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The Flair Formula


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Ok, reading Naylor's post at DVDVR made me go WHOA. I have seen tons of Flair in this 80s project, and I still don't have a grasp of the Flair Formula that everyone claims is Flair-by-the-numbers. Maybe I am missing something but I don't think Flair has this generic match in his head. Sometimes he has good matches and sometimes bad but not because of any specific pattern. After watching matches for the 80s project, there are so many good Flair matches to grab onto. If you are going to reference matches, be specific. I am trying to get a grasp of this formula that I have not actually seen in watching the matches.

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"Naylor's post" is kinda vague... I'll take a shot anyway.

 

Flair was far, far more predictable/formulaic by a few years into the '90s than he ever was in the '80s. Compared to, say, Hogan. In the '80s there were certain commonalities in Flair matches, for instance "legwork ---> face turns over figure-four ---> comeback ---> finish". But again that was more a '90s thing than '80s.

 

If there was a formula in the '80s, it was that Flair wrestled the same 'role' in the same way most of the time. He was babyface now and then, but mostly he let himself look overmatched. He had the skill needed to overwhelm backwater faces in small studios/arenas if he wanted to be more domineering/overconfident champ caught by surprise as a match wore on... but I haven't seen that. Or something along the lines of ambushing the babyface, putting him in a deep hole early and making the face struggle to survive. The matches themselves, whether he's up against a top-notch opponent like Jumbo or Windham, or needing to guide someone like Sting, have much the same feel in terms of Flair going hold for hold early and begging off late. The Steamboat series was different, but then Flair was less of a heel in '89 leading up to his full face turn.

 

Flair treated the top babyface of the area like the top babyface in the world. That was his job, he did it well, and he didn't experiment much.

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I don't know whether what I'll say will be abundantly obvious to you and thus a waste of time, but I'll try to add something anyway.

 

My thinking is that those of you who have watched a tonne of NWA Flair will have very different perceptions to people like me whose only exposure to Flair is from the WWF.

 

Years before we ever had access to the internet and opinion-leaders my early 90s peer group at school all seemed to share the same perception that Flair was boring and his matches were all the same. We all knew to expect what we'd come in later years to know as his "high spots". Every match contained a Flair Flop, a flip over the turnbuckles (which always looked too contrived because he never had the pace of a Shawn to make it more believable that force had taken him over), getting elbowed running across the apron after the flip, and so on. (I genuinely don't know whether he had the "miss the top-rope move" in his repertoire back then, which was later pulled out in every match.)

 

Sure, other people had their things that they did in every match but these were either offense (such as Hart's flourish at the end of every match), in which case no problem, since it wasn't being done to them, or not quite so contrived. (For example, Hart was the only one I recall ever taking that sternum-first bump from an Irish Whip, but it had a certain believability to it because of how he carried it out. Flair's stuff didn't.)

 

I assume that's what other people mean by "Flair by numbers", because that's how it always struck me and my entourage. Every Flair match would have these hokey things in them, and nothing else to write home about.

 

I realise that most of you will see things differently, but I and a lot of people who would refer to "Flair by numbers" don't have the background or such a degree of interest that you chaps do. That's how it came across to us, and i'd wager that it comes across that way to an awful lot of people who don't follow wrestling to the degree of watching old, non-WWF footage.

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There is definitely a Flair formula, and to me, it's what makes him great. Your opponent gets the best of you early on (pretty much everyone), most of the time with a side headlock (Taylor, Reed, Sting, Steamboat). A change in momentum causes his opponent to miss a move or make a key mistake (Koloff, Sting, Luger, Steamboat), often times affecting the leg or knee, which creates an opening for Flair to begin working on the guy's leg to set up the figure four.

 

While in the figure four, he will typically hold the ropes when the referee isn't looking and get a few nearfalls off of it until the babyface finds the resolve to turn the move over, which the announcer will inevitably point out is the only known counter (Windham, Steamboat, Sting, Luger). In the middle of their comeback, the babyface will catch a thumb to the eye from Flair. Flair will then climb to the top rope, only to get slammed to the mat (Nikita, Luger, Sting, Kerry).

 

At some point, some chops may be thrown in. His opponents will either shrug them off (Road Warriors, Sting, Luger, Nikita), chop back (Steamboat, Garvin), or sell them and punch him in retaliation (pretty much everyone else). The next few minutes will see the babyface hit a series of offensive moves and get a *really* close nearfall, which will totally reel in the crowd. There may be a 10-count of babyface punches while standing on the middle rope in the corner (Sting, Luger, Kerry), after which Flair will walk to the center of the ring in a daze and fall on his face. Within a few minutes of this happening, Flair will find a way to win the match either with his feet on the ropes (Luger), his opponent's feet on the ropes (Kerry), or a handful of tights. The match will then be over.

 

There are slight variations on that, but that's basically the Flair formula.

 

It's great!

 

I understand pointing out that Flair is formulaic and repetitive, because he is. What I don't understand is the presumption that

 

(a) that's a bad thing

(B) that's somehow different from almost every other great heel who has had a similar role

© the matches are *SO* clung to that formula that if you've seen one Flair match, you've seen them all

 

I think a common problem with Flair matches is that they judge him based on those same few matches over and over. You know the ones, Harley Race at Starrcade '83, the Dusty Rhodes feud, and the Steamboat series. WWE is completely unaware he had any other matches or opponents at any point in the 80s. It's no wonder people are sick of them. They will occasionally throw us a bone and provide a rare match (Barry Windham on Worldwide) or a match that has never before been released (Ricky Morton) and sadly, no one talks about it. All anyone wants to talk about is fucking Wrestle War '89 and Clash VI. Enough. Please. I'm a huge Flair fan, and I'm sick of those matches. Move on.

 

But let's talk about each of those points:

 

(a) That's a bad thing

 

Why? Why is it bad to have signature spots or have similar archs in the way two matches are laid out? Flair wrestled a ridiculous schedule in the 80s, and to expect him to sit down and watch a bunch of Terry Gordy matches while he's in Puerto Rico because he's wrestling him the next night in Dallas at the Sportatorium is patently insane.

 

Seriously, look at this schedule, and tell me when Flair is supposed to study a bunch of tapes of his opponents:

 

http://www.wrestling-titles.com/nwa/world/...atches1985.html

 

Specifically focus on April and May. Also, keep in mind that schedule is probably missing some dates, and also doesn't account for flying to all the TV studios where he probably didn't even have a match, but had to catch a redeye to do a two minute promo to hype a show taking place in two weeks.

 

Yes, every NWA champ is bound to this schedule, so I think if someone is going to somehow state that this is bad thing, the onus is on that person to look at another NWA champ with a similar schedule, take a week or two week block of time where they were wrestling in a different place pretty much every night, and point out how different (and good) all of those matches are.

 

Flair's point of view, for the record, was always that because he saw Ray Stevens once live and was disappointed that he worked a "different" type of match and he didn't get to see any of the signature spots, he vowed he would always do the Flair show so fans weren't disappointed that they didn't get to see him do his trademark spots, some of which happened to be bumps.

 

(B) That's somehow different from almost every other great heel who had a similar role

 

We've discussed this. Every wrestler in the history of wrestling is repetitive. That doesn't mean there can't be variety, which leads to:

 

©the matches are *SO* clung to that formula that if you've seen one Flair match, you've seen them all

 

Sometimes the opening matwork was a side headlock, in the cases described above, and sometimes it would be a hammerlock or an armbar. Sometimes Flair would mix in some arm work (Wahoo, Luger at Wrestle War '90). Sometimes, he would throw in the "Let's both tumble over the top rope" spot, and sometimes he wouldn't. Sometimes he would be carefree and animated at the beginning of a match (Luger at Starrcade '88 and Clash XII) and sometimes he would be more serious (Funk at Bash '89).

 

If you look at the Garvin matches, you'll find that there are definitely differences between a Flair/Garvin match and a Flair/Sting match. They're barely alike at all. If you watch the Flair/Jake match from the Mid South set, you'll see a match pretty unlike any other Flair match you're likely to ever watch. You might also watch Flair get suplexed to eternity by Scott McGhee in Florida and have trouble finding a similar match.

 

It's worth taking the context of these matches into consideration as well. The goal was often the big picture, and Flair's job was typically to make the babyface look like he's good enough to be the world champion. Because Flair was so good at this is the reason he's talked about as the best wrestler ever -- you're not likely to find too many wrestlers in history who are on his level at getting over the big picture. You will find better mat workers, better fliers, wrestlers with more offense, wrestlers whose matches are generally much more internally logical, wrestlers who are maybe better and less annoying sellers, but who else is able to pull what they have together so well, in a way where they were able to produce consistently, in long matches against a wide variety of opponents?

 

If you're going to argue that as he entered the 90s, he failed to make changes in his style that might have kept him fresh, I'm inclined to agree with that. When I make the case for Flair, I make the case for the 80s Ric Flair, and I think when people make an argument against Flair by focusing on his 90s or 00s stuff, they're either missing the point and need to watch more Flair, which is probably the majority, or they're purposely using bad examples to make their point, which is probably a minority.

 

I think one of the problems, however, with overly focusing on how dated Flair's stuff was by the 90s, is that he was still better than the majority of those around him, and there was really no one pushing him to improve at that point. I remember very well the first time I saw Flair and thought he looked old, and it was when he was trying to keep up with Steve Austin and Brian Pillman at the June '93 Clash.

 

Going back to the 80s, I also agree that how Flair was booked made him stale by the time the decade was winding down. He needed fresh opponents in the worst way, and you do see new life breathed into him in 1989. It was the first time in ages (maybe it never even happened at all in the Crockett years) where the promotion not only decided they were going to treat Flair as their centerpiece, but also that they were going to seek out new opponents to come in and face him. They did that with Steamboat, then they did it with Terry Funk, and it revitalized him. Perhaps had he been booked to have new rivalries consistently during the Crockett era, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

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"I don't care at all for Jumbo Tsuruta either. Seriously. I watch all his stuff and just tune out." - Naylor two years ago. Not saying it disqualifies his opinion, just putting his comment in context. I can see why Naylor would think of Flair's matches as being the same based on what he tends to like and dislike. Flair isn't much for highspots and his moveset has been nigh unchanged for 30 years. He's doing the same things every match, sometimes with subtle variation and sometimes without. I doubt Rob would disagree with much of Loss' post above (which is, needless to say, great); none of that would change his personal enjoyment of watching a ton of Flair.

 

I don't know how much Flair there has been so far in the '80s project, but I can imagine that it would be VERY repetitive to watch every filmed Flair match from the '80s within a brief timespan. Even someone like Bryan Danielson who draws from the entirety of wrestling history for his spots AND knows he's playing to hardcore fans has a hard time staying fresh just wrestling a handful of shows a month. Flair is drawing from '70s US wrestling and he expected that any given fan will only see him a couple times a year, so mixing it up a lot goes from being necessary in Danielson's case to a potential liability in Flair's. If you only got to see one or two Flair matches a year, you'd be disappointed if he did next to none of his trademarks.

 

I do fault Flair for not adapting as well as some other legends have, but the fact is that he was able to make a ton of wrestlers look great and the matches weren't as predictable as they would have been if a lesser wrestler had been in Flair's place.

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Loss pretty much hit it on the head with everything he wrote. A couple of addendums here, Flair always loved having the babyface use the sleeper hold and the backslide put on him especially after Kerry used it on him to win the title. There is nothing wrong with a formula if it is successful because The Sheik had his formula of matches too that wasn't good per se but it did business until he went too long on top.

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Really nothing more that can be said as Loss really nailed it with his post. All I can offer up is that you can even look at the most recent Definitive Ric Flair Collection put out by WWE. The Brisco, Kerry and Race (the one with the Orton turn) matches are all very different from each other. I think, like Ronnie mentioned, is that it's the opinion of people who have only seen him from the mid 90's on.

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One thing to keep in mind is that those that many that roll out the "Flair Formula" argument are talking only about seeing the same two or three spots in a given Ric Flair match and not his body of work in any particular match as a whole.

 

I imagine that point has already been mentioned, but I need to bookmark this thread and getting a comment in about it is the easiest way to do that. ;)

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One thing to keep in mind is that those that many that roll out the "Flair Formula" argument are talking only about seeing the same two or three spots in a given Ric Flair match and not his body of work in any particular match as a whole.

 

I imagine that point has already been mentioned, but I need to bookmark this thread and getting a comment in about it is the easiest way to do that. ;)

Yeah people always seem to talk about him doing the "same spots" in all of his matches and that somehow equates to all of his matches being exactly the same. As if no other wrestler has signature spots that are repeated.

 

And for as much love as the Steamboat matches get and deserve, I really love the Windham WWW draw and the Koko B Ware match from Memphis. Not to mention the two great matches with Funk in '89.

