Last year’s Wrestlemania 24 weekend will always be remembered for the greatest send-off in the history of professional wrestling.
It’s when “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, at the age of 59, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, wrestled his “farewell” match against Shawn Michaels, and was honored on Monday Night Raw like no other before him.
The week was magical, electric and emotional. It’s unlikely that there will ever be another pro wrestling retirement ceremony to match it — not for Shawn Michaels, not for Triple H, not for The Undertaker. It was a moment in time that will never be forgotten.
Many had hoped Flair, widely regarded as the greatest performer of the modern age of pro wrestling, would ride off into the sunset and leave that moment behind to be cherished forever.
That’s when the scene fades to black. In the perfect world, the good guy always gets the girl, sinks the basket at the buzzer, scores the winning touchdown.
But that’s only in the movies — and professional wrestling — where the ultimate outcome is designed to send the fans home happy.
Ric Flair, the forever limousine-riding, jet-flying, kiss-stealing, wheeling and dealing son of a gun, has lived his gimmick. And that’s not about to change anytime soon.
The 16-time world champion has always maintained that he loves the wrestling business with a passion. It’s consumed his life for the past 35 years — so deeply that it’s left relationships, including several wives, in its wake. He’s openly admitted it and lamented the fact many times. It’s even in his book for everyone to see.
His marriage to his third wife dissolved just months after officially “retiring” from the business. She wanted him to be Richard Fliehr. He still wanted to be Ric Flair.
Deep down inside, though, we all knew he could never be anyone but Ric Flair.
His announcement last week that he’s coming out of retirement to work a tour of Australia in November with Hulk Hogan might have come as a shock to many fans who never wanted to see Flair in the ring again with anyone, much less Hogan, who’s always seemed to maintain the political edge in their dealings over the years.
There was always a distinct difference, other than ring ability, between the two. Hogan once boasted he was bigger than the business. Flair, however, always said the sport meant everything to him, and that he would never be able to do enough to repay it.
The truth is that Flair’s been itching to get back into the ring since he officially left it. He tried to stay away, but it was like caging a wild bird who wanted to be free.
And it’s not like Flair has been idle since his last match. Over the past year he’s been on the road more than he was during the end of his in-ring career. On Friday he became the official face of the North Carolina Education Lottery when he helped unveil a new instant “Wooooooo!” scratch-off ticket at an event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. There’s a good chance his image may be on tickets in surrounding states soon.
On Thursday he was speaking to high school students and helping kick-start the annual fundraising campaign for the United Fund of Marion County.
Offers pour in on a daily basis for the Nature Boy, and he has spent nearly every weekend the past year making special appearances at autograph signings, wrestling conventions and independent shows.
But he misses the spotlight. And the real spotlight for Flair has always been inside a wrestling ring.
At age 60, Flair doesn’t claim to be the best in the business anymore, having long left that label to younger and more current superstars. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still step into the squared circle and entertain an audience. It’s where he most feels at home. There he truly is in his element.
And that’s where the situation stands today.
Two of the biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling will return to the ring for a tour of Australia in two months. Flair will once again work with the man he shared the pro wrestling spotlight with over the past quarter-century.
Former WCW boss Eric Bischoff, no stranger to Flair, is helping promote the “Hulkamania — Let the Battle Begin” tour.
The tour, which begins Nov. 20, will cover four cities in Australia, but officials hope to add more. It has all the makings to turn into something much bigger than an Aussie campaign.
Flair, who is at his Wrestlemania 24 weight of 228 pounds, plans to immediately begin training for the tour, and says he’ll be in wrestling shape by the time he steps back into the ring.
Flair, however, probably won’t have to work that hard to carry the 56-year-old Hogan, whose physical limitations in the ring have been a major concern in recent years. Hogan hasn’t worked a match since a Summer Slam appearance in 2006 against Randy Orton. And he looked far from ring worthy three years ago.
Flair believes Hogan will be able to go when the tour gets under way.
No matter, says Flair, who vows he won’t get back in the ring unless he meets his own personal standards. To that end, he says, he’ll be working hard and training until show time.
