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Ric Flair: To Be the Man (WWE) Mass Market Paperback – May 1, 2005

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"Let's Be Less Stupid"
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Keith Elliot Greenberg coauthored Legends of Wrestling: Freddie Blassie -- Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks with wrestling icon "Classy" Freddie Blassie shortly before his death in 2003. A third-generation wrestling fan and senior writer for World Wrestling Entertainment publications, Greenberg is the author of more than thirty nonfiction children's books, and has written for The New York Observer, USA Today and The European, among others. He's also an award-winning television producer whose credits include 48 Hours, America's Most Wanted, Court TV, VH-1, PBS, and The History Channel. He and his family live in Brooklyn, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: Black Market Baby

I don't remember crying much as a kid. But that was a long time ago, before I left Minnesota for Charlotte, bleached my brown hair blond, and became "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. That's before I let my self-esteem depend on people with power in the wrestling business.

For the last fifteen years or so, I've been told that I'm the greatest professional wrestler who ever lived. Better than Frank Gotch or Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino or Verne Gagne, Gorgeous George or Hulk Hogan. Ric Flair can call himself a sixteen-time world champion. Ric Flair went on the road and wrestled every single day -- twice on Saturday, twice on Sunday, every birthday, every holiday, every anniversary -- for twenty straight years. I've spent more than thirty years of my life -- some days good, some bad--trying to prove to myself, to my peers, and to the fans who paid anywhere from five to five hundred dollars that I could be the best at what I chose to do for a living.

When you have no equal in professional wrestling, you have no equal in the sports world. Because -- despite what outsiders may think -- we are not ninjas or warriors. We are a special breed who can withstand pain, exhaustion, and injury without ever coming up for air. There is no off-season in our business, and we're the toughest athletes alive.

In the ring, I've always been at home. It's what lurks outside of it that scares me. For every legitimate punch I've ever taken to the head, every bone I've ever dislocated or every chair that's been bent across my spine, nothing can be as ruthless as the political sabotage inside the dressing room or promoter's office. While fans were saying that I could have a five-star match with anyone at any time, behind the scenes I'd be called an old piece of shit that didn't understand the public, couldn't read ratings, and deserved to be bankrupted along with my family.

These weren't things I heard once or twice; it went on for years. And after a while, it almost broke me. I felt myself losing the Ric Flair strut and, in many ways, my joy for life. When I came to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in late 2001 after spending most of my career representing the competition, I didn't know if the wrestlers liked or respected me, or knew about my legacy. Hell, I began to wonder if I even had a legacy at all.

So that's why on May 19, 2003, at fifty-four years old, I was standing in the center of a ring in Greenville, South Carolina, in boots and trunks, crying like a little boy. The Raw TV cameras were off. This was something personal between myself, the "boys" -- as the members of our fraternity like to call each other -- and the fans.

"I went through a period where the Nature Boy wasn't the Nature Boy," I started, confessing to people who had watched me trade knife-edge chops with Wahoo McDaniel in 1976 after I came back from a plane crash; take Dusty Rhodes's bionic elbow in 1987 while my cohorts in the Four Horsemen circled the ring; and return in 1998 after my old company, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), tried to sue me out of my profession. Either these fans had been there personally, or their fathers had been there, or their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had told them about it. For nearly thirty-five years, it had been me and them. And when the tears came down my face, I was just letting it out to a group of people who, in some ways, knew me like a part of their families.

But the bad days were over, and here in Greenville, South Carolina, I finally saw it -- by the way the boys had hugged and honored me after my opponent, Triple H, carried me to one of the most satisfying matches of my career, and by the way the fans had stood and screamed and looked into my watery eyes, letting me know that, when the Nature Boy was in the ring, they'd never stopped believing.

"To be the man, you've gotta beat the man," I'd said so many times, taunting my opponents while I shoved my title into the camera. Well, I'd beaten myself, but now -- in my mind, at least -- I won back the crown. I was still "Slick Ric," "Space Mountain," "Secretariat in Disguise," a kiss-stealing, wheeling, dealing, jet-flying, limousine-riding son-of-a-gun.

This is my story. And, as I've proclaimed during many an interview, whether you like it, or whether you don't like it, learn to love it.

Wooooooo!

My mother probably thought I was stillborn.

That's what they told a lot of the girls whose kids ended up with the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis -- their babies were dead, and they just needed to sign a couple of papers. Adoption papers. Most of these girls were poor and uneducated. Some were even under sedation.

They had pulled the same scam on single mothers, promising that their kids would be kept in a nice, safe place until the girls could come and get them. A corrupt judge had been in on the whole scheme, taking away infants from people on public assistance. One woman in the Western State Hospital for the Insane had a new baby with a different inmate every year. When you handed her a pen, she'd sign anything.

Years later, 60 Minutes would do an exposé on the case. Mary Tyler Moore would win an Emmy Award for her performance in Stolen Babies, a cable-TV movie about the scandal. But until the governor of Tennessee called for an investigation in 1950, five thousand children had been taken away and adopted by parents from all over the United States, including Joan Crawford (whose Mommie Dearest daughter supposedly came from the Tennessee Children's Home Society), June Allyson, Dick Powell, and the people I grew to love as my mother and father, Dick and Kay Fliehr.

My parents were both born in 1918, and had met at the University of Minnesota. My mother, Kathleen Virginia Kinsmiller, was from a town called Brainerd, Minnesota. She was a cultured woman who wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and in 1968, she authored a book, In Search of Audience, about the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, a place where she introduced me to people like Jessica Tandy, Henry Fonda, and Elizabeth Taylor.

My father, Richard Reid Fliehr, was salutatorian of his high school class in Virginia, Minnesota. Like my mother, he loved the theater, but he ended up taking pre-med courses, becoming a medic in the navy during World War II, and then a successful obstetrician and gynecologist.

I thought my dad was the most intelligent guy in the world. While working as an ob-gyn, he went back to school and got his master's and doctorate both in theater and English. He went on the road, performing in plays, and became president of the American Community Theater Association. Meanwhile, his practice -- Haugen, Fliehr and Meeker -- was one of the biggest in the Twin Cities. My dad probably delivered thousands of babies, among them wrestling promoter Gary Juster, former National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Heavyweight Champion Gene Kiniski's kids (including his son Kelly, who wrestled in the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s) and Superstar Billy Graham's daughter Capella.

Sadly, my parents weren't able to start a family of their own. In the mid-1940s, my mother gave birth to a daughter who died so quickly, I'm not sure if she had a name. Afterward, my mother couldn't become pregnant again, so in 1948 she began corresponding with the Tennessee Children's Home Society.

My father's salary was a bit of an issue. He was only making $3,000 a year, but my mother explained that he was doing his residency in Detroit, and that any child they adopted would live a relatively privileged life, and most likely go to college.

On the form the agency sent them, my parents were questioned about their reasons for adopting. "Unable to have one of our own," my mother handwrote, "and our love of children."

"Will you treat the child as a member of your family?" they were asked. "Yes," my mother replied.

"If the child is returned," the questionnaire inquired, "will you pay the expense of bringing it back?" My parents agreed to the condition. But once they laid eyes on the Nature Boy, I wasn't going anywhere.

Depending upon which documents you read, my birth name was Fred Phillips, Fred Demaree, or Fred Stewart, and I was born in Memphis on February 25, 1949. My biological mother's name was Olive Phillips, Demaree, or Stewart. My biological father is listed as Luther Phillips.

Given all the deceit that went on between the Tennessee Children's Home Society and the authorities they paid off, I'll never really know the circumstances surrounding my birth, or what happened to me immediately afterward. The agency reported that, on March 12, 1949, "Olive Phillips and Luther Phillips did abandon and desert said child." A court later ruled that I was "an abandoned, dependent and neglected child," to be placed "under the guardianship of the Tennessee Children's Home Society," which now had the right to find me "a suitable home for adoption."

They didn't keep me around Memphis for long. On March 18, I was delivered to my adoptive parents at 6439 Devereaux in Detroit, just as the agency had dropped off other children at hotels like the Biltmore in Los Angeles -- an extra amenity, I guess, for preferred customers. My parents renamed me Richard Morgan Fliehr, and eventually took me home to Edina, Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis.

Believe it or not, I never bothered looking at my adoption papers until I started researching this book. The documents were sitting in a safe in my house, and I didn't even know my birth name. I was never curious. I'm still not. I'm an only child, and as far as I'm concerned, my parents have always been my mom and dad.

They never kept my adoption a secret from me; in fact, they described it as one of the happiest events of their lives. I'd have a birthday party and then, every March 18, my parents and I would go to an Italian restaurant (I always liked Italian food) by ourselves to celebrate my "anniversary."

