Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Look at Ric Flair in Toronto

In Pro Wrestling in the late 70's - early 80's era, Ric Flair was ' the man '. He walked the walk, talked the talk, and could wrestle with the best of them. Although still wrestling as a heel when he debuted in the area, the ' Nature Boy ' was a favorite of the fans right from the start. His battles in Toronto with Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine and world champ Harley Race would earn him the fans respect and admiration, and he would continue to be a force in the area during his NWA World Title reigns.
Tying up Piper 1980

At the onset of the Tunney / Crocketts partnership, the U.S. Heavyweight Title as recognized in the hotbed of Mid-Atlantic wrestling would figure prominently in Toronto. The battles over the title would spill over to the Great White North and entertain fans throughout the area. Flair would play a major role in the U.S. Title picture in the years preceding his run with the NWA Title. In addition to facing Steamboat and Valentine, long time foes Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper would also challenge Flair over the title.

Flair was also a fixture on the local TV. In Nov 1978 saw U.S. champ Flair beating Ernie Dugas and Steve King in a handicap match making him look like a tough champion to beat. The on-going feud with Steamboat would finally catch up to the ‘Nature Boy’ right here in Toronto in December when Steamboat beat Flair for the belt in front of a very appreciative crowd. Toronto had been picked again as the site of an historic title change. Their matches were taking over the spotlight usually reserved for the world titles.

The feud between Flair and Steamboat is still regarded as one of the best match-ups in the modern era, the two young stars would enthrall spectators with their highly emotional and physical bouts. The sparks would fly again in Jan 1979 when Flair interfered in the Steamboat/Valentine bout after failing to unseat Canadian champ Dino Bravo in an earlier bout.

This would set up a tag battle with Steamboat teaming with Bravo vs Flair and Valentine on the following card. In the return single bout Steamboat would get the better of Flair pinning the Nature Boy in a defense of the title. Flair would regain the belt in Greensboro in April 79 and return to defend again vs Steamboat pinning the challenger on the May 13 show.

Flair would also be seen on TV in singles as well as tag matches with Valentine vs Leo Burke & John Bonello, Burke & Frank Marconi, and Burke with Silent Brian Macnee. On the May 26 TV show Flair would make Macnee submit to his trademark figure four. Macnee is famous around here for being one of the few deaf wrestlers ever to compete.
Bringing some help 1980
(Jack Tunney on right)

Flair, in an effort to rid himself of his foe would end up offering a bounty to anyone who could put Steamboat out of action. Big John Studd would take up the challenge here in Toronto but was no match for Steamboat losing by pin on the June 3 show.

Flair would then return to challenge Dino Bravo for his Canadian Heavyweight Title but would get disqualified at the 19 minute mark. The next card would again see Flair at the top this time challenging WWWF Champion Bob Backlund in a rare match-up. In a wild bout the Nature Boy would be counted out of the ring after 23 minutes but had established himself as one of the best and most popular wrestlers ever to appear in the Toronto area.

Late 1979 saw Flair, now receiving the fans cheers, return to challenge U.S. champ Jimmy Snuka including a 28 minute match in November. Snuka, like Flair was becoming one of the main stars of the day and would also enjoy fan support for his wrestling ability and high-flying style.

The start of 1980 would see Flair and Canadian Champ Dewey Robertson team up as a result of their mutual hatred for Jimmy Snuka and Ray Stevens and their manager Gene Anderson. In late 1979 in a battle of the then U.S. (Snuka) and Canadian Champ (Robertson), Ray Stevens had interfered on behalf of Snuka giving Robertson the DQ win.

On the last card of '79, Snuka and Stevens got the better of Flair and Robertson setting up a return for the first card of 1980. Flair and Robertson would reign supreme and solidify Flair's change to wrestling as a fan favorite.
Another rough night at MLG 1980

The two would also team for a couple of TV Tag bouts defeating The Destroyer (Beyer) and Bill White as well as The Destroyer with Brute Bernard. Flair would also team on TV with Blackjack Mulligan defeating Frankie Laine and Doug Somers.

Another great feud that would see it's share of matches in the area was the battle between Flair and his former partner and now arch enemy Greg Valentine. July saw an exciting match with Flair retaining his U.S. belt (regained from Snuka in Greensboro Apr 1980). Valentine had tried to suplex him in from the apron but Flair shifted his weight to get the pin. Valentine spent a lot of his time repeatedly beating on Flair's broken nose leaving Flair covered in blood..

