COMMENTARY – It’s hard to believe someone once thought to change Ric Flair’s gimmick.
According to lore and excerpts from his biography, “To Be The Man,” the plan was for Flair to cut his hair, done an earring and become “Spartacus” in an attempt to make the 16-time world champion a bigger draw in WCW’s sinking promotion.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, you don’t step on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger and you don’t change Ric Flair’s gimmick. Not many men beat Ric Flair. The 68-year old man celebrates his birthday today in what can only be described as one of the greatest careers in wrestling history. A 16-time World Champion, a man who has wrestled in five decades, traveled the world over and made the phrase, “Woooo!” part of the lexicon of almost every male wrestling fan on the planet. And I stand by the notion he is the greatest wrestling to put on a pair of boots.
I’m a wrestling purest, growing up on the ideals of the old NWA, the Jack Brisco fireman’s carry takeover, Dory Funk Jr’s swinging toe hold and Flair’s figure-four leg lock. I grew up in an era when Kayfabe meant something and in an industry when promotions and territories outlined the country from coast to coast. This business is a blur compared to 30 years ago when Flair, Hulk Hogan, the Von Erich’s, Verne Gagne and Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler ruled the roost. Flair, however, stands the test of time.
Flair is officially recognized by WWE, TNA and Pro Wrestling Illustrated as a 16-time world heavyweight champion (eight-time NWA Champion, six-time WCW Champion, and two-time WWF Champion). Although the actual number of his world championship reigns varies by source; Flair considers himself as a 21-time World Champion.
In WCW, he also had two stints as a booker—in 1989–1990 and 1994. In 2012, Flair became the first ever double inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame, first inducted in 2008 for his individual career and for a second time in 2012 as a member of the Four Horsemen. He is also an NWA Hall of Famer (class of 2008). Flair’s hairstyles and mannerisms were blatantly stolen from Buddy Rogers, who previously used the “Nature Boy” gimmick in the 1950s and 1960s.
It is a career that I can honestly say given the state of the business, the sensibilities and respect of the fans for his work and the fact you may not find another performer with that length of tenure in the business again because of the age of entertainment, social media and art imitating life, Flair’s accomplishments will never be duplicated again.
NEVER! John Cena may have tied the record for the most world title reigns, but Cena’s generation knows nothing about driving from town to town, competing in county fairs, church rec halls, torn down school gymnasiums and making it work twice on Sunday’s. If “To Be The Man, You Must Beat The Man,” is the mantra by which Flair and his cronies believed, then “To Be The Man, You Must Respect The Man” and his accomplishments as well. For everything that wrestling isn’t today, Flair lived out his character every day and still does in some ways, even in his advanced age.
He also helped advance the careers of Sting, Lex Luger, Ricky Morton, Ricky Steamboat, Nikita Koloff and Arn Anderson. Yes, he knew talent when he saw it.
It’s hard to stop being a limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’ son of a gun. And whether you like it or don’t like it, learn to love it, because it still is the best thing going today.
Wrestling’s recent losses, meaning the passing of Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper, Ivan Koloff, Chavo Guerrero and George “The Animal” Steele remind fans just how great that era was – when secrecy was king. Flair may not be the man he was, but his legend continues to grow with him. And as he celebrates 68 years on this earth, we all can still appreciate how great he used to be in the ring and in a promo. Diamonds are forever, and so is Ric Flair.