The End Of An Era

    I have watched wrestling since I was eight years old.I have cheered and booed, I have yelled and cried right along with everyone else. I have argued it’s virtues and faults with anyone who dared besmeared it’s value. I have analyzed wrestling dichotomy backwards and forwards. It is the one constant in my life. Whether I lived in Mocksville, NC, Washington D.C., New York City, Atlanta, St. Louis, or on the side of a mountain in Ohio. It is the one thing That has brought me joy unconditionally. When my mother died-there was wrestling. When my grandmother passed-there was wrestling. When the Feds came and put me on that aforementioned mountain side in Ohio-well you get the point.

       Last night I watched a wrestling God lose the last vestiges of his luster and become a mere mortal. Last night I watched Ric Flair become Richard Morgan Fliehr. And with that wrestling itself lost a little bit of it’s sheen. I watched as the entire WWE roster came out and broke down in tears, because they knew as did we all that this was more than just the end of one mans career-it was the end of an era. For 36 years (six years longer than I’ve been alive) one name has been synonymous with professional wrestling. Before there was Hulk Hogan, or the Rock, before Stone Cold or John Cena. There was one name know across the world, that everyone knew. No I’m not talking about Vince MacMahon. For my entire life he has “styled and profiled” , through all the ups and downs this business went through he had weathered the storm. From the days of the territories, to NWA, too WCW, to WWF back to WCW, and finally to the WWE.
“To be the Man you had to beat the Man”, and although many had pinned Ric for the one-two-three. No one could ever beat The Man. Not sleazy promoters, or underhanded performers. He was stabbed in the back many times behind the scenes, but it would seem the only thing the Nature Boy couldn’t beat was time. It turns out it was his greatest enemy. He could once wrestle for a hour straight, but now it would seem the clock caught up with him. Many would argue that time caught up with Naitch years ago and he should have bowed out gracefully then, but I for one think it was too soon. I think he has a lot more to teach these young superstars about what it means to really be a superstar. Ric Flair sacrificed his family, his friends and his relationships to ’walk that aisle” night after night and put on a show for us, from Japan to Carolina and all points in between. He once said “A wrestler greatest enemy is time off” and he lived by that credo. In the end though it would seem the dirtiest player in the game has been done in by a game that seems to have no place for such values. Where wrestlers routinely disappear for months. Running off making movies or getting injured. The only time Flair has ever been out with an injury was when he was involved in a plane crash back in 1975.
I’ve read Ric’s book over and over, I think of it all the time. I consider it one of the best books I’ve ever read, and quote it constantly much to the chagrin of my co-workers and fiancée. To me it is more than just one mans story,but a chronicling of a time that is very dear to me. I recall fondling the simpler time watching wrestling on Saturday afternoons between Soul Train and Saturday Afternoon Kung-Fu Theater on channel 48. Ric Flair is on a level with Incredible Hulk, and Bob Barker as my child hood influences. His style and charm matched only by his wit and attitude. I credit his legendary promos for my own braggadocios swagger. His arrogant interviews for the very way I handle my self today. From his candy-cane walk to too slow hand shake fake. To my eight year old eyes he was a god. The way he carried himself was everything. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the good guy or that he cheated to win. He didn’t have to play by the rules, so what if he needed the Horsemen to win most of his matches, at least he won. Sure I cheered for Dusty, and Steamboat, but we all knew that the reason we came back week after week was for The Man. When Ric Flair talked you listened.
We didn’t know what a promo was or what a shoot interview was, we didn’t know about spots or beats or any of the wrestling terminology we all use so freely today, we didn’t even know what a heel or a baby face was. We just knew that there was this man you just love to hate and couldn’t help but envy just a little bit. I didn’t even matter that he wore pink feathered robes.Of course we fans had no clue as to what was going on back stage, this was before the lid was blown off and wrestler stayed in character in public. Often getting into brawls at airport terminals just to keep up the act. In 1988 I moved to D.C., which was pretty much in between the southern territories and Vince’s growing WWF in the north. It was where my love hate relationship with McMahon’s army began, but there was this one barber-shop around the corner from my house that still showed NWA. I was there the day they became WCW. I went there every Saturday whether I needed a haircut or not, just to watch the Man take on Sting, or Barry Windham. There was nothing like it in the world. He inspired the entire roster today. Although many of the younger fans today have no idea what this man meant to a generation of us. They only know the older, less bombastic Flair. They will never know the joy of getting a weekly dose of The Nature Boy, his presence will be felt forever.

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