Tim Hornbaker on writing a Ric Flair biography from a historian’s perspective

By: Jack Wannan
POST Wrestling

If you want to learn about “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, you definitely have options. In 2004, Flair co-authored an autobiography with Keith Elliot Greenberg: To Be the Man. More than a decade later, he teamed up with his daughter, Charlotte Flair, and writer Brian Sheilds to put together Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte. And that’s just talking about books — Flair’s appearances in other media, most notably documentaries, add to that collection as well. But this week, a new perspective on Flair’s career arrived.

Tim Hornbaker certainly isn’t the first person to produce a work of non-fiction on Ric Flair. And chances are, he won’t be the last. But in his latest book, The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Hornbaker attempted to provide an in-depth historical look at Flair from an outside perspective. While major books in the past about Flair included the wrestler’s involvement, this one comes at the story from the perspective of a historian attempting to properly document his career.

Packed full of research from a multi-year project, The Last Real World Champion clocks in at 392 pages. The veteran writer wanted to extensively study the prolific wrestler and make sure that his book covered many stages of his career, including parts that people might not know too much about.

“I wanted to include a fair amount of information on his early days to set the table for what was to come,” said Hornbaker in an interview with POST Wrestling. “Yes, we have heard a lot about his times in the WWE and WCW … I wanted to definitely set the stage as he made his way through the AWA, the people he met, the people he was influenced by, and then the early stages of pre-Nature Boy Ric Flair in the Mid-Atlantic region as well.”

The amount of information out there on Flair is immense. The autobiographies mentioned before were just a few of the endless ways to learn about the now-retired 74-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee. The amount of information out there on Flair might seem overwhelming to some. For Hornbaker, a researcher at heart, it meant he got to work before he even knew he would be writing about Flair.

“With such a person that’s been in the public eye for 50 years, it’s just a matter of collecting the information and making sure that you have as much as possible on the person,” he said. “That’s what I did early on even to convince myself that I could even write this book. I wanted to make sure that I could gather as much information as I could and then keep it in a way where I can put it into a flowing narrative that made sense and that also included new information that I found along the way.”

Hornbaker is no newcomer to writing well-researched books on wrestling. In 2020, he published Master of the Ring: The Biography of Buddy “Nature Boy” Rogers. He also notably put together a book on the NWA — National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling — and a book on the McMahon family.

All of these books have come within a time that Hornbaker describes as the “golden age for wrestling research.”

“Between the information that has come out, the various archives that have presented itself, the newspapers that are more available, I think we are definitely seeing the height of wrestling research and wrestling books that are available,” Hornbaker said.

Talks about writing a book on Flair started around the same time that Hornbaker wrapped up the production for his Buddy Rogers book in 2020. Even in the years since he started writing the book on Flair, his legacy continued.

In 2021, Vice TV show Dark Side of the Ring revisited the story of a private airplane in 2002 that included WWE wrestlers. Commonly known as the “Plane Ride From Hell,” the flight is infamous for producing several incidents of wrestler misconduct. Dark Side of the Ring specifically put a spotlight on an allegation from a flight attendant, who said that Flair sexually assaulted her on the flight.

Hornbaker noted that this was something he had to “take pause” on while writing his Flair book.

“That whole situation was just out of control,” Hornbaker said, referring to the “Plane Ride From Hell.” “The stories about it are hellish in itself. I knew that was going to be something I needed to focus on and at least put it in perspective … I had to approach all the things that were in his private life, even this, with a certain amount of perspective. And I wanted to keep it historical without any of my opinions, I wanted to give readers the chance to have the information and decide for themselves.”

Overall, Hornbaker hopes that his new book on “The Nature Boy” gives readers an in-depth, accurate, and fair telling of Flair’s career. He admits that while it might have been nice to ask Flair some questions or get his perspective on some things, this was a book that he decided early on would be done separately from him.

“I wanted to ensure that people knew where this was coming from. It wasn’t going to be a sensationalized version of Flair’s life. This is a historical book and I’m very proud of it.”

The Last Real World Champion: The Legacy of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair is available now through ECW Press