Second of two parts
Ric Flair’s “Last Match” has been the talk of the wrestling world ever since the 16-time world champion announced in May that he would be walking the aisle one final time.
It was finally revealed last Monday on episode two of the Ric Flair’s Last Match docuseries that the “Nature Boy” will team with son-in-law Andrade El Idolo for the first time ever as the two take on Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett (managed by Jeff’s wife Karen Jarrett) on July 31 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
While some of his former wrestling colleagues have expressed reservations about him stepping into the ring at age 73, the vast majority have given Flair a big thumbs up.
WWE Hall of Famer Booker T (Booker Huffman) told TMZ that Flair was going to come in and go out in “a blaze of glory.”
“You can only respect that,” said Booker. “What Ric Flair is doing, he’s doing that because he loves this business, man. Ric Flair told me a long time ago that he would never retire. That’s that guy, man.”
Shawn Michaels, Flair’s opponent at Wrestlemania 28 who sent him into his first retirement 14 years ago, also supports his friend’s decision.
“Those of us that know The Naitch are always, you know, kinda tickled. It’s never over for The Naitch!” HBK recently said on the True Geordie podcast. “That’s one of the things that makes him who he is. I want Ric to be happy, and if getting in the ring one more time … Ric knows if he’s healthy enough, and if it’s something that brings him joy, brings him contentment, I wish him the best.
“Obviously, always want him to be careful, but I think when it comes to being in that ring, that might be where he’s most comfortable and that’s where he finds the most amount of joy, and if that’s the case and he can do it and stay healthy and happy, I’m always gonna support him in that.”
David Crockett, former Mid-Atlantic announcer and a member of the famous Crockett wrestling family that helped launch Flair into superstardom, initially had his doubts, but not any longer.
“At first, I was extremely concerned,” Crockett admitted on the Under the Ring podcast. “(But) he’s gonna do it. Now, he’s not gonna be like the Ric Flair that I knew at first, but he’s gonna be great.”
Bottom line: “We do not have the right to tell him what to do,” Crockett later said on the Flair docuseries.
“You only live one time,” added Lethal, who helped Flair prepare for the match. “It’s your life, you get one of them. Flair’s been struck by lightning, he’s been in car crashes, plane crashes. There’s nothing that can stop this man. If you’re him … why not?”
The bout will be held July 31 as part of Starrcast V. The match, as well as the entire three-hour event, will be broadcast live on FITE TV, with various bundles offered.
The event, originally scheduled for the Nashville Fairgrounds, was moved to a bigger venue in the Municipal Auditorium, which has an overall capacity of 9,700.
It will mark Flair’s first match since losing to longtime rival Sting on an episode of Impact in September 2011.
Aptly enough, the event will be under the banner of Jim Crockett Promotions, with Crockett and Tony Schiavone in the booth calling the action.
WWE Hall of Famer and AEW commentator Jim Ross, who has called many of Flair’s great matches over the years, won’t be in attendance because of health issues that make traveling difficult.
“I know Ric wanted me to call his last match,” Ross said. “He’ll have David and Tony Schiavone and they’ll do a great job. I wish I was gonna be sitting there with ’em, but it’s not in the cards at this time. We’ll see, I wish it was.”
Hall of Fame referee Tommy Young, who officiated most of Flair’s great matches during his run in Crockett Promotions, was initially asked to ref Flair’s final match.
“I hope ‘The Champ’ doesn’t feel let down by the fact that I won’t be able to do this thing, but I just don’t have the confidence anymore,” says the 75-year-old Young. “My legs are getting rubbery and wobbly, and I’m three-quarters deaf. Even with hearing aids, I’m not that great, but I can survive.”
Former WWE referee Mike Chioda, 55, will officiate the match.
The graphic angle setting up the bout has piqued even more interest among old school fans. The video that surfaced last week features Jarrett (who just happens to be the WWE Senior Vice President of Live Events) and Lethal leaving Flair a bloody mess in a parking lot following a press conference in Nashville.
“Aside from that one little bit where Ric audibly says ‘I’m busted hardway’ (unnecessary Russo-style BS), that documentary and closing angle is some of the best wrestling storytelling I’ve seen in years,” said longtime mat critic and film director RJ O’Sullivan. “It makes this match make sense and makes me actually want to see it … That, and the undercard is mostly terrific.”
Some won’t watch
WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Brisco recently told Sportskeeda Wrestling that Flair’s health issues are a big reason for his decision to skip the bout.
He stressed that Flair has a pacemaker, and a wrong move could dislodge it, which he claims could prove fatal.
