The only two-time WWE Hall of Famer, a 16-time world champion, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair has done it all to become the pinnacle of professional wrestling. He has created a legacy that has changed the business. Moreover, he has transcended that business and become a pop-culture icon.
Flair's career, though, has not been solely defined by his successes. From his legal issues and his sexual affairs to nearly 20 years of heavy daily drinking, Flair has been riding a roller coaster of a career that makes him one of the most fascinating athletes in the world.
Flair has led such an interesting career that ESPN chose to make him the first-ever professional wrestler to be documented in an ESPN 30 for 30. It was a chance to see Flair at his best and at his worst, redefining a legend, and many were excited for the story and the spectacle, including current WWE wrestler Mickie James:
The Nature Boy's story began with his tough road to wrestling under the brutal tutelage of Verne Gagne and his work growing up. Using animated storytelling, fans were able to relive the physical training that nearly caused him to quit the business before he started.
Moreover, we were given a unique view of the infamous airplane crash that should have ended Flair's career but instead pushed him to superstardom. It was a moment that helped solidify the wonder of The Nature Boy's story for many watching, with writer David Dennis Jr. adding his own anecdote to the story:
Fans were allowed on the ride to Flair's star status. From exploring Flair's feud with Dusty Rhodes to the forming of the Four Horsemen and certainly the feud between the WWF and NWA, the wrestling experience was in full view, including speaking on the "wrestling is fake" debate, which set off many fans:
The documentary opened up the opportunity to see many wrestlers speaking frankly. This led to many exciting moments, including seeing Ricky Steamboat talk up his legendary rival and The Undertaker speaking as Mark Calaway:
Two stories were told with Flair's journey. One focused on the joy he experienced in the ring and from becoming a star beyond the bounds of perhaps any wrestler ever. The other was about the dark side of this success that led to a fragile family life and ultimately dangerous living.
Many could not believe when Flair stated that, despite being a married man during the peak of his career and over four decades in total to four women, he had been with 10,000 women over his lifetime:
While the director of the documentary Rory Karpf could not wholly confirm the number, he did make clear that it was not for lack of evidence but rather lack of time to count every affair:
Sean Waltman also weighed in on Flair's failing to be with his family, noting his similar situation over the years, wrestling for so long on the road:
Even more troubling were the dangers that would ultimately put Flair's life at risk. As he put it, wrestling "became a disease." To combat his nagging loneliness, he took to drinking, making every day a dangerous proposition.
He drank at a rate that made him admit it was a shock he was still alive today. This view of Flair's drinking hit many hard:
Even once his career had ended, the demons persisted. He was bogged down in debt and continued drinking. It only grew worse with the death of his son, Reid, until friends finally intervened to save him and his daughter Charlotte, now one of WWE's top female performers.
The death pushed them both to find themselves. It was a harrowing but touching climax that caused one last flood of emotions for fans, including wrestler Andrew Everett:
Ultimately, what we saw in this 30 for 30 was an uncompromising look at a legend. He took over the world. He became a star unlike anyone in the business. However, he paid the price for such an amazing rise to glory.
ESPN spared fans no moment in The Nature Boy's career, and it was easy to appreciate what we were all allowed to witness through ESPN's powerful documentary, with legends Mick Foley and Diamond Dallas Page weighing in:
There will never be a legend in this business like Flair. He changed the game and made professional wrestling more popular than it perhaps will ever be again. No man has created a greater legend for himself than Flair.
It was wonderful to get this 90-minute glimpse into the career of The Nature Boy, yet it still felt like so much more could be explored. This is a legend and a damaged man, one of the most interesting athletes of all time.
If this is the only time a professional wrestler is covered in ESPN's 30 for 30 series, no wrestler could have been a better focus. However, wrestling fans would likely be receptive if ESPN wants to return to the world of professional wrestling again, given their overwhelming support for this documentary.