I didn’t grow up on Ric Flair. In fact, my first memory of the “Nature Boy” wasn’t until 2004, well after Flair was out of his prime. While little old me was mesmerized by the stylish, battle-rapping, oh-so unique, John Cena, who quickly rose to prominence on the Smackdown brand, over on Monday nights an entirely different style of wrestling was taking place.
At the forefront of it all was probably the wrestler who I hated the most at the time, Triple H. On this particular episode of Raw, Triple H, a.k.a. “The Game,” stood in front of three men wearing dress shirts, two of whom had the looks of potential superstars in the business, and one older gentlemen who would go on to play the role of mentor. Triple H named off all three men. One by one he told us each of the qualities we should watch out for:
— “Dave Batista. 6-foot-5, 325 pounds of genetic stopping power!”
— “Randy Orton. The business is in his blood, third generation superstar, the man has every gift a man can be given.”
In between Batista and Orton stood a man with shiny white hair, slicked back, giving a mean mug to the camera and rubbing his fist against his palm.
“Ric Flair,” Triple H said, as the fans collectively yelled, “Wooo!”
“16-time Heavyweight champion of the world, the Nature Boy, the greatest professional wrestler of all time, a living legend, wooo!”
I watched the segment, not knowing that I was watching the formation of perhaps one of the most dominant WWE factions of all time, Evolution.
As Evolution began taking over Monday night television, I was always hoping somebody would come and beat them up. Some nights somebody would, and each time that happened I remember Flair selling the hell out of it. My favourite was when somebody would stand on top of the ramp and insult the villainous stable and Flair angrily would scream and kick the ropes and lean his upper body outside the ring all while The Game would hold him back.
It was always fun to watch him wrestle as well, whether as a heel or a babyface. Everything from his entrance to his ring gear was amazing. His beautiful, flamboyant robes would captivate everybody watching, and truly made you know he was The Man. Even when he took his robe off and stepped foot into the ring, his trunks were so plain, yet so perfect. He definitely looked like what a pro wrestler should look like. I remember he’d often wear his cherry red trunks to the ring with black boots, having all the fun in the world delivering chops to the chests of his victims. “Wooo!” He’d say as he hit them with a slap to the chest, “Wooo!” The fans would repeat, not caring if he was a heel or a face.
As a young kid who always wanted to see the good guys win, his antics annoyed the hell out of me. The old school ways of getting heat by low-blowing other superstars when the ref wasn’t looking, a nasty thumb to the eye, or the classic resting his legs on the ropes while attempting to pin were always the result of me getting up at screaming at my TV. The self-proclaimed “dirtiest player in the game” definitely did a fine job making me angry.
As I got older I began to appreciate the work the Nature Boy had done. The emergence of YouTube made it easy to watch all my favourite wrestling clips. Eventually, I would click on a promo from the ’80s, where a stylish and rich-looking man took over that segment. Immediately I was tuned into every word he was saying. I mean I had heard great people on the mic who grabbed your attention, The Rock, John Cena, hell, even Miz — but Flair was something else. He gave it his all, doesn’t matter where on the card he was placed. After Evolution disbanded, Flair was the last guy to have a feud with Triple H.
The Game had brutally attacked Flair, finishing off Evolution for good. A couple of weeks later, Ric came out to the ring with a vengeance. Though he came out sporting a black coat and a bandaid on his forehead, by the end of the promo neither one of those things were remaining.
“Triple H took it upon himself to decide it was time for the Nature Boy to retire,” Flair said. “He said, ‘Ric Flair, stay home, you don’t have a place anymore, you’re not in the game.'” Flair casually took of his black blazer as the crowd started to cheer.
“For 20 years I carried that brass ring they talk about in my back pocket… I knew I was the best wrestler alive today!” He screamed. “You think I’m afraid of you, Triple H?” He ripped off his bandaid, exposing his wound, and punched himself directly on the cut, opening it up again. Blood dripped down his face, much to the enjoyment of the crowd.
“I have to look at this! Look at this! Just took the stitches out an hour ago!” He continued as he rubbed the dripping blood all over his face, turning his face, hair, and parts of his shirt into a sea of red.
“You can’t hurt me, I’ve crashed in a plane, hit by lightning, hit by sledgehammers!”
Just like Flair, I was begging Triple H to come out so Flair could kick his ass. Finally, The Game came out, and Flair chased him with a baseball bat backstage. From then on, I was always on the Nature Boy’s side.
I usually didn’t order pay-per-views. Me and friends would often go to the theatres and watch them on the big screen, but WrestleMania 24 was a different story. Three of my friends had come over to my place, and the four of us were as excited as ever to watch the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
For months, the WWE was teasing a Ric Flair retirement. I was still too young to fully understand that the end was actually coming for Flair. In his “lose and retire” match against “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, my friends and I were split. Two of them were on Team Michaels, me and my other buddy were firmly behind Flair.
The match brought us to our feet multiple times. At times our hearts stopped, thinking it was the end of the line for Flair, before he finally kicked out and two-and-a-half. Other times, I was yelling “tap” hoping Flair’s signature figure four leglock would submit Michaels, but HBK escaped.
Suddenly, as Flair reached for Michaels, HBK gave him Sweet Chin Music, out of nowhere. He didn’t cover him. Michaels dragged himself to the corner turnbuckle, silencing me and my friends, even the ones cheering for HBK were so into the moment they couldn’t speak a single word. Michaels propped himself up, with a look of shame on his face. Flair laid flat on his back for a few moments, before slowly starting to get up. He got onto both knees, then finally stood up. Tears ran down his face, as he made two fists with his hands. He rolled his fingers inwards, telling Shawn Michaels to give him all he’s got. Michaels looked down in despair, then back up at Flair before uttering the words, “I’m sorry, I love you.”
Sweet Chin Music.
Flair lay flat on his back as Michaels hooked his leg for the three count. Just as the ref counted to three Michaels caressed his head, and kissed it, leaving the ring, and officially retiring the Nature Boy.
It was one of the best send-offs anybody could’ve asked for.
Though this millennial’s memory of Ric Flair didn’t start in the NWA era, or while he was still in WCW, or while he was ever even World champion, the memories he brought me at the tail end of his career truly made me realize why he was one of the best to ever do it.
Years after Flair hung up his boots, his legacy still exists. His daughter Charlotte has become a mainstay on the roster and one of the leading reasons as to why women have become so popular in the wrestling world. And, forever, no matter where, no matter who, but whenever somebody props their opponent up to the turnbuckle and gives them a nasty chop, the entire crowd will collectively yell, “Wooo!”