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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Ric Flair: Icon
November 15, 2005 by John Austin


Recently, I read an article on this website that made reference to the fact that the phrase "Icon" is literally thrown around in this ongoing saga called "Sports-Entertainment" that we know and love. Many of the statements expressed by the writer I found myself agreeing with, with the exception of ONE. In fact, I speak for millions of fans when I say this, so here goes: In 1976, a wrestler debuted for the then-WWF. It may not have been known then, but his trademark blond hair, cocky personality, and quick-witted catchphrases would span this sport for nearly 30 years after that moment. AND NO, I'M NOT REFERRING TO HULK HOGAN.

I'm referring to "THE MAN," "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.

Of course, Some pundits will argue me down (to no end) about this, stating obvious facts like, "Oh, Buddy Rogers was the first Nature Boy," blah, blah, etc. But hey, Julius Erving came before Michael Jordan too........... and who is better remembered" Just like M.J. perfected what the "Doctor" innovated, Flair took Rogers' gimmick, and for that matter wrestling, to a new height. He was the only performer of his time, first of all, who could make you love him and hate his guts all in the same promo (sometimes even sentence). In the "kayfabe era," although he was definitely at his best being a heel, he was the one wrestler who made it cool to be bad, and this was around the time when hearing the name Steve Austin made people think of Lee Majors. I can't count the number of times where Flair could be getting major heat from the audience, then one comment he quickly made generated an enormous roar of cheers from the audience, a chorus of laughter, or even catcalls from the female fans present. Ric Flair had (or has, even to this day) a command over the audience that the "major players of nowaday wrestling" are still trying both to figure out and emulate. I ask any wrestling expert to name one wrestler of that era (or even this one with the exception of The Rock, who has also admitted to borrowing from the Nature Boy), face or heel, who had mastery over the microphone that could even rival "Slick Ric." Then when you fail, understand their reason why he is "THE MAN." FLAIR, 1 (wooooo!), Pundits, 0.

In this business where people are constantly trying to find their place in it by cycling through various personas, Ric Flair is the only wrestler who has never, EVER, had to change his character in the slightest bit. Come on, without going back to the times where names and gimmicks didn't matter, in other words, before the word "entertainment" was put behind the word "sport," name one wrestler that never "fine-tuned" his gimmick for changing times except Ric Flair" And I mean GIMMICKS, not names, so bringing up wrestlers who didn't change names will only give me another article to write. I'll name some to further dissuade some of you. Hogan became "Hollywood" when the yellow and red became stale. Some might argue Andre The Giant, but like I said, his personality changed. He became a heel in the twilight of his career. Bret "Hitman" Hart also kept his name, but he went from a stoic guy to a cocky braggart, Jake Roberts wasn't always "The Snake," etc. I mean, the list goes on and on, But at the end or beginning of that list, there is one constant. FLAIR, 2 (woooo), Pundits, 0.

Lastly, there is the issue of the 16 title reigns. What is much more significant than those title reigns, since this IS sports-entertainment, is the multitude of wrestlers that Slick Ric made "overnight celebrities" and/or legends in their own right. During that time, wrestlers like Sting, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, Lex Luger, and Brian Pillman (whose matches against Flair were similar to Shawn Michaels' matches against Flair in WWF) benefited from being an adversary to Slick Ric. Then you have to think about the "already over" wrestlers like Dusty Rhodes, Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, Kerry Von Erich, Roddy Piper, and Nikita Koloff to name a few. Even present day, where Vince McMahon and the current WWE staff place enough faith in Flair to have him run as Intercontinental Champion in the near-end of his career (maybe), he is still helping establish the younger talent like Carly Colon (A.K.A. Carlito), Rob Conway, Chris Masters, and others. Hogan has to show up occasionally like an eclipse for the fans not to be bored with him, and even HBK has highs and lows like a tide and can lose the interest of the fans in a "heartbeat" (pardon the pun). FLAIR 3 (WOOOO!), Pundits 0. There's the "Hat Trick." There should be no doubt on whom "THE MAN" is, past or present in this business. And for those who still don't get it, next time you're either at or watching a WWE event, listen closely to the crowd when some wrestler (doesn't matter who) gives another a knife-edged chop.

"Whether you like it, or don't like it, learn to LOVE it."

by John Austin ..


Johnny Durrant wrote:
I couldn't agree much more. You'll find a Flair hater here and there, but overall the guy is so respected today. It's not because he's just been around for so long either, it's because he's earned the respect of these people, certainly me. About three years ago, I used to like Flair, but I never regarded him as the greatest. Simply because I focused on other people more. Over the last three years, I've brought the Flair DVD, read history after history report and come to learn so much I didn't know before. I've seen so much more now, such as his history with Terry Funk, Barry Windham, Dusty Rhodes and so on. I feel that some people look at Flair today and sometimes say 'Oh he's not so good, he hasn't got a great body'. Just like Flair said though, he may not have the greatest body, but it doesn't matter. For his age today, Flair is in outstanding shape. I personally believe he still has a good few years left inside of him, which he's proven over the last few months.

