As many of you are aware, WWE Network is pretty packed with all sorts of content. And as you may also know, we here at Place to Be Nation love long term, in depth projects. So, as part of this initiative, JT Rozzero, Chad Campbell, Jason Greenhouse, Scott Criscuolo & Dan McGinn are starting in 1975 and are planning to watch the entire offering of the WWE Network chronologically. They have plotted their course and after watching each program, they will share their thoughts, notes and recommendations with our readers. So, settle in and enjoy this epic ride through wrestling history!
Run Time: 44:43
Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich, Steel Cage Match – NWA World Heavyweight Championship
JT: Obviously we have just one choice here tonight, so our World Title match was going to be the default winner. Putting it inside a cage was great as it made the stakes that much higher, as did Michael Hayes in the role of special guest referee. KVE was aggressive in attacking the leg early and that got the crowd riled right up. The best spot early was KVE flipping out of a suplex and locking in a sleeper to a big pop. The flow of the match was really good with KVE working through the heat segment with a multitude of comebacks of varied methods. Those were key to keep the hometown fans engaged and hyped for a potential title change. During one of KVE’s comebacks, the juice started to flow as he viciously raked Flair across the cage, tearing his flesh wide open. The fans were really starting to sniff a title change and the bloody Flair was hammered over and over. Flair survived it and went to work on the rehabbed knee, hoping to reinjure it and also prep for the figure four. And he finally would hook in the hold, but KVE fought valiantly and eventually turned it over. After some more cage grating, the roof near blew off the arena when KVE hooked the claw on Flair’s crimson mask. We got a weird little moment when Hayes got caught between KVE and the door, allowing Flair to crack him from behind. Hayes would eventually lose his composure and clock Flair and then implore KVE to cover him, but the Modern Day Warrior refused. Hayes shoved him and the two tussled for a moment before Gordy spiked the door off KVE’s head, allowing Flair to take full control of the match. After a vicious assault from Flair, KVE hit a desperation discus punch but was clearly out on his feet. That left David Manning no alternative but to call for the bell and give the match to Flair. Fantastic. A tremendous heel turn, great heat and a very well booked and well worked match, including the finish which gave KVE one last shine but clearly insinuated that Hayes cost him the match. A great payoff to a long, well executed build.
Chad: Only one match, but a classic one that changed a territory on the rise into one of the hottest promotions in the entire wrestling world. This match has it all. A heel world champion in Ric Flair that still has some fight in him. A conquering hero in Kerry Von Erich that was robbed the last time these two met and is now out to bring home the richest prize in the sport to Texas. Michael Hayes as the fan appointed special referee fresh off winning the six man titles earlier in the night. Terry Gordy as the enforcer of the cage and in some ways the linchpin. The match really develops a great story over the course of it all of a match simmering until tempers get too high and things just boil over. One of the most important things with any heel turn of this magnitude is the justification of the individual’s turning. This match exemplifies that more than almost any match in history with Hayes getting progressively more pissed off at the way the rules were being dismayed by the combatants. The steel door shot by Gordy was gripping and brutal and the perfect point of no return spot. I do have some minor complaints with the finish as I felt it made Kerry look a bit too strong and was a cop out with Manning stopping the match. I think Flair giving Kerry a piledriver for the win would have been more effective. However, this is one of the most important wrestling matches in the 1980s and also one of the best. This match is a true classic that any wrestling fan should seek out. ****1/2
Jason: Wow, what a ride this was! From top to bottom, the main event of Star Wars delivered big time. Ric Flair and Kerry Von Erich brought the goods in what I have to call the best match we’ve watched so far in this adventure. We all know what Ric Flair brings to the table for a high profile match, but I have to tip my hat to Kerry Von Erich for hanging with the Nature Boy all throughout the match.
Dan: Geez tough call. How do you not go with the dark match between a very young Nailz against The Checkmate in a Loser Gets A New Gimmick match? But seriously, when you have one match and it’s an all-time classic for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, it’s crystal clear what the answer to this question is. We built this up for months now. We overcame a bounty scandal, put up with Flair’s constant ducking of Fritz and the family, even shot a few ducks along the way. And it all culminated with this intense and violent war surrounded by steel. The Nature Boy would survive and keep his prize, but the family feud that not even Richard Dawson would be brave enough to stand between was the headline on this night.
Scott: With only one real match on the card it’s hard to gauge anything here, so we will go with our lone match of the show. It’s Flair, its the WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP and it’s a steel cage. It’s also one of wrestling’s most epic heel turns.
JT: I will go with everyone. They were all great. Flair played the asshole heel role perfectly, especially in the post match beatdown. Kerry Von Erich worked a really strong match, showing good fire with his comebacks and working the crowd masterfully. Michael Hayes was in a tough spot and could have really caused the match to be messy, but he was damn near flawless in his execution. Even Terry Gordy played his role perfectly as well.
Chad: This was Ric Flair’s match. He was leading Kerry through the early portions of the mat work and did the great callback with the sleeper spot. Him bleeding also took the match to the visceral level it needed to be at. Flair leaves as the NWA Champion and a scapegoat in the ongoing saga that will ensue between the Von Erichs and the Freebirds.
Jason: Every single damn person involved in the match! Flair was Big Game Ric as expected. Kerry’s selling was off the charts. Michael Hayes’ aggression building throughout the match was incredible. Terry Gordy’s role as gate keeper was topped off with the cage door shot heard around the wrestling world. Throw in Bill Mercer’s excellent job calling the match and you have perfection on Christmas night in Dallas.
Dan: Both competitors were fantastic in this match and played their respective roles to perfection. Flair was the ring general who helped Kerry along using his veteran experience while the challenger was the plucky underdog who always came up just a hair short in the end. People were hanging on every move the Modern Day Warrior made from his strikes to the sleeper and eventually the iron claw. Flair sold every move flawlessly, bled more than an episode of Game of Thrones, and made the viewer believe his clutches on the World Title were slipping away for good. In spite of all the hoopla and idiotic double ref shenanigans, these two played the game the right way and turned in a tremendous performance.
Scott: Everyone involved in this entire thing, from Flair to Hayes to Terry Gordy to (begrudgingly) Kerry Von Erich, who may have actually wrestled an entire match without being high or clueless. The storytelling was great and Hayes added so much psychology to the match. on top of the hot crowd.
JT: I forgot that the match didn’t end right after the door slam. The final sequence was full of heat and really damn good.
Chad: The amount of matwork at the beginning was refreshing and made the payoff of the cage spots that much more satisfying. For the arc of the match, it also gave a sense of the officials more gradually losing control.
Jason: It’s not really a big surprise, but Kerry’s selling was very good and added to everything that was going on during the match.
Dan: I’m stunned that Flair didn’t get stabbed on his way out of the arena. That belt was as good as Kerry’s. Hell they even announced him as the “Uncrowned World Champion” for Pete’s sake. Kerry losing probably caused serious depression, broke up a few marriages, a crime spree ensued and therapy bills went through the roof in the Lone Star State. How Flair or Hayes or Gordy lived through that night is just baffling to me.
Scott: I really don’t have a major surprise as this is one of the more high profile and most watched matches in WCCW history. Maybe that Kerry didn’t win? I guess the heel turn was more important.
JT: None for me. I loved all of this.
Chad: Only minor disappointing thing is the finish that I mention above. Everything else is note perfect.
Jason: Bupkis from me.
Dan: Michael Hayes. Yes I understand why they did it. I get that the saga between the Von Erichs and the Freebirds began on this night. But everything about him in this match just looked so stupid. Why was he shirtless if he’s the referee? Why was he manhandling the competitors incessantly? Why did he turn on Kerry but only moments before he was punching Flair and encouraged the challenger to pin the champ? Why did he continue to count after Kerry kicked out of door slam shot? He comes across like a petulant little school boy this whole match. It just bugs me to no end how overbooked this whole thing was and it took away from what was a rare awesome match by Kerry. It won’t be the first time on this adventure that someone complains about a guest referee almost ruining a main event, but whenever Hayes was involved, I had to cringe. I guess I’m alone on this island judging by the comments and I get that his involvement was a necessary means to an end. But if you want my honest opinion, I hated Hayes more than the Yankees on this night and I suppose that was the point all along.
Scott: There’s no disappointments for me on this show. The Freebirds turned heel, Ric Flair is still THE MAN and we are off and running for WCCW’s “golden years” of the promotion.
JT: Bill Mercer does a nice job setting the stage with his opening monologue, including “Young All American Boy”; I like how they revisited the finish of the last battle between Flair and Von Erich to help refresh us all on the controversy there; The prematch interviews were a nice touch too and really the idea of having this whole episode be built around just this match was a very good decision; Michael Hayes refereeing in just jeans with no shirt is quite the scene; Great attention to detail by having Hayes explain why Terry Gordy was out with him; Gordy was really good on the floor, shuffling to block the door anytime Flair was near it; After all the build with him via satellite, it felt like a really big deal to see Flair actually arrive in the promotion to compete; Mercer saying “sleep hold” got old fast; The double referees didn’t really take away from the match at all, both guys still had plenty of room to work; The story played out perfectly across the board on this one
Chad: I don’t have many observations for this show but it is a delight to watch and really should be sought out on the network.
Jason: The Reunion Arena crowd was on FIRE all throughout. Bill Mercer did a fantastic job selling the storyline both before and during the match. Kerry’s look of focus and determination before heading down the aisle was really cool. Flair looked like a million bucks in his red robe. Besides Steve Austin, the only other guy who can get away with refereeing a match in jeans and sneakers is Michael Hayes. The sound of the cage door bouncing off Kerry’s skull was unbelievable. The Dallas crowd popping every time Kerry would make a comeback added to the big match feel. The tight camera shots also added to drama, especially after both men had color.
Dan: This was without question one of the most amped up crowds we have seen so far. They were ravenous to see their hero win the biggest prize in the land and even basic moves were getting the loudest cheers. I enjoyed the symmetry of this match to the previous 2-out-3 falls bout they had where Kerry basically lost two falls by DQ. The solution… put this match in a cage where disqualifications are completely off the table. Flair also worked the same leg that was previously injured in the bountygate storyline involving Kabuki and Gary Hart. Plus the added bonus of David Von Erich coming out and cutting that short promo on the birds as it was him who was responsible for bringing Michael, and by extension, Terry down to Texas. Even Mercer could feel he level of tension and it played into his commentary. At one point he got so worked up that when Flair elbowed Kerry in the throat, Mercer nervously claimed that it was knee and didn’t correct himself. You could tell he was at the edge of his seat from start to dramatic finish.
Scott: I love Michael Hayes really dressing for the occasion with jeans, sneakers and no shirt. Bizarre; They should mimic the camera angles at Reunion Arena that they do for the Sportatorium, they are better and makes the place seem bigger; The crowd also is louder here, but I know the technology is not available at the big urinal;
Consensus Best WWE Network Match to Date: Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich (Christmas Star Wars, WCCW 12/28/82)
Consensus Worst WWE Network Match to Date: Ivan Putski vs. Baron Von Rashcke (Madison Square Garden, 6/27/77)
JT: Well then. That certainly was a hell of a wrestling program. I am not sure what more you could want from a weekly episodic installment. The match was great. The angle was top notch. It was memorable, historic and set the territory on fire. Everything played off the build with KVE’s rehabbed knee, the Freebirds’ association with the Von Erichs. Flair’s swagger reaching the brink and on and on. Flair’s gusher was pretty heavy and watching him pulverize a concussed Von Erich with blood streaming was quite the scene. The crowd was super hot as well, really adding to the atmosphere. I mean, I know we will watch better stuff as a whole but for what this is, it is really as perfect of an hour of TV as you can ask for out of a promotion. Final Grade: 8.5/10
Chad: One classic match makes for one classic hour of tv. I don’t think you can ask for much more from a wrestling program. Final Grade: 9.5/10
Jason: The match that started one of the most vicious feuds of the decade still holds up. All the stars were lined up perfectly this evening in Dallas. If you’ve never watched this match, make it a point to check it out. World Class is on fire right now! What’s next for the Von Erichs and Freebirds? I think we’re all pumped to watch this feud unfold. Final Grade: 8.5/10
Dan: The road to this epic rematch has reached its conclusion and while we didn’t get the Vince happy ending with the hero riding off with the gold, we are served up the genesis of one of the greatest rivalries in Professional Wrestling history. I can complain about how stupid Michael Hayes looked and acted all I want, but not even a hater like me can dispute the significance of this match and what it meant for this territory. Kudos to the company for understanding that they could do something wonderfully creative with their main eventers while using the visiting NWA World Championship as the backdrop. Unlike my colleagues, I don’t think this was perfect though there was more that I liked than disliked. Historically speaking, this was the best show we have documented to date without question. We are in for a delicious treat of Von Erich/Freebirds warfare and I can’t wait! Final Grade: 8/10
Scott: It was a one-off show that was probably hyped up locally as a huge show post-Christmas for those that didn’t make it to the show that night. There’s really nothing to complain about here, except that Bill Mercer really did struggle with the wrestling vernacular and how to pump up a show or a match. He must have been a news guy or something because those weird vignettes that are treated like news stories are in his wheelhouse, but sometimes during matches he gets tangled up with wrestling vocabulary. This was an easy watch (probably the 6th or 7th time I’ve seen the match) but since it’s Flair it’s fine with me. Final Grade: 7/10