Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection - DVD Review

The DVD collection I’m about to review is actually a collection I’ve been thinking of reviewing for some time now. But given the events of the past couple of days, reviewing it now seems more apt than ever. Which is why now we’re going to take a look at The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection.
Beginning with disc one, the first match of the collection dates back to 1983, and the very first Starrcade show, and sees Flair challenging Harley Race for the NWA World Title in the confines of a steel cage, with wrestling legend Gene Kiniski serving as special referee. It’s the slow methodical approach from both men here, something which we fans of a certain age are quite fond of, as both men put on a good solid wrestling contest. Both men get busted open, having had their heads rammed into the cage by each other, and using the fence to good effect, despite the protestations of Kiniski. It certainly is a dramatic encounter, with great storytelling and a two men wrestling their hearts out for what seems like at eternity, with neither man giving up. Then, just after Kiniski got accidentally knocked down, Flair climbed to the top rope and came off with a cross body block. As he went for the pin, a groggy Kiniski made the three count, giving Flair the win, and his third World title. I really enjoyed this match. Tons of good solid action, even though many of today’s wrestling fans would probably be put off by the lack of any overly flashy moves.
Then it’s forward two years to Starrcade ‘85, with Flair defending the World title against Dusty Rhodes. This match was part of a long running feud between the two, which saw Flair and the Andersons badly injure Rhodes knee and ankle prior to this match. Fought at a slightly faster pace than the previous match, Rhodes repaid Flair for his previous attack by centring his attack on Flair’s leg in what was actually a very intense encounter. However, Flair would return the favour by focusing on Rhodes’s injury. Rhodes went on to dominate for a while, before accidentally kicking the turnbuckle with his injured leg after Flair moved out of the corner. The Nature Boy then went back to his tried and trusted game plan, soon synching in the figure four, which Rhodes was able to reverse before Flair got to the ropes. It wasn’t long though before the referee took a hit and went out of the ring, when Rhodes applied a figure four of his own. But with the referee still down, Arn and Ole Anderson came down to the ring to try and interfere, and it was only after they’d been sent packing and a second referee arrived on the scene did Rhodes get the winning pin, foiling Flair’s body slam attempt and getting the pin with a small package. This was a great match, and watching it you got the feeling that these two really hated each other, and were willing to go all out to put the other man out of commission.
Next, it’s on to an episode of World Wide Wrestling in 1987, with Flair facing Barry Windham, with Flair’s World title on the line. At the time Windham was one half of the U.S. Tag-Team Champions. What we have here is a great technical contest between two men in the prime of their careers with two guys who were simply made for each other. Windham was the perfect foil for Flair, and I really can’t speak too highly of this one, it’s that good. It’s a back and forth encounter which sees both men unleashing all their signature moves, and Windham looking like he could actually win the title. Flair went for the figure four, Windham scored with his flying clothesline off the ropes, and Windham even locked in a figure four of his own. We even got the referee bump, which cost Windham as he was out of position after he scored with a top rope dropkick and went for the pin straight afterwards. But then, as the clock ran down and Windham scored with a lariat, he went for the pin just as the time limit expired, with the match declared a draw. An absolutely tremendous contest here, and one I’ll definitely be watching again.
Disc 2 begins with Flair challenging Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat for the World title in a best of three falls match at Clash of the Champions VI in 1989. Having heard so much about the rivalry between these two over the years, I was eager to see one of their matches. Because of the nature of his contest, it’s the slow and methodical approach from the two technical greats, and it certainly is an intriguing match, lasting nearly and hour. With Flair getting the first fall after reversing an inside cradle, and Steamboat equalising when Flair submitted to a double chicken wing, Steamboat got the win in somewhat controversial circumstances. With less than five minutes remaining and after both men had given their all in what was a tremendous match, Steamboat locked in a second double chicken wing, but fell backwards to the mat, his leg having been severely punished by Flair. As the referee made the three count, everyone thought that Flair had won and had regained the title. But he hadn’t, and Steamboat’s hand was raised instead. Good stuff here, and that’s probably an understatement.
