Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Flair & Steamboat: Hell Freezes Over. Again.

The Anderson Brothers vs. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat 
August 11, 1981 - Raleigh, NC
by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

"The Hawaiian Punch" Ricky Steamboat and
"Nature Boy" Ric Flair
It's hard to imagine now, with 35 years having passed by and so much water under the bridge, that two superstar wrestlers teaming up would be such a big deal. But in 1981, when Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat joined forces to challenge Ric's cousins Gene and Ole Anderson for their NWA world tag team championship, it was a very big deal.

Not as big, perhaps, as in 1979 when Flair had just turned babyface and fans and good-guy wrestlers alike weren't sure if they could trust the Nature Boy. Back then, when Flair asked Ricky Steamboat to be his partner and challenge Paul Jones and Baron Von Raschke for the NWA world tag titles that summer, it did indeed seem like hell had frozen over. The blood feud between Flair and Steamboat that had been going on for two straight years was unlike any other ever seen in the territory.

That was big, but now this seemed just as big to me for different reasons. This story had multiple layers to it now, calling back to family feuds and broken relationships going back some five long years.

Ric Flair's on-again, off-again relationship with his cousins Gene and Ole Anderson had been one of the greatest on-going stories in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling lore:

  • 1976: The big break-up as Flair took Greg Valentine as his partner and wrestled the titles from the Andersons in a scenario so unlikely that it actually made the fans cheer for the hated Anderson brothers. The two teams traded the titles back and forth over the next two years.
  • 1978: Ric's reunion with the family in 1978 when blood proved thicker than water and special referee Gene Anderson, thought to be impartial in the war between Flair and Steamboat, helped Ric retain the U.S title in the match where fans felt sure Steamboat would regain it. 
  • 1979: The family was at odds again when Flair turned good-guy and cousin Gene became the manager of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka who proceeded to take Ric's U.S. title, and his favorite robe to boot.

Now in 1981, with Gene back in action after his managerial stint was over, the Anderson brothers reunited and regained the world titles. Not being able to leave well enough alone, Ole saw to it that the family feud erupted again when he and Gene joined Ivan Koloff in ganging up 3-on-1 on Flair inside a steel cage.

While Flair's current feud with Koloff had seemed more professional (albeit very violent), the family feud with the Andersons was very personal. With the cousins again waging war, Flair made the decision to once again attempt to do what he hadn't been able to do since his days in 1976-1978 with partner Greg Valentine - - take the NWA world tag team championships from the Andersons.

Flair took several different partners early on to tackle the Minnesota Wrecking Crew - - Blackjack Mulligan, Jay Youngblood, Wahoo McDaniel - - but in the end, there was only one man Flair could turn to that had a chance of making that magic happen again. It was his career long rival and now one of his best friends and allies - - the "Hawaiian Punch" Ricky Steamboat.

Like an onion with seemingly endless layers to peel away, this match-up had all of this tangled up history behind it. Flair was once again living out this family feud that had been going on for five years. Steamboat must have remembered back to the bloody wars with Flair in 1977, how Gene Anderson had helped Ric keep the U.S. title in that major battle of 1978. But the two were able to once again put that history behind them and join forces, just as they had shocked the world in doing two years earlier.

I'm convinced that they would have eventually been successful in taking the world tag team titles from the Andersons had it not been for something else happening in the meantime that changed the face of wrestling history: Ric Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City, KS to win the NWA World Heavyweight title. The Anderson's tag titles were safe once again as Ric Flair turned his attention to touring the world in defense of the "ten pounds of gold."

With the world title in the picture, Flair and Steamboat would renew their rivalry several more times over the next 13 years, but for a brief few weeks in the summer of 1981, there was magic in the air again as hell froze over for a second time and Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat formed one of wrestling's most powerful and exciting combinations.

Originally posted October 27, 2016 on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

Check out other MAIN EVENT MEMORIES on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway:

1. The Anderson Family (1976) The Andersons and their cousin Ric Flair
2. Dusty's Big Championship Weekend (1976) with Flair, Mulligan, and the Andersons
3. Mulligan vs. Flair on a Hot July Night (1978) Worlds Collide!
4. The Origins of Wahoo vs. Flair (1975) with Wahoo McDaniel and Ric Flair
5. Blackjack Mulligan vs. Rufus R. Jones (1976) "Have mercy, Mama!"
6. The Briscos Challenge Flair & Valentine (1978) Jim Crockett makes the match.
7. A Local Boy Gets His Shot (1981) Don Kernodle teams with Ric Flair in his hometown.
8. Bullrope Match: Ole vs. Flair (1981) Dusty prepares Ric for a big match in Charlotte.
9. Ric Flair Wins His First Mid-Atlantic Championship (1975) Hair vs. Title in Hampton!
10. Blackjack Mulligan Regains the U.S. Title (1978) New Year's Night in Richmond
11. The Gathering on Tour (1986) Post Starrcade event in Columbia SC
12. Township Tangle (1978) Flair & Valentine vs. Wahoo & Jones
13. Flair Wins the NWA Title (1981) Historic Win over Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City
14. Brisco, Valentine Defend Titles in Richmond (1974) Huge main events in Richmond