The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair by Tim Hornbaker

July 26, 2023

This is the most comprehensive written account of Flair’s life and career, but feels less than the sum of its parts.

As readers of Hornbaker’s previous books on the NWA, the territories and the early years of the WWF will know, he is meticulous in his research but has tended to favour detail over narrative. That’s certainly the case with the sections here about Flair’s family history and life before wrestling. There are so many dates of birth and middle names of ancestors reproduced in the book that the detail obscures what if anything we should learn about Flair’s background.

Fortunately, that approach is scaled back as Flair’s career begins and although it’s still packed with references (which take up nearly the final 25 percent of the book and often add detail that it’s hard to imagine anyone caring about), there’s more of a story being told and the detail is often used to illustrate a point. The strongest section of the book is on Flair’s rise in the industry and his adjustment to both wealth and life on the road as an NWA champion, particularly with the insane multi-territory schedule of the early 80s when he was indeed “the last real world champion.”

Once the book gets to Flair becoming a near exclusive with Crockett, it becomes more of a whistlestop tour of his major matches and storylines, with less analysis and revelations. In particular, these sections often verge into sounding like a kayfabed, in-story account, not as a misleading piece of writing but simply to avoid repeatedly having to note that a particular outcome or title triumph was the decision of bookers.

Given Hornbaker’s historian approach, it was always going to be fresh revelations that could make a biography stand out. In this case it’s the financial details of Flair’s money woes that bring something new to the table, notably the fact he was already borrowing heavily to take care of unpaid taxes by the early 1980s.

Ultimately the book achieves what Hornbaker’s states in the acknowledgements that he set out to do, giving a comprehensive and largely comment-free account of Flair’s career. However, it doesn’t necessarily have a lot to offer to people familiar with Flair’s career and has no real narrative arc beyond a conclusion that effectively says he had his personal problems but is a nice guy.

Parts of this book such as the financial records or the reality of the territorial schedule would have made for fascinating extended essays, but as an overall autobiography many potential readers may find it doesn’t bring enough that’s new in either detail or big picture story.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a review copy.

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