5-Star Match Reviews: Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair 1.5 – March 18th, 1989 NWA House Show

5-Star Match Reviews: Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair 1.5 – March 18th, 1989 NWA House Show

Most wrestling fans have heard of the famous Flair-Steamboat trilogy. Those three matches are often hailed as the best matches of all time. And on many occasions, they’ve been the benchmark, the standard, when comparing other famous multi-match rivalries. But what a lot of people seem to forget is that there are more than just three matches in this great series.

Sandwiched between the Chi-Town Rumble match and the Clash of the Champions match is a house show match. Now, normally star ratings aren’t really assigned to these live events because, duh, they’re not televised. But there’s an exception here. Someone filmed this match and uploaded it to the internet. Because of that, we can look back at this lost classic to see how good it really was, and to see how it compares to both the other matches in the Flair/Steamboat series and other critically-acclaimed matches as well.

Today we revisit the first-ever Dave Meltzer Six-Star wrestling match: Flair vs. Steamboat from their Landover, Maryland house show.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

House shows/live events rarely, if ever, incorporate televised stories. The same applies here. As a result, this is basically an untelevised world title match between champion Steamboat and challenger Flair.

The match

This match took place on an untelevised house show in Landover, Maryland, on March 18th, 1989. Dave Meltzer was there live in attendance and loved this match so much he rated it 6-stars. But because the match wasn’t televised, that rating was ‘unofficial’. So looking at the match now, let’s see how well it holds up.

This is a fancam shoot, as no official footage exists of the match. I’ve included a link to the match below. Thanks to whoever shot and uploaded this. Without it, this match would’ve been forever lost in time.

They do introductions and Flair is showered with boos and the crowd cheers loudly for Steamboat. This is for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Flair does some trash-talking as the bell rings and he gets Steamboat into the corner following a lock-up. Steamboat counters, gets a clean break, then slaps Flair in the face. They lock up again, Steamboat gets a headlock and takes Flair down with a shoulder tackle for a one-count and they have another standoff. Steamboat gets another headlock, Flair tries to counter into a knee breaker, but Steamboat fights back with forearms to the neck. Flair manages to counter into a standing armlock but Steamboat starts righting back.  Flair overpowers him by pulling his hair but Steamboat nips up in defiance.

They lock up again and a technical exchange ends with Flair reversing a grounded headlock into a pin attempt for a two-count while using the ropes for leverage. Flair does this a total of five times until the ref notices Flair’s using the ropes and admonishes him for it. Steamboat maintains a headlock until Flair pushes him into the corner. Flair lands some chops in the corner, but Steamboat fires back with shops of his own and then back body drops Flair. Flair begs off into a corner and lands a volley of strikes followed by a a hips toss and a dropkick for two. Flair tries to act cocky in the corner so Steamboat slaps him again. Flair gains a sudden advantage with a kick to the gut. Flair lands more chops and Steamboat fires back once again, but way more viciously. Flair flop! Steamboat chops Flair’s manager Hiro Matsuda and press slams Flair then lands a falling chop for two.

Flair rolls out of the ring and starts leaving the arena, so Steamboat dares him to get back to the ring. He does, but starts begging for mercy upon his return. They trash-talk each other and Flair lands another kick and starts chopping. But again Steamboat fires back with his own chops and a hip toss. Followed by a headscissor takedown and a double-hand chop. He goes for a pin but Flair gets his foot on the ropes. Steamboat lands a snapmare into a chinlock, then Flair escapes with gut punches. He Irish whips Steamboat and goes for a kick but Steamboat ducks. Roll-up. Flair kicks out and begs off and escapes to ringside once again. But this time Steamboat follows him. They both return soon after, with Steamboat keeping a watchful eye on Matsuda.

Back in the ring, they lock up after a long tease and Flair lands a knee to the gut. Flair lands another one, gets Steamboat in the corner, and lands more chops and punches. He does the same in two more corners, and punches Steamboat when he tries to fight back. Flair lands more chops but Steamboat fights back. He gets a second wind with a hiptoss and goes for another dropkick but Flair dodges that one. Figure-4 leglock. Flair uses the ropes for leverage. And then uses Hiro Matsuda for leverage as well. Steamboat refuses to tap. So Flair uses the ropes some more. The ref starts counting a pin when Steamboat tries to lie flat on his back. Flair pretends not to be using the ropes, but the ref catches him and forces him to break the hold.

