By SAM CINO – For SLAM! Wrestling
“Kids, man … they change you. You’ll understand one day.”
This is what Ric Flair said to me when a family came to meet him at Niagara Falls Comic Con in June 2014. They had brought their newborn baby, dressed in a Flair-robe onesie. They told Flair when he was older they would show him all of his matches, because he was the Greatest of All Time. Flair teared up and offered his thanks as they left. “Kids, man…they change you. You’ll understand one day” he said to me, showing his softer private side.
I was fortunate enough to work with Ric Flair at Niagara Falls Comic Con in June 2014 as his handler. I kept him on schedule and made sure he made his various commitments on time.
I arrived to the comic con earlier in the day and helped with setup as I did not have a celebrity assigned to me yet. After being assigned to one, I was quickly reassigned when Flair’s handler could not make it to the venue due to extremely bad traffic. The Comic Con managers knew my involvement with wrestling as a photographer and referee and had enough trust in me to handle one of their headlining guests.
When I was introduced to Ric I asked him how he liked to run his table and take breaks. He told me, “This is only my third comic con thing. You’re the boss.”
So here I am, just a regular guy, telling Ric Flair, one of the (if not the) best wrestlers in the world what to do. If you told me this was going to happen I would have said you were crazy.
Flair and I began to meet fans for autographs and pictures and time went by pretty quickly. Most fans were pleasant and very star-struck. One small boy barely spoke a timid “Hi” before walking away so proud he got Flair’s autograph. As he walked away Flair yelled his trademark catchphrase of “WOOOO!” and the boy froze in place, turned around and mouthed a “thank you” before running top speed back to his mom happier than any child I had ever seen.
Flair laughed saying to me, again saying “kids are the best.”
Ric then saw a fan had an autograph from his friend Barbie Blank (Kelly Kelly) who was also appearing at the comic con down the aisle from him. He asked that fan to go back to her table and get him one as a joke. As this happened he turned to me and said “watch this”. Flair watched Barbie sign her picture, and then when the fan said “Can you make it out to Ric Flair?” she immediately burst into laughter and looked in our direction. She hand delivered the autograph to Flair and said “Just for you, baby” with a joking wink. Flair replied with a casual “Wooooo” as he put the picture into his briefcase. Remember all this took place in front of hundreds of people, all now laughing. What a rib!
We continued meeting fans until we finished off his line. Ric then asked me “Can I go for a break?” I replied “Of course…you don’t need to ask” He simply replied “Some bosses are real mean that way. But you guys are great!” That caught me off guard.
After returning, he noticed that Dean Cain was at the next table over about 10 feet away. He had been so enthralled with his fans he didn’t even notice who was around him. He asked me “That guy was Superman, right? The Lois and Clark one?” I confirmed he was and Ric went right on over to him saying that he was honored to meet “The best Superman ever. I tie you with Christopher Reeve for that title!” I think Dean Cain was a bit shocked by receiving such praise from Ric. After chatting with Dean for a few minutes, Ric began to catch up with The Killer Bees and Demolition about “the good ol’ days.”
Ric: Hey! Brunzy! [Killer Bee Jim Brunzell] – Remember that time at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto when we beat the crap out of that one guy?
Jim Brunzell: Oh! That was a doozy!
The conversation carried on like this for the remainder of the night, in between signing for fans. It was quite a spectacle to see. At one point The Killer Bees’ wives got their picture taken with Dean Cain…by Flair.
As the show was ending I was informed that Flair needed a ride back to his hotel and I was asked to provide. Flair remarked “We worked together all day and you’re bringing me home? Great stuff brother! You’re pretty good with this service!”
It was a crazy day. And I still had another to go!
The next day I headed for Flair’s table to discover his line had doubled in size from yesterday. I immediately thought “This is gonna be fun” and laughed to myself. After getting myself settled The Killer Bees leaned over and asked when Flair was coming, I said should be anytime…and then the crowd started shouting “WOOO!” and I knew the man had arrived. He sat down, turned to look at me and said:
“Ah, you’re back for more today eh?”
“Yes sir back for more. You’ve got quite the line already!”
“Yeeaaah brother let’s do it. Woooooooooooo!”
And with that the crowd erupted once again into a WOO-fest. During a brief lull in the day I asked Flair if he was into superheroes or comics. He said he didn’t follow them too closely, but enjoyed seeing all the creative costumes. I gave him the analogy that a friend had told me “Not all comic fans are wrestling fans, but most wrestling fans are comic fans.” He found that a good comparison and could see how the two overlapped “both wear spandex after all. WOO!” It was then that the family with their newborn baby in the Flair-robe onesie came to meet him. “He is beautiful. Thank you for bringing him” he said as they left. He then turned to me and added “Kids man…they change you. You’ll understand one day.” A few fans later was a grown man wearing a robe similar to one Flair (and the baby) had worn. He told the fan “Hey sorry brother, a baby was here a minute ago and he wore it better”. The fan took it in stride and laughed, strutting away after receiving an autograph. Towards the end of the day a fan brought a huge stack of Japanese magazines to get autographed, all with Flair on the cover. He asked Flair if he remembered any of the matches these were for. Flair took only a second to recall most of them.
“Ah, this one was a good while ago. Versus Tenryu, I think this one was in the Tokyodome. He is a very tough cat that guy.”
The fan asked some questions about all the covers and Flair took a few minutes to explain every one, giving the date and location to the best of his memory.
Around closing time we packed up and returned to the celebrity room as management arranged Flair’s ride to Toronto for that night as he had another show to go to. “Thank you for all your help these past two days, Sam.” Before leaving he ran into Kelly Kelly again and they took selfies as he reminded her about his rib from yesterday. He waved goodbye to Demolition and The Killer Bees and was gone.
The living legend had left the building, and I would not forget this experience…because a little more than a year later we would do it all again.
At Hamilton Comic Con in October 2015, I would again be fortunate enough to work with Flair. This time I was prepared. Knowing how the man liked to work, I was a little more dressed for the part, wearing a suit and tie instead of a casual shirt and jeans. He arrived also wearing a suit, but without a tie.
“Sam! Hey brother we’re working together again? That’s wicked man. And hey! I was the best dressed guy when I arrived, but now it looks like I’m in 2nd place! WOOOO WOOOO!”
Ric Flair loves his fans. And I don’t think that will ever change.
Sam Cino is a referee for various Ontario independent wrestling promotions, and a photographer specializing in advertising, portraits, and sports. For more, see Sam’s website, www.cinofoto.com, and follow him on Twitter at @sam_cino