“He’s gone through such horrific health issues the last couple of years that if you’re a friend, you don’t want to see a friend do that,” Brisco said last month. “You just don’t want to see it. I’m not going to watch it. I’m probably going to get heat again when this gets out. Because you’re seen by millions and millions and millions of people across the world like The Rock. I’m not going to watch it. I’ll tune into the internet, but I’m just not going to contribute. My thoughts and prayers are with Ric Flair.”
“He’ll probably get through this thing with flying colors,” added Brisco. “But what scares me if he does come through with flying colors is Ric. We all know Ric Flair. There’s not going to be a one and only time. Someone else will come along and throw some money at him and he’ll do it again.”
Walk that aisle
A number of readers weighed in on the subject, naturally with mixed reactions.
Fan Steve Worrell of Wilmington, N.C., believes that everyone is entitled to a last hurrah on their own terms to finish their own story.
“Ric Flair is going out on his own terms instead of having them dictated to him.
“His final match (final as far as we know) takes place in the Nashville Municipal Auditorium – where Flair won his championship back from Ricky Steamboat 33 years ago on May 7, 1989.
“This event promises a lot more tradition and significance in that venue than his official retirement match at the 2008 Wrestlemania against Shawn Michaels.
“Surrounded by an audience of all his fellow Horsemen (excluding Ole Anderson), this event will deliver to Ric Flair the closure he wants more than anything. This last act will be the final curtain call he has been seeking.
“And I believe the opponent is going to be a huge surprise to all wrestling fans, which is why there has been ‘rumor and innuendo’ (to borrow a Conrad Thompson phrase) encircling the event.
“I believe this big surprise is why the opponent has been kept a secret all along, and maybe even why the Ricky Steamboat angle was tossed about at the beginning, perhaps to provide a measure of misdirection to make the announcement all the more spectacular.
“As for the workings of the match itself, Flair is not going to try anything crazy. He probably won’t flip over the turnbuckle. He’s not going to be in a steel cage. He won’t be taking chair shots. So the fans don’t need to worry about the Nature Boy.
“He will exit as he has existed. He will go out as he came in.
“That night, we will bid farewell to the half-century career of our sweet prince.
“And the Kiss Stealin,’ Wheelin Dealin,’ Limousine Ridin,’ Jet Flyin’ Son of a Gun will again show us what’s causin’ all this.
“All night long.”
Jack Caudill of Mount Pleasant has a special remembrance of Flair and wishes him a safe and successful sendoff.
“I used to live beside Ric in Charlotte back in the early/mid 70’s. Our backyards backed up to each other. He and I are the same age and we regularly chatted across the fence.
“At some point Ric was in an airplane crash right after he moved into his house. I think he was going to an event in Wilmington. He got banged up and had a traction device set up on his bed, and while walking around he wore a special collar.
“Anyway, he had a new boat that was loaded with extras. I mentioned to him that I love water skiing and fishing. He asked me, ‘Jack, want to buy my boat since I can’t use it?’ I told him that I didn’t have any money, that we had just bought our first house, etc. He then made me an unbelievable price and I bought it and used it for at least five years.
“Quite a few years later after I was transferred to Hartford, Conn., I ran into Ric at a jewelry store in the South Park Mall in Charlotte. I re-introduced myself mentioning the boat purchase and he remembered. After a short chat, I asked him if he’d write a brief to my son and he said absolutely. The counter sales person handed Ric a legal pad and a pen, and he wrote a note to him. Of course I was grateful. Very nice guy and I wish him well in his final walk.”
Many other readers were on board as well.
