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Ric Flair

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1 hour ago, BigBadMick said:

Come on, Matt. Is that sarcasm? What do you mean? 

No, no. His stuff at the beginning of a match is just to fill time and fit that NWA title style, but at the same time, it really is incredibly entertaining and engaging. I think Flair picks the most entertaining choice in every moment. I don't think that always leads to the most compelling stories with the best build, but in any specific RANDOM MOMENT, he's as entertaining as any wrestler ever.

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Yeah, I think when I hear complaints about Flair's matches being too long - or padded out - it's from after the fact. Not many complain about the beginning of the match during the beginning of the match.

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6 hours ago, BigBadMick said:

Yeah, I think when I hear complaints about Flair's matches being too long - or padded out - it's from after the fact. Not many complain about the beginning of the match during the beginning of the match.

Why would you complain during the start of the match? We don't know the future at that point and know that it will be abandoned and be useless until the match ends.

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I've heard people complain that Okada starts his matches with slow, dull matwork - that's something you could complain about as it's happening.

 

My point is that the beginning of Flair's matches are exciting.

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I don't think I buy that as a particular criticism of Flair. You could find thousands of good and great matches in which the first 5-10 minutes are loosely connected, at best, to the ultimate narrative. Time killing was a big part of the main-event formula in so many territories; at least Flair generally kept it moving. We, as an inherently nerdy community, fetishize wrestlers who put a lot of obvious thought into their work. Some people - the Nature Boy is a perfect nickname, isn't it - don't need to do that to be great. 

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Flair is one of those weird guys who I can both acknowledge is really really great but feel no passion about due to a variety of factors that are pet peeves of mine personally. One I’ve talked about with friends is that I general despise defensive spots, and Flair has a lot of them. The over the turnbuckle into apron walk, the face plant and what not tends to take me out of his matches and is a hinderance for me, which is a big one when it comes down to the truest top end top tier wrestlers of all time. And while god knows there have been debates about this for god knows how long, I kind of dislike how he can fall into his formula to an extent. I don’t mind formula in wrestling, I just personally never really cared much for Flairs formula specifically.

Add in I’m very much an input over output type of voter, and I don’t think Flair has much of a chance of cracking my top 10 or 15, and will be more likely somewhere in the 20-40 range. Where as the guys I hold as the true top end heels of the 80’s on input (Bockwinkel and Rose) are basically locks for my top 20, and most likely top 10 guys for me. 

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When I started last time he was firmly in the top 10 in my head and the more I saw he slipped, but only little by little. There's still so much good to him I can't deny him as an all time great but there's too many flaws that keep popping up that just nag at me. He finished just outside top 10 for me last time and I could see him dropping the same way to 20 but not further. An amazing entertainer and someone who is one of the best to just throw on something random of his and get SOMETHING fun to watch out of it.

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I don't understand this idea that the beginning of a match has to have anything more to do with the end of a match than the simple fact that the wrestler's objective is to win.  Why can't a wrestler look to weaken or attack his opponent through many channels before choosing one to focus on later in the match?  Or capitalizing on an opportunity that presents itself through attrition over time?  This is especially true in longer matches where there is literally *more time* for *more* things to happen that can all potentially impact the outcome. 

Perhaps a given fan only appreciates a match that follows a clear and consistent plan of attack from the opening bell.  That's not necessarily for everyone but if that's what it takes for someone enjoy wrestling then said fan(s) will naturally gravitate to that style.  But it seems awfully presumptuous to criticize wrestlers for failing to work in that fashion.

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Too far for me there.

It's fiction!

You can tell a story where a lot of unconnected things happen and the character is always consistent and doing what the character should be doing  (and I'm not going to go so far as to say that's even what Flair is doing relative to other wrestlers, though I'm not denying it either at this juncture), and maybe it'll make sense and you can follow it, but a story where there's a compelling and connected beginning, middle, and end is just better, all other things equal.

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Even if it is necessarily better, I also want a list of wrestlers who consistently connected the first 5-10 minutes of their matches all the way to the finish while regularly going 25+ minutes. It seems like something that only Nick Bockwinkel and the 90s All Japan guys pulled off more than very rarely. It's the kind of flaw that may separate your Top 10 from candidates just below, but I can't see it being that much more damaging to someone's case.

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For those who want to criticize Flair, I think the better tack is that when he figured out what worked, he became complacent -- not in the sense that he didn't work hard or continue to perform at a high level, but he didn't challenge himself to break out of his routine. His matches varied because he didn't pull literally everything out of his toolbox in every single big match, but it was rare that Flair did something in a match that surprised me as a viewer. I don't see that as a huge negative personally, but I think it's a more worthwhile criticism than arguing that his collar-and-elbow tie-ups and side headlocks didn't play into the finish of his match, as if any wrestler has ever done that.

You could also criticize him for being the first working champion to perform under a national spotlight and not realizing that certain things that worked brilliantly in the territory days -- namely, the concept of signature defense -- were going to have drawbacks when working in front of a national audience. Other wrestlers had signature defense too; Rick Rude had an entire Twitter account dedicated to his atomic drop selling last year. But Rude was rarely in as high-profile a spot as Flair, so I think he could get away with it, where Flair getting slammed off the top became an actual running gag spot by the time he was doing his WWE run in 2004. I think it got to a point by the late 80s when even casual viewers could call Flair matches, at least when he was a heel. Make of that what you will.

I think there are counterpoints to those things, but arguing that Great Matches aren't the end-all, be-all, but you don't take note of things in matches you don't like to make your point is a self-contradicting viewpoint. Either the match quality matters or it doesn't, and that's a choice I suppose everyone can make for themselves, but I don't think it's right to say they matter unless you don't want them to matter anymore. If you dismiss the idea of using Great Matches to rate certain wrestlers, but advocate for other wrestlers on their matches, you just leave me confused.

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2 minutes ago, Loss said:

For those who want to criticize Flair, I think the better tack is that when he figured out what worked, he became complacent -- not in the sense that he didn't work hard or continue to perform at a high level, but he didn't challenge himself to break out of his routine. His matches varied because he didn't pull literally everything out of his toolbox in every single big match, but it was rare that Flair did something in a match that surprised me as a viewer. I don't see that as a huge negative personally, but I think it's a more worthwhile criticism than arguing that his collar-and-elbow tie-ups and side headlocks didn't play into the finish of his match, as if any wrestler has ever done that.

You could also criticize him for being the first working champion to perform under a national spotlight and not realizing that certain things that worked brilliantly in the territory days -- namely, the concept of signature defense -- were going to have drawbacks when working in front of a national audience. Other wrestlers had signature defense too; Rick Rude had an entire Twitter account dedicated to his atomic drop selling last year. But Rude was rarely in as high-profile a spot as Flair, so I think he could get away with it, where Flair getting slammed off the top became an actual running gag spot by the time he was doing his WWE run in 2004. I think it got to a point by the late 80s when even casual viewers could call Flair matches, at least when he was a heel. Make of that what you will.

I think there are counterpoints to those things, but arguing that Great Matches aren't the end-all, be-all, but you don't take note of things in matches you don't like to make your point is a self-contradicting viewpoint. Either the match quality matters or it doesn't, and that's a choice I suppose everyone can make for themselves, but I don't think it's right to say they matter unless you don't want them to matter anymore. If you dismiss the idea of using Great Matches to rate certain wrestlers, but advocate for other wrestlers on their matches, you just leave me confused.

I agree with this take honestly, even as someone not super high on Flair. My problem as stated is he has habits I don't care for (Primarily having multiple defensive spots), and I appreciate elements of him, but pretending he wasn't great is kind of silly to a certain degree. I just don't think he hit that highest level for me personally as much as he did for everyone else it seems.

