Tuesday, April 1, 2008

To Be the Man...

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Last night was a great moment on WWE Raw. I grew up as the biggest wrestling fan around, since I was probably 8 or 9 years old. Since I was in New York, the WWF was the main brand I liked, since it was more prevalent, since they had house shows at the Nassau Coliseum which I often went to, and since they targeted kids with their cartoonish, over the top personalities like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Junkyard Dog, Iron Sheik, Kamala, Roddy Piper, etc.

I would get my mom to buy me the wrestling magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, etc, and it had stories on the other wrestling promotions. Even though I couldn't see them on TV (until we got cable and my 8 or 9 year old self tripped across them, there was no such thing as the preview channel back then), I knew of the AWA with Rick Martel, Nick Bockwinkel, Larry Zbyszko, and those guys. I knew of World Class Championship Wrestling with the Von Erich family, with the Freebirds, Gino Hernandez, Chris Adams, and those stars. I also knew about the NWA, with Ric Flair being their equivalent of a "bad guy" Hulk Hogan - he was their champion, he had a sweet belt, he had the fance ring robes, he always was in the magazines wearing a suit and sun glasses with his bleached platinum hair.

When I finally discovered NWA Wrestling on TBS every Saturday night at 6:05, I was hooked. This was much different than WWF. This was serious. There weren't cartoony characters, this was much more "real". It was comparable to DC vs Marvel comics -- when you're real little, you love Superman and Batman and Green Lantern, they were much more fantastic and cartoonish. Then you get a little older and the Marvel Comics, while based in fantasy, were much more gritty and real life. Their stories were in Manhattan or Queens, not in "Metropolis" or "Gotham City". Peter Parker had real problems -- issues of fitting in, issues of being poor, insecurity even though he was Spiderman. Superman had to worry about the sun changing colors and his powers being altered, or by a radioactive piece of his fictional home planet landing in someone's evil hands. So it was with NWA vs WWF.

The NWA wrestlers, on the whole, were in shape but not cartoony (sure there were some exceptions like the Road Warriors, Lex Luger, or Nikita Koloff), but the top stars looked like regular people -- Flair was in shape no doubt, but didn't have over sized muscles like Hulk Hogan or Paul Orndorff. His main rivals at the time were the morbidly obese Dusty Rhodes, everyman redneck Magnum TA, Harley Race (who looked like someone's nasty step father). Flair's best friends were the 4 Horsemen, also everyguy looking sneaky asskickers like Arn Anderson with his male pattern baldness, Ole Anderson who looked like someone's drunk step father, and Tully Blanchard, who was like the high school bully who everyone hated.

As I got older, and watched more of Flair, it was hard not to respect him. His role was arrogant, cocky (kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin, champagne drinking, limosine riding, jet airplane flyin' son of a gun), a champion who was hard to beat, but he could wrestle like none other, his matches would go 30-60 minutes regularly, he portrayed success. Rolexes, custom made suits, promos where he was in a limo or a lear jet. He was the quintissential 80s heel, a Gordon Gekko before Wall Street came out in the theatres. He had great feuds with stars like Dusty or Ricky Steamboat and Sting, and he also had smaller feuds with great matches against the smaller time likes of Ricky Morton and Ron Garvin.

It seems silly to be nostalgic that Flair is retiring. I know, retirements aren't taken seriously in pro wrestling, but I think this is the end of Flair on a regular basis, seeing as he has been crying all weekend long, at his Hall of Fame ceremony, after his match at WrestleMania, and at the ceremony last night. I think why I am so nostalgic is because it is like a door closing on my childhood. Every week I would watch him, and he was great. As I grew up, and even marginally got inside the wrestling business (I had a friend who was a pro wrestler, and I learned the inner workings of wrestling, I even became a ref and a manager for a brief time when I was 18 - stories for another blog), watching Ric Flair was almost like watching a Picasso paint or watching Lennon and McCartney write. The man WAS the epitome of the business. No one could talk like him, no one could wrestle like him, no one could be more passionate than him.

Even at his age, he would give his all, as much as he could, and you could see the other wrestlers and all the fans could see it as well. Last night's "Farewell Address" was great -- it was a chance for everyone to pay their respects to probably the greatest wrestler of all time. I am sure guys like Hogan and Austin drew more money in their hey-days, but no one had the package that Flair had and do it for 35+ years.

Below is the ceremony from last night. I was floored when the 4 Horsemen came out, and Jim Ross said this is the first time they had been in a ring together since 1988. THAT IS NUTS. Was I really 14 years old the last time those men had been the Horsemen? It was great seeing guys like Steamboat, Race, Greg Valentine (who I believe was Flair's first tag team partner when they broke in the business) and the like. It was great to see the true emotion of the wrestlers, fans, and Flair.

I guess it is fitting that Orlando be the final stop for Ric Flair. "Space Mountain" had it's final ride.


1 comment:

MrEvans said...

I finally caught this on TiVo -- excellent ceremony.

How disturbing was it to see Greg Valentine? He looked like a blond Rosie O'Donnell.

He's a candidate for this website: