Instinctively you look from the seats and you can’t help but be worried. Hell, you’re trying not to be terrified.
Here’s this 73-year-old icon who got into pro wrestling from Mount Rushmore and stepped into a ring in Nashville, with a pacemaker and a history of serious health problems and now he’s not moving. As the fight continues, still watch the ropes to make sure Ric Flair rises from below.
It’s all part of the show, right?
Right. Minutes pass before he crawls far enough to extend an arm over an inanimate opponent. But since this is pro wrestling, of course the referee is out. There is no one to count to three.
Spoiler: it’s gonna be okay. A new umpire dashes out and is empowered to officially close out a legendary career in glory. Purple confetti – look, Flair wore purple – sails through a rough Municipal Auditorium. Flair, previously bloodied during a nasty sequence outside the ring, is honored by family and friends. He walks away and blows kisses to an adoring crowd and then heads outside, heading to Kid Rock’s bar, he tells the crowd.
Again, with feeling:
Only one nature boy
Nashville was lucky. There is only one Ric Flair, and on Sunday evening and the days before, he treated this town to a piece of history.
The Nature Boy promised this would be his “last game” – a tag team affair meant to both protect and protect a legend who nearly died five years ago. That wasn’t necessarily a great idea, but the spotlight is hard to let go.
“Everyone says, ‘When will that ever get old?’ said Flair. “It doesn’t get old. I mean, that’s the truth to be honest. I like the respect of the people, and that’s all I get these days. We used to have to fight for respect.” “
A personal confession: I am not a wrestler.
I haven’t been following this closely since I was a pre-teen. Of the WWE wrestlers at Saturday night’s Summerslam at Nissan Stadium, I may know a few names.
Knew all about Flair though. Who not?
When he spoke to the Tennessee Titans After Thursday’s practice, famous NFL players — as well as their rock-solid coach, Mike Vrabel — fell briefly into adolescence in Flair’s presence. These are guys who don’t hit starstruck.
“It’s a bit surreal to meet people like him.” Walking back Derrick Henry said that, recognizing the difference between his own celebrity and someone like Flair.
The wrestler spoke to the Titans about family and distractions and how “you blink and a long career is over,” Vrabel said. “I don’t know how you could not be (a fan of Flair).”
SummerSlam 2022 Photos: WWE SummerSlam 2022 in Nashville
The visit to Saint Thomas Sports Park was clearly intended to promote Sunday’s game, but Flair made a solid point.
“There’s no one from WWE here,” Flair said. “I’m here. And the WWE is in town. So that’s a big deal for me. Nothing against the WWE, but I’m the guy the coach invited. Don’t think everyone in WWE wouldn’t want to be here. ”
Maybe some shade, though it’s hard to believe that much offense would be taken on the WWE side.
“I mean, it’s Ric Flair,” said Titans linebacker Zach Cunningham.
Precisely. What more needs to be said?
An authentic legend
The line between sports and entertainment is blurring with pro wrestling. But we all know it’s a performance. The athletes are definitely athletes, but their work is choreographed and scripted.
This is what made Flair special: nothing has ever been fake it.
When pro wrestling took off in the 1980s and early 1990s, it seemed like everyone — even the top performers — had a gimmick. They wore elaborate costumes and used props and were basically cast as a character, some more cartoonish than others.
Hulkamania was wrapped in an American flag. Rowdy Roddy Piper carried bagpipes. Jake Roberts had a snake. Even “Macho Man” Randy Savage had Miss Elizabeth.
But Flair was Flair. No trick. Growing into professional wrestling, the Nature Boy built his own unparalleled popularity on one thing: his swagger. In a world that was primarily geared towards a working-class clientele, Flair went out of his way to brag about wealth and status, his sex appeal, and his flamboyant lifestyle. Then and went and did it.
“Nature Boy was my wrestling character. The Nature Boy wasn’t fake. The Nature Boy was me,” Flair said during the film “Nature Boy,” an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. “…”If I said it on TV, I did it. I lived my gimmick.”
By God, you believe him too. That authenticity was different. It’s how a “villain” gained unprecedented popularity and an impact on pop culture that continues to this day.
Flair was of course not the heel Sunday. A delightful pre-match storyline — Flair was accosted in a parking lot by Nashville native Jeff Jarrett (not a youngster himself at age 55) — built up the drama. From the moment Flair arrived in his standard, gaudy garb, onlookers stood firmly behind him and his struggling son-in-law. After it was over, grown men wept.
It may not have been real.
But there wasn’t much fake about the risk of an old man putting himself through such an ordeal. That’s what made this tribute so enticing to thousands who will always remember the excitement and emotion of being there in person.
So much of it was human. And sincere.
And showy. And fun.
And oh so appropriate.
The Nature Boy certainly wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Ric Flair’s last wrestling match was curiously authentic, just like him