In Search of Five-Star Matches: Part Two

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People can argue themselves until they’re blue in the face about the validity, reliability and standard deviations of Dave Metlzer’s history of five-star match ratings. Or they can just relax, and watch the matches for what they are: a tracking of great wrestling through the years. In this batch of ten matches, we get the classic Flair-Steamboat 1989 series and the fact that most of the other matches here stand up with them says a lot. And for the next batch after this, we will see if these matches beg off and plead for mercy when faced with a certain match involving Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu.  Please note that the numbering I use is for where the matches land in the list of all the five-star matches. I also continue with my overall ratings at the end. Check out Part One here.

11) 4/11/1987 Ric Flair vs Barry Windham JCP

The early portion of the match is comprised of mat wrestling interspersed with a lot of Flair whipping Windham into the ropes and criss-crossing with Windham taking Flair down with shoulderblocks and headlocks. This continues until Flair blocks him and hits a hotshot on the top rope for a heat section. Flair takes Windham outside and chops away at him. They return to the ring and Flair stomps on him a little. Flair works on Windham’s arm while Bill Apter takes pictures of them. Windham misses a dropkick and Flair applies a figure four. Flair gets caught using the ropes and gets in a shoving match with referee Tommy Young. Windham hits a flying lariat and the video cuts out. We cut back to them on the outside where Flair goes for a piledriver on the floor but Windham collapses. Later on, Windham gives Flair a vertical suplex from the apron into the ring with Windham floating over. Windham then misses a top rope senton which might have been meant as a legdrop. Flair applies a sleeper but Windham sends him outside. Flair does a flying bodypress off the top rope but Windham rolls through into a pin attempt. Flair takes his famous bump in the corner and drops to the floor. Back inside, Flair tries to suplex Windham from the apron but Windham escapes and applies a sleeper. Flair gets his foot on the ropes to stop a pin attempt and the match is really hot at this point. Windham goes for a splash but Flair gets his knees up. Flair goes up top and Windham presses him to the mat and applies a figure four for repeated pin attempts. Windham hits a powerslam and goes for another figure four but Flair rakes his eyes. Windham misses a lariat and Flair does a bodypress into the ropes and they fall to the outside. Flair runs Windham into the ringpost but Windham quickly climbs up top and gives Flair a missile dropkick in the ring. The referee counts three but then sees Flair’s foot on the rope. Windham hits a flying lariat and Flair gets his foot on the rope again. Windham hits a float-over vertical suplex. He goes for a figure four and Flair kicks him into the corner. Windham goes for repeated pin attempts and gets an O’Connor Roll but Flair pulls his tights to reverse it and gets the pinfall. The main section of this match felt somewhat ordinary but it was well-paced and sensible. This set them up well for the false finish with Flair’s foot on the ropes, which even felt like the finish to me twenty-nine years later. Little tricks go a long way here and the rest of the match is on fire. I don’t think I would quite call this five stars and it was the least of the three Windham-Flair matches on his this list but it was pretty great.

12) 3/20/1987 Keiji Mutoh & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada NJPW

This is a great match that is a mash-up of classic puro style and the shoot style being made popular in UWF at the time. Maeda did crazy head-kicks that were probably too stiff from a modern perspective but added to the match at the time. Takada had lots of great arm work and he and Maeda used some cool suplex variations and a couple of exceptionally snug powerslams. I never thought of a powerslam as a shoot style move but they definitely had. Koshinaka is very over and works in a lot of shoot stuff including kicks and also some submission work. Mutoh is great to watch as a young ultra-athletic babyface and his moonsault is positively furious here. The pace really quickens at the end and the finish with Koshinaka and Mutoh pulling out the win is awesome. I think from a modern perspective it is just under five stars but the rating holds up when you place it in context for 1987 in terms of working style and of the feuding going on at the time.

13) 7/31/1987 Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff and Paul Ellering vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger and War Machine – War Games JCP

This was a spectacle that can put any gimmick match to shame. The rivalries were hot here and the gimmick set-up allowed for a lot of drama. Dusty and Arn starting created a great baseline and then War Machine entered and worked hard throughout the match. Hawk’s entrance in the match was great with lots of energy, almost like a big hot tag. The interplay between Animal and Blanchard later in the match was a highlight, especially with Animal launching him repeatedly into the cage. And then the finish with the spiked wristband from the Warriors being used on War Machine’s eye was well-done. It’s an interesting contrast with the Warriors using such moves as a heel tactic a year later. Great stuff here that lives up to the rating.