Flair meets Steamboat again in the next match, this time at Wrestle War ‘89, again with Steamboat’s World title on the line, but this time only fought over one fall. There are also three judges for this match, should it reach the sixty minute time limit - Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor and Terry Funk. This was actually the first NWA match (well, the ending of, anyway) way back when, on German satellite channel RTL. As hard as it may be to believe, but this one is actually better than their previous encounter. It’s a match of great intensity and with great storytelling, with tremendous action throughout between two wrestlers who had perfect chemistry, wrestlers who were perfect foils for each other, with Flair regaining the title after thirty minutes of great action, but not, surprisingly, with the figure four leg lock. This time, having worked over Steamboat’s leg, the champion came back with an enziguri, and was about to slam Flair, only for the Nature Boy to hold on to Steamboat’s injured leg when he came down to get the winning pin. Then came the interesting bit. While Jim Ross was trying to interview Flair in the ring, Terry Funk jumped in first to congratulate Flair, and then to challenge him to a title match. When Flair refused and said that Funk didn’t deserve a title match because he’d been inactive, Funk lost it, attacked Flair, and then piledrived him onto a table, instantly turning Flair baby face in one of the most memorable angles in recent wrestling history.
Following this attack, Flair faced Funk at Clash of the Champions XI in an I Quit match. By this time Funk was a member of Gary Hart’s stable, and had the Playboy in his corner. After all the great wrestling matches, what we got here was a brawl between two hated rivals, nothing more, nothing less. Both guys beat the hell out of each other both inside the ring and around the ringside area, even making good use of a table long before the residents of Dudleyville even had the idea to do so. Inevitably, Flair eventually went to work on Funk’s legs, with Funk eventually screaming the words that won the match for Flair. A hell of an encounter here, and another one worth watching again and again.
Disc three begins with the beginning of Flair’s WWF run in the early nineties, and the first match is actually the 1992 Royal Rumble. Those of you with long memories will remember that the WWF title was up for grabs in this one after incidents in the title matches between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker. Flair drew number three, and in lasting over an hour, he outlasted stars such as Sgt. Slaughter, Roddy Piper, Tito Santana, Jake Roberts, Randy Savage and more. The final three were Flair, Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice, and the final few moments saw Hogan and Flair going at it, while Justice just stood and looked at what was going on, before going up behind Hogan while he was stomping away on Flair and tossing him over the top rope. Hogan then tried to pull Justice over the top rope from the floor, and this was when Flair saw his chance, using Hogan’s leverage to push Justice over the top rope and to become WWF Champion. This is definitely the greatest performance in Royal Rumble history, and probably one of the best Rumbles of all time, and it was great to see it again.
Next, it’s on to Flair’s rivalry with Sting, and after highlights from their first televised match at the first Clash of the Champions in 1988, it’s onto their encounter from Clash of the Champions 27 in 1994, a match to unify the WCW World Heavyweight and International titles. Sting has Sensational Sherri, former valet of Flair, in his corner, complete with Sting-like face paint. Of course, this was the time when Hulk Hogan first appeared in WCW, and the storyline was that Flair was more preoccupied with Hogan than Sting, which is why his game was off at the beginning as Sting dominated, before Flair was able to regroup. As always between these two, it’s a good, solid wrestling match with plenty of action. In the end it was Flair who came out on top. As Sting went for a dive over the top rope, Flair pulled Sherri in front of him so she took the full force of the blow. Back in the ring, as Sting was preoccupied with his valet, Flair got the three count with a schoolboy roll-up to win the match and to unify the titles. Afterwards, when Flair and Sherri embraced, the set-up was revealed as they both attacked Sting, only for Hogan to storm the ring and clean house.
As for the extras on the three discs, they’re just as good as the matches, with some classic promos and confrontations from all of the opponents featured, as well as a few extra matches, such as Flair teaming with Barry Windham against Ricky Steamboat and Eddie Gilbert, his WWWF debut way back in 1976 against Pete Sanchez, and that memorable night from Raw back in 2003 where, after facing Triple H for the World title, the entire Raw roster came down to the ring to pay tribute to the Nature Boy.
In conclusion - although this collection was first released two years ago, it’s probably more relevant now than it was then, now that the Nature Boy has hung up his boots. There isn’t one bad match here, and it’s a fine tribute to the career of a true legend, and it’s highly recommended, and I hope that the rumours of a second Flair collection are true. I really do.
Show your support for The Two Sheds Review by visiting my sponsor’s website, www.a-merchandise.co.uk to purchase a copy “The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection.”