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Ric Flair, Butch Reed and Dick Murdoch

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This thread is about two Mid South house show matches I've watched recently.

 

08/09/85 - Ric Flair v Butch Reed (60 minute draw; NWA World Title)

09/22/85 - Dick Murdoch v Butch Reed (47 minutes with 10-minute post-match brawl; Mid South North American Title)

 

In the 100 matches thread, I commented a little while back on Reed's 60-minute draw with Ric Flair on 08/09/85. I felt at that time that it had to be Reed's career best match, as it was a tremendous performance on his part. The pacing of the match was terrific, the heat was awesome because the wrestlers controlled the fans like pawns, and the match constantly progressed logically from one phase to the next. I was seeing Reed in a new light. I had always known him to be talented, but not necessarily "great". He showed that he could be here, but there were a few rough spots in that match where Reed did some things I wished he wouldn't have, specifically gouging Flair's face. That would have been fine normally, but this was the 80s and Mid South, and that's a heel tactic that I don't think babyfaces should employ.

 

Still, I wasn't sure why he did it. Given Flair's tenure and spot at the time, I assumed that he was the one calling the match and it was possible that he drew some blanks and Reed wasn't sure what to do, so he just started doing something. But I saw him do it again on more than one occasion against Murdoch as well, so I have now chalked it up to being Reed's only really glaring flaw. It's not a big issue and it only happens occasionally.

 

If that was the worst thing any wrestler ever did, we'd see great matches all the time. And honestly, that is the worst thing Reed does, and everything else he does is great! He throws some of the best punches I've seen from any wrestler. He has an awesome bulldog and lariat. He has great stamina and seems to understand his role. If Reed were in WWE today, in his prime with his skill level, he'd be one of the most over guys on the roster. Heavyweights who can work like that are a big rarity in today's scene. If anyone ever asks you what the definitive singles Butch Reed match is, we now have two answers.

 

Now, I want to talk about Murdoch. I'll compare him to Flair briefly, but I want to talk about him independently first. Murdoch is one of the best I've seen at getting the most out of the least. 25 minutes of headlocks, hammerlocks and armbars, with little else really going on. Not once did I get bored. Not once did I hear a boring chant in the crowd. Not once did it cease to become interesting, if only because Murdoch knows so many ways to work even the most rudimentary of holds. When Reed had him in the side headlock, he'd try to back him into the ropes to use the momentum to propel him off, but Reed always saw it coming and simply planted his feet or turned his body to prevent it. When Murdoch has Reed in a hammerlock, Reed punches his way out of it and Murdoch can barely stand but is holding on to his opponent's arm for dear life. When Reed gets an atomic drop in, Dick does the best sell I've ever seen for that move, even more exaggerated than Rick Rude's typical selling of that move. He's exceptional at the fundamentals.

 

The punches are a big part of the story in that match. Reed's punches are just too much for Murdoch to handle at times and always catch him off guard, always weaken him and he does what he can to avoid them. He does so much to put them over convincingly. At one point in the match, both guys are in the middle of a slugfest and they keep falling into each other and the only thing holding either guy up is the other guy's body. I've never seen that in wrestling before and loved it and wish someone would ape it and use it all the time.

 

Another thing I really liked about the match was the way that some matches that would be comedy spots in other promotions were serious spots here. Murdoch doing a Rick Rude-type sell of the atomic drop where he sticks his ass out and walks like a duck gets over as a real transition to Reed's comeback. Reed ramming Murdoch into the top, middle and bottom turnbuckle in quick secession was treated as a serious, dramatic spot and it worked, which shows -- yet again -- that good wrestling is more about presentation than content.

 

Comparing Murdoch and Flair is difficult, because there are aspects where each guy trumps the other. Flair is much more fluid and relaxed in the ring, but Murdoch is much more believable. Murdoch works the match with the goal of outsmarting and defeating Butch Reed, while Flair works his match with the goal of surviving Butch Reed. Which is more effective? It's a close call, but I'm going to have to say Murdoch's method was more effective. Both matches did a lot to make Reed look like a million bucks, but in the case of the Murdoch match, he was able to do it without looking like a buffoon himself. Flair didn't quite look like a buffoon either, but there were situations he kept finding himself in that the NWA champ should have been above, and in his desire to put Reed over strong, which is admirable, he made himself look second rate, which only hurts him, the belt and his future value to the territory.

 

Where Flair is better than Murdoch is in the variety of "stuff" he has at his disposal. Flair's match was constantly moving somewhere new and different, where Murdoch works more of a "peaks and valleys" style where he forces you to pay attention because you never know when something crucial might happen. Flair's working style, at least in the Reed match, is more about entertaining the crowd, while Murdoch's style is more about convincing the crowd. It's psychology equivalent to Jake Roberts speaking so quietly in his promos so people lean in to hear what he's saying and turn up the volume on their TVs. Flair's style, like his promos, is more loud and boisterous, and you know exactly what you're getting. Both approaches have their advantages, but what puts one over the top for me at this point is that Murdoch was able to wrestle the entire match as a strong heel ... without having to break a single rule at any point in the match to make the point. Now early on, I was thinking that the match was going to be a babyface match because of that fact, but as it went on, it became obvious to me what Murdoch was doing and I loved it! It's almost like he was ribbed into seeing if he could pull off a great heel performance without any rulebreaking, and he did it!

 

As far as the role playing in both matches goes, Flair/Reed is more about the traveling champ facing the local babyface, which is fine, because it's what the world champ does. Where the Murdoch/Reed match succeeds is in taking that same mindset and expanding on it, also making it a vet/youngster match. Throughout the entire match, Reed's openings come through will and Murdoch's openings come through a mistake Reed makes. At one point, Murdoch is trying to get back in the ring and Reed is repeatedly blocking him, so finally, Murdoch decides to teach him a lesson by pulling him outside and slugging him before bodyslamming him on the floor. Later in the match, Reed tries to block Murdoch from entering the ring again, only to rethink that and not do it. Murdoch keeps shifting strategy, and every time it catches Reed off guard. He starts off punishing the arm in a hammerlock, but then -- while keeping that hold locked in -- he alternates between applying a bearhug and getting in some strikes on Reed's ribs. When Reed figures out what he's doing and has available counters, Murdoch starts working over his neck and head with a piledriver and middle-rope kneedrop. The end result is a full upper body assault.

 

So in this case, I do think Murdoch outperformed Flair. But I don't think that should be seen as a slight on Flair at all. Part of that could be based on the context *I* viewed the matches in -- I've seen more 30, 45 and 60 minute Ric Flair matches than I could ever count, while I think this is easily the longest I've seen from Dick Murdoch. I know Flair's schtick inside and out. Murdoch is still getting established with me. After I've watched more from Murdoch, I'm going to return to this thread to see how my opinions might have changed. Like Flair, am I going to see Murdoch do something and think it's awesomely cool the first few times, but become less impressed with it as I realize he does it in so many matches? Or is Murdoch going to show me more variety? Time will tell.

 

At this point, I'm considering Reed/Murdoch from 09/22/85 the very best match I've ever seen in a Mid South ring. Better than anything from DiBiase, Jake or the Fantastics, which says a lot. Both matches are matches I think everyone should see -- to see a great Ric Flair match that doesn't ever get talked about; to see Butch Reed work two great matches with two drastically different opponents and to see Dick Murdoch work his magic.

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