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Be fair to Flair: Let him retire |

Be fair to Flair: Let him retire

| Sunday, October 10, 2004 12:00 a.m

No one loves and respects professional wrestling more than Ric Flair. The 16-time world champion adores the business so much that he’s become oblivious to the obvious and unnecessary rigors he’s putting his 55-year-old body through on a weekly basis.

Professional wrestling and Flair share a special connection: both owe the other a debt of gratitude.

The industry afforded Flair the opportunity to earn a living as the premier performer for four decades, traveling the world and delivering unforgettable matches and promos.

Flair, in turn, gave the National Wrestling Alliance a marquee name during a time when Hulk Hogan ruled the WWF. Flair was the alternative to Hogan.

“Hulkamania” was driven by Vince McMahon’s savvy marketing and subsequently grew into a larger-than-life phenomenon. Flair wrestled and ushered in initial flashes of sports entertainment, before the phrase became commonplace.

History notwithstanding, the 2004 version of “The Nature Boy” finally needs to follow his brain, instead of his heart.

Flair can’t continue wrestling his current schedule, which includes several “Raw” house shows. Flair reportedly arrives at various arenas each week in obvious pain, showing signs of his age and years of competition.

Wrestling fans who once “Wooed” alongside Flair now shudder and shriek at the sight of his almost 60-year-old body being hurled through the air by wrestlers nearly half his age.

Watching Flair wrestle isn’t fun anymore. It hasn’t been for quite some time.

Not since May 19 on “Raw” has Flair been relevant as a wrestler. Flair challenged his protege and WWE heavyweight champion Triple H for the title in Greenville, S.C., a city dubbed as the heart of “Flair Country.”

That night, Flair fought valiantly in defeat and was honored afterward by the entire roster. The obviously worn-down Flair sat on the shoulders of Triple H, his opponent that night, and Buh Buh Dudley. The match seemed like a fitting end to Flair’s career.

Even Flair’s post-match speech seemed to signal the end of Flair’s run as an active competitor.

“I am as honored at the age of 54 to walk that aisle and perform for you great fans as I was at 34,” said Flair, with tears in his eyes. “If it wasn’t for you (fans), we wouldn’t be here. Thank you.”

But Flair pushed on, namely as part of Evolution, a group pieced together as a modern-day Four Horseman and led by Triple H. Instead of assuming a role similar to that of J.J. Dillon in the Horseman — that of a full-time mouthpiece — Flair continues to push and strain his body beyond its limits.

Flair still can style, profile and deliver four-star promos at a moment’s notice. His back-and-forth interaction with Randy Orton two weeks ago brought out the best in the “Legend Killer.” And Flair continues to best Triple H when they give back-to-back speeches on “Raw.”

That aspect of Flair’s career is still appreciated by WWE’s audience, although perhaps not as much by Vince McMahon, who reportedly chewed out Flair for his questionable “virgin” comments last Monday on “Raw.” That’s a bit hypocritical coming from McMahon, who loved the would-be WWE Divas trading equally tasteless insults during one of their challenges.

Flair is too proud of a competitor to admit that he no longer possesses the physical skills to continue as an active competitor. But he doesn’t want his legacy tarnished by hanging on too long.

Flair should be remembered as a legendary world champion and sports entertainment icon with the ability to pull classic matches from Ricky Morton to Ricky Steamboat.

All of Flair’s attributes and accomplishments, however, are in danger of being supplanted by a modern-day and much older “Nature Boy” struggling to hang on to what’s left of his in-ring career.

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