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36 minutes ago, Loss said:

For those who want to criticize Flair, I think the better tack is that when he figured out what worked, he became complacent -- not in the sense that he didn't work hard or continue to perform at a high level, but he didn't challenge himself to break out of his routine. His matches varied because he didn't pull literally everything out of his toolbox in every single big match, but it was rare that Flair did something in a match that surprised me as a viewer. I don't see that as a huge negative personally, but I think it's a more worthwhile criticism than arguing that his collar-and-elbow tie-ups and side headlocks didn't play into the finish of his match, as if any wrestler has ever done that.

You could also criticize him for being the first working champion to perform under a national spotlight and not realizing that certain things that worked brilliantly in the territory days -- namely, the concept of signature defense -- were going to have drawbacks when working in front of a national audience. Other wrestlers had signature defense too; Rick Rude had an entire Twitter account dedicated to his atomic drop selling last year. But Rude was rarely in as high-profile a spot as Flair, so I think he could get away with it, where Flair getting slammed off the top became an actual running gag spot by the time he was doing his WWE run in 2004. I think it got to a point by the late 80s when even casual viewers could call Flair matches, at least when he was a heel. Make of that what you will.

I think there are counterpoints to those things, but arguing that Great Matches aren't the end-all, be-all, but you don't take note of things in matches you don't like to make your point is a self-contradicting viewpoint. Either the match quality matters or it doesn't, and that's a choice I suppose everyone can make for themselves, but I don't think it's right to say they matter unless you don't want them to matter anymore. If you dismiss the idea of using Great Matches to rate certain wrestlers, but advocate for other wrestlers on their matches, you just leave me confused.

The slam off the top was a running gag by 1994/1995 at the latest. I would argue earlier which is why it was always a big pop when he'd hit a move off the top as a face even in 1989 and 1993.

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To be practical and productive: very few people think he is not great. Some just don’t think that he is the greatest. Or more specifically, that his particular definition of greatness is the most accurate one. I don’t foresee a world where he is not in my top 20. Last time he was in my top 10. We’re fifteen years into this. With many of these candidates it’s whether they’re 1, 4, 6, or 12 on your list.

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Because Flair has so many top tier high profile matches, I wonder to what extent people overlook his week in - week out stuff, standard TV matches, jobber matches and so on? It would be an interesting exercise for someone to look at more mundane Flair: Will’s old horsemen set had many of these matches.

 

There are a few matches (DiBiase 85, Morton spring to mind) where Ric works from on top rather than underneath. I have an old post somewhere called “The Four Faces of Flair” — a small but significant part of his case in my view is how he adapts to those situations where he has advantage. His case does not just rest on quantity but on the qualitative nuances as he adapts to different situations: the way he works on top as a heel differs from as babyface; his *character* transitions especially as a heel within matches are very interesting (chicken taking a beating vs evil desperate bastard on top in one version; but there are other versions). The qualitative part of the Flair case is that he is multilayered in a way I don’t believe, say, Hansen is because Hansen is always just Hansen. Hansen is awesome but he’s also one note: Flair I believe has many different notes in his character work: one of the reasons the Steamboat matches are so highly rated is because we get almost every type of Ric over the course of those matches. I believe that only Terry Funk compares on this sort of metric of having “many different sides”. It would be interesting to tease out the many faces of Funk too.

 

Alright I’ve said enough about this man to last a lifetime. 

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I also said I wasn't going to jump into any more of these Flair discussions (I'm not the biggest Flair Fan, nor am I a particularly low voter on him, so I don't really have a strong stance one way or the other), but those week-to-week matches are really my favourite ways to watch Flair at this point. Part of that is because I've seen all the major "building a case" type stuff, several times in plenty instances, but all of that aside he's still one of the easiest wrestlers to watch in a weekly TV setting.

I doubt I'll lean into the out of the ring stuff when ranking folk, but if I was ranking wrestlers I'd want to watch on TV every week then Flair would be at or around the top. 

