I’m almost sad to be writing this article for it means we come to the end of Ric Flair vs. Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. The final match in their iconic series (although not in their careers) takes place at NWA Wrestle War in 1989, a month after their two out of three falls match. That means Ricky is still the NWA Champion and Flair is desperate to get it back.
Like their previous matches, the two competitors entrances do a good a job of telling the stories of the men. Flair comes out flanked by (according to JR) 40 women, while Steamboat leads a horse out with the ‘Little Dragon’ perched on the back. It’s the family man who became champion versus the playboy who believes that he’s the best and you don’t need the commentary team to figure it out.
Interestingly, Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk are sat at ringside in the role of judges. There’s a 60-minute time limit on the match, and if it goes to a draw, they will be picking the winner. It’s a small touch but a clever one. It cements this as being the final encounter. It doesn’t matter what happens, someone is coming out victorious.
While I’m sure this match would work just fine by itself, it is all the better for having seen the two that came before. The two men start off slow, cautiously feeling each other out with only the occasional bursts of temper as they trade vicious chops. It’s Steamboat who eventually gets the upper hand, and he’s all about going after Flair’s arm, setting him up for the chicken wing which was so effective in their previous match.
The judges play into the story too as they provide scores to the commentary team roughly every 10 minutes. The first section goes to Steamboat, and it’s made clear that Flair is aware of it and he ups the ante. For the first time in the match, we get a prolonged period of Ric offence after a nasty looking spot where Dragon misses a running crossbody and bounces off the top rope to the outside. When he’s on the front foot Flair is methodical and vicious, a direct contrast to the fiery and passionate champion.
Flair goes up top, and we all know how that ends. There is an alternate world where the Nature Boy became a high-flyer because his opponents left him to it. Steamboat takes control, and everything speeds up until the moment Flair stumbles into the ropes as Ricky is perched on the top. With a thud, he falls to the outside and instantly clutches his leg. When he returns to the ring Flair is straight on it, and he locks in the Figure Four. Ricky gets to the ropes, but the damage is done. As he goes for a power slam, his leg buckles and Flair rolls him up for the win.
Post-match, Steamboat raises the arm of Flair to bring an end to a quite frankly incredible feud. While these two would wrestle again, this was them at their peak, and I actually think the finish is perfect. Steamboat doesn’t lose because Flair is better than him, he loses because he took a risk and it backfired. These two men are presented as being on the same level the whole way through these matches, and neither gets a decisive victory over the other. It’s something you rarely see nowadays, but it means both come out victorious rather than as a conqueror and a victim.