Wooooo! It’s The Nature Boy‘s (or according to Terry Funk, the “horse toothed jack ass”) birthday which means that somewhere in the world — probably Charlotte, North Carolina — stylin’ and profilin’ is commencing is a magical manner. While we’ve covered the reasons Ric Flair is a legendary human being, it’s Flair’s work in the ring and on the microphone that made him a the greatest.
Flair had so many great matches — I’ve seen just about all of them — that it’s hard to pick four that convey the type of workhorse he was in the ring. There’s the late 80s clashes with a young, and prime Ricky Steamboat. There’s the chop heavy cage matches with Ronnie Garvin. The battles with Sting in WCW, Undertaker at Wrestlemania, Dusty Rhodes in the NWA, Kerry Von Erich in Texas, the World Title match against Triple H on RAW, hell, he even got a great match out of Vince McMahon at a Royal Rumble one year. In other words, Ric Flair could make a broomstick look like a menacing opponent — he’s that good.
These four matches prove that Flair is possibly the best performer of all-time, save Shawn Michaels, but more than that, these bouts show different aspects to his game.
(Note: I’ve left the greatest Ric Flair match, vs. Rick Steamboat at Wrestle War 89, off this list because it’s a given that it’s the best.)
1. Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham
(1986 Battle of the Belts 2)
Flair had a classic series of matches against a game Ricky Steamboat in the late 80s, and they were testaments to the endurance and athleticism of two men in their prime. What some fans don’t remember, though, is the series of matches Flair had against a young and hungry Barry Windham, who even at his young age could hang with Ric in both endurance and showmanship. Sadly, Windham’s window of greatness was a short one, because he stopped caring for himself physically and lost that fire he had as a rookie. Still, enjoying this yesteryear classic is why the Internet was invented.
2. Ric Flair vs. Big Van Vader
David vs. Goliath battles are a staple of pro wrestling’s narrative, but perhaps none were as electric as the encounter between Ric Flair and Big Van Vader in 1993. With very little buildup, The Nature Boy battled the big man from the Rocky Mountains in a thrilling bout in front of a raucous crowd in Flair’s backyard. It doesn’t contain the kind of athleticism you see in matches against Windham and Steamboat, but the combination of a Flair comeback mixed with Vader’s stiff punishment made for fantastic drama.
3. Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk, “I Quit” Match
(1989 Clash of the Champions)
Much of the success of this match is owed to Funk’s performance as a human crash test dummy, getting plowed by Flair’s stiff-as-hell chops. Easily one of the most physical Flair matches of all time, watch him throttle, punch, tackle, and ravage Funk like he really, really hates him. Beautiful violence at its best.
4. Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels
(2008 Wrestlemania 24)
Never in my life have I actually been choked up at a wrestling event by the high drama in the ring, but as I was in attendance for this match — Flair’s last on the grand stage — I found myself fighting back tears. His family was crying at ringside, fans in the crowd were crying around me, and Flair himself was crying in the ring. It’s the most emotionally charged moment in all of pro wrestling, and it was amazing to be a part of it. Even though he would have a few more matches in other promotions, the run was over. A fitting end to The Nature Boy’s Hall of Fame career.