So much for “restoring the feeling,” eh?
I wish I wasn’t writing this. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be. I don’t like writing these types of articles, but sometimes there are instances where I, and others, must speak up. Most likely, I’d be halfway through a rough draft, sharing my appreciation for Ric Flair’s intense rivalry with Ricky Steamboat, his compelling performance at the 1992 Royal Rumble (like the collapse he had after tossing out the British Bulldog), or what he could have offered following his debut for All Elite Wrestling (which, I honestly don’t know what he offers aside from “name value”, but whatever).
Instead, I’m just disappointed, but not in him, as that time has passed after that Dark Side of the Ring episode. I just would rather not have to see him on television. I’d rather him away from the spotlight, maybe recording podcasts, making the odd appearance (if he really has to), and to just be a proud father of Charlotte Flair and all the amazing things she’s accomplished and will accomplish.
No, I’m moreso turned off by Tony Khan having booked and signed him to the company in 2023. A multi-year contract, too. Loads of hungry young talent would kill for the opportunity to be on television, signed and unsigned, yet a man far beyond his years could likely take that time.
Listen, I’m someone who believes in redemption stories and improving oneself, but that depends on the act that one needs redeeming from. It requires not just the public’s acceptance, but the person most affected by it, the person who has to live with it. Furthermore, it requires the evidence that one has learned their lesson. I don’t think Richard Fliehr has earned that.
With the focus of that Doja Cat video package focusing squarely on the women wrestlers being the talk of the fanbase earlier that week, the hopes of fans were sky high, but now rests an air of discomfort.
While it is a tad wild (yet not impossible) to imagine Flair harassing or assaulting the fairer sex at his advanced age and this point in his life, it isn’t solely about that. It’s about the precedent set about it.
Sure, there are already men like Flair who have pasts as abusers and bigots and the like across the industry. From the big promotions to the little indies, the talent pool filled with exceptional wrestlers and managers is filled with poison perpetuated for far too long. This is nothing new. But just because it happened then, just because it’s how things were, does not mean we have to sit idle and accept it. “Boys will be boys” doesn’t apply anymore.
Times change, and with that change, there is resistance. That’s not always a bad thing – not all change is good change. But with the tastes of society reforming to create a better, safer space for individuals, it is more than warranted. What doesn’t sit right with us now can pertain to what we find out about the past. It absolutely can.
What happened to Heidi Doyle (and others, I’m sure) on that fateful plane ride should never have happened. What was said to Teddy Long should never have happened. Nobody gives a damn in the current age about “boys will be boys” or “oh, he’s just being one of the guys.” Enough of that. We as a society, we as men should do better to protect the people being hurt and targeted and uncomfortable.
And I understand the floodgates that will open from this article. It’s the same as any others who have tried to speak reason. Unintelligible people who have never, and may never take a step back and look at their words and actions and how it affects those around them will crawl out of the woodwork to defend men like Ric Flair. After Speaking Out had exposed a lot of morally bankrupt people from the world of wrestling, the pushback from fans and “talent” alike made these conversations difficult. That’s the way it goes, too – when people attempt to stand up for themselves, others will exercise whatever might they possess to silence it. All because of inconvenient truths.
If only the ability for people were able to stop and look inward, and truly assess what they’d do and feel in these situations, maybe they’d see it from the perspective of others. It could be daughters, sons, wives, husbands, or any assortment of loved ones. It could be the person defending these actions. There will always be a target.
My heart breaks for those who have to see men platformed everywhere, not just in wrestling. People with a history of being abused, people who’ve seen their abuser prosper, and they must live with it. When I saw women react to Flair’s contract information in real-time, the disappointment and pain were clear. Women I know sat with this news hitting them close to home, and knowing their stories and having heard their pain, this hurt. That pain is shared when you’re just as helpless to help them.
Why would this happen? Tony Khan previously spoke about the misdeeds of WWE’s longtime big cheese, Vince McMahon, with the “shooting his shot” tweet, so surely he wouldn’t platform another deviant, would he? Now that Flair is in the company, I don’t think Tony has a platform to stand on whenever he aims to swing those comments around. You can’t banish the hungry wolves while letting another in because it didn’t bare its teeth at you.
All of this for an energy drink? I’m not even a consumer of that type of beverage, but there are plenty of better ones, I’m sure. Monster, Redbull, Bang…anything. This Woo! Energy Drink probably tastes like how old people smell. What even is this deal? I’m dumbfounded.
Again, I must reiterate, that this is nothing new in wrestling. There are criminals in many wrestling promotions who have done reprehensible things. But for many, All Elite Wrestling was supposed to be different. Of course, some members of the roster were named in the Speaking Out movement, but the goodwill the company had built up seemed to alleviate that.
This was the company that made sure the Huber family was taken care of after Jon Huber (Mr. Brodie Lee) had passed away. This was the company that paid for and took care of its talent during the pandemic. This was the company that released talents such as Jimmy Havoc, Jake Atlas, and Brian Kendrick while also banning Hulk Hogan to provide a safer, more inclusive environment. This was the company that had to make the unfortunate yet understandable decision to suspend The Elite and CM Punk before ultimately firing the latter almost a year later.
