In Review: “Nature Boy”

At one point during ESPN’s new 30 for 30 documentary, Nature Boy, you hear a ring announcer yell, “And the winner is…The Nature Boy, Ric Flair!” The name “Nature Boy” rings louder than the bell and it is clear that this documentary is going to be the totality of a man known as “The Nature Boy.” All of your memories of Ric Flair – where you were when you first watched him wrestle, where you were when you last watched him wrestle, where you were when you met him in person – come full circle, or excuse me, squared circle. 

If you are a longtime fan of Ric Flair, of course, The WWE Network has you covered with your favorite promos and matches, so what makes Nature Boy different from anything else on the legendary pro wrestler is a question you might ask. Well, the difference is that it is exactly different from the others. The 90-minute feature covers the man behind the gimmick from his childhood born to adopted parents up to today as a man retired from a sport he conquered for nearly 50 years. And this is no easy feat once we come to realize that this uncanny professional lived life outside the ring just as he did inside.

The “personal versus professional” duality maps a familiar paradigm for wrestling fans, especially in the era of Ric Flair where the over-the-top-rope personalities were just getting started. Flair fits well into this duality because what is known about Ric Flair personally is what made him the legendary Ric Flair we have grown to know and love professionally. The robes, jets, and women were a part of the life of a man who reinvented himself from Richard Fliehr to “Ric Flair.”

The 30 for 30 adds quintessential documentary features to accomplish their mapping of Ric Flair, such as first-hand accounts, most notably from Flair himself, who is answering questions from a chair sitting in the middle of a ring. There’s cartoon animations that put you into the bottom of your seat as a fan witnessing your favorite larger-than-life character. The interview sets the reality of this fantasy world as Flair reveals the truth behind being a “wheelin’-dealin’, kiss-stealin’, jet-flyin’ son of a gun” and a human being, husband, and father all at the same time.

The first thing Flair reveals is that being on the road did not make it easy for him at home. The revelation provides a solemn, almost heartbreaking realization that superstardom is not always what it is cracked up to be, but there’s also a Flair-esque irony in that this is what made Flair Flair. The Ric Flair. The only way we knew Ric Flair was a kiss-stealer and jet-flyer was because Ric Flair told us he was on wrestling.  In a way, Ric Flair “styled and profiled” his way through the pitfalls of superstardom by using it as his gimmick. The fact that he could drink 10 beers a day and sleep with 10,000 women, then chop a man’s chest and scream “Wooooooooooo!” in the same night, which are the second and third revelations of Flair in Nature Boy, was neither here nor there. It just is what it is, as they say, and no one can deny that this is cool, even if at times it is not easy.

The stories of life on the road are endless and the people telling them are even better, which provides the utmost opportunity for an understanding of this complex figure. Ex-wives of Flair and his kids provide rare insight. More comes to the surface about Flair missing ample time with his wives and kids that hones in on the realities of superstardom. Perhaps, it isn’t just superstardom that is not what it’s cracked up to be, but it’s our superstars also. As a longtime fan, the information helps you take a closer look at who Richard Fliehr, the man – and not just “the man” as Ric Flair deems himself – but who a real man is. Flair plays well into the interest when he talks about the death of his son, Reid Flair, who was embarking on a professional wrestling career of his own. An emotional Flair recalls the fateful day he learned of his son’s death, and he speaks highly of his other children, including the wrestling career of his daughter Ashley, a.k.a. Charlotte Flair, current WWE Diva.

Hulk Hogan, Sting, Undertaker, Ricky Steamboat, Arn Anderson, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels all make for a superstar cast. Each of these superstars have their own experiences with Flair to share, which helps promote the influence of Ric Flair. We know that the legend of Ric Flair is all about Ric Flair, but we get the unique disclosure that Ric Flair is truly about others through those he has worked with. The way that these cameos chime in and out of Flair’s interview uniquely corroborates the legacy of their influence, peer, and friend. The documentary full of storytelling becomes a full-length project worthy of the wrestling legend. 

There’s a story about how Flair flashed the locker room at WCW in his legendary robe and Sting especially got an eye full. Jim Ross tells of a night when Flair started dancing on a table at a bar in front of a group of women. Stories like these are like icing on top of an already beautiful cake. The cake is made whole by Flair’s own admission sitting in the chair.

From the lone man view of the chair in the ring, we get a timely switch in the film between personal and professional. There is so much to say about Ric Flair, but in these tales of sports, entertainment, revelation, and redemption is the heart of the “Nature Boy.” “The Nature Boy” is a true jock who witnessed professional wrestling on channel 11 on Saturday nights between The Crusher and The Bruiser and made it his profession. How he did this, or even why, pales in comparison to his doing of it. You quickly come to realize that Ric Flair is man who developed a character when he reveals that he got his persona from several real-life instances. After a severe plane crash, Flair said he wanted to be “a blonde and a bad guy, like Buddy Rodgers.” Blond hair, flashy robes, and the boisterous “Wooooooooooooo!” which was inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” makes it easy to assume many things, but it’s equally reassuring to know that it was all done for the entertainment of adoring fans of this special sport.

Flair answers many questions about life inside the ring, even the never-ending question on the authenticity of wrestling.

“It’s not fake,” Flair responds. “It’s choreographed. We started using the word ‘choreographed’ probably in the past 15 years.”

Flair answers the question, What makes a good wrestler? “Hm…technique, agility, skill.”

And ding, ding, ding – there you have wrestling from your favorite wrestling icon. To top off the talk, there’s footage. There’s a lot of footage. The doc goes into Flair’s feuds with Dusty Rhodes and Hulk Hogan, in which Hogan uses as an opportunity to say that Flair is “10 times better” than he is. The work with Dusty continues with the glory, as that feud juxtaposed Flair’s limousine-riding lifestyle to Dusty’s common reality. It is in this feud that Flair called Dusty “a nothing happening son of a plumber.”

We really get under the spell of the ‘Nature Boy’ persona when the documentary moves into his WWE career. Like most all wrestlers, we learn that Flair had two opportunities to go to WWE before he actually did. 1986 and 1988 were the years for the naitch. By his time in the WWE, Ric Flair is the cream of the crop of professional wrestling, so the work is not exactly new. However, it is different, and the biggest difference ironically comes when the legend calls it quits in a retirement match against a man who is compared most to Flair and is arguably the greatest of all time ( and my favorite ), the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 24.

Flair’s retirement is amongst one of the greatest retirements and moments of all time. Triple H doesn’t hesitate to make comparisons to Michael Jordan and Ali. Not only was it a great match, but it was a quintessential Ric Flair match with the best going up against the best. Although Flair says that his favorite opponent is Ricky Steamboat from his younger days, it is hard to decide between Steamboat and HBK ( that HBK ). What a match. What better way to go out.

Nature Boy tries to fit all of the wrestling and more into 90 minutes, but all of it has very much to do with documenting one of the greatest sports figures who ever lived. Both the personal and professional aspects of Flair are necessary in understanding the ‘Nature Boy’ persona that captivated wrestling fans, and many fans for the first time. Through it all, we are drawn to one conclusion of Ric Flair as it has been for a long time.

“There’s only one,” as the man himself says. And indeed there is.


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