Monday, September 22, 2008

Performer Analysis: Ric Flair

WHOO! How hard is it really to write up a review on good old Natch? He's generally regarded as the greatest of all time, but our specialty here at NHO is to not hand over just on name recognition or value alone, so here we go:

1) Innovation- 10/10

The emergence of Ric Flair onto the scene was a major splash once he really got the ball rolling. His cockiness, flamboyance, and "flare" for the dramatic helped solidify his character as a great knockoff of Buddy Rogers. Flair escalated that appearance and started wearing the finest watches, suits, slacks, shoes, sunglasses, rings, driving the finest cars, riding in planes, just things that were not ever done up unto that point but Flair made every man watching him envious. The Four Horsemen, the group he lead, made way for supergroups of wrestlers to align and run roughshod over their promotion, which has been done over and over again almost everywhere you look. That's enough evidence for me that Flair, while not completely original, took elements of creativity and expounded upon them to create his own legendary tapestry that he will be forever remembed for.

2) Conditioning- 9/10

Flair gets points for his schedule during the 80's which was 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, matches nearly every night, hour draws, cage matches, bloody matches, world title matches. Flair's stamina has been tested a billion times over and has passed the test over and over again. Look no further than him going 25 minutes with Michaels in his final match, when he was nearly 60 years old. His physique has never been that impressive but he rarely ever got injured during his career; I would venture a guess that his fortitude has kept him pretty injury free over the years which generally means good health.

3) Skill- 9/10

Flair can work with the best of him, but recent years have forced me to notch him down a mark. He's known for making anyone look like a star, but if you look at his 5 year WWE run, he was given the helping hand quite a few times. Flair, if you look back at his old stuff, wasn't known as a bumper, although he certainly didn't make the art look bad, it's more of his WWE stuff where you see him taking a lot more risks than he used to. His perfected piece of the game was quick thinking and he could do it better than anyone, he found a rhythm with people and knew how to get the best out of them by giving the best of himself. In recent years, again, he's kind of lost that intuition but is still a great enough worker to garner a score of 9.

4) Psychology- 10/10

when you talk about the psychology of Ric Flair, you have to note that the guy is insane- his elbow dropping ring jackets, his random references in promos, and his 16 year old adolecsent boy behavior are all traits of the Nature Boy and they all play into his psych when working a match. He is excellent at playing the cocky champion who gets his in the end and he's shown he can be a wonderful babyface comeback guy as well- it's all about Flair's opponent, if he can get the guy more over than him, he will and play the heel but if not, he's moving to the face side. Flair's amazing ability to rearrange matches like that has always been a wonderful quality. Flair's emotion when selling is almost unparalleled, as it doesn't go over the deep end into really bad dramatic acting, but just the down and out torture of a guy trying to break your leg or rake your face into steel mesh- Flair knows those screams of pain and can give them to you without becoming a horror movie cliche.

5) Interviews- 10/10

I could sit here and spout off line after line of memorable Flair quotes, and i could probably fill a number of paragraphs into pages, but what would be the point? Watch some of the Flair dvd's and you'll see any number of guys wishing to be Natch burn off Flair rhetoric until your eardrums bleed. The thing about Flair's interviews is that he needs to be in front of a live audience and if he is, he can grab them by the neck and get any reaction he wants to out of them. After 35 years in the game, it's amazing the response he gets just by walking down an aisle and looking out into the crowd. Everybody knows Flair has some of the greatest interviews of all time- is there any other doubt this would be a 10 for him?

