The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
We likely will never again see what Ric Flair was able to accomplish with his final match.
While the “Nature Boy” cheated death not once, but twice in his life – the most recent a medically induced coma after kidney and heart issues in 2017 – it adds a whole other level to what he was able to do at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium on Sunday night .
But let’s put that aside for a minute.
Flair, at 73 and with a pacemaker, was still physically healthy and motivated enough to put in the work to walk that aisle and step in the ring one last time to prove to himself and others why he is, and always will be, the Greatest of All Time.
Then comes the pressure of actually delivering in the ring with I’m sure a portion of people waiting for him to fall flat on his face, waiting to tell Flair “I told you so,” and “You should have stayed retired after your first two retirement matches.” Add to that having peers such as the Undertaker, Bret Hart and Mick Foley — who all embraced him afterward — sitting ringside watching.
Now that’s pressure.
Flair made good on all of it, tagging with his son-in-law Andrade El Idolo against Jey Lethal and Jeff Jarrett in a match that lasted around 30 minutes. (Vince McMahon, 75, vs. Pat McAfee at WrestleMania 38 lasted 3 minutes and 45 seconds). The 16-time world champion did play the hits. There was of course a strut, as well as chops, Figure Fours, a low blow and plenty of blood.
He certainly was helped by some superb selling from Lethal and Jarrett — who also has a lot left in the tank at 55. But Flair wasn’t the occasional sideshow getting his stuff in as the others did the work. He was the legal man for a good portion of the match, showed he could still go a little bit, he told a story and put on a thoroughly entertaining match like he said he would. At one point the crowd even chanted his name.
The finish got a little odd, but played into the family storyline running through the match – and that even as babyfaces the Flairs are still the dirtiest players in the game. After Andrade saved Flair from a Jarrett guitar shot that ended up hitting Lethal, Ric’s other son-in-law and the show’s promotor Conrad Thompson flipped Andrade a pair of brass knuckles to hit Jarrett with. Instead of a regular pin after doing so, Flair went for a Figure Four. Jarrett and Flair’s shoulders both went to mat, but the referee only saw Jarrett’s before counting the 1-2-3 for the pin.
The sequence paid off Thompson and Jarrett getting into it in storyline on their podcast after a parking lot attack on Flair, Jarrett pushing his co-host prior to the match and Jarrett’s wife Karen getting into it with Thompson’s wife Megan Flair during it. All really good stuff, but Flair looked exhausted.
Then came the one moment of trepidation. As the purple confetti went off, it took Flair a long time to get up from the mat and Andrade looked at least a little bit concerned at first. I’m sure a lot of fans held their breath, but Flair was OK. He eventually got a microphone, thanked the crowd for everything throughout his career and reiterated this was it for him before celebrating in Nashville with Kid Rock.
And this should be it for him. There’s nothing left for Flair to prove after five decades in the business and he may have done something no one will ever do again. (Sting would have to wrestle 10 more years to try to match it.)
Even so, Flair went out as the main event of an entire pay-per-view done outside of any of major the pro wrestling promotions that featured talent from all of them – WWE, AEW, Impact, MLW, New Japan and more. With Thompson continuing to be wrestling’s Switzerland, Flair’s career was brought full circle via the Jim Crockett Promotions banner under which he built the foundation of his legend with. Still, none of that happens without Flair putting in the work, leaving himself vulnerable to failure and the risk of potential health issues. How many other people would be willing to do that at his age?
Ric Flair put it all on the line and won. Doing so only adds to his already enormous legend in a way that will be tough to top.
All Elite Wrestling president Tony Khan had to listen for two-plus days about how much better WWE’s product and creative are going to be under Triple H and that they will be coming for them in the free agency market moving forward. He answered with one of the best episodes of “Dynamite” this year. It was a reminder of how much Khan continues to listen to his audience and he gave them what they want by elevating four of his top young performers.
Hook left the show answering Ricky Starks’ challenge after defeating Danhausen to win the FTW championship – a belt created by Hook’s father Taz – and got a needed jolt to his character that had started to wane a little bit. The growing fan favorite Starks, who had gotten a cool video package before the match, turned babyface with an emotional promo after losing. He was then turned on by fellow Team Taz member Will Hobbs. (It was time to end the group with Taz getting a larger role on commentary.) The night ended with Daniel Garcia surprisingly defeating a returning Bryan Danielson — with some help from Jake Hager – in a heck of a match.
Starks is 32, Hobbs is 31 and Garcia and Hook are 23. That’s a big investment in the future in one night as well as delivering some fresh storylines. Khan added to that during “Rampage” by booking a match between Wheeler Yuta, 25, and Chris Jericho on “Dynamite” this week after a fun promo in which Yuta looked comfortable and confident. All of these guys now have the stage to really come into their own or, in the uber-talented Starks’ case, push to be world champion.
