Meltzer’s Classics: Steamboat vs. Flair 20/2/89

I can’t promise all these photos are from the right match.

While Flair has been a regular in this series so far, we are now hitting what many might see as his heydey. His feud with the Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat is still spoken about in hushed tones, and there are three five-star matches between the two in 1989. The first one is for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and took place at NWA Chi-Town Rumble.

Steamboat makes his entrance carrying his son (who I assume is Richie Steamboat) and followed by his wife. Flair meanwhile is introduced by a man with a trumpet and flanked by a group of women. Nice little touch in setting up the differences between the two men.

The dirtiest player in the game.

Look, this is Flair vs. Steamboat, you don’t need me to tell you that this is a five-star match. We are talking about two of the greatest in-ring performers of all time. Like a few of these matches, I think modern fans will be caught guard by the speed. This isn’t two men sitting in headlocks for half an hour, and within the first few minutes Steamboat has picked up a couple of two counts off fast pins.

For all that we associate Flair with chops, Steamboat hits some wicked ones in this match. Every time Flair goes for them Ricky comes back with some of his own and Flair sells them like he has been shot. I’ve talked about Flair’s work as a heel before but he’s brilliant here. The commentators play up the difference between the hard-working Steamboat and the hard-playing Nature Boy and everything they do in the ring goes along with that. The crowd eats up every dirty move Ric pulls off and it just makes Steamboat all the more popular.

The lack of photographic options means we have to get blurry.

At about ten minutes in Flair takes control after driving Steamboat into the barrier several times and starts stylin’ and profilin’. For all his pomp when Flair is in control he is vicious. His move-set isn’t particularly flashy, but it all works. The Figure Four has lost some of its shine in recent years but when Flair locks it in both he and Steamboat sell it like it’s devastating and Flair naturally grabs the ropes at every chance for extra leverage.

Towards the end, Steamboat hits the cross body, but the ref wanders into his path meaning he only gets the visual pinfall. Flair follows up with one of his own after a roll-up and a handful of tights. He chucks Steamboat out of the ring, but he skins the cat and goes up top but misses with another crossbody. However, when Flair goes for the Figure Four Steamboat rolls up for the three and wins the belt.

‘Oh, piss off, mate.’

It’s simple, watch this match. Then watch the other two in this series and come back here over the next couple of weeks to read what I have to say about them. Steamboat and Flair is Steamboat and Flair for a reason and this is only the first in a series that just keeps getting better.

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