12/07/11 — Fans meet former champ

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Fans meet former champ

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on December 7, 2011 1:48 PM

A.J. Alfaro drove over five hours from his home in Virginia to Goldsboro to meet one of his sports heroes on Tuesday night.

The icon was neither an NFL star, an NBA legend nor a NASCAR champion, but a name synonymous with greatness in his sport. The man signing autographs at a table in the back room of the Goldsboro Piggly Wiggly supermarket was wrestling superstar Ric Flair.

"I have driven all over the eastern United States to get autographs and pictures with some of these guys," Alfaro said. "My longest trip was 10 hours to meet Shawn Michaels, so five hours to meet Ric Flair seemed like a pretty easy decision."

Flair, a 16-time world heavyweight champion in the squared circle, was brought to Goldsboro by Coca-Cola as part of a store promotion with the company's vendors. The Piggly Wiggly on Lionel Street won a contest by selling the most Coca-Cola products over a set time frame.

"I thought that this was a great idea and a great way to showcase our store," store owner Greg Floyd said. "We didn't really know what to expect when we were first informed that we won the contest, but after talking to the guys from Coca-Cola we figured out what kind of crowd we would be dealing with."

Approximately 400 people showed up to meet Flair and to get an autograph or a picture. The first 300 were given tickets by the store employees assigned to keeping the long line in order and were guaranteed to get to meet Flair.

The rest of the wrestling fans in line were forced to wait and see what time allowed for after the first 300 made there way through the store.

"I have been doing this in some capacity for 40 years and it is always humbling," Flair said as he made his way to the autograph table. "The fans have always been great to me and I appreciate all the support over the years from the people."

Flair began his wrestling career in the early 1970s with the American Wrestling Association. He adopted the title of "The Nature Boy" a few years later when he joined the National Wrestling Alliance. Flair earned his first world title in 1981 when he beat Dusty Rhodes.

On the back-end of a four-decade career, Flair no longer dishes out his patented chops to the chest or puts his figure-four leg lock on opponents with the same ferocity. What he still does as well as anyone in his sport is please a crowd. With one of his signature "Wooooooo's," Flair can make people smile.

"The best part of working with Coca-Cola was has been the chance to sit down and chat for a second with so many fans," Flair said. "They bring up matches that happened 25 years ago that I barely remember now and they talk to about it with a smile on their face. That makes it all worth it."

That kind of humble spirit for a legend like Flair, who is in the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame and has a day marked in his honor in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minn., is what brings guys like Alfaro back to his public appearances.

"Ric Flair is a legend man," Alfaro said. "Guys like him, Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, they built wrestling to where it is today. They made kids like me become fans 20 years ago and they are still bringing wrestling to people today."

Like all professional wrestlers, Flair has seen his popularity ebb and flow over the course of his career. After winning a match he would often tell his next opponent, "In order to be the man, you have to beat the man."

No one was going to take Ric Flair down on Tuesday night.