On May 7, 1989, in the third of three spectacular matches, NWA World Champion Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat defended his title against arguably his greatest challenger— “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Having defeated Flair at Chi-Town Rumble in February for the title, Steamboat once again beat Flair on April 2 in a 55-minute best two out of three falls classic at the Clash VI.
Since Flair’s foot was under the bottom rope during the pinfall, a rematch was ordered for the next PPV—WrestleWar ’89. In addition to the requisite hour time-limit, three judges were selected in order to ensure and determine a winner. The three judges were former NWA champions Lou Thesz, Pat O’Connor, and Terry Funk.
Match 7 for the NWA World title: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (champion) versus “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
- Forty-six women accompanied Flair to the ring during his entrance whereas Bonnie and Richie Steamboat joined Steamboat. Richie actually rode a pony.
- After delivering a dropkick, Steamboat gave Flair a “deep” arm drag according to play-by-play announcer Jim Ross.
- Flair’s chops echoed throughout the Municipal Auditorium as the Nashville faithful egged Flair on with his signature call.
- Upon giving Flair a cross-corner whip, Steamboat delivered a back drop.
- Flair then exited the ring to regroup.
- Upon re-entry, Flair lost a top wristlock battle as Steamboat worked on his arm.
- Next, a half-nelson by Steamboat earned a one count.
- Flair then escaped a hammerlock and delivered a series of forearms.
- After receiving some chops, a Flair flop occurred.
- Upon countering another hammerlock with a fireman’s carry, Flair placed Steamboat on the top turnbuckle.
- He ducked any possible high-flying offense Steamboat could offer, charged, but came up empty.
- After a hip toss, Steamboat gave Flair a dropkick that sent him over the top rope to the floor. Referee Tommy Young did not call for a disqualification as momentum took Flair over instead of intent.
- Upon Flair’s return to the ring, Steamboat reversed an Irish whip and gave Flair another “deep” arm drag. Steamboat’s double chicken-wing hold was simmering nicely but wasn’t quite done yet.
- Nevertheless, Flair came back with a hip toss but missed an elbow drop.
- According to the judges’ scorecards, Steamboat was winning unanimously.
- After Flair tossed Steamboat outside the ring, Steamboat returned immediately and gave Flair the ten-punch count-along. To my knowledge, Young was the only referee who would hang onto the ring post to count during a count-along.
- A subsequent cross-corner whip by Steamboat resulted in a Flair flip that culminated with Flair tied to the Tree of Woe. I’m glad he’s not wrestling Kevin Sullivan here.
- Flair then tossed Steamboat over the top rope apparently, but again Young waived off the DQ.
- He then joined Steamboat outside the ring and chopped him into the front row.
- As they re-entered the ring, Steamboat climbed the ropes and delivered a chop to the head resulting in Flair flop #2.
- Upon giving Flair a face-plant, Steamboat gave Flair a cross-corner whip resulting in Flair flip #2. This time, Flair caught his balance, landed on the apron, but was chopped down to the floor.
- Afterward, Steamboat attempted a cross body block, came up empty, and bounced off the ropes to the floor.
- With Steamboat on the apron, Flair brought him in the hard way.
- He then followed with a knee drop and a belly-to-back suplex for 2.
- Afterward, Flair hooked a double underhook suplex and got another 2.
- Following that, an elbow drop by Flair earned him yet another 2.
- After Flair missed a chop, Steamboat tried another cross body block only to fall victim to a stun gun.
- As Flair pulled Steamboat outside the ring, he delivered a vertical suplex on the floor.
- According to the judges’ scorecards, Flair had a 2-1 advantage with only Thesz on the side of the champion.
- With Steamboat on the apron, Flair tried to suplex him back in, but Steamboat escaped and rolled Flair up for 2.
- When Steamboat missed a chop, Flair gave him a cross body block that spilled both men over the top rope to the floor.
- Flair then tossed Steamboat back in, mounted the top turnbuckle, but got caught and slammed down to the mat.
- Another ten-punch count-along by Steamboat was followed by a cross corner whip and back drop.
- Flair tried another belly-to-back suplex, but Steamboat escaped and rolled Flair up for another 2.
- Steamboat then set Flair up on the top turnbuckle and delivered a superplex. Wow!
- He then attempted to hook the double chicken-wing, but Flair tied his feet in the ropes to counter.
- Seeing an opening, Steamboat mounted the top turnbuckle and gave Flair a chop to the head.
- Following that, Steamboat again mounted the top turnbuckle, but Flair fell into the ropes knocking Steamboat all the way down to the floor. In the process, Steamboat hurt his knee.
- Flair then brought him back in via delayed vertical suplex.
- Afterward, he hooked the figure-four leg lock as ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta announced the thirty-minute mark.
- Steamboat made the ropes, but Flair continued to work on him in the corner.
- As Flair held Steamboat’s leg, Steamboat gave him an enziguri.
- Steamboat then tried to slam Flair, but Flair rolled through.
- WE HAVE A NEW CHAMPION!
Summary: If one were to study what it took to make a great match, one would look no further than this match. With the exception of blood, which it did not need, this match had everything and was exciting from bell to bell. As a result of this match, Flair became a six-time NWA World champion.
So where did it lead: Steamboat would be booked against Lex Luger for the US title at Great American Bash ’89 but lost by disqualification. Shortly afterward, he left the NWA to have foot surgery.
On the other hand, let’s visit the aftermath of the match to find out what happened to Flair:
After the match, Steamboat raises Flair’s arm and exits the ring. Ross enters the ring and interviews Flair who gives Steamboat tremendous kudos. Suddenly, Funk interrupts the interview and congratulates Flair on his victory. He then states had the match reached the time limit he would have voted for Flair. Following that, he challenges Flair for the title. While Flair appreciates the challenge, he cites that Funk has been busy in Hollywood while Flair’s been champion. Flair also emphasizes the top ten contenders that the World champion must face which does not include Funk. While logical, that was quite a diss.
Consequently, Funk changes his tune stating he wasn’t serious about the challenge and wants to shake hands. When Flair extends his hand, Funk attacks him and tosses him outside the ring. In his tuxedo, Funk rams Flair face-first into the judge’s table then piledrives Flair on the table. YEE-OUCH! He then dumps the table atop Flair who could possibly have a broken neck. To add insult to injury, Funk adds a chair shot to Flair’s decimation. Finally, Funk gets on the microphone and calls Flair a “horse-toothed, banana-nosed jerk.”
As you could guess, upon Flair’s recovery, Flair and Funk had a long feud with matches at both the Great American Bash ’89 and Clash IX. Some argue that in 1989 the NWA could not have been better wrestling-wise. Since I’m working on the beginning of 1988, I cannot wait to get to this era.
What do you think of the third match of the Flair-Steamboat trilogy?
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