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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, May 19, 2000

Time to hang 'em up, Mr. Flair

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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It's time for Ric Flair. It's the first time in about two or three years that he's shining in the spotlight in WCW again - at least whilst not being mocked and dragged through the mud. It's the first time he's won a title in a fairly long time, and the first time he's won a title as a face in even longer a time. But I didn't say it was the first time, for Ric Flair. I said it's time. It's time to hang up your boots.

This past Tuesday, at the Thunder tapings, Ric Flair was scheduled to perform in a nice, pleasant main event match with partners Arn Anderson and Kevin Nash against his son David and cohorts. But something much worse happened. While his partners and opponents were running around, he collapsed to the mat. Everyone thought that was it, Ric Flair's had a heart attack, this time it's for real. Well, surely some people thought they'd been duped before and wouldn't be so easily duped this time.

For the purposes of this column, I'm assuming this was not all a setup. If it was, shame on WCW for pulling the same sordid trick, and doing it twice!

Assuming it's not, though, I go on. Flair was able to get to the back, eventually, and was heard to have attributed the collapse to an inner ear equilibrium balance problem, a problem he's suffered before in the early 1990s. He wasn't sure, though, so he flew home to have tests done -- wisely. That's the first wise thing he's done this year.

According to Flair himself, the disequilibrium attack was much, much worse this time than the first. I wonder how bad it will be next time. And the time after that. I have next to no knowledge of this ailment, so I don't know what its effects are (other than on balance in the short term), and I have no idea what this could do to the man.

Glory days. Pass you by in a wink of an eye.
More in our Ric Flair Gallery.
What I do know is that Ric Flair recently delayed shoulder surgery so that he could continue to perform in WCW, where he feels he's on a hot streak.

What I do know is that Flair's blood pressure backstage wasn't so hot -- 180/120 -- and that at best, he attributes it to a panic attack. At worst, some fear that his collapse in the ring may have either triggered or have been caused by a heart problem.

I don't know the exact age of Ric Flair, and I don't trust most information to that effect so there's no point in really looking it up on the Internet. I do know he's at least fifty. He's an old man.

Sure, he's in good shape. He's a world champion. The man is a champion's champion. He's a legend, a historical figure in the sport, and one who would be missed.

I'd rather miss him because he's retired, though, than because he passed on.

Tell me the truth -- when you read the news (if you did prior to reading this column) of Ric Flair's collapse, if you thought it wasn't a work, were you at all surprised? I can't say that I was. He's old, and every time he goes out there, even to deliver a promo, his face goes all red and I wonder whether he's going to drop dead right there. I know it's just the look of intensity he has, and maybe fifteen years ago it would have been an asset, but today it really makes me cringe.

I'm no one to tell an athlete who's been in the business for more years than I've been alive to retire.

Instead, all I can do is pay homage to the man, and hope. Hope that when he retires -- whether it's tomorrow or in 2010 -- that he does so before that look on his face isn't because he's out of breath from saying 'whoo!' too much, but because there's not enough blood getting to his head.

Ric Flair is a legend, a man's man, a champion's champion, and all that. Perhaps more so than anyone else in the business today, if he were to die or be seriously hurt while participating in the sport, it would leave a sour taste in all our mouths for a very long time to come.

The man has been a veritable constant in wrestling over the past many years. Now I'd like him to be a constant in wrestling, as a manager or booker or even just a fan, for many, many years to come.

Mailbag this week consists of one letter, because it's a veritable column of its own. writes:
"One of WCW's major failings is their inability to maintain a consistent push for a true bad-ass heel type. And they've had plenty of opportunities. Whatever happened to the guys who were brought into a particular promotion and billed as really invincible, unstoppable forces for at least a while before they were knocked off by a top face? Remember when Undertaker debuted by impressively dethroning Hogan? When Kane first hit the scene and soaked up chair shots like aspirin being thrown at him? I think that the industry as a whole is really missing this sort of decimating, dominating player these days. WCW recently acquired Mike Awesome, potentially a real force in the company--a 290-pounder who can do more than throw right hands. And I have only seen him win one match since his debut, against Ernest Miller at a PPV for God's sake. He has already jobbed to half the company-Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, Sting, etc., and has been slapped around by Hogan in handicap matches with Kidman. Huh?! Next up you've got Tank Abbott. We're building him up for a mega-showdown with Goldberg sometime in the future, and yet he's already jobbed to Sid in the past, in the middle of a Sid-injury angle no less. Of course we all remember that Goldberg beat Sid to a bloody pulp not too long ago, so how can we put all this together and come up with a convincing matchup between Abbott and Goldberg? For some reason it's never easy for the audience to forget these things and accept these guys as badasses ever again after they've already been thrashed once. Kronik? Two guys who have worked hard to reinvent themselves during absences and deserve a shot as a tremendous force in the company. And yet I can already see it happening--Goldberg will come charging in and double-spear them both into next week without breaking a sweat. Kash (from Harlem Heat)? Admittedly probably not the most talented wrestler around. But you have to admit there are not too many people walking the earth that look like him either. And we've already had Sid kick him around and Steiner throw him around the ring like a chew toy. What gives?"

Patack, whatever your name may be, you're right. The days where the heel was incredibly tough and was a huge challenge for an in-over-his-head-but-still-heroic face are over. Replaced, are they, by heels who need an edge, usually in the form of four friends, a guitar, a steel chair, and the referee in his pocket. The instant a heel gains that kind of tough credibility of old, the powers that be turn him face because the fans will cheer him.

I miss guys like Zeus, who seemed like they couldn't be beaten. It created suspense, as I wondered how the faces could do it. Now, I just wonder how many people will interfere.

That's all for this week, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading, thanks especially for writing, and let me know what you think about Ric Flair. Have a great week!

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