‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair steps through the ropes for the final time on Sunday, bringing to a close one of the greatest careers in wrestling history. His final bout, partnering with Andrade El Idolo to face Jeff Jarrett and Jay Lethal, will see Flair wrestle in his sixth decade, having last competed in 2011.
As one of the most storied and influential ring careers of all time winds down, The Sportsman looks back at the greatest matches of the ‘Dirtiest Player in the Game’.
Vs Sting, Clash of the Champions I (1988)
A masterful example of Flair’s selfless ability to make stars of his opponents. ‘Naitch’ helped turn the ‘Stinger’ from promising prospect to future world champion in one night in this classic 45-minute time limit draw.
Flair bumped like a maniac for the emerging Sting and the crowd truly believed with all their being that the youngster could score the upset over the established superstar. The bout ended with honours even, but it kickstarted a feud that would be a defining feature in both of their legendary careers.
Vs Ricky Steamboat, Chi-Town Rumble (1989)
Flair’s series of matches with ‘The Dragon’ are so good that the phrase ‘Flair-Steamboat’ has actually become a by-word for quality in the wrestling business. Their incredible series of technical, dramatic contests remain a measuring stick against which current bouts are measured.
This is arguably the pick of the bunch, with Steamboat finally capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship after a titanic back-and-forth struggle. When it came to upping the bar for technicality, athleticism and excitement as wrestling entered the 1990s, no one did it as well as Flair and Steamboat.
Flair-Funk, Clash of the Champions 9 (1989)
After his mat wrestling-oriented feud with ‘The Dragon’, Flair’s next storyline took him to the other end of the scale. Terry Funk’s vicious attack on Flair in the wake of a victory over Steamboat at WrestleWar 1989 kicked off a vicious blood feud.
This I Quit Match saw Flair in babyface mode with the sadistic ‘Funker’ trying to not just take the NWA World title, but to maim the Four Horseman leader. Flair would emerge victorious, securing Funk’s submission with his famous Figure Four Leglock.
1992 Royal Rumble
In many ways, this is Flair’s masterpiece. A sixty-minute tour de force in which he interacts with a diverse array of opponents from one of the WWE’s most stacked eras. Flair enters the Rumble at number three begs, borrows, chops and steals his way to the end, and the WWE Championship.
As if his mesmerising in-ring performance is not enough, his post-match promo is the stuff of wrestling folklore. “With a tear… in my eye!” is one of the most repeated lines in WWE history, as the emotional ‘Naitch’ celebrated with his newly-won title, flanked by the greatest manager of all time in Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and coolest-bloke-on-earth Mr Perfect.
Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania 24 (2008)
If we’re being truthful, this ‘Career Threatening Match’ is probably where the career of Ric Flair should have ended. This emotional rollercoaster of a bout drew Flair’s WWE career to a close in incredible fashion. If his retirement had been honoured, it would have been the greatest farewell a wrestler has ever received from a major company. The “I’m sorry, I love you” spot is yet another Ric Flair moment to enter the pop culture lexicon beyond wrestling’s insular walls.
Flair would re-emerge in TNA/Impact Wrestling for a handful of matches at the turn of the decade, none of which came close to this bout with ‘HBK’. Now he has a chance to re-write his ending the way he wants to. After the amount of incredible moments he has given us, let’s hope Flair gets the send-off he deserves.