WrestleNewz caught up with the one-and-only “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for an exclusive interview. Today in Part One, Flair talks about his early days in wrestling, his thoughts on the current WWE product, his greatest opponents and his thoughts on mixed martial arts, among other things. Although he declined to talk specifically about a rumored WWE comeback, he said hopes to return and has plenty left to offer WWE fans. Check out WrestleNewz later this week for Part 2 of the interview!
WrestleNewz: Hi Ric! Thanks for taking the time to chat with WrestleNewz. What are you up to right now?
Ric Flair: Hey guys, I’m watching Tiger Woods play golf. He’s minus one right now.
WNZ: Wait a second – the Nature Boy is sitting at home watching golf?!
RF: No, of course not! I’m at Paco’s Tacos and Tequila, man! What would I be doing at home? I’m with some girls! We’re drinkin’ and watching golf! (Unidentified woman grabs Flairs phone and hollers “Hi guys!”).
WNZ: That’s more like it! You’re in Charlotte?
RF: Yeah, I love Charlotte. I’ve never wanted to be anywhere else. Vince wanted me to move, but I never moved.
WNZ: It’s Flair Country!
RF: Yeah, and now Charlotte is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city too. They’ve got the Bobcats, they’ve got the Panthers. They should have hockey right now but they don’t, which is ridiculous.
WNZ: If it’s any consolation, no city really has pro hockey right now…
RF: I think (the NHL lockout) is terrible. I think it’s really going to hurt hockey bad. It’s a three-billion-dollar-a-year sport. It should be easy enough to figure out. It’s funny, because last year’s series between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was the best it’s been in 10 years. Loved it.
WNZ: Enough about hockey. Let’s talk wrestling. When you were starting out, did you anticipate you’d be one of the biggest stars of all time?
RF: No, but from the very first day I started, I loved it. I mean, I watched it as a kid when I was living in Minneapolis, but I didn’t know anything about it. Honestly, I think it’s phenomenal what has happened to me. But it’s all due to Vince McMahon. He had the vision, man. He rolled the dice and he did it.
WNZ: Before Vince was in your life, Verne Gagne saw something special in you. Were you a natural?
RF: No! I quit three times because it was so hard.
WNZ: What kept you coming back?
RF: Verne — he wouldn’t let me quit! He even came and got me and threw me out of my duplex one day and said get your ass back over there. It was in a barn in November. Are you kidding me? Good lord.
WNZ: So when did it finally click that you were doing the right thing?
RF: I think it was about a month after I arrived in Charlotte. I had been declared academically ineligible to play football and that’s why I started. I was playing football in Minnesota and I dropped out of school. Of course my grades were terrible because I had joined a fraternity. I just rolled the dice and had fun. I headed down to Charlotte. Back then, Charlotte was just rasslin’ and racin’. It was just me and Richard Petty — that’s all there was. That’s when, at the age of 23, I got my thousand-dollar check after I’d worked for a week. I said to myself: this will work for me!
WNZ: So what can the legendary Ric Flair still bring to the wrestling business in 2013 and beyond?
RF: Oh I’ll rock the world when I get back on TV. You know that. You don’t even have to ask the question! Everyone knows I’ll rock the world. I’m very excited to get back in there soon.
WNZ: Will we see you wrestle again?
RF: I want to be in the ring, but it will never happen again. I said I’d never wrestle in WWE… and then there’s the Jerry Lawler incident.
RF: Yeah, it really did. I like Jerry very much. What happened to Jerry was terrible, and thank God he’s OK. But I wish people wouldn’t gauge me by what happened to him. Everybody’s an individual. But I think it kind of put a decision on my future in the ring, you know what I mean? And that’s fine, because I went back to the ring in TNA, and that will never happen again.
WNZ: So if you can’t perform in the ring anymore, what would you like to contribute to wrestling?
WNZ: Ah, of course. Is charisma something that’s lacking these days?
RF: I think that wrestling is in a good spot. I’d just say that it’s very hard right now to replace Steve Austin, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Triple H. The Undertaker’s not working right now, and a lot of guys are off the roster right now. You just can’t make that kind of stuff overnight. It takes years to build that kind of notoriety, and they’re being very patient and working hard. You know, Vince is a genius. He’ll make it work, but it will take time.
WNZ: Is it on the right path?
RF: They have some big stars right now. I mean, CM Punk is doing great. John Cena is unbelievable, and the Big Show is really good. I mean, they have a lot of guys who are really good up there. That Dolph Ziggler kid is really good too. I’d have to think about it for a while, but they have some really quality guys up there. They’re doing great already.
WNZ: But you could help them do better?
RF: For sure! Of course. Those guys love me, and I’m good friends with all of them. I am the master of entertainment, brother!
WNZ: Anybody on that roster remind you of a young Ric Flair?
RF: No! (laughs)
WNZ: Nobody today can hold a candle to the Nature Boy?
RF: No, I’m not saying that, really. I just mean that nobody reminds me of me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and I’ve seen that happen my whole life. I was what I was, and that’s why people still follow me today, but there’s only one me. (laughs).
WNZ: Do you consider yourself a mentor?
RF: If they ask for help or opinion I’ll give it to them, but I don’t throw it out there. I’m not the type to just give out advice — but if they want it, I’ll give it to them.
WNZ: Do you still talk to some of the top WWE stars you mentioned earlier?
RF: I stay in touch with Austin all the time, and Undertaker, Shawn, Triple-H, Jim Ross. I stay in touch with a lot of those guys. They reach out to me, I reach out to them. I stay in touch with Ricky Steamboat a lot, and Sting I talk to all the time. And Kurt Angle — a lot of those guys I talk to all the time. It’s great. It’s a kind of mutual admiration thing.
WNZ: You mentioned Steamboat and Sting — two of your most memorable opponents. When you look back on those classic matches now, what do you think?
RF: Nobody can follow them, even to this day! I think those Ricky Steamboat versus Ric Flair matches — I know for a fact that wrestlers still watch those matches all the time. Sting and I had great matches too — we had great chemistry — but I think Steamboat was in a league of his own. He and Shawn Michaels and Triple H were the three best I’ve ever been in the ring with, hands down.
WNZ: If you were 21 years old today, do you think you’d go into MMA instead of pro wrestling?
RF: No, I wouldn’t (go into MMA). I will watch MMA if someone I know is actually in it, but all the guys I know personally are gone. Liddell’s gone — he’s a good friend. Ortiz is gone — he’s a good friend too. Brock Lesnar is gone. The other guys now, I don’t watch, because I don’t care about them. But I’ll tell you: I have been in matches with Bruiser Brody that were tougher than any MMA match! Especially in Tokyo. Same thing with Stan Hansen. Try getting in the ring with him one time in Tokyo, brother. Good lord! And F.Y.I., nobody in MMA could have beaten Harley Race or Dick Slater. Those guys were just that tough. And remember Haku? Don’t ever think that anybody would mess with Haku. If he was a young guy and he got into MMA, my god — he’d have done everything! He was the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever met in my whole life. No lie, take my word for it.
WNZ: Do wrestlers still need that kind of toughness?
RF: No, the business has changed. You don’t really have to be tough to be a wrestler anymore. When I was in the business you had to be tough to be a wrestler. It was a riot — that’s the way it was. It was a very hard, tough, grueling competitive business. When I was younger, if you didn’t work you didn’t get paid, so you went to work whether you were hurt or not. That was tough!