TO BE THE MAN…
…you gotta know the man. That’s the lesson WWE should have learned from Ric Flair’s autobiography, published in 2004.
But first, here’s a bit of the book’s history. Flair’s autobiography was actually in the works while WCW still existed. It was originally going to be published independent of any wrestling promotion. The original co-authors were to be myself and Tom Monteleone, a noted novelist. Tom and I had several preliminary discussions regarding the book’s content and direction. It would have been clumsy given that Tom knew little about wrestling, but the publisher wanted a proven author.
But then WCW got bought by WWE. Ric eventually signed with WWE. WWE bought the book’s rights from the original publisher. Keith Eliot Greenberg was installed as the new writer. He had been praised for his work on Freddie Blassie’s autobiography. Ric insisted I was still co-author, but it was clear my role was to be very minor.
Until it turned out that Keith Eliot Greenberg sucked.
Greenberg was qualified to write Blassie’s autobiography. He was a lifelong WWE fan. But he just didn’t buy into the concept that Flair was the best ever. Quite the opposite. He had the attitude that since Flair didn’t spend his glory years in WWE, he was marginal compared to guys like Hogan, Savage, Bret Hart and Ultimate Warrior.
I had several conversations with Keith. Nice guy. But concepts like the Mid-Atlantic territory and the NWA world title were foreign to him, or at least low-rent compared to Bruno Sammartino and the glory of Madison Square Garden. If you have to have the very essence of your subject explained to you – and still don’t get it — you shouldn’t be doing that person’s autobiography.
So Keith wrote the book. A manuscript was sent to me to edit/fact-check. Said Ric, “Look at it. I don’t think it’s very good.”
That was a grotesque understatement. It was a mess.
After reading the manuscript, I called Ric and said, “This shouldn’t be published. It’s nowhere near ready.” There were glaring errors, incorrect timelines, names of key figures in Ric’s life misspelled, his NWA days relatively minimized. The glory of Flair’s astonishing career had been toned down in his own autobiography by a Hogan mark. Almost as bad, the book wasn’t in Ric’s voice. Greenberg just didn’t know Ric well enough to pull that off.
Despite my protestations, WWE might have published the book anyway had Triple H not stepped in. Trips read the book, recognized it as inferior, and went to his father-in-law. I was quickly summoned to an audience with Ric, Trips and (gulp) Vince McMahon.
I restated my criticism of the manuscript, and said, “To fix this, you have to give me carte blanche to fix things, add things, rewrite things…it just needs a total overhaul.” Vince agreed, saying, “The main thing is to make sure this book makes it very clear that your friend here is the greatest sports entertainer of all time.”
So I did. Or tried, anyway.
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