Columbia Music Video // 2003 // 631 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // December 20th, 2003
"There are legends and all time greats, but there is only one Ric
-- liner notes
I normally don't begin with quotes, but for me that line sums up everything I feel about the Nature Boy, still kicking and woooooing after all these years.
Easily considered the greatest wrestler of his time, Ric Flair finally gets his due in a three-disc package highlighting some of his greatest matches and interviews in a 27-year span.
I have a confession to make to my faithful readers. I am a wrestling fan. I grew up with it since infancy. In the Lopez/Treadway household, it wasn't a normal weekend unless we watched all the wrestling programs they televised. I've seen some horrible programs (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, GWF), but for the most part, usually WWF and WCW were what aired on TV in those days.
If there was one wrestler who my family couldn't stand, it was Ric Flair. He was the consummate heel. He had charisma. He could rile the fans like nobody else. He had great matches and he had a firm hold on the world title while babyfaces would suffer defeat after defeat at his hands. No wonder they hated him so much.
For me, the turning point for me when it came to wrestling was September 1993. For years, I had been conditioned with the "good guys/bad guys" convention. But an important event occurred that month -- I managed to reconnect with my godfather. He taught me an important lesson: that one should look for genuine ability in a wrestler and not to go for somebody just because he was a good guy. In other words, it was fine to go against the grain. After digesting that bit of information, I began to realize he was right. Eventually, I would count both faces (wrestling jargon for good guy) and heels (wrestling jargon for bad guy) among my favorites.
For years, my favorite was Hulk Hogan. That was when I was a boy and that was fine since Hogan was aimed for children. But as I got older, I began to see that Hogan was all about theatrics while wrestlers like Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Steve Regal, and Vader, to name a few, were more about pure wrestling ability rather than boatloads of muscle. And soon after, I had a new favorite: the Nature Boy himself.
So what does all of this have to do with The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection? I think it has plenty to do with it. To understand Flair's appeal, it is important to understand a certain mindset. To appreciate him, you have to do as my godfather told me to do: look beyond the storyline and appearances and to look at the wrestling itself.
Ric Flair is the greatest wrestler of his time. He didn't have a body loaded with muscle like the Hogans and Lugers of the era. He wasn't conventionally good looking (in other words, a hunk). He was rather small compared to other workers. What did Flair have to make up for those supposed weaknesses? Ric had charisma. He could be completely charming and captivating to an audience. Flair knew how to wrestle. Posing will get you nowhere in the ring. You have to know the basics. Flair wrestled simply but effectively and he could make even the worst wrestler in the world look good. Flair also knew how to sell a move. Selling means when a wrestler "appears" like he is hurt or severely tired after an opponent puts on a really stiff move. Flair would always sell, a stark contrast to the Hogan/Luger "Supermen" school of learning.
Flair's matches often ran over a half hour and were paced differently than the fast moving WWF matches. The NWA prided itself on a more classic style of professional wrestling. If you wanted glitz and glamour, you would watch the WWF. If it was wrestling you wanted to see, you'd tune into the NWA. The majority of Flair's career was spent in the NWA, so remember this when you watch this set.
Author's Note: When reviewing wrestling matches, I tend to use the system perfected by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. They go from minus five stars to five stars. Matches that get no stars are labeled DUD. Fractions of 1/4 and 1/2 are allowed.
* Ric Flair vs Harley Race Starrcade '83 November 24, 1983
This was a return match for the title. It's inside a steel cage, the mesh usually found surrounding houses in the city. It is a bloody affair wih Flair and Race both juicing (wrestling jargon for bleeding) heavily. There is terrific wrestling as Race and Flair both punish each other with scientific moves as well as sheer brutality. (Gordon Solie slips in his commentary and says that Flair won his third world title. This was true. It was an unrecognized title change in New Zealand earlier in 1983.)
* Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes Starrcade '85 November 28, 1985
Ric Flair won his first world title from Rhodes in 1981 and they had an on-again, off-again feud. Dusty was never a great worker but put him with a Flair or a Race and he could have great matches. Flair worked a solid match and Rhodes presented plenty of color and excitement to the proceedings. Rhodes wins his third NWA title, but the decision is reversed shortly after.
* Ric Flair vs Barry Windham NWA World Wide Wrestling January 20,
An lesser known feud featured Flair battling Barry Windham. Windham, who until 1993 was one of the best workers in the world, was willing to learn from Flair and by working together, they put together a real classic here. It is very long for a typical TV match of the time, but it is one hell of an exciting battle. Flair and Windham trade near falls and give each other a beating. Match ends in a 30-minute draw.
* Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat Clash of the Champions VI April 2,
A two out of three falls return match that was probably the best match of 1989. Flair wins the first fall in 19 minutes. Steamboat comes back to 16 minutes later to win the second fall with the double arm chicken wing. However, the third fall ends when time runs out, leading to our next match. If you want to see clean, scientific wrestling as well as thrilling mat work, it doesn't get any better than Flair vs Steamboat.
* Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat Wrestle War '89 May 7, 1989
Billed as "Flair's Last Chance," Flair wins his sixth (actually eighth) world title in this 40-minute thriller. The most memorable moment occurs after the match when Terry Funk piledrives Flair through a real table.
* Ric Flair vs Terry Funk Clash of the Champions IX, November 15,
This is one feud I wish had gone longer and one that I wish had let Funk hold the title for a brief period of time. Anyway, this was a non-title "I Quit" match in which the only way to win is for your opponent to say "I Quit!" This match is 20 minutes of pure brutality. They basically beat the dog doo-doo out of each other and it's incredible how much punishment they take in the brief amount of time.
