Hidden Gems: Flair vs. Windham, January 20, 1987

Today’s “Hidden Gems” review showcases a classic matchup for the NWA World Title between champion Ric Flair against Barry Windham. It takes place in Fayetteville, North Carolina on January 20, 1987. A little unknown history about this match: It wasn’t advertised locally. This was a TV taping for Crockett Promotions’ two syndicated programs, NWA Pro and WorldWide Wrestling. The only advertised match for the card was Ric Flair vs. Brad Armstrong! Yes, really…

However, the Four Horsemen jumped Armstrong during an interview on the NWA Pro program, so Windham was substituted for the match with Flair, on the WorldWide show. Advertising Armstrong instead of Windham was a poor decision by Crockett and certainly hurt the live gate somewhat. They had just set up a major program between Flair and Windham on the previous week’s programs, with a brief, but great, impromptu match between the two.

This isn’t really a “hidden gem”, either, because it’s been released on DVD before, but I’m not complaining. It’s one of my all-time favorite matches. Here we go…

Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham for the NWA Title. The fans pop big for the announcement that it’s for the World Title. Tony Schiavone and Dusty Rhodes are our announcers, sparing us the inane babbling and screaming of David Crockett, and replacing it with the inane babble of Dusty. Flair actually offers a sincere handshake to Windham before the match, which is accepted…

They lock up and Windham shoulder tackles Flair off the ropes. We get a very nice sequence of reversals that sees Windham with the advantage. The crowd chants “Barry, Barry”. Dusty says “you need a big promotion” for a match like this. Good point, except it wasn’t promoted!

Flair chops Windham in the corner, who reverses the Irish Whip into a hip toss and slam, followed by a headlock takedown. The fans are popping for every offensive move. Flair escapes and comes off the ropes, but Windham catches him with a nice drop toehold. Against the ropes, Flair shoves Windham hard, who responds with a right hand that floors the champ…

Windham goes back to the headlock. Flair sells it with cries of pain. Backed into the corner, Flair lays in the chops, but Windham reverses with a series of fists, a hip toss and a dropkick. Flair takes a powder outside. Back in, Flair utilizes a waistlock takedown, but Windham sits out and goes back to the headlock. Windham has controlled the match from the outset. Dusty says if Windham continues this, then Flair “is in dire straits”. Off the ropes, Flair catches Windham and almost hot shots him, but it’s more of a drop on Windham’s waist instead of the throat. He rams his head into rope, but Windham sneaks in a small package and gets a two count. We go to commercial break…

Back live, Windham has Flair trapped in a headscissors. Dusty is already calling this match a classic and encourages viewers not to move because they might miss something. Flair tries to roll up Windham into a pinning combination out of the side headlock, getting a two count. Windham answers with a series of fists to Flair’s forehead. We get another huge pop from the crowd. Flair catches Windham’s momentum coming off the ropes and tosses him outside. On the floor, Windham gets run into the steel railing around the ring and Flair chops him for good measure. Flair has his first advantage of the match…

Flair drops Windham’s throat across the ropes, goes back out and rams his arm into the ring post. A snap mare back into the ring, and Flair has Windham in hold #973, armbar. They show Dusty and Tony on an inset, small corner of the screen. Dusty is wearing a suit. Yes, really. Didn’t see that very often. I do have to credit Rhodes. His analysis here is really adding to the enormity of the match. He is selling it, so to speak, extremely well…

Flair continues with the armbar and “whoos” to the crowd. Windham fights his way up, but Flair pulls the hair behind the refs back to bring him down, then rakes his boot across Windham’s face. He laces in another chop and punch in the corner. Windham fires back with a couple of punches, but Flair brings him down again with the drop toehold. On the mat, Flair uses the ropes for leverage in a pin attempt, but can only get counts of two. Back up, they exchange blows. Windham gets the better of it and goes to the second rope in the corner for a series of punches. We get the Flair Flop, and crowd pops huge, again…

Another exchange of chops and punches, and Flair flops backwards. Windham pounds away, but Flair takes him down and again tries to use the ropes for leverage on a pinning attempt, but only gets two. The champ is whipped across the ring, into the top turnbuckle, and out of the ring. Windham follows him out and they’re fighting on the floor, as Windham rams the champion into the railing. We go to another commercial break…

Back live, Flair lands a kneedrop on Windham’s head. Off the ropes, Flair hits a back elbow, sending Windham backwards over the top rope and into the steel railing. A great spot. Flair tries to suplex Windham back in, but he escapes and hits Flair with a standing clothesline. Windham crawls over for the pin, and gets two & 1/2. Windham lands a couple punches, but Flair responds with a belly-to-back suplex and quickly locks in the figure- four!

