Review: WWE Network’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die: #20 Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (I Quit Match, NWA Clash of the Champions IX: New York Knockout)

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(Here’s the link for the match on the WWE Network: http://network.wwe.com/video/v32289067?contextType=wwe-show&contextId=clash_of_the_champions&contentId=73071322&watchlistAltButtonContext=series )

What do Ric Flair and Terry Funk have in common? They’ve both retired more than a few times! We’ve seen Ric Flair a lot in the Best 100…List. But Terry Funk? Terry Funk? This is his first and only entry on the Best 100…List. He’s known for his hardcore antics (often in conjunction with Mick Foley) rather than his in-ring expertise. But this match (and the feud leading up to it) is surely his finest moment in the squared circle. I’ve said it before, but Flair plays a great babyface as well as a great heel. Here, Funk plays the crazed heel, Flair plays the valiant hero, fighting for his career. What they produce is a very good, but not great, ‘I Quit Match.’

As good ol’ JR said, Funk was “middle aged and crazy” in 1989. He wasn’t a traditional wrestler by any standards, but a brawler, a savage heel and a loose cannon. After Flair had successfully defended his NWA title against Ricky Steamboat (a match placed at #17 on the Best 100…List), Funk came down to the ring and asked for a title shot. Flair rejected the request. Funk asked again, Flair repeated his rejection, and Funk attacked Flair. It ended in one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history: Funk piledriving Flair on a table. Flair was injured. During the feud Funk asphyxiated Flair with a plastic bag, which is just one of the numerous hellacious assaults Funk perpetrated. Needless to say, the feud needed an epic match to end the rivalry…

An epic, but flawed match is what they gave us. I think it hasn’t aged very well. It’s certainly heated and gripping. Flair starts out white-hot, chopping the hell out of Funk. Funk soon uses heelish tactics to gain control. He targets Flair’s injured neck. Funk’s crazed performance is one of the best things about the match. Modern day heels should look back to his performance. It isn’t flashy or high-flying, but dirty and brutal. I’ll never forget Funk screaming “You remember your neck?” in Flair’s face. He piledrives Flair a few times. He looks as if he’s out to legitimately injure Flair. Of course, like all great heels, his beatdown and focus on an injured body part is about setting up the babyface’s comeback. And although Flair’s comeback mostly consists of chops and working on Funk’s knee, it’s still thrilling. Flair becomes almost as crazed as Funk, jumping on Funk from behind, hurling him over tables, even suplexing Funk from in the ring onto the apron! Another positive I found is that the ‘I Quit’ stipulation doesn’t interfere with the flow of the match. It often happens that the stop/start nature of an ‘I Quit’ match harms the structure of the match. But here, Funk and Flair ask each other if they quit whilst adding to the story of the match.

Check out Terry Funk’s Japanese Death Matches…

All the ingredients are there for a classic bout. But it falls short, ever so short. For one, Flair’s assault on Funk’s knee only begins towards the end of the match. When it’s crucial to the finish of the match, it’s a case of too little, too late. Although Flair is a master of selling, his neck injury fades away during his big comeback. Of course, you can attribute his lack of selling to adrenaline or something like that, but for a neck injury to simply disappear wrenches me out of the match (and I’ve seen it a few times). And, after watching it a few times, the bout mainly consists of chops and punches. A few spots are repeated to noticeable effect.

But those are small gripes compared to the intensity of the match. Funk, as the crazed heel, possibly overshadows Flair’s performance. It’s not often someone can say that. But Funk looks and acts like a psychopath. He’s chillingly believable. Repeated viewings may dull the glowing view you have of the match initially. The selling is uneven towards the end of the match (whilst Funk oversells his knee, Flair undersells his neck). The ending is sudden and lacks the drama of the previous twenty or so minutes. But it’s a match that should be studied by both babyface and heel alike.

VERDICT: 8/10. The end may lack the drama of the rest of the match, but Funk and Flair construct a brutal and gripping ‘I Quit’ match. Funk’s performance is a career best, playing a psychopath. He’s even better than babyface Flair…

Click here for my review of #21 Randy Orton vs. Mick Foley (WWE Intercontinental Title, Hardcore Match, WWE Backlash 2004)

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