"The Nature Boy" Ric Flair is one of the most recognizable professional wrestlers of all time, primarily because he strutted around like a million-dollar peacock before selling his losses with literal blood, sweat, and tears. He was also among the most versatile performers in the industry and could portray the heroic baby face (the good guys) in one match and a dastardly heel (the bad guys) in the next. His mixture of athleticism and theatricality—lavish robes included—remains unmatched to this day.
Here are 20 facts about the two-time WWE Hall of Famer.
1. Ric Flair was stolen and sold as a baby.
Over the course of 21 years, Tennessee Children's Home Society director Georgia Tann and a web of co-conspirators (judges, social workers, etc.) kidnapped around 5000 children and adopted them out for profit under the guise of a legitimate agency. Flair was one of those children. In 1949, he was adopted by a couple in Minnesota, obstetrician Dick Fliehr and his author wife, Kay. Flair's true birth name could have been Fred Phillips, Fred Demaree, Fred Stewart, or something completely different (the Tennessee Children's Home Society operated under a cloud of lies).
In his book To Be The Man, Flair said, "Believe it or not, I never bothered looking at my adoption papers until I started researching this book. The documents were sitting in a safe in my house, and I didn't even know my birth name. I was never curious. I'm still not. I'm an only child, and as far as I'm concerned, my parents have always been my mom and dad."
2. He wanted to be a dentist.
Ironically, Flair felt he disappointed his adoptive parents because they loved theater, and he loved sports. Perhaps as a way to cover that disappointment (which seems ill-conceived based on his eventual over-the-top performances) or simply as a means to follow in his father's medical footsteps, Flair considered going into dentistry before pursuing a career with frilly robes and crowd-pleasing struts.
3. He tried to quit wrestling after two days.
When Flair decided to try his hand at wrestling, he went to train with legendary promoter Verne Gagne, owner of the Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association. But two days of doing 500 free squats, 200 push-ups, and 200 sit-ups at Gagne's camp had Flair mentally and physically exhausted. He threw in the towel and called his friend Greg (Verne's son) to tell him he was quitting. Soon enough, Verne was at Flair's house, yelling at the future "Nature Boy" that he didn't sign him up just to quit. Flair was soon back in camp.
4. One of Flair's first matches was in a broken ring.
Flair and Greg Gagne struck up a rapport outside of the ring, so, naturally, they found themselves wrestling each other early on in their careers. One of their most memorable bouts took place in a high school in Peoria, Illinois, where nothing went according to plan.
"I bodyslammed Ric and the ring collapsed in the middle and went down," Gagne recalled in an interview. "And when he did, I tried to cover him there. The ref counted one, two and Ric kicked me off. And we wrestled to a 20-minute draw with a busted ring ... When we came out all the guys in the dressing room said, 'Guys, that was unbelievable.' It was only our second match."
5. Ric Flair is not the first "Nature Boy."
The nickname "Nature Boy" doesn't exactly correspond with Flair's "stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, kiss stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a gun" persona—in fact, it sounds a bit more like he communes in the forest and has a knack for recycling. Turns out, he actually cribbed the name from Buddy Rogers, a dynamo who drew huge crowds from the 1940s well into the 1970s. Rogers had intensely bleached hair, a brash attitude, and used the Figure Four Leglock as his signature move. Flair adopted all of these attributes from the legend and eventually wrestled him in the late '70s.
There was even another "Nature Boy"—Buddy Landel—who Flair wrestled in the '80s and '90s to settle who got to keep the moniker. (Spoiler: Flair won.)
6. He survived a plane crash.
When Flair's wrestling career was just starting, he was a heavyset brawler with a buzzcut who bore little resemblance to the icon he would become. But that changed in October 1975 when Flair was involved in a plane crash that killed the pilot, paralyzed another wrestler, and broke his back in three places. Despite being told he would never wrestle again, the 26-year-old Flair recovered, slimmed down, and used his time away from the ring to start honing a more flamboyant version of his character.
7. He also says he once survived a lightning strike.
According to Flair, he had another close brush with death in the late '70s, when he said he was nearly struck by lightning (the person behind him wasn't so lucky). He talked about it on Dan Le Batard's ESPN Radio show in 2016.
"I was getting off a plane in Richmond, Virginia. They didn’t have the jetways back then, back in the late '70s, and I was late for a match. I was World Champion then, I was wrestling [Ricky] Steamboat at the Richmond Coliseum," he said. "Finally … they let us all get off the plane. I got off, I was walking, and I didn’t go 10, maybe 15 feet, and all of a sudden, I felt this pressure boom, and man, my umbrella shot 50 feet in the air. I thought, 'What the hell?' Lightning hit the top of my umbrella, bounced off, and hit the guy in the eye five feet behind me and killed him. Right there. I just stood there looking at the guy and froze, it scared me to death. People were running out the door to get the guy."
8. His "Woo!" came from Jerry Lee Lewis.
One of the most recognizable catchphrases in the business, Flair's "Woo!" never ceases to taunt his opponents into a rage. He took it from rockabilly icon Jerry Lee Lewis's hit "Great Balls of Fire," using it both during his matches and while cutting promos.
9. He wrestled Sting on both the first and final WCW Nitro.
TNT's weekly WCW Nitro show launched on September 4, 1995, with Hulk Hogan wrestling Big Bubba Rogers and Ric Flair squaring off against Sting. The program went up against then-WWF's Monday Night Raw, eventually dominating the ratings with its penchant for chaos, shocks, and what amounts to grittier realism in the wrestling world.
But WCW's success only lasted so long, and the company was eventually bought out by WWE. In a bit of fan service for longtime wrestling devotees, the final Nitro aired on March 26, 2001, and featured Flair against Sting in the main event.
