WCW ALL NIGHTER
Get a sandwich now, folks- this'll be a long one. First bit now, next bit...later.
Every so often, WCW really, really, REALLY got something right; hard to believe, but true. And now that they've finally gone down to join the AWA, SMW, ECW, 8 billion indy feds, UWFi, WAR, and perhaps soon FMW in the pantheon of dead promotions, I thought it might be good to look back at some of the good times. Sometime in the mid '90's (late 1993/early 1994, I think), TBS, for whatever reason, was out of programming some night, and thus logically turned to Teddy Turner's personal cheap TV machine, WCW, to fill the hole. The result is this beautiful little tape, five (!) full hours of the best matches in the history of the Clash Of The Champions to that point (Actually, there *are* some PPV matches on this one - it was All Nighter #2 that was known as "The Top Ten Clash Matches" - CRZ), shown in their entirety other than the original commercial breaks (with mid '90's commercials this time, of course). It's a repository of some of the best and most historic matches in WCW history; basically, without quite knowing it, they created a really great Clash comp tape. Settle in folks, this'll be a long one; the first installment is today, and the second...later.
Match #1: Ric Flair vs. Sting, Greensboro Coliseum, 4/4/1988
Behold one of the most historic and excellent matches in WCW history to kick off, as in this, the best of the Flair/Sting matches, Flair basically makes Sting's career over the course of the match by making him look like a true superstar. At this point Flair was NWA world champion, the absolute Man in the NWA/WCW; Sting was a young superstar with undeniable charisma, one of the few good things to come out of the Crockett promotions absorption and demolition of the old UWF/Mid-South, the great interpromotional feud of the '80's, which never happened due to the fact that, even back then, WCW was run by idiots. It was really an amazing run of futility when you contemplate it, and it's only because of the great efforts by the wrestlers such as this match, and for the fact that it WASN'T the WWF, that WCW is remembered fondly at all.
Sitting at ringside are the "judges", including several WCW backstage hands and B-list celebrities (Jason Hervey!). This is one fall to a 45 minute TV time limit, and the crowd from the start is big time behind Sting. Flair busts out the all white robe and purple trunks, while Sting has the black tights with gold scorpion, orange boots, and iridescent face paint. This is for the World Heavyweight Title. Flair is very puffy here, and about as close to truly out of shape as you'll see him; he jiggles his way through much of the match. JJ Dillon, incidentally, is suspended from the ceiling in a shark cage, and your ref is Tommy Young, who I hate. Flair stalls to start, trying to psych Sting out. Arm wringer kip up sequence, but Flair drops the wrist before the takeover reversal, reminding fans of his status as the cagey veteran, and Sting's as the young physically powerful athlete. Standing wrestling sequence through headlocks and top wristlocks establishes Sting as the stronger man. More slow eyeing of each other, and Flair tries the psych out again, refusing the collar and elbow. He accepts the knuckle lock and loses badly. He forces Sting to the corner and chops the hell out of him one time, but Sting no-sells and comes out firing with a big hiptoss and dropkick which sends Flair to the floor. Back inside and Flair loses a standing wrestling sequence, and gets caught running the ropes with a press slam. Flying headscissors and a hiptoss give Sting the side headlock on the ground five minutes in. Things slow down, but Flair and Sting do a series of near falls based on tights pulls and reversals out of, and back into, the headlock, to keep things interesting and meaningful. Ross points out that Flair's one chop actually busted open Sting's chest. Lordallmighty, that's stiff. Commercial.
Back to the action, and this headlock continues on, far past its natural lifespan. Flair breaks in the ropes and Sting follows up with the usual offense. FLAIR FLOP~! But Sting misses a dropkick and Flair throws him outside, but Sting's right back in for the ten punch count in the corner, and Revenge Of The Interminable Headlock. Sting is visibly bleeding from the chest. Ten minutes gone. Flair breaks in the ropes and gets the cheap shot to the ribs, as he begins to use underhanded methods (tights, cheapshots) to counter Sting's superior athleticism. Psychology and storytelling, there. Chops in the corner but Sting punches back and hits a press slam while taunting JJ Dillon. He applies the bearhug, and if you know the way wrestling works, you should know the finish here right now. Jim Ross points out the psychology here, as the scorpion deathlock affects the lower back, which Sting is weakening with the bearhug. A half hour left. Bearhug horizontal now, as Flair goes to the mat, doing his trademark "oh god, oh god, my BACK!" sell the whole way. A bit of storytelling here as well, as Flair's broken back as a result of a 1975 plane crash was common knowledge. Sting gets frustrated though and gives up the bearhug, missing a big elbow drop. Still an impetuous youngster, the story goes, and veteran Flair sees him coming. Sting injures his arm missing an elbow dive into the corner, and Flair flops out. He tries for some offense, but Sting fights him off. This has really been all Sting up till now. That changes though, as storytelling kicks in; Sting goes for the ten punch again, but crafty veteran Flair sees him coming and hits the inverted atomic drop out of the corner, turning the tide of the match. To the outside they go as Flair whips Sting to the fence, and we visit with sponsors.
As we return Flair is working Sting over but good in the ring, hard whips to the corner, the kneedrop times two, and some raking to the face, reminding us that he's a dirty cheat at heart. Chop-o-rama in the corner as Flair does the human ginsu act. Outside, Tommy Young stops him from using a chair, which Tony suggests would have "put Sting out of this sport". Off a chairshot. Tony, Tony, Tony, some things never change. Flair keeps up the steady drumbeat of abuse, with chops and elbows. Sting no-sells and knocks Flair to the outside, but the veteran/youngster story resurfaces as Sting tries a stupid Stinger splash towards Flair leaning against the post, who naturally moves, leaving Sting to crash and burn, ricocheting off the post. Back inside, and Flair is relentless, working the arm Sting rammed into the pole. Sting Scorps-up and gets a shorter punch count and a lariat for 2; Flair tries to bail, but Sting suplexes him back in, and gets the scorpion briefly 25 minutes in, but Flair gets the ropes. Crowd, by the way, is hugely into this match and more and more into Sting. Sting does a high impact beatdown on Flair, but he misses a lariat and falls to the floor over the top. More Sting no-selling, and he hits a flying bodypress for 2 _. But Flair hits the kneebreaker as Sting is Scorping up again, and NOW! WE GO TO SCHOOL! WHOO! Flair turns Sting's knee into gumbo...
...And is just relentless in his assault as we return. WHOO! 15 minutes left. Flair gets the figure four, and of course the illegal rope leverage, as he WHOO's away and half the crowd joins him. Ross does a marvelous job of selling the effects of the figure four, both for submissions and disabling an opponent. Sting Scorps up again and gets the reversal, and Flair is selling the knee more that Sting. Back to the knee he goes, and he tries to suplex Sting to the floor, which Ross and Tony sell like instant death (it WAS 1988). Sting reverses Flair back in, but a big splash hits knees. Sting reverses an ab stretch attempt into his own, and the pressure is back on Flair's back/midsection. 10 minutes left, 35 in. Flair S. H. O. C. K. I. N. G. L. Y. gets caught going up top and thrown, which nets Sting 2 _. He bangs Flair's nuts into the pole, and completes his own figure four. The yelling, the screaming, the "oh GOD!". Flair makes the ropes and Sting gets punches in the corner, and Flair begs off. Sting is just mauling Flair, who is selling like he's being tortured by a facepainted inquisition. Sting to the knee, and a hard whip triggers the Flair flip, which bumps Flair to the floor. Head to the railing! We go to commercial!
And we come back to more of the same, as Flair is being decimated, beaten literally pillar-to-post. Five minutes left, back in the ring and a Flair sunset flip doesn't work. Flair is getting the absolute ass-whooping of a lifetime. Sting gets the punch count again, Flair tries the inverted atomic drop reversal, and this time Sting blocks it and lariats him out of his boots, dropping him in a heap on the canvas, for 2 _. Stinger splash misses and bumps Sting all the way to the floor, giving Flair precious time to not be getting pummeled. Three minutes. Back inside and Sting takes over as a Flair sleeper fails, and he flops for the third time this match. A Sting sunset flip gives Flair a rope-assisted 2, but Tommy Young kicks him off and counts 2 _ for Sting. Flair flip in the corner and he actually hits the bodypress, which is of course reversed for 2 _. It's amazing here the detail, as Flair suddenly started getting some offense in after Sting blew the rookie attempt at a Stinger splash, giving Flair a breather. Flair chops are no-sold, and the now face paint-less Sting just beats the everloving crap out of Flair, hitting the stinger splash and slapping on the scorpion again with 30 seconds to go. Flair screams and shakes his head to the time limit though, saving his title once the "judges" render a decision of draw. WOW WOW WOW. ****1/2. A true all time classic which holds up shockingly well for a 13 year old match. The only real knock was Sting's repetitive no-selling and offence. An excellent use of psychology, and a powerful storyline of Flair using his experience to capitalize on Sting's mistakes just enough to narrowly turn back his challenge to the title. It's especially great since a discerning fan would notice that, storyline-wise, once Sting could avoid a few key slips he would have a clean shot at beating Flair. That makes Sting a superstar, and it heightens interest in the next Flair-Sting match; will this be the time Sting gets it right, the customer might think? All in all, a great match on its own merits, rendered into a historically important contest by the way it launched the career of Sting into the stratosphere. Possibly the best extant example of a superstar creating a new, money drawing opponent for a decade, by putting a guy over huge in one match. Bravo, Ric Flair.
Match #2: Larry Zed and Double A (The Enforcers) vs. Steamboat And Rhodes Jr. Savannah, Georgia, 1991
This one's for the WCW world tag straps. Barry Windham was supposed to team with Jr., but he has some sort of arm injury here (work, shoot, both, who can say? Ask the Rick. They did do an angle with Larry smashing Windham's hand in a car door, though) and thus bows out in favor of returning ex-NWA champ Steamboat. Ricky comes to the ring with a giant Dragon head on and a robe, as Tony plays his usual idiot, probably the only man in the arena who couldn't figure out the mystery partner's identity. Oh well. Ricky gets a big pop, and the Enforcers go nuts; great sell job for the returnee. Ricky and AA start, and Steamboat get some quick chops before the Enforcers begin the usual cheating regimen in the corner. Very basic heel/face psychology, as the faces control at even strength, while the heels get on top with cheating. Steamer fights out of the corner and all four men brawl. Faces maul the Enforcers inside and out, and the heels stall to regroup. Arn with this great quote: "he's just a man! He's just a man!" THAT is how you put someone over. Zed and Steamer get things going back in, basic mat wrestling back and forth, quick tags from the faces as they go after Larry's arm. Larry makes the tag, and Arn beats up on jr. a bit with punches, as Ricky plays cheerleader. Arn actually HITS the axehandle from the top, but jr. breaks out of the corner with bionic elbows, and Arn bails, straight into a commercial break.
Gameboy! Naked Gun! Nissan!
As we return, Ricky's kicking Arn in the ring, and hits a sunset flip, broken by Larry Zed as Arn makes the quick tag before going over. Enforcers do their cheating-intensive workover on Steamboat. Illegal leverage, eyepokes, all the classics. This is shockingly fast paced for an Enforcers match. Very formula tag, with the Dragon as Ricky SteaMorton here. The Enforcers focus on the lower back with an Anderson bearhug and Boston Crab, with copious leverage based cheating. False tag as AA distracts the ref (a really young looking Nick Patrick). Double knockout spot off a head collision, and Arn recovers first to set the world right by now missing his axehandle from the top, hitting Steamer's boot. Hot tag jr., and he wails away with Rhodes-based offense, many elbows/bulldogs/lariats. Tag Steamer, who hits the cross body from the top for the pin and the titles in around ten minutes. ***. Good formula tag, well executed surprise, nothing blown, nothing really off, and a fun little match with the most elementary, but effective, psychology. Good match.