6) Character- 10/10

Mainly this category is about the character that these men portray on our television screens, but it also gets down to playing face or heel and if they can do it and do it effectively. As far as character, Flair's seems to have come naturally from within him. Once he found that niche as the "Nature Boy" he embraced it and endulged to it's maximum capacity and we have what we have now- a legendary figure. Everyone wanted to dress like Natch, to talk like Natch and walk like Natch, so character is there. As far as face and heel, there's a shortlist of guys who can play both sides so wonderfully and seamlessly and Flair is on it. Flair had to do nothing more than be a winning champion during his early years to be hated- he was, arguably, the best wrestler around- there would be no other reason to hate him, but audiences did across the world. Since then, Flair has given fans more reasons to despise his antics, usually his treatment towards their heroes, but then you look at Flair as a face- people couldn't respect the guy anymore if he was the reincarnation of George Washington himself. He did so many cool and cheer-worthy things as a heel, people couldn't wait sometimes for him to become face to scream WHOO! as loud and proud as they wanted. When Flair was bad, he was good, but when he was good, I think, he was even better.

7) Fans- 10/10

Back in the territory days, promoters made money by using their top star to draw big houses. Well, sometimes their top stars didn't have the right competition, sometimes the star itself wasn't very good, so when Ric Flair came along, it was a blessing in disguise. He could work if the top guy wasn't as skilled in the ring as they would have liked, and he was a great foil, in case their star could work they would have great matches. The fans loved Flair for everything he provided for them, great action, great person to interact with as part of the crowd, and he cared and it showed. And they have continued to love him, even after all those crappy story lines he was part of and I think it's about respect, the fans could feel it being given back to them as they gave it to Flair.

8) Basics- 8/10

Flair had a great knowledge of the basic tools- he was trained by Verne Gagne, who was an old school hooker of sorts, and came up with Ricky Steamboat, Jim Brunzell, and others, so Flair knew his way around the ring. Part of going to some of those 60 minute draws Flair did so many times was knowing how to work submissions and keep them as part of the match. Flair was better at selling them than working them himself, but he knew how to. Flair also is a great puncher, he has a very short, pronounced jab that has been his trademark shot, as well as the ever popular chop (WHOO!) and Flair knows how to use kicks and knees effectively, mostly when he's setting up for the figure four.

9) Feuds/Matches- 10/10

This is another no-brainer- where shall we begin, I think Flair's original DVD release covered a great majority of his most famous feuds including Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat and Sting, and you can also throw in Randy Savage, Vader, Roddy Piper, Mick Foley, The Von Erich's, Shawn Michaels and Curt Henning. And those are just the successful ones- ones he made a whole lot of money with. Flair has literally wrestled every top star for the last 35 years, every generations biggest and brightest and everyone in between, they have probably had the opportunity to take on Ric Flair. Go to the NHO Hall of Fame and read down the names we've inducted, almost 80% of them have tangled with Flair in some way or another, check WWE's Hall and the Wrestling Observer's and the story's the same.

10) Gutcheck- 10/10

Ric Flair is synonmous, to all true wrestling fans, with the word "icon" which is the ranking he's receiving. He's now the highest rated performer I've ever analyzed and I think a 96 will be pretty hard to top. Ric Flair's retirement match is what sold Wrestlemania this year, i don't care what the numbers or the research WWE's marketing guys cooked up, I know it is because every wrestling fan in the world wanted to say they saw it, they shared that moment in history and were apart of it and it was special. Ric Flair is timeless; his impact is felt all over the world and will be until the very last days of either this sport or this world. A small example is we recently went to Summerslam in Indy at the Conseco Fieldhouse. When we were let in the building, there's a lobby that makes up the main floor that you have to barrel through to find the way to your seat, this thing was filled with fans of all ages, sexes, creeds and wearing various wrestling paraphenalia. But, someone in there started the WHOO! chant of Flair, and the whole building started in unison, WHOO! WHOO!, it was amazing, Flair wasn't scheduled, or mentioned in any way to be there but fans will never forget him or his contributions to this sport. He gave 35 years of his life to a sport that made him a millionaire, a celebrity, a bad father, a boozehound, a sex-crazed middle aged man, a hero, and most assuredly an icon and no matter what decisions Flair made in his life, in or out of the ring, no one can ever take away his passion or his love for professional wrestling- gutcheck is about the heart and soul of a competitor, the will and the heart to be the best and improve and if Flair doesn't deserve a 10 in this category, then I don't know who does. WHOO!

Total Score: 96
Ranking: Icon

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