Ric Flair is considered one of the most iconic figures in professional wrestling. From his patented "WOO!" to his record sixteen world title reigns, Flair was Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan was Hulk Hogan. Humor aside, Flair carried himself as a true professional wrestler every time he stepped into that ring. At the same time, Flair managed to become the poster boy for the NWA (and later WCW) during the late 1970s and early 1980s. His rivalry with Dusty Rhodes is remembered for its promos and heartfelt passion for the world title that one man wanted and the other needed to keep.
However, there is one rivalry Flair was involved in that became synonymous for its in-ring purity and long-time athleticism. Throughout Flair's career, there was one man that was always the good guy against Flair's heel persona. Considered a master of his craft, this man became a star after his classic encounter with 'Macho Man' Randy Savage: Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat. Flair and Steamboat's rivalry would become infamous in 1989 when they wrestled a trilogy of matches for the NWA World Title that peers and fans alike call the greatest matches of all time. Just as Flair/Rhodes was important due to star power and promos, Flair/Steamboat was equally important for its athleticism in the ring. A supreme rivalry.
1. "Chi-Town Rumble" (Chicago, February 20, 1989)
Their first encounter was a classic tale of good versus evil. Flair's heel persona was on point in this match, from holding onto the ropes while covering Steamboat without the referee looking to just outright beating Steamboat to a pulp. Steamboat personified his babyface character by continuing to fight Flair and not cheating. In classic wrestling fashion, the drama was heightened when referee Tommy Young was knocked out accidentally by Flair when Flair attempted a cross-body on Steamboat. As the two men continued to fight, Flair tried one last tactic before Steamboat caught Flair in a small package and won the match to capture his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
2. "Clash of the Champions VI: Ragin' Cajun" (New Orleans, April 2, 1989)
The second match was the pinnacle of their rivalry, where both men fought in a two out of three falls match for Steamboat's World Heavyweight Championship. The two men wrestled almost an hour with each men trading blows throughout the match, submission holds and some high-flying moves. Here, fans and peers saw how athletically sound both wrestlers were at that time. Towards the end, with both tied with one fall apiece, it was up in the air about who would win the title. As Flair was going for another submission hold, Steamboat pushed off the turnbuckle with his feet and landed on Flair. Tommy Young counted to three as Flair and Steamboat's shoulders were. ON. THE. MAT. AT. THE. SAME. TIME. It was utter chaos when Steamboat was declared the winner as fans cheered (and jeered) at what happened, thus furthering their rivalry over the title.
3. "WrestleWar: Music City Showdown" (Nashville, May 7, 1989)
The final match of their great trilogy took place in Nashville that saw Flair and Steamboat go at it once again for over thirty minutes. Again, providing fans top-notch entertainment with their athleticism, both men went beyond the call of duty to end their feud perfectly.
The match reached its climax when Flair finally managed to take advantage of a Steamboat miscue and lock the champion in an inside cradle and pin him 1,2,3. The crowd was enthralled by Flair and his final attempt at beating Steamboat for the world title. It was a perfect moment that then saw legend Terry Funk challenge Flair immediately after. However, it did not shine away from the fact that Steamboat and Flair put on three separate classics in a matter of six months.
Both Flair and Steamboat remained iconic throughout the business even after their classic trilogy, especially Flair's debut in WWE in the early 1990s and Steamboat's rivalries with a young Steve Austin, Rick Rude and the like. However, this trilogy signifies both men's tenured athleticism and how much of a dedicated series of performances both men were willing to go in order to entertain the fans.