Hogan has lobbied hard to get Flair on board for a tour, and has told him in the past that Flair was the only person he could have a match with. Hogan proved his loyalty by helping his longtime adversary out with a show last December in Charlotte that Flair was using to showcase son Reid. Hogan appeared at a high school gym for free.
And, of course, there’s the monetary reasons that make working the tour good business sense.
The joke has always been that Ric Flair has burned through more money than the considerable amount he’s ever earned. And that’s not too far from the truth.
Even Hogan has taken major financial hits because of a messy divorce and family problems. He’s become a tabloid magnet in recent years. He filed a lawsuit just last week against his former lawyers for billing him more than $1 million for services that Hogan claims should have been free. He and ex-wife Linda are are simultaneously selling both their multi-million-dollar Pinellas County (Fla.) homes following their contentious divorce.
The major consideration in Flair’s decision to return was getting approval from the two people most involved in his retirement — Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. His respect for both, he says, superseded his personal desire to get back in the ring. It was Michaels who sent him out in that special retirement match, and McMahon who provided the backdrop. Flair says he would have never signed a deal without their blessing.
In a real world, Michaels told his friend, there would have been no better ending than Wrestlemania 24. But there’s never really that one last match. Not in the wrestling world.
Perhaps no one understands that world better than Vince McMahon.
Time will tell if it was the right decision for Flair. But considering what Ric Flair’s given to the business — the blood, the sweat and the tears — no one should begrudge him the chance.
- The Hogan-Flair tour also will include The Nasty Boys, Ken Anderson (formerly WWE’s Ken Kennedy) Eddie Fatu (formerly WWE’s Umaga), Charles “Godfather” Wright, Sean Morely (the former Val Venis), Lacey Von Erich and Shannon Moore. The group is attempting to sign former WWE champ Jeff Hardy to the tour, although Hardy has a slight situation to deal with before he can head out on tour.
The recently WWE-departed Hardy was arrested nine days ago on multiple drug charges after a raid on his North Carolina home. Police allegedly found anabolic steroids, a large amount of painkillers and cocaine residue on drug paraphernalia. One of the charges is opium trafficking. That count carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years upon conviction.
One major star who won’t be doing the tour is former world champion Bill Goldberg.
“Zero plans to join Hogan’s Tour ... The old man wants all the $ for himself. Plus three reality shows on tap,” Goldberg wrote on his Twitter account.
- Linda McMahon is stepping down as WWE CEO to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in her home state of Connecticut. She is looking to unseat Democrat Christopher Dodd in the 2010 election.
Husband Vince McMahon will assume her duties as well as his position as WWE Chairman.
Long considered the brains behind the brawn, she has been CEO of WWE since 1997 and is respected on Wall Street.
“I have spent the past 30 years growing what began as a 13-employee small business into a publicly traded, global entertainment company that now provides over 500 jobs here in Connecticut. I understand what it takes to balance a budget, create jobs and grow the economy,” she said in a release. “Washington is out of control, and sadly, Sen. Chris Dodd has lost his way and our trust. I can’t sit by on the sidelines anymore knowing that I have both the experience and the strength to stand up to special interests and bring badly needed change to Washington.”
She said she would mostly pay for her own campaign, and would only accept contributions of $100 or less. She also announced she would not accept money from political action committees.
A campaign Web site has been launched at www.linda2010.com.
- All charges, with the exception of a simple assault count, were dropped against TNA world champ Kurt Angle stemming from his arrest on Aug. 15 following a domestic incident with ex-girlfriend Trenesha Biggers (TNA’s Rhaka Khan).
The Olympic gold medalist was found not guilty of violating Biggers’ order of protection, and charges of possessing human growth hormone and driving with a suspended license were dropped. Angle’s lawyer said his client proved he had a legal prescription for the HGH.
“All I can say is I’ve been completely innocent of any charges that have been brought to me, and God has shown that today and my attorney has been able to prove it in court,” Angle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ll continue to live my life by the law the way I’ve always done, and I will always abide by the law and try to be a role model in this community, and that’s all I’ve ever asked for.”
