Ric Flair & Dewey Robertson v Roddy Piper & Jimmy Snuka (Maple Leaf Wrestling, 5/4/81)
Man this was fun. It's about as pure babyface as I've ever seen Flair work. I guess he was already Slick Ric by mid-'81, but it wasn't the same babyface Slick Ric as we'd see later. A lot of babyface Flair felt like a guy who was naturally a prick taking time off from being a prick because he had issue with an even bigger prick. Old man babyface Flair was easy to root for because he was two hundred years old and being brutalised by people seventy years his junior. His biggest hope spots were still low blows or biting someone in the face. Sympathy was easy to come by and he was beloved, but there wasn't much difference between babyface Flair and heel Flair. He was wooing and strutting here, but he did it with a real babyface energy, like he figured he had to work for his reactions rather than taking for granted that he'd get them regardless. He was throwing dropkicks, super fast body punches in place of the chops, working much quicker than usual. No measured knee drops, no flopping, instead we got small packages and house o' fire. Even the figure four was applied quicker than I've ever seen him do it before, and he went into it as a reversal off a Piper knee drop so there was no methodical leg work beforehand. He just did everything at babyface speed and it was super refreshing. The stuff with Piper also ruled and Piper was an awesome shit head with the early stalling, the cheapshots, choking Flair with the tag rope, etc. Snuka didn't exude the same charisma, but he was a fine lieutenant and I liked how he was always trying to cut the ring off, keeping Flair in that heel corner and dragging him back whenever he tried to scoot away. I don't know who Dewey Robertson is but he was fine and played his part in the finish, so I guess he did what he needed to do. Flair even celebrated with him afterwards like he meant it, rather than patting him on the back because he's the Nature Boy and the plebs should be privileged to share in his victory glow. I've somehow seen hardly anything from this Flair/Piper feud, but based on this I'm hyped to check out more.
Ric Flair v Great Kabuki (All Japan, 12/12/83)
This was okay for parts and then a bit ropey for others. Standard criticism of Flair and/or Flair Formula is that he/it can sort of stifle guys because they need to change some aspects how they work when they're opposite Ric. They're forced to do press slams or always apply the figure four or whatever. If I'm watching a guy opposite Flair for the first time I'm usually interested in seeing how he'll plug his own stuff into Flair's formula, how much he'll delegate to Flair, etc. The first fifteen minutes of this was really just Kabuki being Kabuki and it didn't feel much like your typical Flair match at all. Kabuki threw a bunch of superkicks and I liked how Flair sold them as if he had no idea how to defend against them. He'd just walk into a superkick and have to scramble to the corner for a reprieve. Kabuki can hit them from anywhere and Flair had no answer for it. Kabuki's nerve hold wasn't the most compelling way to fill time, but I get a kick out of him switching it up a bit from the traps to the stomach to the obliques. Flair was really vocal with his selling too, and if nothing else you could buy him being frustrated at having such a hard time figuring Kabuki out. Then the last ten minutes kind of teetered on being not very good. They tried a bunch of the Flair staples, but only about half of them came off. I didn't mind that the headlock into bridge into backslide spot never worked, because Kabuki isn't necessarily the most athletic guy and sometimes things like that add to the sense of struggle, but then they just got back up and went into the backslide after a few beats anyway. If something didn't work they'd just...do it again. There was no improvisation, it was all sort of "checking the boxes" and then Flair chucked the referee and that was that.