Ric Flair is not only the greatest performer in sports entertainment history, but he is also quite possibly the first postmodern athlete.
Webster defines postmodern as, "relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language."
In terms of professional wrestling this just about sums up the career of Ric Flair.
There were wrestlers before Flair who had a flamboyant persona, and who got over with the fans as either a face or a heel based upon this attribute. However, no wrestler ever did it like the Nature Boy.
The common assumption for much of the history of professional wrestling was that the heels were always the bad guys and the faces were always the good guys and never the twain shall meet.
That was until Ric Flair came on the scene.
For much of his career Flair was cast as a heel, "the dirtiest player in the game" who would cheat, steal, and if he could involve either the Four Horsemen or Bobby Heenan in his dirty deeds.
Add to that the fact that not only did the persona Ric Flair think he was better than the average viewer, HE TOLD the average viewer that he was superior to them in almost every way.
The average T.V viewer sitting at home watching wrestling on Saturday night wasn't riding in Leer jets and limo's...Flair was.
They didn't wear custom made Armani suits, Rolex watches, and Bally alligator skin shoes...Ric was.
They weren't sleeping with Playboy Playmates and supermodels (or any women for that matter)...Naitch was.
In almost any other scenario the fans would have hated any wrestler who consistantly made a career out of such tactics.
But not Ric Flair.
The more he cheated; the more he insulted faces like Sting, Rhodes, Steamboat, and Ricky Morton; the more snobbish he became the more the fans ate him up.
Vince McManhon likes to claim that he invented the concept of the wrestling anti-hero and that the WWE was the first place where the good guys weren't always good and the bad guys got over with the fans.
In reality all he did was rip off a page from the Ric Flair playbook.
Jim Cornette makes the point that, "Flair could sell out any arena, even in the north simply on the basis of being Ric Flair."
Flair got over because he gave the fans what they wanted, the more he bragged the more they wanted to be him.
However, Ric also got over because he worked. Many fans who's only knowledge of Flair was the caricature of the Nature Boy they saw in WWE feuding with the likes of Carlito and Randy Orton missed truly one of the great in-ring performers of all time.
One of my first professional wrestling memories was Flair's 1987 match with Sting at the first Clash of the Champions where Flair put over the future superstar in a 45 minute time limit draw.
His feuds with Sting, Steamboat, Rhodes, and Harley Race are the stuff of legends and along with Mick Foley he's one of the few American wrestlers who is idolized in wrestling savvy Japan.
Ric Flair shattered what the public thought a professional wrestler should be and not only changed the way wrestlers acted but also how athletes in general carried themselves.
After all put Ric Flair on a football field and he's Chad Johnson; give him a baseball glove and he's Manny Ramirez; on the hardwood he's Allen Iverson, and in the boxing ring he's Floyd Mayweather Jr.
However, as close as these athletes might come to emulating Flair-being pretenders to the throne of Ric Flair-they are just that pretenders, As talented as those athletes are none of them can claim they were ever the greatest in their industry to ever live.
Flair can, and that was how he made the whole thing work.