Before we get into the write-up for the Ric Flair Hall of Fame induction, it is necessary to note that we have had our problems with Ric Flair and his fans over the years. In fact, he was less than receptive during a 2004 interview with our site often being short with us or being argumentative. We mention that here because it is important to note that even with a reason to have a negative view of the man himself, our respect for his legacy is such that we feel we must put him in this position. That, in and of itself, is a compliment to his incredible career and talents which we have never and will never question.
Ric Flair's journey into professional wrestling seemed to be destiny. A successful amateur wrestler recruited for wrestling and football at the University of Minnesota, Flair played football with Greg Gagne, son of AWA promoter Verne Gagne. That seems to be the reason he got into wrestling, right? Wrong. Flair dropped out of college and began bouncing at a nearby club. It was there that he met Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera who was training to be a wrestler under Verne Gagne. From that chance encounter, Flair was introduced to Verne Gagne and joined his training class.
In a training class with the likes of Greg Gagne, Iron Sheik, Jim Bronzel, and Ken Patera, Flair was in good company. While considered Verne Gagne's class, Flair learned under Josh Klemme and Billy Robinson. It was under these gentlemen that Flair learned his catch as catch can style. But, his physical appearance was nothing like the "Stylin' and Profilin'" Flair we came to know in later years. Weighing nearly 300 pounds with short brown hair, Flair wrestled his first match ever on December 10, 1972 against George "Scrap Iron" Gadaski. It was a time limit draw. This is ironic as Flair would later be known for broadway (time limit reaching) matches throughout his career.
After a few years in the AWA perfecting his craft, including tours of Japan, Flair moved out of the AWA territory and joined Jim Crockett's Jr's NWA Mid-Attlantic Championship Wrestling. But, all was not going to be smooth sailing for the "Nature Boy".
In 1975, Ric Flair was in a plane crash that claimed the life of the pilot and paralyzed Johnny Valentine. The crash, which happened in Wilmington, North Carolina, also had Mr. Wrestling, Bob Bruggers, and David Crockett on board. Flair broke his back in 3 places as a result of the crash. The doctors advised him to never wrestle again. But, with extensive physical therapy, Flair was able to return to the ring only 8 months later.
Flair's physical appearance changed after the crash as he slimmed down and changed his approach. Where Flair was a large, hulking, 300 pound wrestler with a brawling power style before the crash, the slimmer Flair adopted a more technical style while remaining able to have extensively long matches.
Flair would feud with Wahoo McDaniel, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, and Greg Valentine. Valentine, the son of Johnny, ended up also being a tag team partner of Flair and the duo captured the World Tag Team Titles.
In 1978, Flair finally adopted the name we all know him as. Ric Flair had a brief feud with "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. Flair won, and the name he used to ignite the feud, "The Nature Boy", stuck with him for the rest of his career.
In 1981, Ric Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes to capture his first NWA World Heavyweight Title. He'd hold the belt several times over several years and established himself as the face of the NWA. The NWA was the largest territory company in the United States with various locations such as Mid Atlantic, Florida Championship Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and so on and so forth. Flair would travel the world, including these territories, defending his belt. Flair also main evented the first event shown on closed-circuit television, the concept that resulted in what we later knew as pay-per-view television. It was called Starcade and he defeated Harley Race in a Steel Cage.
If it isn't his signature "WOOO" or his knife-edged chops that fans remember most, Ric Flair is probably also remembered best for wrestling's first firmly established stables, the Four Horsemen. The Horsemen in its original form featured Flair, Ole Anderson, Arn Anderson, and Tully Blanchard with James J. Dillon as their manager. Later versions of the group would include Barry Windham, Sting, Lex Luger, Sid Vicious, Paul Roma, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Brian Pillman, and Steve McMichael.
The wrestling world was changing. With Vince McMahon Sr.'s death, Vincent Kennedy McMahon (his son) took over the control of the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF sought to expand nationally and internationally instead of following the NWA's formula of territories. With stars such as Hulk Hogan on top, talent flocked to the growing company and were raided from various territories with promises of bigger pay checks and more exposure. The remaining companies attempted to band together and do cross over events. The NWA worked with World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas and the American Wrestling Association out of Minnesota to try and stop the WWF's national expansion. It did not work.
In 1988, the NWA got a token victory as Clash of the Champions ran on the same night as WrestleMania IV on pay-per-view. The TBS special, on free TV, had more viewers that night than WrestleMania IV by a narrow number. We mentioned the victory was a token one because anyone with common sense could clearly see that a pay event nearly getting as many viewers as a free TV event means the WWF's show made more money. But, the NWA faithful continue to tout this as a moral victory to this day. It is one of those things that has baffled this site for decades. With that said, Flair wrestled a young kid named Sting in the main event of the show to a 1 hour match that was determined by decision.
In 1989, Flair would square off against Ricky Steamboat at Chi-Town Rumble. The pay-per-view match is largely considered to be the best of their respective careers. It also defined Ric Flair's character even clearer as he took to being the "Nature Boy", a fast living, kiss stealing, wheeling, dealing son of a gun whereas Steamboat was presented as a family man often accompanied to the ring by Bonnie Steamboat and son Richie.
The NWA's main television show evolved into World Championship Wrestling. Flair lost the NWA title to Sting at Great American Bash 1990. He would feud with Sting the rest of the year including a very well told "Black Scorpion" angle where Flair was a masked man attacking the popular young champion. In January of 1991, Flair defeated Sting to win the NWA belt back. This time, the title was considered the WCW World Heavyweight Title though recognized by the NWA as well.
In Japan, Flair lost a controversial match to Tatsumi Fujinami who captured the NWA World Heavyweight Title. WCW did not recognize the title change and Flair was now considered only the WCW Champion.
Later in 1991, Flair would have a contract dispute with Jim Herd. The two sides never came to an agreement and Flair ultimately was fired from the company just days before the Great American Bash 1991. Flair was still recognized as the WCW and NWA Champion and had the big gold belt. Herd vacated the WCW title immediately however the NWA took several months before they decided they had to do so as well.
Ric Flair finally began work for the WWF in 1991 carrying around the big gold belt and calling himself the "Real World Champion" in the face of WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan. Flair and Hogan would wrestle each other at Madison Square Garden in late 1991 in a match won by Hogan by disqualification after the match was restarted after Flair scored a pin with his feet on the ropes. This match was largely unspoken about and was likely a match that was being tooled to be a part of a major event to come.
At the Royal Rumble 1992, the winner of the Royal Rumble match was determined to be the World Champion as the WWF title had been vacated due to outside disturbance in various Hulk Hogan and Undertaker matches. The title was exchanged from Hogan to Taker and back again before kayfabe President of the WWF Jack Tonney vacated it. In what was perhaps Ric Flair's shinning moment, and Bobby Heenan's greatest commentary performance ever, Flair captured the WWF title wrestling for over an hour and surviving the battle royal besting 29 top WWF stars.
The main event of WrestleMania VIII was said to be Hulk Hogan versus Ric Flair for the title. But, Hulk Hogan had decided he needed time away and was considering retirement. As a result, the match was changed to "Macho Man" Randy Savage versus Ric Flair. This took the WWF to a newer level of adult content as Flair had claimed to have slept with Elizabeth prior to them getting together. In fact, Flair swore to unveil a large naked picture of Elizabeth at WrestleMania VIII if she didn't join his side. She didn't. No naked picture was ever spoken of at the event. And, Savage defeated Flair in an epic encounter that night.
Flair would be a little lost in the shuffle in the WWF at this point. In fact, he wasn't even on the card at Summerslam 1992 in Wembley Stadium in London though did appear ringside during the World Title match between Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior. We believe Flair was expected to be the draw of the company in the absence of Hulk Hogan and fell short of that goal which resulted in him falling out of favor with the WWF higher ups at the time. Business and TV ratings were going down though that likely had more to do with a product that was getting a little bit corny rather than simply Flair's drawing power.
