He’s an American wrestling legend whose WOOOO! catchphrase is still imitated around the world. Tim Birkbeck caught up with Nature Boy Ric Flair.
The name Richard Morgan Fliehr may not mean much to many people.
But if you were to say the limousine-riding, jet-flying, kiss-stealing, wheeling-dealing son of a gun that is the Nature Boy Ric Flair, it will spark images of the charismatic, blonde-haired professional wrestler of the 1980s.
The most decorated World Heavyweight Champion in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) history is one of the most recognisable faces in the world of sports entertainment.
He’s know by millions for wearing personalised sequined robes, strutting across the ring and releasing that unforgettable cry of WOOOO!
Now retired from ring action, the Flair legacy still lives on.
The man himself never thought that his ‘little gimmick’ would become such a global phenomenon.
Ahead of his appearance in Southsea next week, he tells The Guide: ‘I never expected to become this huge fan icon, but I certainly enjoy it.
‘It’s funny to see American football players doing the strut, fans at basketball matches shouting WOOOO! It’s said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.’
He adds: ‘It’s great to see all my hard work and creativity has paid off. Seeing young wrestlers wanting to emulate me is a great gratification on my part.’
One day I just thought ‘‘what can I do different?’’Then the whole WOOOO! thing popped into my head on a whim
Ric explains: ‘One day I just thought ‘‘what can I do different?’’Then the whole WOOOO! thing popped into my head on a whim, I tried it out next time I was in the ring and it just sort of stuck.’
In a ring career spanning 36 years, Ric faced off against many of the wrestling greats including The Undertaker, Triple H and Hulk Hogan, with whom he had a famous feud.
His final farewell came on wrestling’s grandest stage, Wrestlemania, against Shawn Michaels in 2008.
The Nature Boy has wrestled all over the world for several different companies, starting his career with The American Wrestling Association in 1972, before travelling to Japan.
It wasn’t until Ric joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1974 that the Nature Boy was born.
He then proceeded to be one of the leading figures in the world-famous faction The Four Horsemen in 1985 as part of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) franchise, before finally signing with WWE in 1991.
Ric also had a short stint at Total Nonstop Action (TNA) for a year in 2011, then returned home to the WWE in 2012 where he remains on a Legends contract.
Despite no longer competing, the 66-year-old still holds a pivotal role at the WWE as an ambassador, as well as helping to develop new talent.
However, when talking to the two-time Hall of Famer (the only person to achieve this) you can still hear the passion in his voice.
‘I could happily talk about my career all day long,’ says Ric.
‘I didn’t want to stop competing at all, but I think in terms of the direction the business was heading I saw it as a good time for me to step away from the ring.
‘I’ve been blessed to have such a varied and successful career and I couldn’t have asked for a better final match than the one against Shawn.
‘I couldn’t have asked to go out in a better way, to a better guy. He really is a true friend and if I had to lose to anyone I am glad it was him.’
Never short of confidence, the Nature Boy adds: ‘I would love to get back in the ring, but they are scared I would steal the show every week. I’m just too god damn good.
‘I can still go in the ring and take a suplex or two if I need to.’
Arguably, wrestling is more popular now than it has ever been. However, Ric believes there are a lot more politics, strict rules and regulation in place now, making it difficult for him to compete like he did back in his heyday.
In his prime he was quite the party boy and admits if he was in the industry today he wouldn’t be able to have half the fun he did back in the ’80s.
However, Ric is still an avid fan of professional wrestling, singing the praises of many of the current superstars.
They include John Cena, who is close to breaking Ric’s record of 16 world heavyweight titles.
‘I don’t give the record a second thought, but if it was to be broken it couldn’t go to a better person than John,’ Ric says.
Despite Ric continually keeping himself busy outside of the ring, Nature Boy stepped away from the limelight in 2013 after the death of his son Reid.
It was a time that really troubled the former champion, giving him a new perspective on family life.
Now his daughter Ashley has decided to step into the ring, his protective instinct has come out to make sure she gets the best she can out of a career in professional wrestling.
Ric says: ‘‘I think she is one of the best athletes on the roster, but being a female it is always going to be hard in this industry.
‘I have been asked before if I would go back into a management role with Ashley, but she needs me like a hole in the head. I wouldn’t boost her career, if anything I would hinder it.’
Ric will appearing at the Pyramids Centre next Friday for what he calls a no-holds-barred account of his life.
He explains: ‘I’m looking forward to it. I’ve never been to Portsmouth, but the UK fans are some of the most respectful fans I’ve ever met.
‘People who come to the show can expect vintage Nature Boy, styling and profiling. Nothing is off limits for me – it’s an open forum.’
...the wrestling business today
The business is a lot more political now and it is really hard for young wrestlers to work their way up the ranks. Personally I would find it very hard to work full-time now. I wouldn’t be able to do a show then go straight back to the hotel.
...his daughter following in his footsteps
She is so talented it is scary. I am so proud of her but there is always going to be that part of me that worries about her development, if she will get injured and things like that.
...still being a fan at heart
I still watch wrestling as a massive fan. Right now I am a huge Dolph Ziggler fan. He is someone who is going to go far in the industry.
Where & when...
Ric will be answering questions next Friday at the Pyramids Centre, Southsea. Doors at 6pm. Platinum tickets £105, gold £40. Go to pyramidslive.co.uk