RIC FLAIR: TO BE THE MAN|
A brutally honest look at one of professional wrestling's legends.
Reviewed by Mike Rickard
"The bottom line is this: Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park. But it still has the longest line." - Ric Flair: To Be The Man p. 328 (Editor's note: Whhhoooooooooooooo~!!!)
In an industry built on illusion and hyperbole, Ric Flair's legacy as the greatest wrestler of all time is one of the few truisms in professional wrestling. Ric Flair has dominated the wrestling world for over thirty years and his life story is defined by an all consuming desire to be the best. In the ring, he was the master of making his opponents look like world class athletes regardless of their true ability. He has held the world championship on sixteen different occasions (and it should be noted that not only did he hold the NWA World Title through most of the 1980's but his multiple title reigns occurred back when the World Title was not handed back and forth like a hot potato). Ric Flair: To Be The Man tells his story in an entertaining format that manages to cover his extraordinary career in just 334 pages.
Wrestling historians will forever debate who was the biggest star, Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair. When it comes to mainstream publicity, few will deny that Hogan eclipsed Flair when it came to being a household name. However within the industry itself, Flair is recognized by his peers and students of the game as truly the best. As Flair points out in the book, when it comes to the question of who made as many people look as good as he did in as many arenas as he did, Hogan can't come close. And Flair candidly points out that he has the respect of his peers, something Hulk Hogan can never buy.
As a longtime Flair fan it's been difficult to convey to younger fans the sense of awe that Flair commanded. Younger fans have only seen the poorly booked Flair of WCW or the adequately booked but physically deteriorated Flair who returned to the WWE two years ago. Fortunately, "The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection" has given younger fans a chance to really appreciate Flair's work and to see him during his peak. The arrival of Ric Flair: To Be The Man is the perfect complement to the DVD, giving readers an overview of what he's done and the personal sacrifices he's made to establish his legacy as the greatest wrestler of all time.
Given the erratic quality level of wrestling books, one must always ask how much is the author willing to reveal about themselves and how much of the author's story is theirs. That's not an issue with To Be The Man. Flair documents his personal failures as well as his triumphs. Co-written by Keith Elliot Greenberg (who also co-authored Legends of Wrestling: Freddie Blassie-Listen You Pencil Neck Geeks) and edited by Mark Madden, the book provides readers with the good and the bad, giving fans a very intimate look at his life and a better understanding of what drives him and keeps him going as a top performer at the age of 55. This book is a must-read for any wrestling fan.
I've been watching Ric Flair since 1979. In fact, the first live event I saw saw Ric Flair team up with Rocky Johnson in a tag team bout against the Iron Sheik and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. The storyline was that Valentine had broken Flair's nose after turning his back on him in a tag match. I was extremely fortunate to have lived in one of the markets that broadcast "Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling" and to have seen Flair during some of his peak years. I've also had to endure seeing Flair booked poorly and cast aside, only to be called in when things looked bleak for the promotion. Through it all, Flair always handled himself like the true professional he is and managed to shine many a crap-laden storyline he was thrust into. Only recently has Flair found redemption after returning to the WWE and being given the chance to showcase his magnificent talent to entertain.
To Be The Man captures it all. Whether it's Flair's hilarious stories from his days on the road as a rookie, his heartfelt recollection of the love and support his parents gave him, or his regret over the wild lifestyle that hurt his wife and children, Flair entertains the reader and it's as if Ric Flair is sitting next to you telling his story. Flair is a master storyteller in the ring and now he's proven he's one in the printed page as well. The book is well written and well edited. It's just amazing how much information he squeezes into every chapter.
The book can be enjoyed on so many levels. If you're a fan of Ric Flair you're not going to be disappointed. If you're a student of wrestling history you won't be disappointed. And if you just like to hear wild stories, you won't be disappointed. To Be The Man covers Ric's life story from the time he was stolen from his birth parents to his renaissance in the WWE. It covers the political intrigue of professional wrestling such as the tough battle Jim Crockett Promotions had in getting Flair his first World Title and the backstabbing done by Eric Bischoff during the rise and fall of WCW during the mid 90's. There are also stories like the forty plus traffic tickets Flair earned speeding up and down the highways of the Mid-Atlantic area as he traveled from city to city and the seemingly nonstop partying that Flair enjoyed. Reading this book, it's easy to see that Flair's a born entertainer, whether he's the class clown, the world champion, the life of a party, or telling his life story. Triple H's introduction to the book sums things up nicely, "Whether he was wrestling a sixty minute match, dancing with a harem of women in a nightclub, or just telling stories in some shithole airport in the middle of nowhere, Flair transformed wherever he was into the only place to be on the planet."
If there's any flaw to be found with this book it's the length of the biography. This might seem like a contradiction after saying how much information Flair has crammed into each page. A book like this has its reader screaming for more and while Flair does a superb job covering his life, one can't help but feel as if he's merely skimmed the surface. The book has tremendous breadth but for the most part it has no depth. Flair mentions his close friendship with Arn Anderson but you don't get any idea what made their friendship so strong. Flair conveys his respect for Anderson's toughness and fantastic ability as a performer but that's about the extent of it. He talks of his close friendship with Blackjack Mulligan and implies that business deals ruined it but one can only speculate on what exactly happened. Flair has revealed a lot about his personal life and perhaps he's opened up as much as he wants to. Hopefully he is just saving things for a sequel.
Regardless, Flair is to be praised for a very frank biography. He does not hold back his praise and his criticism of the sport that made him a superstar as well as the men and women he worked with. Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Mick Foley, and Dusty Rhodes are just a few of the people that Flair comments on, Even more remarkable, Flair does not hold back on his praise and criticism of his own work and the mistakes he made along the way. If you think you know Ric Flair, you're deluding yourself until you read his biography. Flair fans will be shocked by some of the things they read in the book. I won't spoil any of it for readers and can only offer the book my highest recommendation.
Copyright © 2005 Derek Burgan. All rights reserved.