In September 1, 1991, Ric Flair defeated Randy Savage for the World Title on a match that aired on Superstars. Savage passed out to the Figure 4 Leg Lock and had his shoulders pinned. But, the second WWF title reign for Flair was that of a transitional champion. He lost the title to Bret Hart just over a month later at a house show.
Flair's final feud in the WWF was with "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig. After the Ultimate Warrior upset management yet again, Perfect was paired with Randy Savage against Flair and Razor Ramon at Survivor Series 1992. Flair competed in, but did not win, the Royal Rumble in 1993 and ultimately would lose a "Loser Leaves" match with Hennig on an episode of RAW. Ric Flair's WWF reign, which started with a whole lot of buzz and wrestling attention, fizzled almost as quickly as it started and ended that night on RAW.
In February of 1993, Flair returned to WCW and received a heroes welcome. Because of a "no-compete" clause in his contract, Flair was given a talk-show position hosting "A Flair for the Gold." The show was held on a fancy set and was usually Flair interviewing guys in his own style but with a little tip of the cap to Roddy Piper's "Piper's Pit.". Flair had a maid who acted as the eye-candy of the show named Fifi. Flair and Fifi would hook up again nearly 20 years later as she became Flair's significant other in 2012.
Flair returned to the ring and quickly captured the NWA World Title from Barry Windham at Beach Blast 1993. The NWA belt would be unrecognized by WCW in September.
Flair captured the WCW World Heavyweight Title at Starcade 1993 defeating the much larger Vader. He'd then feud with Ricky Steamboat for Super Brawl and Spring Stampede as his character started to show elements of the heel "Nature Boy" of old. Flair would defeat Sting in June of 1994 adopting heel tactics to do so and unified the WCW International and WCW World Heavyweight Title belts. A few weeks later, on WCW Saturday Night, Flair was defending his belt against Sting when a mysterious fan from the crowd saved him. The man, we presumed, looked like a character from a 40's gangster movie. But, it was Hulk Hogan who came to Sting's aid and pulled the hat off the fan. It revealed that the fan was "Sensational" Sherri Martel who, by the way, became Flair's valet.
Did you catch Hulk Hogan's name in the above paragraph? Hogan had returned to the WWF in 1993 for a brief stint that saw him with the title against Yokozuna. However, the run was short as he still was not wanting to tour with the WWE. Hogan joined WCW when approached by Eric Bischoff on the set of his action-adventure show "Thunder in Paradise". The signging of Hulk Hogan made WCW instantly larger than ever and the first match Hogan would have would be the match that never really happened in the WWF. The match was set for Bash at the Beach 1994.
Flair would lose the Bash at the Beach match but would continue feuding with Hogan throughout the summer including a count-out victory over Hogan later that summer. The end the feud, or at least this leg of it, came at Halloween Havoc 1994 where both men put their careers on the line in a Steel Cage match guest refereed by Mr. T. Flair would again lose and would officially retire from WCW...
Flair would not stay away long, though. He began attacking Hogan and Randy Savage from the audience dressed in drag. In story, Hogan and Savage wanted their revenge on Flair so they petitioned to have Flair's retirement revoked. It was and Flair returned to the ring.
In North Korea, Ric Flair wrestled Antonio Inoki in front of 178,000 fans. North Korea is a communist state and things such as pro wrestling are not permitted there usually. It was a novelty for sure. WCW had cameras at the event and ran it as a non-live pay per view called Collision in Korea.
On September 4, 1995, WCW Nitro began airing on TNT. The show was the first time any company attempted to go head-to-head with WWF in a real way. With huge name stars and incredible production values, WCW soon was competitive and often on top of the ratings war battle.
Ric Flair had a brief feud with Arn Anderson, with Flair being the babyface. Flair convinced Sting to trust him and, in a tag match, Flair turned on Sting resulting in a beat down. The result was the re-invention of the Four Horsemen with Flair, Anderson, Brian Pillman, and Chris Benoit.
In 1996, Elizabeth returned to pro wrestling managing Randy Savage. But, in an interesting twist, she turned on Savage helping Ric Flair capture the World Heavyweight Title at SuperBrawl 1996. This sent Randy Savage into a mental breakdown that resulted in him being thrown out of WCW until he could control his rage.
