Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection – 3 Disc Set

WOOOOOO! You hear that simple phrase and you know that Ric Flair is about to grace your television screen. Whether he’s talking about what he’s going to do Dusty Rhodes or how much his shoes cost, you know that you’re going to get an awesome promo. Whether he’s fighting Barry Windham or Carlito, you know that you’re going to get a damn fine match. Now, enough with the introduction, let’s look at Flair’s career.

The Documentary:
The documentary clocks in at just under two hours, which I think is a bit rushed for someone like Flair. Some things it did do right was to talk about his childhood and how he broke into the business. One thing I found interesting was that he weighed 280 when he first went to train for Verne Gagne. Other things it covered in great detail was the move to Charlotte, his first NWA Title reign, the formation of the Four Horsemen, and the feuds with Steamboat and Funk. Things start to move kind of fast when they start talking about Turner purchasing Crockett Promotions and then Flair’s subsequent jump to the WWF. I would’ve like to heard more of the story behind his leaving but it’s covered in pretty good detail in his book. The main talk is about Hogan on the WWF side of things and then on the return to WCW, how he got Hogan and Savage to sign with WCW. Hardly anything is mentioned about his internal problems with Eric Bischoff up through the close of WCW. Evolution is talked about in great detail about how it really helped Orton and Batista rise to fame and how they’re still riding those coattails today. Finally, they talk about the WrestleMania 24 weekend and the hall of fame ceremony and Flair breaks down into tears when he starts talking about his legacy and that weekend at the end of the doc. All in all, another well-rounded documentary from WWE but I think towards the middle, they tried to jam too much stuff into too short a time frame. Now, onto the matches …

The Matches:
1) Ric Flair vs. Jack Brisco – 4
2) Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich – Best of Three Falls Match – 5
3) Ric Flair vs. Harley Race (Mid Atlantic 8/31/83) – 6
4) Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, & Ole Anderson vs. Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A., & Manny Fernandez – 5
5) Ric Flair vs. Sting – 9
6) Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk – 7
7) Ric Flair vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper - 5
8) Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat – 5
9) Ric Flair vs. Triple H – Steel Cage Match – 6
10) Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels - 7

The match with Brisco was very mat based as the two worked a slow pace and some holds. Flair was playing a great heel as he begged off when the match started because he didn’t want to fight. I really enjoyed the rolling arm scissors that Brisco used to dominate Flair in the early going. Brisco got the pin with a backslide in a match that was short but interesting. The match with Kerry ran 35 minutes and was a unique match in the way that each fall was finished. They worked their butts off and were sweating like crazy after about ten minutes. The fans were all behind Kerry. Flair sold a claw to the ribs like he had been shot. The first fall ended with a ref bump and a Dusty finish where Kerry had Flair in the sleeper and the bell rang. The ref who was bumped called a DQ just before Flair went out. Kerry dominated the second fall and tied it up with a sickening claw to the forehead that drew blood from Flair. The third fall was a double DQ when both guys started brawling and shoved the ref. Two screwy finishes kind of soured me on it but it’s the match that set up the famous Christmas Day cage match that set the territory on fire.

The match against Harley has to be seen just for Harley’s bumping and his utter insistance on eating concrete. The match had a slow pace and the lingering backstory was Race’s bounty on Flair’s head. Race went for the falling headbutt three times and missed, twice splatting fairly hard on the unprotected floor. Truth be told, Race actually controlled most of the match. Flair got the upper-hand toward the end, slapped a figure-four on Race, and the got beaten down by Bob Orton and Dick Slater. I was really looking forward to the six-man tag. Even though it lasts just over ten minutes, and the moves were very simple, the crowd was eating everything up. Dusty, Manny, and Magnum control most of the match until the Horsemen take over. Arn knocked out Manny with a sickening chair shot to allow Ole to get the pin at the exact moment Flair gave up when Dusty had the figure-four applied.