* Royal Rumble January 19, 1992
The only Royal Rumble in which the winner was awarded the WWF (now WWE) title. Actually, it was the easiest way to get the title onto Flair without dealing with behind the scenes politics. As for the match itself, it is my personal favorite of them all. The selection of wrestlers (with a few notable exceptions) is pretty good and of course, it's a Flair win! Rating: *****
* Ric Flair vs. Sting Clash of the Champions XXVII June 23, 1994
This was a "Unification" match that morphed both the WCW and International (NWA) titles into one. From October 1992 to June 1994, WCW had a world title structure similar to the current WWE. After Flair quit in July 1991, he took the NWA title with him (he explains why in a latter day interview). A new WCW world title was created (Lex Luger, whom I call "The Masher" for dubious reasons, was the first champion). Fast forward to October 1992, the NWA title was returned and a tournament was set up. The finalists, Rick Rude and Masahiro Chono, wrestled on the Halloween Havoc pay-per-view. (The match is considered horrible by all who saw it; I'm one of the lucky ones who didn't.). Anyway, with Chono's victory, now there are two world titles. Fast forward to September 1993. Ric Flair is the current NWA champion. WCW brass decide to have Flair drop the title to Rick Rude at their next pay-per-view. The NWA board of directors balks. WCW remains firm and they secede from the NWA. Since they seceded, they can't call it the NWA title. So the title was renamed the WCW International Title.
Confused? So were millions of fans around the world.
Anyway, back to this match. The confusion ended with this match as Ric Flair
defeated Sting to unify the titles. Unfortunately, his supreme title reign ended
a month later when Hulk Hogan won the title from him and a long reign of terror
began. But that's another story.
In keeping with the fact that these matches were all shown on television, WWE Home Video gives us a full frame transfer. The matches have all undergone a major restoration, and the hard work has paid off. These matches look absolutely terrific, possibly even better than the initial airings. There are some imperfections but those stem from the unplanned world of live recording. What surprised me the most about this transfer was the bold colors and the lack of grain. I figured that the earliest matches would suffer from the effects of time, but they look as new as when they debuted.
Surprisingly, a stereo mix was issued for this set. Many of these matches were recorded in mono originally but the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix is more appropriate actually. With the stereo sound, one channel handles the commentary while the second channel handles the crowd noise and other sounds. Excellent work was done with these tracks. There are moments so clean that you can hear individual fans on the soundtrack as well as the grunts of the wrestlers. Again, I'm amazed at the high quality.
The best part of this disc is the immense amount of extras included. The interviews and TV angles that lead up to and conclude each individual match are included. I think this was a solid decision on the part of WWE since there will be some fans who either weren't alive when some of these matches took place, or for those who weren't watching the product at the time due to reasons beyond their control. You'll get a sense of how the feuds were developed and a chance to see Flair do one of the things he did best: rant.
Several bonus matches are included:
* Ric Flair vs Pete Sanchez WWWF at MSG March 1, 1976: This was
Flair's debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation (although he returned to
the Mid-Atlantic territory of the NWA shortly after). It's not a bad match.
Flair is still developing as a worker here and had yet to begin using some of
his classic in-ring trademarks. **1/2
* Ric Flair vs Barry Windham -- Lumberjack Match NWA World Wide Wrestling January 13, 1987. This was a non-title match designed to get Windham over as a serious contender for the NWA world title. Surrounding the ring are members of Flair's Four Horsemen group as well as Dusty Rhodes and several other babyfaces. It's an exciting match with lots of near-falls and genuine thrills. ****1/2
* Ric Flair/Barry Windham vs Ricky Steamboat/Eddie Gilbert NWA World Wide Wrestling January 21, 1989. Steamboat's return to the NWA after four years in the WWF saw him come out as Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert's mystery partner against Flair and Windham (now allies in the Four Horsemen). Of course, you know the outcome is designed to establish Steamboat as Flair's next opponent, but they didn't forget to have a great match in the process. ****1/2
* Ricky Steamboat Three Man Workout NWA World Wide Wrestling January 28, 1989. Steamboat wrestles three young jobbers (including a young Dustin Runnels, better known to wrestling fans as Goldust). It's purely scientific here, folks. ***1/2
* Ric Flair vs Triple H WWE Raw May 19, 2003. Typical title match for TV, but this match is memorable for the impromptu celebration at the end of the match. The locker room empties out and celebrates Flair's 30th year in wrestling.
Several Easter eggs are spread over the three discs. I'm told there are six (or two on each disc). So far, I have only found four.
One could complain about the matches. Some better Flair matches, such as his 45-minute draw against Sting from a March 1988 Clash of the Champions or his much hyped "tenth" world title win against Vader at Starrcade 1993, were among his very best matches and certainly should have been included. Others like his first NWA title win against Dusty Rhodes in 1981 would have been nice to have. None of his AWA appearances made the cut, either. But arguing about what should and shouldn't have been included is a moot point. We're lucky we even have the matches we have in this set.
Ric Flair fans don't need my approval to purchase this set. Actually, they didn't even wait, as the first shipment sold out in the first two days of release. A second printing is currently underway.
Actually, all wrestling fans should own this set, especially those who grew up on the WWF during the Hogan years. Anyone who wishes to become a wrestler someday should study these matches, as they are proof that it isn't so much the body as it is ability that makes a good wrestler.
WWE has put together a first class package, so they are acquitted.
It's just plain unfair that charges were filed against Ric Flair. Save them for the wrestlers who deserve a trial, like The Big Show.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2003 Nominee
Studio: Columbia Music Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 631 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Pre-Match Interviews
* Bonus Post-Match Interviews
* Bonus TV Footage
* Bonus Promos
* Bonus Matches
* Easter Eggs
* World Wrestling Entertainment