After the match, both competitors bloody and exhausted continued to fight down the ramp while other wrestlers tried to break them up. Flair would then trounce his former partner in a Texas Death Match and go once more in a tag match in September before moving on to yet another feud.

Hossein The Arab /Iron Sheik became the next target after having the seeds planted earlier in the year when Greg Valentine had turned on the Nature Boy during a Mid Atlantic area match with the Iranian and Jimmy Snuka (w/mgr Gene Anderson). Flair had been beaten bloody and suffered a legit broken nose when Valentine hit him with Anderson's cane.

The Great Hossein The Arab- as he was known here - was into his second reign with the Canadian Title. This run, much like his previous with the title would be remembered for constant manager interference and cheating his way to victory. Hossein actually held the M-A title at the same time but lost it to Ricky Steamboat the night before the card.

On November 2nd 1980 the two would go after each other before the bell was rung and at one point the hated Arab had Flair in his dreaded camel-clutch hold. Flair fought back and managed to break the hold and went on the offense. The future World Champ would batter Hossein with his trademark chops and elbow smashes and looked to be on the verge of winning the title as the match wore on.

He would earn revenge but not the title after the Arab retreated to the safety of the dressing room and was counted out. Hossein would only manage one more defense before losing the belt back to Angelo Mosca at the end of the year.

Late June 1981 saw the highly touted matchup between then U.S. Champ Piper and challenger Flair. Hyped as Piper-Flair III (due to two previous match-ups at MLG) Tony Parisi was designated as the special referee to ensure a finish to the feud. However it was not to be as Piper was disqualified for refusing to obey the rules. In Oshawa on the 30th, Flair would team up with Parisi against Piper and Ray Stevens and the two teams would meet again on the July 12th MLG card.

Piper would prove to be one of the better challengers for Flair over his career, able to match up both in the ring and by way of the mic. Flair would also find time to team with local legend Angelo Mosca in bouts throughout the area and on TV. The future world champ would also tag with up-and-comer Jay Youngblood who was quickly becoming a fan favorite at MLG and on the secondary circuit.

A dream team of sorts evolved when Flair teamed up with Andre The Giant in his on-going feud with Piper. Roddy would enlist the aid of Crippler Stevens as his partner in what would be a losing effort. Piper would survive to face Andre in a singles match in August.

In September Flair beats Dusty Rhodes to win the NWA World Title in Kansas City, beginning his first of many runs with the title. The Toronto favorite would make a triumphant return for the 50th Anniversary Show in November.
Wrapping up Hossein 1980

Ric Flair would be making his first area defense of his newly won NWA World Title against former champ Harley Race. In promo's leading up to the bout, the rugged Race would boast of his experience and superiority to the young "Nature Boy" and promise to regain the belt he had worn on six previous occasions. Harley would also remind fans of his historic Toronto victory over Terry Funk in 1977 when he won the NWA title belt for the second time after beating Funk with an Indian deathlock at the beloved MLG.

The match itself would not disappoint, with 16,000 fans seeing the two ring warriors matching each other hold for hold with Race coming close to pinning Flair on several occasions. Race would use his falling head butt to precision causing Flair to bleed profusely and would punish the champ with his calculated knee drops and variety of suplex's. The young Champ would not be denied however and mount a comeback with his own arsenal of moves including his trademark figure four leg lock. Flair would wear down the former champ and get the pinfall victory after a spirited 24 minute match.

The April 25 1982 card would bring a return of the November 1981 classic with Flair again defending his NWA crown against former champ Harley Race. In the previous bout, Harley had pinned Flair and was awarded the prestigious belt before a second referee came out to explain Flair's foot had been on the ropes and reversing the decision.

Race was by this point a six time former champ and was a credible threat to Flairs reign but the wild match ended in a double disqualification. It was another tough battle with action around the ring and on the ramp. Both grapplers would be disqualified after about 20 minutes for ignoring the referee. This was the third of their six bouts here and is noteworthy for being a double world title night. AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel would lose via dq to challenger Angelo Mosca in a memorable night at MLG.

