It’s rarely a good sign when you have to make two attempts at a public relations statement.
That’s what Ric Flair had to do after the release of last week’s Dark Side Of The Ring episode on the “Plane Ride From Hell.” The show documents the infamous 2002 flight from Europe when for 14 hours, WWE wrestlers were overserved, over drugged, and overaggressive with the plane’s staff and one another, leading to stories that still reverberate today.
The episode centers on Flair’s alleged assault of flight attendant Heidi Doyle, who is extensively interviewed in the episode. Flair was famous for dressing in just his robe and nothing else on flights, which was also covered in his 30 for 30 documentary a few years back. Stories of Flair’s indecent (and frankly predatory) behavior have been well-known for decades. It’s not really news, though hearing it from Doyle — one of his survivors — is rare. Flair has denied any such thing took place. WWE settled a lawsuit by Doyle and another flight attendant, Taralyn Cappellano, in 2004.
Tommy Dreamer’s dismissiveness of Flair’s assault in the episode has already cost him his current place in the wrestling world, and it probably should do the same to Flair. And it wouldn’t even be that hard.
Flair recently left WWE, and rumors have swirled that he was bound for AEW. It was easy to put the pieces together. His future son-in-law, Andrade El Idolo, who is engaged to Charlotte Flair, is in the company. It also just so happens that Chavo Guerrero, who had been acting as Andrade’s manager, will be away for a while and in storylines has been removed by Andrade. It’s easy to see the landing spot for Flair.
But AEW doesn’t need him. The company’s momentum is already raging, its popularity soaring, and while on the surface it might seem like another jolt to nab perhaps the most famous wrestler of all time, it’s actually hard to picture it moving the needle that much for a company already well in the black. Andrade certainly doesn’t need it, but if the company really does feel like he needs a mouthpiece (he doesn’t), there are plenty of other choices.
More importantly, the Flair controversy speaks to a wrestling culture that its fans have demonstrated they would like to move on from (mostly). While AEW still has some miles to go to live up to its promises — its women’s division still needs major boosting, the diversity at the top of the men’s roster needs serious help and isn’t close to anything WWE is doing at the moment — the roots of the company still come from the indies. And on the indies, things like inclusion and equality are taken very, very seriously. That doesn’t mean they get it right all the time either, but the indie circuit has become a far bigger haven for all, and the entire #SpeakingOut movement sprang from wrestlers not holding to old ideals. Women are fans, they’re just as heralded as performers, and they’re certainly no longer just the ornaments they were in Flair’s heyday.
Any documentary or history of Flair is mostly flooded with stories of his drinking and carousing, and most of it is pretty gross. The 30 for 30 even starts with a story about him in college exposing himself to an entire frat party. While Flair’s promos from WCW and elsewhere in the ‘80s will live on forever, some of them make for pretty uncomfortable watching now, with the way he speaks of women either in the audience or elsewhere. Wrestling certainly has moved on from that kind of attitude.
Again, AEW hasn’t always been above board. After #SpeakingOut, they did move Jimmy Havoc off the roster and eventually fired him. They haven’t had someone like Matt Riddle or Will Ospreay near the top of their roster like WWE or NJPW have, but this is still a company where recently onscreen Adam Cole threatened Tony Schiavone over his friendship with Cole’s girlfriend Britt Baker, hinting that Baker couldn’t choose her friends freely. And your mileage may vary on Ruby Soho’s promo to Baker about “banging some guy in the back.”
As much as it likes to harken back to old WCW and NWA tropes, the out-of-control male isn’t one they need or should want. Flair may be an old man now, and may not be those things anymore, but he’s still trading on what he was back then. In theory (but not always in practice) AEW and big-time wrestling is supposed to be treating their female performers and fans as equal to their male counterparts. Having Flair, whose persona is at least partially built on using women as scenery and trophies, is the exact opposite of that. “Ric Flair” can’t be just used as a name anymore. Putting Flair on-screen would essentially be sanctioning past alleged assaults, and it’s not too hard to speculate there are more out there than just the ones on this plane. Everything that comes with his name would be AEW’s or any other company’s to own, too. Why bother?