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I'll just add my compliments to Loss for an excellent summary about Flair.

 

I do feel some of Flair's work in the early 90's is pretty solid, although it doesn't quite compare to his 80's work. But he did have his share of good matches in his first WWF run. He was starting to lose steam when he returned to WCW, but with no attempts to find new opponents to work long-term programs with, aside from the "usual suspects," it was tough for Flair to feel challenged or motivated.

 

He seems to pretty much say so himself given the rut he was in when he returned to WCW.

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I generally agree with Loss' pro-Flair argument. But some of the patented Flair spots annoy me, so I can see the other side. I was watching the Flair-Michaels match from '91 last night and he just crammed in the slam off the top rope and the "take a header" sell without any rhyme or reason. It was like he just had to do those spots, though the match would have been fine, better really, without them. It's a minor criticism relative to his immense body of excellent matches. Flair was good at varying the tone of his matches without necessarily doing different moves or spots. I think that's why, as a kid, I found his title matches compelling long past the time when I had tired of Hogan.

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A change in momentum causes his opponent to miss a move or make a key mistake (Koloff, Sting, Luger, Steamboat), often times affecting the leg or knee, which creates an opening for Flair to begin working on the guy's leg to set up the figure four.

Maybe I need to see more Flair, but one of the things that bugs me about his matches sometimes is how little work he does setting up the figure four. Often he slaps it on as soon as the guy fluffs a move affecting his leg/knee, if you're lucky he may hit the kneebreaker too. Meanwhile, he often slaps on an arm bar for several minutes just to give him a chance to jaw with the ringside fans.

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In some ways it does make sense, though. One of the biggest problems with a Work The Leg story in a match is that, for it to succeed, the guy has to really sell hard on how much his leg hurts. This naturally means that he spends quite a lot of time down on the mat, and minimal time standing up or moving around. It's just plain difficult to have an entertaining wrestling match involving one party who is immobile for the entire time. If Flair went right after Sting's leg from the very beginning, Sting would either have to no-sell and blow off all that work to hit his signature spots, or just crumple up and lay on the mat while Flair wrestles around him the whole time. Hence, the wasting time with non-leg stuff for the first half of the match, cuz the wrestlers want to keep the action moving up til the point where the leg drama makes its appearance.

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Kneecrusher to counter side headlock

Stomping on the knee

Placing leg on the bottom rope and dropping all weight on the knee

Clipping the knee

 

What else do you need?

 

I think the whole idea that all submission holds need to be "set up" needs to be challenged.

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I usually find Ric Flair matches that people pimp as "not being Flair type matches" as being in the end Flair Matches. Things like Flair-Martel or Flair-Taylor. Flair-Roberts seems to be another one, which I'll have to see if I have Hoback's Mid South set around here. My guess is that the non-Flair nature of it is over played.

 

It would be like me arguing Backlund-Takada isn't a Backlund match, or isn't a Takada match. I'd be full of shit. It's pretty similar to the way Takada worked with "pro-style" wrestlers to find ways to put on an entertaining match for the fans. Some of their pro-style stuff could be worked in positively (pro guy can use), and some of it negatively (Takada theatrically not going for it, at times leading to a payback spot where it does work). And to a degree there's a lot of Bob Being Bob in the match.

 

I think when people get defensive about Flair Formula it's a bit like Bret Fan getting defensive about Five Moves Of Doom and Bret Having Formulas. But if you happen upon a Bret Match where he's eating up time working the leg (say the 1996 Rumble against Taker), you're going to find it extremely similar to other Bret Matches where Bret works over the leg.

 

It's not that Flair gets tossed off the top in every match. Okay, bad example.

 

It's not that Flair shoves the ref, and the ref shoves Ric back, and Ric bumps on his ass for the scrawny ref in *every* match. It's just that if you've seen it once, you've seen it literally 100 times.

 

He might not do it in a match. Instead he's be calling someone in the 2nd row "fatboy".

 

The Flair Formula is that (a) he bitches & stooges through the match for the faces, and (B) Keeps Things Moving Along to fill the space. His matches had Lots Of Stuff to keeping it moving along with a strong forward momentum. The Stuff that's Flair's rather than his opponent's stuff is all stuff that you've seen a lot of to the point that it's as redundant as Hogan's superman comeback and legdrop. It "works" like Hogan's - it keeps fans engaged in the match and gives them things to pop for. Hogan does it as a top, while Flair does it as a bottom. Someone like Misawa reached a point where he did it as a top and a bottom in the same formula - letting his challenges do literally anything they wanted to in an effort to destroye him, only for Misawa to be "stronger" and comeback to kill them dead.

 

Wrestling is largely forumla. Don't defense Flair by saying he's isn't formula. Of course he is. Defend him by saying his formula works.

 

In the other direction, it's perfectly valid to say he's boring as all shit and you don't want to see anymore matches of his. I'm bored seeing Springsteen play Born To Run, and I'm a Springsteen Fan. I haven't gone to his last three tours with the E Street Band because the Reunion Tour was enough for me, and pretty much hit the spots I wanted to see in them getting back together. I hated The Rising, I think Magic was mediocre, and the current album doesn't do anything for me. I'm more likely to pop in a boot from his Tom Joad tour than my Live In Barcelona dvd. On the other hand, I dug his acoustic performance in the voter drive in Philly this past year. I wish that Darkness had gotten the same Anniversary job that Born To Run did because I would have liked to see a live CD & DVD from the Darkness tour made available professionally rather than the various boots (some of which are exceptional).

 

I'm bored of Bruce... there's some stuff I'd check out.

 

That's the way I am with Flair. I'm not going to cry if I never see another Flair-Morton match, but I'd like to rewatch those pimped matches with Pillman and Eaton, perhaps less for Flair and more for those two opponents. I've seen enough of Flair bitching out to Dusty to last me for a lifetime, but I wouldn't mind seeing what people think is the Best Flair-Maggie Match Available... again less for Ric than to check out Maggie. I don't need to see the Flair-Jumbo matches because I've always been bored by them. But Flair-Tenryu in the 90s is moridly interesting.

 

That's all pefectly valid for a performer who has been as over "available" as Ric over the years.

 

John

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Just to clarify I don't think all submission holds need to be set up, just pointing out that I think Loss overplays how integral Flair setting up the figure four is to his formula, based on the matches I've seen from the DVDVR '80s sets. Part of the problem with the Flair formula for me is that though the figure four can be a game ender, it rarely is for Flair, particularly the first time he applies the hold. It hurts the drama of the match for me personally, though admittedly it's very affective at putting the babyface over and getting the fans to believe it might be his night. I don't disagree with what Jingus said, just that often I don't find how Flair fills up time while on offense to be particularly interesting, making some of his matches feel a bit bloated and overcooked.

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I think if one compares how Ric sets up the figure four and works towards it compared to how Valentine did it even in the WWF during Expansion (Greg's third trip through the promotion when they really went for Cartoon rather than Wrestling), Ric's works towards it is pretty shitty in comp.

 

I think one can also easily get bored of Ric's typical figure four spots as well. The use of the ropes waiting for the ref to catch him. The face reversing it. The face putting Ric's figure four on Ric. Are they effective? Yeah, they do get heat. So does Hogan's entrance and his post match pose down. :/ From a storyline standpoint, they basically show Ric to be a stooging bitch. Ric's the Master Of The Figure Four, yet 4-out-of-5 babyface opponents apply figure fours on Ric that do more damage to Ric than Ric's do to the face. Ric's such a master that he needs leverage. Ric's such a master that he gets reversed like clockwork.

 

Are they effective spots?

 

Sure, the crowd eats them up.

 

Boring if you've seen than a dozen times?

 

Yep.

 

If you've seen them a hundred times?

 

Mind numbing.

 

Of course all wrestling has forumlas like this that we see over and over and over again. Kawada's Chop Down & Drag Up spot was kind of nifty the first few times you saw it. After a while, you wish it were rolled out about twice a year.

 

John

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I acknowledge some of the good points being made, and agree that Flair was far from perfect. You're likely to find someone better than him at lots of things. But seeing too many Flair matches and being tired of him due to overexposure is not a reflection on Flair as a performer. It's a reflection of him having an incredibly long career working at or near the top for almost all of it, and probably having more televised matches than any wrestler in history, by a substantial margin. I'm not picking a side on this, but it would be interesting to see if anyone else would hold up to the level of scrutiny Flair often gets if they had so much volume.

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Just wanted to add that by "not picking a side on this", I meant not having an opinion on whether others who had so much footage available would hold up to that level of scrutiny. I clearly picked a side on the Flair formula talk.

 

:)

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