Like A Ciamp’
The latest episode of “Monday Night Raw” saw a number of talent elevated and featured in a fresh way, including Iyo Sky, Montez Ford and even Mustafa Ali. But no one got the rocket strap more than Tommaso Ciampa. And it’s about time for one of the people who carried Triple H’s Black and Gold NXT brand in its latter stages to get this opportunity.
Ciampa will face Bobby Lashley next week for the United State championship after winning a triple-threat contenders match and then a very good singles match against A.J. Styles with help from his mentor, The Miz. For anyone in the WWE audience who doesn’t know his work and mic ability, watching him cut a promo while the usually talkative Miz just nods his head speaks volumes. The U.S. title itself felt like it was treated with so much more respect.
The 10 Count
Early themes of Triple H’s booking style in WWE: Clearer stories that sometimes last a whole show, fresh, kickass matches and chaos — lots and lots of chaos.
Jungle Boy left little question he is ready to rise to the occasion against Christian Cage, delivering probably the promo of his career. Jungle Boy was passionate, broke the fourth wall in mocking Christian’s divorce and was about to get into true babyface territory talking about his dad Luke Perry’s death before his was cut off by Christian. This feud has ruled.
(Warning: Adult Language)
I complained in the space about NXT having Cora Jade drop its women’s tag team championship into the trash two weeks ago. But actually paying it off with an appearance by Madusa (aka Alundra Blayze) that looks to be for more than one week makes it all worth it.
Tony Khan has said he didn’t want to unveil the trios championship he did on Wednesday unless Kenny Omega was going to be part of the division. So, it should signal Omega is ready to return, but with whom does he team? The Bucks seem like the easy choice with a finals matchup at All Out vs. Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly. But AEW is also teasing the Bucks reuniting with Hangman, so something feels like it has to give here.
While the coming-back-from-injury-early premise to start was one we’ve heard before, Zoey Stark’s passion and confidence throughout the promo really sounded like someone ready to be NXT women’s champion one day soon.
Why do I get the feeling Beth Phoenix is coming for Rhea Ripley — whose return has just added such a badass-ness back to The Judgement Day as she torments Dominik Mysterio.
If there were two other must-watch matches from the Ric Flair’s Last Match card, it was Rey Fenix vs. Bandido vs. Laredo Kid vs. Taurus in a great lucha contest and Josh Alexander vs. Jacob Fatu for the Impact world championship.
As soon as AEW announced Jon Moxley vs. Chris Jericho for Quake at the Lake, the chances for CM Punk being ready for All Out appeared to skyrocket. If that isn’t the case, Moxley vs. Jericho in a rematch with a stipulation feels like a decent backup plan.
I think I may be excited for this Becky Lynch return whenever she recovers from her separated shoulder more then I was after her pregnancy absence. That’s because we have been without “The Man” for so long, it’s going to feel so refreshing to have her back. Also, Lynch appears to have earned an even greater respect from fans after her work with Bianca Belair.
While a lot of talk has been around bringing back the women’s tag team title, don’t lose sight of the overhaul Triple H needs to do in the men’s division as well after years of neglect. The Usos really don’t have any true challenger to their crown right now.
Wrestler of the Week
Logan Paul, WWE
I’m not sure anyone outside of maybe Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns came into SummerSlam with more pressure to perform than Paul. This — unlike his match at WrestleMania 38 — was a singles contest, the start of a multi-match deal with WWE and he wasn’t exactly getting over as a babyface with the fans. Paul’s performance at SummerSlam put any doubts about if he belongs in pro wrestling to rest and, at least in Nashville, he won the fans over. You could tell he put in the work. Paul came off as someone who had been wrestling for some time and there will now be anticipation for the next time he steps in the ring.
Honorable mention: Ricky Starks, AEW
Match to Watch
The Acclaimed (Max Caster and Anthony Bowens) vs. The Gunn Club (Austin and Colten Gunn), Dumpster Match (AEW Dynamite, Wednesday, 8 p.m., TBS)
This really has been one of the more entertaining mid-card feuds in AEW. It even included a dose of sports entertainment with fun rap battle and then a music video to help the Acclaimed’s babyface turn. It feels only fitting the sports entertainment continues with a dumpster match won by loading your opponents into the dumpster and closing the lid. What’s even more fitting is the Gunns’ father, Billy, took part in a dumpster match at WrestleMania 14 against Cactus Jack and Terry Funk for some fun family ties.
Around The Ring
WWE announced “Monday Night Raw” will be returning to Barclays Center on Oct. 10.
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