Becky Lynch may be one of the hottest performers on the planet, but is she really “The Man?”
That’s a question that’s likely to have legal ramifications if Ric Flair has his way.
After all, the nickname “The Man” has been closely associated with the 16-time world champion for decades.
Flair made famous the catchphrase, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man,” in the 1980s. Now he says that WWE is making money off what he feels is his intellectual property, and he wants to be paid for it.
It’s not that Flair has anything against Lynch. Quite the contrary, as Flair has been a big backer of the fiery Irish star and has cheered on her ascension in the WWE ranks. Flair’s beef is that he expects compensation in exchange for using his name as a merchandising tool, and as of yet WWE has refused to comply.
Flair, 70, has even gone so far as to threaten legal action against his former employer.
Flair said he tried to strike a deal with WWE in private that would allow the company to continue billing Lynch as “The Man” and also compensate him for doing so. However, the two-time WWE Hall of Fame inductee says WWE has yet to agree to terms, and has even been disrespectful in doing so.
Flair recently told TMZ Sports that he has legal rights to “The Man” and that the WWE owes him royalties for using it with Lynch.
Lynch, 32, whose real name is Rebecca Quin, began using “The Man” moniker while feuding with Flair’s daughter, Charlotte Flair (Ashley Fliehr), in late 2018.
It became a staple of her gimmick as she quickly rose to superstardom that catapulted her to the main event at this year’s Wrestlemania.
“When we look at different sports, we look at this in the industry here, any industry, you need a top person, the person of exceptional ability who is usually referred to as ‘The Man,’” the Raw women’s champion explained to People magazine earlier this year. “They’re the man, and up until now, the man has usually been a man.”
“But when I rolled up, when I took that top spot, when I said, ‘I’m the top dog, I’m the top star, I’m the face of this company,’ I am now ‘The Man,’ and that’s how it came about,” added Lynch, who recently became engaged to Universal champion Seth Rollins (Colby Lopez).
Matter of respect
While just as famous for his “Nature Boy” nickname, which ironically was taken from original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Flair is claiming ownership of “The Man.”
WWE, though, apparently doesn’t feel Flair has a case. The company has continued to use the name since Flair made his complaint and has no plans to cease.
Last month Flair filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to own the phrase. The trademark would cover purposes specifically related to pro wrestling.
Flair said he felt disrespected after conversations both he and his lawyer had with WWE legal representatives. He has even contacted good friend and WWE executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque about the situation, but to no avail.
“I don’t care what the WWE thinks of me personally; I know they love me, but obviously they have lost respect for me,” Flair said.
Up to this point, however, he has still been invited to WWE events, as recently as this past Tuesday night at Smackdown in Atlanta, as well as the recent Raw reunion, and is scheduled to appear at the 20th anniversary episode of Smackdown from Los Angeles’ Staples Center next month.
But business is business, he says, and he just wants his fair share. He adds that he will gladly allow Lynch to continue to use the name if his trademark is approved and WWE pays him.
“I love Becky Lynch and no one has supported the women’s division more than me as an outsider,” he told TMZ Sports. “Becky can have (the name) all day long but I want the company to pay me for it because I’m going to take care of my family.”
At least for public relations purposes, Lynch apparently feels the same.
“All I can say about Ric is, I like Ric. He’s been a good friend to me over the years. We’ll see what happens with that,” Lynch recently tweeted in a response to ESPN reporter Marc Raimondi.
Flair and Lynch also have tweeted about the trademark dispute.
“I am The Man,” Lynch wrote.
Flair responded, “To Be The Man, You Gotta Beat THE MAN! #alreadytrademarked
Keeping the peace
On a recent podcast, Hall of Fame manager Jim Cornette likened the situation to “Austin 3:16” evolving as a catch phrase for Steve Austin that helped set his career on fire.
That “The Man” is really a woman gives Lynch more latitude to do different things, said Cornette.
“There’s not that element that it’s a play on words to begin with. It’s an update. But I can see, with the amount of money involved, and he said it’s not Becky, she was working with his daughter, but the WWE’s making a ton of money.”
Noting that Flair has used the name for decades, Cornette opined that WWE should compensate him as a sign of good faith.
“I think they should just send Ric a check. It’s not like they can’t afford it. They just gave $300,000 to Donald Trump’s re-election (Linda McMahon contributed $360,000 to the campaign). They can just send Ric a check if they have that much money to burn.”
“Just keep peace in the family,” Cornette suggested.
Should Flair have consideration for his daughter’s lofty status in the company?
“I don’t think they’re going to take any of it out on Charlotte,” said Cornette. “I think Hunter will probably, at some point, talk to Ric and they’ll smooth things over a bit. I don’t think this will be a lawsuit that will stretch on for years and years.”
Unfortunately, Flair told TMZ Sports, the situation has led to a rift with his daughter, a record-setting nine-time WWE women’s champion, who just happens to be a close friend of Lynch. Having her father embroiled in a dispute could make things awkward for her in WWE.
“It’s funny, my daughter is so mad at me because I filed, not even understanding that it’s not with Becky. I have no beef with Becky,” said Flair, who credited wife Wendy Barlow for sticking with him through his traumatic health ordeal two years ago. He told TMZ Sports that he wants to ensure she is taken care of.
“When I almost died two years ago, one person (Wendy) stayed by me. The whole time – 31 days in the ICU, 12 days while I was dying on a respirator – and I’m gonna take care of her, and her family, and my family that has taken care of me no matter what.”
Readers speak out
An informal survey of readers of this column reflected a wide range of opinions on the subject of Flair receiving compensation from WWE for use of his longtime moniker, and if he should be pressing the issue.
While some fans feel Flair should receive royalty money since he made the phrase famous in pro wrestling, and it’s obvious where Lynch got the name, others contend that Flair has been treated more than fairly by the company over the years and already financially benefits from a legends contract.
Still, considering what Flair has meant to the company and the wrestling business over nearly five decades, an ugly courtroom battle would be in neither party’s best interest.
“How much could it cost them to cut him a check?” asked Robert Haithcock.
“Really simple,” said James Bright. “Vince needs to write Ric a check with a bunch of zeroes to make him happy. He’s doing what he needs to do to pay the bills. No shame in it if you can do that. We live in a litigious society.”
“I am sure Ric would not walk away from a reasonable payoff with signed agreement,” said Jon May. “WWE should have been proactive on this matter, but instead threw it to the attorneys to battle. Better respect from both sides needed and Becky is stuck in the middle.”
“I hope Becky was just caught up in the moment. I’m the ‘man’ is commonly used in the ring by too many to count. It grew and they went with it. In hindsight they should have cut it off before it got out of hand. Ric spent decades to earn it, not months,” wrote Charlie Nash.
“To be The Man, you have to beat The Man, and I don’t know if Vince McMahon wants to take on the most popular wrestler of all time for a little cash,” said Thom Brewer. “Fans wouldn’t take kindly to him disrespecting the Nature Boy. But it could also be a publicity stunt. Back when ‘Blazing Saddles’ was made, Hedy Lamarr sued the studio because Harvey Korman’s character was Hedley Lamarr. Mel Brooks actually encouraged a settlement because the publicity was worth more than the cash they gave her.”
Jim Phillips says it’s a matter of old school respect. “He definitely has legs if he decides to follow it, but Vince and Triple H will smooth it over and lay some under-the-table cash out.”
“WWE didn’t seem to have any problem doing Bullet Club-style knockoff shirts. So let Ric get paid,” said Evan Ginzburg.
“My knee-jerk answer is yes, this seems fair,” said Steven L. Williams. “From the time she evoked this phrase, I’ve thought of Flair, and that’s exactly who pops into my head when she says it.”
“He has a case, in my opinion,” wrote Terry Jackson. “Arguably the most popular wrestler ever and he used those words as part of a catchphrase. My thought process was that they gave it to a woman to seem like less of an infringement.”
“I believe Ric should get acknowledgement and get some financial nod,” agreed Rodney Este. “He did make The Man an important saying. I don’t think Becky should suffer and neither should Charlotte. They have done wonderfully. I think it could all be solved with Ric getting a little check and making peace with WWE. And let Becky continue her run with The Man.”
“Unfortunately I just hope this doesn’t ultimately complicate Charlotte Flair’s relationships with Becky and with Ric,” said Joe Dobrowski. “I wish Ric was more forthright about this much earlier. It is his calling card, but Becky’s use is more attitudinal than Ric being positional.”
“How come the WWE can use the term ‘it’s just business’ when releasing talent, but when talent treats it like a business, WWE gets offended?” asked Robbie Thompson. “It is a business. For everyone involved. WWE has trademarks and they’ve gone after people who violated trademark laws. It’s Flair’s intellectual property, without a doubt. Go get your money Naitch. He wasn’t the dirtiest player in the game because he’s such a sweetheart.”
“The fact is that Becky used ‘The Man’ in reference to Flair while feuding with his daughter,” said Todd Royce. “This isn’t as simple as a current wrestler using a former wrestler’s gimmick. Becky is ‘The Man’ because Ric Flair was ‘The Man’ and since a multibillion-dollar company is making money off of what he created, he should be compensated for it.
“This isn’t just WWE using ‘The Man.’ They used Flair’s specific legacy and name to create this gimmick that they are making money off of. He deserves a cut.”
Jean Scott cuts to the chase: “Why is a girl “The Man?”
“I’m still trying to figure out why they call a woman ‘The Man,’” echoed Chuck Coates.
“I think Becky Lynch using it is stupid to begin with, but, being as she did start using it during a feud with Charlotte Flair directly and undeniably because of Ric’s use of the term, WWE should 100 percent shoot Ric some royalties,” said Chuck Green.
“When you think about it, Becky called herself ‘The Man’ throughout her rivalry with Ric’s daughter Charlotte. But in my eyes Ric Flair will always be ‘The Man’ and the greatest wrestler of all time.”
“Becky Lynch calling herself The Man is paying tribute to Flair and his legacy,” suggested Will Langan.
“Without Ric Flair, the moniker The Man probably wouldn’t be the same; and definitely not for a lady to be using it against another lady, much less Ric’s daughter,” said Chad Engle. “It wouldn’t have the same meaning. People relate ‘The Man’ to Flair. So I believe he has an argument.”
“I can understand being upset,” wrote Chase Merriman. “You are a legend, you used The Man in promos for many years. He has said that he is not upset at Becky and loves/respects her. It would be different if someone was calling themselves the Nature Boy since there has been many Nature Boys. Unfortunately it’s not trademarked so technically anyone can use it so he has that against him.”
“Becky was never the man and she will never be the man. I can call myself the pope but it doesn’t make me the pope. Flair will always be the man,” wrote Danny Maynard.
“How many people have called themselves that over the years? I have heard Harley (Race) call himself that. It is not trademarked anyway. And of anybody in this business, Naitch should know that every gimmick, move set, persona, etc. has been copied, or blatantly stolen,” wrote Rick Fields. “‘Nature Boy’ and using the figure four? Dutch (Rohde aka Buddy Rogers) could have made a mint off of him.”
“To me the ‘why’ is just as important as the ‘what.’ We know the ‘what.’ Ric is saying gimmick or trademark or copyright infringement. But the ‘why.’ I wonder if Flair was in better financial standing, if this would even be a blip on his radar,” wrote Steve Worrell.
“This lawsuit threat is coming from the same guy who borrowed ‘Nature Boy’ from Buddy Rogers instead of getting an original nickname of his own and has used it for forty years when Becky hasn’t even used that nickname for just over forty weeks.
“It is so sad to me that a man who has done what Ric Flair has done, and earned the money that Ric Flair has earned, is reduced financially to something like this. It makes my heart hurt.”
“The McMahons have been mighty good to Ric,” said Grayson Carter. “He had huge financial (tax) difficulties many years ago and Mr. McMahon bailed him out. He’s been given financial and moral support unlike no one else. It’s safe to say, and Teddy Turner is a friend of mine, that Ted Turner would have never ever helped Ric like the McMahons have. I’d hate to see Ric push something that may hurt him and tarnish his legacy long-term.”
“I don’t think he had a case at all. Love Flair but this lawsuit doesn’t make sense. Sounds like he needs money. I just hope this doesn’t hurt his standings with the WWE,” said Gary Lutz.
