A legend from a past era makes a modern-day return this Sunday, as “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair returns to the wrestling ring for his final match.
Flair, 73, has wrestled all sorts of battles outside the ring. Whether that was controversy related to sexual assault or issues related to health woes, retirement has reinforced to Flair that his place dele should be in between the ropes. Right or wrong, like a real-life version of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Flair believes it is where he belongs.
“For one more night, I get to be myself again,” Flair says. “I get to be ‘The Nature Boy.’”
Never recovered from the death of his son Reid, who died of a drug overdose in 2013, Richard Fliehr has a gaping hole in his heart. Yet there is no denying the magic he made in between the ropes. Flair’s newest pursuit is reaching back and seizing lightning in a bottle one more time, as he headlines the Ric Flair’s Last Match card on pay-per-view, teaming with AEW star Andrade against Jeff Jarrett and Jay Lethal.
“I can’t be average, and I’m not even sure I can be good,” Flair says. “I need this to be special.”
Flair has always held himself to a golden standard in the ring, highly critical when he failed to meet those lofty expectations. Attaining that level of brilliance, in 2022, seems outlandish. He is only five years removed from being placed in a medically induced coma, which required part of his bowel to be removed and his last rites from him to be read.
Excessive amounts of alcohol intake exacerbated Flair’s problems throughout life. But the difference then was that Flair had always had his saving grace from him, a reason to sober up, stay clean and be at his best from him: That’s because he needed to be at his absolute peak in the ring. That mindset has helped Flair in this comeback, physically and, especially, mentally. More than just returning to training, Flair is attempting to turn back the hands of time. He wants to redefine himself as the man he once was, doing so by making a crowd come to life when he wrestles.
“This is my fountain of youth,” said Flair. “There’s nothing like it. And I’m being smart about it. I’m lucky to have a great support system.”
Flair is teaming on Sunday with Andrade, his son-in-law and one of wrestling’s most talented performers. Andrade will handle the heavy lifting in the tag match against Jarrett and Lethal. This is an important opportunity for him, a way to generate momentum and build even more intrigue surrounding his work, the type he can carry over to AEW, which is home to a deep and crowded roster.
“I am proud to tag with Ric,” says Andrade, who is married to Ashley Fliehr, best known as Charlotte Flair. “I am looking forward to standing next to my father-in-law, and maybe we can even show the world a few new tricks.”
Last summer, Andrade wrestled a spectacular match in Mexico City against then AAA Mega champion Kenny Omega. Flair appeared in Andrade’s corner, lighting up the crowd with a few of his signature spots, shouting “Wooo!” and hitting a few chops to the chest before locking in the figure-four. Now, less than a year later, they are set to team together.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that moment last summer,” Andrade says. “I had already made a name for myself in Mexico City with CMLL, and I was so focused on trying to prove myself in the states when we first met in WWE. Returning to Mexico City with the support of an international superstar, arguably the greatest of all time, that is something that never crossed my mind.
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“Ric could have chosen anyone to stand beside him for this big moment, and he chose me. Not only do I want to make my wife proud, but growing up as a third-generation luchador from Gomez Palacio, Durango in Mexico, I am also going to make my country proud. My father-in-law and I come from two different worlds, but our love for this business is the same. People will see that when we step into the ring on Sunday.”
Another integral part of Flair’s support system is Wendy Barlow. She is Flair’s business associate, manager, relationship partner and longtime friend—and, without her, Flair would likely no longer be alive. She was critical in his recovery dele, changing his colostomy bag and nursing him back to his health after he was on his deathbed.
Given his age and litany of health problems, the notion of Flair wrestling again comes with a bevy of concerns. Yet Barlow sees it for what it truly is, which is a chance for Flair to lace up the boots, don the robe and come alive again in the ring.
“This is what Ric loves,” Barlow says. “No matter what happens, he’s happy. I always want to make sure he’s healthy and safe, but I also want him to enjoy his life. This match is exactly what makes him happy.”
Flair’s focus never strays far from his late son Reid, who was only 25 at the time of his death. Barlow recalled a poignant moment with Reid, when he made her request forever seated into her mind.
“The night before Reid passed away, I was with him,” Barlow says. “He said to me, ‘No matter what, promise me you’ll take care of my father.’ Whenever things get tough, I always think of Reid’s words. No matter what, I will always take care of Ric.”
The memory of Reid is embedded in this farewell match. There is a raffle for Flair’s robe, providing the chance for someone to gain possession of a unique piece of memorabilia. All proceeds will go to the ongoing, never-ending battle against addiction.
“I’m grateful we can raise awareness and money for the fight against addiction,” Flair says. “There is something every day that reminds me of Reid. We’re still suffering.”
Flair’s suffering will cease, at least temporarily, on Sunday evening. He will reenter his atmosphere, stepping back into a world that millions know but only a sparse few inhabit. Flair is wrestling royalty, and the king will regain his throne. And he is up to his old tricks, bringing with him mystery and intrigue—Will this actually be Flair’s last match?—as well as a match he plans to make a must-see.
“I was in horrible shape and drinking like crazy in 2011 when I wrestled my last match against Sting in TNA,” Flair says. “I’m going to make sure this is much better.”
On a sweltering summer night in July, Flair will attempt to do the impossible. His goal? Go back in time. Wrestling against the undefeated Father Time, this is a battle Flair cannot win. But for one night, he believes it is his destiny.
“This is something I need to do,” said Flair. “I’m ‘The Nature Boy.’ I’m young again. I’m going back to where I belong.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.