'Vince knows I'll steal the show'
By SIMON ROTHSTEIN of THE LILSBOYS
Published: 16 Nov 2007
If you ask any professional wrestler who the greatest of all time is, they will tell you Ric Flair.
So it is some surprise that, despite being under contract to the WWE, the 16-time world champion hasnít been on our screens recently.
Now, for the first time, Ric opens his heart on the situation and chats candidly about the arguments he has had with boss Vince McMahon over his role in the federation.
The 58-year-old Nature Boy admits feeling frustrated about being dropped from WrestleMania and at his lack of promo time, but says he will never leave a company that has been so good to him.
He also talks about his legendary career in the ring, future plans and the reasons behind his dislike for fellow grappling icon Bret Hart.
You can read the exclusive interview, in full, below:
Hi Ric, good to chat to you again. With Survivor Series coming this Sunday what are you memories of shows gone by?
The Survivor Series is one of the companyís four flagship PPVs, alongside WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Royal Rumble.
It is a very important show for the WWE, with a lot of history, and has played a big part in my career too.
I had my first Survivor Series in 1991 and I was fortunate enough to be an instrumental part of the shows I was on.
Last year was special as I got to work in the ring with Dusty Rhodes again. After all weíve travelled through in our careers, it was a great honour to be involved in that match.
Do you have mixed feelings about the event though, as it was originally launched by Vince McMahon to destroy the 1987 Starrcade you were headlining for rival group NWA?
Thatís a little bit more of a political question than I know the answer to.
I can certainly make reference to what you are talking about, but I donít know all the strategy behind that.
But that is indicative of just how smart Vince McMahon is.
He is always a step ahead of the competition.
You spent most of your career working against Vince, in NWA and then WCW, so was it hard being on the other side to his genius?
Well, thereís no way in the world I would ever tell you that their show was better Ė as I thought ours was. Thatís me standing up for my promotion, which Iím always going to do.
I thought our talent pool was better and we had better performers.
Donít get me wrong they had great performers too, but from the opening match to the last match we were stronger.
I knew what my job was and I didnít see anybody in any position, in any promotion, performing at a higher level than I did.
But Vince seemed to have the gimmicks and the showmanship.
And that was the whole emergence of sports entertainment, which was a tough world for me to follow when it first came out.
I donít think it has demeaned the respect that the wrestlers get, but it was hard for the guys in my era to swallow that terminology. We didnít think of ourselves as sports entertainment for a long time.
But certainly that is where weíre at right now and the other sports Ė NFL football, basketball and baseball Ė all wish they had the entertainment we bring to the screen on a nightly basis.
Are you going to be on this yearís Survivor Series PPV on Sunday?
Not that I know of, no.
We havenít seen you for a little while. Have you been injured or were there no storylines in mind for you?
Thatís exactly it Ė no storylines.
There were strong rumours that you had some sort of argument with Vince McMahon about direction and you were considering quitting the WWE. Is there any truth to them?
First of all, Vince McMahon doesnít argue Ė he tells you!
I may have had a word with him about what I was going to be doing, but thatís all it was.
I have utmost respect for the company and always have. Nobody can ever quote me saying anything negative about the WWE.
I may have been a little bit frustrated, like I have been once or twice in my career.
One of the problems with me is that I still see myself in the same light that I saw myself 25 years ago.
But the fans still react to you like they did 25 years ago.
I think they do!
So whatís the plan now? Have you signed a contract extension? Will you be back on TV soon?
I will be back on TV, but I donít have a timeframe.
As far as a contract extension, I think I have a job with the company for life. Thatís the level of respect that they give me.
Thatís a verbal agreement, and I have gone on verbal agreements with the WWE and Vince before that have never ever backfired on me.
I have never thought about doing anything else other than work for the company.
What Iím doing right now Ė talking to you and promoting the WWE and the Survivor Series Ė is what I enjoy doing the most.
Iíve never seen myself working behind the scenes creatively. Itís not that I donít like that aspect of the business, however one of the problems I have is that I become impatient.
The people that orchestrate and work behind the scenes are very patient, and they have to be because we have a lot of young talent.
My problem is that I think everybody needs to work as hard as I worked when I was in my prime.
And thatís something I just canít change.
There was a brilliant promo you cut on Carlito on Raw, where you took him apart for not caring about the business. I guess that was how you felt about some of the younger talent in the WWE?
Itís funny, because a few people have asked me that and Iíve never had the chance to answer before.
I had just had a big argument with Vince, so I was venting my frustration.
Vince was trying to tell me that 1980s heels donít work any more and that the stuff I did in 1985 he doesnít like.
And I never like to hear that!
So what Carlito got was the aftermath of me and Vince having an argument about who I was.
I said to him: "Hell, I donít even know who I am anymore."
Which is sometimes how I feel after getting into an argument with Vince... and never winning.
When you return to TV would you like more time to cut promos like that?
Well, since weíre being so candid here, I think they need to give me more promo time. For sure.
Itís like they forget sometimes that I can do it every night, three times a night if I have to.
If they gave me the time to talk that they gave The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin I could be out there all night long. And I told them that.
But the problem is, and I get it, what do you then do with somebody who is 58 years old?
But even when youíre in a high-profile feud your opponent seems to get the mic time Ė when everybody knows that give Ric Flair a microphone and heíll cut you an awesome promo every time.
He will steal the show... and thatís the problem!
You can quote me on that.
In terms of the wrestling side of things, I was at this yearís WrestleMania and was disappointed to see you in a non-televised match rather than on the PPV itself.
Not nearly as disappointed as me!
That was another argument that I didnít win.
I have never talked about this openly before, but obviously I was not happy because I didnít see myself in that position.
Then again thatís me and I have a tendency to see myself in a role that Iím not in anymore.
I also have a tendency to think that I donít have to do certain things, because of what Iíve achieved in the business.
That doesnít mean thatís right, thatís just me.
And ultimately I havenít won but once again itís not really arguments.
Itís me saying: "What do you think about this?"
And Vince telling me: "I donít like that, youíre going to do this."
When youíve had those conversations, is there a part of you that thinks about going to TNA where youíd be treated like a king?
I would never in a million years go anywhere else.
My future lies either with the WWE or at home with my wife, four kids and two and a half grandkids Ė I have one on the way.
There is always talk of a Hulk Hogan tour, would you be interested in that - Hogan v Flair going around the world?
That would be great... if Vince McMahon endorsed it.
Because without him endorsing it, I donít think it would get off the ground.
And one thing I will never be prepared to do is go outside the realm of the WWE.
Iím going to be very candid about this.
Whatever notoriety Hulk Hogan enjoys in life and whatever post-wrestling success Hulk Hogan has enjoyed in life, as with myself, it is a result of working for that company.
Donít misunderstand me, we both worked very hard and travelled more than we had to, but we were both part of a machine that has promoted and taken a lot of people, including us, to the level of notoriety that we have today.
So for me to leave the company or break the relationship I have with them is never going to happen.
A match everyone would love to see is Ric Flair v Ricky Steamboat for one last time. Now Steamboat has won the rights to use his ring name back from his ex-wife, could this happen?
The answer to the first half of that question is yes, everybody would like to see that.
There is a health issue with Ricky though, as he had a back injury which ended his career.
I donít think it bothers him anymore but, if this came to be, he would have to make that decision, roll with it and put himself in the position to have the injury arise again.
If he agreed, Iíd say yes. For sure.
When we chatted a couple years ago you upset Mick Foley by calling him a Ďstunt maní and then made similar comments in your autobiography. Did the programme you worked with Mick in the WWE afterwards change your opinion of him or his wrestling legacy?
What happened was that originally Mick said something about me in one of his books. I have never read it, but 200 people told me about it.
As I put in my book, what I was saying was a receipt.
I respect Mick Foley, everything he has done for the business and especially what he has done to his body.
And as a human being I think he is awesome.
