“Whether you like it or don’t like it, learn to love it! WHOOO!”
As a kid growing up in Kansas City, we’d make frequent trips to my parents birth state of Louisiana, where most of my aunts and uncles reside. My mother’s hometown would be considered rural South; I lived there for a short while. There aren’t gutters like in the city; just huge ditches that run up and down the residential streets (helpful if say, a hurricane type storm comes through). While I don’t hear my Midwestern accent, I always hear the accent of my cousins. The parts of the vocabulary that passed on to me, calling my elders Ma’am and Sir, saying ya’ll as opposed to you all, I definitely picked up in my time spent down South.
My grandfather didn’t have cable the way we think of it now. Anytime I’d go to his house, two things stood out that I didn’t see in Kansas: the joint JFK/Martin Luther King portrait in the living room (all the other pictures were family), and the huge television that he must had going back to the 60s. That television didn’t pick up local news (cause there wasn’t really any TV station in that town) but we did get Superstation TBS. My grandfather was a huge baseball fan, so anytime the Atlanta Braves were playing, that TV was on. One of my most cherished memories as a kid was going with my grandfather to a Kansas City Royals game. To the best of my knowledge that’s the only time he ever went to a live major league game.
The other thing I could count on from Superstation TBS growing up was World Championship Wrestling. World Championship Wrestling in the 80s meant one man. The wheelin’ and dealin’, kiss stealin’, limosuine ridin’, jet flyin’ son of a gun! The Nature Boy Ric Flair! Ninety percent of the time Flair was the ‘heel’ or bad guy, but he was so charming, so stylish, so funny, he was to me the first in a long line of bad guys who were so good at being bad I ended up cheering for them anyway (followed in no particular order by the Joker, Tony Montana, and Barry Bonds to name a few).
If the 80s were the last real era of excess, Flair’s style was the perfect personification of that. Why did he dress so well? Because that’s how he felt ‘the Man’, the World Champion should present himself. Not just the best in the ring, but the best out of the ring too. One promo which I’ll never forget for obvious reasons, was when he started railing about how all the girls wanted Slick Ric, and wanted to take a ride on Space Mountain, then looked inside his suit jacket and read ‘This coat made for the World Champion, by Michael’s of Kansas City!” How in the hell was I not going to get geeked off of that?
Another Flair attribute I always tried to emulate was his trash talking style. Everybody does some version of “I’m big, I’m bad, I’m the best!” Flair was the first (and best) person I ever saw who knew how to talk trash and make you crack up laughing at the same time (even as a bad guy). For those of you who watched my own ‘wrestling persona’ on TV, I have no problem admitting I watched all the ‘Naitch’ I could to try to nail the comedic timing aspect that goes with the type of smack talk I gravitate to.
My personal favorite smack talk line of all time: Flair was cutting a promo against Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat to promote their championship match at an upcoming Clash of the Champions. Flair comes into the ring with four or five girls, he’s wearing a fur coat, he’s stylin’ and profilin’ (and he was the bad guy by the way). The Dragon comes to the ring, as ‘Mom’s Apple Pie’, a well known married man, with a son known as ‘Little Dragon’, who represented the family unit and family values. Two men who stylistically couldn’t be more opposite. Anyway, as Ricky finishes running Flair down for being a bad example for all the kids in the audience, Flair arrogantly grabs the mic, blowing Steamboat off with the still classic line:
“I’m going to go out, and live life the way a World Champion should live life. Why don’t you go home, and help the missus with the dishes?”
It was one of the biggest jerk things I’ve ever heard someone say, and I couldn’t have been cheering any louder. That was Ric Flair.
Even though it was long overdue, when Flair finally retired as an active competitor at last year’s Wrestlemania, there was a genuine sadness in me, and for many of the kids of my generation. Wrestling of course, is no more real than what I do, but like what I do, it’s a form of storytelling. Ric Flair was both one of the best and the most passionate performers within his craft. I still keep one eye on wrestling to see if there’s anything going on that interests me, but I keep an eye on it knowing there will never be another Nature Boy Ric Flair.