Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of The Modern Era: #1 – Ric Flair

Editor’s note: We wish we could say that the hiatus between posting #2 and #1 in this Top 100 list was intentional, in order to save WCW’s biggest star for the 10 year anniversary of the final full year of WCW, but we cannot. Instead, we’ll just leave a note atop this entry reminding readers that the list was compiled in April 2007, and posted into early February 2009. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. And now, FINALLY, the (almost obvious) top wrestler of the modern era…

1. RIC FLAIR

FlairReal NameRichard Fliehr
Aliases“Nature Boy” Ric Flair, The Black Scorpion, Ricky Rhodes
HometownMemphis, Tennessee
Billed FromCharlotte, North Carolina
DebutedDecember 10, 1972
Titles HeldNWA World Heavyweight Championship (7 times); WCW World Heavyweight Championship (8 times); WCW International World Heavyweight Championship (2 times); WWF Championship (2 times); NWA World Tag Team Championship (Mid-Atlantic version) (3 times) – with Greg Valentine (2)
and Blackjack Mulligan (1); WCW United States Heavyweight Championship (1 time); NWA United States
Heavyweight Championship (Mid-Atlantic version) (1 times); World Tag Team Championship (3 times)
– with Batista (2) and Roddy Piper (1); WWE Intercontinental Championship (1 time); NWA Television
Championship (1 time); NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship (4 times); NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag
Team Championship (3 times) – with Rip Hawk (1), Greg Valentine (1) and Big John Studd (1); NWA Mid-
Atlantic Television Championship (1 time); NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship (1 time)

Other AccomplishmentsWWE Hall of Fame (Class of 2008); NWA Hall of Fame (Class of 2008);
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996); Thirteenth WWE/F Triple Crown Champion;
Slammy Award for Match of the Year (2008) vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV; PWI ranked him
#2 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the PWI Years in 2003; PWI ranked him #3 of the top 500 singles
wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 1991, 1992, and 1994; PWI Feud of the Year (1987) Four Horsemen vs. Super
Powers and Road Warriors; PWI Feud of the Year (1988, 1990) vs. Lex Luger; PWI Feud of the Year
(1989) vs. Terry Funk; PWI Match of the Year (1983) vs. Harley Race (June 10); PWI Match of the Year
(1984) vs. Kerry Von Erich at Parade of Champions 1; PWI Match of the Year (1986) vs. Dusty Rhodes
at The Great American Bash in a steel cage match; PWI Match of the Year (1989) vs. Ricky Steamboat
at WrestleWar; PWI Match of the Year (2008) vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV; PWI Match of
the Decade (2000–2009) vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV; PWI Most Hated Wrestler of the
Year (1978, 1987); PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year (2008); PWI Rookie of the Year (1975);
PWI Stanley Weston Award (2008); PWI Wrestler of the Year (1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992);
Wrestling Observer Awards: Best Heel (1990); Best Interviews (1991, 1992, 1994); Feud of the Year
(1989) vs. Terry Funk; Match of the Year (1983) vs. Harley Race in a steel cage match at Starrcade; Match
of the Year (1986) vs. Barry Windham at Battle of the Belts II on February 14; Match of the Year (1988)
vs. Sting at Clash of the Champions I; Match of the Year (1989) vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleWar;
Most Charismatic (1980, 1982–1984, 1993); Most Outstanding (1986, 1987, 1989); Readers’ Favorite
Wrestler (1984–1993, 1996); Worst Feud of the Year (1990) vs. The Junkyard Dog; Worst Worked Match
of the Year (1996) with Arn Anderson, Meng, The Barbarian, Lex Luger, Kevin Sullivan, Z-Gangsta and
The Ultimate Solution vs. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage in a Towers of Doom match at Uncensored;
Wrestler of the Year (1982–1986, 1989, 1990, 1992)

When I got the assignment to write about Ric Flair for Inside Pulse’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the
Modern Era, I thought it was sort of pointless. What is there to say about Flair other than that he was the
best? It’s Ric Flair. Everyone knows he’s the greatest of all time. I can expound for a few hundred words
on the topic, but it’s not like I need to convince anyone of Flair’s standing. Or so I thought.

Then I recalled flipping onto TNA Impact a few weeks ago. There was Ric Flair, aged
61, “wrestling” Jay Lethal, and getting stripped of his clothes on national television. A sad shell of
himself. I wished I hadn’t seen that. Every Flair “wrestling” match I see now feels like it denigrates my
memories of his peak matches. And then I realized something really scary: there are people watching
wrestling right now, people reading this list, who never saw Flair’s prime. If you’re 18 years, it means you
were born the last year Ric Flair was named Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year. And sure, you may
have been around for some good Flair matches. You’ve certainly seen some classic promos. If you’re
interested enough in wrestling to read this site, you’ve probably gone back and watched some of Flair’s
classic matches. But you were never a wrestling fan at a time when Ric Flair’s greatness wasn’t based on
the past, but what he was doing right then and there.

So you probably underestimate Flair. You saw Rock’s prime, and Shawn Michaels’ prime, and
maybe Steve Austin’s prime. And there was a time when each of those guys was the best. But none was
ever as dominant as Flair was from 1987-1991, a time when Flair was inarguably the best promo in the
business, and inarguably the best wrestler in the business. This was a guy who could declare
himself “The Man” and have everyone go “Yeah, that sounds about right. You’re The Man, Ric.”

