Jimmy Bellamy: The legend lives on as Flair keeps wrestlingSports fans in Minnesota and Wisconsin are used to it by now. Upon us is another year in which we expect Brett Favre to save retirement for another day in favor of competing in athletic endeavors, leaving people to wonder when he’ll finally call it quits. The same can be said about Ric Flair.
By: Jimmy Bellamy, Duluth News Tribune
Sports fans in Minnesota and Wisconsin are used to it by now. Upon us is another year in which we expect Brett Favre to save retirement for another day in favor of competing in athletic endeavors, leaving people to wonder when he’ll finally call it quits.
The same can be said about Ric Flair.
Two years ago, the legendary professional wrestler had everything set up for him to walk away for good — an emotional World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame induction the night before his “final” match against Shawn Michaels (who some regard as the best wrestler of all time) at WrestleMania (WWE’s version of the Super Bowl), followed by a tear-filled internationally televised farewell address on “Monday Night Raw” that saw even the toughest of competitors weep as their idol thanked fans and called it a career.
That was then.
Now 61, Flair has since wrestled Hulk Hogan, 56, in a tour of Australia and made his return to TV as a wrestler and manager with another company, Total Nonstop Action.
Flair, whose real name is Richard Fliehr, will be in Duluth on Thursday for the Rumble at the Garden, an event at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park. He isn’t scheduled for a match, but he will be signing autographs at the show put on by Heavy on Wrestling.
“I am not ready to sit at home and build a garden,” Flair said. “I feel great, I work hard, and I am ready to keep going.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a wrestler more decorated and flamboyant than Flair. Nicknamed “The Nature Boy,” Flair has won a record 16 world championships as wrestling’s ultimate character for decades. His gaudy, sparkling robes, bleach-blonde hair and signature “Woo!” make him one of the industry’s icons.
“(Wrestling) has allowed me a chance to fully develop a character and market myself as an entertainer that has gained the love of millions of people,” he said.
Flair has made an impact in each decade since the 1970s for NWA (National Wrestling Alliance), WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and WWF/WWE. He helped WCW go toe-to-toe with then-WWF in the mid- to late ’90s, and remained relevant as a wrestler and mentor in WWE from 2001 to 2008.
“With the way things have been going with wrestling, it’s obviously not as huge as it was in the late ’90s, and I think he’s one the few elements that is still entertaining,” said David Sabick, Heavy on Wrestling promoter and a Duluth resident. “I don’t know if I’d want to watch pro wrestling today without Ric Flair on it. He’s the man, just like he’d tell you.
“If it weren’t for Ric, I would not be in the wrestling business.”
Fans and critics complained when Favre cut another “retirement” short to play football for the Minnesota Vikings in 2009. The 40-year-old quarterback went on to have one of the best statistical seasons of his career and led the Vikings to within an eyelash of the Super Bowl.
Even at this stage of his career, Flair, too, has provided fans with thrilling memories.
Jimmy Bellamy is the News Tribune multimedia editor. Contact him at (218) 723-5390 or firstname.lastname@example.org.