The story of Ric Flair - Wrestler, Bad Guy and maybe the Greatest of all
‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair: One of the best wrestlers, and the best bad guy in the business, Woooo!
It is impossible to discuss wrestling, its history, its rise, or its most prominent times and not mention the Nature Boy Ric Flair.
The quintessential heel. Flair is the blueprint for which all ‘bad guys’ mould themselves—even today. The jet flyin’, limousine ridin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ and dealin’, son of a gun, Ric Flair, is simply the best to have ever been bad inside the squared circle.
His tactics were often dirty, his words often harsh, his antics often overblown, and even when the crowd booed their hearts out, they loved every minute of what he was doing. The true mark of a professional wrestler is how well they can tell stories in the ring, and there have been few as good as Flair.
Ric Flair didn’t invent the concept of catchphrases in wrestling, but he certainly did coin several that fans still belt out today—long after his retirement. Flair’s patented “Woooo!” is a staple saying for any wrestling fan.
His strut is synonymous with deviousness and dropping an elbow or a knee on a piece of clothing or an inanimate object is a universally recognized ode to one of the greatest heels to ever lace up their boots.
Ric Flair’s Early Life
Ric Flair (Richard Fleihr) was born on February 25, 1949, in Memphis, Tennessee. Flair was adopted by Richard Reid Fliehr and Kathleen Virginia Kinsmiller through the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at a young age.
In To Be The Man, Flair’s autobiography, he mentions that his name is different on different documents. It appears as Fred Phillips, Fred Stewart, and Fred Demaree. Not long after his adoption, his family moved to Edina, Minnesota. Flair lived his childhood years in Edina.
In high school, Flair competed in football, track, and wrestling. Flair won state private school wrestling championships in 1966 and 1968. He was later recruited by the University of Minnesota and attended the academic institution on a football scholarship.
Flair played football at Minnesota with Greg Gagne—the son of the famed Verne Gagne. Flair dropped out of school before finishing his degree. He worked as a bouncer at a club for a short period. During his tenure as a bouncer, he met Ken Patera—an Olympic weightlifter. Patera introduced Flair to Verne Gagne, who agreed to train him.
Flair’s Start in Wrestling
Flair started training in 1971 with Verne Gagne. Flair’s training class included Ken Patera, Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, and The Iron Sheik.
Flair’s first match was in 1972 in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. The match was a 10-minute draw against George “Scrap Iron” Gadaski. At the time of his first match, Flair had brown hair and weighed almost three hundred pounds! Even back in those early days, Flair still had his intense charisma, singular personality, and nearly unparalleled endurance in the ring.
Flair wrestled for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) from 1972 to 1974. Though a short tenure with the AWA, Flair wrestled some notable figures during his stay with the organization, such as Dusty Rhodes, Larry Hennig, and Andre the Giant.
In 1974, Flair left the AWA to join Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic region of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) where he would win his first singles title a year later in 1975; the NWA Mid-Atlantic TV Championship after defeating Paul Jones.
Unfortunately, Flair’s first singles reign was cut short when he was in a plane crash on October 4, 1975. Sadly, the pilot did not survive the crash and there were many injuries, including Flair who broke his back in three places.
Flair was only 26 years old and had only been in the business for three years when doctors told him that he’d never wrestle again. But we all know Ric Flair, and he was determined to get back into a ring.
Flair underwent intense physical therapy and returned to the ring just six months later! Quite an impressive feat after a broken back that doctors said would never be able to sustain a wrestling life again.
At first, the crash had a seemingly negative effect on Flair’s wrestling ability. He had to move away from the power brawler style that he had been using and adopt a style that was more in line with his new physical needs. This led to Flair developing the technical, methodical, crowd-engaged style that is now synonymous with his name.
Ric Flair in the NWA
In 1977 Flair won the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship. Over the next three years, Flair would capture the title four more times—enjoying five reigns in total. Flair feuded with several legends over the NWA US Title like Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, and Jimmy Snuka.
Flair began calling himself “The Nature Boy” in 1978, a moniker that had been famously used by Buddy Rogers. Flair did so to start a feud with Rogers, and it worked. In 1979 the two had a match for the rights to the moniker. Flair won that match and continued to go by “The Nature Boy” for the rest of his career.
First World Championship
September 17, 1981, was the date the cemented Ric Flair a top draw in the world of wrestling. He defeated Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Flair would go on to establish himself as the premier attraction of the NWA and assisted the NWA in holding their own against Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation.
From 1981 to 1991 Flair would hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship a total of nine times. Flair had Championship matches all over the world—notable matches in New Zealand against Harley Race and Japan against Kerry Von Erich.
The first incarnation of the Four Horseman was formed in 1985 with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard along with Blanchard’s manager J.J. Dillion. The Four Horseman controlled the majority of the Championships in the NWA and routinely beat down opponents. They were a new breed of a villainous faction.
Ric Flair and Arn Anderson remained the preeminent members of the Four Horseman, but the group would have a revolving door of members for the other two spots over the years from Lex Lugar to Sting, Paul Roma, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Sid Vicious, Barry Windham, Curt Henning, Jeff Jarrett, Brian Pillman, and Steve McMichael.
By 1986 Jim Crockett had combined many NWA promotions to form the overall entity of World Championship Wrestling, better known as WCW. The promotion held its first Pay-Per-View in 1987, Starcade, in which Ric Flair regained the NWA World Title from Ron Garvin.
Flair remained with WCW until 1991. During his time with the company, Flair held the World Title several times and feuded with legends like Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Sting, Lex Lugar, and many others.
Flair moves to WWF/WWE
Flair left for the WWF in 1991. In the 1992 Royal Rumble, Flair outlasted everyone to win the match and in doing so, he won the WWF World Title. He was the first, and still the only, person to win the World Title in the actual Rumble match itself. At the time, Flair also became the second person to ever hold the NWA and WWF World Titles—after Buddy Rogers. Fitting that the first two were the “Nature Boys’ themselves.
Flair was with the WWF for only two years, returning to WCW in 1993. Flair stayed with WCW until it collapsed in 2001. Flair had memorable longtime feuds with Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, and the NWO.
Flair came back to the WWF, now the WWE, after Vince McMahon bought WCW. Flair returned as an On-Air talent but would later resume his in-ring career. In 2008, Flair became the first active wrestler inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but he would lose the next night to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania and retire.
Flair had a short stint in Impact Wrestling—one that he later stated was the one true regret of his career. Flair returned to the WWE in 2012 to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Four Horsemen—becoming the first person to be inducted twice.
Ric Flair’s most Famous Matches
WrestleMania XXIV: Flair vs. Shawn Michaels (Career Threatening Match)
The final official match of Flair’s career was an explosive and emotionally charged affair. It was quite apt that in his final match, Flair still delivered one of his career bests. The match ended with Flair on his knees, begging Michaels to take him out—as he was worn out and had nothing left to give in the match. With tears in his eyes, Michaels delivered his signature Sweet Chin Music finisher to put Flair’s shoulders to the mat one final time.
Royal Rumble 1992: Flair Wins the WWF Title
Flair had not been with the WWF long at this point, and when he entered at number 3 overall (out of 30!), few would’ve given Flair a true shot at winning. Flair would last over an hour in the ring with some of the greatest of all time: Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, and more. Flair came out victorious and was crowned the new WWF Champion.
WrestleWar 1989: Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat
In what is heralded as one of the greatest matches of all time, Flair challenged Steamboat for the NWA World Title and would come out with a win. A match that pure wrestling at its finest, Flair and Steamboat entranced the crowd in a legendary clash.
Clash of Champions I: Flair vs. Sting
The match that started one of the greatest feuds of all time in wrestling: Flair vs. Sting. This match went to a 45-minute draw, cementing Sting as a top contender in the process, and reinforcing that Flair was the best in-ring worker of the day. The two would feud until the final episode of WCW Nitro in 2001.
Ric Flair’s wrestling Style
Flair worked a classic technical style that relied on wearing his opponent down to clamp on his Figure-Four Leglock and force them to either tap out or pass out from the pain. Flair was methodical, gruelling, and always entertaining.
Ric Flair: The Greatest Heel of All-Time
Flair left a lasting mark on wrestling with a career that spanned over 40 years. He’s in everyone’s “Mount Rushmore of Wrestling” and is inarguably the greatest bad guy to ever step foot between the ropes. Flair also excelled as a face when he switched paths, but he would always come back to being the villainous “Nature Boy.” Wrestling was in Flair’s blood, and it’s impossible to mention the sport without thinking of this legend.