Planet Kayfabe: 'Nature Boy' 30 for 30 Submitted by Kayfabe Candyass on 11/08/2017 at 03:43 PM
Planet Kayfabe: Nature Boy 30 For 30 Thoughts
By: 'KCA' Paul Matthews | @PlanetKayfabe
Hello and thanks for reading Planet Kayfabe. I hope you're doing well. This Tuesday right after a taped edition of Smackdown from Manchester that saw AJ Styles beat Jinder Mahal to become WWE Champion aired "Nature Boy", an ESPN Films 30 for 30 special documenting the life and career of the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair directed by Rory Karpf.
Going into this I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm not a big fan of ESPN's matter of reporting. They very much pander to whomever they're in bed with or want to be in bed with. Earlier this year I watched their 30 for 30 titled "This Was The XFL" directed by Charlie Ebersol, son of Dick Ebsersol who's a good friend of Vince McMahon who partnered Vince in his football venture, so... yeah just ball washing nepotism.. After watching that I felt it was a total sugar coat of the actual shit show that was the XFL and either incredibly dishonest or a manufactured effort at gaining sympathy for a failed project 16 years later that Vince himself never makes mention of outside of his 2006 DVD where of course everyone says that if the league was given a 2nd year that it would have been some massive success.
My ass it would have.
So, going into "Nature Boy" you can see why I was skeptical going in that this would be an honest portrayal especially given ESPN's recent relationship with the WWE and with my feelings of ESPN, especially in recent years, already made clear, you can see the angle I was coming at this documentary on a figure in wrestling and pop culture who truly deserves honesty. The good, the bad. Don't spare us innocent fans. We want the truth and we can handle the truth.
"Nature Boy" is less about Ric's career in terms of feuds, angles and title matches and more about the persona that is the Nature Boy Ric Flair in contrast to Richard Fliehr and how the two morphed into one over time. Peppered throughout you do get blurbs about some of his on-screen career highlights. The feud with Dusty Rhodes. His matches with Ricky Steamboat. His jump to the WWF which at the time was considered "later" in his career. Much has already been said about Ric's career. It is touched on how he is highly respected by wrestling fans, critics and peers alike. This is more about the man behind the persona and how the man himself gets lost in his on-screen persona.
Throughout the film, there's plenty of interview cuts to various faces you'll recognize from the wrestling business and family members of Ric's as well including the first of his ex wives, Charlotte Flair and David. Some of the stories are aided by use of animation which at first came off weird to me that a serious documentary would use cartoon imagery, but in time I accepted it and it was a fun break as a visual aid. One of the more comical ones is towards the end when Ric reflects on meeting with a sports psychiatrist in the late 80's and gloats about his alcoholism which leads to the shrink taking the couch as Ric talks him through it. There's also a couple stories about slick Ric flashing his dick dating back to college and a rib that he would carry with him throughout his career on plane rides with his fellow wrestlers.
While watching, as a viewer it felt honest, which is what it had to be to be good. Without commercials it is about 75 minutes in length, so I knew I wasn't going to get every detail of every story, but all I ask for is honesty in the content that they do put out there. Ric Flair isn't a perfect person and even (or perhaps especially) his most hardcore fans know this. Close friend Triple H even says flat out "Ric is a consummate liar" and the illustrated versions of Ric's story almost act as a fun way to remind the viewer that this guy spent his entire life working the fans and he will work the fans in true old-school kayfabe fashion. Unless you choose to believe the daily amounts of alcohol he consumed throughout his entire career on the road and sleeping with 10,000 (that's ten-thousand) women in his life, I don't blame you. That is the charm of wrestling and there are no more enjoyable tall tales than the ones told by old wrestlers.
Unlike the pile of crap I mentioned earlier, "Nature Boy" doesn't entirely set out to re-write the wrongs like the XFL documentary did. You get an honest portrayal and that includes interview cuts from the first of his ex-wives who details how Ric changed once he made it big in wrestling. While Ric may exaggerate on how many women he's put over in his day he did not hide the fact that the very thought of being a faithful husband bored him and that he would "be good for one day" and then go right back to his womanizing ways.
The story is hardly a redemption tale. Over time the 'Nature Boy' persona consumed Ric. Towards the end of the film when you're expecting things to lighten up you're told of his TNA career which accurately portrays Ric as a run down old wrestler down on his luck wrestling for a pay day in a far fall from grace that was the flashy money-is-no-issue character that was the epitome of 80's excess.
I wasn't around to watch Ric in his prime as it happened, so I watch that old footage with an air of nostalgia for an era I wasn't even part of and with it comes a lot of awe and wonder. When I saw his footage of his TNA run, I was reminded of something I have clear memories from, but as a fan tried to forget. Ric Flair's in-ring career could have come to a storybook ending at Wrestlemania 24 in Orlando, Florida in a final match with Shawn Michaels. It's been well documented that it was WWE that was pushing Flair's hand towards retirement more than anything and once his WWE contract was up in June of 2009 and by November of that same year he was wrestling Hulk Hogan in his "Hulkamania" event in Australia.
Jim Ross made a passing remark about Ric Flair having to pay his taxes and ex-wives. On top of that it's no secret that in his prime and probably even after, Ric wasn't exactly a penny pincher who knew his checking balance better than he knew his children's birthdays. I'm not sure if most fans would grasp from that that Flair had no choice but to come out of retirement, but he came out of retirement because he never wanted to retire. Even in retiring with WWE he would have still been under contract in their "Legends" program, he would have still been making appearances and he still would have been selling merchandise and he still would have been making money. Ric's TNA run was sad. He wanted to be the "Nature Boy" and all the fans saw was an out of shape old man bleeding on TV every week and since TNA's smaller audience had a higher percentage of hardcore fans than WWE, they all knew or at least had an awareness of Ric's real-life issues and it was difficult to watch at times.
When the Four Horsemen faction was inducted into the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame while Ric was still under contract with TNA, it felt like fans breathed a sigh of releif and hoped that this would be the beginning of Ric real retirement and he can have another shot at going out as the fans want to remember him and how he really should go out. Ric Flair is wrestling royalty and the lows we saw in TNA came dangerously close to tarnishing his career and making him a joke to a segment of fans. Ric himself has said that wrestling for TNA is the biggest regret of his career. Knowing that WWE almost never makes mention of TNA, fans could live in WWE's bubble and pretend that those years never happened and that his last match actually was against Shawn Michaels at the biggest stage. Ric Flair has almost made a sub-career out of protecting his legacy going back to 1990 when some saw him as "too old" back then. Certainly by the late 90's many said he should have hung it up, but then redeemed himself in the mid-2000's in a memorable heel role with the Evolution stable. His 2012 induction with the Horsemen felt like that as if WWE came in to press the reset button and give Ric yet another chance that many others would not get.
Flair was officially back in the warm graces of the WWE Universe in December of 2012, but the celebration was short-lived when also covered in this doc. is the death of Ric youngest son, Reid, died on March 29, 2013 of a drug overdose at the age of 25. An interesting point in the film is when Triple H details Ric being in denial about his son's drug issues. Reid was trying out for WWE and upon failing his drug test, Hunter brought the results to Ric's attention to which Ric buries the test saying that the results must be bullshit. You can take this as Ric truly being in denial or trying to put over his son to WWE to get him a gig assuming that maybe being under the now strict WWE umbrella would keep his son on the straight and narrow. As a favor to Ric, Hunter agreed to test his son again and even wink-wink gave him time to clean up to at least have a shot at signing a deal and the results came back worse the second time. Some might see this as a tell that WWE's drug testing is bullshit, but I think the 2nd test was more to get through to Ric and have a talk with his son. Ric perhaps probably saw his youngest as his baby and saw his child as perfect like many parents do. I'm not a parent and I'm not sure what the proper way for a parent to come to terms with their youngest child doing black tar heroin. It was made clear that Richard Fleihr who took a life time of comfort living under the ardent larger-than-life Nature Boy persona was perhaps the least prepared to deal with the very much real-life tragedy.
As you can imagine, this is where the documentary becomes the most emotional. After hearing a life long of fun Ric Flair stories highlighted with glamorized alcoholism and womanizing Ric is met with a harsh reality that forces him to exit his fantasy life as the 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair. You get the sense that his own children never knew their dad as a real person and just the character the fans knew from TV. Ric becomes incredibly emotional and I can't help but imagine that on top of losing a child, he feels he truly missed out on a lot, not just in a future that would no longer exist with his son, but on the past where he and his children are honest about him not being around much. For most parents its hard waking up one day and seeing your children are now adults. For Ric it must have been like waking up one day, having a baby and the next day 25 years passed and he's gone.
The film closes with the rise of his daughter Ashley p/k/a Charlotte Flair who has mentioned before that she wrestles in memory of late brother. These days Ric Flair looks to be in great shape and after a recent health scare that gave him less than 20% chance of survival, he has finally given up alcohol for good at the age of 68. In recent years Ric has looked healthy and in better shape than he did in the early 2010's around his TNA run. Maybe I'm looking too far into this, but it is sad that his son was almost like the sacrificial lamb to finally wake up Ric and take some comfort in finally letting the 'Nature Boy' persona live in our memories in all its glory and the man can live happy as Richard Fliehr and watch every moment of his daughter's career on the rise and continue the "Flair" legacy.
There's my thoughts on 'Nature Boy' 30 For 30. If I were to give it a letter grade, I'd go with pretty much a B+. It was well produced and certainly worth your time, but given time restraints you're not going to get the most in-depth story about the career of Ric Flair possible. What you do get is some cool classic footage and honest interviews.
After watching this I was reminded of the ridiculous promo segment with Charlotte and Paige where they had Paige use Reid's death to get heat (not mentioned in 30 for 30). The segment sucked and beyond that it was disgusting especially where while fans may have assumed Ric and Charlotte OK'ed this, Ric let his voice be heard on his podcast at the time saying he was not informed that they'd use his son's death to promote the angle and said his daughter is was perhaps too new in the company to say 'no' to the idea and just agreed to it so she wouldn't catch heat with the company. In the segment Charlotte cried very much real tears and Ric told us he cried at home watching it. The segment did not get over at all and the mention of Reid came off as desperate by WWE. Paige didn't get the heat. WWE got the heat. You shouldn't have to try that hard to get a character over as a heel.
Triple H was my favorite of those interviewed and also offers a unique perspective not just as Ric's friend but as someone who worked closely with him and is one of the top front office guys in WWE today. The family stuff was good. Undertaker was fine, but as a fan it's usually more exciting just to see him shoot as Mark Calaway since it is so rare.
Ric Flair is an obvious big deal to everyone reading this. It's not us they had to convince. I'm glad this documentary was made to really highlight how big the Nature Boy was in wrestling and in pop culture. Flair is 68 years old and in wrestler years of his era he might as well be 168. Non-fans, casual fans and old fans who maybe haven't watched wrestling in 20 years get a quick education or a quick reminder of the star that is Ric Flair and it's great that he's still around to tell his story in an age where every year the list of greats from that era who are still here to tell their stories gets shorter and shorter.
Thanks for reading this edition of Planet Kayfabe. If you have a question, comment or idea for a future column, leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe
Also, check out my cover of the Four Horsemen theme ;)