Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Making the Match of the Century

I wanted to briefly comment on the Flair v Steamboat match that we saw on Monday. Sam asked us how we felt about it and its general status as match of the decade. Superlatives get thrown around a lot in wrestling - and that's understandable when you're trying to promote something - and I don't have the catalog of 80s matches to know how it stacked up. But I think I can say that it was very good. And here's why:

1. Tempo - the match kept going around the ring with very few rest holds or reelings from injury. Those that were there were brief or helped further the idea that one body part was being hurt. Chalk this up to the athleticism of the two.

2. The back and forth - Here I refer to the last 10ish minutes, where it seems that at any point either of the guys could be pinned. There is believability that these two-counts could have been three. This I think adds greatly to the crowd's excitement. But I think that I have seen more recent matches where this has been even better.

3. The inside cradle pin - Flair actually wins with a pretty standard wrestling move, not his figure four leg lock. It is sudden. Now a signature move win can still be dramatic, and good, but this really adds to the idea that this is a sporting competition and not rehearsed. The "amateur wrestling" aspect is evident in other parts of the match as well. It adds believability to the match, and shows despite their personalities, it is their athletic ability that makes them champions. This is a very unique bit. Most matches nowadays use the inside cradle or small package as a cheap/lucky win, where a small guy can get the move off quick and beat a big guy. We now expect the signature moves, and expect the drama and not the sport. (maybe this was more common in the 80s/NWA?)

4. The build up - I at least got from the sense from the promos that this was hyped well. These guys were tailored as main stars (Cena v Umaga today compared to white rapper Cena v Hurricane's sidekick) and it seemed that they did not often square off with each other in the past (as an example of this done wrong, I'm thinking of how TNA immediately matched Kurt Angle v Samoa Joe when they could have made people anticipate it for months) . I imagine if I was a fan in the 80s, this would make me eager to see it. So, good booking.

5. The finality - no run-ins, now illegal victories, no rematch demands with new stipulations. Just a hug, a raised arm, and Ricky Steamboat is out of the picture. Yes, Terry Funk's portion ruins the moment afterwards, but there is a strong sense of closure and dramatic satisfaction from it. A lot of matches now DON'T do this anymore, and I think that has hurt them.

I didn't see much else that made it essentially non-standard fare. As a final point, I have seen matches - I think - that performed these aspects as well as or better than Flair and Steamboat with the possible exception of #3. Lucha libre and table matches sometimes add the extra aspect of "the really cool big spots." But I must give the match credit, having all these aspects at once is something that is rare.


Sam Ford said...

Flair said that he believes he and Steamboat had many, many matches that were better, but a lot of them were at house shows or the tapes no longer exist. I used this becuase it was the final version of their feud, but all the matches from the Flair/Steamboat feud are considered "classic" as a series.

But I think your analysis draws a lot of good points. I particularly like how they put the period on the Steamboat/Flair feud and simultaneously started a new grudge, all at the same time. Of course, the Terry Funk/Ric Flair I Quit match was also good, but in a much different way.

Anonymous said...

I think another element that added to this match were the judges. You got the impression that there was going to be a decision of some sort on the matter, regardless of what happened. Although the NWA did lose some goodwill on the concept the year before by having Sting carry the offense for a 45 minute match but only declare a draw (I'm a stickler for details like that), you didn't really believe this round of judges would be stupid enough to make that happen.

Tape trader John McAdam also commented that title changes then were far more monumental: Flair had just received a title shot on cable TV and lost. If he lost again, he wasn't getting another one for a while. If he won, he wasn't just going to lose the title on Nitro/RAW/Smackdown the next night. So the dramatic implications were amped.

Sam Ford said...

Bryce, I used to do a little business with John McAdam. Do you still keep up with John? I got some interesting 8mm footage from him with Bruno vs. Koloff that I haven't seen floating around much. Whatever it was, it had commentary from someone here in Braintree.

But his point that "less is more" is very true, I think, in that overdoing anything lessens its value, including PPVs, it would seem.

Jason said...

I remember watching this match when it happened. (I'm not in your course, so don't know precisely which one you watched, but assume it's when Terry Funk was a ringside announcer, then attacked Flair after the match - piledriver on the announce table, I believe).

I recall the post-match events coming from way out of left field. Unpredictability is one of my favorite aspects of watching pro wrestling. You just don't see dramatic heel turns today as much.

I couldn't agree more about "less is more." Title matches and changes were much more special before the advent of the Monday Night Wars in the 90's. I believe that shorter title reigns and continuous title changes make it difficult for the fans to follow who is the champ, and who are the legions of challengers chasing them. Year-long reigns as WWF and as Intercontinental Champ, for example, were much more common.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sam, I'm in the dark on John too. His website disappeared! He was working on DVD transfers once upon a time. I also bought that Sammartino-Koloff tape! The commentator was slightly annoying (no offense if you knew him!) but it was cool to see that SOMEONE had preserved that footage.

Sam Ford said...

Well, Jason, at least we can see some desire to slow that down from WWE these days. Gregory Helms, before he recently lost the title, was the longest-reigning Cruiserweight Champ the company has had. Meanwhile, London and Kendrick have held the Smackdown tag titles longer than any team since Demolition. Someday, people may be able to cite title reigns and changes off the top of their head again. I can still do it to this day up to 1999 for the world title, and then I go blank, after Mick and Rock started trading it back and forth, etc.

By the way, hope you stop by more often. You make some great points. As for Bryce, sorry to hear John go. I found the announcer more than slightly annoying on that 8mm footage from Braintree. If you don't add anything to a match, you should just shut up. Dave Meltzer didn't even know the footage existed until I sent it along to him, so it must just be some 8mm that guy got ahold of. I am guessing WWE doesn't even have it, since they included 8mm footage of Koloff/Morales on the History of the WWE Championship DVD but not Bruno/Koloff, which would seem even more significant.

Rob said...

Points 3 and 5 seem particularly interesting!

I think that by not having Flair do his signature winning move it makes the match seem harder. I mean, if Flair couldn't do his move, if he was forced to do something different than usual, then that highlights just how tough of a match this must have been for him.

Next, when you have a match that feels so legitimate and so close, I think by not having all the hooplah at the end you have a match more satisfying sense of knowing who actually won, and who is the real champion.

In combination, you create a very real feeling match, demonstrate a close ending that pushed both wrestlers to their limits, and yet have a clear and definitive victory that leaves you satisfied with the idea that the victor really deserves his status as champion.