It's no secret that "Nature Boy" Ric Flair likes women. For more than 35 years as America's greatest pro wrestler, Flair billed himself as a "limousine ridin', jet flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin', dealin' son of a gun," who always had a babe on each arm.

With an abundance of ex-wives and girlfriends, it's no surprise that Flair fancies female company.

What is surprising is that the talent agency that now represents Flair is a female-owned and operated company.

The 59 year-old, 16-time world champion retired from the ring on March 30, but was still under contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. Then on Aug. 3, a bombshell dropped on the wrestling world when The Gillespie Agency announced that Flair and WWE had parted ways.

Flair was now represented solely by a woman - Elaine Gillespie - and a woman with only a few months' booking experience to boot.

"Who was she and what on earth was Flair thinking?" the industry asked.

"The time was right for me to make a change, try a new approach and go for some new opportunities. No one respects the WWE more than me. They have created a remarkable brand in business and sports entertainment. I just felt it was time for Ric Flair to go out and try some new things. I was thinking that I need the right person to help me be successful in the next chapter of my life," Flair said. "And that person is Elaine Gillespie."

Gillespie, a high-energy, no-nonsense blonde, formed The Gillespie Agency in Columbia in 1983. The magna cum laude USC graduate has been a fixture in the South Carolina advertising and public relations scene for 25 years.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be the talent agent for Ric Flair, or in the talent business period," Gillespie said. "And, I knew almost nothing about professional wrestling before I met Ric."

While Flair has made his home in Charlotte for decades, he's no stranger to the South Carolina Midlands.

"I started coming to Columbia in 1974 and wrestled at the Township Auditorium every Tuesday night for years," Flair said.

He's also a fixture at University of South Carolina football games.

"I know lots of people in Columbia and, that's how I met Elaine. I knew right off the bat she was the one who could take me to the next level. She may not be a wrestling expert, but she's a promotional expert. And she's tough. She says what she thinks. And she does what she says she's going to do. I respect that."

That fateful meeting took place last year when a mutual acquaintance recommended Gillespie's agency to Flair for Web site development.

"He walked into my office, we had our meeting and when we finished he said, 'How would you like to be my agent?' I was completely floored," Gillespie recalls. Since then, the Gillespie staff - almost all women - have learned the ropes of professional wrestling, talent booking and how to market Ric Flair.

"We hit the ground running and we haven't stopped," said Candace Wright, Account Manager. "When Ric and WWE parted company, we literally fielded over 1000 inquiries in three days." The Gillespie women have fielded appearance requests from all over the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Central and South America.

Donna Thorne, another Gillespie staffer, worked with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where Flair's Wrestlemania XXIV robe will be on display in the Museum's Pop Culture exhibit.

Flair's engagement calendar has filled rapidly and extends well into 2009. He's scheduled for corporate appearances and motivational speaking. He's appeared on Fox sports and TruTV. There are four reality TV show offers on the table and six movie roles from "indie" film productions as well as big-name Hollywood studios. There's the deal with one of the nation's largest video gaming companies.

Flair also is booked for an upcoming event in England and Gillespie is in the process of negotiating tours in the U.S., Europe and Mexico. A deal for Ric Flair trading cards is on the front burner. And then there are the autograph shows, which can draw hundreds of wrestling fans.

"Between now and the end of December, Ric has 17 public appearances scheduled and offers for more come in every day," Gillespie said.

Gillespie's success with Flair led two other wrestling stars to sign on. Roddy Piper and Mick Foley are now also Gillespie clients. The Agency has been contacted by several other sports figures, entertainers and motivational speakers.

"Sometimes when you don't know how to do something, you actually do a better job because you bring a totally fresh approach to problem solving and see opportunities everywhere," said Nola Armstrong, Director of Public Relations and Media. "Our hard work is paying off and we're having a great time."

So how is Flair adjusting to life outside the ring?

"Man, I'm busy. I've got lots going on and more on the way."

And how does he like working with all those women?

"My calendar is jammed, thanks to them. They're a smart, focused group of women who can play with the big boys and seal the deal," Flair said. " And they're a hell of a lot better looking than Vince McMahon!"

- Ric Flair will make a special appearance at a CWA show Friday night at the Jamil Temple on Jamil Road in Columbia. VIP tickets are $75 and can be ordered at www.highspots.com.

- Smackdown is moving to MyTV beginning Friday. The show will not only be available on over-the-air broadcast television, but in high definition on the over-the-air digital signal as well on Comcast HD (Channel 435) and Time Warner HD (Channel 830). The partnership will kick off with the first-ever broadcast presentation of Wrestlemania XXIV at 8 p.m. Thursday.

- Old School Championship Wrestling will present Caged Carnage 3 on Oct. 5 at Weekend's Pub, 428 Redbank Road, Goose Creek. Top bouts are Lodi vs. Sixx for the Universal title, and Malachi and Rufio Rush vs. The Armed Forces for the tag title. Bell time is 6 p.m. Adult admission is $8; kids 12 and under $5. Visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at (843) 937-6000, ext. 3090.