Flair would lose the World Title to The Giant on Nitro in the spring of 1996. The Horsemen teamed with the Dungeon of Doom in an effort to rid WCW of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. It didn't work.
On Memorial Day, 1996, Scott Hall appeared on WCW TV as an "Outsider". This would lead to the formation of the New World Order, a heel faction where Hulk Hogan turned heel and adopted the name "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan along side Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and a seemingly never ending stream of talent added to the faction. After Hogan won the title at Hog Wild, Ric Flair was Hogan's first challenger on the Clash of the Champions. Flair was seconds away from winning the world title before Hogan escaped by disqualification by throwing over referee Nick Patrick when just about to surrender to the Figure 4 Leg Lock.
Flair would feud with the nWo with the Horsemen for the next several years. At times, Flair would emerge on top of the WCW pack yet at other times, he was lost in the shuffle.
At Fall Brawl 1997, Flair's team of the Four Horsemen lost to the nWo when Curt Hennig, the former "Mr. Perfect", turned on the Horsemen to join the nWo. Hennig would close the cage door on Flair's head in dramatic fashion leading to Flair's absence for a few weeks and then, ultimately, a feud with Hennig over the United States title.
In April 1998, Ric Flair was suspended by WCW for no-showing a live episode of WCW Thunder. Flair would return to WCW in September of 1998 and reformed the Four Horsemen in front of a North Carolina crowd that ate it up. This time, the group included Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Steve McMichael. This version would not last long as McMichael left WCW in January of 1999.
Continuing his feud with the nWo, Flair set his sights on WCW President Eric Bischoff. The two would wrestle at Starcade. Bischoff would win with help from Curt Hennig. But, the next night on Nitro, Flair demanded a rematch and won the match. The match stipulation was if Flair won, he'd become President of WCW.
As President of WCW, Flair started to abuse his power and started to become a heel again. Flair would win the World Heavyweight Title in a "First Blood" match with "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan at Uncensored 1999. Flair won the match by pin with help from Arn Anderson's crowbar. Flair, who was bleeding, also had the referee in his back pocket. Flair's reign would only last a few weeks before losing the title to Diamond Dallas Page at Spring Stampede 1999.
Flair's power went to his head and he was admitted to an Insane Asylum where he enjoyed the company of his nurse who he called "Double D". It was Asya. Roddy Piper wanted to get to the bottom of the issue and initially was pitted against Flair. In the end, Piper too went insane and was part of Flair's insane group.
In late 1999, WCW changed directions with Vince Russo joining the booking team. Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan were both sent home as Russo felt they were a part of the stigma that was damaging WCW's reputation.
After Russo had his power taken from him and the old WCW bookers regained control, Flair and Hogan were brought back to TV. Flair formed a union with former Four Horsemen member Lex Luger who was managed by Elizabeth. The duo would feud with Hulk Hogan and Sting until the bookers yet again changed in April of 2000.
Ric Flair was given direction to try and be the Ric Flair of the 80's. Flair cut wild promos and was full of energy once again. He lost to long-time rival Shane Douglas at Slamboree 2000 and embarked on a feud with booker Vince Russo. Flair would win the World Title twice during this feud including losing the belt to Russo, by no means a wrestler.
After a screw-job had Hulk Hogan leave WCW for good, Vince Russo's influence quickly was taken away leaving WCW with a different approach all together and fewer stars than ever before. Ric Flair stayed with the company until the end as the Commissioner.
WCW was sold to Vince McMahon in March of 2001. Flair lost the last WCW match against Sting on Nitro. In a WWE presented DVD, Ric Flair angered some fans when he said, "I was glad when WCW was sold.". WCW, especially if you include the NWA in that, is where Flair spent the majority of career. Wishing it dead was a very strange remark. But, it is one of many Flair would make over the next several years.
In November of 2001, Ric Flair returned to the WWF. Flair worked a "co-owner" gimmick with Vince McMahon. Flair would wrestle McMahon at the Royal Rumble and win. He'd go on to lose a match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania X8. But, eventually lose a "Winner Takes All" match with Vince McMahon . If this writing sounds rushed, it is because the stories were rushed.
