July 25, 2004
Flair book starts war of words
By SCOTT ZERR - Edmonton Sun
Ric Flair never intended for his new book to start a storm of controversy. But, as everyone knows, people love to read about other people's dirty laundry and that's exactly what has happened with Flair's new book, To Be the Man.
In the current New York Times bestseller, the World Wrestling Entertainment star reveals his true feelings about a number of other grapplers - none more scathing than Alberta's own ring legend Bret "the Hitman" Hart.
Flair, a 16-time world champion, made his most heated claims about the self-promotion of Hart's own talent (vastly overrated) and Hart's inability to draw big money during the heydays of the '80s (riding the coattails of Hulk Hogan).
Hart fired back in his own Calgary Sun column and on the Internet, debunking Flair's views and taking shots at the Nature Boy's own skills. One of Hart's rebuttal essays even declared that Flair "showed great cowardice when he let Bobby Shane die in that tragic plane crash in '75."
In all, it's been quite a war of words.
"It's sad because I didn't mean for all this to happen," Flair (Richard Fliehr) told the Sun during an interview on his book tour that stopped in Toronto earlier this week.
"I said what I think and I what I feel. Obviously there are only a couple of us in the business who can look back at the past - I've been in this business for 30 years - and say who was good and who wasn't. I've wrestled everybody from Bruiser Brody to the Rock - Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Buddy Rogers, Gene Kiniski, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat - and I know who was good and who wasn't.
"Bret was a great worker, a great technician, but he wasn't a great performer and he didn't have a lot of charisma. It's all part of a package. When you're the size of Bret and I, we're not six-foot-six and 300 pounds with 21-inch arms, so you've got to have something else to bring to the table."
For Flair, that has always been a showmanship largely unequalled by his peers - a flair, so to speak, to be a great heel or face (bad guy/good guy) with a schtick that sold time and time again from the '70s through to today. He never had a chiselled body, but his persona, the exhuberance of his promo interviews and the dreaded figure-4 leglock combined to make Flair routinely regarded as the No. 1 wrestler of all time.
Hart and Flair did hook up in World Championship Wrestling after Hart's unforgettable departure for the WWE and they had a classic pay-per-view matchup. But the ill will continued, perhaps even magnified, during the tragic death of Owen Hart in an accident prior to a match in Kansas City on May 23, 1999.
"Owen's passing was an unparalleled tragedy but all Bret wanted to do was say how Vince (McMahon) screwed him in Montreal. I never once insulted the Harts," Flair claimed.
"When Bret became (WWE) champion, he couldn't draw but Vince couldn't get him out of his contract. (The WWE) was happy when WCW offered him a contract, and look what happened. He went there and failed miserably.
"It's ludicrous for Bret to say I wouldn't put him over. I've never taken a fall of Bret. When Bret came to WCW, no one wanted to put him over, not Hogan, not Kevin Nash, not Sting, not Goldberg. I was the only one who was willing.
"I gave my opinion in the book about Dusty Rhodes and I wasn't flattering but Dusty didn't turn on me. It's just that the truth hurts sometimes."
As wooden as Flair thought Hart could be when working a crowd or a microphone, he is not of the same opinion on Edmonton's own world heavyweight champion, Chris Benoit, who has been criticized several times during his career for a lack of, ahem, flair.
"Chris is now in a great position," said Flair. "He's got charisma. It just doesn't ooze out of him but he is catching on. It's just that he's never been given a chance. He's a shy guy who doesn't refer to himself in the third person as the best there ever was. He's a guy who's proud to be in the position he is as world champion and he's respected for it in the wrestling community."
Flair's efforts to put together his book stalled a desire to get into another rugged business - the world of politics. He considered following the footsteps of Jesse "the Body" Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, by running for office in North Carolina, but chose instead to focus on his memoirs.
The 53-year-old, who counts seven of his famous ring robes and the treasured American Wrestling Association title belt among his limited memorabilia, continues to wrestle and will stay ringside in some capacity or another until being told it's time to pack it in.
"I learned the craft from guys like Dick Murdoch, Harley Race, the Funks," said Flair. "I'm trying now to give something back and the young guys today enjoy wrestling with me. They can learn how to play off a crowd, how to play off that energy and all about ring psychology.
Ric Flair: To Be the Man