Flair for dramatic: Ric goes out a winner in finale

11:41 PM ET

  • Marc RaimondiESPN Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ric Flair did his trademark strut. He led the crowd in chanting “Woo!” The legendary pro wrestler even bled, the color red drenching his face and recognizable white hair like it would have in the 1970s or 1980s.

And fittingly, Flair’s final wrestling match ended Sunday night here at a sold-out Municipal Auditorium with the figure-four leglock, the finishing move that is synonymous with “The Nature Boy.” Flair, 73, was the winner, of course, in a tag team match alongside partner and son-in-law Andrade El Idolo against the team of Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett. The attendance was nearly 10,000, per broadcast provider Fite TV.

Flair was clearly exhausted by the end of his first match since 2011, but he was healthy enough by the end to walk out under his own power and do an interview with longtime wrestling broadcaster Tony Schiavone. After the match, Flair was helped out of the ring, and he greeted his family in the front row, as well as pro-wrestling luminaries The Undertaker, Bret Hart and Mick Foley.

“I had one of my best matches of my career here with Ricky Steamboat,” Flair said. “All my family is here. We made jokes about me being married five times. All the kids are here. One wife, but all my granddaughters. My friends are here. I swear to God, guys. If I didn’t have enough pressure on me tonight, f—ing Kid Rock walked into the locker room tonight.”

The grueling match was nearly 30 minutes long and, while it was clear Flair was not the same man who transcended pro wrestling in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and Andrade, Lethal and Jarrett did the bulk of the hard-hitting moves, Flair was able to hold his own weight. He landed chops and punches, his donkey kick low blow and even took a vertical suplex from Lethal, with whom he trained for this match to get ring-ready.

The finish came when Jarrett, a legend in his own right performing in his hometown, landed his signature guitar shot on Lethal accidentally when Andrade pulled Flair away. Flair’s other son-in-law and the card’s promoter, Conrad Thompson, threw Andrade a pair of brass knuckles from the front row, which Andrade passed to Flair. Flair landed a brass-knuckles shot on Jarrett and then put him in the figure-four leglock to end the match.

“This match is the most important of my career,” said Andrade, an AEW star who is married to Flair’s daughter and WWE standout Charlotte. “… This is unbelievable. I don’t even have words for this. [Flair] feels better than guys 20 years old. He’s an inspiration to me.”

Flair is a former 16-time world champion and a two-time WWE Hall of Famer. He’s one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the business, and his stardom has crossed over into the mainstream, even in the current day. Flair has been featured in several music videos by top hip-hop artists, including a song written about him called “Ric Flair Drip” by Offset in 2017. He was the leader of the influential Four Horsemen faction in wrestling, and his matches and work on the microphone are iconic. Many of his catchphrases — and of course, the classic “Woo!” — are still repeated today.

Flair’s style and swagger — complete with expensive suits, diamond-encrusted robes, eye-catching jewelry and crocodile-skin shoes — have been emulated well beyond the wrestling world.

Flair wore a robe that was estimated at nearly $40,000 to the ring Sunday night. But that’s where the glitz ended and things got more down and dirty. Midway through the match, Flair took a razor blade to his forehead to cause bleeding, a pro-wrestling technique to add intensity to a match. Lethal said Flair doing that was his biggest concern, because of the unpredictability of how a septuagenarian Flair would react to a cut.

“That’s the unknown variability,” said Lethal, who also wrestles for AEW. “I hate to give too much away in wrestling, but Ric, he likes to do what’s called walking and talking. There isn’t a lot that’s planned. But I can foresee how a lot of the moves will go. The only thing I can’t foresee is how much he will bleed, is it controllable? Was it too much? It was out of our hands.”

Jarrett was emotional after the match, saying it was “overwhelming.”

“It’s his last one,” said the 55-year-old Jarrett, a WWE Hall of Famer who works as an executive in WWE. “If anything goes wrong, it’s on me. It’s on others. I’m so damn happy for Ric, I don’t know what to say. … As a spectator, y’all watched it and went home tonight. When you’re participating, it’s a whole other level of pressure that I’ve never been under.”

A bloody Flair was helped up the ramp to the back by Andrade. Lethal, who had been an enemy in storyline, came out, and he and Flair fell into a long embrace. Flair had been incredibly appreciative — and trusting — of Lethal to get him ring-ready for his final match.

“I said, ‘I f—ing love you, you’re the f—ing man, I’m trying to be like you when I grow up, because you’re f—ing great. You’re the greatest wrestler in the f—ing world’,” Lethal said. “He starts crying and says, ‘Thank you. Thank you so much.'”