Welcome to Time Machine Saturday, were we'll look back at a moment in wrestling history. This is by far my favorite kind of column to write, because the wrestling past is so intriguing. Not just because it was the days of "wrasslin" and NOT sports entertainment, but just that a lot of the wrestlers you see today are influenced from the wrestlers of the past. Today, we'll take a look at 1989, where, in my opinion, it was wrestling's finest. You had the WWF in it's peak of the Hulkamania years, and the NWA having it's best year as well during that time. Both federations just happened to drop in popularity after this year. In 1989, we saw a great feud, and probably the best wrestling feud ever....and it wasn't Hogan vs. Macho Man. On to the PDC.
How did all of this happen? Yes, you did see Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat wrestle in Wrestlemania 3 and Wrestlemania 4. He SEEMED to be having a good career there, right? After putting on one of the best matches ever with the Macho Man Randy Savage, you'd figure he'd be the best Intercontinental champion ever, right. Wrong. You see, Steamboat and his wife just had a son, and Ricky asked the WWF for a lighter schedule to spend more time with his family. Back in those days, 1987, the WWF toured a lot. You couldn't just take a day off here or there for a personal problem or dispute...oh no!
So Steamboat was given a "lighter schedule", but only if he'd drop the Intercontinental strap...which he did, being the great man that he was. That "lighter schedule" ended up turning into a very long vacation, which is why you didn't quite see Steamboat for a while. Then, he returned to the WWF, only to job to Greg "the Hammer" Valentine at Wrestlemania 4 in 1988, which should have set up a feud with Valentine afterwards. However, the WWF and Steamboat came to odds with his character, especially since the Dragon took a long time off. Both sides agreed to "part their ways", and Steamboat became a free agent.
On the other hand, the Nature Boy Ric Flair had a few odds and ends getting to 1989 as well. In 1988, Dusty Rhodes was the head booker of WCW, with Flair having creative control of his character. Dusty Rhodes is well known by now for his very weird style of booking, and it really bothered Ric Flair back then. At the Great American Bash 1988, the plan was to have the young, and very green wrestler at the time, Lex Luger defeat Ric Flair for the NWA world title. Flair denied this booking request, thinking that it would be bad business to have someone still green like Luger as champ. This same dispute came up at Starrcade 1988, when Dusty wanted Flair to lose to Luger again! Flair again denied this, and Dusty presented the even worse idea of making Rick Steiner the World Champ back then! So Flair went to upper management and told them to get rid of Dusty, or he's out.
Well, a no brainer hit, and Dusty's ass was fired, which led him to the WWF where he would have lots of yellow poke-a-dots on him. However, in getting rid of Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair now became the booker of WCW! Now if you've read Mick Foley's book, you'll know that Mick isn't too fond of the Nature Boy's booking. However, I'm very fond of it, especially in what we are to discuss, and the events after this too. Flair has a great eye for the show, but the flaw I see him with is not recognizing new talent to push to the top of the company. Hence, that's why Steve Austin and Mick Foley got the shaft in those days.
As the new booker of WCW, Ric Flair needed to find a true contender to face him for the World Title. Let me see here.... Sting put on a great match with Flair, but back then, it was said that Sting would need more time to get "groomed" for the title. Lex Luger was still green back in those days(and I'll say he's still green today), so that's out of the question. Barry Windham was the only heel left in WCW, besides Flair, so why turn him against his Horseman buddy? So scrambling for answers, they noticed that there was a free agent out there, who could perform with the best of them. That free agent, of course, was Ricky Steamboat.
This feud is just booked too perfectly. If you remember "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert in those days(may he rest in peace), he used to stir up stuff with wrestlers, to make them mad. One night on WCW Saturday Night, he angered Ric Flair and Barry Windham. Flair and Windham pounded Eddie Gilbert into the ground, but he would later come back and challenge both Barry and Ric to a special tag match. He promised a "mystery partner" to tag up with him, and those cocky Horsemen agreed to take him on, thinking it was probably Lex Luger, Sting, or some other wannabe face.
Oh how they were wrong. The match was set for the next week of Saturday Night, and Eddie Gilbert comes in with is partner, Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat!! Now for the WCW arena set ups back then, the crowds were rather small. But once Steamboat arrived, they all errupted! As a 9 year old wrestling fan, I was marking out bigtime because I liked him in the WWF. So after an impressive WCW debut, Steamboat led his team to a HUGE tag team victory over the Horsemen. This led to Steamboat quickly becoming that title contender that the "booker" Ric Flair needed, and boy was it the perfect one!
This tag match angered Flair so much that he challenged Steamboat to a match at the upcoming WCW pay per view, Chi-Town Rumble for the World Title. Now Flair's character, back then, was the usual pretty boy who was afraid to put the title on the line. However, this impressive win got under Flair's skin so much that he set up this match.
