I've got a friend who ribs me every time I blog about wrestling. I'll hear from him today.
The Post-Ric Flair Era began this morning. After losing his retirement match with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania on Sunday, they threw "The Nature Boy" one helluva going-away party on RAW last night. They brought out just about all of the former Horsemen (Paul Roma and Steve McMichael were nowhere to be seen, thank god). They brought out the man that Flair has always called his favorite opponent, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. The legends came out: Harley Race, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. The stars of today were introduced: John Cena, Chris Jericho, Triple H, HBK. There were some glaring omissions (where were Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, and...imagine the crowd pop if TNA had allowed him to attend...Sting?) but the Horsemen reunion more than made up for it. Of course, Flair's family was also on hand...and I've gotta say, Ric's hot daughters and wives put to shame any of the ring-rat entourages "Naitch" used to have on his arm on TV back in the day. Yowza! Finally, all the wrestlers backstage surrounded the ring and serenaded Flair with a chant of "Thank you, Ric!"
And even though it's rare to ever hear the name "McMahon" and "class" in the same sentence, it was indeed quite classy for Vince and his family to not impose themselves upon a celebration that was clearly meant for "the boys." According to those in attendance in Orlando last night, the McMahons did finally come to the ring after the RAW broadcast had left the air. In addition, The Undertaker also came out after the TV cameras were shut off to pay his respects. If you're a Flair fan, it was a scene you'll never forget...and one that WWE will hopefully release on a DVD at some point.
Without getting too "It's still real to me, dammit!" about the whole thing, I've gotta say...Ric Flair was one of the most important figures of my childhood. When I was a kid, Ric Flair was a legitimate sports icon...just like Muhammad Ali or Hank Aaron. As I grew older and began to look at pro-wrestling with more of a critical eye, I began to appreciate the way Flair made an opponent look like a million bucks. One sloppy and painless-looking elbow from Dusty Rhodes would sent Ric bouncing from ringpost to ringpost like an out-of-control Plinko chip. He carried notable stiffs like Lex Luger and Nikita Koloff to memorable matches. Put him in there with another guy who could go, like Steamboat, and you'd get a 45-minute or hour-long classic from which you'd be afraid to turn away. You might miss one of many "Holy shit!" moments.
As incredible a wrestler as Flair was, he was an even better talker. If you've got the Flair 3-disc DVD set or the 2-disc Four Horsemen DVD set, you can see normally stonefaced badasses like Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson biting their lips and turning away from the camera because they're on the verge of cracking up at some hysterically over-the-top Ric Flair interview. I don't know if Bartlett's Familiar Quotations has made room for "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man" or "Wheelin', dealin', kiss-stealin', limousine-ridin', jet-flyin' son of a gun" yet, but they damn well ought to.
So it's the end of an era for me. I could be an old fart and say I'm done with it now...but, hell, I've quit watching wrestling so many times and always came back that it's pretty clear it's got a hammerlock on me. But this is tough. Real tough. So long, "Naitch." You'll always be real to me, dammit.