Ric Flair’s career is largely defined by what he did outside of the walls of WWE, from his days as one of the top attractions in the territory system through all of his time in WCW in the 1990s and early 2000s. Flair, who turned 71 few months ago, had two chapters in WWE (known as WWF until 2002) — a brief run in the early 1990s and a return in 2001 that lasted through his retirement in 2008.
During a live interview conducted on Chris Jericho’s “Rock & Wrestling Rager at Sea Part Deaux” cruise, recently released in podcast form, Flair recalled his dalliances with a potential move to WWF in 1988. A move that would have included a potential WWF championship match against “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
“They wanted me to come in… to wrestle Savage at SummerSlam, and I said no,” Flair said. “We didn’t have contracts back then, I just had a deposit on the belt. I was with Arn, and Tully and Barry, and god, we were selling out everywhere. I was happy. It was never about not going up there and having fun because [Ted] DiBiase, [Roddy] Piper — I had a lot of friends up there — [Bob] Orton [too]. [There were] a lot of guys that I was friends with that had already gone [there]. I just couldn’t get myself to leave that circle of friends that I was with.”
Flair remained with WCW until 1991, when he clashed with WCW Executive Vice President Jim Herd, who wanted to change Flair’s look and character despite more than two decades as one of the most famous personalities in professional wrestling.
“The worst thing I ever did was cut my hair. I can remember walking through the airport, and nobody knew me. I was frightened,” Flair said. “He wanted to call me Spartacus — he wanted me to change my name and put an earring in my ear… I looked like a 12-year-old kid.”
That ultimately led Flair, who was the WCW champion at the time, to leave WCW and bring the big gold belt with him to WWF. “When I quit, I just called [Vince] and said well, if the invitation’s still open, man, I’m here.”
After a year and a half with WWF, Flair was drawn back to WCW, where he remained until the company closed its doors in 2001. Creative and professional struggles during WCW’s dying days had shattered the normally bombastic Flair’s confidence, but in late 2001 he was brought back into the WWF fold. He returned to the ring in a match against Vince McMahon at the 2002 Royal Rumble, but he was still not feeling like himself.
That’s when Paul “Triple H” Levesque delivered the news that would reignite Flair’s in-ring career.
“I had just come back… and I had been really out of the loop… I was broken. The Eric Bischoff and WCW thing broke me,” Flair said. “Herd broke me 10 years prior. I would sit in a chair and I was just sitting back, wondering, ‘What am I even doing here?’ And Hunter walked up to me and said, ‘[Under]Taker wants to work with you. And I’m like, ‘What?’ I was not ready for it.
“I struggled all along the way, but once I got in the ring and got going [I was fine]. The anxiety can throw your life out of whack, it can throw everything you do into a disproportionate state.”
Flair went on to create Evolution with Triple H, a faction that included 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Batista and future Hall of Famer Randy Orton. Flair continued to wrestle all the way up until his retirement match at WrestleMania 24.
In subsequent years, Flair’s infusion into popular culture has only grown. He’s played hype man for college sports and professional teams alike, appeared in rap videos and commercials, and was even featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 film, “Nature Boy”.
While his wrestling prowess was legendary, Flair’s enduring legacy will be his signature battle cry, which has grown beyond what he could have ever imagined when he adopted it more than 35 years ago.
“The ‘Wooo’, I got that from Jerry Lee Lewis. I loved listening to Jerry Lee Lewis when I was on the road at night. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I was [driving] to TV, [and heard] Great Balls of Fire. Next day I did it, and thank god I did. 1974, it caught on instantly within North Carolina, but then I did it on TV and it took off.”