J.R.'s Superstar of the Week - Ric Flair
Greetings, friends and neighbors, from your WrestleMania XXIV bound, BBQ lovin', Oklahoma Sooner who is excited to be a part of one of the most emotional and memorable weekends of my 30-plus year career in the wrestling biz from the Sunshine State of Florida.
Last week in this space, I selected Ric Flair as my Raw Superstar of the Week thinking that there was nothing "Naitch" could do in Columbia, S.C., to top his performance from the previous Monday night when Flair's face was a "crimson mask" en route to defeating Mr. McMahon. Boy was I wrong! So without further ado and readily admitting that Shawn Michaels deserves accolades as well, this week's Raw Superstar of the Week is … Richard Morgan Flair … 2008 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee and my dear friend of more than a quarter of a century.
Monday night in the proverbial heart of Flair Country (by the way, what landscape is NOT Flair Country?), Ric Flair was vintage "Nature Boy." I felt like I was back in the '80s and Ric was verbalizing his feelings to Dusty Rhodes or Terry Funk or Ricky Steamboat. Pure, raw, unabashed, natural passion was on display by an athlete that "felt it" and so did all of us that were lucky enough to be in the arena. After watching Raw again upon returning home, I have to believe that the TV viewers loved it too.
The sports-entertainment business is really not that complicated. It is largely about selling, featuring and showcasing "passion" in various forms. Passion isn't simply about volume or noise levels, but passion is about verbal delivery, body language and especially the look in an athlete's eyes. (Watch) If you watch the Flair-Michaels segment back, be sure to focus on Ric's eyes. Even if you muted the sound, the HOF-bound Flair's eyes told an amazingly passionate story.
Sunday at WrestleMania XXIV, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels -- arguably the two greatest in-ring performers certainly of their generations and perhaps the No. 1 and No. 2 all around best in-ring hands ever over the long haul -- will step onto the canvas to create grappling art. How a true wrestling fan could miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is beyond me. Take my advice, see it live … trust me … see the match live as it happens. You can thank me later.
My most prominent influence in becoming a wrestling broadcaster, Gordon Solie, is officially going into the 2008 WWE Hall of Fame Saturday night. I am so proud to have been selected to induct my late friend into the WWE HOF from "The Dean's" home territory, Florida -- the home of Championship Wrestling from Florida where Gordon first sat in the host's chair in 1960 and was instrumental in helping cultivate some of the business' biggest stars.
The gravely voiced Solie had an understated announcing style with a wonderful vocabulary and had impeccable timing. Gordon's call of the 1972 Danny Hodge-Hiro Matsuda NWA World's Junior Heavyweight Title bout became my primary study guide when I got into the business with Lee Roy McGuirk's wrestling promotion based in Tulsa, Okla., in 1974. I was encouraged to watch this match as often as possible and I did, well over 100 times on an old beta tape machine. McGuirk was totally blind and he told me that hearing Gordon's call of the match allowed the sightless wrestling promoter to "see" the match unfold. That's high praise, folks.
As a young pup, I always knew I wanted to become a broadcaster and always felt like I would end up working at a local TV or radio station and doing play-by-play for college football (my dream job has always been to be the "radio voice of the Oklahoma Sooners") and perhaps other sports as well. Being a life-long wrestling fan and a loyal viewer of the weekly, local wrestling show, the thing I noticed about most wrestling commentators was their lack of product knowledge, their manufactured enthusiasm, a "used car salesman" style of over-promoting, and those damn ugly, plaid sport coats.
Gordon Solie, who I first saw on SuperStation TBS in the early '70s, brought realism to the product and a professionalism that allowed me to immerse myself in what I was seeing. I heard "the voice" and I retained the information I was hearing. It was as if I was listening to the trusted voice of famed newsman Walter Cronkite when listening to Solie. I believed what I heard and I trusted what Gordon was saying.
Needless to say, Gordon Solie is a special person in my eyes and the product that was in vogue during his heyday fit Gordon's strengths perfectly. Matches were longer, athleticism and authentic athletic backgrounds were the order of the day and the titles meant everything. Solie was like an encyclopedia whose professional approach to broadcasting wrestling had a profound affect on yours truly. I will share a few more Solie stories and a few more thoughts on "Naitch" on our latest blog at www.jrsbarbq.com.
With the announcement Tuesday night on ECW's TV program that Gordon Solie would be a member of the 2008 Hall of Fame Class, Saturday night's Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony got more special.
It will be interesting to see what contest Sunday in the Citrus Bowl has the distinction of "closing the show." My money is on the WWE Championship bout, which should be a helluva attraction, but sentimentally, I would love to see Flair vs. Michaels end the night. I know that likely won't happen, but whatever match does follow what could be Ric Flair's last match has a helluva challenge awaiting them. That, I think, is something on which we can all agree.
I need to go pack some beef jerky for the road and get back to working on my HOF presentation and to continue to prepare for WMXXIV. I am busy as a "fruit merchant" but having a blast! I look forward to seeing you in Orlando.
Be sure to check out J.R.'s Family Bar-B-Q Restaurant at www.jrsbarbq.com.