There isn’t much to be said about Ric Flair that hasn’t been said already, often by Flair himself. Yet he remains a seemingly endless source of entertainment for pro wrestling fans. In an industry where gimmicks go stale and fans’ tastes shift faster than Harley Race on the Autobahn, Flair has maintained a prominent place on weekly television for 30 years, in a genre that is narrowly-defined and widely ridiculed but is consistently high-ranked for the whole history of cable TV and PPV.
How many people who were in top position on US TV in 1978 are still there now? Susan Lucci? The attrition rate of TV news anchors has been staggering–from Jessica Savitch and Max Robinson to Peter Jennings and Tom Snyder, with dozens inbetween. David Letterman got over in 1981, so he might be the closest thing in terms of limelight longevity. Tom Brokaw had already retired from the nightly anchor spot at NBC, where he dominated in ratings contests against Jennings and Dan Rather, but the death of Tim Russert led to his return, as host of “Meet the Press”. Rather, of course, is all money on a live mic, and that makes him more like a wrestler (maybe fellow Texan Terry Funk) than most of the younger generation of reporters, who come off as brazenly fluffy and project nothing of inner grit beneath the shine.
Anyway, “Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection” comes after Flair’s retirement weekend, where he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame before losing to Shawn Michaels in Houston at WrestleMania XXV. That match is included on the set, but Flair’s hour-plus HOF speech was not–a disastrous gambit to get more people to buy the WrestleMania DVD. This is the second time WWE has done a Flair set–both triple-discs–and combined they make for a very effective introduction to a legacy that will probably linger in some form for as long as human beings exist.
The documentary that comprises disc one of the new set is up to the usual high standard WWE has for such things; production values are never an issue with their product. What is an issue, though, are the matches themselves. They are lucky that Flair is Flair, and people will buy the set just to have it. (This, is the saving grace of archival media. No one will ever know how many Ric Flair tapes were sold or traded just on the underground level, entirely independent of official releases, long before the Digital Age. He’s like Too $hort or Sun Ra, in that sense.) Only three of Flair’s 16 world title wins have been included on either collection.
Whereas the first set was comprised of groupings of matches and promos around specific feuds with Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Sting, Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk, along with documentary clips and extras like his 1992 Royal Rumble victory and his 2003 match with HHH in Greenville (though it oddly doesn’t include Flair’s promo to set up the match, which was one of his best of this busy decade), the second set is mostly a hodge-podge. That’s not to say the matches aren’t good; they are nice to have. Matches with Jack Brisco and Harley Race from 1982; the legendary draw with Sting from 1988; a 2 of 3 falls match with Kerry Von Erich (who is clearly buzzed beyond belief) from ’82; a great defense of the Intercontinental title against HHH (in a cage!) from 2005; a match with Roddy Piper from ’91 and a short but sweet six-man tag pitting Flair and the Andersons against Rhodes, Magnum TA and Manny Fernandez.
It says something about Flair’s nature that he would commission a brand-new robe, arguably more elaborate than any before, for what he knew would be his last match. Flair went down after three Michaels superkicks; one is typically a finisher. Michaels’ Asai moonsault onto the announcers’ table was one of the great “Holy Shit!” moments from this year. It may be impossible to cherry-pick matches for a Flair project, but it was unfortunate that some of his better stuff from the ’90s wasn’t included, nor his title defense against Road Warrior Hawk from 1986, nor his street fight with Mick Foley from 2006, nor any of his work with Steve Austin, Brian Pillman, Eddy Guerrero or Ron Garvin, Ricky Morton or Randy Savage. But it doesn’t really matter, since they will surely do another volume sooner or later.