There is only one 'Man:' Ric Flair
By Rennie Detore
Sunday, July 11, 2004
On the eve of the release of Ric Flair's autobiography, "To Be The
Man," I watched Flair compete in the prime of his career -- when he
was, indeed, "The Man."
The match pitted Flair, the challenger, against then-champion Ricky
"The Dragon" Steamboat on May 7, 1989, at an event billed as the
"Music City Showdown." On that night, Flair captured his sixth NWA
world heavyweight title in one of a bevy of five-star classics with
Steamboat dating to their feud 10 years earlier.
When most 40-year-olds are contemplating retirement, Flair had reached
the pinnacle of his professional career. He had just finished a
three-match series with Steamboat and was headed for a wild, ***
feud with Terry Funk.
Flair's encounters with Steamboat are only a small part of an
autobiography that reads like the Bible of professional wrestling
history simply because Flair has participated through so much of it.
He's wrestled just about everyone in the business from Wahoo McDaniel
to Triple H -- a career that spans more than 30 years and four
decades. His influential promos have become the prototype for every
heel, and his championship swagger and suave, yet***y, charisma is
often imitated but has never been duplicated.
Two constant themes resonate throughout Flair's book: respect and
Flair lay on a cold, steel X-ray table after a plane crash Oct. 4,
1975 on a flight from C***te to Wilmington, N.C., left him with a
broken back. McDaniel, who Flair refers to as his biggest professional
wrestling influence, busts in.
Flair writes "Thank God Wahoo had driven to Wilmington (Wahoo opted
not to fly with Flair). What would fans have thought if he'd been
pulled out of a small, intimate plane with me. It could have killed
Flair, forgetting that the plane crash nearly killed him, worried more
about the perception of he and McDaniel flying together would impact
their feud. Flair, with his future and career uncertain, put wrestling
first. In fact, Flair writes with candor about how he always has,
until recently, put his business ahead of his family, later having to
resolve issues with his children and second wife, Beth.
This is where the partying part comes in.
Flair doesn't necessarily apologize for his antics -- which basically
cost him his first marriage -- rather he attributes it to his run as
"The Nature Boy," a character instilled in him that eventually
overtook his life. That's not to say that the partying didn't provide
its share of memorable stories from his NWA heyday.
Flair talks about Funk trying to light Greg Valentine's hair on fire
driving to Raleigh, followed by Funk returning to the city and
directing traffic wearing only the NWA world title and cowboy hat and
boots. Flair also recalls*** out with good friend Roddy Piper and
watching "Hot Rod" run through a hotel room clotheslining potted
Stories of drinking -- there are enough funny stories to write another
book -- and partying with wrestlers quickly turn into tales of career
suicide for Flair.
As Flair's WCW career in the late 1990s came to an end, he ignored the
crumbling company around and again put business first, participating
in countless campy skits -- including a pseudo heart attack, a stint
in a mental home, and losing to anyone the company asked him to,
including non-wrestlers Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff.
Flair went along with the steady stream of inane writing because,
again, he had perhaps too much respect for a company -- WCW and before
that NWA -- that afforded him the opportunity to make millions and
become a star. The "Nature Boy" even turned down an offer to jump to
the WWF in 1998 because he felt a loyalty to his friend, Arn Anderson,
and the remaining Hor***.
You don't necessarily feel sorry for Flair but rather admire him for
being such a team player among a locker room filled with superstars
who weren't -- namely Hulk Hogan. Flair, unlike Hogan, could be the
biggest star in the world but never shied away from sharing his
Flair once feuded with Ricky Morton -- one half of the "Rock 'n Roll
Express" -- and delivered quality match after quality match. Could you
imagine Hogan, as WWF champion in the late 1980s or early 90s, feuding
with Shawn Michaels -- one half of The Rockers -- or Bret Hart -- of
the Hart Foundation?
That's what makes Flair more relevant than Hogan, even if the latter
has a tad more name value.
Two hours after watching Flair vs. Steamboat from 1989, I turned on
"Raw" last Monday and saw a different Ric Flair.
This Flair wasn't trading chops with a superstar called "The Dragon,"
instead participating in a game of musical chairs at the direction of
a superstar named, "Eugene."
This Flair wasn't in the world-title picture, vying for the gold
against guys named Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Harley Race or Sting.
This Flair, at 55, was a role player alongside Triple H and
the-up-and-coming Randy Orton.
But even with his main eventing days all but gone, Flair still loves
performing and manages to turn on the "Nature Boy" persona at any
moment -- like his stylish strut in Stacy Keibler's direction on
That's because Flair's passion for professional wrestling never
wavered. It's that heart and soul that shine through in "To Be The
Man," and makes Flair a timeless entity in wrestling -- regardless of
who he wrestles, what he does or whether he wins or loses. Main-event
allure, notwithstanding, Flair's name still sells. He can still, given
a microphone and direction, be valuable on any level, even as an
opponent to wrestlers 10 or 20 years younger than him.
Flair isn't the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He is
That's why his story isn't just important but imperative; that's why
his autobiography stands out as the best.
Just like him.