After an overall good card for the NWA then, the match was set. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat for the World Title. This first match was mainly geared around Steamboat, with Flair putting him over in the NWA. So you could say that Steamboat looked better in this match, but Flair wasn't backing down one bit. Flair gave him a good first match, which at the time, was the best match of the year. This match ended with what I believe was a roll up off an attempted Figure 4, making Steamboat the NWA champion already. This was just the first war....
Flair would then challenge Steamboat to a best 2 out of 3 falls match at the next Clash of the Champions. Steamboat, getting the better of Flair, accepted the challenge. So for a whole hour and 15 minutes, we were treated to one of the best displays of prowrestling ever! Let's go Fall by Fall shall we?
1st Fall: This was sort of like the Chi-Town Rumble, with Steamboat having the upperhand in the match. Then, Steamboat debuted his NEW submission hold, which Flair immediately submitted to. It was a FULL chickenwing, which was sort of like a full nelson, only held in the air. Steamboat 1 - Flair 0
2nd Fall: You know how I said the first fall was Steamboat's controlled fall? Not this one. Classic Nature Boy stuff here, as Flair showed Steamboat that he could still go in this day and age. Flair brutalized Steamboat, who before that, seemed to have an edge on Flair. Flair worked on the leg so much during this fall, and he kept on doing it the next fall too. Steamboat got the crazy idea during this fall to try to slap Ric Flair. Duh! That's his finisher. Flair got Steamboat on the same move that the Dragon tried at Chi-Town, the small package on the Figure 4. Steamboat 1 - Flair 1
3rd and Final Fall: Alright, both wrestlers were tired, right? Well yes, but they kept going at it hard. It's sort of like the Rocky fights in this fall....chop, after chop, after chop! Flair kept working on the leg in this fall, and Steamboat showed no signs of losing this fall even with a battered leg. They continued to battle, with their match going beyond the TBS limits, and it even cancelled a Sting match that was supposed to close up the show. Steamboat tried to unload his deadly new submission hold on Ric Flair again, but his leg was just too damaged to hold weight! Steamboat collapsed, but and they were both hooked on the ground, in a pinning position. Steamboat managed to get the shoulder up, but Flair didn't. However, the referee did NOT see that Flair had his foot on the ropes. Steamboat 2 ? - Flair 1. Steamboat is your winner.
That controversy set up one last match between Ric Flair and Steamboat. Flair was sooo convinced that he was robbed in that match, that he'd put his career on the line for the final match at Wrestle War, the next WCW Pay Per View. So the stage was set for the FINAL Steamboat vs. Flair match....at least during that time.
The match from Wrestle War 1989 was one of the best "techinical" wrestling matches ever! You don't understand how brutal this match truly was. Chops everywhere, both guys selling each move like a bitch, and so forth! This match was very evenly distributed, and not like the Chi-Town one where you sort of knew who would win. Yes, you knew this was Flair's so called retirement match, but just by watching it, you couldn't tell. Just the way these two guys work together really shows in this match, cooperating on each move. That's what is missing from a lot of matches these days. Too many guys are out for themselves, instead of proving themselves by working a great match.
You see, Flair made the correct booking decision. He found Steamboat who needed to showcase how great of a wrestler he was. Flair needed a great challenger to prove that he could still perform when challenged. Both Steamboat and Flair shined during this feud, and proved a lot of critics wrong by busting their asses in each of their matches. Now, here we are at Wrestle War 1989, with these guys putting on the best match of 1989, and possibly the best of the 80s alone....maybe even more than that.
This match ends with Ric Flair cradling Steamboat when the Dragon tries for a bodyslam, 1, 2, 3. Flair fought the match of his life, as did Steamboat. They saluted each other after this match, because why? They put on the best feud ever! They had so much respect for each other at the time, and it all meshed into great entertainment to enjoy. All I can say is to find NWA Chi-Town Rumble or Wrestle War, and enjoy the two matches. Now if you find that Clash of the Champions, your ass better talk to me about a deal. :)
After this match, Ric Flair would go on to feud with Terry Funk, who brutally attacked Flair after this great Wrestle War match, and Flair would later go down to putting over Sting at the Great American Bash 1990, and basically letting WCW bury his career until the WWF was interested. Steamboat would then go on to feuding with the newly turned heel, Lex Luger, over the US title. Steamboat would later jump back to the WWF, where they took the "Dragon" gimmick WAY OUT OF HAND! He returned when morale was horrible in WCW during the very bad times of WCW around 1992-1993, where he was eventually forced out of wrestling due to an injury from a match with Steve Austin.
But the feud I just discussed is unmatched by any other feud out there. Go ahead and try to e-mail me any feud that produced such spectacular matches like these two guys had, and you will be wrong. Nobody performed together like Flair and Steamboat did together...period! It was the way two wrestlers SHOULD work together, and not like it is today where one wrestler wants to hog the glory.
@That's all for today. I'll hopefully be back tomorrow to give you some Halloween Havoc predictions, as I hope to find some time since I'm home for the weekend. Is that BBQ I smell?
Backyard BBQ: Best Backyard Wrestling Online!
Take Care, and Thanks for Reading.