Flair grabs the ropes for extra leverage. Dusty notes that this how he lost the NWA Title back to Ric Flair last year. Finally, referee Tommy Young sees Flair’s cheating and breaks the hold. Windham is hurting. Flair goes for the figure-four again, but Windham reverses into a small back. One-two- but Flair kicks out. Dusty asks for someone to bring him a cerveza. Flair tosses Windham outside, but Windham hits a shoulderblock from the apron, goes for the sunset flip over the ropes. He tries to pull Flair down, but the champ is hanging on…

Windham does get him down for the pin, but Flair just barely kicks out before the three-count. Dusty asks for two cervezas now, one for him and one for Tony. Schiavone notes that Windham used that same sunset flip to win the U.S. Tag Team Titles for him and Ron Garvin. Off the ropes, Flair locks in the sleeper, which Dusty says the champ learned from Johnny Weaver many years ago. Windham slips out and kicks Flair off. To the second rope, a diving clothesline, cover, and Flair puts his foot on the rope as the referee’s hand was coming down for the three count. Dusty says his heart can’t stand much more of this…

Several near falls have almost made Barry Windham the world champion. Windham slams Flair and goes for a splash, but Flair gets the knees up. Windham vertical suplexes Flair, holding him upside-down for several seconds. Windham goes to the top rope for an elbow, but takes too long and Flair escapes. Flair misses a knee drop. Windham punches Flair and sends him over the top rope. The referee does not call for the DQ. Windham kicks on Flair’s knee on the ring railing and tosses him back in…

Windham locks in the figure-four! He’s reaches across and punches Flair. He’s down, for a two count. Flair is in pain, trying to reach the ropes, and finally makes it. Dusty says there’s 10,000-11,000 people in the arena in “a mad uproar” right now. Except the Cumberland County Memorial Arena only holds 5,000, and it wasn’t sold out because this match wasn’t advertised. Dusty says Windham needs to be aggressive if he wants to win the title. Windham heeds the advice by stomping on Flair in the corner. They trade punches and Flair goes down again. Flair hits a reverse atomic drop and we have another commercial break…

Back live, they’re trading punches and chops. Windham reverses a hip toss into an abdominal stretch. Flair does get Windham over, however, and hip tosses him onto referee Tommy Young, who is hurt. Flair tosses Windham outside as ring announcer Tom Miller tells us only five minutes remain in the time limit. Windham scales the ropes and nails a dropkick. He covers, but Young is still hurt. Finally Young gets over there and almost counts to three before Flair gets a shoulder up. He was down for several second. Dusty and Tony tells us we should have a new world champ…

Windham locks in a sleeper. Four minutes left. Flair reverses into a back suplex. A reversal into the corner, Flair goes over the top, runs to the other turnbuckles and comes off the top rope with a cross body block, but Windham reverses. One-two-th… No. Almost had him again. After an exchange off the ropes, Windham locks in the sleeper again, then rolls Flair up. Another near fall. Windham backs Flair into the corner and pounds away again. Another pin attempt and Flair is out at two. Two minutes left…

They exchange blows. Windham hits the flying lariat out of the corner. That’s his finisher, but Flair is able to make it outside to the ring apron. Dusty gives some insightful analysis: “This place is going crazy. People are standing on top of their kids.” Windham suplexes Flair back in and both men are down. Flair is bleeding a small amount from his forehead. Windham covers for another two count. One minute left…

Windham reverses a backslide and has Flair down for another two count. Flair goes outside to the top rope, but Windham throws him off. 30 seconds left. Powerslam by Windham, another near fall. 15 seconds left. Windham hits the flying lariat again. The ring announcer counts it down, but we run out of time as Tommy Young’s arm was coming down for the three count. The ring announcer tell us it’s a draw. Windham grabs the NWA Title and the microphone from Tony Schiavone.

Windham: “This belt right here will very well belong to me someday. But I’m not gonna walk out of here with it. I’m gonna wait until I get the three count, 1-2-3, on Ric Flair, the world heavyweight champion.” Windham lays the belt on Flair, who is still down on the mat. That’s it.

That match is one of the best televised matches ever in the U.S., or anywhere else, for that matter. 1987 also brings us the Savage-Steamboat classic at Wrestlemania III, but I would put this match up against that one for Match of the Year. I think it’s as good as some of the Flair-Steamboat classics as well. It deserves the full five-stars. *****