By Mike Mooneyham

May 6, 2007

Randy Friedberg is still beaming about what he calls the best two hours of his life.

The Mount Pleasant resident, along with five friends, recently dined with pro wrestling icon “Nature Boy” Ric Flair at a restaurant in the champ’s hometown of Charlotte.

It was, says Friedberg, much more than a lunch. It was a life-changing experience.

“Six men realized firsthand that some certainties in life still remain – death, taxes and that Ric Flair is still and always will be ‘The Man,'” gushes the lifelong fan.

The lunch engagement came about when a friend, Heath Knott of Charlotte, attended the inaugural Patriot Gala in Charlotte last December. The event supports programs for wounded U.S. military personnel and their families and aimed to raise more than $100,000. One of the items up for bid was lunch for six with the 16-time heavyweight champ.

Ric Flair

Ric Flair

“Heath immediately thought of his brother and quickly entered a bid. Luckily for us, he was the high bidder,” says Friedberg. “He awarded the prize to his brother, Trey Knott (of Mount Pleasant), on Christmas morning. It would be the best present he ever opened.”

After considerable thought, says Friedberg, Knott assembled his list of five friends whom he considered the “biggest wrestling fans.” That list, in addition to brother Trey, consisted of Benjy Cooke of Mount Pleasant, Ryan Broadwater of Charleston, Stuart Godfrey of Mount Pleasant, Mark Bishop of Columbia and Friedberg.

“He chose wisely,” quips Friedberg, who says he literally was rendered speechless when receiving the call.

“In a class by himself”

“The date could not arrive soon enough,” says the 33-year-old Friedberg, who works as a District Sales Manager for Nuvox Communications. “I found myself awake and pacing my room at 4:15 a.m. I couldn’t ever remember being that excited. As a child I never missed watching wrestling. Every Saturday night I hung on every word that came out of Gordon Solie’s mouth. I was also fortunate to grow up in Spartanburg, so I got to attend live wrestling every few months.”

He got the chance to see such stars as Mr. Wrestling No. 2, Rufus R. Jones, Dusty Rhodes and Jimmy Valiant, he says, but all paled in comparison to Flair.

“He stood out from all the rest. He was in a class by himself,” says Friedberg. “His interviews, matches, stories, etc. made him the most entertaining professional athlete in sports. I was so enamored with The Champ that I wrote a term paper my senior of high school on why Ric Flair was the greatest athlete in the history of sports. I got an A. My sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, I wrote two speeches for a class on Ric Flair. I also received A’s on both of them.”

Friedberg says the subject made writing the essays a piece of cake.

“It was easy to write about The Champ because of everything he had accomplished. I stress he had accomplished, because I graduated high school in 1991 and started at Carolina later that year. So, 16 years ago, I’m easily writing papers and speeches on why he is the greatest athlete in the history of sports. Sixteen years ago! Not to mention 1991 wasn’t even his prime.”

Lunch with The Champ

The group arrived at Cantina, a Tex-Mex eatery in Charlotte, 45 minutes early for the special lunch.

“The 45 minutes seemed like six hours. We were all pacing and acting like kids on Christmas morning,” says Friedberg. “The Cantina had a back room set up for us and we carefully positioned ourselves so The Champ could be at the head of the table. At exactly noon, I saw the familiar white, blond hair entering the front door. None of us could believe it was actually happening. He walked in the room, graciously shook all our hands and sat down at the head of the table. He was bigger than I remembered and still looked like he could go 60 minutes in a cage with (Ricky) Steamboat.”

“We spent the first 10 minutes trying to keep from hyperventilating,” adds Friedberg. “We all asked questions and he answered each one with honesty. He was extremely forthright, polite and very witty. He has a presence about him unlike anyone I have ever met. We were all in awe.”

The group discussed a number of wrestling-related subjects, but mostly focused on “old school” wrestlers such as The Andersons, Blackjack Mulligan, Ricky Steamboat and Wahoo McDaniel.

“He knew where everyone was and how they were doing now. We also talked about the state of wrestling today and how he thought (Vince) McMahon was a genius. Then he went into detail about the toughest men he ever wrestled. He said in and out of the ring, Harley Race was the toughest man he had ever met. He easily backed up this claim with many stories. He also told us legendary stories about Roddy Piper.

“In all, The Champ spent two hours talking about the toughness and greatness of all kinds of wrestlers. Wrestlers who came and went with various degrees of notoriety and success. At some point during the conversation, it hit me. Ric Flair is still wrestling. You want to talk about toughness and greatness, there is no one tougher or greater than the Nature Boy. He has transcended wrestling and epitomizes what is great about the sport. Think about the greatest athletes in every sport. Michael Jordan, Dan Marino, Ted Williams, etc. How long were they great? Ten to 20 years? Now think about Ric Flair. I was able to write my paper on why Ric Flair was the greatest athlete in the history of sports … 16 years ago. I backed it up with 15 pages of facts to help prove my point. Guess what, he’s still wrestling. He’s still providing facts. He’s still traveling three to four days a week and entertaining crowds around the world. What other athlete has lasted longer than The Champ? What other athlete has more famous quotes? Heck, what other American has more famous quotes that Ric Flair? He is recognized all over the world and continues to be the best thing going today.”

All good things, though, must come to an end.

“Finally, after two hours, The Champ had to go. He was going to work out and then had to catch a plane to Boise, Idaho. He had a match on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It was back to business and doing what he does best … the business of entertaining thousands of fans. He gave us two of the best hours of our lives as well as further proof that he is still (and always will be) ‘The Man.'”

Friedberg says it would be hard to pick out a single highlight of the special lunch. “If I had to,” he says, “the fact that he is every bit The Man. A lot of times it is disappointing when you meet a celebrity or one of your idols. Not with The Champ. He is cool, polite, humble, funny, and still looks like he could wrestle a 60-minute main event. There is no athlete who can emanate all the qualities it takes to be The Man other than Naitch. He is a legend in and out of the squared circle. We’re all very lucky, because for the rest of our lives we’ll be able to say we spent two hours with greatness.” As for their choice on the menu …

“The Champ ordered two grilled chicken breasts with a side of a special sauce. After he ordered, Benjy and I grabbed our waitress and quickly changed our orders to ‘We’ll just have what The Champ is having!'” Friedberg laughed.

“They were a bunch of great guys,” says Flair. “And so knowledgeable about the business.”