“Well, in all honesty, he took the Nature Boy moniker from Buddy Rogers and I didn’t have a problem with that and I don’t have a problem with Becky using The Man,” wrote John Serati. “So unless Flair compensated Rogers, he can’t complain. Plus McMahon has been pretty good to him through the years.”
“I think it’s pretty hard to justify it since it was only part of his catchphrase. And the estate of Buddy Rogers might have something to say about appropriation,” added Mike Mackler.
“George Scott gave Ric the Nature Boy gimmick and asked him to pattern himself after Rogers,” explained Joe Dobrowski. “It wasn’t like Ric went out of his way but George Scott nudged him. People forget that.”
“This is a reach by Flair,” said David Miller. “He needs to do the time-honored tradition of passing down to the next generation and bask in his accolades. There are many before him that were perfectly OK passing the torch. It’s his turn to do the same and be an example for others.”
“It would seem difficult to trademark such a phrase from public domain, much like Lebron James trying to trademark ‘Taco Tuesday,’” wrote Phillip Crew.
“Vince has been good to Ric,” said Richard Rourk. “Extended his career when it looked like his time was up. Ric needs to let this one go.”
“There is no shame in what’s happened to Ric in his business and personal life regarding money, etc. It happens to many in the sports, entertainment, arts and media biz. It’s not a stable career and one can fall into the trap of living well beyond their means. Perhaps Ric has ‘lived the gimmick’ way too much, for too long, and the balance sheet and actual reality has caught up with him,” wrote Greg Tingle.
“I guess catchphrases come and go in pro wrestling, but some are synonymous with certain characters. Ric Flair has made some very famous, but I do believe it’s more of a respect thing when comes to Becky Lynch. Should Ric be compensated for WWE using it? Yeah, it would be a great gesture to, in my opinion, the GOAT. Are they obligated to? No not really. But we shall see,” wrote AJ McIntyre.
“I wonder what Hall of Famer Stan ‘The Man’ Musial in baseball thought about Stan ‘The Man’ Stasiak when he defeated Pedro Morales in 1973 for the WWWF world title?’ asked Scottie Richardson.
“Stan Musial is rolling in his grave,” posted Richard Egner.
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds the legends contract. Just be glad Vince doesn’t own your stage name,” said Randy Steadman.
“From what I was told, Ric Flair didn’t mind it when Seth Rollins used the moniker. This is clearly sexism,” wrote Julie Hankinson.
Mick Karch says Flair “should pick his battles.”
“A wrestling legend but no person owes him anything for ‘The Man,’” wrote Rusty Loudermilk.
“It’s such a generalized term that serious legal action feels impossible. A person could say “you’re the man!” to someone else as a popularized expression without ever knowing who Ric Flair was,” wrote Patrick Spoon.
“Is woo! trademarked? If it is I might be in trouble because I always say woo! during my sermons,” joked Tom Sowell.
“As much a fan and supporter of Ric as I am, I think he should let this go. It should be viewed as a kind of tribute, never meant to ‘take’ from him and used in entirely different context,” said Ken Phillips.
“I’m sure that medical expenses has left Ric in a bind,” said Tarron Coalson. “And he says he’s just trying to provide for those that helped him through his struggles. I don’t think he’ll be successful in his patent claims, but if he and Vince and HHH can work out a settlement, it’s good for everyone. By the way, I wonder back in the day, if Ric or Crockett Promotions or the NWA ever sent Buddy Rogers a check for using the ‘Nature Boy’ name?”
“I am a huge Ric Flair fan and I can safely say when I hear the phrase ‘The Man,’ he’s not the first person that comes to mind. I’m hoping he will come to his senses and settle this nonsense because he’s given us too much great work over the years to have this put a tarnish on his legacy,” wrote Thomas Grinnell.
Bob Evans foresees an amicable resolution: “I have a feeling WWE will ‘settle’ with Ric and take care of him.”
Sums up Will Trotter: “To be ‘The Man,’ ya gotta beat ‘The Man.’”
Win or lose, Ric Flair is sticking to his guns.
“I am going to be ‘The Man,’ and if I don’t get it, you know what my tombstone will say? ‘He died trying to be ‘The Man.’”
Reach Mike Mooneyham at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His newly released book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com