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A Flair for motivation
A long time ago, in a promotion far, far away, Ric Flair uttered one of the most famous quotes in sports-entertainment history:
"To be ‘The Man,' you've got to beat ‘The Man'…and I am ‘The Man'!"
He would know, because when it comes to all-time greats in sports-entertainment, Flair is indeed "The Man." Sixteen-time World Champion, 5-time United States Champion, multiple tag team title co-holder, Intercontinental Champion, 1992 Royal Rumble Match winner…his cadre of accomplishments reads like an encyclopedic listing of championships in sports-entertainment.
With 35 years in the business, Flair has become an icon. Literally hundreds of sports-entertainers have gotten into the game because of their reverence for the "Nature Boy"; some have even had the privilege of battling in the squared circle alongside North Carolina's finest.
As the years go by and Flair keeps on "keepin' on," so to speak, he continually has the chance to help, mentor and team with those who looked up to him not so long ago. Several of Triple H's 10 World Championships have come under Flair's guidance, whether as a pair or as part of Evolution. Both of Batista's reigns as World Tag Team Champion occurred with Flair as his partner. And the "Nature Boy" has stood next to several other champions, including Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels and the late Eddie Guerrero.
Both The Animal and Matt Hardy ply their craft alongside Flair on SmackDown these days. In Hardy's case, he grew up in Cameron, N.C. -- just 100 miles from Flair's hometown of Charlotte -- idolizing the "Nature Boy" as he watched him on Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling broadcasts. One week ago, Matt joined the elite list of Flair worshippers who went on to team with their idol, and together they defeated MVP & Chris Masters. Prior to the tag match, Hardy told WWE.com how as a lifelong Flair fan, "it's exciting to know that I'm now at a level in my career that I can step in the ring to compete with him," later adding, "Outside of my brother Jeff, I couldn't ask for a better partner."
Tonight on SmackDown, it's Batista's turn to re-team with the "Nature Boy," as the former World Tag Team Champions will face the current WWE Tag Team Champions, Deuce & Domino. In numerous past interviews, The Animal praised the teachings of the 16-time World Champion, citing his own personal growth as a top-level WWE Superstar from his extended period of time with his former Evolution colleague.
If you go back and review the tape of the June 11 Raw, Batista's facial expressions tell a better story than his words ever could; after winning his match and earning SmackDown a WWE Draft pick, a huge grin washed over The Animal's face as the randomly selected "Nature Boy" strolled out on stage. Clearly, no one was happier to see Flair come to Friday nights than Batista.
In any professional sport, the chance to play with greatness is perhaps more of a reward than even getting to play the game itself. When surefire MLB Hall of Famer Roger Clemens was preparing for his 2007 comeback, he tossed pitches during a minor-league tune-up to an unknown rookie catcher named James Lasala. For Lasala, a suburban New Yorker who grew up watching Clemens during his first run with the Yankees, the experience was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…and the greatest day of my life."
One can only imagine that Flair must feel these days the same way as Clemens did that afternoon in Florida; for a Superstar who learned the ropes from respected and successful ring veterans like Johnny Valentine and Verne Gagne, the chance to teach those nuggets of wisdom that made him so great must be nearly impossible to pass on.
In return, it would only be wise for both Batista and Matt Hardy to seek Flair's advice as they chase the World Heavyweight and United States Championships, respectively. While The Great Khali and MVP are certainly formidable opponents -- they are champions, after all -- Flair has a wealth of knowledge to share. He has faced -- and defeated -- opponents nearly as large as Khali, and although he has never beaten MVP one-on-one, he can offer his Vengeance: Night of Champions experience against the hotshot Superstar to his Tar Heel compatriot.
William Shakespeare once said that "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." For any SmackDown Superstar willing to learn from history, greatness has been thrust upon them in the form of Ric Flair. Knowing the "Nature Boy," he'd gladly have a few words of advice for anyone who needs it; chances are that one of them will be something he's fond of saying whenever he can: