The Five Star Series ~ Part Two :
11/15/89 : Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk ~ "I Quit" Match.
Clash of the Champions IX : “New York Knockout”
Let's go to work!
~ The Story ~
If you're a wrestling fan over a certain age (let's not bother to mention what that age might be), you probably remember watching this match on television. It comes at the tail end of 1989, which was a truly remarkable year for fans of awesome pro wrestling. For most of the year, the NWA title picture was dominated by a three part, classic series of five star matches, between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat (a series that we will be looking closely at, in the very near future), which some people feel is the greatest series of wrestling matches in history. Period.
For the final match of this legendary series, at Wrestlewar '89 in May, a three man judging panel is brought in to observe the main event, and decide on a winner, in the case of a time limit draw. Those judges are - Pat O’Connor, Lou Thesz, and Terry Funk. After Flair defeats Steamboat to regain the title, Funk interrupts Flair's post match promo with Jim Ross, to congratulate Flair on his win, and to challenge Flair for the title. Flair calmly explains to Funk that he is not worthy of a title shot, since he has been off in Hollywood making movies (truly incredible films such as - “Over the Top” and “Roadhouse”), and that there is an official Top Ten Ranking system in place, which Funk would have to earn his way onto, if he wanted a title shot.
Suffice to say, The Funker takes this news... poorly. He feels disrespected by The Nature Boy, so he goes totally ballistic. He attacks Flair, and beats him mercilessly, eventually Pile Driving him on the judges table, and smashing a chair over his head. It was quite a sight to see in 1989 (still is, actually) .
Flair's neck is hurt badly, and he is out of action for a few months. They even tease that Flair might announce his retirement, but instead he vows to come back and take out Terry Funk. Funk, in the meantime, allies himself with Gary Hart's : J-Tex Corporation (with Muta, Buzz Sawyer, Dick Slater, and The Dragon Master), and they go on the warpath, decimating every baby-face on the roster.
Flair returns in July at The Great American Bash, to exact some revenge on Terry Funk, but their feud continues on thru the summer, with Flair (fighting the “Numbers Game”) eventually forced to ally himself with long time rival ~ Sting. Sting and Flair battle J-Tex in September, at The Clash of Champions, and during a post match brawl, a crazed Terry Funk comes out, and literally attempts to murder Ric Flair, by wrapping a plastic bag around his head.
Funk and Flair decide to settle things, once and for all, with an epic “I Quit” match at The November Clash of Champions. This match is pushed as the first time that one of these two legends will say the words : “I quit”. That's probably not true... in fact, Flair submitted very recently in a match with Ricky Steamboat... but why let the facts ruin a good story?
The already high stakes were raised even higher, when Flair and Funk made a gentleman's agreement that the loser would have to shake the winner's hand, and admit that he was indeed the better man.
It's worthy of note here, that this feud and match, lead to Terry Funk cutting two of his greatest promos of all time.
One : My Wife's Beautiful Dream Promo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkLtItxkbXQ), in which Terry's wife dreams of running over Ric Flair with her car.
Two : The Useless Jackass Promo (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qkw3xaxdjGc), in which Terry talks about his father blowing the brains out of his beloved Jackass.
They are both certainly worth checking out, before you move onto...
~ The Match ~
The bell rings, and we get a close shot of fans at ringside brandishing an “I Quit” banner.
Jim Ross : “That's what it's all about... Pin falls are irrelevant.”
Funk immediately grabs the house mic and gives Ric Flair a chance to : “Quit right now, before this even starts... I'm going to give you that chance, as a man!” Flair does not take Funk up on his kind offer. Funk continues to rant and rave for a bit, but we can't hear him, because he throws away the mic.
The crowd is pumped, and these two men, who have been (literally) attempting to murder each other for almost six months, begin this extremely personal altercation with... a Collar and Elbow tie up (fans of the old Superstars Drinking Game Experience, know what that means ~ *drink). No one gets the advantage.
Ross talks about the fact that they have thirty minutes of airtime left. Frankly, he's not sure that is enough time for one of these legendary figures to utter the magic words... but he promises us that they will stay with the match for as long as they can.
