The life of professional wrestling legend Ric “Nature Boy” Flair is examined in this installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30.
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Every film in the complete 30 for 30 library, including Nature Boy, can be watched with a subscription to ESPN+.
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‘Nature Boy’ 30 for 30 Preview
The film was directed by Rory Karpf, who also directed the I Hate Christian Laettner installment of the anthology series. Karpf incorporates classic footage that explains Flair’s appeal and success in his prime with footage of the man today: aging and almost broken, yet still dynamic as ever.
“This is really a human interest story, whether you like wrestling or not,” Karpf says of Nature Boy. “He was sort of this flamboyant, cocky, arrogant guy that, you know, every guy wanted to be and every girl wanted to be with.” The film is bookended by interviews Karpf conducted with Flair in late in 2015 and early in 2017 in which the wrestling legend gets extremely candid.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised in Minnesota, Flair’s professional wrestling career has spanned over 40 years. He began wrestling in the AWA in the 1970s and catapulted onto the NWA scene, where he became one of the most famous wrestlers in the world throughout the 80s.
Nature Boy Reveals Flair’s Unconventional Upbringing
Flair discusses falling in love with wrestling as a kid, and vividly recalls watching stars like Verne Gagne on television Saturday night at 6:00. His love for the sport and sports in general left him with little in common with his parents, whom Flair refers to in the film as the “two poor souls that adopted me.” Flair’s adopted father was director of the American Community Theatre Association, and when he got involved in wrestling, his parents “thought it was insanity,” he recalls.
Flair learned how to wrestle when he attended his hero Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp in Minneapolis in the 1970s, per invitation from Gagne’s son, Greg. Flair actually quit the camp at one point, and the elder Gagne refused to let him leave, finding Flair and bringing him back to the camp.
Nature Boy also discusses the a plane crash in 1975 as providing the inspiration for the flamboyant persona that became his quintessential wrestling character. Flair broke his back in three places during the plane crash, and saw his weight drop from 250 to 180 lbs. He then took the baton from 1950s-60s wrestler “Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers, and decided to take Rodgers’ persona to the next level. “He had that great look, tan, always dressed nice, hair slicked back, blonde, great physique, great body, and when I crashed in the airplane, you know, healing and [wondering] if I was gonna make it back, I wanted to be blonde and be a bad guy.”
As for his trademark “Woo,” Flair credits 1950s musician Jerry Lee Lewis with the influence on that one.
The Film Takes a Close Look at The Four Horsemen
Flair discusses everything from his disdain for those who say wrestling is fake: “It’s not fake, it’s choreographed,” he says.
In the 1980s and 90s, few wrestlers were as entertaining or as popular as Flair. A member of The Four Horsemen, one of wrestling’s all-time great entourages, Flair became the quintessential wrestling heel, but he did it better — and in a more entertaining fashion — than most. The original Four Horsemen (Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard) remain one of the sport’s most memorable groups, running rampant on the scene for 14 years with a few substitutions along the way. “It was four guys that could really perform at a high level, and four guys that could really talk, and that’s never been seen before or duplicated,” Flair says of the Four Horsemen in the film.
The film examines in detail how Flair’s dynamic and charismatic persona emerged in the 80s, and the audience learns what went down behind the scenes in Flair’s time in the NWA, WCW, and WWF (later WWE).
“The 1980s was the perfect time for wrestling, and I was the perfect wrestler for the 1980s,” Flair says in the film. “Wrestling was my love. The Nature Boy wasn’t a wrestling character. The Nature Boy wasn’t fake. The Nature Boy was me.” Flair’s first wife Leslie, and his eldest son David attest to this in the film, which is incredibly sobering in light of one of the film’s later revelations.
Nature Boy takes a deep dive into the personal tragedies Flair has seen and overcome throughout his life and career, including the death of his son Reid in 2013.
“I’ve sacrificed everything for wrestling,” an aging Flair says in retrospect, as moving footage of a younger Flair with his young children plays. “I gave my entire life to the wrestling business. I paid the price.”
In one very telling moment in the film, Karpf asks Flair about his excessive persona. “Back then, especially in the early ’80s, it was a new thing to be telling how much money you had. You would brag about how many women you had. I mean, you were really groundbreaking doing that, right? Where did that come from?” Flair’s response is beyond telling: “The night before,” he says with a laugh. “If I said it on TV, I did it. I lived my gimmick.”
What Other Content is on ESPN+?
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Other Documentaries & Films
Other ESPN documentaries and films that aren’t included in the actual 30-for-30 series are also available on ESPN+, including D. Wade: Life Unexpected, Venus vs, The ’99ers and others.
The list of ESPN+ originals continues to grow. It includes Peyton’s Places, The Boardroom with Kevin Durant, NBA Rooks, Ariel & The Bad Guy, The Fantasy Show and Alex Morgan: The Equalizer.
UFC On-Demand Library
In addition to live UFC events, ESPN+ also features a vast library of past fights you can watch. This includes classics from Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping, Brock Lesnar, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Frank Mir and others. You can find a complete rundown of the ESPN+ UFC library here.
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