the first time, check out how many of Race’s spots Triple H lifted for use in his own move set. Throughout his career, Hunter liberally borrowed chunks of Race’s matches wholesale.
Because it’s the 80s and it’s an NWA cage match, both men blade. Flair is somewhat cunning with his gig as he repeatedly puts his hands up to his face when impacting the cage, long before he uses the same cover to cut himself. It makes the actual bladejob look like perfectly normal selling. Race needs no such protection and is incredibly sly about his own cut. As the match heads toward its conclusion the crowd gets increasingly feisty as the duo pound each other with wild haymakers. Kiniski getting in the way, as per usual. A figure four softens up Race’s leg to allow some storytelling around that, but the larger concern for the fans is that Flair is bleeding profusely, turning his mop of platinum blonde hair red. Kiniski continues his streak of uselessness by taking a hackneyed bump, which ruins the finish with Flair hitting a high crossbody off the top for his second World Title. The original finish was probably for Race to fall over the grounded Kiniski, but the veteran was not in position. Kiniski aside this was solid storytelling. It’s not a great match, not even the best of the night, but a memorable passing of the torch. Race had been the stand-out wrestler of the 70s, Flair would dominate the 80s.
Final Rating: ****
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Dusty Rhodes
[NWA Starrcade ‘85 – 11.28.85]
Two masters of the promo clashing here. Dusty was the NWA’s top face, a common man who the crowd could love (a lot of his promos hyping this match are legendary), whereas Flair was now the definitive heel of the 80s, obsessed with retaining the title. Flair formed the Four Horsemen to protect his belt, and with Dusty a major threat they kayfabe broke his leg. Two years on from Starrcade ’83 and Flair had established himself as the Man in the NWA. Flair is now onto his fourth run as champion, following short reigns for Race (his eighth) and Kerry Von Erich. The two men held the belt for a cumulative twenty days. Flair’s fourth run started in May 1984, making this match seem truly epic. Dusty had fought the odds to even be in the match and wears heavy strapping on his leg. It has the makings of a Cinderella-like fairytale.
As detailed on the DVD, Dusty wasn’t in good condition (he’s around eighty pounds overweight) and, according to Flair, “He did very little, but what he did do he was good at.” Flair knows what he needs to do to get the match over and that’s stall, irritate the fans, and make big Dust’s comebacks mean something. Again, it suffers from the slow pacing, as Dusty isn’t in good enough shape to go all-out for the match’s twenty-two-minute run-time, so they frequently head into rest holds. You’d think Flair would spend the match working the already injured leg of Rhodes, but instead it’s Dusty who grinds away at rest holds and Flair spends just as much time selling the leg as Rhodes does. It’s a baffling tactic, with Dusty looking to beat Flair at his own game and Ric content to let him control the match.
Dusty eventually decides the time is right and collapses under his own considerable weight, unable to carry on putting the strain on his bad wheel. Dusty’s insistence at dominating the match and cutting Flair off when he’s getting the storyline back on track is frustrating stuff. I could listen to Dusty talk all day long, but his matches generally weren’t very good. With it being Starrcade it’s especially disappointing. They could easily have just done Flair’s normal match and hit ***½ without much effort. I get they wanted to feature these guys on the DVD because the feud was so memorable and had so many great promos attached to it, but given the choice of a Flair match from around this era I’d be looking at sticking the CWF Battle of the Belts II contest against Barry Windham on here instead. Or even the broomstick job Flair did with Nikita Koloff at Starrcade ’86. That’s what this match could have been, without Dusty’s stubbornness.
Flair bleeds all over the place and referee Tommy Young, one of the most believable officials in wrestling history, takes a near perfect ref bump. Dusty hooks the figure four only for Arn Anderson and Ole Anderson to run in for the cheap DQ. They even run the old Dusty Finish with a second referee running down to count Flair out from an inside cradle. Of historical importance, though not a great match by any stretch of the imagination, and the booking leaves a sour taste in the mouth. At least the arena fans got to celebrate with Dusty Rhodes, but I know the decision gets reversed so I can’t cheer along.
Final Rating: **¾
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Barry Windham
[NWA World Wide Wrestling – 01.20.87]
This is the infamous TV draw, which Flair references as an hour-long match, although it’s more like forty-five-minutes with just over thirty of them actually airing on TV. They’d already had an outstanding match at CWF Battle of the Belts II a year earlier, which finished with a double count out. Windham was typical of Flair’s favourite kind of opponent; he was big, but not cumbersome, and capable of doing all the power moves that Flair loved to sell. This is the middle contest of a trilogy and probably the most famous although all three matches are great. The last one took place at the Jim Crockett Senior Memorial Cup in 1987 with Flair finally scoring the win. In those three matches Flair made Windham into a commodity. If you followed Windham’s career he never quite lived up to the reputation that Flair gave him, but that was the brilliance of Flair; he’d make you look absolutely outstanding, as good as you wanted to look.
Flair described wrestling Windham as like, “putting on a glove”. Their chemistry is immediately evident and Windham clearly wants to follow Flair’s formula to a tee as he knows it’ll get him over. Flair knows Windham doesn’t need to rest like a lot of his opponents so they keep the work busy. Flair takes the interesting tactic of working Windham’s arm rather than the leg, and his work makes me feel exhausted because it’s unrelenting. As if he is testing Barry out to see if he can keep up with selling the arm, and then taking a load of chops in the corner. And Barry comes firing back, proving to the audience and Flair that’s got the stamina to work a forty-five-minute match without taking a break. Flair goes toe-to-toe with Barry for some of the match, but is very deliberate about cheating whenever he can to make sure it’s Windham who the crowd cheer for their combined hard work.
What’s really scary about the workrate in this match is that fifteen entire minutes are lost to commercial breaks. Maybe they knew when the adverts were and simply went to an energy conserving chinlock but it doesn’t look like it. When they get gassed Windham gets grounded with the figure four, turning what’s essentially a rest hold into a dramatic near finish. Barry knows how to mount his comebacks and times some wonderfully dramatic near falls of his own. It shows what great wrestlers they both are that the much larger Windham can generate sympathy and Flair keeps himself firmly heel throughout. Even after the protracted figure four spot, Windham still goes nuts with the offence and near misses off the ropes. They could easily have put the match in the cooler for a good-sized chunk of the contest, but they don’t, they just keep working hard for every minute. It puts some wrestlers to shame. The kind who like to reference 80s wrestling as a time when it was acceptable to wrestle slower, more deliberately paced matches to get the tension of a slow burn. This is a slow burn, a forty-five-minute match with very little resting and constant effort.
Before re-watching these Flair-Windham matches it’s easy to forget why they’re so outstanding, but it doesn’t take a long time to rediscover why. People just don’t have matches this long where it’s constant action and drama. It doesn’t happen. Unless you’re Flair and Windham. Compare this match to the snail’s pace of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ technically excellent WrestleMania XII match. Flair and Windham go most of the way to an hour and do so at breakneck pace. The exhaustion selling towards the end feels completely legitimate, and when Flair flips onto the apron to do his high crossbody after forty-two-minutes it’s a wonderful moment to see he’s still got something in the tank despite the ridiculous effort levels. And it keeps on going. Flair ends up bleeding after forty-four-minutes, just for the sheer hell of it. From there they go into a ridiculous near falls sequence with the time limit on the verge of expiring. As Windham pops up when the bell is rung he still looks fresh. I’m willing to bet they could have gone the hour. One of the best matches of the 80s, one of three classic Flair-Windham matches. All three are awesome, must-see viewing.
Final Rating: *****
Two Out of Three Falls Match
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ricky Steamboat (c) vs. Ric Flair
[NWA Clash of the Champions VI – 04.02.89]
Flair and Steamboat had been working together for thirteen years on and off by this point. Flair approximates they’d wrestled three thousand matches over the years. That might be an exaggeration, as he’d claim one thousand matches against Sting too, but they certainly spent a lot of time working each other until they were both on the top of their game, then had the greatest matches of all time. This is part two. Part one was at the Chi-Town Rumble in February. It was an instant ***** classic and literally one of the best matches, ever. They went from there to wrestling around the horn, doing matches all over the country. Many of them classic matches too. This is the re-match with two-out-of-three falls stipulation, in order to ensure that nobody gets a lucky pin. This should be definitive, but they have a third match to come too at the WrestleWar ’89 PPV in Nashville in May. They’re all great matches and it’s very difficult to pick one of them to be considered “the best”. What is intriguing is that any of the three you pick could arguably be considered the best wrestling match of all time. The truly amazing thing about the feud is not that it produced three ***** matches in a matter of months, but that they didn’t exactly tone it down on the house shows. A taped card from Landover, Maryland features a Steamboat-Flair bout which is just as great.
