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Wrestling Historian Mike Rickard

Reviews The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair

For more than a century, professional wrestling has cultivated some of the most eccentric and compelling personalities. As the embodiment of flamboyance and intensity, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair stood at wrestling’s apex for decades, cementing his place as a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and performer. When he was in the ring, fans knew they were witnessing the very best, and he not only became a multi-time world heavyweight champion in the NWA, WCW, and the WWE, but his status as a generational great has been confirmed with inductions into numerous Halls of Fame.

The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair is a gripping portrait of a wrestling legend. This unflinching biography explores the successes, struggles, and controversy of Flair’s life in wrestling, pulling no punches in sharing the truth behind his in-ring achievements and out-of-the-ring hardships. Today, Flair is celebrated for his pioneering career and as an iconic figure in the realm of mainstream sports entertainment. Celebrated wrestling historian Tim Hornbaker tells Flair’s complete story, with meticulous attention to detail and exhaustive research, creating a must-read for fans of wrestling, sports, and popular culture.

 -- Blurb from The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

The Last Real World Champion

“The Last Real World Champion: I Don’t Know Exactly What It is but It’s Good”

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Alice in

Sports historian Tim Hornbaker’s new book The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair
is impossible to define but one thing is clear—it’s worth your time. Is it
a biography of Ric Flair? Not exactly but you’ll learn a lot about “Slick” Ric. Does the book dish the dirt on Ric Flair’s well-known love for living on the edge? Not hardly as it glosses over many of the sensational aspects of his extracurricular activities. Is it a comprehensive career biography? At 381 pages, it’s impossible to do so with an in-ring career that spanned five decades. Nevertheless, it provides details on Flair’s rise to the top that should satisfy even the most knowledgeable Flair fans looking for more.


Wrestling books have become a cottage industry, a boon for fans and historians eager to learn about the happenings on camera and more importantly, off camera. This includes far more than biographies. Readers can choose from books examining the business itself (Nitro and James Dixon’s Titan Sinking trilogy). Fans have seen many biographies over the last two decades ranging from the great (Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day) to ones that seem like the paper would have been better used for coloring books (The Rock Says) .

Tim Hornbaker is no stranger to wrestling having written several outstanding books. Hornbaker’s three books National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling; Capitol Revolution: The Rise of the McMahon Wrestling Empire and Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever are as good of an overview of the territory era as you’ll find elsewhere. In addition to several books about baseball, Hornbaker has also written a biography of “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers (Master of the Ring: The Biography of Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers) and Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers, a book that provides mini-bios on wrestlers from the 19th to the 21st century.

The book provides the details readers have come to enjoy from Hornbaker, a historian who isn’t afraid to defy conventional wisdom and who also acknowledges the work of other historians. Of course, even the most accurate collection of facts and details are of little use to a reader if the writer lacks style (or dare I say it, flair). Hornbaker has plenty of style but unlike some writers, his book isn’t an exercise in style over substance. Neither does he make the book about himself (as is often the case with Dave Meltzer who knows how to put the “I” in obituary as he routinely shares anecdotes of exchanges with wrestlers while covering their lives).

Casual fans will learn a lot about the workings of the business including the selection process for world champions. Even the sagest of fans are likely to glean more insight into what happened behind the scenes. For example, many Ric Flair fans are familiar with the 1975 plane crash that could have ended Ric Flair’s career. However, Hornbaker reveals that the story of the pilot dying within a year of the accident isn’t true. It’s the type of detail that real historians strive to unearth and that can help dispel the many myths surrounding wrestling.

Hornbaker also provides some background into the Fleir family who adopted the future “Nature Boy” including their ancestors as well as how the family helped Flair become who he is and how professionals reacted to their son becoming a professional wrestler.

The Road to the Top

Was Ric Flair destined to become a world champion? Was he even destined to become a
professional wrestler. As Hornbaker tells it, Flair had many career options besides wrestling.
However, like many fans, it was difficult to resist the urge to try his hand at it. The Last Real
World Champion reveals Flair’s journey to the ring then details the many twists and turns that led him to the top.

YouTube, tape trading, and streaming services such as the WWE Network have allowed fans to see much of wrestling’s past. However, it can still be challenging to piece things together. Ric Flair fans now have a detailed look at Flair’s career, beginning with his AWA run as well as his time in Jim Crockett Promotions, the formative years that led to his first NWA World Championship. Hornbaker then details what seems like every match of Flair’s various runs as a touring champion. While it’s not quite that exhaustive, it lets fans know who Flair’s opponents and allies were throughout different points in his career. He also spends time covering Flair’s time as WCW Champion but it’s safe to say the focus of the book is on his time as NWA champ.

Be Fair to Flair

Tim Hornbaker makes the case for Ric Flair being the greatest world champion in history. It’s a bold claim but Hornbaker makes quite the case. He defines the qualities of what was necessary for a touring champion not only to be successful in terms of putting butts in seats but to survive the day-to-day grind that was known for crushing the hardiest of men.

One thing readers won’t see much of is Flair’s extracurricular hijinks. That’s not to say that
Hornbaker ignores them. Hornbaker acknowledges things such as Flair’s many marriages (and divorces), the tragic death of his son Reid, Flair’s health battles, and even “The Plane Ride from Hell.” However, his focus isn’t on Flair’s personal life but rather, his professional life. Hornbaker doesn’t write a kayfabe account nor does he write a detailed account of Flair’s personal life.

Not surprisingly, Hornbaker has been criticized by some for writing what they claim is a
sanitized version of Flair’s life. That depends on how much you want to learn about Flair’s
personal life. The book’s promotional material clearly states it pulls “no punches in sharing the truth behind his in-ring achievements and out-of-the-ring hardships.” However, Hornbaker doesn’t spend much time on hearsay, acknowledging various incidents but refusing to indulge in them. It’s understandable why some have criticized the book but it doesn’t take away from the book’s value.

At its heart, Hornbaker’s The Last Real Champion reads like a spirited defense attorney’s closing arguments for his client and at times, like a love letter. Hornbaker’s argument that Flair was the last of his kind (a touring champion who had to carry the weight of various territories on his shoulders) and the best at it is hard to deny.

If you’re a Flair fan, you’ll love the detailed look at “Slick” Ric’s career as world champion as
well as a look at Ric Flair the man. One of the book’s most eye-opening aspects is how Hornbaker shows Flair when the cameras weren’t rolling. Many fans are familiar with the stories of Flair picking up bar tabs and living high off the hog but Hornbaker provides glimpses into Flair’s interactions with his friends, family, and the press that will have you reevaluating the long-held belief that what fans saw on TV was what Flair was like 24/7. That’s not to say that Flair was a teetotaling monk but…

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