Flair would help Triple H form a 21st century version of the Four Horsemen called Evolution. It would include Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista. Flair would team up with Batista and be long-time World Tag Team Champions.
After Randy Orton won the World Title at Summerslam 2004, Evolution turned on the young champion. Ric Flair would try to defeat Orton in a cage match at Taboo Tuesday. He'd come up short.
Flair captured the Intercontinental Title defeating Carlito. The two would have the same exact match, with the same exact spots, seemingly on every show for weeks with Carlito continually falling for the same tricks.
Flair feuded with Edge for the World Heavyweight Title in early 2006. He'd never defeat Edge. Flair would then drop his Intercontinental Title to Shelton Benjamin.
Flair had a brief feud with ECW World Champion the Big Show. Flair had always spoken harshly about ECW so it stood to reason that he'd not like that brand. However, Flair would have hardcore matches with the larger opponent which kind of defeated the object of the story.
Flair had a brief feud with the Spirit Squad in later 2006 that saw him win the Tag Team Championships with Roddy Piper and ultimately be the sole survivor in a classic Survivor Series match against the male-cheerleading group.
In early 2007, Vince McMahon put Ric Flair on a "Lose and You Must Retire" run. Flair would go on to defeat Vince McMahon, Triple H, William Regal, Umaga, and others. But, he would lose and be forced to retire at WrestleMania 27 when pinned by Shawn Michaels.
Flair was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2008.
Flair appeared in Ring of Honor in 2009 as an authority figure. He would occasionally get physically involved but never wrestled there. Flair would not last there long as there were reports of large sums of money being owed to the promoter.
Flair suffered multiple financial problems over the years including bankruptcy. While many save their money, Flair lived a lavish lifestyle in and out of the ring perhaps contributing to his financial issues. He ultimately had financial problems with Ring of Honor, Highspots, and many other independent organizations he did business with after leaving the WWE full time in 2007. Flair also, according to urban legend, held up the TNA tour bus in Europe in 2011 demanding more money during his time there. That resulted in his first firing though he did not stay gone long.
In 2009, Flair returned to the ring as part of an Australian tour called the Hulkamania tour. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair wrestled night after night in bloody matches. Hogan won them all.
In 2010, Ric Flair joined TNA Impact Wrestling. TNA, Total Nonstop Action, ran out of Orlando, Florida often in sound-stages but had over a million viewers on their television show each week. Flair came in as a heel to Hulk Hogan's babyface approach. On March 8th, Flair and AJ Styles lost a tag team match against Hulk Hogan and Abyss. Flair's team would also lose a version of War Games, the Lethal Lockdown, to Hogan's team at Lockdown 2010. Flair's Hall of Fame ring was on the line.
Flair would form a group called Fortune, a play on the Four Horsemen with members Frankie Kazarian, AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, and James Storm.
Flair had a brief feud with Jay Lethal having a classic segment where Lethal, who had been doing a Randy Savage character called "Black Machismo", did a perfect impression of Flair resulting in the two having a "WOO" off.
Flair wrestled his final match on September 15, 2011 in a losing effort to Sting. During a superplex spot, Flair tore his triceps and he never attempted to wrestle again after suffering the injury.
Flair was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame again as part of the Four Horsemen in 2012. TNA initially allowed Flair, who was still under contract, to receive the honor. It quickly went south resulting in a lawsuit and the subsequent firing of Flair in May of 2012.
Flair would return to the WWE making various appearances over the next several years. He'd finally return more regularly as the manager of his daughter Ashley who adopted the name of the town that was always considered Horsemen country, she'd wrestle as Charlotte.
Ric Flair suffered a tragic loss when his son Reid passed away on March 29, 2013. Ric Flair buried his son with his WWE Hall of Fame ring. Triple H replaced the ring for Flair later.
Ric Flair's career was a story of ups and downs, near tragedies and overcoming the odds. For that, we're honored to have him as the 4th inductee in the Wrestling Epicenter Hall of Fame.