Ric Flair scoffs at people who wrestle under 40 minutes. And Barry Windham rocks a moustache!!
Ric Flair vs Barry Windham, NWA Heavyweight Championship, Battle Of The Belts II, 14/07/1986
Flair's pre match promo is magnificent. He manages to convey the arrogance that makes his character so engaging in the Windham matches whilst also retaining a certain air of respect for Windham in accepting he is in for perhaps the fight of his career. He establishes Windham has everything to gain and nothing to lose from tonight's match and accepts that once again Flair is going to have to face up to his challenger bringing his best, and hope it brings out the best in Flair. The guy then comes out to fuckin Phil Collins for pete sake, what a man
Flair vs Windham is a classic rivalry, much like the Steamboat feud you have the arrogance of Flair against the heart and resilience of plucky young Barry Windham. They're a clear contrast between face and heel and it makes for quite the spectacle. Flair is the perfect foil for Windham to dethrone as champion and Windham is the perfect challenger for Flair to toy with and play to a crowd. As cliche as it sounds both men were born to wrestle each other.
The opening exchanges are very familiar to a classic Flair title defence. Before the match starts Flair offers his hand to Windham, its a sign that beneath this arrogance and confidene of the champion is a man who is proud to be champion and who wants to prove he is the best. Windham though on the back of Flair's promo sets the tempo perfectly in the early going. They take it to the mat after Windham scores the early advantage with his size and power proving too much for Flair. Windham targets the arm as a means of weakening the champ and securing an early advantage, he knows Flair is perhaps the best conditioned man in wrestling so he has to secure an advantage early, Flair has some great selling touches and I especially loved his cry of anguish as Windham wrenched in on a hammerlock.
Flair then demonstrates his brilliance by improvising off of a botch. As he's thrown into the ropes his head bounces off and he essentially collapses to the ground instead of coming back into the centre of the ring. He screams and flops to the corner immediately and we get another display in the character contrast, Windham begrudgingly allows Flair the time to get himself together out of the corner as a mark of respect to the champion. Flair though on the back of an ass kicking so far spots the opening and tries to chop Windham out of desperation. I dug how this played off of the Flair handshake at the start, he's a man of honour in treating the NWA title as the best...but he's out for himself and will do anything to retain his title including exploiting any advantage. Windham gets incredibly pissed at this display of poor sportsmanship on Flair's part and starts to attack him repeatedly, now Flair has backed himself into another corner by angering a man who was already on his A game.
Flair briefly manages to get some control, he displays some savvy mat skills in reversing Windham into a unique pinning position whilst carefully maneovering himself within touching distance of the ropes for leverage. Windham bridges to break the pin and then scores the advantage with his punches before targeting the back of Flair via a boston crab. Flair sells it like death and then rashly attempts a suplex not long after which Windham smartly counters into a crossbody and attempted pin. From here Flair senses he almost conceded defeat and sets about evening the odds and dumps Windham to the floor. He bloodies him via the guardrail and the whole setup of the spot was terrific. Flair has demonstrated his intelligence and experience will be his key to victory here against a young challenger in Windham who appears on this night to be the better man. Flair smartly works on the bloodied forehead of Windham and works the crowd to a tee with his renewed confidence now that the bloodied Windham is fighting from the bottom.
But the control doesn't last long! Flair's arrogance gets the better of him and Windham dodges a kneedrop and works over Flair's legs. Again whilst Windham has dominated the majority of the match he's had to continually switch up his game because of Flair's resilience, again so simple but so brilliant. He locks on a figure four leglock and Flair appears a broken man fighting to retain his belt. He grabs the ropes and from here on out sells the legs terrificly, he hobbles and winces for minutes after the legwork and even down the stretch hobbles to let the viewer know he hasn't recovered from the damage, all building to an epic crossbody counter which scores Windham a close call down the stretch. In the meantime, Windham again sets on a new target in scoring the victory and bloodies Flair in revenge for earlier. Both men now start to sell the exhaustion of the match and their offence gets a lot more sluggish and tired looking, given how both men have shown they have the ability to best the other one the finishing stretch becomes increasingly dramatic.
The commentators are terrific in shifting from Windham looking better early on, to Flair's control in bloodying Windham, to Windham evening the odds before discussing if Windham's inexperience will prove costly against Flair. Windham charges into the corner and catches a knee close to a low blow, Flair now struts and targets the legs which Barry sells like death. The pain on both men's faces is terrific and the pacing has been magnificent. Barry scores with the Lariat on two occasions but Flair again gets the ropes, the story of Flair being able to survive Windham's onslaught but never being able to control the match makes for a captivating story on how Windham can go about scoring the victory and whether his desperation will play into Flair's hands. Even the ref bump is paced superbly and creates another moment where Windham appears to have the match won only for Flair to catch another break, here Windham scores with a dropkick from the top whilst the ref is down. The way Barry instinctively goes to check on the ref whilst Flair seeks to catch Barry off guard again demonstrates the clash in characters terrificly.
The finish is what for me keeps this as a terrific match. Both men have exhausted every attempt to put the other down to no avail, Flair nearly gets beaten via a rollup from the figure four due to his overconfidence (again playing into the story) and in desperation resorts to a crossbody which takes both men to the floor. Flair fights to stop Windham getting back in the ring (perhaps signalling he accepts he cannot beat him on this night, and plays into a spot where Flair tosses Windham over the top rope during the ref bump which would have been an obvious DQ). Both men continue to fight one another and the ref calls a double countout, whilst most likely a bum finish to most this keeps the match story of Windham not having enough to beat Flair due to his resilience but drilling home the message that Flair realises he cannot afford to go another 15 minutes. It sets up a future rematch to a tee and completes the match arc, something I'm a sucker for when watching a match. Seeing how cocky Flair becomes a desperate man in the closing stages of matches and looks a far cry from himself at the start of the match never gets old and always ensures the match has progressed.