After looking more into the history of Flair, I came to learn exactly how good of a player he was. He knew exactly how to work a crowd. You want comedy" He'll produce comedy. You want brutality" He'll produce it. You want seriousness" He'll give you it. And what I feel Flair can do at times is wrap all of these things into one, creating the ultimate promo's. I'll say this one time and one time only, no single person in the wrestling world to this date has produced the emotion that Flair has on that microphone. I'm talking sheer emotion, where it makes you cry yourself. It's so life like that you feel a part of the promo. There's so many examples. The return to Nitro speech, in which he cries and thanks the fans with the Horsemen surrounding him. He makes you a part of the great moment. The final Nitro speech, which I personally rate as the greatest promo I think I've ever seen. The emotion in that one moment is mind blowing. Again, he makes you care, he makes you listen and he makes you feel as if this is a part of your life. That's why it was him out there, because Flair was the man of WCW/NWA. There was no other man, not even Hogan, who could or should have gone out there to do that speech. It HAD to be Ric Flair, because just like I said before, Ric Flair was WCW/NWA. And he did that himself. Ric Flair was a man that you felt couldn't be held back, because he was that damn good.

The amount that he's actually done for the business too. Again I say it, he earned the respect of us wrestling fans. And that's why we chant 'Woo' everytime somebody does a chop, in respect of the Nature Boy. As you said too, people do sometimes come up with Buddy Rogers being the original Nature Boy, I reply to them people with 'so what"'. You see, as you once again said, it's one thing to create something and it's an entire different matter to take that thing and make it better. Rogers may have been the first Nature Boy, but I ask every single fan to answer this, was Rogers the better Nature Boy" No chance. Flair took that gimmick and Flair made it a hell of a lot better. It's no longer seen as the gimmick of Buddy Rogers, it's Ric Flair. The Nature Boy IS Ric Flair. I pay my respect to Rogers, but Ric Flair has and always will be the real Nature Boy if you ask me.

I don't think I can actually name the amount of amazing bouts Flair had too. I don't think I've hardly ever seen him have a bad match, unless it involved some of the rather weird booking of Russo during the late WCW era. The amount of memorable feuds too. This guy is the ultimate heel, yet at the same time he actually forces you to love him too, because he's that damn good. You love to boo him, but at the same time you just know he really IS the man. I don't think anyone has surpassed what this man has done in the wrestling business. Just like so many others too, he was told he'd never wrestle again. And today, Ric Flair stands as in my opinion the greatest wrestler/man to ever step into a wrestling ring.
Jesse Lee wrote:
Wow, expect a lot of heat on this one. Ric Flair debuted into wrestling in 1972 in AWA. He debuted in WWF in 1992. Ric Flair, like others, had a gimmick. That was being Slick Ric, the Nature Boy, the Stylin' and Profilin' Limousine Ridin' Kiss Stealin' Wheelin' and Dealin' Son of a Gun. He also had changes in his character, while by no means as great of changes as Owen Hart going from Blue Blazer to Owen or Austin switching from Ringmaster to Stone Cold, Flair had some changes.

For example, he played as part-owner for Raw. Another would be his lackey gimmick for Trips. As for the command of the audience, it's true that not many have his skills in such fields to make people like him or hate him, but there are others who have it. Shawn had it, Triple H has the ability to some extent, and Kurt Angle has it. Understand though, not everyone are going to like or dislike the person you like or dislike.

Flair truly did "make" more stars than anyone during a match, but you have to realize that he can't face the same people time and again nowadays with an international weekly telvised event. Flair does get boring at times, but only because there are people who believe he should be retired and others who believe he should stay as a manager. As for the crowd wooing for every chop, it's a great sign to show how you've made an impact, but five-ten years from now, very few are going to know why the fans woo everytime someone does a chop. To this day even, very few know why people woo after every Flair-chop or why he does them so many damn times.
Joe Rau wrote:
In response to Ric Flair (woooo(in lower case letters for a reason)) being such an Icon" I have one name for you...

Jerry "The King" Lawler. The man has never really changed has he" He's been a cocky guy, almost always a heel, even while being a heel, loved my many. He may not have the ever popular catch phrases, except maybe "PUPPIESSS" but he does have more title reigns than anybody ever. His feud with Andy Kaufman was priceless, made Professional Wrestling a household entity when there was no real national scene, it was all territories. Not sure what else I can write about the guy, but atleast he had the good sense to retire from the ring and do anouncing rather than let people watch him deteorate in the ring. Flair should have left the game years ago back in WCW, no offense, in his day he was great, but he's making a joke out of himself..remember when WOOOOOOOOO!!! was just kind of at the end of promos and not every other word" It's all he has left.
John Austin wrote:
To Johnny Durant: Thanks for your positive insight and gracious praise of my article. When I wrote the article It was in an attempt to speak for the people out there that conveyed my opinion and respect of the great champion that is Ric Flair. To Jesse Lee: Thanks, 'Sherlock Holmes." Geez...............Nothing ever gets by you huh" To be any form of writer and express your personal opinion you have to expect feedback. You are clutching at straws trying to be technical about something when your only intent is to try to prove me wrong because you might not be a fan of Ric Flair. YOU FAILED. First off, you are SO wrong about Ric Flair's first WWF/WWE match being in 1992. Before you even bother to respond, either rent or buy the Ric Flair DVD (which I happen to own by the way) that shows his first WWF match on March 1, 1976 against Pete Sanchez at Madison Square Garden. Second, I know that Ric Flair debuted in AWA just like most up-and-coming wrestlers that hailed from Minnesota at the time, but my article is more centered on the beginning of his "Path to Greatness", if you will. Look at so many other wrestlers. Everybody knows that Hulk Hogan debuted as "The Fabulous Hulk Hogan" under the management of Freddie Blassie, but his path of greatness started after the Rocky III movie and his trip into the AWA. Oh yeah, when a young child or newbie fan asks his parent or a friend "why are all the fans saying "wooo" when a guy gets chopped"" take one guess on the answer they will recieve. We all know who Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Eddie Graham, and many other icons are although I can personally say that I'm not old enough to have actually seen them wrestle in the ring. Thats why they can be called ICONS. To stand the test of time although sports entertainment is constantly changing and evolving. - That's enough time spent on you. Joe Rau: Before I finished planning out my article I thought of the name Jerry Lawler, but his gimmick definitely changed. When he entered the WWE and feuded with Bret Hart he was a sort of "sniveling weasel", kind of like the type of person who instead of writing an article on what made Jerry Lawler an Icon like I did when challenged with the comment of Ric Flair not being one, can't process enough intelligent sentences together to form one that is plausible so instead they have to try to prove me wrong as well. And if you need any more proof on the change of Jerry Lawler, remember when he was the announcer that only favored the heels" Now he cant decide what side he wants to be a part of. The whole "puppies" gimmick is an attempt to tread lightly on the fact that Lawler is an admitted nymphomaniac to say the least. Guys, just take a shot at writing your own article instead of nit-picking at mine because you bleed red-and yellow. I do to, so chill out. But i also know who THE MAN is in this business, and it aint Hogan (brother), nor Lawler or anybody else who might have made their own impact. WOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! How's that"
Michael Sconiers wrote:
I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Flair. The thing that makes him the best of all time is that he has truly "given back" to the sport. While his individual accomplishments are head and shoulders above all other performers, his willingness to mentor up and coming wrestlers is what sets him even further apart. Except for taking a couple of photos at an ECW house show with Nancy Benoit and the Pit Bulls, I have never set foot in a wrestling ring, and yet I have full confidence that if Flair and I were to ever face off in a match, however bizarre that may seem, he would make me look like the next HHH. He is one star who is so confident in his ability and legacy that he wants the other guy to look just as good. Can you imagine Michael Jordan letting LeBron James dunk on him because that helps get James over" Can you imagine Barry Bonds letting Dontrelle Willis strike him out on 3 pitches just to make him look good" Or in the context of wrestling, can you imagine Hulk Hogan being pinned by a rookie just to put him over" Not gonna happen. I still believe that part of the downfall of WCW was when Hogan/Nash became the bookers, and instead of pushing younger talent, even doing jobs for them, they just rotated the titles and pushes amongst the 40 somethings who were 10 years past their primes. Hogan/Savage was a decent title match in 1989, but in 2002 it became a parody. But I digress. Flair will always be the measuring stick against all other future performers are judged. Someone else may win 20 titles, but they will never eclipse Flair. Its just like Babe Ruth. Barry Bonds and whoever may follow him may pass Ruths records, (with no disrespect to Hank Aaron, who just was not as charismatic or as big an icon), and Ruth has been dead for nearly 60 years, but his iconic status will never be challenged. Flair,Lennon,Ruth,Elvis,Hank Williams, Earnhart Sr, guys just far ahead of the curve that whoever follows will never measure up. Ric Flair is truly "The Man".
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