Ric Flair’s numerous appearances in the WWE Network’s Best 100 Matches To See Before You Die should not surprise anyone with an interest in wrestling. He’s one of the best wrestlers of all time, able to carry anyone to a good match in his prime (late 70s to early 90s). Just see #93 (Flair vs Lex Luger-click here for my review) for the perfect example of his abilities to work with a poor wrestler. However, I feel that some of the matches involving Flair on this list are there more for what they meant/represented rather than the actual content. #90 (Flair vs Kerry Von Erich-click here for my review) was not a great match at all, but what happened afterwards is more important that the match itself. However, this match against Harley Race certainly deserves to be in the Top 100.
I feared it would be too similar to #90: a cage match with a special guest referee. However, it could not be more different. Before the match, the commentators talk about ‘intensity and execution.’ This match is as intense a bout as you’ll ever see. By today’s standards, some parts seem slow and sluggish, but every move, every strike has a purpose. There’s an intensity in both wrestlers that reaches out and grabs the viewer; and the execution is almost flawless. Harley Race, the champion, beats down Flair for much of the match.
The focus for much of the match is Flair’s neck and head. In the storyline, Race had put a bounty of $25,000 for anyone who could injure Flair. Flair’s neck was injured by Bob Orton, Jr and Dick Slater, but it wasn’t enough to put Flair out for good. Repeated strikes to the head and neck, a piledriver and a swinging neckbreaker were all part of Race’s arsenal to capitalise on Flair’s injury. Flair was always a great heel, but he’s just as good as a valiant babyface fighting against an injury. Every comeback is staged flawlessly. By the halfway point of the match, both wrestlers are bleeding heavily from the forehead and exhausted. It’s a tangible and believable exhaustion that is portrayed realistically throughout the rest of the bout.
It’s not without one big flaw, however. Just as Michael Hayes interfered in the flow of the match in #90, so does Special Guest Referee Gene Kisinski interfere in the flow of this match. He constantly stops the wrestlers brawling in the ropes, and frequently grabs each wrestlers and gets in their faces. He admonishes Race for driving Flair’s head into the cage. It’s a cage match: just let them fight! Kisinski almost looks responsible for a near-botch to end the match, as well. Without Kisinski, the match would be flawless. His interference drags the match down at several points.
However, even a boisterous referee cannot subsume too much of the inherent quality of the match. The story is well told by both wrestlers in the ring, of an injured man fighting for the ultimate prize, and a bad guy who didn’t want to fight the injured man but has no choice but to try and injure him further. A true classic of the NWA era.
VERDICT: 8/10: One point taken off for the interfering referee, but a match between to legends of the NWA era that doesn’t fail to impress. A lot!
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(Click here for my review of #79 Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan)