As Kurt Angle tells it, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s influence helped steer Angle’s WWE Hall of Fame career before the latter even stepped inside the squared circle for the first time.
Stories of Flair’s contributions to the business weren’t hard to find at Sir Stage 37 in Manhattan Friday night, as WWE introduced its 2K18 video game and kicked off SummerSlam weekend, leading up to Sunday’s SummerSlam at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The festive occasion featured a Snoop Dogg performance during a week in which WWE announced that SummerSlam would return to Brooklyn in 2018 for the fourth straight year.
But within all the fun, WWE Superstars’ hearts and minds stayed close to the 68-year-old Flair as he continues to battle through a medical emergency that Flair’s fiance said has caused multiple organ damage. (Flair’s agent reported Saturday in a tweet that he’s improving.)
Despite Flair’s iconic portrayal of a well-coiffed, sharply dressed, self-centered cad for more than four decades, behind the scenes his love of the business as a whole is well-chronicled.
In Angle’s case, he says Flair’s big-picture outlook was crucial to his success after Angle won an Olympic wrestling gold medal in 1996.
“Ric was the guy that I got advice from before I started in the business,” Angle told Newsday on Friday. “He’s the one that redirected me from [World Championship Wrestling] to WWE, told me Vince McMahon would know what to do with me, and said not to go to WCW.
“But what I learned from Ric was how to give to the business and not take. He always made sure his opponent looked better than he did. What was important to him was the match, not himself, and I took that advice and made sure when I performed in the ring I made my opponent looked better than me, and I made sure it was the best match I could possibly make it. He was a very giving wrestler, and I did the same because of Ric Flair.”
Flair’s longevity has allowed him to rub shoulders with multiple generations of wrestling stars, and former Raw women’s champion Bailey says it’s helped the current roster.
She explained that she’s benefited from being around the energy he’s brought barking from ringside during Bailey’s tangles with Flair’s daughter and current WWE Superstar Charlotte.
“The guys that I look up to, the guys that I grew up watching, he was their favorite wrestler,” Bailey said. “That’s how much he’s meant to the whole industry, and he’s still someone we all study, because he’s so, so good, and even when he’s around we get to ask him questions, and personally he’s one of the greatest guys you could know… He means a lot to the wrestling world, but he means so much to the people who are in it.”
Braun Strowman, who will compete in the main event Sunday for the Universal Championship against Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe, has known Charlotte for years after attending a small community college in North Carolina near Appalachian State, her alma mater.
Strowman is now in one of WWE’s pinnacle positions, but like many of WWE’s best, he honors Flair as the foundation of what he has attained.
“He’s been a big influence on not only myself, but everybody behind the scenes,” Strowman said. “It’s a shame what’s going on [with his health]. Like I’ve been telling everybody, if you pray, pray for Ric. If you don’t, just send some thoughts out for him.
“He’s a great man, he’s done amazing things in this industry, and I probably wouldn’t even have a job [if not for Flair’s success] because Ric Flair is wrestling.”