He's "stylin' and profilin'."
He's the "latest and the greatest!"
If he's not slapping his trademark figure-four leglock on an opponent, he's likely taking some ladies for "a ride on Space Mountain."
He tells wrestling fans, "Like me or hate me, you better learn to love me 'cause I'm the hottest thing going."
He's the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, and he's in Knoxville tonight. "Whoooooo!"
Flair will wrestle U.S. titleholder Jeff Jarrett in a World Championship Wrestling event at the Civic Coliseum; the event starts at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $10-22.
Though Hulk Hogan's image has probably sold more lunch boxes and school notebooks, there may not be a more respected or flamboyant wrestler anywhere on the planet than Flair. He is the only grappler to have worn a World Heavyweight title belt around his waist 13 times, and during his 25-year career in pro wrestling fans have voted him both most-loved and most-hated wrestler.
Flair acknowledges that his long feather boas, glittery ring robes, a woman on each arm and his trademark arrogant strut, plus his below-the-belt-wrestling style, are what has kept him at the top of the business for so many years.
"I think I haven't changed my style at all. I have probably broken the rules more than I have obeyed them," Flair says on the telephone from his home in Charlotte, N.C.
"But I think that the popularity I have derived from the fans that watch our sport is due to the fact that they know I give them 120 percent every time I'm in the ring...and I think they find me to be fairly colorful."
Colorful and controversial. Though he has the image of a jet-setting ladies' man outside of the ring, and his appearance at any WCW event has the entire arena audience screaming his trademark cry of "Whooooo!," Flair gets down to business in the squared circle one moment begging for mercy, the next gouging an opponent in the eye the instant he shows any hesitation.
Flair - born Richard Morgan Fliehr on Feb. 25, 1949 - wrestled on his high school team in Minneapolis and avidly watched pro wrestling on TV. "It was something I liked and watched a lot as a kid growing up...I like Verne Gagne and Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher," Flair says.
Dick the Bruiser was known in the midwest in the '60s and '70s as a mean-looking good guy who warmed up before matches by biting the ropes. Gagne was a promoter and wrestling school owner who Flair himself later studied under.
After high-school graduation, Flair entered the University of Minnesota, playing offensive and defensive guard on the Golden Gophers' junior varsity. He traded the gridiron for the ring when he saw a chance to jump into pro wrestling.
"I was living with a guy named Ken Patera, who had competed in the '72 Olympic (wrestling competition) and had pretty much decided to be a pro wrestler. I seized the opportunity to follow him...and was lucky enough to be with the right people at the right time, and it worked out real well."
Flair had his first pro match in January 1973 and began winning titles in both tag team and solo competition in the Mid-Atlantic league.
In 1975, a plane crash in North Carolina left him with a broken back in three places, but within six months he was back in the ring.
And with a new nickname: "Nature Boy."
"The promoter I was working for at that time kinda' came up with that handle for me...He thought I resembled Buddy Rogers, who was the original 'Nature Boy.'"
Did his opponents go after his weak back when he got back in the ring?
"I have had a few people go after it over the years, but when I first came back I was tentative at first; I kind of hurt myself more by overly protecting my back."
Flair's first heavyweight title came in the National Wrestling Alliance in September of 1977, when he took the belt from Bobo Brazil. Over the years, Flair has won championships from the likes of Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. He last held the World Heavyweight Title in 1996.
Flair is a founding member of The Four Horsemen, a renegade foursome he and Arn Anderson started in 1986. Though membership has changed throughout the years, the Horsemen are always a forced to be contended with indside and outside the ring.
Who was the meanest opponent Flair has taken on?
"That is hard to say 'cause there are so many that were great, but I'd say Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Harley Race...I'd put (Lex) Luger in there, but the meanest I'd say was Harley Race. Remember that name? He was real tough."
Race was known for using his head as a battering ram and for the "brain buster suplex," a finishing maneuver that involved dropping his opponent on his head.
Flair has not only battled for belts, he has also battled for his identity. In the 1980s, he had a feud with Knoxville's own Buddy Landel, who proclaimed that he was the real Nature Boy and fought Flair during a bout billed as the "Battle of the Nature Boys."
"We did that back in the late '80s, but I don't have to ask you who won that battle," Flair scoffs.
Flair's opponent tonight, Jeff Jarrett, is another bleached blonde who has his own version of Flair's strut as well as Flair's figure-four leglock.
What does Flair think of him? "Jeff Jarrett? He is just another wannabe! (I'm) often imitated but never duplicated. He can use the figure-four, but he doesn't have my moves, and he doesn't have the ability to apply my moves."
Though the figure-four is known as Flair's own move, he didn't invent the submission hold. "No, it was used by several wrestlers before I started using it. It was an easy hold for me, I adapted to it real easy. And in my estimation it is about the best submission hold there is. It has worked at different times on everybody (I have tried it on)."
"If somebody is close to the ropes or bigger than I am, a guy can turn it over, and it ends up putting pressure on my legs, but it is hard for a guy my size or smaller to turn it over, and if he can't get to the ropes, I guarantee he'll give it up."
Though Flair has a move he can take to the bank, he acknowledges there will always be those who reckon some of the moves they see on televison are more simulated than substantial.
Flair said he is hoping for another world heavyweight title shot and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Besides, doesn't he have a heart-breaking, woman-taking, jet-setting playboy image to maintain?
"I've got a wife and four kids, so I'll let you figure that out," he says.
So, is there a Flair heir the fans will see stepping into the tights 'n' boots anytime soon?
"My littlest is an amateur wrestler, and he took second in the nation last year. He's 9."