VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – MAS didn’t realize how far-reaching the influence of U.S. superstar wrestler Ric “Nature Boy” Flair was until he took in a high school football game in Japan some years back.
That Tokyo contest had visiting Camp Zama going up against The American School in Japan.
At the time, the flamboyant Flair was perhaps at his zenith as the WWF’s reigning pretty boy. To this day, Ric, with his long, wavy, platinum blond locks and his strutting and preening, remains the most celebrated diva in pro wrestling history.
Flair tops even the originator of his shtick, “Gorgeous George,” televised wrestling’s first glamour-puss heel way back in the late-1940s and ’50s. Sneaky, yet somehow quite likeable, the ultra-charismatic Flair was.
During that Zama-ASIJ game, whenever one of the Zama players would make an outstanding play, he would rear his head back and emit a loud “WOOOOO!” It was both hot-doggish and funny at the same time.
Ric Flair’s trademark ring exultation had made its way to Japan. And that yelp is STILL practiced today by many worldwide, both in and out of sports.
MAS writes about Flair today because he recently underwent life-threatening abdominal surgery, involving his being placed into a medically induced coma.
Requests for prayers on Ric’s behalf were sent out. MAS was among the responders.
And he would like to think in some teensy-weensy way it helped.
Ric is now awake and alert and was just released from the hospital. But a difficult rehab lies ahead.
Eons ago, MAS had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Ric Flair, now 68 and only recently completely retired, during his heyday.
MAS was a TV sports reporter and anchor at the ABC affiliate in Honolulu, Hawaii. Flair was in town to appear in a benefit wrestling card at Aloha Stadium. The event was held both to honor recently deceased grappler High Chief Peter Maivia and to raise funds for his family.
Tagged “The Flyin’ Hawaiian,” Maivia was a renowned performer on the Pacific Rim circuit and a Hawaii resident with Samoan roots. (Maivia is also the grandfather of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. When posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, Peter was presented for enshrinement by The Rock.)
Unfortunately, in Peter Maivia’s era, the WWF (now the WWE) had not been formed yet and there were no pensions and scant benefits in the profession. Wrestling was still pretty much a barnstorming arrangement where performers were mostly paid out of the night’s gate receipts.
The Aloha Stadium card to be headlined by Flair would help provide something of a financial safety net for Maivia’s family.
Ric stopped by our station to do a promotional interview with MAS, which would end up being equal parts appeal to folks to come out for a good cause and classic rasslin’ bravado. He didn’t have to make the trip all the way to Hawaii. He could have stayed on the comfy mainland circuit and continued to collect his big bucks.
But that’s not what Ric Flair is about. Knowing his presence would put okoles (Hawaiian for “butts”) in the seats, he gladly signed on. Forget the manufactured hostilities you see at the arenas and on TV, pro wrestlers care about their own.
After the interview, off-camera, Flair stepped out of character and MAS chatted with the “regular Ric” for about 15 minutes.
Flair said he was originally from “Minn-ah-SO-dah.” His accent was, indeed, right out of the flick “Fargo.”
Ric now lived in North Carolina, he told MAS, where the WWF headquarters were at the time. But his heart was still in The Gopher State. Turns out, he was a huge University of Minnesota football fan.
It was late summer and Flair was really pumped about the Golden Gophers’ chances in the upcoming season. UM had endured a long gridiron drought since a Rose Bowl win in 1962. But Lou Holtz, a success at every place he had coached, was now at the helm. (Holtz did indeed turn the Golden Gophers program around but then split for Notre Dame soon after doing so.)
We also talked family. Ric was quite concerned. He and his wife wanted children desperately but she was having trouble conceiving. But Flair said they were praying the situation could be corrected somehow.
Evidently, things turned out OK. MAS read years later about his son wrestling in the North Carolina high school state tournament. When Ric’s boy lost to his opponent, the winner let out a loud “WOOOOO!.” Ric’s kid then slugged the victor and all hell broke loose.
Maybe there’s somethin’ to that “apple not falling far from the tree” stuff after all.
Cut to the Aloha Stadium locker room a few days after the interview. MAS had just finished serving as a guest ring announcer for an earlier match (and barely escaped decapitation by a long, heavy chain being swung wildly like a lasso by a wacko wrestler named Cowboy Bill Something-or-other).
MAS was now in the dressing area performing his sports reporter duties and seeking pre- and post-battle sound bites. And, then, here comes Ric Flair briskly striding toward him in all his regal splendor: flowing Marilyn Monroe-colored hair, sequinned floor length robe, athletic footwear that would turn Kinky Boots creators green, the whole bit.
So MAS says to himself, Think I’ll pop my good bud Ric a quick question or two before he takes to the ring, heh-heh.
MAS can still feel the breeze as Flair blew right by him, as he headed for the tunnel that led to field level where a roaring reception awaited him. MAS has NEVER seen a look of intensity on an athlete’s face like he saw on Ric Flair’s that night.
Holy s—-, MAS said to himself. We may not take this stuff seriously but HE sure as heck does!
It wasn’t personal. This was business.
And Ric proceeded to give the huge crowd what it paid for: the posturing, provoking, preening physicality that only Flair can provide. The bloody drama that ensued — near-defeat followed by ultimate, if painful, victory — was pure theater disguised as sport.
Most importantly, though, Ric had come to the aid of a fellow wrestler in a time of need. This time, it was our turn to do the same for Flair.
Call it divine intervention or, if you prefer, karma at work but things are now looking up for Ric. If you lean to the former, now would be a good time to send out a thank you to The Almighty.
And, just for the heck of it, replace the amen with a soft “Woooo!”
Contact MAS at: firstname.lastname@example.org