June would see Flair return to face another former champ in veteran Jack Brisco. The magazines at the time were pushing Brisco as gearing up for another run at the NWA title but in reality the former champ had no such aspirations. He did make a formidable challenger however and would defeat Roddy Piper for the MId-Atlantic Title soon thereafter.

Flair would continue to defend across North America almost daily before returning in October to face yet another former NWA champ in Dory Funk Jr. Funk had taken on an increased role in the Carolinas and would prove to be another strong challenger to Flair. The match would go over 21 minutes before Flair made the pin and had his hand raised in another successful title defense.

A big build-up to the Feb 1983 card which was to feature Flair defending against Roddy Piper was all for nought as Piper didn't show (in his book says he missed a flight from Puerto Rico) and was replaced by Dory Jr's younger brother Terry Funk. After another pin of a former champ, Flair would meet Piper on two successive cards in late March, early April. Veteran Sandy Scott would be the special ref in the latter match which Flair won by dq.

After a local defense against Valentine, Flair would lose the title back to Race in June (in St Louis), setting up a return for the huge Night Of Champions card in July which saw the Nature Boy lose by dq and fail in his bid to re-capture the belt.

The return bout 2 weeks later on Night Of The Champions II would see the same outcome but Flair would catch up with Race at the inaugural Starcade in Greensboro in November, regaining the belt to start his second reign as NWA World Champion.

Flair would return to the area in Feb 1984 to face Race for a final time at MLG again winning decisively to the delight of the fans. A last defense in May 1984 against Dick Slater would mark the end of an era in Toronto with the WWF taking over a short time later.
vs Jack Brisco 1982

Post 84 Flair would return as part of the Mosca promoted NWA Moscamania. In 1991 he faced Jim Powers in Ottawa in his debut for the WWF and returned to MLG defeating old nemesis Roddy Piper using the feet on the ropes trick.

From Wrestling Exchange 'Toronto Connection - First M-A Card 1978 by Marty Slobin'

The final match of the evening was a confrontation between Ric Flair and the sensational Ricky Steamboat. Both young wrestlers combined showmanship, brawling and scientific wrestling. In matches before capacity crowds in North Carolina and Virginia. the pair had aroused the passions of the fans with ultra-violence and intricate wrestling holds. Every battle in their war had been a classic, and this Toronto main event was to be no exception. 

Flair entered the ring wearing a sequined turquoise robe that was accentuated by his strutting across the runway antagonizing every fan as he completed his triumphant march to the ring. As Steamboat entered the ring, be was attacked by Flair. A few deadly chops to the forehead from Steamboat caused Flair to retreat to his comer. As the bell rang, both men jumped into mid-ring to begin the match. A series of Steamboat arm drags caused Flair to fall all over the ring. Flair countered with punches and eye gouges. Frustrated by his attempts to end the match early. Flair launched a new attack based on punches, elbow drops, and kneelifts to the stomach. Flair seized the temporarily weakened Steamboat in a vertical suplex, and tried for a pin. Steamboat threw him off, and began a counter-attack based on dropkicks, body slams, martial arts hand thrusts and chops to the throat.

After several two count pins by both men, the tide began to turn. Ric Flair could not break Steamboat's version of the figure-four leglock but he refused to submit to the hold. Slowly and painfully, he crawled into the ropes. Upon breaking the hold, Steamboat stepped back, then launched a series of body slams, suplexes, flying mares, and punches. Steamboat satisfied his cheering, stomping, whistling fans by beating Flair from one end of the ring to the other. In the midst of a series of body slams, Flair grabbed Steamboat in a cradle for the count of two. Steamboat reversed the cradle, applying an inside cradle that Flair broke by pulling hair.

Flair then threw Steamboat into the ropes and caught him in a high back body drop. When Flair tried the moved a second time, Steamboat caught him with a sunset flip cradle. When Flair broke the hold, each wrestler began to use kicks, elbow drops, chops, and punches, in a last ditch effort to destroy the other. Finally, Steamboat grabbed Flair in a sleeper hold which Flair broke by eye gouging. Steamboat went wild, using chops, kicks, and another flying sleeper hold to subdue Flair. The nearly unconscious Flair went for the ropes again. Steamboat responded by turning the sleeper into a stranglehold. When referee Tommy Young tried to break up the hold, he was thrown to the mat. The referee thus disqualified the enraged Steamboat. Bloody and nearly unconscious, Flair had won. The fans had witnessed a match that would never be forgotten.