Flair and Funk tie up again (*drink again), Funk backs Flair into the ropes, and tries for a Knife Edge Chop. Flair ducks under, and hits a huge Chop of his own, that send The Funker tumbling backward over the top rope, and to the floor. Terry (being Terry) pops up immediately, picks up the ringside barricade, and slams it down. He tries to take a shot at a guy in a Batman tee shirt in the front row, but loses his balance, teeters on top of the barricade briefly, before landing back on his feet. A dazed Funk starts throwing wild phantom punches toward fans in the front row.
Gordon Solie (with the hilarious understatement of the decade) : “Funk is almost to the point of being irrational”.
Funk eventually makes his way back into the ring, and the two men tie up again (that's a third *drink). Flair backs Funk into the corner, and hits three huge Knife Edge Chops. Flair whips Terry back and forth, from turnbuckle to turnbuckle, and finishes with another big Chop. Terry slowly falls to the mat, and quickly rolls to the outside, where he promptly attacks a photographer at ringside. Flair quickly follows Funk to the floor, and saves the hapless photo journalist, by attacking Funk with more stiff Chops. The photographer wisely scampers away (was that Bill Apter?), as Funk rolls back into the ring. Flair follows him, but Funk rolls all the way out the other side, and takes a breather on the floor.
Funk slowly climbs back into the ring, while the announcers extol the virtues of Ric Flair's Figure Four Leglock, and the Funk Brothers' Spinning Toe Hold. Both men have their hands up, despite not having corner men to bark that suggestion at them every two seconds (which seems to be the duty of most modern MMA corner men). Funk throws two quick left handed jabs, which both score. Flair's boxing does not appear to be his long suit.
The two men tie up again (*drink again), and Funk grabs a Side Headlock. Flair shoots him off into the ropes, but Funk knocks Flair to the mat with a Shoulder Tackle. Flair quickly Ankle Picks Terry (called a “Single Leg Pickup” by Jim Ross), and the two go into a double choke spot on the canvass. Funk breaks the chokes with a clear thumb to the eye.
Flair screams out in pain, and rolls to the apron of the ring. Terry follows him, and starts kicking and stomping Flair on the apron, just above the announcer's table. Both Gordon Solie and Jim Ross wisely retreat to safer ground, as Funk drags Flair up (by the hair), and knocks him back down again with some straight left hands. Funk drags Flair up again (by the hair), and hits a big Knife Edge Chop, and a Headbutt that drops Flair (I saw that same Headbutt drop Bruiser Brody just recently, so I'm not at all surprised that it drops the Nature Boy here). Funk drags Flair back into the ring, and they exchange blows in the center of the ring. Funk gets the advantage with a few more left hands, and a elbow to the head of Ric Flair. Flair bumps hard to the mat.
Funk pulls Flair up again, and throws him thru the ropes, and to the floor. Funk follows Flair to the floor, as Gary Hart offers this invaluable advice to The West Texas Madman : “Stay on him!” Brilliant... Gary Hart is as useful a corner man here, as Joe Warren is currently on Bellator's Fight Master.
Funk slams Flair's head into the ringside barricade, and unloads with five huge straight left hands to to the forehead. Flair goes down again, while Funk grabs the microphone. Funk slams the mic into Flair's head, which seems to wake the Nature Boy up a bit. The two men exchange fists and chops on the floor, with Flair getting the better of the exchange. Funk rolls back into the ring, to escape Flair. Flair quickly follows him, as the crowd begins to rally behind the Nature Boy. Flair hits a chop, but Funk answers with another stiff left hand that drops Flair again. Funk drags Ric into the corner, mounts the second turnbuckle, and start raining down left hands. Funk demands that someone bring him the microphone.
Funk implores Flair to : “Say it! You egg sucking dog! Say it”, as he lands punch after punch to Slick Ric's head. After roughly twenty of these shots, Flair finally hooks Funk, and hits a desperation Inverted Atomic Drop, to escape from the corner. Both men are down.
Both men up slowly. Flair hits a chop, and whips Funk into the ropes. Flair drops his head, looking for a Backdrop, but Funk counters into a Swinging Neck Breaker. Funk drags Flair to his knees, and open hand slaps him across the face a number of times.
Bad move. This wakes up The Nature Boy, and he grabs Funk by the throat. Flair with a knee strike to the midsection, followed by a series of hard Chops. Funk falls backwards thru the ropes, and tumbles hard to the floor (a spot he makes look totally effortless). Flair follows him to the outside and continues the assault. Flair slams Funk's head into the barricade, and unloads with chops and punches. A dazed Funk once again takes some wild swings at fans in the front row. Funk tries to roll back into the ring, but Flair catches him by the leg, drags him back to the floor, and slams his head into the ringside barricade again. Gary Hart tries to intervene on Funk's behalf, but Flair quickly shoves him aside. When Hart threatens to go after Flair with Terry's branding iron, referee Tommy Young comes out, and gives Hart a stern talking to.
Flair rolls Funk back into the ring, and demands the mic himself. Flair slaps Funk a few times, and chokes him, while sticking the mic into his face, and demanding that he : “Say it!” Flair sees Gary Hart at ringside, brandishing the branding iron, and he (foolishly) lets Terry go, to go after Hart. Of course, Funk pops up immediately, and clobbers Flair from behind. Funk drags Flair back into the center of the ring, while Solie and Ross marvel at Funk's “uncanny resiliency” (a trait they credit to his father). Funk hits another Swinging Neck Breaker.
Funk grabs the mic, and asks Ric : “Do you remember your neck? Don't you want to quit before I hurt you?” Before Flair can answer, Funk pummels him a few more times, and hooks him for the dreaded Pile Driver. Flair drops to one knee, while Funk demands that Tommy Young : “Ask him if he wants to quit!”
Flair still refuses to quit, so Funk picks him up... and gives him a brutal Pile Driver. Funk follows with a leaping Leg Drop, and he simply grabs Flair by the back of his head, and proceeds to repeatedly slam his head on the canvass. Funk takes the mic, calls Flair a “gutless pig”, gives him a stiff slap, and throws him out to the floor.
Funk follows Flair to the floor, and hooks him in the Pile Driver position again. He carefully repositions himself, so that they are both off of the ringside mats, and on the exposed concrete floor (excellent touch). Without hesitation, Funk Pile Drives Flair again on the exposed concrete.
The crowd audibly gasps here, as the fans are noticeably shocked, and concerned about Ric Flair's health.
Ross : “He's hurt bad Gordon... Flair is hurt very badly here...”
Solie : “We may be seeing the end of a dynasty right here.”
Funk calmly strides over to Tommy Young, grabs the mic from his hands, and confidently strides back over to where Flair lies convulsing on the floor. Terry has the look of a man who has absolutely no doubt that he has just vanquished his foe.
Funk doesn't ask Ric is he wants to quit, he simply pops him in the head with the mic, and picks him up, and throws him back into the ring. Funk drags Ric to his feet, and hits an elbow strike to the top of the head, which drops Flair again. Funk repeats this with the other elbow, and throws Flair back out the floor. Funk Scoop Slams Flair onto the timekeepers table. He dumps Flair off of the table, and positions it up against the side of the ring. Funk goes back after Flair, who manages to hit a few desperation Chops. Funk is momentarily stunned, and Flair follows up with a few punches, and he slams Terry Funk headfirst into the very table that Funk just set up at ringside.
Funk does the “wandering aimlessly sell”, as Flair repositions the table, and leaps onto Terry's back. Flair begins to fire up the crowd, with more punches and Chops. Flair throws Funk over the table. Funk slides all the way down the table, flies off, and collides face first with an empty steel chair at ringside. Gary Hart again tries to interfere, but Flair shoves him down, hits an elbow strike to the head, and throws him aside. Flair with more Chops on Funk, and an Atomic Drop onto the security railing. Funk teeters on the railing for a few seconds, before Flair gives him another Chop, that sends him crashing to the floor.
Funk pops up to his knees, grabbing at his crotch. He attempts to flee, by running away on his knees... but Flair calmly follows right behind him. Funk rolls back into the ring (still selling his crotch), and Flair follows him. Right about now I'm thinking --- You know what we haven't seen yet?
Any submission holds.
Flair says “Now!” and hits his patented leaping knee strike to the head. Funk sells it by rolling all the way out the ring, and to the floor. Of course, as soon as his feet hit the floor, he spins around and rolls right back into the ring, where Flair is waiting for him.
Spoiler alert ~ Jim Ross teases Funk's upcoming face turn here, saying : “He's not my favorite guy, but I've got to tip my hat to him. A lot of guys would be hanging it up, but he's back in there fighting”.
Flair picks up (the soon to be baby-face) Funk, and hits another Inverted Atomic Drop. Much of Flair's offense in this match seems based around damaging Terry's “Little Funker”. Clearly Ric Flair is *very* angry at Terry Funk.
Flair drags Funk over to the ropes, drapes his left leg over to the bottom rope, and comes crashing down with all of his weight on Funk's knee. Funk pops up immediately, and tries to limp away, but his leg will no longer hold him up, and he collapses back down to the mat.
Funk pulls himself up using the top rope, but Flair kicks his knee twice, and gives him two stiff Chops. Funk spins around in circles, selling this like he has been shot in the face with a howitzer. Flair hits a series of straight right hands, and Chops, that spin Terry around and around... but Terry refuses to go down.
Solie : “How does he possibly stay on his feet?”
Ross : “Unbelievable mental toughness!”
Flair goes back to the knee, with a short kick that finally crumples Terry. Terry crawls around the ring, unable to stand. He slides under the ropes to the floor, but he can not stand on his leg. He tries to hop to the back to escape Flair, but Flair runs him down, and leaps onto his back to take him down. Flair picks Funk up by the leg, marches him back toward the ring, and drops him down into the Flair Shin Breaker.
Flair rolls into the ring, pulls Funk up to the apron, and hooks a huge delayed Vertical Suplex from the apron into the ring. Flair mugs the crowd a bit (*drink), says “Now!” again, and grabs Funk's leg. Flair attempts a Figure Four Leglock. Funk desperately kicks and squirms, with everything that he has left in him. Terry manages to barely break free with another thumb to the eye. Funk quickly rolls Flair to the apron, where he tries to answer Flair's outside/in Vertical Suplex, however Flair counters the attempt. Flair Suplexes Funk from the ring, hard onto the apron. Funk takes a nasty, stiff bump on the apron... at age 45... which looks like it sucks... and is oddly “timely” when viewed with 2013 eyes.
Flair drops to the floor, picks Funk's leg up, and slam it down hard on the apron. Terry tries to roll away from Flair, but Ric rolls into the ring and catches him. Funk holds onto the top rope to hold himself up. Terry throws some wild punches, but Flair easily avoids them. Flair unloads with a series of stiff Chops, and a short kick to the kneecap. Flair once again grabs the leg, and Funk is too beat to attempt any sort of counter, so Flair easily locks on the dreaded Figure Four Leglock.
Ross : “There it is! There it is! He's got the Figure Four!”
Solie : “That puts pressure of five different points, the pain is intense!”
Tommy Young grabs the mic, while The Funker flails around in pain. The pain is such that Funk grabs Tommy Young, and pulls him to the mat in desperation. Funk flails... and screams... and gives one of the most impressive performances that I have ever seen inside of a pro wrestling ring.
Funk : “No... No... Never! Never! Oh God! God Dammit! Never! No... Arrgh! My leg... My leg is breaking! It's breaking... Aarrggghhh!!!! Y... Ye.... Yes, I quit!”
This happens around the 19:10 mark. The bell actually rings about ten seconds later for some reason. Gary Hart hits the ring immediately (too soon for my taste), to begin the post match angle which will turn Terry baby-face.
Post match (in short) : Funk agrees to shake Flair's hand, as per their agreement before the match. Gary Hart does not like this. Terry explains (on the live mic) : “I promised the people (that) I would... I'm going to shake his hand, like I said.”
They shake hands. Terry says : “You're a hell of man, Ric Flair”. Gary still doesn't like it. After the handshake, Hart kicks Funk in the knee, and Funk goes down hard.
Flair responds by punching, and Chopping Gary Hart. Quickly, Muta and The Dragon Master come to Hart's aid, and they start to beat down Ric Flair. Hart kicks Funk in the knee again, and String comes in to make the save. Sting and Flair rally, and eventually get a simultaneous Scorpion Death Lock, and Figure Four on Muta, and The Dragon Master. Lex Lugar shows up with a chair, and waffles String right in the back of the head. Flair attacks Lugar, but “The Japanese” (Jim Ross' words) double team him, and he eats a chair shot as well. Lugar and J-Tex triple team Flair, while Gary Hart finds Funk's branding iron, and proceeds to repeatedly slam it over Funk's decimated knee.
Lugar and J-Tex make their way to the back, while the baby-faces, and Funk, are laid out in the ring. Lugar stops on the way back to destroy Ric Flair's Pro Wrestling Illustrated : “Wrestler of the Decade” trophy with a steel chair. Jim Ross calls Lugar a “sickening son-of-a-gun”... as we fade to black.
~ Analysis ~
Damn! An amazing match. Quite beautiful, in it's simplistic brutality.
The post match is : “Ehh”... nothing too exciting. I understand the importance of shifting the heat from Funk/Flair, to Flair/String vs. The Gary Hart Army. Tho, we are left with the palpable impression that Funk is going to join Flair and Sting, and Lugar is going to replace Terry in the J-Tex Corporation. I suppose they would have to change their name to : “J-Fla” (because Luger is from Florida, you see... never mind), but this doesn't actually happen. Instead Funk “retires” once again, and becomes an announcer for a while... while Sting and Flair move on to feud with “Gary Hart International”.
“J-Fla Corporation” would have been a much better choice of names.
Seriously, the style of this match stands in interesting contrast to the previous three five star matches that Flair was in (with Ricky Steamboat) earlier in the year. While those matches read like an encyclopedia of wrestling holds and maneuvers, this one was simply a violent straight up “Street Fight”. The move set for this match (for *both* men) included : Repeated various strikes; Two Vertical Suplexs; Two Atomic Drops; Two Neck-breakers; Two Piledrivers; and a Figure Four Leglock... And that's it.
By “keeping it ugly”, Flair and Funk managed to tell the story of two guys who are both incredible professional wrestlers, who hated each other *so* much, that they threw away all of their training, and just beat the holy hell out of each other for twenty minutes... and it worked perfectly. In that vein, I could have done without the repeated Collar and Elbow Tie Ups... but that is a minor complaint.
Does this match hold up nearly twenty five years later?
Yes, it does. Both men are amazing performers, and both are at the very peak of their game in this match. I loved the fact that there are no “teases” in this match. No “near falls” (so to speak). No spots where you think that one of them might give up... but they don't. In fact, there is no exchange of submissions at all. There's one submission spot in the match, and it's the finish. These guys simply beat each other senseless, until Flair finally got his killer finisher... and Terry was forced to say The Words.
Beautiful, simple, effective, story-telling. No one's “cleverness” got in the way here. I think this match earns it's five star rating with it's simplicity more than anything else. Flair is amazing (and at his peak), and Funk is The Mad Genius. The twenty-some seconds (at the end of the match) of him selling the devastation of the Figure Four, ranks near the top of the most amazing performances that I have ever seen inside of a wrestling ring.
The clean, definitive finish is phenomenal (and all too rare in the convoluted world of pro wrestling). This match definitely holds up as one of the best matches that I have ever seen. It was awesome in 1989... and it is still awesome right now.
Thanks for coming along with me, on this epic Five Star journey Gang!
Next up : More of The West Texas Madman!
See you then.