Sting was eating up Flair’s chops and then firing right back in what is truly one, if not the most memorable encounter the two had. The match went the full 45 minutes and not one second was dull. There was action from bell to bell and the whole arena was cheering behind Sting’s every move. Sting controlled early but once the battle spilled to the outside, Flair took over by whipping Sting into the railing repeatedly. The momentum switched back and forth too many times to count and every minute was exhilarating. Flair’s chops were sickening and made me cringe on more than one occasion, there were some fabulous teases (ex: Flair having Sting in the figure-four and then Sting reversing it.), and when Sting finally got Flair in the Scorpion Death Lock with 30 seconds left in the match, the crowd was on their feet and it really made you think that Flair was going to give up. This was truly a spectacular match, one that comes along only once in a generation. This match made Sting and you owe it to yourself to see this match. The only reason for me that I did not give this a “10” (and believe me, I was definitely toying with it) was because Sting was still a bit unseasoned and Flair had to carry most of the match. Other than that, this was a completely flawless match.

Funk and Flair both bled gushers in the tremendous main event of the 1989 Great American Bash. Flair’s chops were on the money as usual and Funk’s selling was great. There were two rings set up so I automatically assumed that the action would spill over into the ununsed ring but they kept the brawling around the ring they were actually using. This was just a stepping stone in the wild feud the two had in ’89 and the post-match brawl that involved Sting and Muta as well was classic stuff. The Piper match from MSG felt like a step down. You go from two wild matches with Sting and Funk to a completely random match from a long-forgotten MSG card. Anyway, neither man looked like they were competing to their fullest extent. This even had a ref bump and parts where Flair and Piper used chairs on each other. Flair won by putting his feet on the ropes. Not the best I’ve seen between them but better than their series in ’99.

The Flair/Steamboat match was a major disappointment. In the main feature, they pimped their series as some of the best matches ever but yet they put this on there. I’ll give them credit, they were working their tails off but this was right at the era where Hogan was coming in. Another problem about this match was the crowd. They just sat there like zombies not really reacting to anything except for a major, major spot. The finish was a double-pin where Steamboat had Flair in a submission and both men’s shoulders were counted down, which made Flair look weak going into the Hogan program. Another thing that slowed this match down was age. Both guys were five years older than they had been in ’89 and it was actually sad in some spots. All in all, disappointing but at least all four major Flair/Steamboat matches have been released.

The final two matches were interesting to say the least. The cage match didn’t hold up as good as I though it would. The match was a total gusher as both guys were bleeding buckets and Flair’s hair went from blonde to red during the course of the match. Flair eeked out a win with some dreadfully violent chair shots and afterward HHH had to be helped out of the ring. Flair’s final match with Shawn was somewhat better than I remember it being. The story that was told was great. Flair, the aged veteran, was competing it what was being billed as his potential farewell match on the biggest stage of all … WrestleMania. The bumping and selling by Michaels was great and the emotion of Flair’s final match was incredible. The spot were Michaels went ribs first into the announce table on a moonsault was sickening and literally made me twinge. The end was the stuff of legends. Flair, standing, with his fists doubled and his career on the line, was begging Michaels to bring the fight. Michaels, standing in the corner, posed for the superkick, mouthed those now-famous words to Flair, and superkicked Flair, and ended his career. Flair was visibly tearing up during the pinfall and afterwards gets a standing ovation from 70,000 fans and a well-deserved and epic send-off.

Final Thoughts:
Throughout the set, there are classic promos from the late 80’s and some extra bits as well as the complete farewell ceremony from the night after WrestleMania on Raw with footage of stuff that happened after TV went dark. The match selection was unique due to the fact that there were rare matches mixed in with the two recent bouts. If you haven’t read Flair’s book, the documentary will give you a good outline of his career. While I wouldn’t go so far to say it a “definitive” collection, I would definitely say that this belongs on any wrestling fan's DVD shelf.

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