To be the man you’ve got to beat the man…okay, what do we do after lunch?
Close your eyes and think back. It’s 1992. Ric Flair enters the Royal Rumble third, and takes bump after bump before winning the whole thing; it’s a brilliant performance. Now remember Flair leading the Four Horsemen in the mid to late eighties, the blueprint for all subsequent heel gangs in wrestling. And think back to the fantastic rivalry between Flair and Sting at the turn of the 90’s.
Can’t remember any of those? In that case, you’ll only know Flair as an out of shape, bumbling catchphrase-spouting nonentity. He used to be the man, you know. Now he barely is one.
We’re constantly reminded about his past glories via his DVD and autobiography, but we’re also constantly reminded on “Raw” of his current uselessness, the way he is defined by his past. Which is why the recent “Raw” angle with Randy Orton was so good; the best stick work is grounded in the truth, and so it was that when Orton pointed out that Flair used to lead but now follows, it struck a chord. He does what HHH tells him too, pretty much as a servant would. Of course, it was tossed away to fulfil a boring angle, but it’s so true.
Flair is now just a mate of HHH, with no inherent worth. If he left tomorrow, would we miss him? He seems content to rest on past his glories, and they were certainly glorious, but trading on being the 16-time World Champion of a belt that most WWE fans don’t recognise is worthless. NWA is gone. Its belt is occasionally defended on smaller Federations. WCW is now WWF. Fans are aware that ex-WCW/ECW employees have to earn their way into the WWE; Guerrero and Benoit did so, Flair doesn’t. He’s just a mate, a hanger-on; he’s in a curious limbo in which he has no real role. What’s his position in Evolution? Well, Ric still thinks he’s a wrestler.
Each time he walks that aisle, I agree with him that he’s looking as only he can look – flabby, bewildered and out of touch. He has no heat and his work in the ring is slow and sloppy with almost no offence. What attack he does have is limited to exhibitions of his standard spots; he has to do the fall forward, even if it holds up the match, he does the knife edge chops and takes about 10 minutes over his patented figure 4. Granted, the crowd pop, but only because these spots have entered wrestling folklore.
And that’s the point. On the “Raw” spot, Flair riffed on former champs, arguing that he was a bigger legend. And maybe he is. But a legend is rooted in the past – the word comes from stories and fables – a legend doesn’t exist in the present, and neither, really, does Flair. He’s like one of those Boxing ex-champs gladhandling at a Vegas hotel.
Perhaps you feel I’m being a little harsh. But just think for a moment about what Flair really does. He’s not an effective wrestler, and not a manager either. He hangs around with Evolution as a mate who interferes in matches, and reminds us constantly how special he used to be. He’s not even a good personality these days, because he has nothing new to say – as he always refers to his actions in the past tense, he has very little heat with the current roster. The WWE seem to understand this too, giving him no real programme or feuds to work with. Just rambling, spittle-flecked rants and archaic spots.
It Flair’s own fault. He just doesn’t know when to leave the ring. He may be frightened to go because his best days will become a memory as soon as he does, but that’s better than becoming a walking past tense. A shade. A ghost of wrestling past. If he made the decision to stop actively wrestling, he could become a manager and, whilst doing exactly the same things with Evolution, he would have a reason to do them. Everyone needs a label, just to feel needed.
It’s sad to see Flair in this state; emasculated (look it up in the Medical Dictionary – don’t worry, there won’t be any pictures) and hanging onto his past to inform a meaningless and rather embarrassing present. He’s a company memory salesman. How low can you get?
Flair is now the WWE’s resident history teacher. Quiet at the back. All turn to page 46 – “When I meant something”.