If that paragraph came off as redundant – good. That needs to be memorized. It’s what made AEW unique, alongside the bright young talent and ready-made stars who believed in the mission of this alternative.
I am pained to admit this, but the promotion doesn’t feel the way it once had. Yes, multiple great things are going about the company – Swerve Strickland and Hangman Adam Page’s war of hatred; Daniel Garcia’s ongoing identity crisis is compelling; Kris Statlander and Hikaru Shida are worthy champions of the TBS and AEW Womens’ Championships respectively; Toni Storm is massively entertaining; and Adam Copeland’s attempts at reconciliation with the douchebag that is TNT Champion Christian Cage have all been entertaining. And who could forget the mystery involving the Devil and his worshippers, targeting friend and foe alike of MJF?
But the presentation of so many other things, things that used to work, haven’t been. The identity does not feel the way it once had.
When All Elite Wrestling unleashed itself upon the wrestling world, it was the antithesis of the product WWE was providing at the time. AEW was a statement that wrestling could thrive if left to be itself, its wondrous self. A song of violence and bombast. A painting of blood and tears and sweat. Unfortunately, the company embraced what it strove not to be.
Now, WWE’s post-McMahon Era feels more like the alternative to its 2019 self than recent months of the AEW product, in spite of itself and the matches that thrive in the midst of it. It’s been embracing the parts of wrestling it once pushed away – to varying results There are fewer criminals (albeit not devoid of them), and the women have more spots on the card.
I must admit, AEW’s addition of Hikaru Shida versus Toni Storm and Kris Statlander’s rematch against Julia Hart has provided a wider depth of women on a pay-per-view card than it has in some time. There are so many great stories and acts going on in the promotion, but it doesn’t feel like it used to. I chalk this up to drama and controversy from Big Swole to CM Punk to Ric Flair. So much real-life drama is taking away from the product and it would behoove the higher-ups to alleviate it, not feed it.
A more recent example of Flair hampering the quality of the product with how uncomfortable he can be can be found in the many posts that reported a shocking, outdated callback to an old promo of his, seen below.
What I’m getting at, is that we fans hold the company to such a high standard, sometimes unfairly so, because we care. I don’t like writing articles such as this one, but as a fan, my voice is as valued as the others. We’ve bought into this promotion, hook; line; and sinker, and we want to continue doing so. Adding Flair muddies that.
It’s not like Tony Khan wasn’t aware, either. Before the Dark Side of the Ring episode, it seemed Ric Flair was primed for an elite debut after leaving WWE during the pandemic. With Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson in prominent on-air positions at the time, it made all the sense in the world. Then the world was exposed to The Plane Ride From Hell, and Flair never came.
Believe me, I also don’t like the idea of burying Ric Flair. His performance at the 1992 Royal Rumble; his wars with Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Terry Funk, and Vader; and his heartfelt goodbye at the hands, well foot, of Shawn Michaels are all-time classics.
But that’s forever tarnished due to the dark being brought to the light. No matter how deep into substance abuse, no matter how low one is in life, no matter what the mental health situation is, nothing begets harming other people. It could have been so easy to sit back on a career long-storied and let the wrestling world continue, especially if there’s nothing left to offer, let alone prove. With the performance of his “Last Match” at the temporarily revived Jim Crockett Promotions last year, nobody needs to see Ric Flair in a wrestling setting again. The promos are far weaker, and I’m pretty sure the dude was seconds away from shaking the Grim Reaper’s bony hand. I don’t think anyone needs to see that again.
When Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” played and Flair walked out, I chuckled, yet I did so in shock. A tinge mortified, yet not fully processed. Not a traumatic meltdown by any means, just a “really?”. It certainly didn’t help that this played a part in Sting’s Revolution 2024 retirement. I get it, Steve Borden knew Richard Fliehr for most of his life now and likely doesn’t understand the weight of Ric’s past actions, especially in today’s social climate. Those I’ve spoken and listened to don’t begrudge Sting that one bit, though it does make his departure feel less special.
Full disclosure: I think AEW is going to do just fine. The potential for a long life is wholly possible due to the incredible accolades and milestones reached by the company in around five years at the time of writing. They’ll put on incredible matches that become art. It’s what they do. Decisions such as signing Flair, however, are going to taste bitter to the fanbase for years to come. Perhaps it will never wash down.
I will still watch AEW, just as I still watch WWE and NJPW. Not because I’m some sort of loyalist, but because storytellers are abiding by the craft they are practitioners of. Art always thrives amid the evil that is business, prioritized over what is right. AEW will be just fine. Art endures.
Whether or not the fans in attendance care about Flair’s presence reflects his online status is unsure. But people will not forget. They may still watch the program, they may still watch older shows Flair has been a part of, and may even still watch his matches while admonishing the man. Dangle the keys all you want, but nothing will dissuade the knowledge that is left hanging.
I don’t wish any harm on anyone personally, but I hope that whatever comes of this serves as a lesson. If it’s for Tony to learn who to platform, or we fans for sticking around, it’s up in the air.
All I know is that when it comes to my enjoyment or that of others, there’s no fare for Flair.