RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Legendary professional wrestler and North Carolina native Ric Flair is dealing with “tough medical issues,” according to his representatives.
The 68-year-old from Charlotte, real name Richard Fliehr, holds the record for most world championship reigns in professional wrestling history with 16.
“The Nature Boy” held titles for the World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment, National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and has multiple inductions into wrestling halls of fame.
Flair wrestled in several main events at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. In a January 1981 main event at Dorton, he lost the National Wrestling Alliance United States Championship to Rowdy Roddy Piper in front of a big crowd.
Other higher-profile matches at the arena included a sold out bouts against another “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and a tag match with Steamboat against his longtime allies and Four Horseman stablemates Arn and Ole Anderson.
He returned to Dorton Arena in September 2016 for a Big Time Wrestling show where he signed autographs and greeted the crowd after an in-ring hug of Steamboat. In July, Flair did a question and answer session with fans at the Raleigh Supercon.
Saturday evening, Melinda Morris Zanoni of Legacy Talent tweeted: “Yes, Ric in hosp 4routine monitoring. No reason2panic. Yes, many thx2 his fiancé & hospstaff. No excuses Ric wld want u2go out 2nite NaturBoy style!”
Then, Monday morning, Morris Zanoni tweeted:
“Are u a Fan/Friend of Ric Flair?If so, we need prayers & positive energy 4 our Living Legend as he is dealing w/some tough medical issues.”
The announcements drew attention from ESPN, TMZ, national news outlets and numerous wrestling websites. The Wrestling Observer reported late Monday afternoon that Flair had surgery and was in a medically-induced coma.
Shannon Moore, a wrestler from Moore County who shared locker rooms with Flair in World Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action wrestling, said Flair was a major influence.
“As far as Ric goes, what he’s done for the industry and pro wrestling, he’s probably the number one guy that’s made the business as big as it is. Just being one of the all-time greats in the ring.” Moore said.
Moore, who performed for World Wrestling Entertainment alongside childhood friends and Cameron natives Matt and Jeff Hardy, said he got to know Flair before making his name on the national stage. He said the older wrestler was a locker room leader and mentor.
“He’s always there, when it comes to teaching and showing guys the ropes what it takes to be the best. He’s not afraid to pass that knowledge along,” Moore said.
Franklin County performer Lamont Richardson said he became a wrestler in part because of Flair.
“When I was younger we used to go to the Dorton Arena in Raleigh. NWA, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Four Horsemen, they were all there,” Richardson said.
“From back when you were a fan, and didn’t really know how the business was, you’d be like, ‘man this guy is awesome.’ He paved the way for so many of us,” he said.
“You can’t be a wrestler or a wrestling fan from the state of North Carolina without Ric Flair having some kind of influence on you.”
Richardson, who is Native American, wrestles regionally as Redman. He said his heritage plays a role in doing chops to the chest, another signature move of Flair which elicits shouts of “Woo!” from fans with each strike.
Richardson said he always wrestles as a babyface good guy, and plans to honor Flair at the next Danger Zone Sports Entertainment event, which hosts monthly shows at the Salvation Army/Boys and Girls Club in Wilson. Their next show is August 26 at 7:30, and Richardson is hopeful Flair will be recovering from his medical issues.
“We’ve been losing a lot of the legends here lately and Ric Flair is just one of the greats out there and to see him in this condition is just kind of heartbreaking,” he said.