Before we start, let’s get something out of the way: Professional wrestling is not real. I know this, you know this, the people in the ring know this, and most of the people attending the events know this. But one of its biggest stars doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. He just doesn’t want us to know how they fake it.
“We’ve worked hard to create a certain mystique about this business, and it bothers me when so much is given away,” laments Ric Flair, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar who’s made his home in Charlotte and is likely to receive one of the loudest ovations when WWE retakes the Civic Center this week.
Flair has a point. No one watches The Wizard of Oz and says “This is totally fake,” so why should they question wrestling? Professional wrestling hinges on suspension of disbelief.
If Hulk Hogan is to wrestling what the Beatles were to rock ‘n’ roll, then Ric Flair has to be considered the Rolling Stones. While Hogan fronted the flashy World Wrestling Federation, Flair was the face of the more athletic-oriented World Championship Wrestling. But both men were devoted to the same cause: making professional wrestling big business.
Hogan went about his work in a grandiose way, stamping his image — complete with buffalo wing-hued skin and tiny yellow trunks — on T-shirts, cartoons, lunch boxes and movies. Flair focused on popularizing wrestling by portraying it as an actual sport. His matches were pleasing to even the non-fan. Outside the ring, he was just as revolutionary: While Hogan was telling children to say their prayers and take their vitamins, Flair was talking about partying at Studio 54 and the ladies lining up to “ride Space Mountain.”
Ric Flair is no cartoon character. His blonde hair, feathered back like the wings of a majestic bird; his rhinestone-encrusted robes; his mantra of “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” made — and continue to make — Flair a favorite of mine. It turns out that I’m not alone.
Mike Mooneyham, a columnist for Charleston’s The Post and Courier put it best: “Any discussion of Ric Flair inevitably invites a comparison with Hulk Hogan; the two have been dominant figures in the sport over the past two decades and have shaped the course of the industry. Ric Flair is loved, adored and admired by the wrestling public. Ric’s not bigger than pro wrestling, as Hogan once portrayed himself. Ric Flair is pro wrestling, and he loves the sport with an undying passion.”
A common cliche among wrestling aficionados is that Ric Flair could wrestle a broomstick and have the best match of the night. It’s a talent that’s cemented Flair’s status as a legend, an epithet that humbles him.
“I’m as honored to walk down that aisle and get in the ring as I was when I was 24,” insists Flair (now 57) in To Be the Man.
Flair has spent much of the past decade involved in charitable and political groups around Charlotte. He’s become a Carolinas icon.
This past spring, as the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes marched toward an eventual Stanley Cup victory, every time the Hurricanes scored a goal, Flair would appear on the scoreboard and yelp his trademark “Wooooo!,” which was then shouted in unison by many of those in attendance.
“When we first played it, so many people hated it,” admitted Pete Soto, marketing director for the Hurricanes, in an interview with The News & Observer, “Now we just show the blond hair and people go ‘Wooooo!'”
No matter whom — or what – Flair faces in Asheville, count on him sending his fans home entertained. Wooooo!
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
WWE Raw Live! comes to the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday, Dec. 2. 7:30 p.m. Headlining wrestlers include Triple H, Randy Orton, Umaga, Roddy Piper, Jeff Hardy, Johnny Nitro and, of course, Ric Flair. $20 to $40. 251-5505 and www.ticketmaster.com.