by Michael Buffalo Smith
One of the most enigmatic and popular wrestlers of the seventies and eighties was the one and only Nature Boy Ric Flair. The recently retired champion was on of my personal favorites, and by far the all time favorite of my old friend and rasslin’ buddy Eric “The Weasel” Wenzel, who accompanied me to countless Monday night matches at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium. In fact, wrestling brought in so much cash to the auditorium during the seventies it was dubbed “The House That Ric Flair Built.”
Me and The Weasel saw Flair in action countless times, both as a “bad guy” and a “good guy.” I recall outstanding matches between Flair and Chief Wahoo McDaniel (now deceased), Blackjack Mulligan, Ricky Steamboat, a young Hulk Hogan and dozens upon dozens of others.
From cage matches, to no holds barred contests, to haircut matches, to loser leaves town matches, Flair was always the consummate showman, his bleached blonde hair often drenched in “blood” (at the live shows, oddly enough, they never bled on the TV matches). Flair’s over the top personality, amplified ego and persona paired with his honest athletic abilities to make him unforgetable.
Weasel was such a fan that one night after the show, we stopped at a Greenville convenience store and saw several wrestlers in a van together going in to buy beer. Oddly enough, it was a mix of guys who were supposed to just hate each other, all laughing and having a good time. Imagine that. Weasel got his nerve up and spoke to Flair, who seemed to be a bit embarrassed by Weasel’s youthful passion and fanatic adoration. Still, Eric got to meet his hero, if briefly. Weasel went on to be a Navy career man. Flair would be proud.
Flair was born Richard Morgan Fliehr on February 25, 1949 in Memphis, Tennessee. ) Also known as "The Nature Boy," 16-time World Heavyweight Champion, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 1974 began a career on Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic region in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).;He won his first title on February 8, 1975, when he beat Paul Jones for the Mid-Atlantic TV Championship. On October 4, 1975, however, Flair's career nearly ended when he was in a serious plane crash in Wilmington, North Carolina that took the life of the pilot and paralyzed Johnny Valentine. Also on board were "Mr. Wrestling I" Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, and promoter David Crockett. Flair broke his back in three places and at age 26, he was told by doctors that he would never wrestle again. But Flair conducted a rigorous physical therapy schedule and returned to the ring just six months later, where he resumed his feud with Wahoo McDaniel in February 1976. The crash did force Flair to change his wrestling technique away from the power brawling style he had used early on, which led him to adopt the "Nature Boy" style he would use throughout his career.
Groomed by Jim Crockett Jr. as his future top star, Ric Flair won the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Bobo Brazil on July 29, 1977; and during the next three years, he held five reigns as U.S. Champion while feuding with Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Mr. Wrestling II, Jimmy Snuka, and Greg Valentine (with whom he also formed a championship tag team). Flair, however, reached elite status when he began referring to himself as "The Nature Boy," which incited a 1978 feud with the original "Nature Boy," Buddy Rogers.
On September 17, 1981, Flair reached the pinnacle when he beat Dusty Rhodes for his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship. In the following years, Flair established himself as the promotion's biggest star in the midst of emerging competition from Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation.
Flair was the first and only person to be inducted while still an active competitor as of 2008. Flair was later inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia. Flair's signature sequin covered robe that he wore in his final match at Wrestlemania would be placed in the pop culture section of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
One day, he would become a star in the ring as The Rock, and a movie star to boot!