My Favorite Ric Flair Matches
Tonight is WrestleMania, which due to a lack of cable, money and interest, I will not be watching. There is one match I’d like to see, though. It’s Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels, in what is being promoted as Flair’s retirement match. Flair’s storyline the past few months has been that he will retire after his next loss. Well, he just got inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last night, his opponent tonight is a guy who grew up idolizing him and is considered by many to be Flair’s successor, and the match is at the biggest wrestling show of the year. If Flair really is finally heading out to pasture, he won’t get a better send-off than this. As for the match itself, Michaels can still work a great one despite his age and surgically reconstructed back, and Flair might be nearly 60 years old and a shell of his former self in the ring, but that still puts him ahead of most of the roster, so it could be a highlight of the night.
Flair finally retiring (which he’s done many times in the past, but they seem serious about this one) has got me thinking about all the great matches he’s had over the years. Listed below are some of my personal favorites, in no particular order.Ric Flair vs. Sting, Great American Bash ‘90
Of the many, many matches Flair had with Sting, this one is far from the best in purely technical terms. What makes it a favorite of mine over, say, their 45-minute draw at the first Clash of the Champions, is that it was the match which saw Sting finally go over and win his first World Heavyweight Title. Sting was clearly the next big thing in the NWA back then, and Flair had intended to drop the belt to him several months before this. Sting suffered a legitimate knee injury and was out for several months, during which Flair had a series of outstanding matches with Lex Luger, making Luger into a superstar in the process. When Sting was ready to come back, he got his title shot at the Bash, one of the NWA’s (and later WCW’s) two biggest annual shows. As it turned out, Sting’s first run as World Champion was a bust, dominated by silly feuds and sub-par matches, and he wound up losing the title back to Flair in a few months. That night at the Bash, though, all was right with the world: Sting rolled Flair up in a small package, getting the pinfall after a decent 16-minute match, sending the fans home happy. Flair did that better than anyone.The Royal Rumble, Royal Rumble (1992)
Flair left WCW in mid-1991 over a contract dispute, getting a job with the WWF approximately 3 seconds later, and taking the big gold belt which the NWA and WCW had used since 1986 to represent their World Heavyweight Titles with him. Flair appeared on WWF TV carrying the belt, proclaiming himself “the real World Champion.” WCW sued, the WWF began blurring out the big gold belt when Flair appeared with it on TV, and eventually Flair stopped carrying it around on WWF TV altogether. In December, the WWF Title was vacated following two controversial title changes involving The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan. The winner of the Royal Rumble match at that pay-per-view in January 1992 would win the title. Flair was the third entrant in the 30-man battle royal, and after hanging in there for almost an hour, he won the match and his first WWF Title. At the time, age 11, I was a huge Hogan mark, so Flair winning the match and the belt pissed me off. Now, I recognize that this was one time where they really got it right. Ric Flair going over the entire WWF roster, including Hogan, was a once in a lifetime thing for a wrestling fan, and I’m glad I saw it live.Flair vs. Randy Savage, WrestleMania VIII (1992)
One of my favorite WrestleMania matches ever, Flair defending the WWF Title he won at the Rumble against the Macho Man, who was fighting for the honor of his wife/manager Elizabeth. I wrote about this one already last year. Want me to prove it? Here’s what I said: “There was a funny build in the months leading up to the match, with Flair claiming to have fucked Elizabeth before she was with Savage. Ric even produced photographs of he and Liz in happier times, which Liz and Savage both insisted had been doctored. The whole thing was pretty silly, even for pro wresting, but the upside was that Savage takes after Flair like a rabid dog as soon as the bell rings. The match is really a masterpiece, with near-falls aplenty, including a few that had me convinced the match was over the first time I saw it. Flair winds up bleeding all over the mat (which was already blood-stained from Piper’s match with Bret earlier in the show), and gets pinned with Savage rolls him up and unabashedly grabs a handful of tights to keep him down for the three. Post-match, Flair flips out and kisses Elizabeth, causing Savage to go apeshit all over again.” So there.Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, WrestleWar ‘89
Flair and Ricky Steamboat had three major televised matches in 1989 — at Chi-Town Rumble in February, when Steamboat won the NWA World Heavyweight Title, at Clash of the Champions VI in April, when Steamboat retained the title in a 2 out of 3 falls rematch, and this match at WrestleWar in May, when Flair pinned Steamboat and regained the title. Close your eyes and randomly pick any of those three matches, and you’ll have a great choice for the best match ever wrestled. But of the three, the final blow-off at WrestleWar is usually considered the best. And I have to agree. Flair won the match by rolling Steamboat into a small package from an attempted body slam, the exact same move Steamboat used on Randy Savage to win the WWF Intercontinental Title in their classic at WrestleMania III two years earlier. Going by match quality alone, Flair’s program with Steamboat in 1989 was far and away the best feud in the history of North American pro wrestling. It’s a shame Steamboat has been retired by injury for the last fifteen years or so, because he would be the perfect final opponent for Flair. Add in some of the classic build-up, like Steamboat ripping Flair’s suit off during an interview, or Flair’s classic promos to hype the matches, and this is something wrestling fans will never see again.