Overall Ranking: #01
- vs. Ron Garvin (NWA – 12/22/1985)
- vs. Ricky Morton (NWA – 07/05/1986)
- vs. Barry Windham (NWA – 01/20/1987)
- vs. Barry Windham (NWA – 04/11/1987)
- vs. Ron Garvin, Steel Cage (NWA – 09/25/1987)
- w/ Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) (NWA – 12/07/1988)
- vs. Lex Luger (12/26/1988)
- vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 02/20/1989)
- vs. Ricky Steamboat, 2 out of 3 falls (WCW – 04/02/1989)
- vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 05/07/1989)
- vs. Terry Funk (WCW – 07/23/1989)
- vs. Terry Funk, I Quit (WCW – 11/15/1989)
- vs. Bobby Eaton (WCW – 01/07/1990)
- vs. Brian Pillman (WCW – 02/17/1990)
- vs. Lex Luger (WCW – 02/25/1990)
- vs. Brian Pillman (WCW – 04/13/1991)
- vs. Big Van Vader (WCW – 12/27/1993)
- vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 04/17/1994)
- vs. Bret Hart (WCW – 01/24/1998)
“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man” took on a slightly different contextual meaning within the Greatest Wrestler Ever project.
Flair was the presumptive number one coming into the project. At least, that’s how many seemed to view him. Which is interesting because in the 2006 poll, Flair finished in the #8 spot. He has not done anything on his own to help his legacy in the decade since and if anything, he did more to hurt it his reputation by holding on too long as he headed down the long winding road to self-parody. WWE has continued to push Flair as the greatest of all time (at least they did most of the time) but I am not sure how big of a factor that was ever going to play in Flair’s positioning. Flair is the most scrutinized wrestler of all time for a variety of reasons and his warts were/are as well-known as the warts of any other great wrestler. I am not suggesting that Flair wasn’t the favorite for the top spot in this poll before the project got underway, but only that he was never the untouchable guy that his fans refuse to re-examine, which is sometimes how he is portrayed.
In any event, there certainly was an underlying and widespread tone over the past 18 months that Flair would likely finish atop the poll but mainly because not enough voters would properly re-examine Flair’s career and/or properly examine the career of other top spot contenders. The tone was akin to talking politics with an outspoken friend/family member/co-worker who is convinced that his favorite candidate would be elected if only everyone was as well versed in the policies of the candidates as he is. It is insulting and arrogant to imply that your candidate can only lose (or the other candidate can only win) through public ignorance. There was a lot of effort put into stumping against Flair as well as promoting others who might be able to overtake him. All that sounds a lot more malicious than it actually was. Of course people are going to go to bat for the wrestlers they think are great and be out spoken against those who they feel are overrated, but it is undeniable that Flair’s position as the pre-poll favorite permeated throughout the process. There seemed to be an effort – or at least a strong hope – that someone would beat the champion.
Flair was my working #1 when this project started and I can say with the upmost sincerity that I was open to him being knocked from his perch. I wasn’t looking to knock him from the top spot – why would I? – but if in the course of watching Flair matches and watching the work of other top contenders, my position became solidified. I can only speak for myself (although I imagine this applies to other Flair voters as well) but I feel confident I did adequate due diligence and it lead me to keeping Flair #1.
The problem in assessing any individuals who are at the top of their fields is that the focus is usually on tearing them down; finding out why they aren’t as great as we make them out to be. There is a tendency to build up the challengers and tear down the champions. I have said it before in these posts, but I try to evaluate by looking at strengths rather than weaknesses. I am positive that I am not always successful in doing that but that’s my intent. My thinking is that the weaknesses will fall out in that process. If a certain area is not a strength for a wrestler it is either a weaknesses or it is neutral. Negative and neutral attributes don’t help a wrestler’s case and if we are discussing the greatest 100 pro wrestlers of all times, it is likely that nobody being discussed as just a severe flaw as to offset all their strengths. I would rather build up everyone’s case, look at them from that vantage point, and look at the degree of their weaknesses only when necessary (ie. distinguishing between two otherwise very similar wrestlers).
I am very familiar with the criticisms of Flair but find many of them to be little more than the tradeoff associated with a true positive. For example, there is the criticism that Flair is formulaic and repetitive. If you are so inclined, you can easily phrase that has “Flair developed a quality and entertaining routine that allowed him to have an unprecedented amount of great matches on a consistent basis against a variety of opponents.” The positive is that Flair wrestled good matches against a variety of opponents. The negative is to do that, he developed a formula. I am not ignorant of the fact that Flair had a routine; I doubt most Flair fans are. The difference is I see it as a good routine that stood the test of time and led to Flair matches during his prime and just after his prime having a high floor. Likewise, Flair gets criticized because he theoretically could have had stronger matches with certain opponents if he had ventured further outside of his comfort zone. That is a slippery slope. If we held every single wrestler to the standard of “what’s the best he or she could have done?” nobody comes out looking good. As a Flair fan, I have never asked that people ignore his shortcomings but only that they carefully weigh and evaluate them like they would for any other wrestler. There is no wrestler who is close to a “perfect” wrestler, so docking certain guys points because they left room between their actual output and their theoretical ceiling is preposterous.
One point made during this process that I certainly agree with is that discussing Flair’s body of work has become boring and tedious. That is the main reason I have written several paragraphs without listing off all of the many reasons why I consider Flair to be the greatest pro wrestler of all time. All of those reasons are out there. We all know them. That’s not a cop out. If I had not already written 99 of these testimonials, I would probably be more inclined to indulge and go into Flair’s case in-depth. The reasons why people consider Flair overrated are all out there too. This discussion has gone around and around thousands of times over. All of those points – the good and the bad – are public record at this point. Very little new ground is being broke.
I don’t confuse the lack of a desire to write glowing things about Flair or to defend Flair with a negative opinion of his work. I might be totally off base, but I get the impression that is the crux of the hang up for some. There is a reverse “shiny new toy” syndrome thing going on with Flair. When you are discussing the status quo you are either rehashing all of the well-known reasons why the status quo is the status quo or listing reasons why the standard shouldn’t be the standard. The second is much more interesting and we tend to go that route.
Anyway, I have rambled long enough in this post and in all one-hundred of my Greatest Wrestler Ever posts. I voted Flair #1 for all of the reasons people have given over the years for Flair being the greatest wrestler ever. Please do not downplay the level of thought that I and other Flair voters put into our lists just because we arrived at the same “boring” conclusion that wrestling fans have arrived at for years. The opportunity was there during my examination and re-examination of all the top contenders for Flair to beat himself or for someone to beat him and it didn’t happen. In my estimation, Flair has more strengths than any other wrestler in history – including volume of quality matches which is important to me – that even when you factor in his weaknesses, still leaves him a head above the competition. On my poll, I allowed for the chance that someone would beat them man but nobody did.