*The next installment of ESPN’s acclaimed “30 for 30” series will cover the life of World Wrestling Federation — now called World Wrestling Entertainment — star Ric Flair, who got the nickname “Nature Boy” after a plane crash forced him to drastically change his fighting style.
Flair joined director Rory Karpf for a panel discussion about the documentary during the 2017 Summer TCA Press Tour, where they spoke about his larger than life career and persona — which many close to him viewed as an addication and Flair himself calls a “disease” at the end of the trailer (see Twitter video embed below).
“Rory got Ric to talk about being a villain, what goes into being a villain in sports,” says John Dahl, executive producer of “30 for 30.”
“The film is built around a couple of interviews that Rory did with Ric over a 16-month period, and he really opens up. And we’re excited to premiere this film this fall,” he adds.
The documentary paints a sobering picture of the superstar, who was a power wrestler early in his career, then the plane crash broke his back in three places and at age 26, he was told he couldn’t wrestle again. Flair, obviously, didn’t heed this — as he has cultivated a legacy over a career that spans 40 years.
He is regarded as the greatest professional wrestler of all time, and is officially recognized by WWE and Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) as a 16-time world champion. Flair reportedly considers himself a 21-time champion.
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— ESPN Films 30 for 30 (@30for30) July 26, 2017
The two-time WWE Hall of Famer has been married and divorced four times. Flair’s son David is a semi-retired professional wrestler and his younger son Reid, who signed a developmental contract with WWE in 2007, died in 2013 from an accidental drug overdose. Back in 2012, it was reported that Flair’s daughter Ashley had signed with WWE, adopting the ring name, Charlotte Flair.
When EUR/Electronic Urban Report correspondent Ny MaGee asks Mr. Flair what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment, he shares that he’s most proud of Charlotte following in his footsteps.
“I say this all the time. I think the most rewarding achievement is my daughter and where her career is right now. I put myself way behind her. I mean, there’s nothing I didn’t do. I just can’t put into words what it means to see her in the position she’s in,” he tells EUR during TCA.
While Flair has “had a phenomenal career” with “some ups and downs” in his personal life — including legal drama — at the end of the day, he says “I’m not afraid to discuss it. And I just respect the fact that ESPN chose me as the first wrestler to ever do a piece on.”
Reflecting on his career, the retired professional wrestler admits to being “really upset when we started calling it sports entertainment because that’s exactly what I fought not to be part of for so many years,” he says.
“But I understand economically what it meant in terms of being taxed as a sport as opposed to entertainment entity. It still requires a tremendous amount of dedication, hard work, work ethic. And to make it on top, you’ve got to be very creative and — not as creative as me, but — but just you have to have tremendous work ethic. It’s a tough and sensitive sport, but the financial rewards have come along and really come up to speed,” he adds.
“What makes Ric such a compelling character to do a film on, in the world of wrestling you’re never really sure what’s real and what’s not,” says director Rory Karpf. “And the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, so it’s a really interesting examination of what he did to become successful.”
“I worked every day of the week, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday, 365 years a day,” says Flair. “And when you think Easter, you’re off, Easter’s a big day for us. You think Christmas you’re off? Christmas is a big day for us. As the world champion, I couldn’t even be home Christmas Eve, which would have been a day off, because I had to go somewhere the next morning to wrestle. So for years as the champion, I was literally gone 365 days a year and wrestling for an hour 300 days a year of that.”
And it seems #thatlife may have finally caught up with him, as the 68-year-old is currently hospitalized from “complications” following surgery last week.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso, Flair had part of his bowel removed, a problem exacerbated by his drinking problem. The surgery “led to further complications, which could force a hospital stay of over a month,” Barrasso added.
“[He] needs to rest for the first time in 40 years,” said his manager Melinda Morris Zanoni. In a series of tweets to his fans last week, she said Flair is “awake, communicating and progressing,” following the surgery. His fiancee, Wendy Barlow, previously released a statement saying that Ric has “multiple organ problems” and “still needs prayers.”
Charlotte Flair took to Instagram on Aug. 20 to provide a medical update on her father.
“After an incredibly hard week, my dad is getting better,” she wrote. “There is still a long road to go and he’s not out of the woods just yet but I want to again thank everyone for their support on behalf of myself and my family. My dad has given his life to sports entertainment. To everyone competing tonight [at SummerSlam], you know he’d be backstage watching if he could. Give it a little extra flair for him tonight. Woooo!”
During TCA, Ric Flair said his “30 for 30” special won’t reveal anything about his personal or professional life that his true fans don’t already know.
“I think they pretty much all know it. I’ve never changed. That’s the thing that my ex-wives will tell you, that is I couldn’t stop being Ric Flair, which is the truth. Once I got in the groove, I just wanted to be the best. And to be the best, I had to put my nose to the grindstone.”
Karpf adds, “I grew up a huge wrestling fan in the ’80s in Philadelphia. I used to see Ric wrestle at the civic center. And I wanted to make a film for wrestling fans for things they haven’t heard and seen before too. So I think if you are a wrestling fan, there’s going to be aspects of Ric’s story going back to college and your childhood and just different things that haven’t been told.”
At the very least, Karpf says viewers are “going to find out how bling’d up” Flair is, “still styling and profiling.”
“Just got to stay up with my rapper brothers,” Ric adds. “It’s funny. When I started making money, I’ve always liked jewelry, so I just started buying it. The problem is I bought too much for my ex-wives. I wish I bought it all for me.”
Flair said that it wasn’t until after recovering from the plane crash did he begin to truly understand that “flashy” showmanship would be the catalyst to set him apart from everyone else.
“It’s when I came back and started getting the gimmick or the persona of the “Nature Boy.” But, I mean, I always liked jewelry, and I have bought a lot of jewelry over the years. My problem is like — you know, I didn’t talk about it in the film — but I’ve left some Rolexes along the way that either somebody took home with them or I lost. So I’ve had to keep my Rolex collection up, trying not to run into those situations anymore.”
When asked to dish about the “real dangers in the ring and “the genuine injuries” he sustained over his long career, Flair notes that he’s “got a genetic gift” for bouncing back from serious physical injuries.
“In the length of my career, I’ve cracked C5 and 6 in my neck, but the technology wasn’t such back then. That was like ’89, so there was no surgery for it. But I was lucky enough it healed itself,” he says.
“What people will never understand is I had to wrestle every night, but they put me in that tag match where I just stood in the corner. I’d get in and chop someone and get out, but I was still there. There was no going home on vacation. And then, I broke myself in an airplane crash, in three places, in 1975. That laid me up for a while, about six or seven months. I was lucky enough to come back from that. And then, I’ve had two rotator cuffs. You know, I’ve had my knees drained and that, but otherwise I feel great. It’s funny. I could wrestle right now. They won’t let me, but I’m ready for any kind of action.”
Flair also weighed in on the wrestling stars who are now actors and movie stars — one has even teased about a possible run for president.
“I’m very close to Dwayne, “The Rock,” whatever your preference is. I met him when he was 12 years old. He and my daughter used to play together in Charlotte, because his dad, Rocky Johnson, was a wrestler as well. But “The Rock” and Austin and “The Hulk,” to some extent, were able to take it to a different level. “The Rock,” of course, is the highest paid actor in Hollywood right now. I mean, and with that HBO thing, “Baller.” I mean, he owns the show. But to this day, you couldn’t find a nicer, more humble guy,” Flair explains.
“And when he comes around — does he have his own dressing room? Yeah. But is he receptive of saying hi to people that he knows, you know? He’s like anybody else. He doesn’t want to be annoyed. But Steve Austin, who I consider to be the biggest star in the history of the business, is just a regular guy living over here in Marina del Rey. Goes to Venice Beach Gold’s Gym every day. But people won’t always remember “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.”
Continuing, “It’s funny. We’re in Los Angeles. This is a great story. When I first came back in 2001, we were in Anaheim, at the Pond, and it was sold out, like 16- or 17,000 people. And I wasn’t that familiar with the merchandise. And the guy said to me, you know, “I guess we just broke a record tonight.” I said, “What?” He said, “We sold 8,000 ‘Rock’ T shirts and 8500 ‘Stone Cold’ T-shirts tonight.” You know what those guys were making back then? 15 million a year.”
John Dahl, who also serves as Vice President/Executive Producer, ESPN Films and Original Content, notes that the honesty of the “30 for 30” film will make you walk away “appreciating the athleticism, the work that goes into doing what Ric made a brilliant career out of doing.”
“30 for 30” debuts on ESPN Tuesday, November 7th, at 10 p.m. EST.