It is no secret that the author of this column considers himself to be, like many wrestling fans, an admirer of Ric Flair. Charismatic, stylish, truly gifted and entirely memorable, the “Nature Boy” is a bona fide legend and one of the all time great performers. His list of accolades and achievements will doubtless never be replicated… Blah, blah, “Woooooo”, blah. Fan though I am, I’ve heard the same old song – proffered alongside an excusing infamy – far too many times over the last few years.
Ric Flair used to be the standard by which all wrestlers were judged; now he is a faded and thoroughly embarrassing shell of an icon, invoking irritation and sympathy in equal measure. As amusing and manically engaging as he (occasionally) remains, Flair has become a sardonic parody of his once phenomenal self. The only consistent aspect of Flair’s retro routine is his galactic-sized ego – as evidenced by his desperate and unrelenting, spotlight-hogging presence on Impact.
Arguably the saddest aspect of the modern Flair debacle is Ric’s apparent belief that the (so-called) modern TNA product is absolutely beneath him. That, or the current power players in TNA are ignorant to the horrendous damage “not very slick” Ric has inflicted on the careers of Beer Money and more tellingly, AJ Styles. Rewind to the start of 2010 and AJ was a massively popular babyface figurehead: the TNA “franchise player”. Bring your attention back to now, and AJ is a floundering, awkward sounding heel in an ill-fitting suit. He has gone backwards at the expense of his “mentor”; a man who has very little left to offer the business and, by association, drags down the careers of those entrusted with the future of TNA.
The notion of prudish, un-cool and otherwise wholesome AJ Styles as “Ric Flair Mk. 2” was incredibly farfetched. A wonderfully gifted athlete who possessed a genuine bond with the fans, AJ was always best suited to playing the fearless, honourable babyface. He lacks verisimilitude as a heel; his verbal skills are less than stellar and his charisma is essentially that of an aspiring hick. Clad in that bad suit and sporting unfashionable shades, an uninspiring haircut and very daft earrings, country-boy AJ looks (and sounds) preposterous.
It is staggering to consider that numerous sources within wrestling were labelling Ric Flair a has-been fifteen years ago. Whilst the majority of fans didn’t share that viewpoint, the purveyors of this belief had the image of Ric Flair, circa 1989 ingrained in their collective psyche. That was the year Flair – at the age of forty – tore the house down with Sting, Terry Funk, Rick Steamboat and many others, in what remains his most consistently brilliant year. Five years later Ric had already resorted to the basic “flip-flop-chop” routine that has typified his performances for years now. It was a depressing transformation that foretold the slow, unedifying decline of a master into a bumbling, incoherent clown.
At this point, I’d like to emphasise I’m not castigating Ric Flair merely for something to do. I genuinely admire and even adore Flair and his unbreakable legend. I still fondly recall a warm evening in June 2003, in the English city of Newcastle, when this writer beheld the sight and sound of Ric Flair, live and in living colour. It remains one of my fondest memories, and the fulfilment of one of my life’s ambitions. Nevertheless, it is with a heavy heart that I must question the wisdom of any mainstream wrestling company that seeks to provide a regular forum for Ric Flair in 2010. It is totally wrong and constitutes a quite criminal instance of pandering to a broken dream.
Looking back and reminiscing about the smooth and stylish Flair of old has become a bittersweet exercise. Flair may have walked his own golden mile, but the results of his elephantine excess are clear for all to see. An insatiable ego and desperate desire to remain relevant has seen Flair degenerate into an uncoordinated old codger utterly incapable of accomplishing anything beyond chops, flops and utterly absurd backdrops. His need for designer labels, limousines and endless philandering has left him thrice divorced and financially destitute. The man made millions from wrestling and yet he has no choice but to work in order to fund his mistakes, past present and future.
It is truly awful to witness a balding, 61-year old man (who looks considerably older than his years) juicing and attempting to preen in 2010. He runs around aimlessly and babbles inanely as fans everywhere recoil with shame. The one-time industry standard has resorted to peddling lunacy as a last, desperate attempt to remain relevant. It is a heartbreaking state of affairs, and one unbecoming of the legend of Ric Flair.
TNA elected to send Ric to England this past week to announce (and promote) the forthcoming Maximum Impact tour in 2011. I attended a part of this year’s tour and was blown away by the effort and quality of the show. Naturally, the Hogan/Bischoff era is oblivious to the efforts of its unbelievably talented youngsters, and has neglected them in favour of the typical wrestling tactic of a quick fix i.e. Ex-WWE Superstars. That Ric Flair (of all people) is being presented as the star of the show is typical of the myopia that plagues TNA. The British tour will take place in seven months time. That is a lifetime in the weird, wonderful and frightfully impetuous world of Ric Flair. The only thing riskier than promoting Flair is TNA advertising Jeff Hardy for the same tour. Put simply, they must know something the rest of us do not.
Undoubtedly, Flair’s presence will attract interest and provide a limited boost. That being said, the debut of Monday night Impact proved beyond a doubt that Flair’s drawing power has been diluted – to a colossal extent – by his own overexposure and diminishing skills. You can add to this the poor, bemused youngsters who take one look at Flair and wonder why an old man is allowed to stumble around the ring and bleed profusely. Of course, as a longstanding fan of wrestling and Ric Flair, it will still be a thrill to see him in England. If I attend the show, I will cheer and yell and laugh and remember. Then Flair will cut himself and start yelling pointlessly. He’ll throw his lame punches and sell like an excitable manikin, and my beautiful illusion will be shattered. Truth is, the man who will stand before me is Ric Flair in name only.
I haven’t enjoyed writing this piece, but sometimes you have to conclude the Emperor truly has no clothes. Since arriving in TNA, Ric Flair has torpedoed one career and damaged several others as his need for money and self-aggrandisement has consumed what little remained of his dignity. Until TNA moves away from Flair, Nash, Hall and the other useless old fools clogging up the system, the company is doomed to race around in increasingly pointless circles. Ric Flair believes he can go on forever, and sadly there will always be someone, somewhere willing to look beyond the present and into the past, feeding Flair’s terminal delusion in the process. It once was said: “Diamonds are forever, and so is Ric Flair”. That phrase, like Ric Flair himself, used to be relevant. Then it became nostalgic, and now it is a bitter (and ironic) allusion to an era that fades increasingly into a dim and unsavoury memory, and that is something I take no pleasure in. None whatsoever…
Daniel R. Browne.