Is Ric Flair the greatest and most entertaining wrestler of all time?
“Nature Boy” – the “30 for 30” documentary that premieres 10-11:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN – certainly makes that argument, while also depicting him as deeply flawed in his personal life.
“In some ways, he transcends the business,” says friend and colleague “Triple H” (aka Paul Levesque, a top WWE executive) late in the film. “His legacy will also be probably what not to do in the business, in some ways. Right? I use Ric as an example sometimes with young talent – of ‘You can have it all and end up in a really precarious spot.’ ”
Triple H was among a group of 46 wrestling personalities, family members, friends and pop-culture pundits who were interviewed for the film by Rory Karpf, the Charlotte resident who directed “Nature Boy”; arguably the most surprising gets were Flair’s first wife, Leslie Jacobs (who had never done an on-camera interview) and Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway (who very rarely breaks character in public).
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Flair himself was interviewed twice for the film, first in October 2015 and again in April of this past year. He was the first and last person Karpf interviewed.
The 90-minute documentary (including commercials) hits all the major points in his wrestling career, but also spends a good deal of time trying to explore his inability to be a faithful husband and a present father, his insatiable appetite for alcohol, and his general obsession with living up to his wrestling character’s braggadocio.
We watched “Nature Boy” multiple times over the past week and decided these are the 16 quotes from the film that will make viewers either go “Woooooooo!” ... or, more likely, “Whooaa!” And yes, spoilers lie ahead:
1. Flair, on whether or not wrestling is real: “It’s not fake. It’s choreographed. ... We started using the word ‘choreographed’ probably in the past 15 years.”
2. On how he got so good at throwing a punch that didn’t connect: “I hung a string in the doorway and I hit that string as hard as I could for three years, until it didn’t move.”
3. How he “sells” a match: “I enhanced other people’s offensive skills. If a guy takes you over in a headlock, if you just lay there, nobody gives a s---. But if you’re kicking your feet, and your body’s moving ... people in the audience, they follow the action. (If) they think it hurts, you better make ’em believe it hurts.”
4. On his obsession with women (he has four ex-wives): “Let me tell you something, if you’re wrestling and you’re in Hutchinson, Kansas, and you’re gonna spend the night there, I’m gonna find something to do. I’m not going through that night by myself.”
5. After guess-timating the number of women he’s been with at “10,000, maybe,” he says of monogamy: “I probably took it real serious for about a day. ... I mean, I tried, but it just – I was miserable.”
6. Jacobs, his first wife, concurring: “He would come home and then he’d say, ‘I can’t stand this.’ And then he’d leave. And then I’d find out later that he would go over to (wrestler) Greg Valentine’s house – who lived a couple miles away from us. And that’s where Beth was staying.” (Beth Fliehr was married to Flair from 1983-2006; she is mother to his daughter Ashley and his late son Reid.)
7. Megan Fliehr, Flair’s older daughter, on what he was like as a father: “Most of the time I would get things from my dad instead of time. He would bring me back like 16 to 20 Cabbage Patch Kids at a time. He would say, ‘I’m gonna come to your basketball game next Friday,’ and he wouldn’t come. Things like that. So – and yeah, as a kid, it’s disappointing.”
8. Flair, on his initial visit to a sports psychologist, back in the 1980s: “(He asked) ‘How much do you drink a day?’ I said, ‘I’ll drink at least 10 beers, and probably five mixed drinks.’ He said, ‘Well, how many days a week do you do that?’ I said, ‘Every day.’ He said, ‘Well, how do you mean every day?’ I said, ‘I work every day. I drink a beer in the car, I get to the hotel and I drink vodka.’ He came out of his chair and (he said), ‘You drink every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and you’ve been doing that for how long?’ I said, ‘Well, let me see. It’s 1989, I started in ’72, you do the math. Almost 20 years.’ He said, ‘That’s not possible.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, it is.’ By the time I got through with that son of a b----, he was laying on the couch and I was on the chair talking to him.”
9. Former wrestler “Baby Doll” (Nickla Roberts), on Flair’s drinking: “There was hardly a day that he went without having at least several drinks. You can be an alcoholic and be fully functional. I never saw him show up at the show inebriated, but Flair could drink. How he still has a liver, I don’t know.”
10. Hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, on Flair’s flashy image: “As a kid growing up and watching Ric Flair, he was very inspirational to myself and a lot of other hip-hop artists, because he represented what we wanted to be. We wanted to be Ric Flair. We wanted to be flamboyant and, you know, the kiss-stealin’, wheelin’ and dealin’. We wanted to be all of that. He was a part of our culture and our life. That’s why we love him and we cherish him, and we’ve always held him high in the black community – because Ric is one of us.”
11. WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, on why Flair continued to wrestle into his 60s (even after Michaels defeated Flair in a 2008 Wrestlemania match that was supposed to mark Flair’s retirement): “Ric is my friend, for better or worse. I knew he couldn’t stay away from this stuff. And again, I knew when they wanted him to go that he didn’t want to go. ... Ric doesn’t love Richard Fliehr. I don’t know that he’s ever taken the time to get to know him, or to find out who in the world he is. He only knows who he is through the image and gimmick of Ric Flair.”
12. WWE Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Ross, on the same topic: “He needs the money. He didn’t save. He’d forget little things, like paying his taxes. Uncle Sam may really love Nature Boy, but he really wants Richard Fliehr to pay his taxes.”
13. Flair, fighting through tears, on what he would say to his late son Reid, who was trying to follow in his dad’s professional footsteps but died of a drug overdose in 2013: “I say it every day: ‘God, I wish you were here. I had so much fun with you. And I regret the fact that I sometimes was your best friend instead of your dad.’ ”
14. Triple H, on dealing with Flair after he spiraled into depression and alcoholism after Reid’s death: “I was really worried about him at the time. I had to get on the phone with him and literally say, ‘You shut the f--- up,’ and, ‘You’re gonna f------ do what I’m telling you or I will come down there and make you f------ do what I am telling you.’ Against his will, so to speak, I forced him to go get help.”
15. WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan, on how he should stack up to Flair in the history books: “Ric Flair has had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of one-hour matches. I’ve never had one. He’s 10 times better than I am. I mean ... it’s a no-brainer. I’ve got a certain thing that works, and I’ve got different varieties of it. I used to joke, ‘I’ve got Plan A, B, C and D. Which match do you wanna do?’ And, you know, there’s millions of ways to have matches with millions of wrestlers. But Ric’s just so much better. Some people point to me and go, ‘Oh my God, you changed the business, you did this, you did that.’ But ‘No,’ I said, ‘You guys, you mean the guy next to me: Ric Flair.’ ”
16. Flair, on how he hopes to be remembered: “It’s easy to say you want to be thought of as the best father that ever lived, but I wasn’t. And I certainly wasn’t the best husband. So I guess I’ll just have to settle for wanting to be thought of as the greatest wrestler and the most entertaining wrestler that ever lived.”