10. He gave one of his championship belts to Triple H.
In a gracious act of friendship and camaraderie, Flair gave his "Big Gold Belt"—the one regularly seen around his waist in his National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and WCW days—to Triple H, the multi-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Flair had originally won the iconic title in the 1980s, and when WCW shuttered, a similar version of the belt was brought back to life in the WWE. Company owner Vince McMahon still had the original, though, and let Flair keep it. In turn, Flair gave it to Triple H to signify a "phenomenal" reign as Heavyweight champ.
11. Those fancy robes could cost as much as $10,000.
Beyond his "Woo!" and very-not-real blonde hair, Flair's elaborate robes are the most significant part of his style. They're so important, in fact, that he dropped huge amounts of money on the diamond-and-feather-encrusted leisurewear items. In Flair's '80s and '90s heyday, many of his standout robes were made by the late Olivia Walker and could cost upwards of $10,000. In 2017, an autographed robe worn by Flair sold for $27,000 at auction.
12. He borrowed $800,000 from Vince McMahon.
Speaking of high price tags, Flair leaned heavily on his boss, Vince McMahon, for financial support throughout a series of divorces and other issues, resulting in Flair being $800,000 in debt to the famed billionaire. He still McMahon during his stint at WrestleMania XXIV, so Flair took the paycheck he earned for the event—which he called the "[biggest] paycheck I ever got in my life"—and handed it right back to the boss to help pay off the debt.
13. He's the first two-time WWE Hall of Famer.
Flair was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008 because of his decades-long solo career, and was inducted again in 2012 as part of The Four Horseman wrestling stable that also included Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Barry Windham. It's also possible that Flair will be the first three-time inductee because of his work with the Evolution stable, headed by Triple H in the early 2000s.
14. His longest title reign lasted more than two years.
As a testament to Flair's early dominance as a champion, he held the National Wrestling Alliance Heavyweight Championship for 793 days after winning it from Kerry Von Erich on May 24, 1984. He then lost it to Dusty Rhodes on July 26, 1986, but got it back two weeks later at a bout in Missouri. After winning it back from Rhodes, Flair held onto the title for another 412 days, meaning that he could have been the NWA champ for over three straight years if not for Rhodes's brief stint with the belt.
15. He was named in a lawsuit following an infamous WWE plane ride.
If one airplane ride changed the course of his early career, another one dramatically changed his reputation in the latter years. In May 2002, Flair, along with several other performers, were part of a seven-hour flight that came to be known in wrestling circles as the "Plane Ride From Hell." In addition to the typical intoxicated debauchery from the wrestlers, two flight attendants claimed that they were sexually harassed during the trip. One of the attendants said that Flair had exposed himself to her while only wearing one of his robes and cornered her in the back of the plane where he put her hands on his genitals.
According to Newsweek, Flair was later named in a lawsuit brought on by the flight attendants but that WWE settled the matter out of court. The event was reexamined in 2021 as part of Vice's pro wrestling documentary series Dark Side of the Ring. Thanks to the enhanced scrutiny over Flair's alleged involvement after the episode aired, the former heavyweight champion saw endorsement deals get paused, and the WWE began removing references to him from its programming. Flair denied all of the allegations.
16. Flair had his first final match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.
That match at WrestleMania XXIV where Flair handed his paycheck right back to McMahon? It was for his retirement match. It was the capstone to a running storyline in 2008 where Flair put his career on the line against a slew of competitors, eventually losing to Shawn Michaels in Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Match of the Year. With defeat meaning retirement, Michaels agonized over the victory, saying "I love you. I'm sorry," before delivering a final super kick to the chin that sent Flair permanently down for the count. Well, for a little while, anyway.
17. He quickly returned to the ring to wrestle Hulk Hogan.
Professional wrestling has a proud tradition of performers second-guessing their decision to retire, and just a year after Ric Flair's emotional WrestleMania send-off, the "Nature Boy" found himself back in the ring to go toe-to-toe with the legendary Hulk Hogan. The four-match series was part of the aptly named Hulkamania: Let the Battle Begin tour and took place in various arenas throughout Australia in November 2009. Hogan/Flair was the main event for each show and usually resulted in Flair being left a bloody mess by the end of the night.
18. He had another final match in 2011.
Flair continued wrestling following the tour, eventually winding up in a promotion called Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in 2010. Over the next year and a half, Flair had multiple bouts with performers like Mick Foley and Kurt Angle, before going one-on-one against Sting on September 12, 2011, in what was thought to be his last match.
19. His daughter, Charlotte, wrestles for WWE now.
You can't keep the Flairs out of the ring, it seems. Ric's son, David, had a brief wrestling stint in WCW; and his other son, Reid, wrestled matches on the independent circuit and in Japan before passing away in 2013. Currently, Flair's daughter, Ashley, is one of the biggest stars in WWE. Wrestling under the name Charlotte Flair, she's a 12-time Women's Champion, won the 2020 Royal Rumble, and was part of the first-ever women's match to headline a WrestleMania.
20. He has his (most likely) final match in July 2022.
Flair "retired" after his 2011 match with Sting for a variety of reasons, including injuries and the shock of seeing a wrestler of a similar age, Jerry "The King" Lawler, have a heart attack live on the air during an episode of Monday Night Raw. Flair then suffered a series of health scares around 2017, leading to doctors giving him a pacemaker. But in June 2022, it was announced that Flair—at the age of 73 years old—will come out of retirement to have his final match on July 31, 2022, at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
Though his opponent hasn't been named yet, Flair said in an interview that he wants this retirement bout to be better than the last few times fans saw him in the ring. "[It] has to be better than anything I did after [Shawn] Michaels," Flair said in an interview.