The Contentious Ten 11.26.12: Top 10 Ric Flair Matches
Posted by Gavin Napier on 11.26.2012
From his "retirement match" with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24 and his battle with Vince McMahon in 2002 to the 1992 Royal Rumble, his NWA World title match with Ricky Steamboat in 1989 and more, 411's Gavin Napier counts down the top 10 Ric Flair matches of all-time!
Ric Flair is the greatest professional wrestler of all time. That is with absolutely no apologies to Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan, or anyone else. I'm not the only person that shares that opinion. Ric Flair has been called the greatest of all time by everyone within the industry from Jim Ross to Steve Austin to Harley Race. He is my favorite wrestler of all time, and after a four straight weeks of Survivor Series lists, I decided to do a little palate cleansing and do something strictly for the fun of it. Without any further delay, here are my criteria for My 10 Favorite Ric Flair Matches:
-Match must feature Ric Flair
-Match must involve Ric Flair wrestling
-I have to like it .
This isn't a list of Ric Flair's "best" matches. That could be debated for months on end, and ultimately you'd just be splitting hairs. After all, what's more impressive, a series of classics in 1989 against Ricky Steamboat when both men were in their primes or a five star classic against Shawn Michaels when Flair was age 59? No, this list is simply about my favorite Ric Flair matches, the ones that I can watch on DVD or on YouTube any time and enjoy it like it's the first time seeing them. Bonus: I'm linking to an extra ten "honorable mention" matches because Ric Flair is so great.
A few words about those matches you see above, and why they are where they are. The matches with Triple H and Jerry Lawler are excellent examples of how to book an angle that is self contained in one show. Flair's match against Koko B. Ware is evidence of how good Koko could be and how effective Flair was as a champion in the territorial days, making crowds believe they could see a title change on any given night. Flair and Windham were so smooth, and so effortless in the ring together that it was a thing of beauty to watch. Bobby Eaton is one of my all time favorite workers, and this rare singles main event for him showcased his abilities wonderfully. As good as all of these matches are, they're not the first ones I go to when I want to watch Ric Flair. My first choices are the next ten matches, with explanations why.
Ric Flair is the most versatile competitor ever. -WWE Championship Match
Sometimes, everything in a match is so out of place that it ends up working. For example, look at the commentary team on this match. Jerry Lawler, Jonathan Coachman, and Joey Styles. Probably not the first booth you think of when you scroll through commentary teams throughout Raw's history.Then you've got the WWE Championship being defended in a TLC match for the first time ever. Oh, and a 57 year old man is Intercontinental Champion and taking place in one of the most brutal, physically demanding matches in the sport. Being able to believably and convincingly compete in a match like this at age 57 and do so very, very well is proof that Ric Flair is the most versatile competitor ever. He actually got more versatile with age, when more gimmicks were necessary to keep things fresh and interesting. Ric was at his best here as a sympathetic babyface, which made it all the easier to get Edge even more over than he already was as a devious, vicious heel.
One of his greatest qualities as a professional wrestler was the fact that Ric Flair made everyone better. That's something very unique. Even if you accuse him of playing politics to hold certain guys (Scott Steiner, Lex Luger) down, he made them look better than they ever had in the process of refusing to job to them. Vince McMahon, as a character, has proven to be viable in the ring. He just wasn't all that likely to turn in a match of the year candidate. His work with Stone Cold was effective because of the emotion and the build to what happened in the ring in spite of how good the match inside the ropes actually was or was not. In this match, Ric Flair made a 57 year old non-wrestler look great. Flair hit all of his trademarks - chops, Flair flop, bleeding buckets - in perfect rhythm for this match. The result was a show stealer on the 2002 Royal Rumble card.
Ric Flair vs. Genichiro Tenryu (9.15.92)
Two certifiable legends. -WWF Championship Match
-Best 2/3 Falls Match
There's no way to describe Ric Flair and Tenryu as anything but two certifiable legends. In their own countries, both men are responsible for as many classic matches as nearly any half dozen other workers. They had met several times in the past, when Ric Flair was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, but this match is something special. The stipulation of best two out of three falls gives each man a little more leeway in the ring, there's not as much need for each promotion to "protect" their wrestlers, and the result is one of the better America vs. Japan matches you'll see. Tenryu works predictably stiff in the match, and Flair's ring work blends perfectly with the Japanese style. The respect afforded Flair in Japan is obvious from the crowd, and watching these two men trade chops is a study in brutality. Very little flash here, but a ton of substance to be enjoyed.
These are the best five minute matches ever. -Marquis of Queensbury Cup
In 1994, Lord Steven Regal challenged Ric Flair to a series of technical matches in order to prove his superiority. I remember thinking at the time that it had come out of nowhere, but thinking that it was an interesting concept. The matches did away with the "over the top rope" disqualification rule, and punches and kicks weren't to be used. It was very similar to Catch As Catch Can wrestling, to be "judged" with a point system by ringside judges. The matches got better as they went on, with one of the five rounds taking place each week on WCW programming. I've embedded the first match here, and you can easily follow through to the next round and so on with DailyMotion. I can't recommend these strongly enough, because these are the best five minute matches ever. Once again, Flair's versatility is on display here as sports entertainment is almost entirely removed from the equation in favor of pure wrestling. He and Regal put on a master class for each round.
Now we're into the best of the best. -I Quit Match
The last 14 matches have been some of my favorites of all time, but now we're into the best of the best. This match is a classic by all accounts, and I'm not going to be the guy that argues. Flair and Funk are two absolute titans of the sport, plying their trade for over three decades each. Both men intimately understand the art of telling a story in the ring, and that's just what they did in 1989. For months on end, Funk and Flair put together one of the greatest feuds of all time, with the basis being Funk's jealousy over the attention that Flair was getting as a newly christened six time NWA World Champion. Funk wasn't going to go quietly into retirement while Flair looked down his nose at him. There have been few better at incorporating raw emotion into their career than Terry Funk, and this would be no different. The whole feud in general, and this match in particular, felt like a personal score was being settled. The idea that one of these two men would actually say the words "I quit" seemed impossible. The match could have been overshadowed by Flair and Steamboat's feud from the first half of the year, but Flair and Funk made sure this was every bit as unforgettable.
Maybe my favorite tag team match ever. -Clash of the Champions IV main event
Again, versatility. I could easily put together a "Top 10 Ric Flair Tag Team Matches" list. Flair and Arn vs. Doom, Flair and Arn vs. The Hollywood Blondes, Flair and Batista winning the WWE Tag Team Titles; they would all make the list. This, though, is maybe my favorite tag team match ever. The Midnight Express is my favorite tag team ever. Flair and Windham are among my favorite singles workers ever. Everything in this match looks effortless. The WWF equivalent of the match would have been Hulk Hogan as World Champion and Randy Savage as Intercontinental Champion taking on The Hart Foundation in 1987. Barring a freak disaster, there was no way this match was going to be bad. Of the matches on this list, I've probably watched this one the second most times. As good as it is, it's still short enough to be able to sit down and watch pretty quickly without getting sucked into an hour or more of videos on YouTube or DailyMotion.
Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat
Steamboat's best match. -NWA World Championship Match
Flair and Steamboat have one of the most storied histories in all of professional wrestling. Their rivalry began in the mid to late 70's over the Television and United States Championships. In 1984, they would put on what was widely considered to be among the greatest series of matches of all time over the NWA World Championship. Ricky Steamboat would move on to the World Wrestling Federation, and the rivalry was on hold for a while. Once Steamboat returned to the National Wrestling Alliance, though, there was no question that the rivalry would resume. The two men topped their 1984 series in every possible way, turned in one of the great television matches of all time with a 54 minute best of three falls match, and had two epic title changes. With all due respect to Wrestlemania III and Randy Savage, this was Steamboat's best match. This, to me, is very possibly the best match in North American wrestling history.
The end was supposedly near. -WCW Championship Match
Ric hadn't been gone from the World Wrestling Federation for a full year when this match came around. I remember the talk vividly from those in the know and in the Apter magazines: in terms of Ric Flair's career as a professional wrestler, the end was supposedly near. Vader presented, by far, the most physical challenge of Flair's career. He dwarfed powerhouses like Lex Luger, Road Warrior Hawk, Sting, and Nikita Koloff in terms of sheer size. He outdistanced Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, and Barry Windham by miles in sheer brutality. Vader had been one of the greatest monster heels ever, and there were serious doubts about whether or not this would be Flair's swan song. Little did we know. Flair defied the odds to put on a classic, physical match with one of the biggest phenoms of the early 90's and best big men ever.
1992 Royal Rumble (1.19.92)
You probably knew this was coming. -WWF Championship Match
I was 12 years old when this match happened, and I was the only one of my friends that thought Ric Flair had a chance. I celebrated like I had won the lottery when Flair dumped Sid over the top rope for the win. This match remains the greatest collection of talent in one match ever, and the high point of the Royal Rumble pay per views. It's going to be hard for WWE to top this Rumble match in terms of storylines, talent involved, and commentary. Bobby Heenan's commentary made this match even better than it would have been with Gorilla and anyone else. Heenan was in a panic even as Flair was power walking towards the ring with a no-nonsense look on his face. He had been telling the world for months that he was the "real world champion," and this was his chance to prove it. When you saw the topic of this list, you probably knew this was coming. That's okay, you probably know what's coming next, too.
Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels (3.30.08)
Undeniable proof that Ric Flair is the greatest of all time lies in this match. -"Career Threatening" Match
It may be cliche'. It may be trite and uninspired. This remains my favorite Ric Flair match for a number of reasons. The undeniable proof that Ric Flair is the greatest of all time lies in this match, and in more than one form. What do you need to know? That Flair turned in a 30 minute classic at close to age 60? That Flair was step for step with Shawn Michaels, a man 16 years his junior and one of the greatest performers of all time in his own right? That Flair stole the show and the crowd at WWE's biggest event of the year? Or most impressively, that Ric Flair was able to make the majority of the audience not only want to ignore the writing on the wall but suspend disbelief over the course of the match to the point that you thought there was actually a slim chance that he could win? Nobody has done what Flair has done as well as he has, for as long as he has, in as many iterations as he has. Singles, tag team, TLC, Royal Rumbles, America, Japan, and all points between, he is unparalleled in his versatility. Shawn deserves a ton of credit for this match as well, because I genuinely don't believe that anyone else could have made this match work so well. "I'm sorry. I love you," has become one of the most iconic quotes in wrestling history because of this match, and provided a fitting, if heartbreaking (no pun intended), end to Ric Flair's career. Yes, I'm ignoring the TNA stuff.
These are my favorite Ric Flair matches. Since it's based entirely on opinion this week, I don't think I can be wrong unless I screwed up a date somewhere...which is entirely possible even after reading over this thing twice. Let me know what YOUR favorite Flair matches are and discuss the above list in the comment section below. You can find me on Twitter @GavinNapier411 and check out my new podcast on iTunes by searching for The Casual Heroes, or go to www.thecasualheroes.com and I'll be back here in 7..6..5..