14) 12/6/1987 Lioness Asuka/Mika Komatsu/Kazue Nagahori/Mitsuko Nishiwaki/Etsuko Mita/Sachiko Nakamura vs. Chigusa Nagayo/Yumiko Hotta/Mika Takahashi/Mika Suzuki/Yachiyo Hirata/Yumi Ogura AJW

So the footage I have obtained is about eight minutes of an apparently much longer match. It is listed as the Team Taiketsu Final with the New Yorkers (Nagayo et al) vs the Astros (Asuka and company). I know from the review that Dave wrote after seeing it live that it was most falls to curfew, which I mistook while watching it as being an elimination match. Asuka gets a couple quick eliminations right away, one of a missile dropkick and one off a top rope flying clothesline. Asuka then faces off with Nagayo to a lot of heat. Nagayo comes in with a palm strike but Asuka knocks her to the mat with a clothesline. Asuka does her giant swing and takes Nagayo up top. They both tag out and I am embarrassed to say I’m not sure which women are in. But one of the women hits a gutwrench suplex and tags out to a woman who hits a crossbody. There are frequent tags and we see a single leg crab that gets broken up. One woman gets an extended beatdown but tags out and her partner gets a pinfall off a forearm, a shoulder block and a suplex. Her fresh opponent slaps her and hits a dropkick and they each bridge out of pin attempts. They trade slaps and then another woman tags in and ragdolls her opponent with a wristlock. It’s frequent tags again and one woman does leap in the air into a sitdown splash and does this two more times. Another woman tags in and does backbreaker into a slam. And then the footage gets cut off. It is too hard to judge this match by the footage I have, although it was obviously good. And I will fully admit that I am too much of a joshi novice to fully judge what I was able to see as well. But through this process I hope to change that status. As it is, I can’t call this five stars by what I have seen, based solely on the amount of footage. Those sit-down splashes were awesome though.

15) 12/16/1988 Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs. Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy AJPW

I first saw this match around 2008 and it instantly became one of my ten favorite matches of all time. It is really hard to pick out an MVP for this match among these four as they all bring so much. Kawada was a fiery young babyface and his leg lariats were awesome. This includes a great spot where he combined one with an enzuiguri from Tenryu. Hansen and Gordy were as good as a tag team could be here, putting tons of pressure on the crowd favorites. Gordy and Tenryu had a crazy exchange of slaps at one point. The only thing better than watching Kawada fire up is to see him sell his knee after a beatdown which he does for the finishing portion of the match. Tenryu is absolutely the man hanging in there against the monster gaijin but powerbombs were not his friend. Kawada saved him from one in a great hope spot but the ending of the match saw Tenryu take back-to-back powerbombs. Hansen delivered a standing knee-strike that looks like one of the worst things that could happen to you, until he tops it was a stiff lariat. Hansen and Gordy get the win and are one of the better tag teams you will ever see. Not only does this match easily rate five stars, it also has awesome elbow-drops which is always a bonus for me.

16) 1/28/1989 Genichrio Tenryu, Toshiaki Kawada & Samson Fuyuki vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu/Masanobu Fuchi AJPW

It is unfortunate that this footage is joined in progress and we only see 11:50 of it. What is fortunate is that what we see is tremendous. Kawada is the star of this match in my mind. He throws in some of his great leg lariats, including another enzuiguri combination with Tenryu, but also has other great moments that include a pescado, a bridging German and lots of selling. Fuyuki also gets to shine a lot and it is a shame that the SWS move cut his fame short. It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if he stayed behind when Tenryu left: would he be another pillar or would he have been at the level of Kikuchi? That is nothing to be ashamed of in my mind, by the way. There is a mid-match exchange with Tenryu and Grumpy-Faced Tsuruta that was brief but intense and foretold some of the madness we would see from them later in 1989. Fuchi was great at playing his part and Yatsu had a tremendous match, especially the finish in which he gave Kikuchi one of the greatest powerslams I’ve ever seen. The finishing stretch of this match was great controlled chaos with wrestlers flying everywhere but still having a logic to the match. It would be preferable to have complete footage but this match was top-notch and I can totally see the rating of five stars for it. Track it down people.

17) 2/20/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat (Chi-Town Rumble) NWA

This match brings back magical memories for me. A tape of it was given to me and I watched it during lunchtime and after school over the course of two days, giving me a slow build to the awesome title win by Steamboat. While this match is often overshadowed by the two high-profile matches that came in April and May, it completely stands on its own as a classic. There is a dynamic here that can be forgotten in which Steamboat was essentially an outsider as he returned eleven days earlier as Eddie Gilbert’s mystery partner. It is also the only match in their 1989 series with Flair as champion and Steamboat as challenger. They set a solid pace early, feeling each other out including some hammerlock work from Flair and a chop exchange at a time that it was not overdone. They built perfectly until Flair hit a top rope bodypress and Steamboat rolled through and the crowd was buzzing from that point on. There was an extended figure four spot that Steamboat sold like a champ causing great joy for a big-haired Dave Meltzer in the front row. Seriously, it’s five-star hair. The chop exchanges from this point are great and it builds to a fever pitch when Steamboat hits both Flair and referee Tommy Young with a flying bodypress. Referee Teddy Long (shortly before his heel turn) assisted Young as Flair went for another figure four. Steamboat countered this figure four into a small package for the three-count by Long that was upheld by Young. A perfect match from two perfect wrestlers that holds up at five stars.

