Friday, November 26, 2010

"Project 33" - Match #16 - Vader vs. Flair

Big Van Vader vs. Ric Flair
27 December, 1993
Independence Arena; Charlotte, NC
WCW World Heavyweight Championship



Part 2

This is one of my favorite matches.  There is just so much drama and psychology in this match.  There are a lot of things in this match that are not executed to perfection, but Vader and Flair are two amazing performers, and they controlled the crowd and made this match work.  Well, it was better than that - they made a classic match out of the "babyface underdog" formula. 

Starrcade was always the biggest WCW event of the year, going back to 1983 and the Crockett Promotions days.  However, in the late '80s and early '90s, WCW seemed to put more pizzaz on Superbrawl - probably because it was closer on the calendar to Wrestlemania.  To most WCW fans however, Starrcade was still the "Granddaddy of them all". So, when Sid Vicious and Arn Anderson got into a fight with Scissors during a WCW European tour, their planned (and even advertised match) for Starrcade - Vader vs. Vicious, was canceled. 


Vader was at his peak here.  He was drawing massive houses against Takada in Japan, and he was the top dog in the US as a virtually unbeatable Heavyweight Champion.  The brutal stiff style that Vader worked so well in Japan also worked in the US, because no one had really seen anything like it.  Often there had been big men who dominated the opposition, but no one did it with such vigor and exuded pure fear in the hearts of American wrestling fans.  Vader ended the in-ring career of Nikita Koloff, crippled a wrestler named Joe Thurman, severely injured Cactus Jack, and regularly beat the hell out of Sting - he was unstoppable. 

Flair, who had not won the WCW Championship since returning to the company from his WWF sabbatical, was inserted into the match as a sentimental fan favorite, who was getting a shot at the championship in his own home town.  Adding to the drama was the stipulation that Flair threw into the mix: Flair would retire if he could not capture the WCW Heavyweight Championship by beating Vader.  To many fans, they didn't see how Flair, who was getting up there in age and hadn't held a World Championship in a number of years, stood a chance.

The match is almost basic in formula, and it is executed to perfection.  Sure, there are some rough spots in the match, but the psychology behind it is what is important, and that is where the execution was perfect.  Flair took a royal ass whooping for about twenty minutes.  Any time he would get any kind of opening, either Vader or his ringside manager Harley Race would shut the door immediately.  You could actually feel the fans watching and waiting for Flair to make his come back - and the execution was perfect, because they teased a comeback, and then pulled it away - classic "dangling a carrot". 

At about twenty minutes in, Vader makes a mistake, and Flair capitalizes.  When Flair stars working over Vader's leg in the ringpost with the chair, the Charlotte crowd lights up, and you can see Flair feed off of it.  Race sells this brilliantly, just by starting to egg Vader on in a desperate manner. 

Now, in many matches like this you will see the fan favorite make a valiant comeback, where he starts overpowering the heel, and just "hulking up" and dishing out what he took.  Not here.  Instead, Flair goes to his well and starts working over the leg of Vader - which the crowd recognizes and pops like crazy for.  Once again, Race gets involved here, selling to the crowd the danger of Flair's figure four leglock, which it is obvious he is setting up.  In fact, Race gets involved so much that you are starting to think we are going to have a screwball finish due to Race's desperation.  Instead, it backfires on Race, and Flair is able to not only get the figure four on, but to hold it longer as the referee is distracted by Race's antics. 

Finally Vader makes a comeback, but Flair is able to fight him off by going after the weak leg.  Vader blows it for good however when he goes for the ill-advised moonsault, and misses.  Race, sensing the end is near attempts to break up a pinfall with a flying headbutt, but Flair moved and Race nails Vader.  Vader staggers up as the referee rolls Race out of the ring, and Flair lights him up with chops, before Vader levels Flair with a body block.  However, Vader is still dazed on his feel from Race's headbutt, and Flair is able to (very sloppily) roll Vader up in a half-jackknife/half-schoolboy rollup, to get the win.  

Like I said, this is one of my favorite matches.  I wish the actual final pinfall had been executed better - but the crowd went wild for the finish, so it worked regardless.  I could watch this match a thousand times and still love it.  That is how good I think this match was. 

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