It’s tough to live up to this sort of reputation. I first saw this match a few years after it took place and was surprised at how fast-paced it was considering the near hour-long run-time. Even when they hit the deck in what would normally be considered rest holds they’re not down there for long as Flair is constantly looking to cheat, and grab the hair or the tights to gain an advantage. Flair has certain crutches that he utilises but Steamboat won’t let him run too many of them or for too long. So when Flair starts begging off Steamboat won’t give him the breather, feeling neither of them need it, instead controlling the pace himself with a headlock. It’s very rare for a babyface to set the pace but Steamboat was so good at everything it’s hard to argue with his logic. The match is incredibly intense, with the pair whaling away with chops like their lives depend on it. You can tell it’s intense because Terry Funk goes nuts on commentary. “Gosh durnit Jim (Ross)!” It’s not just the intensity, the hard work or the story, but the believability of everything is brilliant. They don’t give each other nonsensical space, they constantly try for pinfalls, and they just refuse to do anything that doesn’t lead directly to the win. The first fall sees Steamboat counter the figure four set up only for Flair to block the pin and score his own. 1-0 Flair.
There’s one mistake in this match and it’s one that I can understand the existence of. Flair goes after a knee drop, with his right knee, injures it, and Steamboat starts working the knee. The left knee. It’s excusable as wrestlers generally work the left, unless you’re Mexican, and it was better to go for the more consistent left leg than start on the right and get it wrong later in the contest. Plus the left was exposed while Flair was holding the right knee after the kneedrop. Either way Steamboat just wears Flair down, not panicking or even causing the crowd to have kittens, knowing he’s controlled the match and got unlucky on the first fall. Steamboat can match Flair at his strengths (the chops, the submissions) so Flair’s only natural advantage is his tendency to cheat. Flair’s insistence at using amateur stretches to get near falls creates the largest number of near falls ever recorded in a match, that I know of. JR and Funk do a masterful job on commentary, selling the way the match is structured, how painful all the holds are, and Ross pointing out that under the “Louisiana Rule” if this goes to a time limit then Flair wins the title by virtue of being ahead in a two-out-of-three falls contest. That would be courtesy of the Louisiana State Athletic Commission. Steamboat works Flair’s knee and back over for the entire second fall, resulting in Flair giving up to the chicken-wing. 1-1.
Going into the final fall there’s still twenty minutes to go and both men look drained, pouring sweat all over the ring. Flair’s cumulative injuries are greater than Steamboat’s so he makes a point of going after Steamboat’s knee in the final fall. It is as if they’ve merely been working towards the actual match for the first thirty-five minutes, and now Flair means business. As often happens with Flair matches he’s happy to wait for Steamboat to make a mistake, and when Ricky catches his knee on the top rope that knee gets destroyed again. The whole final fall is loaded with epic moments like Steamboat surviving in a blistering figure four and Ricky scoring a near fall with his high crossbody, after struggling up the ropes on one leg. The best selling is by referee Tommy Young. He’s fatigued too after trying to keep up with the wrestlers and every time someone is shot off the ropes he struggles to avoid them. It’s classic officiating. Not sure how much the wrestlers appreciated it, but it’s great to watch. Steamboat’s knee injury is so severe that he spends a lot of the third fall on the mat, hanging on, desperate for the time to expire, which would allow him to retain. With the hour approaching Flair gets overconfident and heads up top. Steamboat throws him off and gets the chicken-wing, but his knee collapses and they fall into a pile on the mat. Young counts Flair down. The controversy? Flair got his foot on the rope. The match is an epic and the finish, in what should have been a decisive contest, was enough cause for a rubber match.
