Old North Banter: “Nature Boy” Packed With Dramatic Flair

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 26: (L-R) Professional wrestler Ric Flair, director Rory Karpf and ESPN Films
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 26: (L-R) Professional wrestler Ric Flair, director Rory Karpf and ESPN Films /

ESPN’s newest 30 for 30, “Nature Boy,” tells the story of Ric Flair and shows promise as one of the network’s most dramatic, intriguing documentaries yet.

The WWE’s format makes for compelling, interesting storytelling through its array of diverse characters. In the early stages of competitive wrestling, no performer stood out as brightly as Ric Flair.

Director Rory Karpf, along with 99.9 WCMC-FM (The Fan) and RBR Physical Therapy, presented his newest documentary detailing the life and career of the Nature Boy. Karpf, the director of another 30 for 30 relevant to the Tar Heel State, “I Hate Christian Laettner,” showed his creation inside Raleigh’s Mission Valley Cinema Wednesday evening.

Before jumping into the spoilers, my first initial reaction was that this was an incredibly enticing documentary. The narrative delves into all of the aspects of Ric Flair, the wrestler, and Richard Fliehr, the man. For those who also want to watch, “Nature Boy” premieres on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 10 p.m. on ESPN.

To avoid any spoilers, click here to go to the Old North Banter home page. Now that the obligatory spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s dive in.

Nature Boy Unpacked

NEW YORK – MARCH 31: Ric ‘Nature Boy’ Flair attend the WrestleMania 25th anniversary press conference at the Hard Rock Caf� on March 31, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK – MARCH 31: Ric ‘Nature Boy’ Flair attend the WrestleMania 25th anniversary press conference at the Hard Rock Caf� on March 31, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images) /

“Richard was a guy that made it through one year of college,” Flair said about his transition to wrestling. Thanks to Verne Gagne pressing him to continue his training, Richard Fliehr’s transformation to Ric Flair began. Though he admits his early character work was shoddy, Flair’s heel persona came to life following a plane crash that resulted in three broken bones in his back. This sparked a wanting to portray a villainous performer that lasted throughout the majority of his career.

What made Flair’s character work, though, was his unquestioned charisma and in-ring acumen. He brought energy into his extravagant persona for his promos. In the ring, wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker remarked how he could take every hit and sell it convincingly like no other. Even if he won every match he fought, Flair made sure his opponent came out looking fantastic.

One of the more interesting aspects of Flair’s fame was that it originally came outside of the WWE (then WWF). While the WWF drew the appeal of children with Hogan at the forefront, Flair made his name in NWA and WCW. He even denied joining the WWF twice (1986 and 1988) before he finally made his first appearance in the 1992 Royal Rumble.

The Man Outside the Ring

When asked about where he got the inspiration for his extravagant character, Flair responded, “The night before.” The act Flair put on was no act; he lived his life by that gimmick.

His first wife Leslie Goodman endured years of infidelity while married to Flair. He claimed that realistically he’d probably slept with around 10,000 women. His life outside of the WWF/WWE involved neglecting his family. Flair remarked that from 1972 to 1999, he was never home.

“He loves his kids, but don’t trust him,” Goodman said in the documentary.

His time away from his wife and children not only involved women throwing themselves at him. He drank copious amounts of alcohol throughout the course of his wrestling career.

“No way I should still be alive after some of the stuff I’d done,” Flair said. Paul Levesque, a.k.a. Triple H, added: “How he still has a liver, I don’t know.”

After Retirement

Flair had what he and several WWE fans regard as the best retirement match in wrestling. Capped off with Shawn Michaels’ “I’m sorry, I love you” comment before ending Flair’s WWE tenure with Sweet Chin Music, Flair’s Wrestlemania XXIV match seemingly spelled the end of his time in wrestling. However, normal life wasn’t exactly Fliehr’s calling.

“Ric doesn’t love Richard,” Michaels said during the documentary.

He did, though, aid in his son Reid’s ascension through wrestling. This leads to the moment that solidified the impact of this documentary.

More from Old North Banter

Richard Reid Fliehr idolized his father, and it’s not hard to see why considering Ric Flair’s legacy. However, the lifestyle Flair lived didn’t translate well to Reid’s life. Triple H recounted how Reid’s drug use jeopardized his potential to join the WWE roster. Flair, though, continued to make excuses for Reid, seemingly denying any issue.

On March 29, 2013, Richard Reid Fliehr died from a heroin overdose. Karpf capped off the segment of this documentary intercutting highlights of Ric Flair’s extravagance and shots of the mausoleum where Reid lies. The masterful display of the duality of these moments encapsulates the impact of Richard Fliehr as a man and wrestling persona.

Flair claimed to “[drink himself] to death for a year” after Reid’s death. However, Reid’s sister Ashley Fliehr continued Reid’s path and wrestles to this day under the moniker Charlotte Flair. Another similarly pieced sequence showed Charlotte’s and Ric’s move sets and gimmicks mirroring each other, bringing symmetry to their careers.

“I’m living vicariously through Charlotte,” Ric said. “When she won the women’s championship, it was the greatest moment I’d been apart of in wrestling.”

Next: Carolina Panthers: Bye Bye Benjamin

The story of the Nature Boy is nothing short of a roller coaster. The peaks and valleys of Ric Flair’s career are the pinnacle of wrestling at its best and worst. It goes to show that Flair changed the world of sports entertainment ever since he debuted. With over 40 years of service to the sport, Flair’s legacy will live on, and this documentary captures it beautifully.