Staying The Man

A Ric Flair Career Retrospective 1991-2008

by James De Medeiros     [ David Chappell looks at Flair in the 1970s and 1980s ]

1991 was clearly a down period for wrestling. Nothing seemed fresh anymore, and it was clear that any attempts made to change the industry, or create new stars, simply weren’t working. As a wrestling fan, things seemed bleak.

Then it happened.

On September 9, 1991, Ric Flair made his debut on WWF Prime Time Wrestling carrying the NWA World title and challenging Hulk Hogan to a WWF World title match. His first feud was a throwback to the Mid Atlantic territory a decade earlier -- Roddy Piper. Piper mocked Flair who was claiming to be the "Real World Champion" in spite of being stripped of NWA and WCW World title recognition, and weeks later the title itself. The two met numerous times on the house show circuit and also captained Survivor Series teams against each other. Flair was the sole survivor of his team, but that was far from the biggest impact he would make on that night. Later on in the evening, he interfered in the WWF World title match, causing Hulk Hogan to lose the championship to the Undertaker. After some controversy over the title situation, President Jack Tunney announced that the World title was held up and would be on the line at the Royal Rumble.

The January 19, 1992 Royal Rumble, would mark Flair’s first WWF World championship, as well as critical acclaim as the great Royal Rumble in history. Flair entered the ring as the third of thirty participants. He wrestled for a record-breaking one hour. He rode that moment onto WrestleMania VIII where he wrestled Randy Savage. In the weeks before the match, Flair taunted Savage telling him that Elizabeth “was mine before she was yours.” An irate Savage scored the victory, but the war would last for another 7 years. The next chapter in their feud would see Flair injure Savage prior to their September 1, 1992 rematch where Flair captured his second WWF title.

At this point during Flair’s WWF tenure, things began to happen. On October 9, 1992 in a title match against the Ultimate Warrior, Flair started having balance problems. The condition would force him out of action, and the decision was made to have Flair drop the title to Bret Hart so that the title would continue to appear on each house show. In the meantime, fans at WCW events began chanting “We Want Flair!” Flair decided to return to WCW after negotiating his release from the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF quickly turned Curt Hennig against Flair so that the two could feud prior to his departure. On the January 25, 1993 edition of Monday Night Raw, Flair lost a loser leaves the company match to Hennig. He continued to wrestle with the company through to February 10, 1993, headlining shows against Bret Hart, the company’s champion.

SuperBrawl III would mark Flair’s return to WCW. He would begin hosting his own talk show, called Flair For The Gold, that was featured within WCW broadcasts. At the Slamboree edition of the Flair For The Gold, a new Four Horsemen team consisting of Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Paul Roma was named. Finally, his return to the ring came in a winning effort at the June 16, 1993 Clash of the Champions teaming with Arn Anderson against Steve Austin and Brian Pillman. At the July 18, 1993 Beach Blast event, Flair would capture his record-setting tenth World title (of course, there has always been a discrepancy with regards to how many titles Flair has actually won, but this is the number presented in the WCW story).

For Flair fans, all seemed well in the world of wrestling. However, backstage things were not. At the September 19, 1993 Fall Brawl event, WCW made the decision to have Flair lose the title to Rick Rude. This decision marked the end of the NWA and WCW relationship. Meanwhile, WCW bookers made the decision that Flair would be used less as a main eventer, and more as a tag team and mid card wrestler.

Those plans changed when Sid Vicious, originally slated to wrestle Big Van Vader at Starrcade, was suspended by WCW after his real-life attack on Arn Anderson in England. Without an opponent for Vader, WCW turned to Flair to save the show. A little after this decision was made, Flair became a member of the booking committee. Flair put his career on the line, and captured Vader’s WCW World title with an incredible performance. He defended the title in a rematch against Vader, before rekindling his rivalry with Ricky Steamboat.

Again, all seemed well in the wrestling world, but again it was not. With Hulk Hogan’s arrival into WCW in the summer of 1994, also came Hogan’s creative control. Hogan defeated Flair for the WCW World championship in his first match on July 17, 1994. Hogan’s power would affect Flair’s career for many years. The feud appeared to culminate at the October 23, 2994, Halloween Havoc event where Flair lost a retirement cage match. However, Flair was quickly brought back to WCW when ratings began to drop.

He returned to WCW primarily to give Hogan, and WCW’s newest acquisition, Randy Savage, a strong heel to work against. His first match actually took place in North Korea against Antonio Inoki in the main event in front of a record-setting crowd of roughly 150,000 people. His loss at the event would be a sign of things to come.

Flair and Arn Anderson would lose to Vader at the Clash of The Champions on August 4, 1995. The loss would be the catalyst to their storyline dissension. Flair and Anderson would feud through September and October with Anderson scoring the victory in their outstanding Fall Brawl match. For Halloween Havoc, Flair enlisted the help of Sting to battle Anderson and Brian Pillman. From the time Flair entered the match, it took him only mere seconds to turn on Sting. At WCW’s first-ever World War 3 event, Flair would lose another classic match to his archrival Sting. Their feud would continue for months. Along the way, Flair defeated Sting and Lex Luger in a Starrcade Triangle match to determine the challenger for Randy Savage’s WCW World title. In the championship match held later that night, Flair would win the title with plenty of help from the Four Horsemen.

Even though Flair was the champion entering the year, 1996 would not be much different than 1995. By January 22, 2996, Flair had already lost the championship back to Randy Savage. At the time, rumors indicated that Flair quit the company following the loss. Nevertheless, the relationship was very quickly patched up, and Flair did not even missing a single event. He would go on to regain the title weeks later, holding it until April 22, 1996 when he lost it to The Giant. By this point, WCW was on the verge of introducing a 2-hour Nitro and the nWo. The changes in WCW meant that even less attention was placed on Flair, and more losses by Flair to establish the new group. On September 21, 1996, though, Flair suffered a torn rotator cuff in a match against Kensuki Sasaki in Tokyo, Japan.

WCW decided that regardless of Flair’s injuries, his presence was still necessary on their programming. He would appear alongside the Four Horsemen, and deliver his always- entertaining promos. His return to the ring would take place on May 18, 1997 in Charlotte, North Carolina with Piper and Kevin Greene against Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and X-Pac. The team won, but Flair and Piper would eventually have a falling out. This led to a July 13, 1997 Bash at the Beach contest with Flair once again losing in spite of interference from the Horsemen.

The Horsemen suffered a big loss on August 25, 1997 when Arn Anderson retired due to neck injuries. His departure was filled when he gave his spot to Curt Hennig. On September 14, 1997, Hennig turned on his Horsemen teammates during the War Games main event. As a result, Flair disbanded the Horsemen in a telephone interview on Nitro. A fiery Flair battled Hennig throughout October and November. On Novermber 23, 1997, Flair suffered a broken bone in his foot after jumping off the top rope to the floor where he delivered a blow to Hennig. He returned from injury and immediately began a short-lived feud with WCW’s latest newcomer, Bret Hart. The two had their finest recorded match against each other at the Souled Out on January 24, 1998.

In the next few months Flair appeared less and less on WCW telecasts. In April 1998, WCW finally decided to use Flair again. The decision was made to reunite the Horsemen on a Thunder broadcast that was scheduled to take place on a day that they had already granted Flair permission to miss so that he could attend his son’s amateur wrestling tournament. WCW sued Flair. The lawsuit meant that Flair would be off television for months. Finally, an agreement was reached on September 14, 1998 and Flair appeared to a thunderous standing ovation. The Four Horsemen were reformed in the same night.

Even though the segment produced WCW top rating in months, the decision was made to keep Flair out of the ring until December 27, 1998’s Starrcade event where Flair suffered the indignity of losing to Eric Bischoff. However, the next night on Nitro, Flair defeated Bischoff, and, in the process, earned the title of WCW President. As the President of the company, Flair quickly challenged Hogan to a match for the title. Unsuccessful in his attempt at SuperBrawl 9, Flair put his career and the Presidency on the line for a shot at Hogan’s title in a Barbed Wire First Blood Cage Match at WCW’s Uncensored. Flair won the title in an extremely entertaining and interesting match that was highlighted by a double turn.