Final Rating: *****
“I probably had a one-to-two hundred matches with Steamboat that were better than that one” – Ric Flair, when asked if he thought the Clash of the Champions VI match was the best he’d ever wrestled. Again, perhaps an exaggeration, but we will never know as so many classic Flair-Steamboat matches are lost due to the cameras not rolling at house shows.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ricky Steamboat (c) vs. Ric Flair
[NWA WrestleWar ‘89 – 05.07.89]
In case this goes to a draw they’ve got three judges; Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk. All former NWA Champions. The latter is the only one who was still an active wrestler at the time. JR calls this “Flair’s last chance”, as if to say if he failed to win the belt here he’d never get another shot at it. There were definitely some in the NWA the previous year who felt that Flair was a relic who couldn’t take the company forward. This probably pissed Flair off, as he proceeded to have his best year in the business.
This match has less time to fill, which is vital to the effort levels they provide. It’s not the epic match that Clash VI is but the breakneck approach is more in line with the Windham matches. Like with Clash VI, Steamboat controls the pacing but this time it’s an armbar and those beautiful deep armdrags instead of the headlock. Another similarity with Clash VI is a combination of moves that aim for realism over showmanship. The mat grappling and stiff chops dominate the action. The chops are largely a wear-down process to push the other man’s cardio but Steamboat’s armbar is very deliberately designed to weaken the shoulder for the chicken-wing. With fifteen minutes elapsed the judges are asked for their verdict and they’ve got Steamboat ahead on points. Not sure how this would have panned out over an entire hour. Perhaps they’d have counted fifteen minute segments as rounds? Ross calls it 3-0 Steamboat in terms of voting.
The brawling in the match is so incredibly intense. There’s a foot chase around the ring and it feels genuine. Flair looks legitimately worried about what Steamboat is about to do to him. Later, Ricky takes some meaty bumps in the contest, throwing himself to the floor a few times. It gives the crowd the feeling that Steamboat is losing the match, demonstrated further when he crumples at Flair’s feet when attempting to attack him. The selling is exemplary. As with the Clash VI match, Flair goes for a lot of near falls, trying to force Steamboat’s shoulders down. It doesn’t have the same feeling of erosion that it did at Clash VI but it’s a nice call back. I also appreciate that Flair doesn’t stick with it because it didn’t work for him at Clash VI. The second round of voting is a split decision, Flair winning 2 to 1, with increased aggression and Steamboat struggling heavily. This means Steamboat is up 4-2 on the scorecards at this juncture. Not that they’ll come into play.
Steamboat takes Flair to the floor with a crossbody over the top and it’s one of the most perfect executions of the spot, ever. It’s a tough spot to do but difficulty didn’t seem to bother these guys. As Steamboat gives Flair a beating the crowd goes absolutely nuts. They must sense they’re watching something special. Steamboat gets a superplex to set up the chicken-wing, but Flair is aware of the hold and gets into the ropes. Steamboat must be close to scoring a decisive win but while he’s up top, going after the high crossbody, Flair knocks the ropes and Steamboat tumbles to the floor. The way he bounces on the apron and stays down with a bad leg tells the full story. The figure four makes the finish feel inevitable. Flair positions it perfectly, placing himself between Steamboat and the ropes. It lacks the intensity of the Clash VI figure four (perhaps the most aggressive figure four Ric Flair ever hooked) and Ricky can slide it around and escape. Steamboat goes for a slam and his leg buckles, allowing Flair to drop on top for his sixth World Title.
Final Rating: *****
The WrestleWar match found its way onto the Triple H DVD, so it’s perhaps a little disappointing they opted to stick it on here instead of the Chi-Town Rumble match, which as of this release had not yet received the DVD treatment. I do understand the need to include this match though. It’s because of what happens afterwards: Flair turns himself face by praising Steamboat’s efforts, getting his hands raised by Ricky as he does, then in comes Terry Funk for a chat. He starts out by putting Flair over but soon turns it around into a title challenge. Funk had been away in Hollywood so Flair shoots him down, telling him to wrestle more frequently and get into the top ten contenders. Funk then outrages the fans by jumping Flair from behind and hitting a piledriver on the judge’s table to set up the next great Flair feud. Funk calling him a “horse-toothed, banana-nosed jerk” is sensational abuse. They wrestled at The Great American Bash (****½, and a seriously great PPV from top to bottom), but they had a more memorable match at Clash of the Champions IX.
I Quit Match
Terry Funk vs. Ric Flair
[NWA Clash of the Champions IX – 11.15.89]
Flair is still the NWA Champion, but there’s no title on the line here as Funk lost his title match at The Great American Bash. This is far more personal. One of these men is going to quit. That’s the only stipulation so both men do things that would normally be illegal such as chokes and closed fists. The feud was Funk’s first North American run since leaving the WWF in May 1986. He’d been out in Hollywood trying to make a go of the movies but had been left disappointed, only appearing in Over the Top, opposite Sylvester Stallone, and Road House. His anger at the system is apparent and he takes it out on the ultimate establishment figure; the NWA World Champion. Funk’s anger gives the series with Flair a different feeling to any of Flair’s other big matches during the 80s. Given Funk’s longevity it’s a pity WCW didn’t want him as a featured wrestler, and preferred him to work as an announcer. After seeing the Flair matches it’s hard to imagine why they felt that way. Not that WCW made a lot of logical decisions.
Funk’s tactic throughout is to go after Flair’s neck, the same one he injured with a piledriver after the WrestleWar match. The implication being that if Flair doesn’t quit Funk will break his neck. This is followed by a piledriver in the ring and another on the floor, making it clear Funk is willing to follow through on his threats. Flair’s attacks on Funk are crazy intense too, as he sells the importance of getting a measure of revenge on Terry. Flair’s riposte is to work over Funk’s leg to prepare for the figure four. Flair has an unorthodox way to stop Funk from running away in the match; he jumps on his back. Funk lands face-first into the rail on one occasion with Flair on his back. Funk gets out-worked by Flair with chops, counters, and eventually the figure four leaves him completely incapacitated. “MAH LEG, MAH LEG IS BREAKIN’. YES, YES, I QUIT” – Funk. This was over the top intense, perhaps to a level beyond what Flair had been doing with Steamboat, which says something. The only real disappointment is they didn’t do a table spot to follow on from the one at WrestleWar. They teased it, but it felt like it should have been a logical part of the match. Regardless, it’s a classic, one of Funk’s best matches and yet another winner for Flair in 1989 where he was just about untouchable as a worker.
Final Rating: *****
Royal Rumble Match
[WWF Royal Rumble ‘92 – 01.19.92]
Flair jumped over from WCW after falling out with Jim Herd who knew nothing about wrestling but was running WCW. Flair was the champion and Herd wanted a new age Flair, coming up with the idea of cutting his hair and wearing a diamond earring. Flair refused and got his contract cancelled. Naitch wanted his $25,000 back, which he had paid as a deposit on the title belt, but Herd refused so Flair jumped to the WWF and told the belt with him. He paraded the NWA Title around on WWF TV, proclaiming himself to be the “real World’s Champion”. WCW threw a fit and sued, so the WWF had to pixelate the belt on TV. After a couple of screwy title changes involving Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker the WWF Title became vacant and the winner of the Rumble match would be the new champion. It’s a famous Rumble and with good reason. It’s one of the most star-studded in history with Flair, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts, Kerry von Erich, Davey Boy Smith, Shawn Michaels, Sid Justice and The Undertaker all involved. It’s also one of the all-time great commentating performances from Heenan, who absolutely loses his mind when Flair enters at #3. He praises just about anyone who helps Flair, and immediately turns on anyone who hinders him on his hour-long journey to the gold.
Normally when recapping these Rumble events I’ll break down who’s coming in at what number but there’s no point with 1992 because it’s all about Flair. This is the one WWF environment where he’d be able to put in an hour long shift. Their normal main event matches went twenty minutes at the most. Flair’s WrestleMania match with Randy Savage only went eighteen minutes. It was not fair to Flair. They scatter a few workrate guys in at the start to keep the pacing strong. Flair joined by Shawn Michaels, Tito Santana and Kerry von Erich before a third of the match is complete. Michaels is a rarity in the match as he’s one of the few guys who actually competes with Flair for stealing the show. Mainly because he can do the near-elimination tease and silly bumps. It’s almost a game of one-upmanship between the young punk and the old veteran.
As the match progresses more and more of the new entrants go after Flair, seeking to draw attention to themselves and to the storyline. Flair is a genius of cheating, which helps escape some tight spots. At one point he rakes Greg Valentine’s eyes and mule kicks Repo Man in the groin in one smooth motion. You have to be aware of your surroundings. At one point The Barbarian looks to have Flair eliminated, but Hercules dumps Barbarian and falls out too, leaving Flair one-on-one with The Big Bossman. The sign of a good Rumble is usually the ring getting nicely cleared out every once in a while. When Bossman goes it leaves Flair alone in the ring. Just so we’re clear what the story is. The next man in is Roddy Piper, who Flair had feuded with since arriving in the WWF. Most of Flair’s house show shots were with Piper or Hogan. The latter for them to try and figure a dream match out, one the WWF never got around to. The Piper program was the TV feud; the outsider against the WWF guy.
