Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Ric Flair at Pinnacle of Career (Wilson Times, 1979)

Ric Flair at Pinnacle of Career 
The Wilson Daily Times – September 25, 1979
by Stan Ridgley

“What do you want?”

The gruff voice belonged to a heavy-set, dark-skinned fellow sitting on a bench in the dressing room. He laced up his boots as he called across the room.

“Hey Ric, the newsman’s here to see you.”

A push of the door revealed three more muscular types sitting around – all lacing up boots, all of them scarred. There was Ric in the corner.

U.S. Champion Ric Flair
(Photograph by Peggy Lathan)
His hair is white, just like the publicity posters that show him dressed in shimmering white robe with his head uplifted. But his face is pitted and creased, not smoothed by the makeup used for television lights.

“Hey,” he said in a throaty voice “Catch me at intermission. You’ll have about 15 minutes.”

The place was Fleming Stadium, September 20. The dressing room is the one used by Atlantic Christian College and high school baseball teams.  This night it held such wrestling notables as Johnny Weaver, Don Kernodle, Special Delivery Jones and Ricky Steamboat.

And Ric Flair.

Flair, widely known as the “Nature Boy” is perhaps the hottest wrestling attraction anywhere now. His long, white hair and boastful manner are not uncommon among pro wrestlers, so it’s unusual that this particular wrestler should attract so large a following.

That he has a following there is no doubt. The people who turned out for the Wilson Athletic sponsored event last Thursday didn’t come to see the preliminaries, though they applauded politely for them.

Flair stood in the corridor under the stands just before his main event tag-team bout with Ricky Steamboat against Paul Jones and Baron von Raschke. He stood with his hands on his hips, his biceps bulging out of a black t-shirt.

The 6-1, 237 lb. Flair is a mammoth of a man and perhaps even more flamboyant than Muhammad Ali.  But out of the ring, away from the adoring crowd, he’s much different.  He talked about his sudden rise in popularity over the last several years, a rise even more phenomenal since Flair was one of the “Bad Guys”.

“I’ve never changed my style of wrestling,” Flair said.

“Some people look at my personality and some don’t like it. I’m proud of my accomplishments and perhaps I come across with a little more braggadocio than most, but I’m at the pinnacle of my career right now.”

Flair has held virtually every major wrestling title in his seven year career. Everything but the world championship.  The 28 year old has been earning a six figure salary since age 22.

He started in pro wrestling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended the University of Minnesota and played middle guard on the football team two years. He quit football and concentrated on wrestling.

Promoter Verne Gagne, a former wrestler himself, got Flair two preliminary bouts; then he moved to North Carolina in 1974 where he’s wrestled main events ever since.

“I wrestle four to five times a week,” said Flair. “We travel over the whole United States, Japan and New Zealand. But this is my favorite area right here – it’s a hotbed of wrestling and there’s no sports competition except from auto racing and ACC basketball.”

As for the “Good Guy-Bad Guy” appearance of many of the wrestlers, Flair says, “I haven’t changed anything except the people I wrestle.”

Ricky Steamboat was a fierce enemy of Flair’s a while back, but now Flair finds himself teamed with Steamboat in his quest to regain the World Tag Team Title from Raschke and Jones.

“I just wrestle the individual,” said Flair. “That individual is stepping on my toes, trying to keep me from making money. I look at that as a personal affront. I have an open contract to wrestle anybody as long as the money’s right.”

Many think pro wrestling is a phony show put on for the sport’s aficionados; but wrestlers, as exhibited by the excellent condition of Flair and Steamboat, are good athletes and are out to reach the top in their sport.

“I’m out to beat my man,” Flair said. “All sports have showmanship these days. The Players have nicknames; there are gimmicks. We were just the first sport to add the element of showmanship to our sport.”

And Flair, if not the best of the showmen, is certainly the most beloved. In a scene almost straight out of Rocky II, Flair stepped out of Fleming Stadium’s dugout between a funnel of churning, worshipping fans – not all of them children.

While in the ring, the “Nature Boy” elicited responses from the crowd just by stroking his long, white locks that have become his trademark.

 And, of course, Flair won – with a little help from Steamboat.

* * * * * * *

Thanks to Peggy Lathan for her transcription of this newspaper article.