Nearly all Flair’s major wrestling matches since the 1980s are on video. There have been countless documentaries, books, and podcasts dedicated to the “Nature Boy.” So, how did wrestling author Tim Hornbaker find something new?
“That was one of my biggest challenges,” said Hornbaker, author of the just-published “The Last Real World Champion: the Legacy of ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair.”
Just like Flair coming back against Big Van Vader, Hornbaker overcame that challenge, with research and rare documents shedding new light on Flair in 383 pages. Hornbaker calls himself a “self-taught” wrestling historian.
Why is Flair so great?
“Ric Flair as an individual was an astonishing performer. They say he had the ‘It’ factor. He was able to perform at a high level in the ring, going 60 minute matches, defending the world title across the globe against so many different performers. And then at the same time, he was an entertaining personality. He had this unlimited charisma,” Hornbaker said.
Why Flair is the Legend
There are many reasons why Flair is considered the greatest wrestler of all-time — the 16 World Heavyweight championships; great matches against other great legends; the interviews; the swagger.
“He was just such a machine and he lived it. He loved it. And he embraced each today. And I don’t think a lot of people were able to do that,” Hornbaker said.”
Flair was the “real” wrestler in the 1980s, a contrast of to the comic-book-come-to-life WWF champion Hulk Hogan. While Hulk was All America, all muscles and vanquished foes in 10 minutes or less, Flair had a more traditional athletic body, taking his time to tell a story in his matches.
Hogan wore a shredded tank-top; Flair wore expensive robes, suits and jewelry. Fans loved Hogan; Flair was the guy fans loved to hate, but loved anyway.
Even after Flair stepped away from the ring in 2008, he continued to build popularity, especially in the hip-hop and sports worlds.
“Ric Flair just has this coolness about him,” Hornbaker said, about Flair appealing to a new audience.
How to Write About Flair
Like his books on the history of the WWF and the wrestling territories, Hornbaker dug through newspaper archives, published interviews, court records and genealogy websites to learn something new about Flair.
It took Hornbaker three years to write, hampered in his research by the pandemic.
Flair fans know he grew up in the Twin Cities and that his father was a well-known doctor in the area. Hornbaker confirms that is all true, with deep details about the Fliehr (the real spelling of Slick Ric’s last name) family tree. And that’s just in chapter one.
Hornbaker said researching Flair’s relationship with his parents taught him something new about the “Nature Boy.” Both his parents were involved in community theater, which may have helped with performing in front of an audience.
“I have to say that they had a very seismic influence on Flair,” Hornbaker said.
For all the triumphs and successes Flair had, there were several flaws and tragedies in his life. Flair lost his son, Reid, at a young age to drug abuse.
Flair had a reputation as a hard partier, and had martial issues and battles with the IRS. Hornbaker covered it all.
“I wanted to give readers an all encompassing story, a fair story. But I did have to try to strike a balance between both sides of the fence,” Hornbaker said.
A Flair Book With No Direct Involvement
Hornbaker did not speak to Flair directly in his research.
“We wanted to make it as independent as possible. Flair has had books. He’s had his podcast. He has told his story, he’s had shoot interviews. We wanted to do it from an independent historical point of view,” Hornbaker said.
Hornbaker found research gems, such as correspondence with promoters, pay records, and more. He said such information, especially from the 1970s, is “almost impossible to find.”
“I was fortunate enough to find some records related to Flair and the money he made during the territorial days and just other kind of interesting records that I was able to work into the book from court documents,” Hornbaker said.
This is Hornbaker’s seventh book about wrestling. He grew up in south Florida, watching WWF in the late 1980s. He has also written three baseball history books.
About the Central Valley’s World Champion
In his book about the history of the National Wrestling Alliance, Hornbaker wrote about a world champion from the 1930s, Ali Baba. The Turkish wrestler was really Armenian Harry Ekizian, who settled in the Central Valley near Dinuba after his career and became a masseuse. He died in 1981.
“He was very colorful with his mustache and his style of performance. But I’ll say at the same time, he was an incredibly talented athlete,” Hornbaker said.
An Armenian playing the role of a Turk may seem impossible to believe, but that is how wrestling worked then, and to a degree, even now.
“That’s a dramatic change that would be probably personally distasteful, but they go forward because that’s what the promoters want. And I think, you know, making money is the bottom line in professional wrestling,” Hornbaker said.