AS I SEE IT 3/24: Flair's retirement and some Philadelphia memories

Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

If you're a wrestling fan and unless you've been living in a cave for the last few months, you know that one of the most historic wrestling matches in our lifetime will take place on March 30, as Ric Flair's retirement match will take place against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 24 in the Cirtus Bowl in Orlando, FL.

There's probably never been a wrestler born (or more correctly, who got an adoptive last name) that was more suited for a professional wrestler than the man many believe to be the greatest in-ring talent of our generation...Richard Morgan Fliehr.

A hundred different wrestling websites will list Ric Flair's many titles, his legendary rivalries with Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Harley Race, and a dozen more over the next few days and weeks.

But I wanted to talk about the Ric Flair that the fans of Philadelphia saw, both in and out of the ring. Most of us nationwide outside the Carolinas saw Flair live for the first time on the old WTBS Georgia Championship Wrestling show, going at it with Piper and a young Ricky Steamboat.

Those of us in Philadelphia first saw Jim Crockett's NWA World Wide Wrestling show, not even in English...but on a cable feed of a New York Spanish language station Channel 41 that aired on Philadelphia area cable TV. After a while, the station realized the cross-over audience they were getting in our area, and had commentator Hugh Savinovich drop in English language match introductions.

Finally in 1984, it occurred to Jim Crockett Promotions that they should buy time for World Wide on English language television, which wound up on WPHL Channel 17 in Philadelphia to advertise what would become the beginning of live shows at the Philadelphia Civic Center and at the Meadowlands in North Jersey.

Those of us in Philadelphia who were being force-fed the cartoon show being offered by Vince McMahon and the WWF, welcomed the NWA as the first real alternative to the WWF, given that ECW and even its predecessor Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling were years in the future.

Ric Flair was everything that real wrestling fans thought a wrestler ought to be in Philadelphia...colorful, loud, but also hardworking, athletic and skilled enough to work for 30, 40, or 60 minutes every night. The Philadelphia Civic Center became the place to be every month to see Flair and the Four Horsemen if you were a wrestling fan with a brain who appreciated a product that didn't insult your intelligence like the WWF's Titan Toon Adventures of the time.

At least as legendary as the Philadelphia Civic Center shows themselves was the post-show bar scene...and Ric Flair enjoyed every minute of it during those NWA days. For anyone who hasn't heard, Philadelphia wrestlers and wrestling fans brought their post-show party home the bar at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott. Ric Flair, the Four Horsemen, and the wrestling fans of Philadelphia kept the Marriott bar in business all by themselves. What went on there was no secret.

In most towns, a small group of fans find out where the wrestlers hang out. But not in Philadelphia. As wrestling would see years later with ECW, in Philadelphia fans are an active part of the wrestling experience. EVERYONE seemed to know where the Airport Marriott was. For those who didn't know, Flair would happily tell everyone watching his TV promos that the Horsemen would be partying at the Marriott all night long, including in local promos on Philadelphia TV.

Ric Flair always carried himself at the Marriott as a class act to fans who were younger, or simply who were fans who knew how to act like adults and not like gawking idiots. In the Marriott bar, was a hangout for adults and people acted like, well adults.

After five years of TV, Philadelphia finally got a NWA PPV in 1989 with Hallowwen Havoc main evented by Ric Flair and Sting (seconded by Ole Anderson) beat The Great Muta and Terry Funk (seconded by the recently deceased Gary Hart) in a "thunderdome" match when Gary Hart accidentally threw in the towel after being hit, with the added Bruno Sammartino as the special referee.

Needless to say, the post-show happening were more than a little special that night.

In a way, it was a good thing that the Internet didn't exist back in those days. I can imagine digital pictures of some of those sessions that lasted all night if it had. Between the flowing booze and the arenaecus rodenticus (who proved that some women were NEVER meant to wear Spandex) that were all over the bar and the Marriott lobby, I can only imagine what would have wound up online. But Ric Flair and friends, plus those of us who watched the fun with a bemused eye (and those who indulged a bit as well) undoubtedly remember those days and nights with great fondness and we always will.

Years passed and the politics of the post-Crockett NWA, which became WCW, led to Ric Flair leaving NWA/WCW in July 1991. WCW had made what would (after the fact) the mistake of scheduling a weekend of shows in the Meadowlands, Wildwood, NJ, and Philadelphia on the same weekend that they fired Ric Flair.

The fans revolted, as in that pre-Internet era (and faster than Dave Meltzer could get it out there in a weekly newsletter), the word got around that Flair had been fired, leading to a revolt by the fans first in the Meadowlands as the ring announcer in the steel cage main event was drowned out by loud "We Want Flair" chants, which spread to the fans in the other two cities, including an angry Philadelphia Civic Center.

From that weekend on, things weren't ever the same.

I have to agree that its probably time for Ric Flair to hang up the boots, at least as a regularly active wrestler. He needs to go out now while he can still play his role as the "Dirtiest Player in the Game".

But knowing that it's going happen will make me feel really old next Sunday when Flair hangs them up, but it'll also take me back to those long-ago days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when we were all a lot younger and perhaps not too smart for our own good in the way that the Internet has made us.

Back in those days...God, did we have fun. For your part in and out of the ring in helping that happen, thanks, Ric.

Until next time...

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