Saturday, 21 January 2012

To Be The Man...

I pretty much closed my eyes and plucked out a DVD 'lucky dip' style. The one I came up with had this on it. It also had an Atlantis v Blue Panther match from '97 (I've got a ton of discs in a drawer with a shitload of random matches that I put on them and no listings for any of them) that I wanted to talk about ages ago. I might get around to that some time next week. Although I probably won't. I'm still trying to work my way through a ton of WCW stuff, and this is a Hell of a match so I might as well make use of this thing and talk about it.

Ric Flair v Lex Luger (NWA Starrcade, 12/26/88)

I haven't seen the Great American Bash match from earlier in the year in a loooong ass time, but I always remembered this as the first Luger performance that showed he could definitely go on and be great without having to work with a guy like Flair to hand lead him. I mean, he went on and became exactly that the next year, but whether this or the Bash match or some other match was the first sign, I'm not entirely sure. Two thirds of this are still largely Flair laying things out, though (you can pretty much see him calling stuff and Luger almost waiting for cues at points). Starts out with Flair faking out on collar and elbow tie-ups and strutting and wooing in Luger's face. Ross and Caudle are talking about how this is Flair playing mind games and how Luger needs to keep his cool and not get caught up in all that bullshit. Eventually he gets fed up and just clotheslines Flair over the top. Flair comes back and tries to throw some punches to the ribs and chop Luger in the corner, but Luger is in full on impervious to pain mode and just bowls Flair over. He busts out the gorilla press slam (the first of roughly fifteen), the powerslam, the vertical suplex...the Flair/Luger staples. I liked the fact they did the 'Flair shoulderblock, Luger drops down and catches Flair coming back off the ropes with a clothesline' sequence twice in the match, with Flair ducking the initial clothesline only to get caught with a follow up the second time they ran through it. Luger seems to "officially" take over by going to the arm and just launching Flair shoulder first into the turnbuckles. The arm work is all solid stuff; working a hammerlock, armar, taking him outside so he can wrap it around the barricade, and Flair always takes cool running bumps into the turnbuckles. You know it's basically filler, but it's fine filler. I mean, shit, I'd rather see Luger doing this for a few minutes than Muta and Chono doing middling matwork for an hour and a half. About 15 minutes in they transition to Flair on top when Luger misses a big elbow drop. Flair goes after him pretty viciously, dragging him out to the floor and ramming him face first into the barricade, unloading with body shots, really pushing the boundaries of Tommy Young's patience. Luger's hope spots get some huge heat, especially the sleeper hold. He basically fights his way back into things by dropping bombs whenever he gets the chance, like a superplex and one of his many gorilla press slams, and he sort of gets a visual pinfall off a top rope cross body while Tommy Young recovers from a knock (isn't an obvious visual pin like, say, Savage on Steamboat; more Sting on Vader where you're not sure if it would've been enough anyway, but with that extra couple seconds there's always a chance). The heat for him putting Flair in the figure four is off the charts, too. Final third of this is where Luger really comes into his own. He holds up his end with no problems for the first 20 or so minutes, but he's really "guy working off of Flair." Then JJ runs distraction and Flair blasts Luger in the knee with a chair, and Luger is pretty much exceptional at selling the leg for the remainder of the match. Flair goes after it and it's what you expect from Flair working the leg; the knee drops, draping the leg over the bottom rope and dropping his whole weight on top of it, the kneebreaker, the chop blocks, and eventually the figure four. Luger sells all of it like a king. Even when he's shrugging off chops he's still shaking the leg and slapping some feeling into it, and when he makes comebacks he's always at least hobbling slightly, never letting you forget he's got a bad wheel. I watched the Flair/Hogan match from Bash at the Beach '94 a couple nights ago and Hogan would go from selling the leg really well to completely blowing it off about thirty seconds later. When Luger is moving forward and refusing to be slowed down by what Flair is throwing at him (there's a great spot where Flair hits a running forearm and bounces off of Luger like he just flew into a garage door), he manages to walk the line between "fighting through the pain" and outright blowing off limb work perfectly. The finish with Luger getting Flair in the torture rack only for the leg to buckle and Flair to fall on top of him (near the ropes so Flair can get that extra bit of leverage) is really great, and it's about as close to a "pay off" to Ric Flair Leg Work as you're likely to get. Standard criticism of Flair matches is that Flair's supposed to be the master of the figure four, but the amount of matches he's won with the hold can probably be counted on one hand (although, in fairness, I think WWE treated it as a legit match ender). He didn't win this with the figure four, but that and the rest of the leg work took enough of a toll that it was ultimately what beat Luger. If he had two good legs to stand on, Flair never would've gotten out of the torture rack. Just a terrific match, and if it's not THE breakout Luger performance, it's certainly a step on his way to having a great run.

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