Free Falling: The Sad, Strange Career of Former WWE Champion Ric Flair

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterJuly 29, 2013

A 60-year-old Ric Flair in 2009.
A 60-year-old Ric Flair in 2009.Paul Kane/Getty Images

Earlier this month on WWE NXT, Ric Flair was in the ring at Full Sail University, and the crowd was eating his act up. That should come as no surprise—Flair has been one of professional wrestling's most popular and enduring acts, hitting his peak in the late 1980s and never looking back.

For once he's not selling himself, though those days aren't gone either. Instead, his daughter Ashley, wrestling as "Charlotte" for the WWE's developmental system, is making her television debut. Although the high-definition television isn't kind to his 64-year-old face, complete with phony tan, 40 years of scars and dyed, thinning hair, you'd never guess watching that Flair's life, once again, is embroiled in turmoil.

Maybe if you've spent the last two decades fending off one crisis or another, you become bulletproof? Maybe Flair, after all that has happened, is invulnerable to the slings and arrows of life?

In the ring, he talks about the business he loves. And while wrestling has been kind to him in many ways, it's also cost him everything he's ever had.

Families. A child. Money. Pride.

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For 25 years, Flair has been on a steady decline, the ground under his feet increasingly treacherous with each and every year. Along the way, there have also been the highest of highs, but Flair is never content to quit while he's ahead.

A life of domestic tranquility, of regular paychecks, of work and responsibility isn't part of the Ric Flair gimmick. And the gimmick is all Flair has left. That and the memories. There have been several great articles about Flair's decline. But, with respect, they're all missing the point. The divorces, lawsuits and assorted legal battles are not the story. They are the detritus in Flair's wake.

The real battles were in the ring. Wrestling is Flair's life. It has been and will be until the day he dies. Everything else is just the unwanted details of a lifestyle that is as much wrestling gimmick as it is, well, a life.

"For me, it's about camaraderie," Flair told ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill. "My whole life is like, if something's going on, nothing ever preceded fun. I always put my friends and the fun and the business ahead of everything."

Growing up, I wanted to be Flair. The styling! The profiling! But there's a dark side to the fast life. Imagine you were really Ric Flair? A kaleidoscope of recollections must rattle around in his head when it finally hits the pillow at night. The memories and moments that have left him who and where he is: discarded, broken and broke.

April 2, 1989

It all started in 1989. At 40, the popular champion should have been thinking about hanging up the boots, or at least transitioning out of the top spot.

Lou Thesz had dropped the belt to "Whipper" Watson when he was 40 in 1956, part of a move away from the strict NWA touring schedule. Bruno Sammartino had been 42 when the grind got to him, and he lost the old WWWF title for the second and final time in 1977, making way for Bob Backlund to ascend to the throne.

Flair, however, was different. At 40, he was having the matches of his life. That April, he completed an artistic masterpiece, one of the greatest matches of all time. Flair called Ricky Steamboat the best man he'd ever been in the ring with and, after 55 minutes, Steamboat pinned his shoulders to the mat to retain the WCW title.

It's a match people talk about to this day, nearly 25 years later. Yet, only 5,000 people were in a building, the New Orleans Superdome, that can seat upward of 70,000. Promoters later revealed fewer than a thousand had actually paid for their tickets. Fewer people watched the show than ever before on television as well. The match, no matter how great it was, ended up a failure.

Some of the blame rests on Flair's mentor's shoulders. According to industry newsletter the Wrestling Observer, George Scott, the product of another time, was hesitant to promote the event for fear it would cost the company business when it came time to take the same match on the road.

Scott was willing to sacrifice television ratings for potential house-card gates. That was an equation that made sense in the 1970s. In the 1980s, that kind of thinking cost him his job—and made Flair versus Steamboat the lowest-rated Clash of the Champions special in history.

But the truth? You couldn't blame things solely on Scott. Fans just weren't buying the feud.

Steamboat was too generic a babyface. A family man who stayed home with his young son couldn't capture the imagination of young fans quite like the Nature Boy. Fans were torn, and the resulting confusion was costing WCW at the box office.

Flair and WCW had been fighting the good fight against Vince McMahon's WWF for five years at that point, flying the flag of traditional professional wrestling. It had cost Jim Crockett, and later Ted Turner, millions of dollars. And it was a Pyrrhic effort at best. Like it or not, and the hardcore fans liked it not at all, Hulk Hogan had won the wrestling war. Ric Flair, by comparison, was second-rate.

For Flair, every failure at the box office was a stinging blow. Not only was he battling Hogan and the WWF across the country, but equally fierce internal forces had gathered to do him in on the home front.

Jim Herd, WCW's controversial new leader and former Pizza Hut executive, wanted many things from Flair—first and foremost, to take a pay cut and a spot much lower on the card. But, all things considered, that's not the worst of it.

He also wanted Flair to get a haircut, carry a shield and go by the name of "Spartacus." It's a gimmick the "pizza guy" believed would help WCW compete with Hulk Hogan and the WWF.

Flair's 29-year legacy as one of the best of all time?

It meant less than nothing to his boss. And Flair, all bluster on the outside, was a mess inside as a result. He could still "Whoo" with the best of them in front of the studio audience, but when the lights dimmed, even the life of the party had his emotional limits.

In Flair's autobiography, Kevin Sullivan, Flair's friend and on-again, off-again WCW booker, remembers getting a call from Flair to come and help him check out of his hotel room:

When I went in he was huddled like a jellyfish. He could hardly talk. He'd start to sit up, then gall back down on the bed. He was emotional and crying, saying, "I can't go on, I can't go on. You have to take me home."

...anyone who knew anything about Ric Flair would never believe this was the same man.

Hogan was five years younger than Flair. Promising WCW talent like Sting and Scott Steiner were a decade his junior—or more. Time, it seemed, had passed Flair by.

April 5, 1992

Flair's battle with Herd ended with the champion taking his big gold belt and hitting the road. If you can't beat them, join them. Flair did exactly that, going to the WWF in the fall of 1991. Everyone in the industry, and the fans at home, couldn't wait for the inevitable—Hulk Hogan versus Ric Flair.

It was a match that had been endlessly fantasy booked all over the country. If you were from the Northeast or West Coast, the imagined match likely ended with a big boot, a legdrop and a pose down. If you hailed from the south, you likely envisioned a dastardly poke to the eyes and a figure-four leglock.

Either way, it was hard to picture anything less than a spectacular match.

WWF tested the bout several times, taking the match of the century to Los Angeles and New York, among a handful of markets. But those were all dark matches, bouts not part of WWF's television storylines.

They danced around each other on television, but they never officially feuded. According to the Wrestling Observer, it was originally being saved to main event WrestleMania. But it never happened at all, at least nationally.

Hogan, it turned out, joined Roddy Piper as two prominent wrestlers tied up in the trial of Dr. George Zahorian in 1991. Fearing the disastrous results of admitting the obvious, that he had used anabolic steroids to gain his huge physique, Hogan went on the offensive on The Arsenio Hall Show (via ESPN):

Looking dewy-eyed at his host, Hogan also made a concession: He'd taken a synthetic hormone three times, but just to get over a shoulder injury. Incredulous that anyone might question his integrity, he took out a picture of himself as a 12-year-old Little Leaguer. "I trained twenty years, two hours a day to look like I do, Arsenio," he said. "I am not a steroid abuser and I do not use steroids."

After telling such a bald-faced lie, one he would later refute in court, Hogan, at least, had the courtesy to go into hiding. The WWF would change directions after years of relying on Hogan as their standard-bearer. But it would cost them their dream match.

Instead, Hogan's final match was a snoozer with the larger, younger, "Psycho" Sid at WrestleMania VIII. Sure, Flair's match with Randy Savage was for the WWF title. But what did that mean when it was buried in the middle of a nine-match extravaganza at the Hoosier Dome?

Flair spent the summer losing return matches to "the Macho Man" around the horn, before he finally took the title back from Savage in a bout so bad that Vince McMahon made them stop it and restart it later in the night in order to get it right. This time, however, Flair was just a stopgap, a human-courier service to deliver the championship between Savage and Bret Hart, to whom he dropped the title with little fanfare.

On Dec. 15, 1992, in Madison, Wis., McMahon let him know the change wasn't temporary.

"We're going to start going with the younger guys," McMahon told Flair, according to Ric's autobiography. His WWF days were numbered. The problems the "Nature Boy" thought had been left behind with Jim Herd in WCW were rearing their ugly head once again. Whether in Atlanta or New York, Ric Flair was still 40-plus in a young man's game.

That was only going to get worse with time. 

July 17, 1994

When the Flair and Hogan dream match finally occurred, it was more like a nightmare for longtime WCW fans. Hogan, introduced with a ticker-tape parade at Disney, won the WCW title in his first match in the promotion. A stranger in a strange land, he was booed out of the building everywhere the promotion went.

Flair had played a huge role in bringing Hogan in. Not only did his presence give the wary star at least one marquee opponent to play off, but Hogan was also assured that Flair wasn't going to be a problem politically. He put that to the test right away.

Flair was supposed to go over in the next match between the two at a Clash of the Champions in order to set up a rubber match at Halloween Havoc. But Hogan, according to Flair's book, tells him, "it doesn't feel right," and he refused to lose cleanly.

It was too early in his run to do a job, even to a legend like Flair. Instead, he was counted out after Arn Anderson did his best Tonya Harding impression. Even with outside interference, Flair couldn't get a legitimate win over his perpetual rival.

Flair realized, perhaps for the first time, that he and Hogan weren't on equal footing. He was enhancement talent. Hogan was the star, and he wasn't doing the job, even if it was good for business.

"I don't think he cared," Flair said in a Highspots.com interview. "He was getting paid the same anyway. He got a huge guarantee per pay per view. He got a huge guarantee per television show."

According WCW boss Eric Bischoff, the resulting power struggle was a "nightmare." Flair, who was the booker in charge of storylines at the time, cracked under pressure, often bailing on important decisions and meetings to retreat home. And when it came to Flair versus Hogan, Bischoff was clear in his autobiography that he knew where he stood:

...if there was a jump ball, and the parties couldn't agree, I bet on Hogan. Hogan had a better track record and fell in line with the look and feel our company needed....Some people took that personally. They'd look at me and say 'He's in love with Hulk Hogan.' I wasn't. There were plenty times he frustrated me so much I'd go bang my head on a curb.

At Halloween Havoc, Flair lost a "career versus career" match. Before he would take the fall, however, Flair demanded a long-term contract from WCW.

"I said, 'Eric, I'll retire for a year, but I won't retire without a contract signed.' So, about an hour before the match, Bill Shaw (Turner Executive) brought it to me and I signed it."

It was a hardcore move, one that permanently changed his relationship with Bischoff.  Flair lost, to the legdrop, of course. He always said "to be the man, you've got to beat the man." Hogan was erasing any doubt about just who the man was.

In many ways, the two men were aesthetic opposites in the wrestling ring. Hogan, like most wrestlers, was a taker. A match with him was all about what he could do. His opponent's offense was just second-act filler, designed to get the bout to the point where he "Hulked Up."

After that, it's like there was no opponent at all, just a vessel for Hogan's righteous rage, a human-test dummy with the sole purpose of getting smashed with a foot in the face and smashed again with an enormous leg across the throat.

Flair was different. He was a giver. The signature spots of a Ric Flair match were all about his foe. About Flair taking a beating.

Even his best offense, like the hard chop to the chest or figure-four leglock, was designed for him to be hoisted by his own petard. How many times did a rival outchop Flair? How many times did the figure four, the most vaunted move in Flair's arsenal, get reversed? Even his best moves resulted in his own comeuppance.

Whether it was jobber George South or Hogan himself across the ring, Flair was prepared to take the same bumps and pratfalls. The face-first fall to the mat. The running flip into the turnbuckle and subsequent dash across the ring apron. The Gorilla press slam, especially off the top rope. The high-back body drop. The blood smeared across his bleached blond hair.

It was, of course, selfishness disguised as a gift. Flair was Flair because he took the best beating in the business. But how long could a wrestler hold a spot at the top when he, sometimes literally, shows his butt in every single match?

Sept. 1, 1997

Hogan was just the beginning of an influx of former WWF talent into WCW. Bischoff believed only WWF mainstays Hogan, Roddy Piper and Randy Savage put butts in seats. And he said as much, even with the proud Flair, a man who was unarguably one of wrestling's top draws, in the room.

In Bischoff's mind, there were former WWF stars, and then there was everybody else. The homegrown products felt too small time, too southern. It was an issue that was only exacerbated when Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hogan formed the New World Order in 1996.

The new faction took the business by storm. And the three men, all political geniuses and masters of consolidating backstage power, clearly saw Flair and his Four Horsemen faction as rivals, both onscreen and off.

A week after Flair's best friend Arn Anderson's emotional retirement from active competition, the NWO performed a brutal parody of the Horsemen. Kevin Nash takes particular delight in skewering Anderson:

You know—I'm a guy of average size, average speed, average quickness, average looks, average intelligence, average carpentry skillsbut you know what? I parlayed that into a wrestling career that I might say so myself was quite excellent. But you know something? Four months ago, I had a neck injury. Subsequently I lost the feeling in my hand, my left hand. The significance of that: That's the hand I open beer with.

Flair refused to come out later that night for an interview. Anderson's wife was upset at insinuations of infidelity. Once again, political rivals outplayed Flair backstage in a way they never could in the ring.

"Arn's son and Arn's wife are at home watching this," Flair said in his Highspots interview, blaming Bischoff for the idea. "How do you think they felt?...It was implying that all Arn did was drink beer and he was fat and out-of-shape. By three guys that can't carry Arn's jock."

Bad blood boiled between the two men. Flair and Bret Hart did exceptional business at the Souled Out PPV in early 1998. Then, mysteriously, the program was dropped and Hart moved on to work with Sting instead. As Hart explained in his autobiography, Flair had lots of enemies backstage:

Many of the WCW boys despised Flair, especially Hall, Nash, Macho, the Steiners and Hogan...Flair appeared to be trying to get along in this den of wolves and multiple wolfpacks, but as hard as he tried, nobody liked him except his old cronies such as Kevin Sullivan, Arn Anderson, J.J. Dillon and Mongo McMicheal. Hogan took every opportunity to stir me up about Flair, but I said nothing.

A dispute over a missed date, a show Flair skipped to watch his son Reid compete in an amateur wrestling meet, led to a showdown between Bischoff and Flair that ended in court. Flair, according to court documents obtained by Grantland:

claimed Bischoff treated him "in an increasingly hostile, rude, threatening and degrading manner. … [Bischoff's] language is crude, rude and 'socially unacceptable' even in the world of professional wrestling. He has threatened to bankrupt Plaintiff, put Plaintiff out of work, banish him to some foreign country and has referred to him as 'garbage.'"

In the Pro Wrestling Torch, editor Wade Keller speculated things had gotten personal:

Wrestlers have often missed dates before, so the lawsuit seems on the surface to be more of a statement against Flair rather than just his missing a couple of scheduled appearances. Bischoff had said he planned to make an example out of Flair, and by suing him for no-showing two dates, more than keeping Flair from going to the WWF, he may be trying to put a scare into other disgruntled wrestlers who might be thinking of missing dates in order to try to escape their contracts.

Flair's frustration with Bischoff and WCW overflowed on national television upon his return. The lawsuits had cost him into the six figures, and he was eventually forced to settle. The result was one of the most famous and caustic wrestling promos ever:

"Thank you, thank you very much. I'm almost embarrassed by the response, but when I see this, I know that the twenty-five years that I've spent trying to make you happy every night of your life was worth every damn minute of it. Now, somebody told me that the Horsemen were having a party tonight in Greenville! Could that be true that the most elite group that Eric Bischoff said was dead is alive and well?

Bischoff, this might be my only shot, and I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna make it my best. Is this what you call a great moment in TV? It's wrong, because this is real! This is not bought and paid for! It's a real - life - situation! Just like the night in Columbia, South Carolina, when you looked at me - tears in my eyes - and said 'God, that's good TV' - it was real! Arn Anderson passed the torch - it was real, dammit! You think Sting was crying in the dressing room like I was on TV if it wasn't real? This guy, my best friend, is one of the greatest performers who ever lived, and YOU - you squashed him, in one night. Then you get on the phone and tell me, 'Disband the Horsemen. They're dead. Disband the Four Horsemen.' You know what? I looked at myself in the mirror the next day and I saw a pathetic figure that gave up and quit! And for that, I owe you, the wrestling fans, I owe these guys an apology. Because it won't happen again! Bischoff, whatever you think...

You're an overbearing a#$hole! That's right! You're an obnoxious, you're an obnoxious, overbearing ass! Abuse of power! You! Abuse of power! Cut me off! Come on! It's called abuse of power! You suck! You... I hate your guts. I hate your guts. You are a liar, you're a cheat, you're a scam, you are a no good son of a b*tch. Fire me! I'm already fired! Fire me! I'm already fired!"

Flair and WCW had been officially at war. It was actually the ceasefire that allowed an opportunity to take it public. Flair introduced his 10-year-old son Reid to the business that year in an angle with Bischoff. Although he was "polite," according to his father's real-life enemy, Reid, according to The Charlotte Observer, was already struggling with the pressures of being the Nature Boy's son:

Once, at about age 6, his Charlotte AAU team was competing in Fayetteville when parents from the other team circled the mat where Reid was wrestling. They pounded the floor and chanted: “Beat Reid! Beat Reid!” recalled Beth Fliehr, Ric’s second of four wives.

“It broke my heart,” she said. “Everybody wanted to beat him so they could say they beat Ric Flair’s kid.”

Wrestling is littered with scores of family tragedy. The next generation of wrestlers, all too often, can't take the pressure of the business. 

The Von Erichs were the worst-case scenario, as bodies piled up in Texas. Flair had seen it firsthand. But even the best case wasn't so rosy. Dustin Rhodes and Jeff Jarrett barely spoke to their famous fathers. The same was true of Jerry Lawler and Brian Christopher.

Dragging your own children into the business is playing with fire. Yet Flair seemed intent on it. Twice it would backfire—once tragically.

That didn't stop Flair, who was suffering from anxiety attacks thanks to the pressures of the business, from dragging his own family into the ring. Sons David and Reid were attacked by the NWO. Bischoff kissed Beth. The payoff in the ring was a win over Bischoff, not at Starrcade '98, where he lost to the boss, but the next night on Nitro.

Was it worth it?

Jan. 17, 1999

Hogan again. As if abusing Flair over the years wasn't enough, he has Flair's son David in the middle of the ring. What was supposed to be just a couple of lashes with a belt turns into more than a dozen. Covered with welts, David is paying the price for Flair's political rivalries—all while his old man watched helplessly handcuffed to the ring post.

David took the abuse like a man, as tough guy Scott Norton, pretending to hold him down, squeezed his hand in support. He's a true Flair—for good or ill. According to his autobiography, Flair was crushed:

It wasn't fair to make my son go through that—he wasn't even a real wrestler yet—but there was nothing I could do....I felt like running over and holding David in my arms, and just stopping that stupid angle right there. He wasn't ready.

...there was Hogan—with all his experience and all his celebrity—trying to be cute. He whipped David like a dog. It was sickening and I'll never forgive him for it.

David would go on to turn on his own father, eventually sending Ric to an insane asylum. Later, WCW management would bury him in the desert, literally rather than figuratively like they'd done in storyline form for years. David Flair, despite his famous last name, never made it in the wrestling industry.

"It's kind of hard to live down who your dad is...We live in our dad's shadows," David would say in a 2009 appearance on the Interactive Interview. "We all do...you're never going to live it down. There's no way."

May 5, 2002

In 2001, WCW finally crash-landed after hemorrhaging money. Flair, like many others, landed in the WWE. Most of the other wrestlers, of course, weren't past 50 and broke.

For Flair and other wrestlers on board a plane from Great Britain to the United States, it might have just been another wild party. For flight attendants Taralyn Cappellano and Heidi Doyle, it was the flight from hell. Plenty of wrestlers were misbehaving, but Flair may have been the worst, according to Grantland:

He wore nothing but a jeweled cape, the flight attendants said, and "flashed his nakedness, spinning his penis around." He separately grabbed each woman's hand and placed it on his crotch, and then "forcibly detained and restrained" Doyle "from leaving the back of the galley of the airplane while he sexually assaulted her."

Famous for debauchery and showing off the goods, this was taking it to the next level. Flair was 53 years old. Yet nothing changed about how he conducted his life. Age, for the Nature Boy, did not come hand in hand with a new-found wisdom. Or with forgiveness.

In 2003, he finally did what he never could with WCW, cornering Eric Bischoff and slugging it out with his former boss backstage before Raw. Bischoff gave his version of the showdown to Pro Wrestling Torch editor Wade Keller:

I was sitting on the phone on this conference call, Ric comes in and is literally challenging me. I was looking for the camera because it didn’t make any sense. I really felt, well, wait a minute, am I in a segment that someone forgot to tell me I was in? Is this a rib? What the hell? So there was a moment of real confusion on my part.

I was sitting in a chair as he yelled, “Get up, get up get, I’ll kick your @ss,” or whatever he said, I don’t recall. I honestly was sitting in my chair on the phone carrying on a conversation and the people on the other end of the phone were hearing this. They asked, “What’s going on?” I said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s Ric.” (laughs)

Then it became obvious to me it was far more serious than I initially thought it was. I think Ric took a punch or two, but I was on TV ten minutes later and I don’t think anybody noticed anything.

Vince McMahon personally squashed any further fisticuffs. But Flair made it clear to reporter Mike Mooneyham that the feud would never be over in his mind.

“We get along. We agree to get along," Flair said. "But we’ll never be best friends. I won’t ever forgive him for what happened."

March 31, 2008

For months, in storyline at least, the entire WWE locker room was gunning to retire Flair. After an extended run on top with Evolution, he had now done jobs up and down the card, and his presence as an active competitor, even to his staunchest fans, was a little embarrassing.

Mr. McMahon laid down the law: The next time Flair lost, he'd be gone for good. Say this for WWE—they aren't afraid to touch on even the most raw wounds if it makes for a good storyline. Triple H, William Regal and even McMahon himself tried and failed to get the job done. Finally, at WrestleMania 24, Shawn Michaels laid Flair to rest in an emotional match.

The following night on Raw, the entire WWE came out to pay tribute. Tears flowed openly. His family joined him in the ring. It was a fitting sendoff to one of the best to ever lace up the boots.

"I have had the greatest wrestling career in the history of pro wrestling," an emotional Flair told the crowd. "Rejoice in the fact that I have wrestled in front of more fans, raised more hell, had more fun and loved all of you every day of my life."

A year later, he was back in the business with Ring of Honor. Even at 60, he was having a hard time staying out of the ring.

"I want to again," he told Scripps Howard syndicated columnist Alex Marvez. "I watch (WWE) and I can still do better than 90 percent of the guys there. I weigh one less pound than the day I retired. I still work out really hard and I wrestle my (Reid) all the time. It's not like I haven't been in the ring. People in Europe are offering me a fortune. I'm tired of signing autographs. I can make more money wrestling."

Once he got a fix, he was back all in with TNA Wrestling, the WWE's remaining competition. Some fans were aghast that he would return to a small-time company after his perfect sendoff. But the bills, and the divorces, were piling up.

"Some are addicted to the money; some need it. I think there are a lot of guys that made a fortune in the business and squandered most it. There's also the fame of the limelight. Fame is a very addictive thing," Triple H told Fox Sports Radio in 2010 after being asked about Flair's return to action. "It's tough to step out of that limelight and not be there any more and to come to terms that the fact that your time has passed. I think that's tough for a lot of guys to deal with it."

Others understood.

"So many people ask me about Ric, and whether his return bothers me," Michaels told WWE Magazine. "I always say, 'Absolutely not.' One match at WrestleMania XXIV - that moment - was truly 100 percent real to me. And it was real to him. And that's never going to change. I want Ric to be happy. And to be perfectly honest, I know he's happiest when he's in the ring. That moment will always be very special to me."

