The Nature Boy in all his splendor… what’s left of it. Ric Flair should retire. There, I finally said it out loud after being in a state of self-denial for years. And before I’m inundated with a string of irate e-mails, allow me to explain. E E Simply put, Ric Flair is the greatest wrestler ever to lace up a pair of wrestling boots. As NWA World Champion, Flair dominated pro wrestling in the 1980s and best exemplified the standard of excellence in this sport. Flair remained the cornerstone of the wrestling world in the 1990s after Ted Turner bought out Jim Crockett Promotions and renamed the promotion WCW.

In his hey-day between 1979-1987, Flair wrestled over 320 nights a year, jetting around the globe and facing the very best wrestlers in every territory imaginable. Logging hundreds of thousands of miles on airplanes, Flair made regular stops in Toronto, St Louis, Puerto Rico, Atlanta and Dallas, on top of doing several tours a year in Japan, all the while maintaining a full-time schedule for Crockett’s Mid Atlantic office based out of the Carolinas.

If wrestling can be considered an art form, then Ric Flair is a Rembrandt or Picasso, a master with fine, expensive oil paints, while his contemporaries were using cheap watercolors. The wrestling ring was Flair’s canvas, using his vast palette of unique brush strokes and a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors in the form of unmatched athleticism and creativity, to create collages and compositions the likes of which the refined wrestling fan had never seen before.

Sadly, those days are long gone. Today, Flair has been reduced to an aging comedy figure in an organization that has systematically and deliberately sabotaged his career over the past five years. Ever since rolling over and playing dead for Hulk Hogan when he entered WCW in 1994, Flair has been buried in a series of embarrassing programs and several laugh-out-loud angles (being placed in a mental hospital a few months ago quickly comes to mind).

The 50-year old Flair is a no longer the worker he once was. For most of his career, Flair was the measuring stick in this industry by which all other wrestlers were judged. Combining an unquestionable work ethic with an unquenchable thirst for competition, Flair had some of the greatest matches in the history of pro wrestling with the likes of Terry Funk, Barry Windham, Bruiser Brody, Harley Race and Roddy Piper. His feud with Ricky Steamboat in 1989 produced what many consider the greatest series of matches in the sport’s history.

And aside from having legendary matches with the greats of this sport, Flair also had classics with the not-so greats. He was able to have four star matches with such doorstops as Dusty Rhodes, Ron Garvin, Nikita Koloff, Kerry von Erich, Lex Luger and the Junkyard Dog. Even more unconceivable is that Flair was able to carry these stiffs to a great match on a regular basis. You could have thrown Flair out in the ring with a broomstick and he would have put on a 45-minute match that no one would forget. He was that good.

The same can not be said today. Today, it is Flair that has to be carried. Once called the 60-minute man for his uncanny ability to wrestle three or four one-hour matches in a seven day span, today Flair runs out of gas at the 12-minute mark.

Flair is a shell of his former self and you need not look any further than his recent matches with Roddy Piper for evidence. Between 1980 and 1983, Flair and Piper set the wrestling world on fire with their legendary feud. Fueled by several classic angles and renowned for its brawls, the Flair-Piper feud raged on across the Mid Atlantic region setting several attendance records along the way. I recall sitting in Maple Leaf Gardens on April 10th, 1983 with my older brother and 16, 000 other wrestling fans as Piper beat Flair into a state of bloody oblivion before being DQd by special ref Sandy Scott.

FLAIR Flair holding the old N.W.A. World Title.Oh, how times change. The Flair-Piper matches of the past three years are nothing short of an embarrassment and are downright laughable. They are an insult to the intelligence of longtime Ric Flair followers. They have gone a long way to besmirch the reputation that Flair has created for himself and with the exception of his matches with Hulk Hogan, stand as the low point of his professional career.

No other wrestler in the business commands the worldwide respect that Flair does. He is the heart pulse of pro wrestling, which only seems fitting, considering no other wrestler has captured the hearts of so many wrestling fans like he has.

But Flair’s legacy of greatness is in jeopardy. The sad truth of it is that if he were to retire tomorrow, Flair will likely be remembered for his last few years in WCW, and not as the single, greatest performer in wrestling history. The image that he constructed over the past 25 years with immeasurable amounts of blood, sweat and toil in the ring, will have been all for nothing.

A greater tragedy, I can’t imagine. Please retire, Ric!