The Man styles and profiles out of the ring
Ric Flair, the greatest pro wrestler of all time, is hanging 'em up. Charleston Post & Courier readers remember their favorite moments. As a lifelong fan, I've got a few of my own.
Match-wise, a few tributes have you pretty well covered. WWE's tribute is of course a bit slanted toward his later years, the ones spent with their company. But I'm really shocked that the Pro Wrestling Torch's "Best Flair Moments" doesn't include perhaps Flair's finest hour, his promo upon returning to Monday Nitro in 1998.
We'll get to that in a moment. To whet your appetite in the interim, there are some classic Flair catchphrase sounds here. And you can waste hours just going on YouTube and searching "Ric Flair promo" (I know, I did), but here are a couple of memorable performances from yesteryear during the days when wrestling was publicly more sports than sports entertainment.
Here Flair hypes a return showdown with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. These matches are still considered among history's best:
I love this one because it shows Flair's skill in putting others over. Even as the undisputed top dog and staying in character as the limousine ridin', jet flyin' Nature Boy, he manages to make you think Billy Jack Haynes (Billy Jack Haynes!) belongs in the ring with him. This is something of a lost art in wrestling promos, but even when everyone was trying to do it, Flair was the best.
The greatest Flair moment of all time in my eyes is embedded and transcribed below. It brings together the finest elements of Flair's mic work -- emotion, interplay with the crowd, giving others the rub of his approval while maintaining the center of attention -- and incorporating the very real tension between Flair and then-WCW head Eric Bischoff. The old guard had bristled under Bischoff, and he'd undermined Flair's legendary Four Horsemen clique.
This promo is probably the greatest combination of wrestling as theater and reality ever, implemented by its finest practitioner. Since the illusion of wrestling-as-pure-reality had eroded by 1998, fans were smarter than ever to these internal dynamics. You can really tell in their reactions toward the end of the promo, when Flair begins to shoot on Bischoff in earnest.
[The transcript of the video pasted below comes from this show review from CRZ's Slash Wrestling site, which hosted the best, most complete recaps on the Web and brought me great joy for years. Watch it if you can for the full experience, read it if you can't.]
When he hugs Arn the cheers continue and there can't be a dry eye in the house - there CAN'T. "Greenville, I give you the Champ." Another wave of cheering engulfs the house. Fifteen thousand people, and I guarantee you not one of them is sitting. I'm getting chills right now.
"My God...thank you...thank you very much...I'm almost embarrassed by the response, but when I see this, I know that the twenty - five years that I've spent trying to make you happy every night of your life was worth every damn minute of it. Now, somebody told me that the Horsemen were having a party tonight in Greenville! Could that be true that the most elite group that Eric Bischoff said was dead is alive and well? Bischoff, this might be my only shot, and I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna make it my best. Is this what you call a great moment in TV? It's wrong, because this is REAL! This is not bought and paid for! It's a REAL - LIFE - SITUATION! Just like the night in Columbia, South Carolina, when you looked at me - tears in my eyes - and said 'God, that's good TV' - it was real! Arn Anderson passed the torch - it was real, dammit! You think Sting was crying in the dressing room like I was on TV if it wasn't real? This guy, my best friend, is one of the greatest performers who ever lived, and YOU - you squashed him, in one night. Then you get on the phone and tell me, 'disband the Horsemen, they're dead.' Disband the Horsemen, me. You know what, I looked at myself in the mirror the next day and I saw a pathetic figure that gave up and quit! And for that, I owe you, the wrestling fans, I owe these guys an apology. Because it won't happen again! [Bischoff is coming out.] Bischoff, whatever you think...no, you're an overbearing asshole! That's right! You're an obnoxious, you're an obnoxious, overbearing ass! Abuse of power! You! Abuse of power! Cut me off! Come on! It's called abuse of power! You suck! You, I hate your guts. I hate your guts. You are a liar, you're a cheat, you're a scam, you are a no good son of a (mute). Fire me! I'm already fired! Fire me! I'm already fired!"
Flair's coat is off but Bischoff has already walked back. Cut to black.
It will never get better than this. Never.
Jarring as it is to see Steve McMichael on the same stage with wrestling legends -- and as chilling, as disconcerting as it is to see Chris Benoit up there -- that's still accurate.