Rather than postpone or cancel WrestleMania amid the global coronavirus pandemic, WWE opted to relocate its biggest event of the year from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, to its Performance Center in Orlando. The event will take place across two nights, with no fans and only essential personnel on the premises.
Yahoo Sports spoke with Ric Flair, a two-time WWE Hall of Famer and 16-time world champion, about the unique circumstances of the “Showcase of the Immortals,” performing with little-to-no fans in attendance, his concerns for his daughter, Charlotte, and about her upcoming match.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Yahoo Sports: Looking at the unique circumstances that WrestleMania is being held under, is this something you have ever had to deal with, wrestling without fans? What do you make of what the performers and athletes have had to go through on WWE as of late?
Ric Flair: I’ve never wrestled in an empty arena, but I have wrestled in front of 25 or 30 people, back at a fair in Kansas when I was traveling world champion, so I do know what it’s like to wrestle in front of very few people. The difference is that this is WrestleMania and I do believe the talent will be excited for it.
In this case, you need to look past the number of people in attendance and look to the event. The wrestlers have trained all year for this event and this moment, so they are going to give their very best. They will find a way to get around the lack of a live crowd because there may never be a WrestleMania again. There’s no guarantee that some of the kids on the show this year will be back. WWE does the best they can to involve as many people as possible, but that’s not a given, [for some] this may be their last chance to be on a WrestleMania. It’s great to have a crowd behind you, but I still think it’s going to be entertaining.
YS: As a parent of a WWE star, was there any added concern with Charlotte taking part in WrestleMania with everything going on? Do you believe this the right decision to move forward with the event rather than postponing it?
RF: I most certainly think it’s a positive thing to hold WrestleMania. That being said, I’m as concerned as any father or parent would be about the wellness about everybody involved, my daughter included. However, if I would have tried to tell my daughter that I didn’t want her to participate, she would have hung up on me, blocked my number and done it anyway.
WWE is observing all of the precautions, they are distancing. Yes, they are getting in the ring, but it was presented as an option. Everybody had the option of staying home and not participating. There was no peer pressure, no financial pressure. People elected to be a part of it and it’s what they wanted to do.
No matter how hard we practice social distancing, there’s going to be some contact. I had people come into my house yesterday to put in some new gym equipment. Was I rubbing shoulders with them? No, but they were in my house. It’s hard to stay inside alone and not be around anybody, but I can guarantee the WWE is taking every possible precaution when it comes to hygiene and the virus. People do need this outlet.
YS: You had some health issues a few years back. Did that experience make you rethink how the current pandemic is unfolding as opposed to 5 or 10 years ago?
RF: I like to think I’m more responsible and more aware of things like my immune system and my heart now. They probably aren’t what they were and I have responsibilities to my beautiful wife, step-children, children, grandchildren to take care of and think of. That’s the priority for me, to make sure everybody is taken care of and in a good place at the end of the day.
YS: Other than Charlotte’s match and the lack of fans, what interests you most about this WrestleMania?
RF: I can’t name one thing. I think it’s a great card and there are going to be some really great matches. Right now, the company is about as deep and talented as it has been in a long time. I’m looking for it to be tremendous.
YS: Looking at Charlotte and her role at WrestleMania, last year she was in the main event which was a first for women. This year, she’s in a position where, while she is in a championship match, she’s working with a younger talent and has the opportunity to put her over. Have you talked about that and the change from last year to this year?
RF: For me, everything has stayed the same. I don’t think much has changed at all because the match she is in this weekend is as big as any she has been in during her career thus far. I think the same now as I did when she wrestled Asuka [at WrestleMania in 2018]. It doesn’t matter what number you’re on — I do think it’s great to be in the main event — but it’s all about having your peers and the fans say “That was the best part of the show, you were fantastic.” When you walk through the curtain, that’s the reaction you want.
When you’ve done it as long as I have, trust me, the athletes know when it’s good and they know when it’s bad. I’m sure that she is going to go in with the attitude that she wants to have the best match on the card. I don’t think that wrestling [NXT Women's Champion] Rhea [Ripley], who I think is spectacular, is anything less than being another opportunity for her to demonstrate how good she is, regardless of if she wins or loses.
YS: If Charlotte does win against Rhea, she picks up another championship in WWE and pushes closer to your record 16-time mark. Do you guys talk about that? Is it a record you want her to break?
RF: Never. Never. It would be great if she did, but we don’t discuss that. She has never, ever [brought that up]. It’s a great positive to always be critical of yourself and want to be that much better, but she’s extremely hard on herself and she wants to be the best every day she gets up. That’s what she lives for. It’s not for championships. It’s for peace of mind, knowing that she has given the most she can give. Everyone wants to be admired and appreciated for giving the biggest and best contribution that they can give and that’s all she lives for.
YS: Lastly, what do you plan to do for WrestleMania, considering you won’t be there in person?
RF: I plan to make a red carpet at home, wear the new clothes I bought for the event and live it like I’m there. I’m gonna be the Nature Boy.
For the first time ever, WrestleMania will be held as a two-night event streaming Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 at 7pm ET on WWE Network and available on pay-per-view. In addition to the WWE Performance Center, WrestleMania will include multiple locations across the two nights with closed sets and essential personnel only.
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