” Wooooooo! To be the man, you have to beat the man!” quotes Ric Flair, possibly one of the most well know professional wrestlers in history. “The Nature Boy,” widely recognized as the 16 time World Champion (8 times NWA, 6 times WCW, and 2 times WWE), is both a hated and popular wrestler throughout his 36 year career. His legends and legacy has indeed left a major impact in professional wrestling today.
Ric Flair was born on February 25, 1949 in Memphis, Tennessee. As a young age, he moved around the country from Edina, Minnesota to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Before becoming a full time professional wrestler, He took on jobs such as lifeguard at a local pool to working as a bouncer at a club. After winning the state private school wrestling championship, he was recruited by the University of Minnesota. However, he shortly dropped out and met Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera, who later introduced him to Verne Gagne of the Verne Gagne’s wrestling school.
While most wrestling fans remember Flair for his bleached blond golden hair, handsomely looking figure, and slick wrestling style, he was quite the opposite in his early career in the 1970s. Back then, he was more of a power brawling wrestler who weighted nearly 300 pounds with short brown hair. However, he was already able to draw attention with his ring endurance and charismatic personality, which is a trademark of his career.
After little success with Verne Gagne, Flair left the AWA for Jim Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). It was here where he founded his home and built his legacy. However, things took a ugly turn when his career was almost ended in a serious plane crash in Wilmington, North Carolina. He, at a tender age of 26, broke his back in three places and was asked not to wrestle again by the doctors. Flair, however, showed will and guts by conducting rigorous physical therapies and returned to the ring in under half a year. Though he returned to the ring, the injuries forced “The Nature Boy” to change his wresting technique to the slick style wrestling fans know today from him.
In 1978, Ric finally reached the top elite class when he started referring himself as “The Nature Boy”, which started a heated rivalry between him and the original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. In the following few years, he became the main draw for NWA and won several NWA World Championships while fending off top stars such as Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Harley Race and more. It was around this time that Flair started to embrace the role of “The Nature Boy” wrestling fans know today, sporting bleached blond hair, expensive suits, elegant jewelry, and astonishing custom robes while chopping away the competitions with his trademark chops and making opponents tapping out to his figure four leglock.
In 1985, he helped created one of the most famous groups in wrestling known as the Four Horseman. The original members consisted of Tully Blanchard, and Ole and Arn Anderson. This villainous group used their rule breaking tactics and number to destroy NWA’s wrestlers while holding much of the championship titles. This group would later resurfaced at WCW with different members.
After Crockett left NWA, he formed the World Championship Wrestling and built his promotion around Flair as the champion. It was here in WCW that Flair brought out the best in superstars such as Sting, Barry Windam, Lex Luger, Terry Funk, and the Steiner Brothers. A dispute with WCW president Jim Herd in the spring of 1991 promoted Flair to leave WCW and joined its main rivalry, Vince McMahon’s WWE.
Upon his arrival, “The Nature Boy” immediately made an impact by winning the 1992 Royal Rumble and then defeating Randy Savage for the WWE Title a few months later. He soon return as a face to WCW in early 1993 without really starting any major rivalry with Hulk Hogan, then WWE’s biggest draw. Upon returning he quickly reclaim the top spot by besting Vader for the WCW Title at Starrcade 1993. In June 1994, he finally participated in the ultimate dream match with Hulk Hogan. For the rest of the years, he reformed the Four Horseman to battle with the New World Order. For the remaining years until WWE’s eventual buyout of WCW in 2001, Flair’s career was overshadowed and underutilized in favor of new younger and quicker stars.
After a brief hiatus from wrestling, he returned to WWE as the on-camera co-owner of the company, starting a feud with Vince McMahon. Flair later became a main stable in Triple H’s Evolution, serving as a mentor to younger stars such as Bastisa and Randy Orton. After the group’s disbandment, Flair was all over WWE’s TV shows battling everyone including young and upcoming stars. Flair finally wrestled his last match at WreslteMania XXIV, losing to Shawn Michaels in one emotional match that was voted by Professional Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) as the Match of the Year in 2008.
Despite gaining much respect from younger wrestlers, Flair is not always respected by other legends such as Bret Hart, Mick Foley, and Bruno Sammartino. In his autobiography, he criticizes Hart for over-exploiting the death of Owen Hart, and the Montreal Screwjob, while also claming Hart was not a money-making draw in wrestling. He verbally attacked Mick Foley by calling him a glorified stuntman instead of a real wrestler. Against legend Bruno Sammarito, Flair commented that Sammartino was a star who couldn’t draw outside New York.
Despite those personal feuds, “The Nature Boy” have clearly established his legacy in the wrestling industry. Fans today pay tribute to him by shouting “Woooooo!” whenever a wrestler performs a knife-edge wrestling chop to the opponent’s chest, which was one of his signature move.
No matter if wrestling fans remember him as the “limousine riding, jet flying, kiss stealing son of a gun” or his outlandish wits and entertaining interview style with his bleached blond hair and elaborate robes, Ric Flair is indeed, a wrestling legend like none other.