This is the man for whom the “Broomstick Rule” was created – Flair was so good, he could carry a
broomstick to a ***1/2 match. Now, he’s probably not the only guy to ever reach that level – Shawn
Michaels, Chris Jericho, and others have arguably reached it – but he’s the only one to ever be at that
level for a several year period, at a time when the champion was supposed to wrestle 45 minute
matches multiple times a week. Flair was an important step in that tradition, because he wrestled
athletic matches for 45 minutes. Yes, champs before him went 60 minutes, but the paces were so slow
that the matches are borderline unwatchable for a modern fan. Verne Gagne (Flair’s trainer, it should be
noted) matches are about as exciting as collegiate women’s bowling tournaments. Flair-Steamboat is still
fun.

It’s also worth noting, when reviewing the exceptionally long list of awards that Flair has won
that while he, not surprisingly, was dominant in the Wrestling Observer awards which generally
represented the “smart” fans, Flair was also dominant in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated awards – the
ultimate mark magazine. Four Match of the Year Awards in the 80s; five consecutive Feud of the Year
awards, perhaps even more impressive in a time when the WWF was consistently producing hot feuds
with Hogan and the likes of Piper, Savage, Andre the Giant, and Paul Orndorff.

A full review of Flair’s nearly 40 year career would be excessively long and tedious, but it’s worth
reviewing the high points to highlight his status at the top of this list. Flair came up in Minnesota,
working for Verne Gagne, but became a presence in the Mid-Atlantic region, in the promotion that
would eventually spawn WCW. He won his first NWA World Heavyweight Title from Harley Race in 1981,
but really entered his prime in 1983, dropping the belt to Race in PWI’s Match of the Year and regaining
it from him in WO’s Match of the Year, a steel cage match that main evented Starrcade, the NWA’s first
closed circuit show (yes, this was before Wrestlemania; no, wrestling history is not exactly as Vince
McMahon describes it). Flair won Match of the Year again in 1984 for his loss of the World Title to Kerry
Von Erich. The Race and Von Erich matches illustrate the eras that Flair was straddling – the closed circuit
Starrcade represented the move towards national promotions; the Von Erich match was part of the
responsibilities of the traditional NWA touring champion, putting over someone who at the time was a
regional star. This was also notable in Flair’s duel 1986 Match of the Year wins – for PWI, against Dusty
Rhodes at the Great American Bash, a show widely distributed on video, and for Wrestling Observer, a
match against Barry Windham at Battle of the Belts in Florida.

Over the next several years, Flair developed the “stylin’, profilin’” persona that became his
trademarks: the suits, the big sunglasses, the girls, and of course, the big gold belt (introduced in 1985).
He also became part of the Four Horsemen, the prototypical wrestling stable: dominant lead guy (Flair),
dominant tag team (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson), and enforcer (Ole Anderson, then later Lex
Luger, then Barry Windham). Their wars with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, the Road Warriors, Sting, and
others produced hot feuds and led to arguably the greatest gimmick match of all-time: War Games,
introduced at the 1987 Great American Bash.

1989 may have been Flair’s greatest year, highlighting the diversity of his talents. As a heel, he
had the greatest series of pure wrestling matches of all-time with Ricky Steamboat. Their match at
Wrestlewar was Match of the Year for both PWI and the Observer. Memorable aside: reading Scott
Keith’s review of that match while surfing the internet was instrumental in turning me into the type of
fan that actively noticed things like “workrate,” especially after I went back and watched it. Then, at the
end of the match, he was attacked by Terry Funk (in his first of six dozen returns from retirement),
leading to an extended babyface run in which he had an excellent series of brawls with Funk. That war
was the Feud of the Year for both PWI and the Observer. WCW put on 5 pay-per-views in 1989 – Flair
main evented all five, four of them in World Title matches.

In 1991, Flair moved to the WWF, legendarily taking the big gold belt with him. He put on one of
the classic Royal Rumble performances of all-time to win in 1992 to capture the WWF title. Flair’s WWF
run had its highlights – excellent matches with Randy Savage and Bret Hart, for example, but oddly, Flair-
Hogan, the ultimate 1980s dream match, never happened on pay-per-view (although it did happen on
several house shows).

Flair returned to WCW, and spent 1993-1995 still at the top of the card, but with diminishing
relevance, as Hogan moved to WCW and took control of the promotion. Frequent squabbles with
management led Flair to be absent for long stretches in the late 90s. It seemed as though a long career
was winding down. Of course, that was 10 years ago. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been making old
man jokes about Flair for over a decade, and yet he’s still wrestling. And yes, Flair’s produced some good
matches in the last decade, most notably his “retirement” match against Shawn Michaels that won not
only Match of the Year but Match of the Decade from PWI. But wrestling is a young man’s game. It’s sad
watching Flair now if you watched Flair in 1989. It’s going to be REALLY sad if Inside Pulse needs
someone to rewrite this piece in another few years because Flair, old enough to collect Social Security, is
still wrestling regularly. But at his peak, no one dominated the wrestling world like Flair – and that’s why
he’s #1.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.

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