Inducted by Mizfan
What comes to mind when you think of Steamboat and Flair?
Setting the standard?
Raising the bar?
All of that and more. This is one case where you can believe the hype.
There’s a reason these matches have stood the test of time. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t draw as well as expected at the time, and it doesn’t matter that “family man” Ricky Steamboat seems more than a little unhinged at times during the feud. It’s a pairing that has resonated on a foundational level, and once that bell rang it was pure magic. Two of the greatest wrestlers of all time laying it all on the line in an epic battle pitting not only transcendental skill against transcendental skill, but also speaking to something far deeper. Look at all the variations on a classic theme this match ticks before they ever lock up! It’s Morality vs. Depravity! Poor vs. Rich! Common vs. Elite! What more could you ask for?
But despite the larger than life characterization, they never lose focus on what made the NWA great, and believe me this match is NWA through and through. The competition, the sport, the heavy weight of consequences for both the winner and loser, it all shines through in every single moment of the contest. Flair is wild eyed and vicious as soon as his thin veneer of class and prestige, and we see that all too familiar sight of the true Ric Flair, a man driven to any length to win and maintain his self-image as the greatest to walk the earth. We see the steel and fire forging an incredible resolve in Steamboat as he refuses to cede to Flair as the better man in any category, be it technical skill, cunning, or even the Nature Boy’s famous chops.
Despite his high position, Steamboat is an intruder in Flair’s world but will not, even for a moment, acknowledge it as such, instead by sheer force of will turning the familiar reality of Flair on his head. And yet, a first time viewer can assume nothing, because no man in history has had found the way to survive overwhelming odds like Ric Flair.
Wrestling is deep and wide, and I can’t say with certainty that this match created a new peak of quality for the sport and art form that is wrestling. The decade of the 80s is so rich with quality, and I have been transported in joy by matches even from the decades prior.
But these matches between Flair and Steamboat are the ones that are remembered, in fact lionized, and held up 30 years later as a symbol of all that wrestling can be, and that’s tremendous. Fans rarely like to venture back to the 80s these days, but these matches are immediately accessible by any modern standard. The influence of these matches is really quite incredible, it’s not at all hard to look at the beloved main event matches from modern day New Japan and draw direct correlations to these epic bouts.
So join me today as we gather to honor two of the greatest of all time as they create one of their classics. Long live the NWA!