Angle will compete in the main event of tonight’s No Surrender pay-per-view in a four-way match with Sting, A.J. Styles and Matt Morgan.
- Former pro Sam Houston (Michael Smith), 45, was jailed last week in Louisiana for violating his parole.
A judge ordered him to finish a 10-year prison sentence from 2005 stemming from multiple DUI convictions. He was released a short amount later following Hurricane Katrina since he was deemed a non-violent offender. His probation officer recently ordered him to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, but he left the 90-day program after only one month.
Houston, the ex-husband of Baby Doll (Nickla Roberts) and father of her two children, in recent years had worked for a construction company and also helped his 77-year-old father, Grizzly Smith, at a cemetery near the French Quarter in New Orleans. Smith’s home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Smith is the half-brother of Jake “The Snake” Roberts (Aurelian Smith Jr.).
- Condolences to Mick Foley on the passing of his father, Jack Foley, last weekend at the age of 76 following a long illness.
Jack Foley was a prominent sports and academics leader in the Long Island, N.Y., area, and had been inducted into several local and national halls of fame.
“He was interested in getting as many sports and kids interested as he was in winning and losing,” said a local school superintendent. “He provided diverse opportunities for all the kids in our community.”
Known as “the administrator’s administrator,” the lifelong educator retired 19 years ago as athletic director at Ward Melville High School, only to later take the position as dean of administrators in Suffolk.
“He never stopped working,” West Islip athletic director Wayne Sherrant said in a Newsday article. “After he retired, he has better attendance at our athletic director’s meetings than a lot of our ADs. He was a very big help to those coming in.”
Foley’s father, the original “Cactus Jack,” was scheduled to emcee his induction into the Ward Melville Hall of Fame next month.
“I thought everybody’s father was a beloved fixture of the community. As I got older, I was able to appreciate what a special person my father was.”
- Canadian-based wrestler “Pitbull” Kerry Brown, nephew of the late Bulldog Bob Brown, recently died at the age of 51 from apparent liver failure.
Brown, whose titles over the years included the North American crown in Calgary and the Atlantic Grand Prix U.S. belt, began wrestling in 1979 before enlisting his uncle to train him the following year. Brown also held the Stampede tag-team belts on three occasions with Duke Myers and once with his uncle.
- Floyd “Money” Mayweather said in a recent interview that he is considering working full-time with WWE following his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
Mayweather, who defeated Big Show in a special attraction at Wrestlemania 24 in 2008, said the McMahons are on board with the idea.
“I talked with the (Vince) McMahon family and they’re happy with the idea,” Mayweather said. “So I may move there full-time. I don’t know.”
Triple H was scheduled to be in the six-time world boxing champion’s corner for last night’s fight with Marquez.
“Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather has shown WWE tremendous support, and it is my pleasure to return the favor this Saturday by standing at his side as he defeats Marquez in what I am sure will be boxing’s fight of the year,” said Triple H prior to the bout.
- TNA released backstage officials Jim Cornette and B.G. James on Tuesday. Pat Kenney (aka Simon Diamond) and D-Lo Brown were re-hired to help fill the spots.
- The Great Khali is scheduled for knee surgery and is expected to be out of action for several months.
- The 74-year-old Ox Baker underwent successful hip replacement surgery in Connecticut last week.
- Latest wrestling couple is WWE world champ C.M. Punk (Phil Brooks) and former WWE women’s champ Lita (Amy Dumas). Brooks previously has been romantically linked with Maria (Maria Kanellis), Miss Brooks (Tracy Brookshaw) and Daffney (Shannon Spruill).
- Old School Championship Wrestling will air its “Black and Bruised” event Oct. 1 at the Terrace Theatre on James Island. The show was taped Aug. 30 in Goose Creek and featured former WWE star Al Snow. A meet and greet at 6 p.m. will be followed by the viewing at 7 p.m. All seats are $7.
For more information, contact 743-4800 or www.oscwonline.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.