Legend of legends in class by himself
BY SCOTT FISHMAN
Miami Herald Writer
In his legendary 35-year career, Tokyo has a special place in the heart of World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Ric Flair.
The Nature Boy had classic confrontations with Japanese legends like Tatsumi Fujinami, Masahiro Chono and Jumbo Tsuruta and Texas standout Kerry Von Erich. The Orient is also the spot where the 16-time world champ learned of his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
”I was overwhelmed,” said Flair, who will be inducted by good friend and former Evolution mate Triple H on Saturday, March 29 at Orlando’s Amway Arena.
For Flair, 59, it’s an accomplishment capping off a career paved in gold. It’s what the legend was destined for, dating to his early days at Verne Gagne’s wrestling school in the 1970s in Minnesota.
”I remember the Crusher and Dick the Bruiser,” said Flair. “When those guys did interviews, it was real exciting. Whenever the Crusher was on, I was right there glued to the TV. It had nothing to do with wrestling skills as much as it was the interview skills and the persona.”
In-ring ability or charisma, Flair is credited with both. One of the entertaining showman’s trademarks is his ‘Whoo!’, which can be heard from fans in matches he isn’t even involved. While it’s no secret this vocal gesture transcends the business. Where did it originate?
”I got that from Jerry Lee Lewis,” said Flair. ‘I got that from Great Balls of Fire. I went into a taping one day and just walked in and made my promo. I went `Whoo!’, and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. I just kept doing it. Never did the idea come in that it would be what it is now.”
An arrogant heel (bad guy) for much of his career, the Nature Boy was the guy everyone loved to hate but also someone fans secretly wanted to emulate. During his time leading the Four Horsemen into battle, he had many top adversaries. Some were represented by famed wrestling manager Gary Hart, who passed away on March 16.
”I have a lot of respect for Gary for what he did as a person who respected me and as a talent,” said Flair, who worked against Hart’s contingent of wrestlers including one of his bitter rivals, Terry Funk.
“He was a very innovative guy and very smart. I haven’t seen Gary for so long, and we haven’t probably talked for 10 years. He was a guy that was not afraid of the crowd for the kind of job he had, which was great.”
Besides memories of Hart, Flair also fondly recalls wrestling in the Sunshine State which is home to WWE’s WrestleMania 24 on Sunday, March 30 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
”I’ll never forget the War Games in the Orange Bowl [in Miami],” said Flair. “It was a huge crowd. I’ve wrestled so many different people on so many different levels. It’s got to go back to those days. Any arena I’ve wrestled Dusty [Rhodes] back then sold out, and the crowds were crazy. The level of excitement was second to nothing you’ll see anytime.”
Flair fed off the people in every venue he worked. He never ventured to Hollywood like some in the biz. Aside from his family, wrestling is his passion and what he is proud to do for a living.
His son, David, 29, fell into the business and wrestled for a number of promotions including matches against and alongside his dad in the now defunct World Championship Wrestling. The Nature Boy’s younger son Reid, 20, comes from an extensive amateur background and is learning pro style with Florida Championship Wrestling, a WWE developmental territory in Tampa.
”I think [Reid] is feeling more pressure than he’s letting on,” said Flair. “He has had such a phenomenal amateur career. His confidence is good. I just think he is a little bit overwhelmed because all this is happening to me now.
“I think he feels like it’s pressure on him, but it’s not. In this case, it’s a good thing. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be able to pull it off.”
As Reid begins his career, daddy Flair may end his in a career-threatening match at WrestleMania 24. Last year, Flair started wrestling matches where if he lost he would retire making him a target for young guns like Randy Orton, Miami’s Montel Vontavious Porter and Mr. Kennedy.
”[The angle] is just something that had to take place sooner or later,” said Flair. “I think it came about at the right time.”
The Nature Boy’s opponent for WrestleMania is in many ways much like himself. Named the showstopper for the quality of his matches, Shawn Michaels is an ideal opponent for Flair.
The two faced each other on WWE’s pay-per-view Bad Blood in 2003 in front of 10,000 fans in Houston. Although Flair won the match with help from his Evolution teammate Randy Orton, nothing was settled.
”I think [Shawn] is regarded as the top two or three — not just WrestleMania performers but ever in the business,” said Flair. “So it’s a huge honor to be in the ring with him, especially in the case when it’s on the grandest stage of all.”
Before Flair heads to Orlando for the big show, he will be honored with a key to the city and the day named after him on Monday, March 24 during a ceremony in front of City Hall in Columbia, S.C.
WWE’s Monday Night Raw occurs later in the evening at the nearby Colonial Center.
”It’s very rewarding,” said Flair. “To think that the go-home show for Raw for us is in Columbia which is 70 miles from where I live is huge.
“Going from there to WrestleMania is almost like a story dream come true. To be here in my backyard in front of people who have watched me wrestle my whole life or their parents have or grandparents. It’s hard to put words together for what it means.”
Win or lose at WrestleMania, Flair’s legacy will live in every fan and wrestler he has inspired.
”I hope [fans] realize I gave them the best I could give them in the ring whether there were 100 or 10,000,” said Flair. “Nobody ever went home wishing they hadn’t spent the money.”
• The WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony is 7 p.m. EST Saturday, March 29 at The Amway Arena, 600 W Amelia St. in Orlando.
Flair will be inducted by Triple H. Rocky Johnson and the late, great High Chief Peter Maivia will be enshrined by Johnson’s son and Maivia’s grandson, The Rock. Eddie Graham will be inducted by Dusty Rhodes. Jack and Jerry Brisco and Mae Young will also be part of the Class of 2008.
Business attire is requested. Tickets ($55) are on sale at the Amway Arena Box Office, all Florida Ticketmaster locations (including FYE stores) and on Ticketmaster’s website. Also charge by phone at 407-839-3900. Last year’s event at the Fox Theater in Detroit sold out.
• The WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony will air taped delay at 11 p.m. EST Saturday, March 29 on the USA Network.
• Ric Flair puts his career on the line against Shawn Michaels during WWE’s WrestleMania 24 pay-per-view 7 p.m. EST Sunday, March 30 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando