If you’ve been reading these reviews, then you’ve probably figured out by now that Ric Flair was quite good at this time. This is the fifth Flair match we’ve covered and his second with Ricky Steamboat. This time the two men go for nearly an hour in a two out of three falls match.
This follows closely on from the first fight between these two that we covered (which you can read about here) where Steamboat picked up the victory and won the NWA World Championship. This history means that there’s a real edge to proceedings. Flair and Steamboat have been set up as the antithesis to each other and the chops and slaps that they throw are not pulled.
Despite that, the start of this match is quite slow. It’s an extended feeling out section and Ricky is in control of most of it. Now and then Flair looks to steal it from him, but Ricky pulls out some flashy offence to remain the aggressor.
When Flair does turn the tide, there is a desperation to his attacks. He’s constantly going for pinfalls, and you feel his need to regain that World Title. It’s a need that sees him pick up the first fall at around the twenty-minute mark when he shifts the weight on a Steamboat inside cradle and gets the three.
This just riles The Dragon up, and he comes out on fire, hitting a flying chop from the top rope. Terry Funk and JR do a great job on commentary of selling his frustration at having lost the first fall despite having controlled most of the action. He attacks Flair’s knee dropping elbow after elbow on it before locking in the Figure Four; a recurring theme in Flair’s matches. I know Ric’s more famous for using it than taking it, but he always sells it like it’s killing him. Despite that agony, he manages to reach the ropes, but Ricky comes straight back with a Boston Crab forcing Flair to repeat the crawl.
The Nature Boy shifts the balance of power in typical Flair fashion by driving Steamboat into the barrier outside. We now get some Flair offence as he wrenches at Ricky’s neck and suplexes him into the ring around the thirty-minute mark for a two count. It’s a real joy watching a match where both men sell like this. Even the slow moments feel tense as you can see the pain etched across their faces. Steamboat eventually finds an opening and begins to drive his forearm into Flair’s back before lifting him into the air and getting his first fall off a double arm chicken wing which forces The Dirtiest Player In The Game to submit.
The third fall opens up with an old-fashioned slugfest as the two men throw everything they’ve got at each other. You can tell they are tiring by this point (they’ve gone for about thirty-five minutes), but it doesn’t prevent them pulling off a lovely spot as Steamboat takes over. When Ric takes his signature bump in the corner, he flips out to the apron before setting off at a run towards the opposite turnbuckle. It’s a journey he won’t complete, though, as Ricky meets him half way with a stiff chop.
The story of the match at this point is that there is a hair’s breadth between these two men. Control shifts between them on a regular basis and it is coming down to which man makes a mistake rather than who does something right. Flair takes out Steamboat’s leg but is still unable to put him away, and even when he’s hobbling around the ring, The Dragon is a formidable foe.
It’s Steamboat who is destined to walk out champion, though, as with six minutes left Flair goes to the top and Ricky meets him there, tossing him down to the mat. Steamboat then locks in another double arm chicken wing before falling backwards attempting to bridge into the pin. It’s a controversial finish, however, as it appears that Steamboat’s shoulders are also down as the three is counted.
It’s an unusual end to a great match. Replays show that Steamboat gets his left shoulder up before the three-count, but Flair’s foot was under the rope. Live it doesn’t quite work, and you can sense the audience’s confusion when Steamboat is declared the winner. Yet, no one is truly complaining because it means these two men will go once again (more on that next time).
Much like the first match, you don’t need me to tell you this is good. It’s Flair and Steamboat going nearly an hour in the late eighties, what do you think it is? What’s impressive is that if you sit down and compare this match to say Okada vs. Omega, not much happens. It’s about storytelling more than moves. Does that make it better? Not necessarily, but it’s a different world of wrestling and even in 2017 Flair and Steamboat still stand as two of the best of all time.