No matter what his peers in the business thought about him wrestling as he approached the senior-citizen cutoff, Flair wasn't ready to leave it all behind. Nothing had changed—not even his lifestyle. But what seemed fun at 40 was just kind of sad at 60.

In 2011, The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck had seen enough:

Personally, I think the guy is in serious need of an intervention. It seems pretty obvious that Flair – who turns 62 next month – just can’t come to grips with the fact that the days of being “The Nature Boy” 24/7 realistically should have ended years ago.

Instead of being a dignified elder statesman and a role model for the young guys on the TNA roster, Flair has become an old-timer with significant financial and personal issues who, according to reports, was mocked by the young guys for his irresponsible and immature behavior in Dublin.

Flair had always prided himself in closing down the bar and still getting in the ring that evening and putting on the best match on the show. That was no longer the case. In his final singles match in TNA, he and Sting, one of his favorite opponents, embarrassed themselves with a sloppy and mistake-filled match. It should have been a sign to slow down.

Instead, according to Mike Johnson of PWInsider, things only got worse:

There have been a number of incidents involving Flair at local establishments and bars in Orlando since coming to the company. At one point, sources indicate Flair was banned from drinking at the Hard Rock Cafe in Citiwalk due to an incident with him "acting inappropriate", according to one source, leading to venue management banishing him.

There are also stories aplenty within the company of Flair not being able to cover bar tabs and company management getting a call from the hotel and/or bar seeking payment. Most recently something similar went down at the hotel TNA utilizes for their wrestlers and staff, which the company has had a great relationship with for years, that was the final tipping point.

By the end of the year, Flair was back in the WWE's good graces. He had been inducted, for a second time, into their Hall of Fame for his role in the Four Horsemen in March. By December, he was appearing on the WWE Slammys to give an award to John Cena.

Things, it seemed, were going well.

March 29, 2013

It hurts to even imagine being Ric Flair on a Friday morning in March. To lose a son to drugs is a personal tragedy beyond reckoning. But to be the one to find him? To cradle him as you wait for paramedics to show up and pronounce him dead?

It's unfathomable.

The Flair legacy tore at Reid. He followed in his father's footsteps, but sometimes it was all too much, according to The Charlotte Observer:

Reid was 16 and pitted against a wrestler from South Mecklenburg High at the 2005 N.C. 4A Western Regional. His opponent won a heated bout, then performed Ric Flair’s signature strut and shouted: “Woooooo!” Reid tackled him and the crowd swarmed the mat.

Reid was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and both schools were fined $1,000. The assault was dismissed.

His parents' divorce may have been the catalyst for bad behavior to come. The next year, he was arrested for possession of marijuana. By 2009, he had graduated to heroin. Recovery came slowly. His dad gave him a Dodge Magnum after he successfully completed rehab. That night he was arrested.

“He had 19 beer cans in his car,” The Charlotte Observer reported Ric told the crowd assembled at the Forest Hill Church in Charlotte to pay their respects. Still, Reid was finding his way, according to those closest to him. But fate can only be tempted so many times. After overdoses in 2009 and two more in 2011, this time Reid Flair didn't wake up.

He was just 25 years old.

Still grieving, Flair hasn't come up with payments of spousal support for his fourth wife, Jacqueline Beems. He owes her more than $32,000, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

“The reason I didn’t pay my ex-wife the 32 grand is because my son died and I was in the hospital for a month,” Flair told The Charlotte Observer. “I was in the hospital for a month with a blood clot. I didn’t go to work for three months.”

For almost any other human being, this would be rock bottom. For Ric Flair, rock bottom doesn't even seem conceivable. He's been free falling for 25 years. There seems no limit to how far he might fall.

Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's Lead Combat Sports Writer and the author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling and the upcoming The War: How Vince McMahon Conquered the World of Wrestling.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/07/16/4168998/judge-orders-ric-flairs-arrest.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/04/06/3964694/life-death-of-reid-flair-wrestling.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/04/06/3964694/life-death-of-reid-flair-wrestling.html#storylink=cpy

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