This week ESPN aired an extended episode of its 30 For 30 documentary series about the life and career of the man many call the greatest professional wrestler of all time. If you missed it, don’t sweat it; it’s available on-demand. Anyone who ever watched a minute of pro wrestling from the ‘70s through the 2000s knows about Ric Flair, his flamboyant style and wardrobe, his blond mane, and his signature “Whoo!” But here are a few things we did not know:
His real name is Richard Fliehr.
I think we can agree, “Flair” works better.
He took the nickname “Nature Boy” from another wrestler.
Buddy Rogers, a champion wrestler Flair grew up watching, had a head of platinum blond hair and a pronounced overconfidence in the ring. Flair appropriated both when creating his signature character, to the point that there is really only one Nature Boy in the cultural memory.
He was nearly killed in a plane crash before his career had really started.
When a plane carrying Flair and three other young wrestlers to an event ran out of gas, Flair broke his back in three places in the crash. After slimming down to 185 lbs during his convalescence, Flair had to work hard to get back up to his fighting weight.
He took his trademark “Whoo!” from Jerry Lee Lewis.
Flair knew he wanted to be flamboyant, so he took a cue from the most flamboyant musician around.
He modeled his style of constant self-promotion and braggadoccio from Muhammad Ali.
If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.
He claims to have slept with 10,000 women over the course of this career.
Flair makes a point of saying that if he bragged about something in a promo or in the ring, it was because he really did it. If he claimed to have had four women the previous night, it happened. If he claimed his shoes cost more than your car, they did.
He was an inveterate partier.
He once arrived at a hotel bar and immediately ordered 137 kamikazes for the house; there were ten people there. Asked by his doctor how much he drinks, he stunned the doctor by truthfully replying ten beers and five mixed drinks a day, every day, for 20 years.
His favorite opponent was Ricky Steamboat.
With matches like this, it’s easy to see why.
Hulk Hogan says Flair was the better wrestler.
“I had like three moves,” Hogan says in the documentary. “He’s like ten times better than I am. It’s a no-brainer.”
He turned down two chances to jump from the NWA to the WWF, before finally changing leagues in 1992.
He promptly took the championship belt at the Royal Rumble, by being the last man standing in the 30-man match that gave the event its name. Flair went on to wrestle for the WWF/WWE until his retirement in 2008.