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On 4/17/2021 at 8:24 AM, JerryvonKramer said:

The qualitative part of the Flair case is that he is multilayered in a way I don’t believe, say, Hansen is because Hansen is always just Hansen. Hansen is awesome but he’s also one note: Flair I believe has many different notes in his character work

While I understand and largely agree with this point, wouldn't it be fairer to say that this is truer until 1985 or so? I have watched whatever there is of 1970s heel Flair, and he seemed like the protoype of the Naitchurr Boy we all know and love. Then the subsequent face run and the JCP face Flair is a soft-spoken but intense, focused territory ace. Flash forward to NWA World Champ Flair, and as @Loss has said before, one of the biggest appeals of 1981-85 World Champ Flair was that he seemed to be above the usual face-heel divide. Depending on the storyline, he could be cocky, he could beg off, he could be an intense asskicker, a dignified world champ, etc.

He finally turns full-fledged heel in late 1985 and becomes the ultimate evolution and iteration of the Nature Boy. He remains that way, in my opinion, really, for the rest of his career. After that, even when he was face, like against Funk, and in his 90s runs, he was still basically the Nature Boy. He was still hyper, he was still screaming like a maniac all the time, he was still punching his own forehead until he started bleeding, etc, he would just do it to other heels instead. I think that monotony is also reflected in how he worked after 1986, even though his work as a face had some obvious differences. It's an extension of the point Loss made about how Flair did not realise that the heel NWA world champion trope was outdated by 1986. 

Flair is amazing as a heel, of course, and after turning heel in 1985, drew a boatload of money against Dusty, Morton, Luger, etc, but it must be said that when the turn happened, he lost a part of what made him truly special. That character complexity, the presence of different personalities in the same gimmick, the ability to work against both faces and heels, etc. He remained excellent, of course, but in many ways became just another top guy, while it was Dusty who was booked to be the centerpiece of the promotion. 

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Some interesting points raised. I do agree that it’s an evolution of the character. I would not agree that Flair settles into just being heel Flair after 1985/6 but he does transition into ultimate form. Before then, the “four faces” (as I call them) are each distinct characters whereas after that they are just different aspects of the same composite character that can be dialled up and down. You can see this most in 1989 and especially the Steamboat matches where we see shades of all the prior Rics all rolled into one over the course of the feud. 
 

1991-3 WWF Flair is obviously more heelish, 1993 WCW Flair is more of a throwback to early 80s especially the Vader retirement angle. Then by the time we get to the 1995 Savage feud it’s heel Flair dialled up to 11 (in fact, I’m not sure he was ever more evil or out and out than in that run), then by the time of the NWO era we see the germs of crazy old man Ric which I never really got into before because I see it as a distinct post-peak character.

 

As for him not realising the NWA champ style was no longer necessary by 86: seems to me Flair always worked appropriate to the booking, by which I mean if he was booked to go 45 minutes or an hour he could go, but if it was a ten-minute sprint brawl (e.g. Garvin) then this is what he’d work. For all the talk of Flair Formula, I also think he had about five or six different formulas for longer matches that he could work depending on the opponent. There’s an obvious one for bigger opponents (Sting, Luger, Road Warriors), a more old-school NWA style (see Jumbo matches), competitive technical opponent (Steamboat) ... you can can likely spot others yourself.

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I've been trying to watch as much Flair vs. Valentine as I can find as I freakin' love The Hammer. I generally prefer Flair as a heel, but I liked the segment he did where he ripped off Valentine's suit, and I thought he cut a good promo after Valentine broke his nose. They match-up nicely as well. Their work together reminds me of Flair vs. Garvin, although we have a better picture of the latter due to the amount of footage that's available. 

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I voted him 9th in 2016 and I feel great about that. I agree with everything everyone said in this thread and have nothing further to add about Ric Flair. 

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I know no one really wants to talk about him, but I had been thinking about Flair for a few days and wanted to jot down some thoughts. Principally, I don't know how many people here share my evolution as a fan of liking him a lot more in 2021 than I did in 2016, but I am guessing not too many. I have been pondering over why that is, and I think it might be precisely due to his working style being the subject of criticism here.

