He styled. He profiled. He wrestled around the world and made millions “Woooooooooo!”
The limousine riding and jet flying is a bit less chaotic these days, but the boisterous story of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair — or, really, the real-life story of Richard Fliehr — will get the spotlight tonight at 10 p.m. on ESPN.
It’s a 30 For 30 documentary that’s been in the works for months — long before his recent health scare nearly ended his life at age 68. It’s a piece that promises to explore the man, the myth, the legend — and where that’s led him to today. (And to be the man, you still have to beat the man … he’s not done yet.)
Considered by many to be the greatest all-around professional wrestler, Flair was a 16-time world champion perhaps best known for when he traveled the globe as champ as part of the National Wrestling Alliance in the 1980s. He made his debut back in the early 1970s, though and survived a plane crash in 1975 where he broke his back in three places and was told he’d never wrestle again. Since then, he had worked for all major American promotions — AWA, WCW, WWE, TNA — and held gold, while also working for companies internationally. He wrestled regularly until 2008 — age 59 — when he retired from WWE, losing to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV in his final match.
It wasn’t long ago that collectors had absolutely zero certified autographs to own. His first ink came back in 2009 Donruss Americana — first as a promo card limited to only 15 copies (shown in a blue robe) and then an autograph (above) found only in retail packs that was limited to only 225 copies. Since then, he’s appeared on nearly 550 different certified autograph cards from TRISTAR, Leaf Trading Cards, Topps, In the Game and Panini America. Most of those cards are found in TNA products thanks to parallels during Flair’s brief run with that company, while Leaf has included him in its Pop Century, wrestling and even a boxing release. Topps, which has had the WWE license since 2005, recently got him into products — and one rarer card, a 2005 Topps Heritage WWE autograph that he was slated to appear on that was never released, is among those out there signed after-the-fact and then certified by third-party authenticators. (But not all of the cards are real.)
Flair’s newest autographs are found in 2017 Topps WWE (up top), then on a single dual-auto card in 2017 Topps WWE Undisputed alongside his daughter, Charlotte, and on another with her in 2017 Topps WWE Road to WrestleMania.
On the memorabilia card front, Flair is much rarer. He’s got just over 100 different cards, though one of those predates any of his autographs and came from Fleer. That’s a ring mat card in the 2002 Fleer WWE Raw vs. Smackdown set. TRISTAR once again lead the way with nearly 80 memorabilia cards — these being his first personally worn cards. His first WWE memorabilia cards didn’t arrive until last tear with a handful of Royal Rumble Mat Relics from his run as his daughter’s manager. That leaves his only other memorabilia cards from Panini’s Americana release in 2011 — roughly 90 total cards across two types — and they appear to be from a red pair of trunks. The same can be said for memorabilia cards from a Sportkings release in 2013 — roughly 350 swatches total.
Although Flair wrestled much earlier, his “Rookie Card” is generally considered to be from the landmark 1982 Wrestling All-Stars set, a mail-order release that includes the first cards of many legends of the ring and is considered to be the first traditional set of the modern (1980-forward) era. His first promotion-licensed cards appeared in the 1988 Wonderama NWA set, while he can be found regularly in all of the WCW sets from 1991 to 1999 and then in WWE releases from 2002 on as Fleer and then Topps focused on the ring.
Follow Buzz on Twitter @BlowoutBuzz or send email to BlowoutBuzz@blowoutcards.com.