Iím just never going to tell you I think heís a great wrestler.
Your book was also rather unkind about Bret Hart, who responded here and in other interviews. Again has your opinion of him changed, after such a frank exchange of words?
My problem with Bret is, once again, I heard he was saying things about me.
Heís not qualified to talk about me. There are only a few people who are.
I will argue with Vince McMahon about me, but there is nobody else right now who I would.
Because nobody else wrestled Brody for an hour, nobody else wrestled Hansen for an hour, nobody else wrestled Steamboat, Wahoo, Harley Race, Pat OíConnor, the Funks, the Briscos and I can go all the way right up to John Cena.
Nobody has wrestled everybody in the business like I have, especially not Bret Hart.
Bret Hart wrestled within a very high level organisation. He was never a main eventer at the Kiel or the Checkerdome in St Louis, he never main evented in Tokyo. He never wrestled Fujinami or Jumbo Tsuruta.
I can go on and on as to why I donít recognise him as being able to talk about me.
Bret thinks heís the greatest wrestler who has ever lived. And heís not.
But the thing that really perturbed me was that the situation with him, Shawn and Vince at the Survivor Series 10 years ago became a predominant part of a very tragic situation when his brother Owen died.
Hard feelings that were incurred by everybody over a business decision should never play into the tragedy of someoneís death.
But Iím sitting there, hearing about the tragedy of Owen in one breath then in the next Montreal.
I thought it was very unfair to the McMahons and the promotion.
Finally, what would be your advice to a young wrestler out there who wants to be the next Ric Flair?
My advice to anybody who want to be like me would be to rethink it!
When I started in the business I had a passion for it that meant nothing else in my life mattered except me being a good wrestler.
I didnít realise at the time, but that is a not a good way to live and looking back I hurt people.
To be successful I donít think I did anything different to any other top guys, I just went to work and strived to be the very best I could be every day.
WWE's Flair guy
Ric Flair has been "stylin' and profilin'" for four decades in the wrestling industry. He is a 16-time World Champion and many have dubbed him: "the greatest wrestler of all time".
Having taken a recent break from the WWE, before he returns to our screens, "The Nature Boy" caught up with skysports.com's Richard Parr.
skysports.com: Hi Ric, welcome to skysports.com. You've been off our television screens for a couple of months now. When will we expect to see you return to the WWE and what have you been up to during this hiatus?
Ric Flair: I would expect to be back in a couple of weeks but I don't have a starting date yet. I actually have been working on my new company ricflairfinance.com and spending a lot of quality time with my wife and enjoying the time off.
skysports.com: With John "Bradshaw" Layfield being a financial expert did you ask him for any advice?
Ric Flair: I actually asked him for a lot of advice initially. He gave me some good advice.
skysports.com: Because before wrestling you worked in insurance, correct?
Ric Flair: Ha, yes I did but I was just making a dollar along the way back then.
skysports.com: Obviously since then you have had an illustrious wrestling career. With you returning soon we will be approaching Wrestlemania 24 in Orlando, Florida next April. Who would you like to face and why?
Ric Flair: I don't have one person, there would be a list of five or six people if I had a choice of who I would wrestle but I don't want to put myself into that corner. But I would love to be part of it, if it works for the promotion. If it is do I think I can contribute? The answer is yes but the promotion has to make that decision.
skysports.com: How disappointed were you that you were not on the card for Wrestlemania in Detroit this year?
Ric Flair: Very. Very.
skysports.com: Ok, looking back on your career you were part of WCW during the infamous "Monday Night Wars". Having worked at the WWE since: what do you think was the difference between the two companies for the WWE to win the war?
Ric Flair: I can give you three words. Organisation, respect for the product and talent relations. There were no controls for the talent in WCW. The talent told the promotion what to do. It never works.
skysports.com: You were part of two of the most famous stables in wrestling history in the "Four Horseman" and "Evolution". Your two prodigies in Evolution are now the WWE Champion and the World Heavyweight Champion in Randy Orton and Batista respectively. Could you tell from an early time that these two would elevate themselves to champions? How much do you think them working with yourself and Triple H affected them?