In the summer, we'd take vacations that lasted three weeks and drive all ove... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: WWE
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: World Wrestling Entertainment; Reprint edition (May 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743491815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743491815
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.5 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Let me preface my words with the following: I am a huge fan of Ric Flair and his work since the mid-80s, when I began watching wrestling regularly. I have met him on several occasions and he always seems gracious and courteous.
So it was with much anticipation that I plowed through "To Be The Man." Needless to say, I was kind of disappointed. First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the parts of Ric's early and mid-career. The man has always entertained me, whether it be as heel or face. This was enough to warrant two strong stars.
My first minor complaint is that Ric -- I love ya -- but you are not the same performer you were 10 years ago. Age is catching up with all of us and I got the impression from reading the book that you think you're still 35. If it were simply Ric's arrogance in the book, I could have lived with that. Hell, if you win 16 world titles, you have earned the right to brag a little bit.
However, a large part of my disappointment comes with what I previously perceived to be one of Ric's strongest qualities: He is a company man. Regardless who the booker was in NWA/WCW, he always did whatever job was asked of him (sans the whole "drop the title to Luger" fiasco in 1991). Today, he remains a company man. This dramatically hurts his credibility, and it's evident in his personal -- and completely unneccessary attacks on Bret Hart (whom I thought he worked very well with in 1992), Randy Savage (another whom I thought sparked whenever the two were booked/fueded together), and Mick Foley (OK, I know those two don't like each other). Frankly, I think all three of the above are tremendous workers, all with different but successful styles. But Ric goes out and attacks these men -- all of whom have issues with Ric's current company.
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29 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Leon on June 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The best wrestling book put out, period. No surprise given that Ric Flair's name was attached to it, it had to be the best. My only gripe was that it was too short--I wanted more.
Lots of good inside stuff from the 70's and 80's, and the tragic sufferings of a man who was literally beaten down by one of the biggest clowns in wrestling, Eric Bischoff. Flair doesn't really pull any punches here, and it is intriguing to watch his relationships with Dusty and Hogan develop from one of idolization to a certain animosity (Dusty Rhodes), to a mutual respect to a portrayed hatred (Hulk Hogan).
Flair clearly has his favorites: Harley Race, Wahoo, Steamboat, Windham, Sting and Arn--no surprise. He also identifies some folks who should not never have even bothered wrestling, Ultimate Warrior, Brutus Beefcake, to a lesser extent, Mick Foley. Gotta love the take on Shane Douglas as well. How's your book Shane? heh heh.
What's great is Flair's respect for the guys who came before him, and the hard work that had to be put in for Flair to be the best. How many people today could live through Verne Gagne's training camps? If Flair hadn't partied so hard, we might be already looking at the next sports politician. Great story, but I just wish it was longer- Flair's stories are so good that you really wish the book would keep going. Fantastic read, you have to pick this up.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By SUPPORT THE ASPCA. on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is the most honest sports biography I've read to date. He gave this reader an insightful, entertaining, and sometimes sad look into both his life and the wrestling business. He is both respectful and critical of the business and some other wrestlers. But, gives logical reasons for being so. Flair is everything his harshest critics have rarely been, successful for over three decades. You can't make a good living in your chosen proffession for that long if the fans were not willing to pay to see you. Flair's talent made him a star, Hogan was a media creation.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Johngy's Beat on January 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ric Flair's book starts off great. He candidly discusses the details of his birth and family. He proceeds to relate the story of his pre-pro wrestling life with just about the right amount of detail to keep the reader interested.

The story really gets interesting as Flair enters pro wrestling. Flair is perhaps the greatest pro wrestler ever. His combination of ring skills, interview skills and charisma is unsurpassed. Flair has seen it all and he tells us all about it in colorful detail.

Flair gave everything to the sport and fans. He seemingly gives everything in this book. Flair reveals the good and bad of his career and life.

It is unfortunate that events after this book cast some doubt on his family life, but that does not negate the value of this book. Flair is human and has his problems, but in the world of wrestling, Flair is the man.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By D. A. Martin on July 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've been a fan of professional wrestling since I was a kid, and some of my fondest wrestling memories involve the Nature Boy. This book details the life of, in my opinion, the greatest professional wrestling performer of all time (yes, greater than even Hulk Hogan). I just could not put it down!

I was mesmerized at Flair's account of all of the old-timers who had helped to mold and shape his career, such as Wahood McDanial, Verne Gagne, Johnnie Valentine, Harley Race, and Blackjack Mulligan. Like other wresters during that time, Flair lived a wild life in his younger days, as he relives in sometimes painful detail. I really respect him for owning up to all of his mistakes and bad choices and how he has learned from all of them, as this only proves that he is a human being.

It was pretty sad to read about how former WCW officials like Jim Herd and Eris Bischoff went out of their way seemingly to make Flair's life as miserable as they could .Given that during Flair's legal troubles with WCW in 1998, Bischoff's pledge in front of other wrestlers that he was going to "sue Flair and his family into bankruptcy," as well as numerous other personal and professional slights, I can see why Flair hates the man's guts. It was gratifying to read how Flair got a little "payback" shortly after Bischoff arrived in the WWE in 2002.

For professional wrestling fans, this book is a must-read.
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