In recent weeks, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, one of the most legendary performers and arguably the greatest of all time, returned to WWE television on a regular basis, something that was booked previously in the past few years at various times when he worked with his daughter, Charlotte. Usually, Ric Flair on a TV show is a good thing, but the booking of the Lacey Evans angle is very questionable and might be the absolute wrong way to book a legendary figure.
First, it should be noted that there are two ways to book someone the level of Ric Flair in a non-wrestling role. You can either used him sparingly so that the nostalgia pop doesn’t get repetitive and lose its luster or you install him as a fixture on the program in a specific role to utilize the status of the elder statesman of the sport, similar to how Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard are used in AEW. They are presented in a way that doesn’t expose them as former wrestlers that are past their prime, and maximizes their presence as legends in the industry.
The on-and-off fashion that WWE put Flair on TV in recent years has him stuck somewhere in the middle. He’s there often enough that the fans don’t have to clamor to see him again since he’s already there on a semi-regular basis, but he’s not there often enough to be a fixture in a long-term angle that would help him lend credibility to the rest of the roster. For a comparison, the rare occasion that Steve Austin is advertised for Raw is a major draw because there’s an anticipation to see him. On the flip side, if he was booked as the general manager or a similar role, the audience could tune in to see what he will do next. Anything between that is somewhat of a middle of the road and that’s where Flair was positioned in recent years.
Again, if management wants to make Flair a regular character, there are definitely benefits to that, but considering he’s not an active wrestler and has the status of a bonafide legend, they must be careful how he is presented. Most importantly, the fans respect Flair’s accomplishments over the past forty years so nobody wants to see him continually embarrassed on television, which is exactly what WWE does to the majority of the legends that appear on the show. There’s a fine line between getting heat on a legend, such as the Batista attack on Flair to set up the Triple H match at Wrestlemania a few years ago that worked very well, and embarrassing them as a shell of themselves, something that was booked for the Raw legends show earlier this month with the Randy Orton promos.
The Flair/Lacey angle is a complete contradiction toward the narrative WWE promoted previously and thus won’t be effective, which would be minimal at best if it were successful. Make no mistake about it, Ric Flair will be the “Nature Boy” forever, but at 72 years old, is the audience supposed to believe that the 30-year-old Lacey Evans, who is four years younger than Charlotte, is enamored with him? The visual is ridiculous and makes both of them look silly. Furthermore, the office has been all over the place with the career path of Evans and can’t seem to decide what version of her they want to present to the audience.
She started on the main roster as “the sassy southern belle” as a heel and her performances in the ring, including a short-term feud with Becky Lynch were so horrendous that she eventually disappeared from television for a brief time. After that, she was cast as the wholesome baby face with a highlight on her military service and her role as a mom. Without any solid explanation or motivation, she’s now portrayed as a shady heel that wants to link herself with a 72-year-old Flair. The script has flipped so often for Lacey that management hasn’t given enough time for any of the characters to be established. Granted, she was too limited in the ring to be brought to the main roster, but that’s management’s mistake. If I had to guess, I’d say that the office still wants to make her a priority because the corporate agenda would make it look good on conference calls for sponsors if someone with her background becomes a recognizable star for the organization.
Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense for a corporate group to want to promote the former marine and mom, especially with the emphasize on women’s empowerment, but how does the angle with Flair promote any of that? More importantly, is she the “sassy southern belle,” the wholesome mom, or the sleazy woman that wants to exploit Flair? She’s behind the curve in terms of in-ring ability, but that isn’t necessarily her fault and how her character is a revolving door of contradictions.
Finally, the most simplistic aspect of why this Flair/Lacey angle is doomed is, with all the reasons mentioned prior, who wants to boo Ric Flair? At some point, a legend, even the heels, is over because the respect factor among the audience. Similar to the way that the audience knows about the real-life background of Lacey Evans, mostly because it was promoted on WWE programming, fans know more about the story of Ric Flair in recent years, including his life-threatening health scare. The tremendous ESPN 30 for 30 documentary put an emphasis on the positive and the negative of the real life of Flair. The main stream public heard the tale of how he was in the hospital with only a 20% chance to survive from heart problems. Thankfully, The Nature Boy kicked out and everyone is happy to see he recovered. How are fans really going to be mad at Flair? Keep in mind, he’s actually more of a pop culture icon now than he was during his active wrestling days so the booking of this angle is going against the grain of the perception of Flair in the modern era.
The biggest question is, if there’s a pay off to all of this, will it be worth it? How is casting Flair as a slimey heel at this point in his career going to be effective? Is Lacey going to somehow emerge as the top heel in the women’s division after this, and if so, how does that gel with the wholesome background the corporate side wants to promote? Charlotte is a star, but booking her to be involved in something so silly only hinders her status within the organization.
One of the most common discussions today is the lack of legitimate star power on the WWE roster, but a major piece of the puzzle of what made wrestlers stars in the previous era was there was an investment in the characters from management and thus it gave the audience the chance to make the emotional investment. The way to keep the investment of TV time on track to make a star is to know how to see the character to the audience, but without a solid direction to sell to the audience, there’s not a way for the fans to make that emotional investment into the character. If Stone Cold turned heel three months after he beat Shawn Micheals for the title, would that have been a successful narrative for the company? It’s very possible that it’s difficult for management to sell new stars to the audience because they haven’t decided what characters they want to present to the audience.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta