(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31673705/?contentId=31673705&contextType=wwe-show&contextId=starrcade)
When I first saw this on the list, I laughed. Ric Flair vs Big Van Vader? It would be the ultimate clash of styles. They are two of the best wrestlers of all time, but would they mesh well together in the ring? The answer is: yes! There’s a simple story to the bout that adds spades of drama to it. Vader wants to destroy Flair. He wants o make him suffer…slowly. Flair is the older guy who wanted to prove he still had ‘it.’ From start to finish, the match follows this story. Vader battered Flair from pillar to post. Flair had to wait for small oppurtinties to attack Vader. But Vader would never stop coming in what turns out to be a masterclass of storytelling and psychology. There are a few flaws here and there, however…
Vader has held the WCW Championship for around a year and had defeated every challenger. There was no one left for him to face…apart from Sid Vicious! However, Vicious was fired after a brawl with Arn Anderson. So in Vicious’ place Flair was wedged in. Of course, Flair was unparalleled as a heel, but as a babyface, he’s not too shabby either! He sells Vader’s beating with ultimate conviction. Yes, Vader does work super-stiff in this bout. His blows do cause Flair to bleed from the mouth and swell around the eyes. It’s not a stretch to believe Flair is suffering for real. But Flair was always a master of selling, and here the beating and the selling mix together to make you believe Flair is in danger of being beaten to death!
Vader works hard as an unstoppable monster. Flair’s chops barely affect him. Every time Flair manages to strike back (usually after Vader misses a splash or a big move), Vader quickly overcomes the puny rally. Flair’s Tomahawk Chops from the top rope are the first moves to bring you out of the match, however. The second one barely hits, and they look as dangerous as a floppy disk. Fortunately, Flair’s comeback in the last quarter of the match is pulse-pounding. He punches Vader super-stiff in the face repeatedly and attacks Vader’s knee. It’s the climax the match has been preparing. However, an ill-advised interference from Harley Race (accompanying Vader to the ring) and a botched finish on the part of Flair almost flatline the intensity of the bout. When Flair hit the knee chop, he looked out of position to roll up Vader, so awkwardly jumps back and lands on Vader for the victory.
It’s a poor ending to a great bout. Race’s interference at the end (and near the beginning) of the bout was wholly unnecessary. Why would a big monster like Vader need someone else’s help? The botched pinfall to finish is laughable to look at. However, it only minimally decreases the value of this bout. In Flair’s hometown, the crowd go wild for him everytime he’s on the offence. Vader’s beatdown makes the crowd go even wilder. It’s a classic tale of an older wrestler who wants to prove himself against the younger and stronger king of the jungle. Flair proves he still had it, even in his early 40s!
VERDICT: 8/10. A few misfires aside (especially the ending), Flair and Vader execute a bout that showcases the best of storytelling and psychology in wrestling.
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Click here for my review of #52 Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE Title, 60-Minute Iron Man Match, WWE Smackdown, September 18, 2003))