Match #3: Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger, Asheville NC. 9/13/90
Silver robe here for Flair. This is for Luger's US title, which Flair wanted to secure a shot at NWA champ Sting. This was back before Luger began to suck uproariously, and thus I imagine this was good. We shall see. Flair trash talks the shit out of Luger to start, and just buries him with his mouth: "Over you (points to Luger's US title) and into that, baby!". THAT sure wasn't a fair fight. Luger controls with power to start, as the usual Luger/Flair dynamic comes into play: Luger's power and youth vs. Flair's experience and seven million forms of underhanded lowdown cheating. Great psychology off the bat, as Flair kicks Luger quickly on a knucklelock , knowing he can't match power, and showing his edge in intelligence over Mr. Muscles, since HE knew he couldn't match power, but Luger still went for the lock, not suspecting cheating. This doesn't last long, as a press slam bails Flair. Flair tries to control with chops, but Luger no-sells again and hits another press slam, and a lariat bumps Flair over the top. Lariat on the outside, and Flair's getting mauled. He naturally turns to his old standby, cheating, and rakes the eyes for distance, allowing himself space to get back into the ring. Luger no-sells more offense and hits a third press slam, but misses an elbow drop. Ross is selling Flair's back big-time, referencing the 1975 plane crash, which broke Flair's back and ended the career of Johnny Valentine. Flair takes over, chopping away, but gets legally murdered with a lariat out of the corner. Je-sus is Luger selling nothing here. Flair plays possum with a "shoulder injury", and sucker punches Luger when he gets the chance. He finally gets some offense, sending Luger to the outside. Flair assaults a camera man with an absolutely enormous "WHOO!" in between whipping Luger into the barricades. Hey, commercial.
Flair's still on top as we return, stomping away inside the ring. Luger is actually selling the back. Flair does a quasi-shoot and screams "Turner! Herd! This is for you!" before chopping another layer of Luger's skin off. FLAIR IS GOD. (Basically Flair had been having problems with them, mostly Herd, backstage in reality, the same problems which led to him leaving for the WWF less than a year later) Back outside and it's Flair the brawler, as he pounds Luger with chops and tries a chair, before Nick Patrick grabs it. Back inside an the inevitable happens, mush like the rising of the sun and the turning of the tides, as Flair takes apart Luger's knee the usual way. Luger responds with punches and gets some offense going, but Flair out foxes him with Flair Cheat #166483b: right handed thumb to the eye. Sadly, it really doesn't do much more than slow Luger down, as he gets a backslide for 2. Luger no-sells (there's that phrase again....) some chops and hits punches and a lariat to floor Flair, for 2 _. Flair oddly resumes offense, and gets a snapmare for 2 _. Three times. Strange. Flair...shockingly...gets caught up top and thrown, Flair flips out of a whip, but gets lariat'd to the floor. Back inside for another press slam (#4), then a powerslam, and he signals for the rack. Flair responds with #166483b, but gets bearhugged and put on top. Superplex hits, and Flair's back is trashed. 2 count, broken on the ropes. Luger poses. Twerp. More Luger punches, but Flair busts out trusty #166483b, and hits a flying bodypress which sends them both out. Brawling, and then Stan Hansen runs in to kick the absolute shit out of Luger for the DQ in about 20 minutes. Hansen rocks. ****. Your basic standard off-the-rack Flair/Luger match, with the usual psychological breakdown and a bit more brawling than usual. Really fun in an old school way with everything crisp and stiff, and all the little psychology and selling touches which make Flair so damn great. The quick shoot bit was an unexpected and funny interlude as well. Basically a skillful minor movement of the great wrestling symphony of Flair/Luger; major flaw was the finish, but it wasn't that bad.
Match #4: Hollywood Blondes vs. Steamboat and Douglas, 1/13/93, Milwaukee WI.
Ah, the short-lived glory days of the Hollywood Blonds, Austin and Pillman, before WCW inexplicably killed them. Must...remain...positive...ok. This is a tag title match, 30 minutes to a fall, for Steamboat and Douglas' "Unified Tag Titles". Notable fact: Shane Douglas is...let's say heavily muscled here. Yeah. Here's the match: Steamboat and Austin start, and Austin gets the advantage until Steamer gets a series of 2 counts off rollups and a crossbody. Brawling sends the Blonds to the outside, as the announcers (Ross and Ventura) exclaim about how a 30 minute time limit is forcing the action. See, all those three minute matches on Raw and Smackdown DO have a logical explanation! Back in the ring the faces work Pillman over with really, really fluid work. Shane in off the top with an axehandle to the arm. Quick tags from Douglas and Ricky, in and out every few seconds. Pillman fakes a knee injury in awesome rudo fashion to try for the advantage, but he gets caught and powerslammed by Douglas for 2 as he attempts a slingshot bodypress into the ring. Austin in and Douglas works his arm. Douglas looks a gajillion times better than he really is here, as Steamer, Austin and Pillman walk him through this. Oops! Lance Storm says that last sentence was eeeee-vil, so forget I wrote that. Steamboat hits a hammerlock slam as the quick tags continue; this is consummate tag team wrestling from the champs, emphasizing their ability as a unit. Austin and Douglas do a pinfall reversal sequence, which gives Douglas a flying ass-block for 2, broken by Pillman. Steamboat and Douglas do tandem offense, with a double armdrag and Steamboat press-slamming Douglas onto Austin, then pressing Pillman into Austin.
As we return Austin and Pillman take over on Steamboat. Pillman jumps Douglas on the apron, allowing him to throw Steamboat over the top, a DQ at the time. Good, basic tag team psychology. Douglas is described as "so youthful" which is hysterical today. The Blonds work Steamboat over, with Pillman grinding Steamer's face into the mat. Austin with the gut-wrench suplex, and a backdrop suplex to break Steamboat's comeback. Over-shoulder backbreaker from Austin, but some miscommunication from the blonds lets Steamboat hit a springboard chop and a backdrop on Pillman, and finally a hot tag. Douglas plays He-Man and mauls the Blonds with basic offense, including his ludicrous-even-in-'93 belly-to-belly suplex finisher, until Austin nails him with a double axhandle from the top, and puts Pillman on top for 2 _. Austin grabs a title belt, and waffles Douglas for the DQ. Wow. Crap finish aside, a thoroughly decent tag outing, hitting the bases of a standard formula American tag with excellent work from three prime workers, and Shane Douglas. ***1/4.
Match #5: Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, 2/3 Falls, New Orleans LA. 4/2/89
YEAH! YEAH! MOTHERF'N YEAH! Welcome to another chapter in the legendary Steamboat and Flair feud, as this would be the middle portion of their three match series in 1989, itself the "middle leg" of their feud, after the late-'70's early '80's Mid-Atlantic battles, and before the coda which was their 1994 two match sequence. Thus, in many ways, this marks the exact middle portion of their feud, and perhaps, as well, the best match they ever had; for my money it's between this and the WrestleWar '89 match. Steamboat had beaten Flair for the NWA world title (his first and only) at Chi-Town Rumble a few months prior to this, and would go on to lose it back to him at WrestleWar '89, in the match which started the legendary Flair/Funk feud after Funk piledrove the exhausted Flair on a table at ringside, post-match, for refusing him a title shot. In many ways these two were made for each other: Flair perhaps a better technician, marginally, Steamboat a slightly superior athlete, but both of them matched almost exactly in style and size, drive and determination. This feud was very much a case of two wrestlers, natural rivals, coming together again and again over the course of their careers because that was the way things had to be; they were the natural measures of each other's greatness, as Funk and Briscoe were in the '70's, Misawa and Kawada in the '90's. Here's the match:
Flair enters first, accompanied by several women in evening dress; the robe is black with silver trim, and he gets pyro. Steamboat enters in a white robe with his wife and young son, who is dressed in a little dragon outfit. Can YOU guess the sociopolitical overtones they were putting on this one? In a bit of foreshadowing, Terry Funk does color here, sounding oddly sane. They feint around the ring, showing familiarity with each other's attempts to gain the first advantage, and a lockup leads to a Flair shove, and a Steamboat slap in response. Ross puts over Funk as being in great shape on commentary, and Funk makes an offhand comment about wondering whether he should have retired or not. What amazing booking that is, to be already dropping hints months in advance. Side headlock and a reversal sequence leads to an amateur sequence, a standoff, and another shove/slap retaliation. Flair tries to counter a headlock with a kneebreaker (playing off his mistake in the first match, in letting Steamboat's knee recover after an initial attack, he here tries to attack the knee immediately) but ends up getting a top wristlock and powering Steamboat down. Ricky powers back up, and Flair rolls to the ropes to escape the resulting armbar. First commercials.