Ric Flair: First of all both of them came loaded with ability and both eager to learn. And I think we lended them maturity and they of course forwarded respect, which could feel instantly. You can tell in one conversation if they respect you. Which was great for me. I don't think Hunter is as focused on stuff like that as me in this point in his career. But it's very nice to have that kind of respect from people. We really enjoyed working with them, we enjoyed the questions they asked and we enjoyed the trips together. And of course the company made it a flagship group. It was a great time. Nothing will ever replace the "Four Horseman". That was a different time. I was fortunate to be with some great performers of that generation and some great people. I don't think I have enjoyed anything as much since the 80s as I enjoyed with "Evolution".
skysports.com: You mentioned the respect from Randy Orton and Batista. How do you feel when you hear and see all of the respect and admiration from the fans? For example last month the WWE was in the UK for the Survivor Series Tour and even though you weren't scheduled to appear the fans were screaming "Wooo's" in honour of you throughout the night. How important are the fans to you?
Ric Flair: It's funny you mention that question and I say this when people ask me questions about wrestling in Europe who aren't in this line of work. What's really, really nice for me and what should be for any athlete with some mileage on him is that in Europe athletes get great, they don't get old. And that's just my take on it. We're revered in such high esteem it's amazing. I love wrestling out there. The level of respect they afford me is second to nothing, that's the honest truth.
With my success I wouldn't leave until the crowd got their money's worth. If it took an hour that's how long I would be out there. That's what I felt about myself and what the fans deserved. I think that has translated and made me what the fans admire now.
skysports.com: With young wrestler's coming through, to be a great wrestler do you think it has more to do with genetics or experience to help you tell a story in the ring?
Ric Flair: I think it is experience but I think it is wanting to be that person, wanting to have that knowledge and it's wanting to take that next step. The parameters that we work in now, with the short matches on television, the idea of telling a story can be impossible. That's why the story is told in so many different ways through the promotion and the body of the show. Sometimes there isn't time to tell a story in the match. A lot of the hype for the matches is built up on the outside. Now if the guys have got twenty minutes to wrestle, then the fans are going to get a great story. If it's something the fans really want to see it can be told in ten minutes. But a lot of that, as you know, is brought by other vehicles in the show prior to them getting the ring. The guys who really turn it on can turn it on. The guys who can't turn it on because they don't have the ability, get lost in the shuffle.
skysports.com: Out of the current crop of young Superstars which are the ones who you think have the potential to be future champions or even legends?
Ric Flair: Well I guess you would call them young guys but I would say three: Orton, Cena and Batista. But I consider three or four guys in the promotion who have obviously already achieved that. We're talking about Hunter (Triple H), Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, they are the first names that come to mind. They have legendary status right now and all three can wrestle twenty, thirty minutes and give the fans a phenomenal match. But it took time; all three have been in the business for 15 to 18 years. They didn't arrive with that level of ability; they brought that level of ability with them. They didn't arrive to that level of greatness in two years.
I think the three guys I mentioned, Orton, Cena and Batista have the ability to be in that category but it takes time.
skysports.com: Talking of legends, it is really a matter of rather when, than if, you will be inducted into the "WWE Hall of Fame". Have you been told about any possibility of being inducted next year at Wrestlemania 24 in Orlando, Florida?
Ric Flair: I've heard talk of it but nothing has been confirmed. But if the WWE think it is the right time I would certainly be very obliged and proud to be in that position. My problem is I take it too serious. And when it happens it will be a very real moment for me. It will be something I will cherish and my family will cherish forever.
skysports.com: Who would you want to induct into the "Hall of Fame"?
Ric Flair: It's funny you ask me that, I'm not sure right now but if I had an answer now it would be Triple H.
skysports.com: You said that you expect to return to the WWE in a few weeks. How long to you plan to continue for?
Ric Flair: For as long as they can put up with me! They can't keep a good man down!