“I have been a lifelong fan of Ric Flair. I understand he wants to compete and feel that energy one more time. The electricity in the air when the spotlight shines off the sequined robe and the strains of ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ fill a roaring arena. Naitch has been the greatest wrestler of all time for decades, even admitted by his biggest rivals and contemporaries. Done right, this could be a great sendoff on Ric’s terms instead of Vince’s. I hope Ric can make this a wonderful and memorable match, take us all down memory lane, and one last time to ‘walk that aisle’ for a living legend.” – Jimmy Nance
“Ric Flair is going out under his own terms. If he can still work a match, I say go for it. I felt retirement was forced upon him in 2008 and he wasn’t happy. This time he is happy to go out styling and profiling at a historic venue. When Flair is ready to hang up the boots for the final time, the pro wrestling world will have no choice but to accept it once and for all.” – Brian Westcott
“I’m happy for him. It’s something most will never understand unless they’ve stepped through the ropes. It’s like a firefighter always being a firefighter. Even after they’re retired they want to go where the sirens are going. With Ric, he wants to hear the bell ring again. I pray it goes well for him. He’s an inspiration at his age to battle back from illness and get in the ring while most people his age are thinking about their next doctor’s appointment and not their next wrestling match.” – Charlie Nash
“When I first heard about this, I thought it was a really bad idea. But I’ve changed my mind. I know this will not be the Ric Flair I saw battle Ricky Steamboat at the Roanoke Civic Center many times for the U.S. title. It will not be the Ric Flair that beat Harley Race at Starrcade. It will not even be the Ric Flair that lost to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania. But let’s flip the script and make this the opportunity for us to thank him for the many years of entertaining us as the greatest in-ring performer of all time. He’s earned it.” – Thom Brewer
“I’m fine with it. Flair is still smart enough to take care of himself and if anything goes awry, I’m sure the ref, Flair himself, or whomever his opponent is, will have a backup plan to go home early. It’s a feel good event in an era when we need feel good events. On some level, it’s also a money grab for Flair who has probably lost a lot of his fortune because of multiple divorces and excessive spending. So, let the Naitch walk that aisle one last time. WHOOOO!” – Mikey Messier
“Ric Flair has nothing left to prove to anyone, well except maybe to himself. He is the undisputed greatest champion of all time. He will always be the man. Ric, I love you brother, I don’t want to see you end up hurt trying to sip at the fountain of youth one last time. That said, if you wish to go one last time, who is worthy to tell you no after all you have given to all your fans and this sport. God bless you and thank you for a lifetime of memories.” – Joseph Dixon
“Ric Flair the man that can’t stay away from the squared circle. He hasn’t let a heart attack defeat him, the Me Too movement defeat him, and most importantly age defeat him. Ric Flair has earned the right to do as many ‘one more matches’ based on his track record. It’s the same as Terry Funk. Yes, both should be retired and living the sweet life in Del Boca Vista. But they are wrestlers and the drug they need is grappling. Whatever booker makes the match that will be Flair’s next will be the most important factor. Will it be Ric with three other guys? Or Flair in the ring doing the dance with one other opponent? Either way if something, God forbid, happens in that very ring, Flair will still have lived far past his peers. Do it Ric. Can’t wait to say Wooo!” – Brad Hamlin
“He can wrestle until he’s 90 and it would never tarnish his legacy. He is the best to have ever wrestled in this business. He had it all, charisma, mic skills, wrestling skills, and there will never be another wrestler like him. I wish him the best in this final match, and I hope he enjoys the moment and that the fans in attendance do too!” – Tim Nesbitt
“Ric almost died a few years back and kicked out at 2.9! If you’ve watched his videos, he’s in the best shape of any 73-year-old and 99 percent of those reading this too and taking bumps with Jay Lethal. Between the Roast of Flair – which will be hilarious – the Four Horsemen all being together and then Flair’s last match all being on separate PPVs and the merch for sale, he is gonna make millions. Good for him! Son-in-law Conrad is running the show. Gonna be huge and Flair will out-party them all after the show that night. Woooo!” – Kyle Jodice
“I agree that Ric Flair has nothing to prove by wrestling this ‘Final Match.’ But I believe Ric wants it! He misses every element of the business and wants to walk that aisle one more time and put the final note on his career, on his terms and no one else’s. However, I believe there could yet be another reason for this match. The Nature Boy’s styling and profile, limousine riding, jet flying lifestyle has put a pinch in his finances and is in need of a good payday. But regardless of that or any other reason he may have for putting on his boots, I’m gonna root for him, and if I could be there I would be WOOOing with everybody else!” – Dale Mitchum
“I grew up watching Ric Flair like a lot of people. Some of my favorite wrestling memories are of the Nature Boy. If this truly is his last match, then let him do it his way. I hope he doesn’t go out there and embarrass himself, and you see in his promos he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He’s determined he’s gonna prove something. I will cheer him on!” – Chris Wilkinson
“He is doing it his way, as we would all expect! I’m betting it will be a great night to remember all the good things he did for wrestling.” – Joyce Paustian
“He’s always done it his way and we all loved him for that!” – Kenny Wilkinson
“He’s trained and knows he can pull it off. He won’t do anything so he can embarrass himself. He is gonna shut some mouths and some are gonna keep hating. I’ve learned that if you have haters, you’re doing something they don’t have the balls to do or couldn’t do to start with.” – Ty Simmons
“As a lifelong fan of Ric Flair, I am thrilled that he has been able to get the respect he deserves as one of the best wrestlers ever. In my mind he is number one and always will be. This match only adds to his legacy just as a child I used to read about Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz wrestling in their twilight years on the pages of PWI.” – Brian Kelley
“If he is in good enough physical shape to hold his own, I see no reason he should not be allowed to wrestle. I think he will put on a great show and he deserves to go out on his own terms.” – Randal Wallace
“Ric Flair has devoted his life to professional wrestling. I believe he has earned the right to go out the way he chooses.” – John Pearson
“Why not have one in every major city in USA? I’m sure all would enjoy it .. and all make $$$.” – Rip Rogers
“I hope short, sweet and triumphant. It would be most authentic if he chose to go out on his back as was the traditional torch passing in years gone by. But this is more a victory lap than torch passing so let’s hope he doesn’t get injured in some mishap.” – Richard Egner
“There’s only one man who can kiss all the girls and make them cry, the 60-minute man who can dance all night … and dance a little longer! He gets to go out on his own terms, his way, WOOO!!!” – Jason Scott
“I like this because you’ve got two great territory performers. Fits like a hand in a mitt with the last hurrah of Jim Crockett Promotions!” – Greg Pitt
“Was hoping for one last heel turn on Sting. But this works.” – Tim Thorsen
“Wow! A tag match. I did not see that coming. This is the most excited I’ve been for a card in probably 20 years. Getting to see it live is just the cherry on top.” – Brian Simmons
“I would love to referee that match. I refereed one of his very first matches in Winnipeg, as you say, five decades ago.” – Marv Unger
“Long as it doesn’t go over 5-10 minutes and he has the right opponent it should be good. But I pray he sticks to his word and it is his last match.” – Tom Sowell
“Hey, it’s the Nature Boy! He is a very large part of why this sport has grown to what it is. Let him do as many as he wants, as long as it’s safe for him. The sport owes him a huge debt of gratitude.” – James Matthews
Not so fast
“That match against HBK should have been the end of it, but it’s not our decision. I think that particular match told a beautiful story and was excellently executed in ring. HBK got the best out of Flair. At this point I would not mind him as a manager but I don’t have any interest in seeing this. I may catch a replay or video on YouTube but I am not invested in this. Cheers to the Nature Boy on an amazing career though. – Paul Priest
“I want Ric Flair to not die in the ring first of all and then I’d like to see him be happy or at least satisfied with his accomplishments because it has felt for the past few years he isn’t.” – Billy Metts
“No. You already have a stellar career and your legacy runs on through Ashley. You do not need to risk your life for one final glory. We love you Ric. You don’t need this.” – Bill Cordona
“I wished he wouldn’t get in the ring. It’s way too dangerous for him to get in that ring physically. He ain’t got nothing to prove to me. He will always be my favorite NWA world heavyweight champion. I just hope there will be a medical team at the arena when he gets in the ring.” – Melissa Tillery
“We can only hope it’s his last match. My God, it’s over Ric, find a nice lounge chair and a good book to read and relax. You won’t be embarrassing yourself doing that. But getting in the ring is only making you look like a man who can’t accept that time has moved on.” – George Shire
“Terrible idea for a 73-year-old man in bad health to attempt. There’s no winners here. Either it’ll be a very ‘soft’ match to protect him as much as possible, or he’ll wind up injuring himself. Either way this is not how I want to remember Ric Flair the legend! I’m out of this one completely.” – John Natoli
“Sorry, don’t agree with him doing this. I hope it does not have the same ending as the movie ‘The Wrestler.’ It just won’t be a believable match. – Jonard Solie
“I was lucky to grow up in Greensboro, N.C., and see some of Ric’s greatest matches. I saw him win and defend all the titles that Mid-Atlantic Wrestling offered. I saw him become NWA world champion and be the feature match at Starrcade events. That is my fond memories of Ric Flair. There have been greats that struggled to give it up. Ric is one of them.” – Tony Stillinger
“Lou Thesz was also in his 70s when he had his last match in Japan against Masahiro Chono in the early ‘90s. He had less than a 10-minute match. Nobody expected a 1957 Thesz vs. O’Connor hour-long match. Just as no one should expect a Flair-Steamboat match in this. I looked at the Thesz thing as more of an exhibition and one final pop. I view this in the same way. But that’s just me.” – Jerry Bishop
“I think it well draw well and the overall show will be good. Sadly if it does I think Ric will want to do another one.” – Bill Hazelwood
“He’s only doing it so he can legit say he wrestled in/for five decades …‘72- 2022.” – Reggie Hammond
“Only Jack Brisco stands out in my mind of an all-time great that retired and never got back in the ring.” – William Cloninger
“The man has nothing to prove. The way he went out with HBK was a fitting end to one hell of a career. At this point, his boots should remain in the closet with his robes and he should enjoy retirement.” – Alex Keown
“Ric will go down as one of the greatest if not the greatest. I truly hope his career stays over after this match, there is NOTHING else he needs to do, and at 73 he needs to STOP. He needs to focus on Richard Fliehr and put Ric Flair the legend in permanent RETIREMENT.” – Rusty Loudermilk
“I personally think it’s a bad mistake for Flair to do it. With the medical problems he has had in the last few years, I think it’s highly inadvisable for him to do it. I am surprised that any promoter is willing to take the risk. I am also surprised that any state athletic commission would sanction it. I wish him a good outcome, but I still believe that it’s the wrong thing to do.” – Mark White
“It’s a free country first of all, so he and they can do what they want! I kind of see it as a money grab. I know Flair loves this business and would die for it. Here is the question, do fans and media want to pay or cover to see him die for it God forbid that happens?” – Robert Evans
“I had a pacemaker for 20 years. Physical contact anywhere near my pacer was the doctor’s biggest concern at the time. I can’t believe a physician signed off on this. Good luck Ric.” – Jonathan Clifton
“Please let him figure four Vince at some point during the match!” – Kevin Crothers
The big question is: Will this really be Ric Flair’s swan song?