“You no good jerk. You skirt wearin’ freak” – Heenan. The middle portion of the Rumble is pretty star-studded. Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Snuka and The Undertaker all appear between numbers fifteen and twenty. Only Snuka was past his best, looking like some sort of Hawaiian zombie on crack. Taker and Hogan got “preferential draws” to reflect their title contention, which meant they were guaranteed a late number. Randy Savage is at #21 and it’s the one part of the match that isn’t about Flair, because he’s feuding with Jake Roberts and is desperate to get at him. Savage is so determined to get at Jake that he knees the Snake out and jumps over the top to continue the beating. It makes sense as that’s how Savage normally exited the ring, but for some ungodly, nonsensical reason Savage is allowed to continue in the match. Does nobody care about the rules?
The final ten places sees the ring clog up a bit too much with the likes of Virgil, IRS and The Berzerker hanging around. It’s not until Hulk Hogan comes in at #26 that business picks up again and the ring starts to clear out for the conclusion. It’s as if they were waiting for him. With Hogan’s arrival everyone hits their A-Game again, with Heenan promising ridiculous things (“I’ll never insult anyone ever again. I’ll be a nice person”) should Flair win. Hogan gets shot of Taker to “win” that feud, and some of the jobbers get emptied out. As we head toward the end a few more big names join in; Sgt. Slaughter and Sid Justice. The Warlord bizarrely gets #30. Flair scores himself the longevity record by surpassing the fifty-two minutes set by Rick Martel.
Final Four: Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice and Randy Savage. Probably the strongest final four in the history of the Rumble match. Literally any of them could potentially have won (with Hogan-Sid and Flair-Savage being the two headline matches at WrestleMania VIII). Savage is quietly dumped first. As Hogan and Flair go at it, the suggestion in the booking is they’ll contest the belt, but big Sid has different ideas and dumps Hogan, drawing a big pop. Hulk, despite losing clean, gets upset and hauls Sid out thus handing the title to Flair. Best Rumble ever? Almost certainly. It’s definitely the one that set the bar in terms of what was expected of the match, and that was based entirely on Flair’s performance.
Final Rating: *****
WCW World Heavyweight Championship
WCW International Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Sting (c)
[WCW Clash of the Champions XXVII – 06.23.94]
It’s perhaps a little peculiar they don’t select the Flair-Sting match from Clash of the Champions I, the match that made Sting in WCW. Although footage of that does air on the disc to hype this match. Flair went back to WCW and took the WCW Title off Vader. The other title, the International Championship, also has the lineage of the NWA Title. Only WCW left the NWA in 1993 so Flair, champion at the time, had his title renamed. It’s really confusing and probably requires some sort of diagram. Here’s the timeline to try and explain:
January 1991: WCW had been, up to this point, promoting an NWA world champion. In January they started referring to Ric Flair as the “WCW Champion”, essentially creating a secondary name for the existing NWA belt. In reality they were two separate titles represented by the same belt. At the time Flair was NWA and WCW World Champion.
July 1991: Ric Flair leaves WCW with their World Title. He’s recognised as World Champion by both WCW and the NWA. At the time WCW and the NWA were synonymous with each other, but the NWA was in fact a separate entity. While WCW immediately stripped Flair of their World Title the NWA continued to recognise Flair as the champion. WCW crowned a new champion when Lex Luger beat Barry Windham at The Great American Bash ’91. Luger was WCW champion. Flair was still NWA champion.
September 1991: With it becoming apparent that Flair wasn’t going to represent the NWA while competing for the WWF, who had left the NWA in the 60s, the ‘Nature Boy’ was stripped of the NWA Title too.
September 1991-August 1992. The NWA World Title was officially vacant with no major home promotion for it.
August 1992. The NWA title is won by Masahiro Chono, as the NWA tried to establish stronger ties with New Japan Pro Wrestling, aware that WCW wasn’t working toward their best interests. The belt goes from Masahiro Chono to The Great Muta to Barry Windham, and WCW get the title back on one of their guys.
