The WWE documentary, Woooooo! Becoming Ric Flair, made its debut on Peacock this week, and it was certainly a captivating watch. While the story of the 16-time world champion has been told many times before, this one added a few extra layers to the onion. It touched on some aspects of Flair’s life that had not been thoroughly explored in former work-ups on his life.
Life may be the keyword in the whole equation, as the man we know today as ‘Ric Flair’ has basically danced with danger since birth.
Slick Ric entered the world in 1949 as Fred Phillips, an orphan child from Memphis, Tennessee, who was given up for adoption and became a black market baby. In these times and conditions, many of the infant children were neglected or abused, and would sometimes become ill or even die. So, the future superstar dodged a bullet when he was adopted by Dr. Richard Fliehr and his wife, Kathleen. They gave the child all the love and care that he needed. Unbeknownst to them, they were also grooming greatness.
After briefly attending the University of Minnesota, Flair would train with hard-nosed grappler Verne Gagne. He trained in the bitter cold in a huge barn, where he was put through ridiculous paces and nearly quit altogether. Upon finally getting his big break in the Carolinas, darkness would come knocking on his door once again.
Ric Flair’s Plane Crash in 1975 Would Change Him, and the History of Professional Wrestling, Forever
The future holder of the Ten Pounds of Gold was nearly put out of the sport after breaking his back. A Cessna 310 carrying himself, fellow wrestlers Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, and Johnny Valentine, along with promoter David Crockett, went down in Wilmington, North Carolina. He would break his back in three places and be forced to go through rigorous physical rehabilitation to make a comeback.
It was also the same era that he was reportedly struck by lightning but suffered no apparent injuries or aftereffects. Once again, Flair saw death on his doorstep, and he flipped it the bird. Without fear, he grappled on and became widely regarded as the best in-ring worker in the industry.
Ric Flair would shed weight, change his ring style, and borrow his ‘Nature Boy’ gimmick from the legendary Buddy Rogers. After capturing his first NWA World Heavyweight Title in 1981, he would go on to dominate the organization.
Despite often behind dwarfed by the global popularity of his WWF counterpart, Hulk Hogan, Flair was more respected by those in wrestling circles. His ability, drawing power, and championship resume led Pro Wrestling Illustrated to name him The Wrestler of the Decade.
Much like the stock market in that era, Flair’s career just kept gaining in value. But by the end of the ’80s, everything was starting to crash. When Ted Turner bought the promotion and re-christened it as World Championship Wrestling, it was supposed to be a blessing. Instead, it brought on a curse in the form of President Jim Herd.
Herd would butt heads with The Nature Boy constantly. The Champ would flee the entire situation in 1991, while still holding the promotion’s biggest prize. And there was only one place left to go.
The End of Flair’s First Run In WCW Was Marked by a Serious Decline in His Mental and Physical Health
But your demise can come in many forms. When he took his legacy (and the NWA World title belt) with him to the World Wrestling Federation, it was viewed by traditionalists as selling his soul to pro wrestling’s devil, Vince McMahon. For a lesser performer, this could have been career suicide, a death blow. Except in Flair’s case, it signified a rebirth.
His initial run through the WWF would add two more world championships to his sparkling resume. However, he outlived his usefulness there after a couple of years and returned to the place that had always been home. The Nature Boy would resurrect himself one more time, as a returning conquerer in WCW.
Over the next eight years, he would gradually be downplayed, disregarded, and flat-out disrespected, to the point that he grew to hate the business once again. This time, his antagonist was the bold and brash Eric Bischoff. Their bitter clashes led to Slick Ric nearly going back to McMahonland in 1998.
Instead, would remain there, through all the peaks and valleys, until the company was essentially laid to rest in 2001.
Everyone knows the professional story from there. He returned to WWE in 2002 as the onscreen co-owner, then sipped from the fountain of youth as part of Evolution, was retired by a Shawn Michaels‘ superkick, came back with TNA, and retired again.
And again and again. For Flair, now 73, it seems retirement has become more like reincarnation.
Before Long, Ric Flair Would Find Himself Battling the Grim Reaper Again
Diagnosed with the early stages of kidney failure in 2017, he would have a pacemaker installed and part of his bowel removed. Ric soon swore off the sauce and appeared to be moving toward a quieter life. One that would be a lot calmer, where he could rest, recuperate and recover.
That would have been fine with the fans. The 16-time world champion had nothing more to prove. Not in the ring, or the barroom, where he reportedly consumed at least 10 beers and five cocktails, every day, for over 25 years.
That lasted for a little while. Then, as he put it in his own words, Flair decided to say “f*** that s**t”.
He went back to being a kiss-stealin’, wheelin’-dealin’, jet-flyin’, limousine ridin’ son of a gun. And he’s been having a hard time holding those alligators down ever since.
In truth, like a spirit in a haunted mansion, Flair will never really go away. He may reside in the shadows from time to time. But you can always hear him rattling his chains somewhere. His aura is a constant, right down to the reaction of a crowd every single time they see a knife-edged chop. Even though many act like they’re tired of it all, it will never completely fade away.
Neither will Flair himself. He may be wrestling’s tragic hero – its flawed father figure. But to his legion of admirers, he’ll always be made of 24-carat gold and 100-proof liquor.
In Terms of His Time as a Star and a Celebrity, He’s Proven Time and Again That He Is a Survivor – First and Foremost
Death, injuries nor evil forces could conquer him. Just when you think he’s faded away for eternity, he comes back with a new story, a terrific triumph, or a terrible tragedy. Or, he might just come up with some new cannabis products.
(With Slick Ric? You just never know.)
Someday, this legend will expire, leaving behind volumes and volumes of almost mythical stories. This mere mortal, who cheated death so many times in order to become a god, will have drawn his last breath. And for the man known as Space Mountain, the roller coaster of life will finally come to a stop.
But, here’s a word of advice for the coroner: When that day finally arrives, take his temperature a couple of extra times. Make sure he isn’t winking at you. Double-check his pulse. Otherwise, he might jump out of the coffin at his own funeral – just to get one last pop, to have one last laugh, and to host a hell of a going-away party for himself.
That would be almost fitting. Because after all…
Diamonds are forever, and so is The Nature Boy. Woooooo!