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With that triumphant yell, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair surpassed his predecessors and his peers to become one of the greatest professional wrestlers in history.
Throughout the years, there may have been equally charismatic performers, comparable athletes, and even better interviews, but none were blessed with the same combination of talents to manage to stay on top for over three decades.
To wrestling fans, the Nature Boy is a platinum-blond deity, a sixteen-time world champion who accurately boasted that he could have a five-star match with a broom. No matter how limited the opponent, Flair had the skill and determination to bounce all over the mat, transforming his rival into a star. When the camera light went on, "Slick Ric" could convince viewers that, if they missed an upcoming match, a momentous life experience would pass them by. Flair's opponents were challenged with this simple taunt: "To be the man, you have to beat the man."
Away from the arena, Richard Morgan Fliehr spent years struggling with his own concept of what it meant to be a man. He suffered periods of crushing self-doubt, marital strife and -- in a profession where there was room for only one Ric Flair -- broken friendships.
Ric Flair: To Be the Man, cowritten with Keith Elliot Greenberg, chronicles the anguish and exhilaration of Flair's life and career -- in painfully honest detail.
From the moment he was born, Flair was enmeshed in controversy. Like many of the other children adopted through the Tennessee Children's Home Society, he was apparently stolen from his birth parents and placed on the adoption black market. Raised just outside Minneapolis by a gynecologist and a theater writer, Ric was a distracted student, brilliant athlete, and wild party boy. Through a chance meeting with weightlifter Ken Patera, Flair was directed to the place where his athletic proficiency and personality quirks were highly valued: the pro-wrestling circuit.
After beginning his pro-wrestling career in the Minnesota area, Flair relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1974, and never left, igniting the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling promotion. He was almost forced to retire a year later when his back was broken in a plane crash. Flair recuperated, winning his first National Wrestling Alliance championship in 1981. As the most traveled champion ever, he journeyed from one regional "territory" to another, once wrestling eighteen hour-long cards during a fourteen-day stretch.
On television, Flair portrayed himself as the consummate ladies' man, a role he also felt compelled to play in his private life, holding all-night parties. Few fans realized there was also a traditional side to Flair, who battled to reconcile his nocturnal antics with his love for his family.
Before Ted Turner purchased World Championship Wrestling in 1988, Flair was given assurance that the Nature Boy would come with the package. But his clashes with WCW management would drive Flair into World Wrestling Entertainment, where he'd win the group's championship in a dramatic match at the Royal Rumble 1992. Flair later returned to WCW, where he collided in and out of the ring with Hulk Hogan, and -- as the company disintegrated over the next few years -- began losing all shreds of his self-esteem.
Arriving back at the WWE in 2001, Flair was a broken man, unsure if he still fit into the business; what he didn't know was that wrestlers who'd grown up idolizing him now inhabited the WWE locker room. With their support, he was finally able to claim his legacy and receive the credit he so richly deserved.
In addition to his own words, Flair's story is enriched by anecdotes from ring greats like Superstar Billy Graham, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Harley Race, Sgt. Slaughter, David Crockett, Arn Anderson, Bobby "The