Flair vs. Windham (1.20.87) review
January 20, 1987
We’re in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Hosts are Tony Schiavone and Dusty Rhodes. The full version of this show is sadly not available, but this match is too important to just skip over.
Ole Anderson vs. Bill Mulkey. You might known Bill and his brother Randy, who wrestled as WWF jobbers “the Mulkey Brothers” in the late 80s.
Vladimir Petrov vs. Rocky King. Petrov was one of the Koloff Russians. He was born in Minneapolis. He’s super green at this point and retired in 1991. Rocky King worked a lot of NWA shows in the mid-late 80s. He retired from full time in 1988. If we’re really lucky we might catch one of his WCW jobs in 1990.
Manny Fernandez & Rick Rude vs. Gary Royal & Randy Mulkey. Splitting up the Mulkeys? WTF? Royal is a jobber. Manny turned heel and is now teaming with Rude, but I never got that switch. He seemed over as a babyface.
Rock N Roll Express vs. Brodie Chase & Mark Fleming. I’m starting to understand why this whole card isn’t available anywhere. The jobbers are nobodies. Fleming did do a tour of NJPW in 1989 to be fair to him. His record there was 1-16, if you want to know how hard he got pushed.
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Barry Windham
The match has a “TV time limit”, which would end up being 45:00.
It’s interesting that Flair gets a good reaction initially before a wave of boos drowns out the positivity. Dusty compares Windham to various football teams trying to knock off the New York Giants. “You’ve got to play offence”. Huh. Thinly veiled Big Dust. I get you. This is a rematch from Windham’s last shot at NWA Battle of the Belts II, way back in February 1986. They start fast with Flair using offence that involves both guys staying on their feet, like his patented chops. He’s starting to lean on those more and more. Windham also gets in a healthy shine without Flair getting beaten pillar to post.
Windham keeps going to a headlock. The idea is that he’s outsmarting Flair by keeping it simple. Flair tries various things and keeps getting taken down. The pacing on it suggests it’s only going about 20-25 minutes. They work so hard that this going 45 minutes doesn’t compute. You can tell when wrestlers are going deep from their pacing in the early going. It is true that Windham does turn the headlock into a rest hold, albeit as part of the overarching story of the match.
Commentary is wonderful here. I always loved Dusty as a commentator. It sounds like nonsense at times but it’s musical speech. He has Tony Schiavone to keep him in line.
Flair’s tactics are all over the place. He starts trying to beat Windham at stand up, which is unlikely, before switching gears to trying to wear Barry out and when that doesn’t work, he switches to the arm/shoulder area. I’ve had a chat with several people about Flair’s psychology and how he never went after the leg to set up the Figure Four until someone else made a mistake. The truth is, if Flair worked the leg all match the opponent would have to sell it and it would derail everything. You can work an arm or a headlock and build slowly. You work the leg? The other guy becomes limited.
Instead, Flair shows his mentality. He’s prepared to take shortcuts. Grabbing the trunks, using the ropes, pulling the hair. All the old pro tricks. The crowd getting gradually more frustrated that Flair was able to slide all this past the referee Tommy Young. Both guys are drenched in sweat from how hard they’ve been working and we’re only 20:00 in. The work rate in this one is off the fucking charts.
Windham takes an awesome bump over the top rope. Compare it to the one he took in the 1986 match and his timing, positioning and realism are so much better here. Out of nothing Flair gets the Figure Four hooked.
Look at the positioning from Flair too. The ropes right next to him, turning Barry into the middle of the ring. So, he can cheat and grab those ropes and inflict punishment. Windham has the longest route to the ropes of any place in the ring because Flair is in his way. Tommy eventually catches him cheating but the damage is done. “Somebody get me a cerzeva” says a heated Dusty.
Despite the injured leg Barry can get flash pins. Am I little perturbed that he’s doing sunset flips? Yeah, a little bit. The issue with a leg injury is how much to sell it. Windham is selling it here, but he launches off that leg too much. The levels of excitement created by Windham’s offence and his near falls do compensate for the dip in psychology.
Windham turns the match around by using the Figure Four himself. The issue with the Figure Four here is it’s being used as a near fall, rather than a hold to break down a body part. Does that make sense? Anyway, Flair survives and we move on to trading on stand up, which is how we started. We’re now at 40:00. It’s all come full circle.
Tommy Young gets hurt checking an abdominal stretch (which they got into beautifully) and Flair lands on his leg. While he’s recovering in the corner Windham gets the missile dropkick. If Tommy isn’t hurt is that three? It’s Windham getting the visual pin either way. Finally, we hit the fatigue selling. Yeah, that’s when it happens. 40 minutes deep. Not 10 minutes in. Take note wrestlers! Interesting that Barry goes after the sleeper, following on from his lengthy headlocks earlier in the contest.
Windham does a great job here of showing how tired he is and how wonky he runs across the ring is about fatigue and the leg selling. Windham pulls out a backslide, which is how Flair lost to Kerry Von Erich a few years back. Everyone has tried that on him since and he never loses to it. He learned! Windham throws everything into the final minute. He has it with a lariat and Tommy Young counts to two but the bell rings before he counts at all.
Barry Windham gazes at the belt but leaves it on Flair’s fallen body, saying he won’t take the belt until he’s pinned Flair 1-2-3. Yeah, that’s how matches work baby!
Dusty gets to sign off to camera, where he says Windham can win that title. He’s good enough and he was unlucky.
Boy, what a match this is. I’ve seen it before but on a comp and not in context to what was happening in wrestling at the time. This was so energised and driven for a 45 minute match. I can barely believe it. You don’t get 45 minutes match NOW that have that level of energy running through it. Almost everybody kills time in long bouts. Not here. They start out full on and keep at that level throughout.
Now, my big decision is whether I think the gaps in psychology can derail a perfect rating. Or, are those perceived gaps? My issues with leg selling are about inconsistency. Like, a guy can’t walk one minute and the next he’s doing springboards. That didn’t happen here. There’s no inconsistency at all. They do sell, but not very much. The selling is consistent throughout. I can live with that. In a way, I prefer it. The selling is so subtle you must watch for it, but it is there. With that gap plugged, is this a five star match? Of course it is. It’s arguably the best match of all time (to this point). The only real contender is the AJW match from 1985 (Yokota vs. Asuka). Now, I have a big choice, as my favourite match from this year has always been Steamboat-Savage. I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one. *****