Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"Project 33" - Match #1 - Ric Flair vs. Bruiser Brody

Ric Flair vs. "King Kong" Bruiser Brody
St. Louis, MO - 11 February, 1983

NWA World Championship Match - 2/3 Falls

Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

I never really knew of the significance of this match until recently, when I read Larry Matysik's tremendous biography of Bruiser Brody.  Ric Flair came into this match as the defending champion, having had a few previous encounters with Brody.  Brody, using the moniker "King Kong" in the St. Louis territory, was the challenger and overwhelming fan favorite. 

Brody was a big and brutal wrestler in the ring.  He was the kind of wrestler than many fans were scared of, and took as a legitimate badass - similar to the Undertaker in current times. However, Brody was also considered bat-shit crazy by fans, wrestlers, and promoters alike.  Brody had a reputation as a man out only for himself, who was willing to burn promoters at the first chance he got, and the threat of him leaving a promoter high and dry made him difficult for promoters to deal with.  In truth however, Brody understood the business side of professional wrestling more than perhaps any other wrestler who was not involved in "the office" up to that point in time.  Brody was always very respectful of the people who treated him well - and throughout his career he was treated respectfully by the St. Louis office. 

In the NWA, St. Louis was the Mecca.  For decades the President of the NWA was Sam Muchnick, who was the promoter of the St. Louis territory.  The funneling of talent into St. Louis to be seen by Muchnick, over the years, created an atmosphere for the big arena cards unlike anywhere else in the United States.  By 1983 Muchnick was retired, but the reputation of St. Louis wrestling was still very good, and by many, Brody was seen as the last bastion of St. Louis wrestling. 

Flair came into this match as Ric Flair - he already was nationally famous as the NWA Champion and as the "Nature Boy".  At this point in time there were still a number of territories operating, so Flair was truly a touring champion who was often going sixty minutes every night. 

This match was considered Brody's masterpiece by Brody himself.  Considering himself a full-time employee of All-Japan Pro Wrestling, Brody put a lot of pressure on himself to deliver in this match, as it was being taped to show on television in Japan - where Brody made his big money.  As was the customary practice of the time, this match was never shown on television in the US - only in Japan. 

The Checkerdome in St. Louis was sold out for this match (I understand the capacity was something around 18,000).  From the outset the crowd is rabid for Brody, and the sense of a title change is in the air. 

As was tradition at that time, the NWA Championship was treated seriously, and this match takes place almost entirely inside the ring.  Flair and Brody start off exchanging holds, and for about ten minutes the action is mostly on the ground, with Brody establishing that he is more than a brawler.  For the next ten minutes, the crowd goes nuts as Brody just pounds on Flair, hitting him with suplexes, bodyslams, and a number of kneedrops.  Finally, at the 21:04 mark, Brody gets the first pinfall after a running kneedrop puts Flair down for the count.  The crowd at this point is eating out of Brody's hand. 

Flair takes control at the beginning of the second fall, and we start to see the "dirtiest player in the game" for the first time, as Flair begins to take a few shots to Brody's eyes.  Flair gains control, but Brody keeps fighting back.  Flair starts to have some success working over Brody's arm, and that is when the story of the match really starts to set in: Brody is on the door step of becoming the NWA Champion, and he is using his size to overwhelm the champion.  No matter what Flair does, he is no match for Brody's size.  Finally Flair starts to bail to the outside, but Brody tries to bring him back in.  After some lite brawling on the floor, Brody backdrops Flair back into the ring from the apron, and Brody is counted out to give Flair the second fall at the 43:42 mark. 

An in-ring brawl breaks out for the third fall, as an angry Brody starts to work over Flair with punches.  Finally Brody starts going to town again with the kneedrops, but after a miss, Flair hooks on his patented figure four leglock.  This was a great example of how over the figure four was, and how well the story to this match was laid out.  At this point Flair's figure four was still seen as a deadly hold that was virtually inescapable.  Brody, known for his stomps, kicks, and kneedrops, goes to the well once to often, and plays right into Flair's hands.  This was brilliantly established, not with Brody having the leg worked over by Flair for the entire match, but rather by Brody punishing his own knee.  Flair then simply takes advantage, and the crowd gets behind Brody like never before, because they sense he is in real danger of losing.  Brilliant.

Eventually Brody escapes the figure four and a sleeperhold by Flair, and begins to make the big comeback.  Brody slams and suplexes Flair to no end, but Flair keeps kicking out.  Brody goes for a piledriver, but Flair even gets his foot on the ropes after that.  (Side note: Not even Flair should be kicking out of a piledriver.) Finally, Brody gets an exhausted Flair up for another vertical suplex, but Brody is unable to make the cover.  As he rolls onto Flair for the lateral press, time expires before the referee can make a count.  The fans didn't like that much, but it was a good end to a sixty-minute title match. 

Personally, I would have had a different finish there.  Rather than have Brody hit Flair with another suplex, I would have saved the piledriver for the finishing spot,  but time runs out before the pinfall.  The ending coming on a suplex we saw twenty other times in this match was kind of weak, and the piledriver would have been a great way to show Brody had Flair beat, without Brody actually winning.  All the actual finish did was show that Brody's size and power was overwheling Flair, but the fact that Flair had kicked out of that suplex so many times didn't make it seem like this time was the finish.  It wasn't like it was getting closer and closer to a three count each time.  In fact, it was actually taking Brody longer to make the cover.  Maybe this was a way they protected the championship.  I think, however, if the goal was to "make" the challenger, a different finish would have worked better. 

Not that Brody was any less over after this match.  In fact, after watching it, it made me sad we never got to see a heel Brody roughing up a Sting or a Steamboat.  Man, Brody was a guy that just was taken way too soon. 

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