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  1. NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair vs Lex Luger – NWA Starrcade 1988 As great as the Total Package was in this match, Ric Flair was the undeniable man in this match. Understanding who the Nature Boy was in between those ropes as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. A lot of this was covered verbally during Part 1 of Fair to Flair, but lets go through the minutia using this match as a case study. The match begins with Flair cocky as ever going so far as to taunt the Total Package. At one point, he gets down on one knee and flexes! Flair’s goal early on is psych out the inexperienced challenger and assert himself. You see crowd Luger in the corner, but Luger’s immense power overwhelms him and sends him flying out of the ring. Now, Luger poses to a massive pop, which is a great payback spot as Flair is left doubting himself rather than the other way around. The key to Flair is that he is always going to try to win the match legitimately at first. He is only apprehensive right now, not out and out desperate. The key difference to me between Flair and Harley Race is that Flair makes you earn your shine because Flair is going to apply a hammerlock, throw a chop and try a back elbow, but the challenger fights through this offense and when they gain the upper hand it is more meaningful. Now Flair is going back to the core of his strategy: breaking the rhythm of his opponent. The challenger is going on a fast break and the crowd is hot. Flair uses the ropes like a basketball team would use a timeout. Luger can taunt all he wants, but Flair is in command. Of course, Flair can’t win the match either this way he can only slow Luger down. Now, he moves the second phase of his two-pronged strategy leverage his superior cardiovascular stamina to defeat powerful, muscular Lex Luger. He tries to turn into a track meet by coming off the ropes and we see Luger do a really IMPRESSIVE leapfrog. Luger is ready to use power via a shoulder tackle to thwart the Nature Boy. Big Press Slam! Flair is in the ropes and it is not looking good. Luger begins to try break down Flair via the arm and Flair’s verbal selling is great. He whips Flair hard into the turnbuckles who takes it shoulder first. Here comes Flair with his perpetual motion offense of chops and shoulderblocks to stop the bleeding, but nothing is working on the challenger. Finally, about ten minutes in, Flair finally thumbs Luger in the eye. For ten minutes, Flair try to best Luger and could not. Out of desperation, he finally resorted to nefarious tactics. That’s beautiful storytelling. Flair goes to his number one weapon, the chops. JR gets in a good point about chops as wearing down the opponent. Incredibly, he does NOT take it to the logical football analogy of running up the middle in the first quarter for 2-3 yards, but keep pounding the ball up the gut so that it turns into 5-7 yards in the fourth quarter. The chop is a similar strategy and in addition it is evacuating the air out of Luger’s lungs, which plays into Flair’s overall strategy. Remember, we are only ten minutes into this contest, so when Flair chops Luger they have an effect, but they have taken their true toll on the Total Package yet. The result is one of the MOST ELECTRIC NO-SELLS of all time with Luger coming out of the corner looking like a million bucks and the crowd and me losing their shit. Flair retreats to the outside and admittedly due to small ringside area things do get a little awkward with Luger trying to navigate his way to get Flair and then he wrenches Flair’s arm around the railing. Another Flair strategy is use of shortening the distance like a boxer would or what could be called crowding when he takes Luger from the armbar into the corner. Flair is an underrated puncher and I have always thought his punches look nasty. Flair tries to combat Luger’s power by using the ropes to get a running start to increase his momentum and add some wallop to his blows. Luger at this stage of the game is a Flair-seeking missile and will not be denied. I love the suplex back in the ring as it is just the perfect babyface move. Oh, you want to try to run from me, let me bring you in the hard way. Luger misses his big elbow and lets out quite the yelp. Flair pounces with a short kicks to abs and now using that running start to really topple Luger. He throws Luger to the outside for a hard, hard fall. He attacks Luger using the railing. This is when Flair is at his sadistic best. He slows down the pace and really grinds his opponent down. Kneedrop and double footstomp! This is offense that allows him to recover without expending too much energy, but at the same time non-kayfabe allows the heat to sink in and for Luger to sell. Luger gets his second wind so Flair immediately goes back to trying to create movement, but ends up in a sleeper! Again Luger earns the comeback fighting through his chops and then winning the criss-cross exchange! Flair hits a back suplex counter. He realizes he can not waste anymore time and goes for his one surefire home run, the figure-4. INSIDE CRADLE! Only two. Flair crashes down with a elbow to stymie Luger. You feel his hold on the match is tenuous at best. He wants to go up top to get some free velocity and really crash down on Luger, but he gets caught with the superplex, awesome nearfall. Luger now applies the figure-4 as a slap in the face and as a strong match-ender spot. Flair gets the ropes and now here comes the Luger home stretch. Luger accidentally hit the ref on the backswing of his punch. He gets a top rope crossbody for two only because the ref was out of position. Backslide that’s how Kerry beat Flair. Flair takes the flip in the corner. Luger suplexes him back in and PRESS SLAM! The challenger is pouring it on. Now it is up to JJ to do what Flair can’t break his momentum. Luger is on a fast break so putting himself into harm’s way distracts Luger. Flair trips Luger up and goes full psycho smashing a steel chair into the knee of the Total Package. Flair goes to town on the knee. This is an absolute clinic of how to work the knee and how to sell a knee both psychically and verbally. Flair Figure-4! Time to test the mettle of Lex Luger, who like a real man reverses the pressure. Flair is right back to the knee. He goes up top to try win the match with a cross body, but gets caught in a press slam. Luger was able to fight through pain for that one moment, but the pain is too much has to crawl to Flair and can’t capitalize. Flair desperate just throws him out of the ring. Sunset Flip by Luger! That’s how Garvin won the title. Flair tries one of those running, jumping forearms, but just bounces off Luger! It is hot baby! Luger fighting through the pain hits the clotheslines and powerslams to set up for the torture rack. In my probably my favorite finish of all time, Luger hoists up the champion only to have his knee give out and Flair lands on top, puts his feet on the ropes and wins the match. WOW! Incredible match and one that I hope I did justice. I really don’t think I can in all honesty it is something that needs to be watched. Everybody seems to like the Wrestlewar match, which I think is an all-time classic, but I have this a notch above. Clearly, the Starrcade finish is better than the Wrestlewar finish. This told an absolutely incredible story and just stayed so true to both characters. The selling was just pitch perfect. I have always seen this match ranked ****1/2. I can’t go below ****3/4 and right now I can’t think of a reason not to go the full monty. For my money, this is the perfect Flair vs power wrestler match. It is Flair’s best power wrestler opponent, Luger, putting a great selling and offensive clinic. His timing on those no-sells was great. Flair gave a heel performance in this match that I don’t know has ever been topped. I am going *****, but would love to hear arguments to the contrary.
  2. All the Flair-Sting sequences you’ve come to know and love in what I think was the first televised match these two ever had. Within the first three minutes, Flair goes up for two press slams. Still, this is fun because at this point, this is a fresh matchup. The feud hadn’t really gotten started yet, and Sting was just a UWF reject midcarder, so Flair did a lot to get him over as a worthy challenger, completely bitching out (yeah, I said it) for the test of strength and letting Sting shrug off his chops. The no-sell of the vertical suplex was a rare spot at this point since the Nikita feud was over a year old and the Luger feud hadn’t kicked in yet, so that got quite the reaction. After the first commercial break, Flair is working over Sting’s arm but we missed the transition, but even that offense is about putting Sting over by angling him in ways to show off Sting’s physique to the camera and letting him constantly tease comebacks. When Sting tries to strong arm his way out of it, Flair catches him with one of the best low blows I’ve ever seen. This is fun just because it’s such a lively match, and it even gets really good when Flair starts building heat with the figure four. But the stories of Arn and Tully watching Flair matches around this time and not getting why Flair was working like this and trying to talk to Ric about it sure make sense. Flair had no strong babyface opponents and felt like he had to work overtime to get all these Johnny-come-latelies over as credible challengers. It’s also a great display of the contradictions present in Flair’s work that cause a lot of the debate around here – there’s no real setup for the figure four and he’s generous to a fault in the opening segment. But no one can time nearfalls, make someone look like a million bucks and manipulate a crowd into reacting in the desired way quite like Ric Flair. (We don’t get a finish, as the show goes off the air, but we get a good 15 minutes of action.) ***
  3. The classic debate should be the first thread.
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