As a new heel, Flair would allow his storyline power to go to his head. WCW decided to have Flair drop the title the next month. Ratings began to drop. WCW responded by placing Flair in insane asylum skits to further attempt to tarnish his legend. On July 19, 1999, Flair lost the Presidency in a match against Sting. Back injuries would force him to the sidelines. In the meantime, WCW executives finally decided to dismiss Eric Bischoff. An invigorated Flair immediately returned to WCW. Weeks later, on October 18, 1999 Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera took over WCW’s creative direction. With their arrival, Flair was soon sent home, but not before losing to Diamond Dallas Page, and being beaten up and left in the dessert by the Filthy Animals team.

Russo and Ferrera lasted until January 2000. Flair returned days later to begin a feud with Terry Funk. The feud was short-lived, with Flair winning a Death match at SuperBrawl X. Flair would begin teaming with Lex Luger and they dubbed themselves, Team Package, taking on Hulk Hogan. The pairing would last until the return of Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff. Russo decided to turn Flair face along with WCW’s other established stars in a group called the Millionaire’s Club. Flair would briefly feud with Shane Douglas and go on to win a Battle Royal for a title shot. Wrestling in street clothes, Flair would defeat Jeff Jarrett for the WCW World title on May 15, 2000’s Nitro program. The next night at the Thunder tapings, Flair would collapse, suffering from a recurrence of the inner ear in-balance that forced him to the sidelines towards the end of his WWF run. On May 22, Flair was stripped of the title. By May 29, 2000, Flair returned to WCW and was handed the title by new champion Kevin Nash. Flair would lose his last World Championship on the same night.

Ric Flair defeated his son in a career-threatening match at the Great American Bash on June 11, 2000. The next night, however, Flair teamed with his youngest son, Reid, in a losing effort against David and Russo. The stipulations not only forced Flair into retirement, but also have his head shaved. He would leave the scene and have surgery done on his once again injured shoulder.

He returned full-time as WCW’s on-screen figurehead before the end of 2000. On January 15, 2001, he would form a new stable of heels called the Magnificent Seven. The Four Horsemen they were not. The group would be forgotten by the time WCW had their last telecast on March 26, 2001 where Flair wrestled Sting in the last main event.

Flair kept busy during the ensuing months doing commercials, while continuing to be under contract to the defunct WCW. Finally, on November 19, 2001 in Charlotte, North Carolina, he returned to the wrestling world as a co-owner of the WWF. He would feud with Vince McMahon and the two would have an entertaining no holds barred match at the 2002 Royal Rumble. His next match occurred at WrestleMania X8 against the Undertaker. The match was widely praised as one of the top two matches of the evening, yet there did not seem to be a plan to have Flair become a full-time performer.

The reasons for this remain unclear, but Flair’s lack of confidence may have played a role. McMahon and Flair then split the talent with Flair becoming the sole owner of the flagship Monday Night Raw property. Flair turned heel, and immediately feuded with Steve Austin. The two would wrestle in a memorable match on June 3, 2002, one week before Austin left the company. With Austin’s departure, the decision was made that Flair would lose his ownership back to McMahon on June 10, 2002.

The following months would become very difficult for Flair who was switched back to being a babyface. He would battle top stars such as Eddie Guerrero, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, and Chris Jericho, yet he seemed a shell of his former self. He would become a heel again on October 20, 2002 when he aligned with Triple H. This new pairing would give Flair the opportunity to take a break from wrestling, while planting the seeds for the Four Horsemen-inspired team, Evolution.

Evolution’s formation stalled when Batista and Randy Orton went down with injuries. In the meantime, Flair returned to the ring in the spring of 2003. On May 19, 2003, Flair’s comeback as a top-flight performer was solidified with an outstanding title match against Triple H. The following week, Flair attacked Shawn Michaels, and the two met in an excellent match on June 15, 2003.

Flair would finish out the year as a champion once again, as he, and Evolution teammate Batista, captured their first WWE World Tag team titles on December 14, 2003. All four members of Evolution were champions, and they dominated Raw. At WrestleMania 20, Flair joined Batista and Orton in a marquee match against The Rock and Mick Foley – a match where Flair truly shined taking bumps and entertaining as only he could do. On April 19, 2004, Flair and Batista lost the tag titles to Chris Benoit and Edge. Evolution began to crumble.

Flair wrestled a superb cage main event match of the Taboo Tuesday 2004 event against former Evolution teammate Randy Orton. Again, just as it appeared that he was still a very viable championship contender, he was placed in the background of the ongoing story of Evolution’s demise. Evolution eventually became only Flair and Triple H, who lost his championship and left the scene in the summer of 2005. On June 27, 2005, Flair wrestled Kurt Angle in an outstanding and very physical contest. Following the match, he also left television for most of the rest of summer.

He returned to battle Carlito, son of former nemesis Carlos Colon, in a series of Inter-continental championship matches. He won his only I-C title on September 18, 2005, and the following night scored an even more impressive victory in Carlito’s rematch. When Triple H returned in October, he immediately turned on Flair leaving him in a pool of his own blood. The two would feud for months. They traded brilliantly wrestled and extremely violent victories at the November 2005 pay-per-view events. Flair seemed to be in his finest form since returning to the company. On January 16, 2006, he wrestled in his only Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. The match will be remembered for being the closest Flair would come to capturing the WWE title in his last run. It also prepared him for the WrestleMania 22 Money in The Bank match. Sadly, just as it seemed he was poised to remain at the top of the WWE, he left the scene for most of the spring.

In June 2006, Flair returned to start a feud based off of real-life tensions with Mick Foley. Flair proved to Foley that he could be a “hardcore” wrestler when he challenged The Big Show for the ECW title on July 11, 2006. The incredibly violent match featuring thumbtacks and garbage cans, and was arguably the closest match in the WWE version of ECW, to recapture the old ECW style. This led to an impressive win in an I Quit match against Mick Foley at SummerSlam 2006.

Following the SummerSlam victory, WWE appeared to lose interest in promoting Flair as a serious performer. They paired Flair with Piper at the Cyber Sunday event. The two won the tag titles, and briefly held the championships until Piper was forced to leave after suffering pain, which was later revealed to be cancer. Flair remained on TV, but was relegated to mid card status. In January 2007, Flair was put into a program with Carlito, who was firmly entrenched in WWE’s doghouse. As a result, both Flair and Carlito were left off of the main PPV broadcast of WrestleMania 23. In the weeks following the event, Carlito turned on Flair. The two briefly feuded before Flair was drafted to WWE’s Smackdown program.

An invigorated Flair performed admirably against Edge and Finlay before being forced on the sidelines once again with balance issues. This, coupled with a lack of ideas by WWE’s creative department, would keep Flair on the sidelines until November 26, 2007.

With his return, came Vince McMahon’s ultimatum that with Flair’s next loss, he would be forced to retire. Initially, many believed that Flair would be in line for a WrestleMania World title shot and possibly even title reign. Instead, WWE changed their minds immediately following that night’s match against Randy Orton. Undeterred, Flair wrestled Triple H on the company’s New Year’s Eve Raw broadcast. The match proved to skeptics that he still had the ability to perform at the highest level. Unfortunately, he was placed into programs featuring short bouts against MVP and Mr. Kennedy. In February 2008, it was announced that Flair would be WWE’s first-ever active competitor inducted into their Hall of Fame. The following week, Flair challenged Shawn Michaels to a match at WrestleMania.

The two wrestled an incredibly dramatic 20-plus minute match. Surprisingly, the outstanding show-stealing WrestleMania loss was not the climax of the three days in Orlando. In all three of WWE’s Orlando events, fans and peers thanked Flair for his incredible career and the memories it produced. On March 31, 2008, Flair gave his Farewell address. The event was highlighted by a reunion of the Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson/Blanchard/Windham/Dillon) as well as sincere heartfelt thanks from fans, as well as current and former performers such as Steamboat, Race, and Valentine. The incredibly emotional tear-filled three days culminated the greatest career in the history of the industry.

James De Medeiros
April 3, 2008

Published 4/4/08

Photo: ©

Ric Flair Reaches The End of the Road?

A Look Back at Ric's Career in the 70s-80s

by David Chappell - Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Previous James De Medeiros Updates on Ric Flair:

Ric Flair's Last Run Derailed?

Flair Promises to "Go Out in a Blaze of Glory"

Ric Flair: The Final Countdown

Happy WOO Year!

Flair Proves He's Still Wrestling's MVP

Hobbling to Heartbreak at Wrestlemania?

Flair to Battle The World Champion in a Cage Match Showdown on Smackdown


Links to Jim De Medeiros Flair updates can always be found in the Smoke Filled Rooms section of the website.

© 2008 Mid-Atlantic Gateway