I remember exactly when Ric Flair became my favorite wrestler. He was returning home after his run in the WWF, and Sunday night’s WCW Main Event started airing Flair’s best matches to get everyone excited about his comeback. Every week was a new match, and they were all incredible, but I especially remember his matches against Terry Funk. I was always familiar with Flair. I saw him as the bad guy who turned on Sting, attacked Macho Man and won the Rumble in 1992. But the retro matches on Main Event really made me appreciate him as the greatest. I was 6 years old.
For the next 15 years, Flair stood as the unimpeachable best. Beyond his great matches, his promos encompassed the same aesthetic as my favorite rappers. Flair influenced the hip-hop culture I grew up in, and he was like a larger than life version of Slick Rick (no pun intended) every time he grabbed the mic. He was my favorite entertainer in the world despite Black Scorpion masks, mid-card hell on Nitro, fake heart attacks, Vince Russo and the other dozens of attempts to destroy his career.
This could really be 5,000 words on Flair’s greatest matches, moments and a bunch of jokes about him calling his junk Space Mountain, but I want to talk about the time Ric Flair inspired me more than any time before.
The year after graduating college generally sucks. It especially sucks if you graduate in the middle of the worst economic crisis of your lifetime. The months after graduating in 2008 were filled with uncertainty, “hiring freezes” and essentially feeling like I was worthless. I don’t want to get all “millennial woe is me” on you guys because I know the rest of the world thinks we Recession Babies complained about nothing, but that sh*t was scary. I spent some of my newfound free time reading, including finishing Ric Flair’s autobiography To Be the Man. I read it for the stories and insight into my favorite wrestler, but the book and Flair’s story changed my life.
Throughout Flair’s book, he talks about his insecurities and how he’d have panic attacks before matches because he felt like he just wasn’t good anymore. This was while he was in his prime. He’d allowed the people in charge at WCW to shoot down his belief in himself. He’d have to get pushed through the curtain so he could have his matches. And he was Ric Flair. When that 2001 theme song hit, Flair would go to the ring, carry Butch Reed to an hour-long match and be the best wrestler the world had ever seen. All while doubting if he still even deserved to be employed.
By the time I’d read Flair’s book, I’d spent months feeling like he did right before his matches. I had already started writing at Smoking Section and was trying to get some semblance of a career going, but the rejections and flat-out ignored emails made me question my worth as a writer. But reading that even Ric Flair felt like I did at his peak made me realize that self-doubt is chemical. It’s your brain sending signals that aren’t a reflection of your actual worth or abilities. If Ric Flair can be the best in the world and doubt himself, then my fears about my career and life shouldn’t mean a damn thing. What’s stopping me from being the Ric Flair of my chosen profession despite how down on myself I get.
I would like to say that I got a job or wrote a book or something the day after I finished Flair’s book. I didn’t. The story isn’t that perfect. But I definitely regained some confidence and got my ass in gear.
Fast forward to 2015. Parenting is a mother*cker. It’s obviously glorious and wonderful and the most rewarding experience you’ll ever have, but it’s almost impossible to be totally sure of yourself. There’s always doubt. There’s always worry that you’re doing it wrong. And lately, as a parent, I’ve been faced with some things that have caused me to doubt myself. And when that happens, the doubt trickles into other aspects of my life like the Venom symbiotic reaching to another of Peter Parker’s limbs. It’s taken me longer to write, longer to submit articles and longer to hit the publish button because the debilitating nature of self-doubt doesn’t compartmentalize.
That’s why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I got an email recently reminding me that Ric Flair’s birthday was coming up while I was in the midst of my down in the dumps-ness. Because I’m reminded of the greatest, and I’m reminded of the greatest not knowing he’s great. Shawn Michaels once told the story of how he had to pull Flair out of a moment of depression by saying, “Just go out there and be Ric Flair.” For Flair, that meant being the best ever in his field. For me, going out there and being David just means being the best dad, husband, writer and whatever else I can be. And I can’t be any of those things — just like you can’t be at your best — if you live within the confines of life telling you you’re not worth it.
I’m reminded now, on Ric Flair’s 66th birthday, of the example the GOAT set for me. That even the greatest can doubt. And it’s not the confidence that defined him, but his ability to be at his best despite his fears that made him truly the greatest of all time.
Thank you, Ric. Now, if you don’t mind, my kids are awake, 2001: A Space Odyssey is playing and it’s time for another Broadway.