18) 3/18/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat NWA

This is a house show title defense by Steamboat with single camera footage. Flair breaks out a roll-up with his feet on the ropes early on. Steamboat gives him a high backdrop. They throw some chops at each other and Flair does his famous Flair Flop. Steamboat whips Flair into the ropes and actually press slams him. Flair rolls to the outside and teases walking to the back but makes his way to the ring. Steamboat hits him with some vicious chops. It’s amazing how Steamboat can even make a snapmare look like a major offensive maneuver. Flair gets a couple stretches with the figure four and uses the ropes as well as assistance from manager Hiro Matsuda. Steamboat sells the figure four like a maniac including slamming his hand furiously on the mat in the days before you tapped out to signal a submission. Steamboat does a great job of selling his knee as well. Steamboat grabs the ropes to escape and they spill to the floor where Flair chops him over the guardrail. They return to the ring and Steamboat comes back with an enzuiguri and applies a figure four. Flair gets the rope and then Steamboat does fourteen elbow drops on Flair’s knee before applying another figure four. Flair struggles through and breaks it with punches to Steamboat’s knee. Flair gets the knees up for a splash from Steamboat. They’re back to more chops and roll-ups. Flair does a nice delayed vertical suplex. Steamboat applies his new double chicken wing for a submission attempt. Flair manages to hit his top rope flying bodypress for a pin attempt and Steamboat hits his own shortly afterward. Flair controls the finishing stretch with chops and roll-ups and then whips Steamboat into the corner but Steamboat bounces out and rolls Flair up for the win. It is a tough call on the five-star rating for this match but it was tremendous and it’s at least close. And now that I think about the figure four leglock work and selling, the multiple elbow drops and the sweet flash pin for the finish, I’d say those put it over the top. Yes, five stars is a good call.

19) 4/2/1989 Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair (2/3 falls, NWA Clash of the Champions VI: Ragin’ Cajun) NWA

Out of the famous three Flair-Steamboat matches from 1989, this is the one I’ve watched least as I’ve only seen it once before. It is great to have Terry Funk on commentary given his upcoming feud with Flair. Steamboat hits some big slaps across Flair’s face in amongst expert chain-wrestling early on. I was really impressed around the eight-minute mark when Steamboat had a front facelock on Flair and would get up and drive his bicep into Flair’s head and then transitioned to knee-drops to the head.  It is such a great attention to detail. Steamboat returns to this shortly after. As expected, we see some crazy chop exchanges. I’d forgotten how amazing these two are when they try to work each other into pinfalls. For the first fall, Flair goes for the figure four leglock and Steamboat rolls him up but Flair reverses into his own roll-up to get the three-count. That was great at playing off their title change. Steamboat press-slams Flair early in the second. After some control by Flair, Steamboat starts elbow-dropping Flair’s leg repeatedly for a total of sixteen times before applying the figure four. Flair eventually gets the rope break and blocks another figure four attempt leading to Steamboat applying a Boston Crab. Flair is unbelievable in selling this. Flair nastily throws Steamboat into the guardrail outside a couple of times. We see more jockeying for pinfalls. Steamboat starts chopping Flair’s lower back and applies a double chicken wing causing Flair to submit to end the second fall.  In the third fall, there is more fun with chops and backdrops and Flair starts working Steamboat’s leg. Flair gets the figure four and Steamboat does a rope break. More chopping. Flair does his flip in the corner and runs down the apron to take a huge chop from Steamboat. The pace picks up a lot at this point. Flair gets the figure four again and they start slapping each other mid-hold. Steamboat eventually rolls them over and they’re tied up in the ropes for a break. Flair starts banging Steamboat’s leg on the apron. Back inside, Flair gets whipped into the corner and does his flip again, this time managing to pull off a bodypress for a near-fall. Steamboat does his own bodypress off the top for a near-fall. Flair works Steamboat;s leg a lot in this fall. Flair goes up top and Steamboat chops him and presses him to the mat. Steamboat applies the double chicken wing and falls back with Flair in a pin and gets the three-count while Flair’s foot is on the rope. Watching this now, the question is not if this match is five stars as that is obvious. The question is whether it is among the greatest matches of all time, and it is certainly up there from what I’ve seen. Of course, the next two matches I review would give any match a run for its money. But if you haven’t seen this you must and if you have just watch it again to remember why you love wrestling.

20) 5/7/1989 Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (NWA WrestleWar ’89: Music City Showdown) NWA

This was definitely my favorite match for a long time and I haven’t watched it in over ten years. It’s cool to see Pat O’Connor at ringside in what would be one of his last televised appearances, and perhaps the last. Flair and Steamboat trade holds and start slapping each other and then unload the chops. Steamboat starts working Flair’s arm. The commentary references to the judges keeping score does add a unique psychology to this match. Steamboat starts using hammerlocks which is great as Steamboat had added the double chicken wing to his repertoire, to which Flair had submitted. Flair breaks out some forearms. Steamboat does his legendary armdrags. Flair starts to take control with chops and strikes as the match enters the second fifteen-minute period. Steamboat fires back with his own chops and sends Flair into his corner flip with Flair landing in the tree of woe. Flair manages to send Steamboat to the outside and chops him into the first row. Back in the ring, Steamboat sends Flair into his corner flip and then chops him down when he runs on the apron. Steamboat goes for a lateral press in the ring but flies outside when Flair gets out of the way. Flair slingshots Steamboat back in and starts beating on him. Flair does a back suplex and later delivers a vertical suplex and an elbow-drop. Steamboat fights back and tries a bodypress but Flair catches him and guillotines him on the top rope. Flair gives Steamboat a vertical suplex on the floor and we get judges’ scores of 2-1 for Flair for the second fifteen minutes. Steamboat does an O’Connor Roll in front of O’Connor himself. Flair comes back with a lateral press and they both tumble over the top rope. Steamboat gets back inside and press-slams Flair from the top rope. Steamboat starts using karate chops and places Flair on the top rope and superplexes him. Steamboat goes for the double chicken wing but Flair gets his feet in the ropes. Steamboat does a flying chop of the top rope. He goes for a second one but Flair falls into the ropes sending Steamboat to the floor where he sells the knee. Flair works Steamboat’s knee and then applies the figure four. Steamboat gets the ropes and Flair continues to work the leg as they stand but Steamboat hits an enzuiguri. Steamboat scoops Flair up for a slam but his knee buckles and Flair rolls him up to pin him and regain the title. This match is outstanding and is unquestionably five stars. It is hard to choose between this and the 2/3 falls match as that match is longer and the 2/3 falls creates a different drama. But the finish was more final here as it was the last in the series and then the angle with Funk after this match is legendary. It’s really a coin toss between the two matches but I think I’ll go with the 2/3 falls match.

Overall ratings:

1)4/2/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat

2) 5/7/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat

3) 12/16/1988 Toshiaki Kawada & Genichiro Tenryu vs. Stan Hansen & Terry Gordy AJPW

4) 1/28/1986 Jumbo Tsuruta & Genichrio Tenryu vs. Riki Choshu & Yoshiaki Yatsu AJPW

5) 2/14/1986 Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (NWA Battle of the Belts 2) CWF

6) 2/20/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat

7) 8/22/1985 Lioness Asuka vs. Jaguar Yokota AJW

8) 7/31/1987 Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff and Paul Ellering vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger and War Machine War Games JCP

9) 2/26/1987 Chigusa Nagayo vs. Lioness Asuka AJW

10) 1/20/1987 Ric Flair vs Barry Windham

11) 3/18/1989 Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat

12) 12/5/1984 Kazuo Yamazaki vs. Nobuhiko Takada UWF

13) 1l28/1989 Genichrio Tenryu, Toshiaki Kawada & Samson Fuyuki vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu/Masanobu Fuchi AJPW

14) 4/11/1987 Ric Flair vs Barry Windham JCP

15) 3/9/1985 Tiger Mask II vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi AJPW

16) 4/21/1983 Tiger Mask I vs. The Dynamite Kid NJPW

17) 3/20/1987 Keiji Mutoh & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Akira Maeda & Nobuhiko Takada NJPW

18) 4/19/1986 Sheepherders vs. Fantastics (Bobby Fulton/Tommy Rogers) JCP

`19) 12/8/1984 Stan Hansen & Bruiser Brody vs. Dory Funk & Terry Funk

20) 12/6/1987 Lioness Asuka/Mika Komatsu/Kazue Nagahori/Mitsuko Nishiwaki/Etsuko Mita/Sachiko Nakamura vs. Chigusa Nagayo/Yumiko Hotta/Mika Takahashi/Mika Suzuki/Yachiyo Hirata/Yumi Ogura AJW

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