Terry Funk and Ric Flair. They are two of the most revered and admired pro wrestlers of all time. Both of them have won countless championships and accolades over their respective careers. For many people, both of them are at the very top of the list of greatest wrestlers to ever live. And today we look at one of the reasons why that’s such a widely-held opinion.
The match we’re revisiting today was Flair’s fifth match of 1989 to be rated 5-stars (or higher) by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It’s considered one of the simplest yet best matches because both Flair and Funk did such a tremendous job at being professional wrestlers. Now, more than thirty years later, we’re looking back at their classic match.
It’s the “I Quit Match” between Flair and Funk from NWA Clash of the Champions IX: New York Knockout. It took place on November 15, 1989.
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.
Four months prior to this match, Funk challenged Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and lost. Not satisfied, he continued feuding with Flair all the way to Clash of the Champions. To end their rivalry, it was decided that the only way to win their match was for one of them to say ‘I Quit’. This would’ve been incredibly embarrassing for either Flair or Funk. Both men were established legends that had traveled around the world and were admired by legions of fans. They were also both very prideful. It would take an unimaginable amount of pain for either one of them to say the words ‘I quit’.
The bell rings and Funk grabs the microphone to give Flair one chance to quit right then and there. Naturally, Flair doesn’t answer and the match is on. After some teasing, they lock up and Flair chops Funk over the top rope and out of the ring. Funk is already upset and swings at some fans in frustration. He returns to the ring and Flair chops him hard in a corner. Funk goes sailing across the ring and gets chopped some more. Funk staggers around all over the place, trying to escape Flair. Back in the ring, Funk teases some jabs then knocks Flair down on a shoulder tackle. But Flair takes him down, only to get poked in the eye. Funk clubbers Flair on the apron. Flair fights back with chops but sinks to his knees. Funk tosses Flair back out of the ring and hits him in the head with the microphone. He asks Flair if he quits. Flair answers with another chop. Funk tosses him back into the ring and lands hard punches in the corner. He asks Flair again if he wants to quit but Flair says nothing, so Funk hammers away.
Suddenly Flair gets an opening and lands a Manhattan drop. He whips Funk into the ropes but Funk counters a back body drop into a swinging neckbreaker. Funk slaps Flair’s face mockingly. Flair fires up and grabs Funk’s throat. Flair knocks Funk out of the ring and the brawling continues. Flair unloads with an onslaught of chops and smashes Funk into anything he can find. Back in the ring, Flair asks Funk if he wants to quit but gets distracted by Funk’s manager Gary Hart. That allows Funk to blindside Flair and he lands another swinging neckbreaker. Funk puts Flair in position for a piledriver and asks Flair again, but Flair still says nothing. Funk lands the piledriver. Flair refuses to quit. Funk drops a leg over Flair’s throat. Again Flair refuses to quit. Piledriver on the floor. Again Flair refuses to quit.
Flair gets tossed out of the ring again and Funk sets up a table. Flair fights back. He smashes Funk’s head into the underside of the table. Funk tries to escape. Flair lunges at him like a bat out of hell. Funk flies over the table and Flair knocks down Gary Hart. The crowd hasn’t died down since the bell first rang. Flair lands more painful-sounding chops and crotches Funk on the steel barricade. Another atomic drop. Flair starts working the leg. The crowd goes batshit insane. Funk hobbles around like his leg is dead weight. Flair kicks Funk’s knee. Funk tries to escape. Flair chases him down. Knee crusher. Suplex over the ropes. Flair goes for the Figure-4. Funk resists and gouges Flair’s eye. Funk tries to suplex Flair over the rope. Flair counters and suplexes Funk onto the apron. Flair smashes Funk’s weakened leg into the side of the ring. Flair fights on with chops. Figure-4 leglock! Flair has it locked in. There’s no escape for Funk. Funk screams “No. Never. Oh God, My Leg…it’s BREAKING! YES I QUIT!” FUNK QUITS. FLAIR WINS!
Winner after 18:33: Ric Flair
If there was ever a match that should be in every pro wrestling tutorial, it’s this one. It was simply perfect. Both Flair and Funk demonstrated exactly why they are so revered in pro wrestling. Their performance here was a clinic on how to be a pro wrestler. Flair was the babyface here, which meant that Funk dictated and controlled the match. And he did so like a true pro wrestling master. Funk did everything perfectly. He managed to be cowardly, arrogant, over-the-top, sadistic, believable, and entertaining, all at once. What he lacked in sheer athleticism and technique he made up for with incredible storytelling. He beat Flair senseless and tried to cheat to win, knowing that he couldn’t just out-wrestle Flair. And Flair, despite being better known as a heel, played the face in peril perfectly as well. He had his chance to shine. He gave the fans some hope that he would somehow come up on top. And no matter how hard Funk hit him, Flair kept going.
And from a story perspective, it made perfect sense. Flair tried to brawl with Funk, which was a losing battle since Funk almost always won brawl-style contests. But once Flair got an advantage and started to wrestle Funk, the tide shifted decisively. The fans went absolutely NUTS as soon as Flair started working Funk’s leg to set up for the Figure-4. Not the finisher itself, but the basic setup moves Flair used to weaken his opponent to better guarantee the Figure-4 would, in fact, finish the match. And by saying ‘I QUIT’ (along with the line ‘my leg is breaking’) Funk sold the Figure-4 as an utterly terrifying maneuver. Funk, perhaps the toughest grizzled old bastard in US wrestling from the 1970s and 1980s, writhed in pain like an animal caught in a bear-trap. For him to say those two embarrassing words and admit defeat elevated Flair and his Figure-4 to even higher heights than where he had been before.
Final Rating: *****
Not every 5-Star match has to be a deep, brutal war with so many things layered on top of one another. Nor does it require there to be blistering speed and enough ‘athleticism’ ad gymnastics to give a Cirque de Soleil performer motion sickness. Sometimes the best matches are the ones that tell the simplest stories, which is what we have with this one. This match has aged very well and still holds up great. It doesn’t require you to know the backstory or pick apart the tiny minutiae of what the wrestlers are doing. Instead, this is a classic NWA-style brawl with a clear story, basic but well-executed application of psychology, and a passionate and engrossed crowd.
An absolute must-watch for any wrestling fan.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.