It’s a happy 68th birthday to Richard Morgan Fliehr, but wrestling fans know him best as the legendary "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Fliehr was adopted as a young boy. His family settled in Edina, Minnesota, and attended a boarding school in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, participating in wrestling, football, and track. In 1966 and 1968, Fleihr won the state private high school championship and was recruited on a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he'd play alongside Greg Gagne. He dropped out, then began working as a bouncer at a club, where he met Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera. Through Patera, Fleihr met Verne Gagne.
Training under Josh Klemme and Billy Robinson, Richard trained in the same class as Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, Iron Sheik, and Ken Patera in a barn outside Minneapolis in 1971. In December 1972, Fleihr made his debut in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, going to a 10-minute draw with "Scrap Iron" George Gadaski. He would adopt the name Ric Flair. At the time of his debut, he was nearly 300 pounds and had short brown hair. His first major gig was with the AWA, competing with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Andre the Giant, Larry Hennig, and Wahoo McDaniel.
In 1974, Flair joined Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, one of the many (but one of the most well-known) subsidiaries of the National Wrestling Alliance. Success quickly came for Ric; in February 1975, he won the Mid-Atlantic TV Championship. Flair's career was nearly cut short; that October, he was seriously injured in a plane crash that paralyzed fellow wrestler Johnny Valentine and killed the pilot ("Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods, Bob Bruggers, and David Crockett were also on board). Breaking his back in three places, Flair was told by doctors he would never wrestle again. But Flair defied the doctors, and returned to the ring eight months later.
Ric's in-ring style would change from a power, brawling-based to a more technical style. In 1977, Flair defeated Bobo Brazil to win the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship. Over the next three years, he would win the title five times. During that time, he would feud with the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and would put him over in a match.
In September 1981, Flair defeated Dusty Rhodes to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the first time. With wrestling growing into a national business, Flair turned up his persona for a growing audience: he would have entertaining and witty interviews with his bleached blond hair, expensive jewelry, custom designer suits and robes, all while telling anyone within the sound of his voice, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man! Woooo!"
Flair would hold the title for most of the next two years. He would lose the title to Jack Veneno in 1982 (the title change was not recognized by NWA), and to Carlos Colon, Sr. in early 1983 (the title change is recognized by WWE, but not NWA). He'd officially lose it to Harley Race, but would regain it from Race at the first Starrcade late in the year.
Flair and Race continued to feud into 1984, exchanging title wins on an international tour in March 1984. In May, Flair would be defeated by Kerry Von Erich at the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions, but would defeat Kerry less than three weeks later in Japan.
The next year, Flair, along with "cousins" Ole and Arn Anderson attacked Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A., and Sam Houston. Tully Blanchard would soon join in on these attacks. With Blanchard's manager J.J Dillion guiding them, the group became known as the Four Horsemen. The group was a groundbreaking alliance for their time, using their numbers to essentially control the promotion's titles and beat down the fan favorites of the NWA. In September 1985, the Horsemen broke the ankle of Dusty Rhodes and knocked him out of action for about two months. In July 1986 at the Great American Bash, Flair would be defeated for the title by Rhodes.
Around that time, Jim Crockett had consolidated many of the southeastern and Midwestern US territories into a single unit operating under the NWA banner as a way to compete with the rapidly expanding WWF. Flair's bookings would essentially be controlled by Crockett, and a new championship belt was made specifically for Flair. Ric would engage in a rivalry with Barry Windham for much of 1987 over the NWA title, but it would be an unexpected challenger that would beat Flair for the title: a 42-year old Ron Garvin in September. Garvin was simply a stopgap, holding the title for just two months before Flair won it back at Starrcade that Thanksgiving.
In 1988, Flair would be taken to the limit at the first ever Clash of the Champions against Sting, wrestling to a 45-minute time limit draw. Late in the year, Dusty Rhodes, who also booked for Jim Crockett Promotions at the time, was fired from the company. Former JCP booker George Scott replaced Rhodes, and in his first major act, he brought in former WWF Intercontinental Champion Ricky Steamboat.
Steamboat, presented as a "family man" in contrast to Flair's fast-living high life "ladies' man", would have a classic three-match series. In February at Chi-Town Rumble, Steamboat defeated Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. They rematched in April at Clash of the Champions VI, with Steamboat retaining the title in a best-of-three falls match. The disputed finish led to their third encounter at Wrestlewar in May won by Flair. Their final bout was voted the match of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (the second encounter would win the same award from Wrestling Observer Newsletter; all three bouts in the series would get a five-star rating from the publication).
Later that year, he would feud with Terry Funk, highlighted by an I Quit match at Clash of the Champions IX. Funk's J-Tex Corporation would feud with a reformed Four Horsemen, a reformation that included one of his old rivals, Sting. But Sting had eyes for the NWA world championship, and Flair would kick Sting out of the group. The feud would have to wait a bit, as Sting went out with a knee injury. Lex Luger subbed in, but failed to take the world title from Flair. Sting would win it at the Great American Bash in July 1990. He'd hold it until the new year when Flair won it back.
Shortly before Flair won the title, WCW would split its world championship in two. Both the NWA and WCW would recognize their own world champions. This would be the subject of much contention over the next few months. On March 21, 1991 at WCW/New Japan Supershow (also known as Starrcade ‘91 at Tokyodome), Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Flair for the NWA world title. He did not win the WCW world title due to Fujinami backdropping Flair over the top rope, a violation of WCW rules at the time. The two titles were unified at the first ever SuperBrawl, with Flair winning back the NWA world title.
Around this time, Flair was a year into a pay dispute with WCW president Jim Herd. Herd had wanted to reduce his role in WCW since taking on the role, and even tried changing his look. Despite Flair being one of the top acts in the company, the differences were irreconcilable between the parties. In July, just two weeks before The Great American Bash, Flair was fired (or left, depending on who's telling the story). The WCW world title would be vacated, but he would be recognized as NWA world champion until his WWF television debut in September.
Still in possession of the Big Gold Belt what was used as both the NWA and WCW world titles, Ric Flair joined the WWF in August 1991, and debuted on television the next month. With financial advisor Bobby Heenan and executive consultant Mr. Perfect, Flair went around as "the real world heavyweight champion". That would get Flair into a bit of legal hot water. But Flair, claiming he was owed a $25,000 deposit plus interest for his last run as NWA champion (about $38,000 total according to Flair), said unless he got his money back, the belt belonged to him. Eventually, a settlement was reached and the belt was returned to WCW. In a 2008 interview, Flair claimed that he's still owed that money.
Following two controversial WWF Championship matches between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker (Ric Flair had a hand in both outcomes), the title was made vacant, with the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble to be declared the undisputed world champion. Flair drew #3 and became the first man to last an hour in a Royal Rumble match (a match record for the time). He would last eliminate Sid Justice (with help from Hogan, no less) to win the WWF title. At just 113 days from his debut, Flair at the time became the fastest man to win the WWF Championship in company history (the record still stands).
Flair's primary rival during his championship run was Randy Savage. Flair would taunt Randy saying that his wife Elizabeth was with Flair first, and he had the pictures to prove it. Savage would win the title from Flair at Wrestlemania VIII. The feud continued into the summer, with Flair and Mr. Perfect planting seeds of distrust between him and Savage's opponent, The Ultimate Warrior. In the end, neither Savage nor Warrior were backed by Flair and Perfect, and their bout at Summerslam went to a no contest. Savage had his knee injured, an injury that would be exploited a few days later when Ric won back the WWF Championship. He wouldn't hold it too long; Bret Hart defeated him just six weeks later.
In the run-up to the 1992 Survivor Series, Mr. Perfect would split from Flair and Heenan, setting up a tag bout between Savage and Perfect and Flair and newcomer Razor Ramon, with Savage and Perfect winning by disqualification. Flair's final appearances for the WWF came in early 1993: he was the fourth man eliminated from the Royal Rumble match (by Mr. Perfect), defeated in a "loser leaves the WWF" match on Monday Night Raw (again by Mr. Perfect), and doing a house show run with Bret Hart, concluding on February 10. Flair called his first stint in the WWF "the greatest year and a half of my career, outside of the time I spent with Arn Anderson and the Four Horsemen".
Almost immediately after his formal release from the WWF, Flair returned to WCW. However, he was under a no-compete clause, so there would be no wrestling for him for a while. In the interim, he hosted a talking segment, A Flair for the Gold featuring Arn Anderson at the bar and Fifi as Flair's maid. He returned to the ring that summer and briefly held the NWA world title for a tenth time defeating Barry Windham. WCW and NWA formally split during Flair's tenure; shortly after, Flair lost the rebranded WCW International Championship to Ravishing Rick Rude. He would win the WCW world title from Vader in a career versus title match at Starrcade.
He feuded with old rivals Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham through the first half of 1994, then unified WCW's two world titles (the International and the World) when he defeated Sting in June, setting up a blockbuster feud that summer. Flair's first feud as undisputed world champion was with the incoming Hulk Hogan. In what was billed as a dream match—a match the WWF had the chance to put together for Wrestlemania VIII—Hogan and Flair met in a televised singles match for the first time ever at Bash at the Beach in July, with Hogan defeating Flair for the WCW world title. The feud continued into the fall, with Hogan defeating Flair again in a career versus title steel cage match at Halloween Havoc. Flair served as a part-time manager for Vader until Hogan and Randy Savage petitioned a nagging Flair to return to the ring.
In April 1995, Flair and puro legend Antonio Inoki faced off with 190,000 people watching at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea in a WCW/New Japan joint event. The event was presented as Collision in Korea that summer for American audiences. Later in the year, he feuded with—then reformed the Four Horsemen with Arn Anderson, Brian Pillman, and newcomer Chris Benoit. With the group, Flair would win the WCW world title twice more over the next six months, both from his old WWF rival Randy Savage. During their feud, Miss Elizabeth had returned as Savage's manager, but would turn on Randy and side with Ric Flair. Flair's feud with Savage bled into Hulk Hogan's feud with the Dungeon of Doom, and the two stables combined to form the Alliance to End Hulkamania. The Alliance and the reformed Mega-Powers (Hogan & Savage) met in a Doomsday triple cage match at Uncensored in March 1996, with Hogan and Savage winning.
Flair and the Horsemen (Steve McMichael would eventually join the group after Pillman left WCW) would be on the front lines for WCW during the early days of the New World Order storyline. Flair also feuded with Roddy Piper, Syxx, and Horsemen turncoat Curt Hennig (Hennig turned on the group at Fall Brawl 1997).
In early 1998, Flair's deal with WCW expired, and was working on a letter of intent to stay with the company. In April, Flair missed a live episode of Thunder due to Ric attending his son Reid's wrestling tournament. WCW would sue for breach of contract, and Flair countersued saying there was never a contract to begin with. The suit was eventually settled, and Flair made an emotional return in September with a reformed Four Horsemen (this group including Benoit, McMichael, and Dean Malenko; Arn Anderson had retired a year earlier). Flair and Eric Bischoff would feud for the remainder of the year, with the two splitting a pair of bouts late in the year (Bischoff won at Starrcade '98, while Flair won the next night in a career vs. presidency match on Nitro).
Flair feuded with Hollywood Hogan over the WCW world title in early 1999. Flair lost at Superbrawl due to being betrayed by his own son David. A month later, Flair with the help of shady refereeing, won the WCW world title in a barbed wire first blood steel cage match. Flair began to abuse his power as WCW's on-air president, forming his own stable of wrestlers to keep the company in line and even awarding the United States Championship to his son David. Flair would lose his presidency in July on Nitro when Sting submitted Flair... well, not so much submit as the returning Eric Bischoff screwed Flair out of the job.
Flair would add two more brief world title reigns in 2000 and would once again be WCW on-air president and leader of the Magnificent Seven before the WWF bought WCW in March 2001. In WCW's final match ever, Flair lost to Sting, a repeat of the first ever heavyweight match on Nitro. Flair's stated in interviews since that night he was happy when WCW was shut down, but felt for the people that lost their jobs.
Flair would be away from the spotlight until returning to the WWF in November following the end of the Invasion storyline. Flair returned as the 50% owner of the WWF, citing that he was the consortium in storyline that bought Shane and Stephanie McMahon's stock in the company. Flair would feud with the other half-owner, Vince McMahon, leading to a bout at the 2002 Royal Rumble event won by Flair in a street fight. Flair was still co-owner as he faced The Undertaker two months later at Wrestlemania X8, with the Undertaker winning. The angle came to an abrupt end following Stone Cold Steve Austin's sudden departure from the rechristened WWE in June, and a match was hotshotted that resulted in McMahon gaining full control of the company.
That fall, Ric Flair turned heel and aligned with Triple H. Flair, mostly in a managing role around this time, also began accompanying Batista. Together with Randy Orton, the group formed Evolution. At the height of their power in late 2003 and early 2004, the foursome controlled all the men's titles on RAW, with Flair and Batista holding the world tag titles together, Triple H holding the World Heavyweight Championship, and Randy Orton holding the Intercontinental Championship. Flair and Batista were the first to lose their titles, losing them to Booker T and Rob Van Dam in February 2004. They would win them back a week after Wrestlemania XX, where Evolution defeated the reunited Rock ‘n Sock Connection in a 3-on-2 handicap match. Flair and Batista didn't hold the tag titles long; they'd lose them just a month later to world champion Chris Benoit and Edge.