Flair gets into an argument with the referee as Steamboat recovers by the ropes. He stomps on Steamboat, and when Flair backs off, Matsuda takes advantages and attacks Steamboat’s leg. The same one that just went through the figure-4. Flair alley-oops Steamboat and starts working the left leg with knee strikes, Steamboat tries to fight back using the rope for leverage, but Flair’s quick to go back to the knee. Steamboat tries to get a second wind but Flair lands a knee breaker once again. Steamboat escapes a second and third Figure-4, so Flair attacks the knee by the ropes. Flair distracts the ref again, allowing flair’s manager to attack it once again. A third knee breaker. Into another Figure-4! Steamboat writhes in pain. Somehow, Steamboat makes it to the ropes. But Matsuda attacks him once again.

Steamboat falls out of the ring and Flair gives chase. He chops Steamboat so hard he goes over the fan barricade. Steamboat struggles to make it back and hobbles around the ring. Flair catches him on the apron and lands a big punch to the head. Steamboat falls back down and Flair goes to capitalize. Suddenly, Steamboat lands a shoulder to Flair’s gut. Sunset flip. Flair tries to use the ropes to stay standing. But he fails. He falls. Steamboat pins. Flair kicks out. Flair lands a running kick to the knee and then grabs Steamboat’s leg. But Steamboat counters with an enzuigiri. He whips Flair but Flair counters with a kick. A big chop gets Flair four straight two-counts.

Both men are standing as Flair lands another big chop and a snapmare. He removes a knee pad and lands the running kneedrop. One, two, no, Steamboat kicks out. Twice in a row. Running kneedrop, no, Steamboat gets out of the way. Steamboat applies the figure-4 on Flair. Flair reaches the ropes quickly. But the ref has had enough of Flair’s shit. He kicks the rope and Flair is still in the hold. Steamboat punches Flair in the figure-4, and gets a two-count. Flair refuses to give up. Flair eventually makes it to the rope with both hands. But Steamboat won’t let go right away. It takes the ref getting physically involved to break the hold.

Steamboat alley-oops Flair this time and starts working Flair’s leg. Over and over again with elbow drops to the knee. Steamboat lands fourteen in a row. Another Figure-4 by Steamboat. Plus a quick two-count. Flair fights out with punches to Steamboat’s knee. Both men are down in the middle of the ring. Steamboat goes for a running splash, but Flair gets his knees up.

Both men get up and Steamboat fights back with chops. Flair takes control and goes for a back suplex. But Steamboat lands on his feet. Another roll-up. Flair kicks out. And another big chop from Flair. Flair reverses an Irish whip into a corner. Steamboat lands on the second rope. Flair ducks a diving attack and boots Steamboat in the face.

Flair delayed suplexes Steamboat over the apron. Steamboat kicks out at two. An elbow drop gets Flair three two-counts. Flair starts shoving the referee, who shoves back. Big back suplex by Flair one, two, Steamboat kicks out. Four times. Steamboat starts powering up. Another kickout from Steamboat. He gets to his feet. Greco-Roman knuckle lock. Flair lands a chop and goes to the top rope. Steamboat cuts him off. Press slam off the top rope. Elevated double chickenwing submission hold. Flair refuses to tap. Steamboat goes to the mat for a pin. Flair gets a shoulder up at 2.5.

Steamboat whips Flair into the corner, Flair flips over it, runs the apron and dives off another corner onto Steamboat. Flair pins but Steamboat kicks out. Technical exchange. Flair rolls into a bridging pin for two. Steamboat powers out into a backslide. They fight for control. Steamboat gets the backslide. Flair kicks out. Steamboat smashes Flair’s head into the turnbuckle repeatedly. He whips Flair and drops him with a big chop. Another Irish whip and a flying attack. Another pin, Flair kicks out. They brawl. Steamboat lands a big punch and goes to the top rope. Diving crossbody. Flair kicks out at 2.9. Steamboat whips Flair hard into two different corners and cuts him off as he tries to run the apron a second time. Steamboat suplexes Flair over the top rope for two. A big chop sends Flair over the top rope. Flair comes back and shoulder checks Steamboat in the stomach. He goes for a pin with both feet on the ropes. The ref counts one, two, no, he catches Flair in the act. Flair argues with the ref some more, then chops away on Steamboat again. Flair whips him into a corner and goes for a back body drop. But Steamboat sees this and counters. Small package. One, two, three! Steamboat wins! Flair is furious!

