EDMONTON – To get the opportunity to listen to one of the greatest wrestlers of all time speak for two hours is something few ever get to experience. Several hundred fans packed the Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton on Saturday for a rare opportunity; an intimate, interactive “Evening with Ric Flair.”
The crowd immediately rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation to “The Nature Boy” as he strutted on stage to the podium. He wished to establish two things right off the bat.
“Ric Flair is a much bigger star in the history of wrestling than Bret Hart is,” he said to a chorus of “Whoos.” Those would turn to boos with his second statement. “The Hurricanes of Raleigh, North Carolina own the Oilers.”
He spoke about his career in a manner much like his Hall of Fame speech, saying that everything he has and the person he is is from professional wrestling and thanked the fans for their support.
”I have always enjoyed the interaction with fans, but over the past year I have been able to do things like I am doing tonight, and I can’t find the words to express what it means to me. Here are people like you who have followed my career over all these years, and I want to thank you.”
“I am just going through my third divorce, there is nothing you can ask me that lawyers haven’t,” he promised. “Ask me anything, nothing is off limits. It is you and the Nature Boy in the main event tonight. Falls don’t count, there is no DQ, anything goes and I am very proud to be here.”
The interaction began on a somber note, as the first question asked was about Chris Benoit, and why WWE has removed him from DVD’ and WWE history.
“I have a very good educated guess. When the incident happened, the first word that came down was that someone had come into their home and done this terrible thing. We shot a special show that night and dedicated it to Chris, and that really came back on the company hard in light of what came to surface. No one will ever know what caused that to happened. Chris Benoit has personally watched all four of my children. Nancy I have known since 1978. I took it very hard personally. I don’t have anything but good things to say about Chris Benoit. But if you own a corporate business that is publicly owned and you have stockholders and advertisers like AT&T;, Coke, Ford, etcetera, you have to really follow guidelines and what is good in each case. There are a lot of people outside of wrestling who dictate what is acceptable as a standard, dictate what the WWE can do. Unfortunately for all of us that loved Chris and his family, the outside detractors outweigh that by a huge margin. I think the company has been put under a tremendous amount of pressure to erase the legacy of Chris because of the tragedy.”
Up next, Flair was asked to share a favorite Terry Funk story, involving Funk directing traffic naked wearing only the NWA title in Charlotte. He also shared stories of Andre The Giant, Hulk Hogan, Bobby Heenan, Evolution and many more. When asked for a favorite story on Roddy Piper, he told the audience about Piper’s favorite pick up line. “Girls, how much Rod can you take?!” In one of the many unexpected surprises in the evening, Flair called Piper on his cell phone and put him on speaker so the audience could say hi.
Continuing on his offer to answer all questions, Flair candidly discussed steroid and drug abuse in wrestling.
”I was watching Sports Center today and they’ve got A-Rod doing steroids in 2003. You look at guys like him and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. People want to think that steroids are used by anybody, but there is more use than people are aware of. Wrestling is so scrutinized. Things that happen in our business are choices made by individuals. Nobody makes anyone take steroids or pills. It is a weakness. I drink everything you guys have in Canada, you name it I can drink it and I love it. I have never had inkling to get a buzz from a pill or smoke a joint. If I was around a girl that wanted to do that, she was out of there. I have been in situations where a girl says, ‘I am going to roll a joint,’ and I say, ‘You can roll it while you roll down the hallway, honey. Out you go.’ It is appalling that we get so much credit for that. Wrestling is a tough business and our schedule is brutal. That is the difference between us and other sports. It happens everywhere. The steroids thing is bigger than it has ever been and it is not just wrestlers. It is something people let themselves fall into and they can’t handle it. I think it is tragic what has happened to some people but I hate that wrestling takes a hit from people like Nancy Grace who know nothing about wrestling.”
Flair also addressed some rumours, confirming that he will be inducting Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat into the 2009 WWE Hall of Fame. When asked about the rumours of him wrestling Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania, he was much more coy.
“There is talk about that? Well I am ready to go, I don’t know about Jericho!” he said, following up with a trademark ‘Whoo.’ “There was a poll recently that said 85% of my fans don’t want me to wrestle again. What’s wrong with you people?”
While some of the questions bordered on ridiculous, such as, “The accidents Mr. McMahon has been having. Did that really happen?” PWA wrestler “Ravenous” Randy took the opportunity to ask Flair for advice for young wrestlers.
“I am not a big supporter of independent wrestling training. I have got a son doing that now and it is something I don’t have control of. I worry about the ring, how well it is put together and maintained. It is so easy for someone to say, ‘Give me $1,000 and I will make you a wrestler.’ There is one company that is making wrestlers right now and it is WWE. If you are not in Tampa, Florida, or being trained by someone who can pick up the phone and call Johnny Ace and get you a tryout with WWE or have a game plan to get there, and you are living a dream of being a wrestler someday and paying some guy to train, it is a bunch of bullshit. I don’t like seeing guys spending their time and money chasing a dream they can’t possibly achieve.”
A lot of wrestlers in Tampa are second and third generation. Flair’s son Reid is wrestling, as is Steamboat’s son Ricky.
“I was at an event and Steamboat and my ex-wives were both there. I said it was unbelievable because if you had told either of them 25 years ago that their sons were going to be wrestlers they would have been furious. ‘My son will never be a wrestler!’ We were pretty difficult back then. It is a great way to make a living now and I am glad we were able to help them out. To be Reid Flair, Ricky Steamboat’s kid, Ted Dibiase’s kids, that is a lot of pressure. You choose what you want to be and if that is what they want pressure comes with the territory. You try to make it as easy for them as possible but they either make it or they don’t. Ted Dibiase and Cody Rhodes both look great they’ve made it. The rest is up to them.”
The time flew by, and local radio personality Yukon Jack was booed when he announced time was up. Flair refused, stating he wanted more questions. All in all, the “60-Minute Man” spent over two hours talking with fans.
After the crowd left, promoter Kevin Radomski paused to reflect on what will be the first in a series of legendary events.
“It went amazing. The venue gave us guidelines about what we had to fall into and we thought they were going to turn the lights off. When you enter something like this, you have expectations. We tried to have Ric stop when he was scheduled to stop and he laughed and said he wanted to take more questions,” he said. “Absolutely we are going to do it again. It is just a case of getting the talent confirmed and then crunch the numbers. Anyone who was here tonight knows they got their monies worth and the entertainment that is Ric Flair. To do it again would have to be another storyteller. Without having a storyteller it would be drawn out. So you think some of the best storytellers with amazing careers, those candidates would be the best for the lecture series. In the case of Ric Flair, there is no question he delivered.”
Jason Clevett spent two days in Edmonton and six hours on the road to partake in this event. For Ric Flair, even going to Edmonton is worth the sacrifice.