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AS I SEE IT 8/21: Thoughts on the Nature Boy

AS I SEE IT
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
PWBTS.com

He’s only eight years older than I am.

Yet it seems as though I’ve been watching him wrestle my
whole life.

For anyone of a certain age, no matter how much they deny
it…or deny being wrestling fans….everyone of a certain
age knows who Ric Flair is.

That’s why the reaction to his condition was so intense and
fearful last week from so many….why the news of his
hospitalization got news reports on not just social media
and wrestling media; but also on ESPN, CNN, USA Today, and
mainstream media to an extent not otherwise seen from anyone
in the wrestling world.

I’ll leave it to those who have better memories to dictate
Ric Flair’s greatest matches or even TV moments. My PWBTS
site, Gerweck.net, and 1000 other websites have reported his
medical condition and will keep doing so until he’s out of
the hospital.

Instead, I wanted to talk about the Ric Flair that the fans
of Philadelphia saw, both in and out of the ring. Most of us
nationwide outside the Carolinas saw Flair live for the
first time on the old WTBS Georgia Championship Wrestling
show in the 1970s and 1980s.

Those of us in Philadelphia first saw Jim Crockett’s NWA
World Wide Wrestling, not even in English…but on a cable
feed of a New York Spanish language station Channel 41 that
aired on Philadelphia area cable TV. After a while, the
station realized the cross-over audience they were getting
in our area, and had commentator Hugh Savinovich drop in
English language match introductions.

Finally in 1984, it occurred to Jim Crockett Promotions that
they should buy time for World Wide on English language
television, which wound up on WPHL Channel 17 in
Philadelphia to advertise what would become the beginning of
live shows at the Philadelphia Civic Center and at the
Meadowlands in North Jersey.

Those of us in Philadelphia who were being force-fed the
cartoon show being offered by Vince McMahon and the WWF,
welcomed the NWA as the first real alternative to the WWF,
given that ECW and even its predecessor Joel Goodhart’s Tri-
State Wrestling were years in the future.

Ric Flair was everything that real wrestling fans thought a
wrestler ought to be in Philadelphia…colorful, loud, but
also hardworking, athletic and skilled enough to work for
30, 40, or 60 minutes every night. The Philadelphia Civic
Center became the place to be every month to see Flair and
the Four Horsemen if you were a wrestling fan with a brain
who appreciated a product that didn’t insult your
intelligence like the WWF’s Titan Toon Adventures of the
time.

At least as legendary as the Philadelphia Civic Center shows
themselves was the post-show bar scene…and Ric Flair
enjoyed every minute of it during those NWA days. For anyone
who hasn’t heard, Philadelphia wrestlers and wrestling fans
brought their post-show party home the bar at the
Philadelphia Airport Marriott. Ric Flair, the Four Horsemen,
and the wrestling fans of Philadelphia kept the Marriott bar
in business all by themselves. What went on there was no
secret.

In most towns, a small group of fans find out where the
wrestlers hang out. But not in Philadelphia. As wrestling
would see years later with ECW, in Philadelphia fans are an
active part of the wrestling experience. EVERYONE seemed to
know where the Airport Marriott was. For those who didn’t
know, Flair would happily tell everyone watching his TV
promos that the Horsemen would be partying at the Marriott
all night long, including in local promos on Philadelphia
TV.

Ric Flair always carried himself at the Marriott as a class
act to fans who were younger, or simply who were fans who
knew how to act like adults and not like gawking idiots. In
the Marriott bar, well…it was a hangout for adults and
people acted adults.

After five years of TV, Philadelphia finally got a NWA PPV
in 1989 with Halloween Havoc main evented by Ric Flair and
Sting (seconded by Ole Anderson) beat The Great Muta and
Terry Funk (seconded by the recently deceased Gary Hart) in
a “thunderdome” match when Gary Hart accidentally threw in
the towel after being hit, with the added Bruno Sammartino
as the special referee.

Needless to say, the post-show happening were more than a
little special that night. Back in those days…God, did we
have fun.

It’s a good thing that the Internet didn’t exist back in
those days. I can imagine digital pictures of some of those
sessions that lasted all night if it had. Between the
flowing booze and the um…..ladies that were all over the
bar and the Marriott lobby, I can only imagine what would
have wound up online. Put it this way, the infamous Paige
pictures had nothing on what went on in that hotel (mostly
upstairs)…monthly.

But Ric Flair and friends, plus those of us who watched the
fun with a bemused eye (and those who indulged a bit as
well) undoubtedly remember those days and nights with great
fondness and we always will.

The Philadelphia and associated Northeast crowd never forgot
Flair. When the post-Crockett NWA, which became WCW, led to
Ric Flair being fired in July 1991. WCW had made what would
(after the fact) the mistake of scheduling a weekend of
shows in the Meadowlands, Wildwood, NJ, and Philadelphia on
the same weekend that they fired Ric Flair.

The fans revolted, as faster than social media or Dave
Meltzer (somehow in that pre-digital era), the word got
around that Flair had been fired, leading to a revolt by the
fans first in the Meadowlands as the ring announcer in the
steel cage main event was drowned out by loud “We Want
Flair” chants, which spread to the fans in the other two
cities, including an angry Philadelphia Civic Center. Not
even PPV sound sweetening and flat out killing crowd sound
could hide the angry reaction from viewers who didn’t know
what was going on.

Last week’s events, and his current illness took me back to
those long-ago days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when
we were all a lot younger and perhaps not too smart for our
own good in the way that the Internet has made us. It was
excess to a degree that can’t (and probably shouldn’t) ever
be again. But back in those days…God, did we have fun.

For your part in and out of the ring in helping that magic
happen, thanks, Ric.

Now get well soon, and start taking care of yourself. We
aren’t quite ready to lose you yet.

Until next time….

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