Flair served as an advisor to Triple H for most of 2004 and early 2005. Flair conspired with Triple H to keep the title on him with a hard-charging Batista coming for him. Despite repeated attempts to sway Batista, the scheme failed, and Batista, who won the 2005 Royal Rumble match, remained on RAW and successfully challenged Triple H for the world title, winning it at Wrestlemania 21.
Following two rematches, Triple H took time off and Flair turned face. He'd go on to win the Intercontinental Championship later in the year. Evolution effectively dissolved in October when Triple H returned and after he and Flair defeated Carlito and Chris Masters, Triple H turned on Flair.
When their brief feud ended, Flair feuded with Edge, Mick Foley, and the Spirit Squad. Flair would win his third world tag title in WWE, in November, this time with old rival Roddy Piper. They'd lose them to Rated RKO just a week later. In 2007, he briefly teamed with—then feuded with—Carlito. After five years on RAW, he was moved to Smackdown in June 2007. He briefly feuded with MVP and the Great Khali before being written off television to deal with his third divorce.
Flair returned to RAW that November and announced that he would never retire, leading Vince McMahon to announce that the next time Flair lost, his career was over. Flair would go on a bit of a winning streak, defeating Triple H, Umaga, William Regal, Mr. Kennedy, even Vince McMahon himself. Flair was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame just before Wrestlemania XXIV.
The next night, he became the first active WWE Hall of Fame wrestler when he took on Shawn Michaels at the event. The distinction lasted for all of one day, as Michaels defeated Flair, ending his career. Flair delivered his farewell address the next night on RAW; in a rare moment of breaking kayfabe, both heels and faces took part in wishing Flair well as fans gave the legend a standing ovation. He would make sporadic appearances for WWE until his contract expired a little over a year later. In April 2016, Flair would induct long-time rival Sting into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Flair briefly worked for Ring of Honor as its on-screen authority figure and company ambassador before returning to the ring in November 2009 for the Australian "Hulkamania: Let the Battle Begin" tour. Flair would go 0-4 against Hogan on the tour.
In January 2010, Flair joined TNA; a direct contradiction to him saying he wanted to end his career in WWE. Flair said he decided to sign with TNA after not hearing from WWE since his contract had expired. Flair would manage AJ Styles, Beer Money, Inc. (James Storm & Robert Roode), and Desmond Wolfe. He returned to the ring in March 2010 in a tag match; Hogan and Abyss defeated Flair and Styles. Just over a month later, Flair lost to Abyss in a match for possession of both Flair and Hogan's WWE Hall of Fame rings. Hogan gave Flair's Hall of Fame ring to Jay Lethal, who would then give it back to Flair. That wasn't good enough for Flair, and he and his protégés beat on Lethal.
His protégés would have a name in June: Fourtune, a new take on the Four Horsemen, with AJ Styles, Kazarian, Robert Roode, James Storm, and Desmond Wolfe. In July, Flair lost to Lethal, but would win the rematch in August. Fourtune would feud with EV 2.0, a group of ex-ECW talent. The group would add Douglas Williams and Matt Morgan, but drop Desmond Wolfe. The group was defeated at Bound for Glory by EV 2.0 in a Lethal Lockdown match.
On the Impact following Bound for Glory, Fortune would align with Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff's Immortal faction. The alliance was brief; after Flair tore his rotator cuff in a match in January, Fortune turned on Immortal. Flair would turn on Fortune in his return to TNA in February. After defeating AJ Styles with help from Matt Hardy, Fortune would get their payback in a Lethal Lockdown match at Lockdown when they defeated Immortal. The match served as a write-off for Flair, as he was to get surgery on his torn rotator cuff. He elected not to get the surgery, as that would have required six months of rehab.
After a one-off return in May, Flair did not appear again regularly until August, confronting Sting and challenging him to one more match, under the terms that if Sting lost, he'd retire. Sting accepted, but only on the condition that he got Hulk Hogan if he'd won. Sting went on to win the match, but during the bout, Flair tore his left triceps muscle, sidelining him indefinitely.
