On Tuesday night, ESPN premiered its latest 30 for 30 documentary, one the network had been developing and hyping for years: Nature Boy, the story of legendary pro wrestler Ric Flair, widely considered the greatest of all time. The film—which was, according to director Rory Karpf, in its third cut after a straight biography and an overtly ’80s-themed version were nixed by ESPN—attempts to focus on getting at the psyche of the real Richard Morgan Fliehr. The documentary is at its strongest when it delves into Flair’s failings as a husband and father, as well as what drove decades of drinking excessively. It also glorifies some of his worst behavior, which often went hand in hand with his drinking: Flashing his penis at numerous people—often women—with whom he came into contact over the years.
While the film basically opens with an animation of him pulling his penis out in front of smiling women, the main segment in question starts about 36 minutes into the WatchESPN version of the documentary. “Going from Puerto Rico to Portland, Oregon, big 747, goes into the bathroom, comes out, he’s got nothing on but his alligator shoes, his dress socks, and the robe,” recalls Road Warrior Animal as jaunty music plays. “He comes out of the bathroom and goes ‘Whoo!’”
An animated depiction of the scene then shows Flair opening his robe, shocking onlookers, including female flight attendants whom the cartoonist made sure to draw with smiles wider than anyone else’s.
“And he said ‘Sting, how can you deal … with THIS?” adds announcer Tony Schiavone as he pantomimes Flair opening his robe. “And he opened up and he was completely naked. And he was like, really erect.” Sting, one of Flair’s greatest rivals, concludes, “I mean, I’ve never seen a guy have his pants pulled down more than Ric Flair.”
From the editing and animation, it seems as if the intent was to present the three talking heads as recalling a singular incident. Schiavone, though, is recalling a completely different incident from Animal’s story, one that the broadcaster has discussed on his “What Happened When” podcast. Sting’s soundbite, meanwhile, is vague enough to refer to any number of incidents, and he also indicated that this kind of thing happened regularly, to boot.
Stories like this are legion in wrestling. Schiavone, for example, also did a DVD interview where he said that a woman ran screaming after he asked her to speak to Flair, who then emerged from a hotel suite party and asked her to put a sock on his penis. Interviewer Rob Feinstein also relates a story he’s told before of seeing Flair running down a hotel hallway naked except for such a sock. The book Ring of Hell claims that Flair made a habit of lifting waitress’s skirts and saying, “Just checkin’ honey, you know what they say; ‘No hair, no Flair!’ Whooo!” Even as late as 2012, PWInsider’s Mike Johnson reported that Flair was banned from drinking at the Hard Rock Cafe on Citiwalk in Orlando for “acting inappropriate.” While no further details ever went public, it was not difficult to draw inferences about what may have happened.
One story that stands out to me in particular was told by announcer and former wrestling executive Jim Ross at one a one-man show of his I attended, which he told in more detail in his recently-released memoir. As it goes, Ross and Flair were at a hotel bar when they met a pair of flight attendants whom they were looking to sleep with. Then this happened:
We got into the limo where both ladies sat opposite us. It was a little dark, but I could still see that the lady in front of me wasn’t interested in me whatsoever. “How long is your layover until you have to fly again?” I asked her. I could see her eyes weren’t in my direction. She was squinting, like she was trying to make out something in the dark beside me. Flair, ever the gentlemen, turned on the overhead light to help her out. Her jaw fell open, so did her friend’s; both women were stunned. I turned to Flair to see him smiling, proud as punch, from ear to ear at what he’d done. He nodded down to his crotch, and I instinctively followed Ric’s gaze down to see his erect penis standing to attention through his zipper.
Ross asked Flair what the hell he was doing and the women bolted from the car. “I was trying to increase the odds for you, Jim,” Flair replied once the dust settled. “That works about fifty percent of the time, and that’s fifty percent more chance than you had before I pulled my dick out.” According to Ross, Jim Herd, then the executive in charge of WCW, rightly blew a gasket after he relayed the story to him, though the announcer also speculated for some reason that Herd was just jealous that he wasn’t there himself.
Two different charter flight attendants said in a 2004 lawsuit that Flair sexually assaulted them on a May 5, 2002 trans-Atlantic trip, which is commonly referred to as “The Plane Ride from Hell” According to the complaint, Flair stripped down to just his ring robe, “‘flashed’ his nakedness, spinning his penis around,” forced both women’s hands onto his crotch, and “forcibly detained and restrained” one of them “from leaving the back of the galley of the airplane while he sexually assaulted her.”
Contemporary reporting in both the May 20, 2002 issue of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter and the May 18, 2002 issue of Wade Keller’s Pro Wrestling Torch described Flair as nude except for his robe. “Flair was parading around in a robe and nothing else,” wrote Keller. “Flair has a long tradition dating back decades of flashing people while partying, so Flair’s behavior alone wouldn’t have made news.” Meltzer was slightly more vague, but the substance of his version matched Keller’s. “Flair was causing the Flair scene, which is not unusual as he is a partier and it isn’t above him to get almost naked on a non-commercial flight, but he doesn’t cause danger to anyone, just causes a scene and gets attention,” he wrote. “He’s been doing it for years. When he was told by [Jim] Ross [then his boss as executive vice president of talent relations] to stop, he did.”
X-Pac, who was on the flight, also said in a DVD interview that Flair stripped down to just his robe. So did Justin Credible, who specifically said Flair was walking over to the flight attendants one by one and opening his robe to flash them.
A few weeks after the flight, Triple H, now a WWE executive, but then “just” a main event wrestler in a relationship with his boss’s daughter. spoke about the flight on Byte This, WWE’s since-cancelled streaming talk show. According to a transcription in the May 26, 2002 Pro Wrestling Torch, he made comments that, while confirming that the flight got out of hand, were otherwise incredibly vague:
This is the kind of thing that happens when you have an eight-hour flight, where you’re sitting on the runway for an hour after a wildly successful pay-per-view and everybody’s hyped up and the alcohol is flowing. The guys were having a good time, and probably for six of the eight hours everybody was having a great time and then for the last couple of hours the good time started to just teeter over the edge for a few guys a little bit and started to become too good of a time for a few guys, if you know what I mean, and once you get to that point, it’s difficult. It happens, people lose their jobs, and the business moves on, that’s it.
Flair, who denied the allegations, was not among those who were fired. The lawsuit, which also named WWE and other wrestlers who were accused of various misdeeds, was settled by the wrestling company.
It doesn’t take much effort to find stories like these; there are surely more. ESPN and Rory Karpf had at least two or three, with Sting’s comments also making clear that it was not out of the ordinary. Yet alongside an ostensibly serious rumination on Flair’s alcoholism and loneliness, his long pattern of abusive behavior was treated as a hilarious sideshow to the “more serious” subject matter that permeates the documentary on a whole. This would have looked—and been—bad at any time. It comes off even worse when various celebrities are being exposed as predators every day.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.