Back from commercial, and Flair reenters the ring after stalling on the outside. Tie up in the ropes, and an off-the-ropes-sequence gives Steamboat a hiptoss and a side headlock on the mat. Flair gets a succession of 2 counts off rollups out of the headlock on the mat. Flair powers up, off the ropes and Steamer shoulderblocks him down, off the ropes again and as Flair tries the duck under, Steamboat puts the breaks on and drops into a side headlock on the mat. The hold is broken in a standing position in the ropes, and Flair drives the shoulder into Steamboat's ribs. Now come the chops, but Steamboat chops his way out and hits a hiptoss, followed by a flying headscissors and a dropkick. Another side headlock puts this one back on the mat, as Steamboat mixes his athletic repertoire with technical proficiency to keep Flair off balance, as Ross points out on commentary. Steamboat crossfaces the neck and moves to a front chancery, then drives the knee into Flair's neck. Snapmare gives Steamboat a chinlock, broken quickly in the ropes. Flair gets the elbow in the ribs and a chop, but as in the first match Flair can't get anything working with strikes against Steamboat, who absorbs them and comes right back with his own. Cross-corner whip gives Ricky a back body drop and a drop kick for 2, and Flair begs off. Flair uses the ref as distraction, and hits a kick to the midsection to get some offense rolling. Doesn't work though, as a whip gives Steamboat a baseball slide through Flair's legs into a waistlock and a rollup off the ropes for 2. A lariat and a high headlock takeover put Flair back on the mat. Steamboat returns to the crossfaces and the chancery, as he works the neck a bit, presumably playing off Flair's widely known plane crash injuries. Chops in the corner cause a Flair flop, giving Steamboat a 2 count, followed up with another headlock into a chancery. Flair counters that with an inverted atomic drop (Steamer went to the well once too often...) but Flair can't follow up and Steamboat hits a chop for 2. Headlock broken with a whip off the ropes, and a Steamboat shoulderblock gives him 2. Again a shoulderblock for 2; double chop for 2, and Flair bails to the outside, Flair flopping as he goes. The slow selling is amazing here, as Steamboat has worn Flair down over the first 20 minutes of this contest to the point where simple moves are yielding 2 counts; Flair has to bail to get a rest, and come up with some sort of offense to slow down Steamboat.
Flair is stalling as we return, and he begs off back in the ring. Steamboat sees the obvious rouse coming, and calls Flair back to the middle of the ring; another wrinkle here in the tale of familiarity, as Steamboat knows damn well Flair will cheat any chance he gets, and thus is able to avoid some of it by not falling for Flair's tricks. Flair manages to get something going with chops, but again Steamboat fires back and gets a 2 count. He hits a vertical suplex, but a big splash hits knees, as Steamboat gets caught deviating from his game plan. Flair finally takes the hint, going to the mat and hitting an Aguayo double stomp (!). Double underhook suplex gets 2, TWELVE TIMES, as Flair uses every bit of amateur technique he knows to keep Steamboat down. In pre-kayfabe breaking times this spot has a certain brilliance as well, as it answers the question of how it is that amateur technique doesn't secure pinfalls in professional wrestling, since Steamboat required 2 to escape on each cover attempt, where amateur rules allow only a one count. Hence, were this amateur, Steamboat would be pinned, but professional rules give him time to counter each pinfall attempt. It's a brilliant spot for a more realistic time in wrestling; as well, it dramatizes Flair's desperation. Steamboat powers out from the bottom, and gets a hiptoss, but a dropkick misses. Flair goes for the figure-four early here, without preparatory work, as he did in the first match, but this time Steamboat sees him coming and gets a small package for 2, reversed by Flair for 3. A lucky break for Flair, as he uses his minute technical superiority to secure a one fall lead.
The opponents circle each other as we return, and Flair has a bit of his strut back. Rope running sequence gives Steamboat a press slam, and then a chop from the tope rope for 2 _. Front chancery again, but Flair slips to the side and backdrops out. He hits the knee drop, and there's the WHOO, as he really starts to get his arrogance back. It bites him in the ass though, as a second knee drop gets canvas, and Steamboat hits a succession of FIFTEEN elbow drops to the knee. That spot is so awesome, since, after all, why stop; if you can hit one, why not 15 from that position? THAT'S psychology. Steamboat follows up with the figure-four, in another little "they know each other" detail, in this context. As well, Steamboat has learned from Flair's mistakes in going for an unprepared figure-four, and this one is well set up by his preceding brutal kneework. Flair makes the ropes. Steamboat pulls him off, and slaps on a Boston crab, working Flair's bad back and worked-over knee. Flair breaks in the ropes again, as Tommy Young violently assaults Steamboat to keep him off Flair. Have I mentioned recently that I hate Tommy Young? Steamboat finally escapes the runt and gets back on Flair with chops in the corner on the ground. Flair again loses a striking contest, but gets a side headlock on the ground, which evolves into a bridging reversal sequence and a Steamboat backslide for 2. Flair gets Steamboat outside and whips him to the rail, slams him, and whips him again. Flair guillotines Steamboat on the way in, and works him over on the apron, leading to a suplex back in for 2.
Ab Stretch! Oh. Anyway, flair rolls it back into a pinning predicament for a succession of 2 counts, as the same amateur vs. professional psychology as before comes into play. Flair works Steamboat over, but Steamboat back flips out of a backdrop and gets a rollup for 2. A second rollup for 2. Steamer puts his head down on a backdrop and gets struck down for 2, twice, with a chop. Flair gets caught going up top, and a superplex hits, giving Steamboat an opening to work the back again, which he does with gusto (and punches). He hooks a double chicken wing submission hold and hoists Flair into the air, and Ric fights it and fights it, for about ten seconds, before finally submitting. We're all tied up at one fall apiece. This spot would end up being pivotal in the third match, as Steamboat assaulted Flair's arm in that contest to set up the double chicken wing, knowing that he could secure a submission with this hold.
Castlevania! WCW Magazine! (Booo!) Alabama's Greatest Hits!
Flair counters an ab stretch with an eyepoke (saw the move coming this time) as the third fall commences, but is too exhausted to follow up immediately. He finally drags himself up and chop blocks Steamboat's knee, but Steamer responds with chops for 2 _. Flair begs off, and Steamboat calls him to his feet, then chops away in the corner, and hits a backdrop off a cross corner whip. He stays on Flair with chops down on the mat, but Flair counters a side headlock with a shinbreaker, and kicks Steamboat to the mat. He gets the figure-four, but the rope break is quick. Flair stays on the knee with kicks, but loses the chopping contest. He tries the Flair flip on a cross corner whip, but Steamboat sees him coming this time and nails the double chop, dumping Flair to the apron. Flair forces himself back into the ring, doing some of the best "I'm worn down to nothing, and running on willpower only" selling ever. He begs off again in the corner, and this time the now overconfident Steamboat gets caught, as he advances on Flair, Flair hits the double leg pickup and attempts the Flair Pin, which gets 2 four times. Flair stays on top with chops, and whips Steamboat corner-to-corner. Steamboat rebounds off the second turnbuckle with a double axe handle, but misses and gets caught with a Flair boot out of the corner. Flair gets his offense rolling again attacking the knee, and Steamer hits his knee on the top turnbuckle charging in after Flair. We're 40 minutes into this thing. Flair takes his knee apart with stomps and kneedrops, jerks on the knee and finally the figure-four, in the dead center of the ring. This hold goes on forever, as Flair and Steamboat chop at each other while in the hold, and Flair gets multiple 2 counts. Finally Steamboat gets the rope break, but Flair pulls him outside and slams the knee into the apron repeatedly. Back in the ring Steamboat fights back with chops and whips Flair, who Flair flips to avoid the charging Steamboat and then hits the flying bodypress off the top; it should be noted that the "Flair goes up top" spot was a million times more effective when he actually hit moves from up there on occasion. The bodypress gets 2 _. Steamboat tries a bodyslam, but the knee goes out (psychology, long term selling...) and Flair falls on top for 2 _. Off the ropes sequence gives Steamboat a diving double chop, and he gets some offense in, culminating in his own flying bodypress for 2 _. Big elbow drop misses for Steamboat, and Flair gets a whip, but puts his head down and gets caught with a swinging neckbreaker (back to the neck and back from earlier falls...) for 2. He recovers first, to dump Steamboat to the outside, but is stuck in the ring himself holding the neck. Steamboat comes backing with a sunset flip for 2 _. Off the ropes, and Flair gets the sleeper. Then, in an absolutely brilliant bit, Steamboat starts tapping his foot in the old "build the crowd up for the comeback" manner, and Tommy Young does this awesome double take, looking first at the leg and then at Steamboat, as if he can't believe Steamboat still has the energy to fight back. Then Young gets this awesome look on his face as he stares at someone at ringside, as if to say "wow, that's amazing". I now love Tommy Young. Steamboat breaks with a leverage move, driving Flair's head into the top turnbuckle, and sending the challenger to the outside. Flair comes back in and attacks the leg. He picks it up, goes "WHOO!" and promptly gets Owenzuigiri'd into a heap on the mat, for 2 _. We're 50 minutes in. Steamboat misses the big splash from the top, as Ross mocks Hulk Hogan's workrate. Flair goes back again to the knee, as Terry Funk declares this the Match Of The Year; he's right, too. Amazingly enough, STEAMBOAT begs off of FLAIR for a second, as Flair demolishes him with kicks and chops. Steamboat is doing the best selling ever here. Steamboat finally fires back with his own chops and a double chop off the ropes, and this time Flair begs off. Steamboat hits the 10 punch count, blocks the inverted atomic drop counter, and connects with a lariat for 2, broken in the ropes. Steamboat puts his head down early on a rope whip and gets caught with an elbow in the back of the head, and than a backdrop. Flair goes to the top 54 minutes in, but this time he's caught, and Steamboat throws him off. He goes again for the double arm chicken wing which gave him the second fall, and he falls back with it. Tommy Young counts 3 for Steamboat on the bridge, but Flair's feet were in the ropes, which provided the loophole for the third match at Wrestlewar.
What do you say about a match like that? It's among the best ever, maybe THE best ever. It truly had the best of everything, selling, psychology, internal logic, drama, a deep story, historical importance, heat, great announcing (Terry Funk was actually excellent), and in 56 minutes, not a single spot blown or out of place; it's everything you could want. It's easily, for my money, the best example of its style ever, with the only challenger the rematch at Wrestlewar. A thing of beauty, a work of art, a match all fans should see. *****.
Verdict so far: looks good, doesn't it? The best may be yet to come....