It would turn out to be Flair's final match, but he would not explicitly say as such until December 2012 in an interview with WrestleNewz. Despite that, Flair got physically involved in a match he was originally scheduled to be in, a tag team bout for All Japan Pro Wrestling in January 2013 with Ric’s son Reid and Keiji Mutoh taking on Tatsumi Fujinami and Seiya Sanada.
While still contracted with TNA, Ric Flair as a member of the Four Horsemen was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. Shortly after his induction, Flair was fired from TNA after he tried to have his contract terminated. The issue would be the crux of a lawsuit filed by TNA against WWE. While it was still in litigation, Flair returned to WWE as a presenter for the 2012 Slammy Award for Superstar of the Year. It was won by John Cena, who gave the award to Flair. He would be attacked by The Shield until Team Hell No and Ryback fended them off.
He'd make sporadic appearances over the next two years, first as a mentor for The Miz, then as her daughter Charlotte's manager in NXT. Flair was handed the World Heavyweight Championship belt by John Cena in July 2014 in what was essentially a re-retirement of the belt. In the fall of 2015, Ric regularly appeared on WWE programming as Charlotte's manager. The family pair turned heel in January 2016 when they began displaying villainous tactics, usually in regards to Charlotte retaining her Divas Championship (later Women’s Championship). The partnership ended in May 2016 after Charlotte (who has since adopted Flair’s in-ring name) chastised her for not being there for her for most of her childhood. Ric most recently appeared last November to congratulate Sasha Banks for winning the RAW Women’s Championship.
Albeit few and far between, Ric has a few acting roles to his credit, usually as himself. He appeared in a 1996 episode of Baywatch, played Commander Douglas Hill in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3-Uprising, and made his feature film debut in 2015 in Magic Mike XXL. Flair hosted a pair of podcasts, “WOOOOO! Nation” for PodcastOne from May 2015 to April 2016, and The Ric Flair Show from July to December 2016 for MLW Radio. Flair will launch his third podcast, Listen to the Man alongside Robert Flores, in March 2017. An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary based on Flair’s life is scheduled to be released later this year.
Ric has been married and divorced four times. His first marriage to Leslie Goodman lasted from 1971 to 1983, and the couple had two children together (Megan and David, who is a semi-retired wrestler). He soon married a second time, this time to Elizabeth Harrell. The couple were married for 23 years, ending in 2006, and they had two children together (Ashley, who you know as WWE Diva Charlotte, and Reid, who had gotten into the wrestling business, but died of an accidental overdose in 2013). Flair married fitness competitor Tiffany VanDenmark in 2006, but were divorced after just three years. Ric's fourth marriage, this one to Jackie Beems, also didn't last long; it was announced they were getting divorced in 2012. The divorce is still pending. For now, Flair's dating Wendy Barlow. Longtime fans may remember her as Fifi the maid from the A Flair for the Gold segments on WCW programming. Ric also has one granddaughter, 12-year old Morgan Lee.
To say that Ric Flair is one of the most honored wrestlers in American history would be an understatement. A short list of Flair's many, many, many accomplishments:
- WWE Hall of Fame (2008)
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2006)
- NWA Hall of Fame (2008)
- International Wrestling Hall of Fame (2013)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame 1996
- St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame (2007)
- 9-time NWA world champion (more than anyone in NWA history)
- 8-time WCW world champion (more than anyone in company history)
- 6-time WCW United States Champion
- 3-time NWA World Tag Team Champion
- 2-time NWA Television Champion
- 2-time WCW International Champion
- 2-time WWF Champion
- WWE Intercontinental Champion
- 3-time WWE World Tag Team Champion
- 1992 Royal Rumble winner
- 2-time WWE Hall of Famer
- 2008 Slammy Award winner for Match of the Year (vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV)
- 4-time Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match of the Year winner (1983, 1986, 1988, 1989)
- 5 5-star matches from Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- 1989 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Feud of the Year
- 11-time Wrestling Observer Newsletter Readers' Favorite Wrestler (including ten consecutive wins from 1984 to 1993)
- 3-time Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Outstanding Wrestler (1986, 1987, 1989)
- 9-time Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler of the Year (including 6 straight wins from 1981 to 1986) (Side note: this award has been co-named after Flair since 2002)
- 4-time Pro Wrestling Illustrated Feud of the Year winner
- 5-time PWI Match of the Year winner
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Decade of the 2000s (Flair vs. Michaels, Wrestlemania XXIV)
- 6-time PWI Wrestler of the Year (the most by anyone in the publication's history)
- #2 singles wrestler of the PWI Years in 2003
- PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler of 2008
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