Monday, September 04, 2023

The Last Real World Champion by Tim Hornbaker

When Ric Flair made his way to the World Wrestling Federation during the summer of 1991, he brought with him the 'Big Gold Belt'  that is synonymous with the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling. 

The strap showing up on a rival promotion's TV allowed Flair - and his new employers - to point out that 'The Real World's Champion' had signed for the WWF.

A moniker claiming to be a real world champion of professional wrestling was far from hyperbole. Or, to put it in wrestling parlance: a work. Ric Flair had left his previous employers without having lost his title inside the ring. He may have also had a legal right to still be in possession of the physical belt because - as champion - the chosen wrestlers are asked to lay down a deposit as an insurance measure.

And most importantly: Flair wasn't just 'THE real world's champion'. He was the 'Last Real World Champion'. 

If you're wondering why, then Tim Hornbaker's look at the career and life of The Nature Boy is the book which should lead you to that opinion.

'The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of Ric Flair' by Tim Hornbaker

Titling the Flair biography 'The Last Real World Champion' fairly casts the book's subject as the final person in a run of champions who were voted into their reigns by a syndicate of wrestling promotors who all recognised one world champion under the National Wrestling Alliance umbrella.

This process of electing champions eventually became obsolete after the World Wrestling Federation - under the vision of Vince McMahon Jr. - began a national expansion which saw regional promotions eaten up by the WWF juggernaut. 

The NWA's power was also evicerated once Jim Crockett Promotions signed Flair to an exclusive contract which put paid to the 'touring' aspect of an NWA World Champion travelling from territory-to-territory.

The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair conveys how important Flair was to the territory system and ultimately the  NWA/JCP during its battle to remain in business against the WWF.

To highlight further how significant Flair was to that part of the industry, Hornbaker writes about something Ted Turner stated when in the midst of negotiating to purchase JCP from the Crocketts. 

Turner specifically told the person making the deal that 'if you don't have Ric Flair, you don't have shit'. 

As someone who has followed the wrestler's career since the late-80s, I found that I already knew some of the things Tim Hornbaker writes about in the biography. However, there is a lot I learned through the author's thorough research. 

I particularly enjoyed reading the earlier parts of the book because it covers both a time before I was born and then a period when I was mainly a fan of the World Wrestling Federation.

Looking solely at the coverage of Flair's career, I found the last portion of the book to be a tough read because it covers the dreadful angles the wrestler had to work in the dying days of WCW when he evidently wasn't being treated like the legend he evidently is.

Then there was Flair's time in TNA and his comeback match from 2022. However, sandwiched in-between those and the dying days of WCW is a renaissance - of sorts - when Flair returned to the WWF/E in 2001 ending with the glorious weekend in April of 2008 when the Nature Boy was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, had his last official match as a WWE wrestler in a loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV and was given a send-off on the following evening's episode of WWE Monday Night Raw.

Hornbaker covers Flair's post-WWE life making mention of the passing of Ric's son, Reid, divorces, marriages and the allegations of racism and sexual harassment that have been made against the book's subject in recent years through interviews and an episode of Vice TV's Dark Side of the Ring.

The coverage of the allegations led to what is my sole critique of the biography.

You cannot tell a full-blown account about Ric Flair's life and career without covering those allegations. The author evidently didn't shy away from doing so. However, it felt - to me - as if those controversies should have been ventured further than Hornbaker was willing to go.

In his acknowledgements, Hornbaker mentioned that - when he began work on the book - the author went in with an aim to 'provide a sincere chronological study of Flair's life and career without any skewed or judgemental perspectives that have spawned in recent years'. Hornbaker goes on to write that he 'wanted to tell (Flair's) story with the right amount of respect and honor that (Flair) was due'. 

In that case, the aim was achieved. 

Hornbaker has created a book that covers Flair's entire career and legacy. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who has followed Ric Flair's wrestling career whether that be passively or as intently as I have done in all of the years I've been a fan of this form of entertainment.

I own both of Flair's autobiographies that have been published through WWE and its partners. The Last Real World's Champion is a perfect companion to those two books because the research is more thorough, accurate and acknowledges that Flair has had more world title reigns than the sixteen WWE's revisionist history claims he has had.

The entire business of professional wrestling has changed multiple times since Ric Flair's debut match. And for that alone - there can never be another person who has had a career like Flair. 

He definitively was the last real world champion.

The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair by Tim Hornbaker is set to be published as an eBook on September 12 2023. Amazon UK expects paperback copies to be released in October 2023

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