Flair is all about instinct, about thinking on his feet to pop the crowd, about not thinking, just understanding. It is a style that has become completely obsolete these days. People talk about Flair not thinking too much, and not trying to be logical about his matches. What we see in modern wrestling today is a lot of wrestlers who think a lot about their matches, going all out on using wrestling matches a medium of expression. Sometimes too much. It becomes very over-wrought and inorganic. An example would be the Young Bucks-FTR match from AEW Revolution last year. It received tremendous praise, I think Meltzer gave it 5+ stars. It was so incredibly thought out. Every move was supposed to have some consequence or a deep symbolic meaning.

Except...none of it really made for great watching for me. I sat there as the two teams "paid tribute" to classic tag matches and tag teams like The Rockers, Hart Foundation, Midnights, etc, listened to Meltzer and Alvarez lose their shit at all the references and the "clever symbolism" of the finish, and it never felt appealing to me. Sometimes, putting too much thought into a medium as spontaneous as wrestling is counter-productive. Sometimes the right thing to do is go with your instinct, even if it does not make much sense. Flair understood that. 

That is not to say that you cannot do a thinking match that is not organic or exciting, or that pure instinct will always lead to illogical wrestling. But with wrestling becoming more and more epic and "lore-based", for lack of a better term, it is refreshing to go back to the 1980s and seeing that the only motivation or "reference" for what Flair is doing in the ring is just to insult the fat guy sitting in the third row and get him booing. 

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Probably in 2016 on a different board I listed 100 guys I thought were better than Flair, but now I'm finding it pretty hard to argue against him being a lock in the top 10. It's in large part due to seeing a lot more pre-Horsemen period footage, as by that time he had pretty much solidified himself in his routine and at times a cartoonish version of himself. 

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I've explored the early 80s a lot in recent months and totally agree that Flair was a different wrestler after 1985. It's not just the in-ring either -- the persona changed in a lot of ways. I'd argue the big phases of his career as:

- The days before he was champion and Mid-Atlantic (primarily) star (1973-1981)
- The world and country-traveling champion (late 1981-1985)
- The company heel champion (1986-1990)
- The guy who could still be great on the right night but wasn't quite RIC FLAIR anymore (1991-1994)
- The guy struggling to adjust to a new landscape and having mixed results (1995-1999)

I have nothing to add about him after that.

If those are the five phases, Phase 1 is the one we understand the least and have to rely on memories and myth. Phase 2 is the most fun and varied, while Phase 3 is some really high-end resume padding. Phase 4 is a compliment to his longevity, and Phase 5 has its share of ups and downs. Phase 2 has less great matches than Phase 3, but if you want to understand in 2021 why people loved Ric Flair, Phase 2 will enlighten more than Phase 3.

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Loss, in terms of larger trends in the 2nd phase of his career, are there any angles or matches which you think he wouldn't have been able to do in the 3rd phase, on account of being a full-blown heel? I have thought for a bit that I am not sure that the legendary Flair-Lawler angle wouldn't have happened if Flair was what he became in 1987-89. The premise of that angle was a cocky but calm and dignified world champ, arrogantly thinking the city of Memphis was beneath him, being really patronising to its top guy, and slowly losing his shit as the local hick shows him up. It was a legendary angle and was even copied by AEW when Jericho was world champ, although Scorpio Sky is no Jerry Lawler. I am not sure if this angle would have been possible in 1987, cuz Flair would have been hyper and screaming since possibly the first second of the interview. There would be no escalating sense of the world champ losing his shit, cuz the world champ basically was always losing his shit on interviews.

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I think in the late 80s, Flair wouldn't have done the thing where he was pretending to like the people in Memphis and throwing them insincere compliments. He would have just gone straight for the jugular more directly and overtly. He would have screamed more right away too. Absolutely.

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