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THIS INTERVIEW WITH RIC FLAIR TOOK PLACE A COUPLE WEEKS AGO ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 20TH AND WAS PUBLISHED IN A LOCAL BALTIMORE NEWSPAPER THE NEXT MORNING.
Four Decades in The Ring
By Kevin Eck
Wrestler Ric Flair doesn't let advancing age pin him down
Professional wrestling aficionados have long considered Ric Flair a wrestler for the ages.
These days, however, the 16-time former world champion also could be called a wrestler for the aged. Three months shy of his 58th birthday, he is easily the oldest member on the active roster in World Wrestling Entertainment.
But while Flair's signature blond mane has started to thin a bit and he has significantly more wrinkles than the buff young studs he mixes it up with in the ring, he remains one of WWE's star attractions.
Flair will be among the "sports entertainers" appearing tonight at 1st Mariner Arena for a live broadcast of USA Network's WWE Monday Night Raw.
After 34 years in the wrestling business, Flair - whose real name is Richard Fliehr - still would rather take a steel chair over the head than take a seat in a rocking chair.
So why does a man who is a grandfather continue to subject his body to frequent poundings that are predetermined but anything but painless?
"Because I can," Flair says with a laugh. "I'd be a liar if I said i didn't like being in the spotlight. And [WWE] still wants me to, which is the most important part of it."
Unlike Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, two wrestlers also in their 50s who wrestle a handful of matches a year and get by mostly on star power and showmanship, Flair is wrestling several times a week and taking the same big bumps in the ring that he took when he was in his prime proving that he can still hang with the young guys.
"It's challenging to go out there and wrestle guys 25 years younger than me," says Flair, who is calling from Charlotte, N.C., on his way home from the airport after performing on eight shows during WWE's tour of the United Kingdom.
"It forces me to work out harder and stay in better shape," he adds, "and it gives me an opportunity to do something that nobody else has ever done. I don't think anybody else [in wrestling] has ever excelled at this level at my age. It's a pretty rewarding feeling."
Despite the physical nature of wrestling and the grueling travel schedule, Flair says he has never felt better.
"I don't have a nick or anything wrong right now," he says. "I feel great."
Flair, in fact, has been able to avoid major injuries for most of his career in a profession in which they occur often.
His most serious injury occurred outside the ring when his back was broken in a plane crash in 1975. Doctors told him he might never wrestle again, but he returned in a matter of months.
Flair, who coined the catch phase, "To be 'The Man,' you gotta beat 'The Man,'" went on to become wrestling's biggest star, selling out arenas not only throughout the United States, but also in places such as Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and the Caribbean.
Nicknamed the "Nature Boy," Flair portrays a cocky playboy who wears colorful, sparkling robes to the ring and always punctuates his interviews by shouting "Wooooo!" with a high-pitched inflection.
Although he currently plays a "babyface" (a wrestling good guy) in WWE, Flair made his name as one of wrestling's most notorious "heels" (bad guys).
Perhaps Flair's greatest accomplishment is that unlike all the other legends, he has been able to thrive in four decades in an ever-changing industry that has seen tremendous peaks and valleys during his career.
The toughest adjustment, he says, was coming to grips with wrestling gradually pulling back the curtain and acknowledging that it is scripted sports entertainment.
"I struggled with the phrase 'sports entertainment.' Coming from an era where we protected the business to the death, it was hard to swallow," Flair says. "But then I was able to see the big picture for us becoming what we are, and that's the mecca in the world of entertainment."
Flair, who married for the third time in May and has four children ranging in age from 18 to 32, says he is uncertain whether he will continue wrestling full time when his WWE contract expires in a little more than a year.
"I'll leave that totally in [WWE's] hands," says Flair, who recently opened a finance company that bears his name.
For now, Flair is content trying to prove he still is "The Man" to a younger generation of wrestlers.
"I want to show them that I can do anything that a guy 25 can do," he says. "It's a gift, so why not have fun with it while I still can?"