The Hypocrisy Of The Nature Boy

The argument could be made that Ric Flair, the 16-time world champion, is the greatest pro wrestler to ever lace up a pair of boots. Granted, the discussion is subjective, but that’s part of the fun of the sport. Counter arguments for Bret Hart, Misawa, or others could be made as well. Still, while the ranking might vary, it’s almost undeniable that Flair is a great pro wrestler. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that the real-life Flair is necessarily a great person.

Obviously, I don’t know Flair personally so I’m not making an assertive statement based on that, but perception is often reality, particularly within the sports entertainment business, and more often than not, Flair’s public reputation hasn’t put him in the best light in recent years. Over a decade ago, Flair was almost 60 and was given the greatest retirement the business had ever seen, with a featured match at Wrestlemania and then a very emotional segment the following night on Raw. Reportedly, he inked a deal to be a WWE ambassador for $500,000 a year, a role that would’ve kept him employed, but not in the ring after he officially hung up the boots. Flair’s well-documented financial woes, including several alimony payments, saw him opt out of the contract to make more money upfront on the autograph circuit. His money and legal troubles are sadly too lengthy to detail again, as he was sued for breach of contract by Ring Of Honor and then High Spots for not only autographs that he didn’t sign, but also for a personal loan, where he put up the NWA title belt as collateral even though he didn’t actually own the championship.

It might be tough for some longtime Flair fans or wrestling purists to hear, but his legacy was tarnished the moment he stepped into the ring to wrestle for TNA in 2010. He was given a storybook ending to his career, but years of terrible financial decisions forced him back into the ring at 61. Again, it might sound harsh, but it was embarrassing to see Flair clearly passed his prime, bleeding on TNA television or rolling around in thumbtacks. Along with that the ill-fated Hulkamania tour saw a 60-year-old Flair competing against Hogan during a series of shows that were considered a flop in Australia in 2009. At least the Australian tour was relatively low-profile and didn’t really impact his status in the business, but the TNA run was on national TV during an era when the company had a decent core viewing audience. Sure, everyone has the right to try to make some cash in their chosen profession, but that doesn’t mean the whole story isn’t just sad that Flair, the celebrated former champion, was in the ring at that age because he needed the money. It’s difficult to feel bad for him since there are countless stories that he wasted his earnings throughout his career.

Now, a decade after his final match, it was announced that Flair, at the age of 73, will step into the ring again for another match. This time, it was be Flair and FTR vs. The Rock N’ Roll Express, both in their 60s, and a partner yet to be announced. Ricky Steamboat, who suffered some serious health problems about a decade ago that prevent him from wrestling again, was brief linked to the bout before “The Dragon” denied the reports. What is being promoted as Flair’s last match will take place as a part of the Starrcast convention, an event organized by podcast czar and Flair’s son-in-law, Conrad Thompson. Conrad, the optimist and in this case, a promoter, touted the contest as an ode to Jim Crockett Promotions, the organization that held NWA events during Flair’s heyday as champion.

Granted, if Flair wanted another final match, it’s tough for Conrad to say no to family, but realistically, is there really a demand for this? Seriously, after Flair’s health scare in 2017 that had him near death, are fans truly clamoring to see him inside the ring again? Every bump he takes could theoretically be a cause for concern. In recent months, Flair posted videos of workouts with Jay Lethal, and while it’s nice to see the two have a fun exhibition of a few small spots, you can definitely tell that Lethal is being extra careful with everything he does to the aging legend. Should Flair’s final bout, after he was known for working 60 minutes during his heyday, be a six man tag where his opponents are extra cautious with him in the ring?

It’s no surprise that this announcement was met with a combination of criticism and concern. Former WCW announcer, Chris Cruise, went as far as to say that he would contract the state athletic commissions to inform them of Flair’s health problems, including a pacemaker that he had after his previously mentioned health scare. Truth to told, outside of New York, there are very few states that do anything to regulate pro wrestling. It’s viewed as entertainment, and any yokel that has the cash to pay the relatively small fee for a promoter’s license can usually run an event, which is why you hear many horror stories about independent shows. The athletic commissions take their cut of a tax on the gate, but that’s more or less the extent of their involvement in sports entertainment. The Starrcast convention is being held during Summer Slam weekend in Nashville, TN to draw from the traveling WWE crowd.

As mentioned, Flair’s public profile took a hit in recent years. He appeared to be on his way to All Elite Wrestling until the episode about the infamous plane ride overseas aired, which saw a flight attendant accuse The Nature Boy of exposing himself to her during the flight. Flair continues to completely deny the allegations. However, based on Flair’s alleged behavior and a few of the other intoxicated wrestlers on the plane, the flight attendants filed a lawsuit against the company at the time of the incident. The fact that the case was settled out of court was enough to sway public opinion when the episode aired on Vice TV last year. Flair’s hopes of a hefty AEW contract were dashed in the aftermath of the negative publicity.

More recently, Flair dealt with another public feud, this time with his longtime friend and former WCW announcer, Mark Madden. Madden, a lifelong Flair fan and radio host, bases much of his on-air persona on being a heel, the same way a wrestling villain riles up an audience. Off the airwaves, Madden is known as a genuinely nice guy and has done charity work in the past, as well as working with youth hockey leagues. Flair wanted to get into the podcast game, something he attempted before, but that fizzled out quickly. History repeated itself in some ways when Flair relaunched with Madden as his co-host, but less than a dozen episodes later, there was a very public dispute between the two on Twitter. Madden explained that Flair was simply unprepared for the podcast sessions. This was a trend for Flair as not only did have a public feud with Madden, but he also doesn’t speak to Arn Anderson, Triple H, Shawn Micheals, and David Flair. In the back and fourth exchanges on social media, it was revealed that Flair, despite almost dying from alcohol-related health problems, still drinks today.

This is where Ric Flair will lose most of his public support. If fans don’t like Madden’s abrasive on-air style, that’s fine, nobody has to feel bad for the radio host. However, the fact that Flair continues to drink today shows that he took a second chance at life for granted. There are many people dealing with health problems based on no fault of their own that don’t get the chance to live a normal life. On the other end of the spectrum, not only did Flair almost drink himself to death based on his personal choices to frequent bars very often over the years, he still drinks after getting a second chance at life. At some point, it’s difficult for the fans to want to celebrate and honor someone that clearly doesn’t value the gifts that he has in his career. More specifically, it appears that Flair might think he’s entitled to live a lavish lifestyle. Despite making top money and getting a few chances later in his career to still earn big cash, somehow Flair always seems to have financial problems. During an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary a few years ago, he often bragged about drinking, infidelity, and lavish spending throughout his career.

Again, Flair might be a great pro wrestler, but that doesn’t automatically make him a great person.

So, Ric Flair will compete at 73 years old and it will be said that at this age, he still wants to fool himself into trying to believe that he’s still the same guy that worked the main event of Starrcade. FTR, two of the best workers in the business, will do their best to make Flair look as decent as possible, but this tag match will amount to Flair gingerly going through the routine. The Nashville Fairgrounds isn’t exactly the prime location for the conclusion of Flair’s career, but this whole experiment seems more like an ego trip for Flair anyway.

This six man tag at Starrcast will be Ric Flair’s “final” match until another promoter is willing to pay him for his next match.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta