A legend from a bygone era returns to modern times this Sunday, as “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair returns to the wrestling ring for his final match.
Flair, 73, has fought all kinds of battles outside of the ring. Whether it’s a sexual assault controversy or health issues, retirement has reinforced for Flair that his place should be between the ropes. True or false, like a real-life version of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Flair thinks that’s where he belongs.
“For one more night, I’m back to being myself,” Flair says. “I become ‘The Nature Boy’.”
Never recovered from the death of his son Reid, who died of a drug overdose in 2013, Richard Fliehr has a gaping hole in his heart. Still, there’s no denying the magic he’s done between the ropes. Flair’s new pursuit is to go back and grab lightning in a bottle once again as he headlines the Ric Flair’s Last Game pay-per-view, teaming up with AEW star Andrade against Jeff Jarrett and Jay Lethal.
“I can’t be average and I’m not even sure I can be good,” Flair says. “I need it to be special.”
Flair has always held himself to a gold standard in the ring, being highly critical when he has failed to live up to those high expectations. Achieving this level of brilliance, in 2022, seems far-fetched. He is only five years away from being placed in a medically induced coma, which required the removal of part of his intestines and the reading of his last rites.
Excessive amounts of alcohol consumption exacerbated Flair’s problems throughout his life. But the difference then was that Flair had always had his saving grace, a reason to sober up, stay clean and look his best: it was because he needed to be at his absolute peak in the ring. . This state of mind has helped Flair in this comeback, physically and especially mentally. More than just a return to training, Flair is trying to turn back time. He wants to redefine himself as the man he once was, bringing a crowd to life when he wrestles.
“It’s my fountain of youth,” Flair said. “There is nothing like it. And I’m smart about it. I’m lucky to have a great support system.
Flair teams up on Sunday with Andrade, his son-in-law and one of wrestling’s most talented performers. Andrade will handle the heavy lifting in the tag team match against Jarrett and Lethal. It’s an important opportunity for him, a way to generate momentum and create even more intrigue around his work, the kind he can transfer to AEW, which is home to a deep and crowded roster.
“I’m proud to tag with Ric,” says Andrade, who is married to Ashley Fliehr, better known as Charlotte Flair. “I can’t wait to stand next to my stepdad, and maybe we can even show the world some new tricks.”
Last summer, Andrade had a spectacular match in Mexico City against then-AAA Mega Champion Kenny Omega. Flair appeared in the corner of Andrade, lighting up the crowd with a few of his signature spots, shouting “Wooo!” and hitting some chest chops before locking in the number four. Now, less than a year later, they’re ready to team up.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this moment last summer,” Andrade says. “I had already made a name for myself in Mexico City with CMLL, and I was so focused on trying to prove myself in the United States when we first met in WWE. Coming back to Mexico City with the support of an international superstar, arguably the greatest of all time, is something that has never crossed my mind.
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“Ric could have chosen anyone to stand by his side for this great moment, and he chose me. Not only do I want to make my wife proud, but growing up as a third-generation Gomez Palacio luchador, Durango in Mexico, I will also make my country proud. My father-in-law and I come from two different worlds, but our love for this profession is the same. People will see it when we step into the ring on Sunday.
Another integral part of Flair’s support system is Wendy Barlow. She’s Flair’s business partner, manager, relationship partner, and longtime friend – and, without her, Flair probably wouldn’t be alive. She played a vital role in his recovery, changing his colostomy bag and nursing him back to health after he was on his deathbed.
Given his age and litany of health issues, the notion of Flair wrestling again comes with a host of concerns. Still, Barlow sees him for who he really is, which is a chance for Flair to lace up the boots, put on the dress, and come to life in the ring.
“That’s what Ric likes,” Barlow says. “Whatever happens, he is happy. I always want to make sure he’s healthy and safe, but I also want him to enjoy life. This match is exactly what makes him happy.
Flair’s attention never strays from his late son Reid, who was only 25 at the time of his death. Barlow recalls a poignant moment with Reid, when he made a request that was forever etched in his mind.
“The night before Reid passed, I was with him,” Barlow says. “He said to me, ‘No matter what, promise me that you will take care of my father.’ Whenever the going gets tough, I always think of Reid’s words. No matter what, I will always take care of Ric.
Reid’s memory is anchored in this farewell match. There’s a raffle for Flair’s dress, giving someone the chance to claim a unique keepsake. All proceeds will go to the ongoing, never-ending fight against addiction.
“I am grateful that we can raise awareness and funds for the fight against drug addiction,” says Flair. “There’s something every day that reminds me of Reid. We’re still hurting.
Flair’s suffering will end, at least temporarily, on Sunday evening. He will reenter his atmosphere, stepping back into a world that millions know but only a few inhabit. Flair struggles against royalty and the king will regain his throne. And it lives up to its old tricks, bringing with it mystery and intrigue…Will this really be Flair’s last game?—as well as a can’t-miss match he plans to make.
“I was in horrible shape and drinking like crazy in 2011 when I fought my last match against Sting in TNA,” Flair said. “I’ll make sure it’s much better.”
On a sweltering summer night in July, Flair will try to do the impossible. His goal? To go back in time. Fighting against the undefeated Father Time, it’s a battle Flair can’t win. But for one night, he believes it’s his destiny.
“It’s something I have to do,” Flair said. “I’m ‘The Nature Boy.’ I’m young again, I’m going back to where I belong.
Justin Barrasso can be contacted at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @justin barrasso.