July 1993. Smaller NWA affiliates start pressing for the NWA to get the champion to wrestle for them too. Ric Flair, back from his WWF stint, wins the title.
September 1993. WCW leaves the NWA. Flair is stripped of the NWA Title for the second time in three years. WCW still has the belt so renames it the WCW International Championship. Flair loses the belt to Rick Rude, who in turn loses it to Sting. Because of a screwy finish the belt is held up and Sting officially wins it by beating Vader in May 1994.
June 1994. WCW unifies their two ‘World’ Titles.
August 1994. After WCW unified their two championships the NWA Title finally found a new home, in ECW, where Shane Douglas won it in a tournament. Only Paul Heyman double-crossed the NWA and had Douglas throw the belt down, turning ECW into a nationally recognised promotion and the NWA into a joke.
After a tumultuous and pointless year for the belts, this match would unify the two titles. Flair won this title as a face but turned heel due to the signing of Hulk Hogan. There wasn’t room for two top babyfaces apparently, especially with Sting hanging around too. This match isn’t a patch on the original Clash contest, but Flair is far from done as a top guy, which some were again suggesting. He remained a top level talent through 1995 and even had some decent programs in 1996 with Randy Savage and Eddie Guerrero. So while this is a lesser Flair-Sting match it’s still good. However, the first Clash match is pushing ***** and is probably the best match of Sting’s entire career.
One thing that constantly cost Sting over the course of his career was how incredibly gullible he was. His character was booked to be trusting and he constantly sided with guys who you knew were going to turn on him. Hell, Flair has turned on Sting. Who in their right mind would trust Ric Flair? The Dirtiest Player in the Game! Here Sting’s manager is Sensational Sherri. The same woman who tended to manage heels (Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels). You’d think Sting might put two and two together. The match itself is a microcosm of the Flair-Sting match. The trademark moves are there and there’s plenty of energy. Flair naturally uses Sherri to sabotage Sting’s bid, throwing her in the way of a splash on the rail. Flair rolls Sting up while he’s checking on Sherri, grabs a big handful of tights and unifies the belts. This went eighteen minutes but felt as if they were waiting for the booking to kick in. Speaking of which Sherri she hugs it out with Flair after the match and they give Sting a kicking. Hogan runs down for the save thus setting up a match that isn’t on this DVD. It makes the inclusion of this match all the more mystifying. I guess they felt they had to include a Sting match and didn’t have room for the Clash bout because it was longer. Or perhaps they thought it was too similar to the Windham match.
Final Rating: ***¼
The DVD set ends with Flair getting a surprise night of appreciation in Greenville, South Carolina after an episode of RAW had gone off the air. Naitch had headlined the show against Triple H for the World Title, come up short, and wasn’t expecting what followed. He talks emotionally about the experience and we get clips from the night in question.
Summary: It’s hard to put into words how great Ric Flair really is. It’s true he had some wonderful opponents, but even when he didn’t he was still Ric Flair. There are not many like him now, or ever. The amazing this DVD set is that it contains five ***** matches, yet it barely even skims the surface of his career. The matches he had in Japan and the territories include a plethora of outstanding bouts. Even on the material WWE has access to there’s easily enough for a second set featuring the other two ***** matches with Barry Windham, the first Clash of the Champions match with Sting, the Lex Luger match from Starrcade ‘88 (probably Luger’s best singles match), at least one other Ricky Steamboat match (either Chi-Town Rumble, the still excellent 1994 match at Spring Stampede, or the largely forgotten TV match from ‘94), the other Terry Funk match from 1989, forgotten classics with Brian Pillman and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, the Randy Savage feud in the WWF, the Mr. Perfect farewell match from RAW, the WCW Title match with Vader at Starrcade ‘93, and the steel cage match with Hulk Hogan match from Halloween Havoc ‘94. So while this DVD set is great and I’m glad it’s out there, the potential to release a ridiculous six or seven disc career-defining DVD set that was nothing but ***** bouts was there. Even with six hours of footage, this offering hardly does Flair justice. Despite that, it remains absolutely essential viewing of course. You must see at least one Flair-Steamboat match to call yourself a true wrestling fan, and preferably the matches with Windham too. The highest recommendation for this.