Even his first wife, Leslie Goodman, expressed reservations.
“I guess, good for him. But do you think it’s really his last match?”
Only time will tell.
Last Match lineup
The rest of the card includes: Jacob Fatu vs. Josh Alexander in an Impact world championship match; Jordynne Grace vs. Deonna Purrazzo vs. Rachael Ellering in a three-way match for the Impact Knockouts world championship; Bandido vs. Laredo Kid vs. Rey Fenix vs. Taurus in a four-way match; The Rock ‘N Roll Express (Ricky and Kerry Morton with Robert Gibson) vs. The Four Horsemen (Brock Anderson and Brian Pillman Jr. with Arn Anderson); The Motor City Machine Guns vs. The Wolves; The Briscoes vs. The Von Erichs; Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Killer Kross (with Scarlett Bordeaux); Clark Conners vs. Ren Narita; and a Bunkhouse Battle Royale.
WWE returns to Coliseum
WWE returns to the Lowcountry with a Saturday Night’s Main Event on Aug. 6 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Top bouts feature Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus in a North Charleston Street Fight; Theory vs. U.S. champion Bobby Lashley; Carmella vs. Bianca Belair in a Raw women’s title match; and Seth Rollins vs. Riddle.
Also appearing include Becky Lynch, Liv Morgan, The Usos, The Street Profits, The Judgment Day, Rey Mysterio, Kevin Owens, Ezekiel, Shinsuke Nakamura and Gunther.
Tickets start at $20 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His latest book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com
Did you know …
In fall 1965, a match was booked on Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling show between WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino, in a rare TV bout, and a newcomer billed as Orwell Paris. Paris had wrestled in Canada as Red McNulty, an Irishman wearing an eyepatch. Ostensibly on the basis of poor advice, Paris attacked the popular titleholder before the bell — a precursor to a lopsided squash with Sammartino winning handily.
Paris was quickly gone from the area. But Paris (actually, a gent named Oreal Perras) would return and eventually score a career-defining victory over Bruno, winning the WWWF belt in Madison Square Garden in 1971 under his much more well-known persona — Ivan “The Russian Bear” Koloff.
— Kenneth Mihalik, a retired educator living in Charleston, can be reached on Twitter @HoldBackTheNite
Were you there?
A star-studded edition of WCW’s Monday Nitro on Jan. 25, 1999, drew more than 15,000 to the Reunion Arena in Dallas. After the opening bout, featuring Disco Inferno pinning Al Greene, a ladder match between Scott Hall — decidedly no stranger to the stipulation — and Bam Bam Bigelow ended in a no contest. Next, a WCW tag-team championship tournament bout took place, with The Faces of Fear, consisting of Meng and The Barbarian, downing a tough duo in Dave Taylor and Fit Finlay. The battle between Perry Saturn and Norman Smiley climaxed when Saturn scored a pinfall victory.
In a confrontation featuring a controversial finish, U.S. champion Bret Hart used his title belt to wallop Booker T and get the win after referee Randy Anderson was preoccupied by Booker’s attempted use of a TV cable on Hart following roughly 13 minutes of action. Bill Goldberg then continued his string of many triumphs by toppling Scott Norton.
In the final contest, a six-man main-event showdown, three members of the Horsemen — Ric Flair, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael — earned a disqualification win against WCW world champion Hulk Hogan, TV champ Scott Steiner and Kevin Nash. In addition to the matches, there were the customary promos and interviews during the broadcast.
— Kenneth Mihalik, a retired educator living in Charleston, can be reached on Twitter @HoldBackTheNite