Ric Flair might be one of the most famous names to ever come out of professional wrestling, but a plane crash three years into his career not only almost cost him his livelihood, but also his life.
After making his in-ring debut back in October 1972, Flair competed for the AWA, and International Wrestling Enterprise before arriving in Jim Crockett Promotions. It was here where Flair became a megastar, and created a wrestling legend that will last well into the future. However, just a few short months after winning his first singles championship, Flair was involved in a plane crash in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Ric Flair Returned To Action Just Three Months After Suffering A Broken Back.
The aircraft was carrying Flair, John Valentine, Bob Bruggers, Tim Woods, and David Crockett, was taking the men the 45-minute journey from Charlotte to Wilmington. The pilot, Joseph Michael Farkas, initially struggled to get the plane into the air due to the weight onboard the relatively small private aircraft. His solution was to empty some fuel from the gas tank. A move which would have fatal consequences. While in the air, just short of it’s destination, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a wooded area 100 yards short of the runway.
Farkas later died in hospital as a result of his injuries, while Valentine was left paralysed. He had been seated next to the pilot, but only after Flair has begged him to swap seats before take off. Not that Flair emerged unscathed, he had broken his back in three places.
Speaking to Alex McCarthy in 2021, Flair recalled his memories of the crash.
“The pilot realised he’d hit the point of no return where he should have refuelled, and the engines stalled and we went down and through some trees. We tore an orchard apart and landed like an arrow. The speedometer was stuck on 230 miles an hour! I broke my back in three places.”
What followed was an intense period of rehab, and not just for his work in the gym. By this point the Nature Boy had already embraced the partying lifestyle for which he would become famous. Something not necessarily helpful when trying to overcome such a serious injury.
“Then it was 250 push ups, 500 free squats and 200 step-ups. It took me about six hours to do it all and I couldn’t even walk after the free squats! I got myself in better shape and then I did 500 free squats every single day. The problem was I didn’t go to bed the night before. I’d go from the bar to the gym!”
Despite the severity of his injuries, and commitment to never going to bed, at least on his own, Ric Flair returned to the ring just months after the crash. Although the power-based style which he had embraced in his career to that point was replaced by his soon-to-be grappling style.
Just five years after the crash which nearly ended his life Ric Flair won NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the first time with a victory over Dusty Rhodes. The two-time WWE Hall of Famer would go on to win the World Championship 15 more times before his career finally came to an end.
H/t to talkSPORT