In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up with pro wrestling. What Dad, go outside and play with friends on Saturday? Screw that, I'm watching wrestling at 11am, kung fu movies during lunch until 2pm, a different wrestling show at 3, followed by a German soccer match, all before dinner. If I knew the benefit and value of investing, I'd have bought stock in frozen pizza and, well, whatever it is that pro wrestling is famous for. Steel chairs maybe? Morning wrestling was Hulk Hogan and the World Wrestling Federation. Afternoon wrestling was Ric Flair and Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in the National Wrestling Alliance. I watched the WWF for the drama and theatrics. I watched the NWA for the athleticism and for the wrestling.
Realizing that I'm going to step into this discussion a little bit, I was a mark for Flair when it came to the whole Flair vs. Hogan debate. I grew tired of the whole Hogan schtick by 1986. A 10-minute match where Hogan takes the offense early on, sells his opponent's offense for a minute or two and then does a comic book-like resurgence before beating his opponent. Which is fine, but damn if it didn't get boring as all get out. And no matter who the opponent was, Hogan would always win. Always. The opponent could have been more charismatic, more athletic, but it wouldn't matter. Hogan would squash everyone and did so for years. And scores of people lapped it up. However, rather than put himself over selfishly like Hogan seemed to be doing, Flair's dedication was first to the sport of professional wrestling. The people he was booked against might not have been the most talented, though Flair would frequently carry them in matches that would help give his opponents the confidence they needed to be better wrestlers than they were. In high school metaphors, Hogan was the bullying jock; Flair was the guy who talked a lot of smack but had the talent to back it up, wrestling 30 to 40 minutes a night with people that actually wrestled with him. Not to slam Hogan entirely, because I'm aware of the publicity and notoriety he brought to wrestling, but it's one thing to hear about the contribution you've made to something and it's something else when you start reading the press clippings and actually think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. In the years since the '80s, it's encouraging to see that in recent times, public opinion seems to be swaying away from Hogan, but it's more encouraging to see the body of Flair's work get a lot of attention. The Definitive Collection is no less than the third multi-disc set where Flair is all or part of the focus; 2003 saw the release of the Ultimate Collection, hosting Flair's best matches on three discs, while 2007's two-disc set covered Flair's participation in the Four Horsemen group that dominated pro wrestling in the '80s. While this doesn't have as many matches, there's still quite a bit of decent content to be had.
In terms of content layout, the matches are on discs two and three, whereas disc one has a two-hour documentary focused on Flair's life and career. Flair talks about his life in an orphanage briefly before recalling training with Vern Gagne and Ken Patera in Minnesota. He talks about the tragic plane crash that essentially broke his back, paralyzed one of the passengers and took the life of the pilot. His rehabilitation and thriving in the National Wrestling Alliance is shown, and some of the friction that led to his leaving for the World Wrestling Federation in 1991 is talked about. His return to World Championship Wrestling (formerly the NWA) is given time, along with the battles he had with Eric Bischoff, who was running the organization. The documentary itself is decent, but it seemed a little too high level for me. As one who's grown up with Flair and read his book, there's not too many new details in this for the returning Flair fan. So that leaves the matches, right? Glory be to all yeah, and while there are only 10 in total, most of them are fairly lengthy, going beyond the 20 and 30-minute marks, with a couple in the 40-minute area. Those matches are as follows:
Ric Flair vs. Jack Brisco (Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling - August 18, 1982)
Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich (World Class Championship Wrestling - August 24, 1982)
Ric Flair vs. Harley Race ( Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling - August 31, 1983)
Ric Flair, Arn & Ole Anderson vs. Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA & Manny Fernandez (World Wide Wrestling - December 15, 1985)
Ric Flair vs. Sting (Clash of the Champions - March 27, 1988)
Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (Great American Bash - July 23, 1989)
Ric Flair vs. Roddy Piper (October 28, 1991)
Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat (Spring Stampede - April 17, 1994) )
Ric Flair vs. Triple H (Taboo Tuesday - November 1, 2005)
Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXIV - March 30, 2008)
To give you an idea of Flair's work, any match before 1998 is usually a solid one; any match before 1988 is a downright gem in one fashion or another. The match with Terry Funk is a great one for a different reason; both guys didn't like each other and beat the beejeezus out of one another for 20 minutes in an old-school brawl. The Von Erich and Race matches are also excellent, though for sentimental reasons, it would have been nice to see the Flair-Von Erich match at Texas Stadium during the David Von Erich tribute show. Still, the match here is great, in a smaller venue and with an electric crowd. The Steamboat match is good, but considering the quality of matches between the two several years before, falls into the "good but not great" category. The match with Sting is excellent; Flair's tendency to make an opponent come out much better after a match with Flair then before it was a hallmark, and this match propelled Sting into a viable talent in the sport for a period of time. While the match selection is a little bit questionable, the content is worth the time invested.
Full-frame viewing for the pro wrestling fan in your life. The colors are reproduced accurately enough, and the image is sharper on the recent couple of matches; however we're talking about video that's more than a quarter century old, so know that it's not going to be completely pristine. These are as good as they're going to look.
Dolby Surround in two beautiful channels. Accurate sound reproduced with clarity and dynamics; and the documentary sounds clear, and there aren't any distortion issues to speak of. It does what it's supposed to do.
Not too much, but there's some things of note. On disc one, there's additional footage that didn't make the documentary's final cut (13:08), where Flair discusses some rookie hazing, which admittedly was pretty funny. There's also a music video of Flair's work set to Fuel's "Leave the Memories Behind." The only other bonus material is on disc three, where you've got ten promos (25:33) that, with the exception of the first one, are in the 1985-1987 era. Flair was clearly at the top of his game physically, but he was a master at shooting promos, sometimes playing to the crowd, but generally he would talk about how great he was, building up the opponent of the day periodically, but saying that he could back up what he was talking about, and he usually did. The footage from Flair's retirement speech on RAW is included, along with 10 minutes that didn't air, which was mainly comprised of WWE star The Undertaker and owner Vince McMahon paying their respects, and Flair leaving to the applause of the talent roster and the audience.
In his last words on the documentary, Flair says, "I don't wanna go; I'm not sure I'm going to." Within the context of Flair's career and these DVD sets, while I don't want these all-encompassing multi-disc sets to end, now that Flair's career is over, I'm assuming these discs will. The Definitive Collection of Ric Flair is another excellent release of compilation matches from the wrestler and definitely worth owning for fans of the man or the sport.