Thoughts on the Nature Boy

AS I SEE IT: Thoughts on the Nature Boy
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
PWBTS.com

He’s only eight years older than I am.

Yet it seems as though I’ve been watching him wrestle my whole life.

For anyone of a certain age, no matter how much they deny it…or deny being wrestling fans….everyone of a certain age knows who Ric Flair is.

That’s why the reaction to his condition was so intense and fearful last week from so many….why the news of his hospitalization got news reports on not just social media and wrestling media; but also on ESPN, CNN, USA Today, and mainstream media to an extent not otherwise seen from anyone in the wrestling world.

I’ll leave it to those who have better memories to dictate Ric Flair‘ greatest matches or even TV moments. My PWBTS site, Gerweck.net, and 1000 other websites have reported his medical condition and will keep doing so until he’s out of the hospital.

Instead, I wanted to talk about the Ric Flair that the fans of Philadelphia saw, both in and out of the ring. Most of us nationwide outside the Carolinas saw Flair live for the first time on the old WTBS Georgia Championship Wrestling show in the 1970s and 1980s.

Those of us in Philadelphia first saw Jim Crockett’s NWA World Wide Wrestling, not even in English…but on a cable feed of a New York Spanish language station Channel 41 that aired on Philadelphia area cable TV. After a while, the station realized the cross-over audience they were getting in our area, and had commentator Hugh Savinovich drop in English language match introductions.

Finally in 1984, it occurred to Jim Crockett Promotions that they should buy time for World Wide on English language television, which wound up on WPHL Channel 17 in Philadelphia to advertise what would become the beginning of live shows at the Philadelphia Civic Center and at the Meadowlands in North Jersey.

Those of us in Philadelphia who were being force-fed the cartoon show being offered by Vince McMahon and the WWF, welcomed the NWA as the first real alternative to the WWF, given that ECW and even its predecessor Joel Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling were years in the future.

Ric Flair was everything that real wrestling fans thought a wrestler ought to be in Philadelphia…colorful, loud, but also hardworking, athletic and skilled enough to work for 30, 40, or 60 minutes every night. The Philadelphia Civic Center became the place to be every month to see Flair and the Four Horsemen if you were a wrestling fan with a brain who appreciated a product that didn’t insult your intelligence like the WWF’s Titan Toon Adventures of the time.

At least as legendary as the Philadelphia Civic Center shows themselves was the post-show bar scene…and Ric Flair enjoyed every minute of it during those NWA days. For anyone who hasn’t heard, Philadelphia wrestlers and wrestling fans brought their post-show party home the bar at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott. Ric Flair, the Four Horsemen, and the wrestling fans of Philadelphia kept the Marriott bar in business all by themselves. What went on there was no secret.

In most towns, a small group of fans find out where the wrestlers hang out. But not in Philadelphia. As wrestling would see years later with ECW, in Philadelphia fans are an active part of the wrestling experience. EVERYONE seemed to know where the Airport Marriott was. For those who didn’t know, Flair would happily tell everyone watching his TV promos that the Horsemen would be partying at the Marriott all night long, including in local promos on Philadelphia TV.

Ric Flair always carried himself at the Marriott as a class act to fans who were younger, or simply who were fans who knew how to act like adults and not like gawking idiots. In the Marriott bar, well…it was a hangout for adults and people acted adults.

After five years of TV, Philadelphia finally got a NWA PPV in 1989 with Halloween Havoc main evented by Ric Flair and Sting (seconded by Ole Anderson) beat The Great Muta and Terry Funk (seconded by the recently deceased Gary Hart) in a “thunderdome” match when Gary Hart accidentally threw in the towel after being hit, with the added Bruno Sammartino as the special referee.

Needless to say, the post-show happening were more than a little special that night. Back in those days…God, did we have fun.

It’s a good thing that the Internet didn’t exist back in those days. I can imagine digital pictures of some of those sessions that lasted all night if it had. Between the flowing booze and the um…..ladies that were all over the bar and the Marriott lobby, I can only imagine what would have wound up online. Put it this way, the infamous Paige pictures had nothing on what went on in that hotel (mostly upstairs)…monthly.

But Ric Flair and friends, plus those of us who watched the fun with a bemused eye (and those who indulged a bit as well) undoubtedly remember those days and nights with great fondness and we always will.

The Philadelphia and associated Northeast crowd never forgot Flair. When the post-Crockett NWA, which became WCW, led to Ric Flair being fired in July 1991. WCW had made what would (after the fact) the mistake of scheduling a weekend of shows in the Meadowlands, Wildwood, NJ, and Philadelphia on the same weekend that they fired Ric Flair.

The fans revolted, as faster than social media or Dave Meltzer (somehow in that pre-digital era), the word got around that Flair had been fired, leading to a revolt by the fans first in the Meadowlands as the ring announcer in the steel cage main event was drowned out by loud “We Want Flair” chants, which spread to the fans in the other two cities, including an angry Philadelphia Civic Center. Not even PPV sound sweetening and flat out killing crowd sound could hide the angry reaction from viewers who didn’t know what was going on.

Last week’s events, and his current illness took me back to those long-ago days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we were all a lot younger and perhaps not too smart for our own good in the way that the Internet has made us. It was excess to a degree that can’t (and probably shouldn’t) ever be again. But back in those days…God, did we have fun.

For your part in and out of the ring in helping that magic happen, thanks, Ric.

Now get well soon, and start taking care of yourself. We aren’t quite ready to lose you yet.

Until next time….

— Bob Magee