Winner and STILL NWA World Heavyweight Champion after 31:15: Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat

Review

I’m not a fan of this match. Whereas their first and second televised encounters that took place before and after this match, respectively, were fantastic displays of pro wrestling, this one wasn’t. For all the critics of Ric Flair’s that had bad things to say about his wrestling style, they need only point to this match to get their evidence.

Simply put, Flair showed some of his worst tendencies in this match. It felt like a complete re-rash of the Chi-Town Rumble match but with a few minor changes. Flair wrestled with no urgency here, stalling like crazy and wasting time. At one point he even walked up the entranceway as if he was leaving and taking a count-out. Why would he do such a thing in a world title match, even if it’s untelevised? I understand if he’d do so as champion; but as challenger he should be focused on overcoming the champion, not looking for cheap heat.

Several of Flair’s former co-workers have criticized Flair for having the same Ric Flair match night after night. This match didn’t really bring anything new to the table in terms of clever sequences or deeper story. It came across as Flair and Steamboat giving the Landover crowd a greatest hits collection instead of something entirely new. And sure, the crowd was super into this match, especially as Flair and his manager pulled off their classic villainous shtick. But everything that was on display here had been seen before. Plus, since we’re looking back at this match with 2021 eyes, we also know that these two would have two more televised matches that were WAY better than this as well.

For some reason, Flair spent way too much time arguing with the referee, to the point that the referee stopped being unbiased at one point and kicked Flair’s hands off the ropes as he was in a ropebreak. Sure, that popped the crowd, but it seemed like a cheap way of doing so. Flair could’ve done more to get the crowd to hate him, but instead he went with something that, in my opinion, detracted from his performance because he went to the well too many times. It also made me wonder why the referee even bothered counting Flair’s subsequent pins at all, since he established that he was willing to break up Flair’s legal ropebreaks out of frustration with him.

Lastly, there was something that Steamboat did here that really weakened the match. Flair spent a long time working over Steamboat’s leg and steamboat spent quite a bit of time selling it like that leg was legitimately injured. And yet, seconds after hobbling around the ringside area on one leg, Steamboat landed a sunset flip and started moving around at a normal pace.

I get it; the idea is that he gets a surge of adrenaline to make his second comeback. But at no point does Steamboat’s comeback feel earned. He doesn’t show that he’s still in great pain from Flair nearly destroying his leg. Even when Steamboat lands on his feet from diving off the second rope, he barely sells the leg. This is where the effect of time really comes in and casts this match in a lesser light. I have seen so many matches from the golden decade of the 1990s that were better than this one, simply because of more consistency in limb selling. For Steamboat to all but ignore Flair’s legwork, which was such a crucial part of the match, really weakens the immersion of this match. It makes it harder to believe in one wrestler’s offense when the other is so wrapped up in their own comeback that they fail to sell their opponent’s offense, especially when doing so would work to their benefit by making their struggle more real and therefore more exciting.

Final Rating: ****1/4

This match simply isn’t on the same level as their televised trilogy. Maybe they knew that, since this was untelevised, they could lower their standards knowing that things wouldn’t be scrutinized so deeply. But this match was praised so much that it required revisiting. And unfortunately, it just doesn’t live up to the hype. There were too many lulls in action and unnecessary stalling courtesy of Ric Flair. The only real thing he did differently than before was use his manager to get some cheap heat to attack Steamboat’s leg. And while that was indeed creative and the mark of a great villain (sine Flair kept distracting the referee to make this happen), it was all for naught as Steamboat barely incorporated that legwork into his comeback, if at all. And while the match does feature a creative and unexpected ending, in the end it falls flat. I get the feeling the only reason this match was praised so heavily was because the crowd was so excited and Meltzer was there live. But from a retrospective perspective, Flair had better matches after this, and this match’s flaws were simply too glaring to be hidden behind an excited crowd and a classic wrestling story.

This is a good match to watch if you have some time to kill and want to see a novelty wrestling match. It’s extremely rare that footage of a house show match gets uploaded, so that makes this a rare piece of wrestling history. But being rare doesn’t necessarily mean being awesome. Both Flair and Steamboat had better matches with each other and other opponents before and after this match took place. It’s not essential viewing if you’re a wrestling fan, and definitely not worth a rating of five stars or higher.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.