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Ric Flair 30 for 30: Diamonds are forever, and so is the Nature Boy in ESPN doc!

By Michael McCarthy
Sporting News

The heart-breaking story of former wrestling champion Ric Flair makes for a brilliantly compelling ESPN Films 30 for 30 documentary, "Nature Boy."

The stylin', profilin' Flair was the ultimate showman during the pro wrestling boom of the 1980s. Even Hulk Hogan admits he couldn't hold a candle to Flair as a pure wrestler, ring tactician and entertainer. But as ESPN director Rory Karpf asks through his new documentary (Tonight, 10 p.m. ET): "What if I told you his life wasn't an act?"

Outside the ring, The Nature Boy really did live the life of the "Rolex wearin’, diamond ring wearin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’ son of a gun."

As he used to boast in his one-of-a-kind TV promos, Flair spent more money on spilled liquor at bars across America than most pro wrestlers made in a year. He boasted of the thousands of eager women who took a ride on "Space Mountain." He spent his fortune on fancy cars, jewels and clothes.

But the price the now 68-year-old Flair paid for becoming "The Man" was enormous. There was a string of broken marriages, resentful children, alcoholism, depression and IRS debts. Flair's personal life reached its nadir in 2013 when his 25-year-old son Reid died of an accidental heroin overdose.

You'll hear Flair's heart-breaking call to 911 as he tries to save his dying son. The voice doesn't sound like The Nature Boy. He sounds like any panicked parent pleading fobr>
One of my favorite scenes is watching the Indianapolis Colts and college football teams pumping themselves up for games by reciting Flair's most famous lines. It's great to watch Flair taking a father's proud joy in his daughter Charlotte's success as a pro wrestler.

All that said, I wanted to learn more about the origin of Flair's "Wheelin-Dealin'" routine and the famous "Flair Flop," in which he appears to fall on his face after getting knocked around. I also would have cut the silly animated bits that undercut the more dramatic sections about his failures as a husband, father and friend. It was sad watching clips of Flair, still wrestling in his 50s, getting his pants literally pulled down by younger opponents.

But those objections are minor. ESPN's first and only doc about a pro wrestler ranks right up there with the best in the 30 for 30 canon.

The lesson here is: You reap what you sow.

The fame and fortune that Flair sought became a "disease" that cost him his son's life — and nearly his own. Triple H calls his friend the "consummate liar." But the person Flair lied to most was himself. As Flair told Mike Greenberg on "Mike & Mike in the Morning" this week, young wrestlers should emulate his enthusiasm and love of sport, but they should avoid the drinking, partying and profligate spending. Most importantly, they shouldn't "disrespect" their families the way he did.

As Triple H notes in the film, Flair's "legacy will also be probably what not to do in the business. ... I use Ric as an example sometimes with young talent (saying), ‘You can have it all and end up in a really precarious spot.'"

Still, over a four-decade career, no wrestler touched more fans, or had more of an impact on pop culture, than The Nature Boy.

This enthralling but painful documentary is must-see TV. Diamonds are forever, and so is Ric Flair.

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