Ric Flair: The Last Real World Champion – An Honest Review

Is there any other professional wrestler who can boast the achievements and success of Ric Flair? The 16-time- or 20-time, as some historians believe- world champion has lived a life unequaled in the world of professional wrestling.

But just how well does author Tim Hornbaker, in his new book, The Last Real World Champion, document how Flair was indeed the last real world champion? We give our honest review.

In 'The Last Real World Champion,' Tim Hornbaker explores Ric Flair's true championship legacy. Read our honest review.
In ‘The Last Real World Champion,’ Tim Hornbaker explores Ric Flair’s true championship legacy.

Wooooo! Ric Flair: The Last Real World Champion

Who else can claim to have feuded with Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Ronnie Garvin, Jerry Lawler, Roddy Piper, Harley Race, Kerry Von Erich, Sting, Lex Luger, The Road Warriors, Terry Funk, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Mick Foley?

The book Ric Flair: The Last Real World Champion encapsulates a who’s who of professional wrestling across the multiple decades that Flair has been in the business.

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair over the years.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair over the years.

Author Tim Hornbaker, who has penned ten books, seven of which are dedicated to pro wrestling, went into as much detail as he possibly could while writing his latest creation.

“From beginning to end, I’d say that it took close to three years to finish this book,” he told Pro Wrestling Stories.

“It was important to me to be as definitive as I could, searching high and low for every available piece of information.

He continued, “Due to the pandemic, my ability to obtain certain documentation was limited because specific depositories were closed. As it was getting to crunch time, however, things began to open up, and I received all of the records I needed to finalize the book.”

From the plane ride that almost killed him to the “Plane Ride From Hell” many years later, the story is one that even Hollywood would struggle to imagine.

Imagine how different the grappling landscape would be had Flair met the tragic fate of others on that Cessna flight in 1975.

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Ric Flair: The Early Years

Ric Flair early in his wrestling career.
Ric Flair early in his wrestling career. Photo Credit: WWE.

Alluding to his future career, a former football teammate recalled that “Ric had the most amazing charisma.”

That charisma created one of the greatest of all time—a selfless seller, visually and vocally.

One of Flair’s Most Appreciated Physical Assets

Talking about the brutal training regimen imposed by Verne Gagne on Ric Flair, author Hornbaker penned how “his remarkable stamina later became one of his most appreciated physical assets.”

You can’t work the amount of 60-minute matches that Flair did without possessing a tremendous work ethic.

Ric Flair in one of his legendary matches against Ricky Steamboat.
Ric Flair in one of his legendary matches against Ricky Steamboat. Photo Credit: WWE.

Moreover, learning the intricacies of the business from the likes of Gagne, Harley Race, Blackjack Mulligan, Dick Murdoch, Ray Stevens, and Virgil Runnels, AKA Dusty Rhodes, on the road helped mold Flair.

The Nature Boy Gimmick

The Nature Boys: Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair.
The Nature Boys: Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair.

Adding a new dimension to his persona and embracing the Nature Boy gimmick of Buddy Rogers kicked things into a higher gear.

The Nature Boy gimmick only added a new dimension to Flair’s overall wrestling persona,” Hornbaker writes, “which was electrifying for the young performer. He talked about his impressive income and wardrobe— all in his conceited style — and his snobbish attitude disgusted the casual fan.

“His passions for money and women, alongside his willingness to hurt opponents to win matches, drove fans wild.”

Dedication To The Craft

Ric Flair earlier in his wrestling career.
Ric Flair earlier in his wrestling career. Photo Credit: WWE.

Imagine traveling over 50,000 miles a year and wrestling six nights a week, sometimes seven, and wrestling twice on a Sunday. But Ric Flair knew the sacrifice was worth it.

“I’ll be world champion someday.” he declared in 1976, foretelling his future gold rush.

“His schedule was unrelenting, and his sustained determination was a credit to not only the NWA but wrestling as a whole,” the author tells us.

“Between October 10 and October 19 [in 1985], Flair’s endurance was tested as he navigated a strenuous itinerary with eight matches in ten days in five states and two countries.

“He started in Norfolk and visited Houston, Jacksonville, Asheville, and Charlotte the same day, then Saginaw and Lansing in Michigan. On the final day, he was in Tokyo, Japan, where he wrestled Jumbo Tsuruta to a draw. The estimated distance was over 9,940 miles.”

Giving Fans Their Money’s Worth

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Photo Credit: WWE.

In Hornbaker’s book, Dave Meltzer wrote, “Being world champion in pro wrestling, through the schedule alone, is one of the toughest jobs in sports. You can see it on Flair’s face, not only in the scars but how he’s aged five years [since winning the belt].

“During that period, there hasn’t even been one night that he hasn’t given the fans their money’s worth.”

Hornbaker stated that Flair wrestled 350 matches by his 17th month in his inaugural reign as champion. Imagine champions of today working that schedule.

A Different Time

"Nature Boy" Ric Flair in one of his many dazzling robes.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair in one of his many dazzling robes. Photo Credit: WWE.

Tim Hornbaker details Ric Flair’s rise toward his maiden NWA world title when holding that deeply respected belt was almost a burden, considering how much travel and actual wrestling it entailed. Only the strongest survived and were eligible to win it.

This was an age completely different from now. Money was made from selling tickets for well-built matches and feuds to local fans, not from selling contracts to billion-dollar television networks.

Gordon Solie dramatically announced the 1981 NWA world title change by saying he had “some rather very disturbing news. We received a telegram yesterday regarding the World Heavyweight Championship,” Solie said.

“We’re very sorry to report that Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream, has lost the World Heavyweight Championship. He was defeated by Ric Flair in Kansas City.”

Business and Financial Side of Professional Wrestling

NWA World Heavyweight Champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Photo Credit: WWE.

Aside from Ric Flair’s career, Tim Hornbaker’s book, Ric Flair: The Last Real World Champion, delves deeply into the business and financial side of things.

The fascinating politics of the NWA with its board of directors and iconic Ten Pounds of Gold were a minefield to navigate without upsetting someone of importance.

The book is also a history lesson on the changing pro wrestling landscape in the 1980s. Flair is the centerpiece, but the business is essential to the story.

Ric Flair and The Dangers of Being a Heel

Ric Flair and Jack Veneno during their controversial match in 1982.
Ric Flair and Jack Veneno during their controversial match in 1982. Photo Credit: George Napolitano.

It’s easy to forget how safe the sport is now for its incumbents. That wasn’t the case for wrestlers in the past, who suffered assaults amid riotous crowds when heels prevailed. A 1982 loss to Jack Veneno in the Dominican Republic in front of 12,000 fans threatened to turn dangerous.

“It’s been said that Flair allowed Veneno to pin him to avoid an even more dangerous situation, as a matter of self-preservation,” the author Tim Hornbaker explains. “That is likely true, and Flair’s split-second decision prevented a full-scale outbreak of violence.

“The National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight championship didn’t change hands in split-second decisions, and the board of directors did not authorize Veneno’s victory. That being said, Flair’s actions were completely understandable.

“With the belief that news of his defeat was unlikely to circulate due to the location of the match widely, the NWA wasn’t overly concerned by the result. Flair was still the rightfully acknowledged champion everywhere but Santo Domingo.”

Battle Scars from the Ring

Ric Flair with Ole and Arn Anderson.
Ric Flair with Ole and Arn Anderson. Photo Credit: WWE.

Another angle, which involved Ric Flair and The Andersons beating up Dusty Rhodes in a steel cage, resulted in the crowd rushing to the ringside area, not allowing them to leave the cage.

As well as putting his mind and soul into his work, Flair sacrificed his body, not just by working night after night in tough matches, but by donning the ‘crimson mask’ that we see much less of in the current product.

“Fans who had followed Flair’s career for any length of time were accustomed to seeing his blond hair turn a shade of red when it was saturated with his blood during intense ring matches,” Hornbaker wrote. “That was another trademark of his, and Flair sometimes bladed on consecutive nights, leaving his forehead raw and sore.

“During the 1986 Great American Bash tour, he went to extremes to put over his popular adversaries by drawing blood from himself with small blades hidden in athlete tape around his fingertips.

“During his typical Saturday morning interview segments on WTBS, Flair was always dressed to the nines, but his forehead bandages would illustrate the savagery of a recent hard-fought battle. And this wasn’t anything new. Flair had been ‘getting color’ for over a decade, and it was unusual when he didn’t don a crimson mask in an important contest.

“David Newton of the Greensboro Daily News noted in 1980 that the skin of Flair’s forehead was ‘sandpaper rough’ and ‘cross-hatched’ with tiny scars. A Miami writer likened it to something you’d find on a ‘burn victim.'”

Hulk Hogan and The WWF

Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair face-off at WCW Bash at the Beach on July 17th, 1994.
Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair face-off at WCW Bash at the Beach on July 17th, 1994. Photo Credit: WWE.

While Ric Flair became the best wrestler on the planet and claimed multiple reigns with the NWA World Championship, Hulk Hogan was catapulting the WWF towards pop culture domination.

The two larger-than-life characters eventually crossed paths and wrestled in front of feverous crowds.

“I don’t begrudge Hulk Hogan one thing,” Flair said. “But he’s a movie star, and my job is different. The NWA sells wrestling. I’m not saying this in a derogatory sense, but I’d rather be Ric Flair than Hulk Hogan.”

But Flair did defend his status as the world heavyweight champion.

“There is only one champion, and that is me. That is what makes the NWA special. The NWA is the oldest and most prestigious organization in this business. The WWF is more into marketing, and Hogan makes most of his money out of the consumer part of the business. He makes his fortune selling dolls. I make mine in the ring.”

Ric Flair Does the Unthinkable in 1991

In one of wrestling's most shocking moments, Ric Flair debuts on WWF television (with Bobby Heenan alongside his NWA Championship Belt) on WWF Prime Time Wrestling, September 9th, 1991.
In one of wrestling’s most shocking moments, Ric Flair debuts on WWF television (with Bobby Heenan alongside his NWA Championship Belt) on WWF Prime Time Wrestling, September 9th, 1991. Photo Credit: WWE.

Following the demise of Jim Crockett Promotions, Ric Flair did the unthinkable and joined Hogan in the WWF in 1991. Thankfully, they didn’t want to cut his hair, give him an earring, and call him Spartacus, as Jim Herd infamously wanted to do in the late ’80s.

“The fact that Vince McMahon was promoting Flair as a claimant to the world championship,” Hornbaker writes, “and pushed him with essentially zero change to his well-known persona, said a lot about the respect the WWF boss had for the former eight-time NWA champ.”

Nearly everyone who had jumped from the old territorial system to the WWF had been given a gimmick, including the ‘Texas Tornado’ Kerry Von Erich and ‘King’ Harley Race.

Flair’s iconic 1992 Royal Rumble win for the vacant WWF title sparked his famous promo, giving credence to the strap of his new promoter. It’s ironic, considering every fiber of his being that he gave to the NWA.

Flair exclaimed, “I’m going to tell you all, with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment in my life. When you walk around this world and tell everybody you’re number one, the only way you get to stay number one is to be number one. And this is the only title in the wrestling world that makes you number one. When you are the king of the WWF, you rule the world!”

A New Millennium for The Nature Boy

Ric Flair for governor?
Ric Flair for governor? Photo Credit: WWE.

Not only was the Nature Boy one of the busiest in the game for decades, but he even had two runs with the book as Head Booker in WCW. He also considered entering politics in 2000, such was the prestige his name carried.

“In some respects, Flair was WCW, and WCW was Flair, and no one could deny his commitment to the promotion through the years,” Hornbaker details.

“Even when he could’ve played a political card, he didn’t, and he put fellow wrestlers over time and again. He agreed to wild and unusual stipulations, brought his family into angles, and allowed to have his head shaved. He gave everything he had.”

Refusing to Retire

Sweet Chin Music delivered in the final moments of the iconic retirement match between Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24.
Sweet Chin Music delivered in the final moments of the iconic retirement match between Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24. Photo Credit: WWE.

Ric Flair’s WWE run culminated in one of the most endearing moments in pro wrestling folklore. A defeat to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24 in 2008 was a fitting way for his five-star life as an active performer to climax.

Alas, Flair was unable to resist the addiction of competing and didn’t stay retired.

Late in 2009, Flair joined Hulk Hogan for a four-match series in Australia, and the tour drew successfully in Melbourne and Sydney. Their press conference on November 18 that year garnered headlines after Flair attacked Hogan on stage, and the scenario was great promotion for their upcoming bouts.

Hogan, unsurprisingly, beat Flair in all four of their matches.

Prior to these matches against Hogan, and his subsequent return to the ring in 2022, Flair’s major concern was how Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels would feel about it, especially after the sendoff he had received for his retirement in 2008. These are topics Hornbaker explores.

“The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair” Book Review

"The Last Real World Champion: The Legend of 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair" by Tim Hornbaker is your definitive Ric Flair compendium.
“The Last Real World Champion: The Legend of ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair” by Tim Hornbaker is your definitive Ric Flair compendium. Photo Credit: ECW Press.

Tales of a speaker affixed to his limo to shout at fans; brawls in clubs; multiple marriages and divorces; his adopted upbringing; the amount of money he spent on robes and his wardrobe to look the part; alcohol abuse; adultery; casual racism and near-death experiences are all looked at and detailed.

Compiling the book was a job that Tim Hornbaker embraced, and he unearthed tidbits of information he either didn’t know or was looking to clarify.

“I think there is plenty of new material in this book about Flair,” he explained to us. “More specifically, there is further clarity and more detail on certain events that have happened, which I cite with sources in my endnotes.

“I think it was important to provide that for readers in creating this historical biography to ensure people knew where I was getting my information. It’s also important for future researchers and historians, who will continue writing the history of the sport we all enjoy for years to come.”

In short, even if you think you know everything about Ric Flair, you probably don’t.

For those fascinated by the larger-than-life legend whose legacy will live on long after the life of the Nature Boy is complete, the biography Ric Flair: The Last Real World Champion is your definitive Ric Flair compendium.

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Ian Aldous is a former International Boxing Organization fight commissioner and writer for BoxingNews24.com. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast before finding a home for his work on Pro Wrestling Stories.