In just a couple of days, Ric Flair will end his long and storied career for good at “Ric Flair’s Last Match,” teaming with son-in-law Andrade El Idolo to take on Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett. It’s an event that promises to be a memorable occasion, regardless of how it plays out. But it’s also an occasion with a cloud hanging over it — a cloud that formed a little less than a year ago and for a time, made an event like this seem impossible.
It’s been 316 days since “Dark Side of The Ring” aired an episode titled “The Plane Ride from Hell” to kick off the second half of their third season. The title refers to a longstanding nickname for a flight featuring WWE wrestlers and management flying back to the United States after the UK exclusive PPV Insurrextion in 2002. The Plane Ride from Hell had long been discussed by wrestling fans due to the rumored actions of several wrestlers on the flight, including Flair, as well as the firing of several stars in its aftermath. But while many thought they knew the whole story, wrestling fans were still shocked upon hearing the full accusations against Flair that were leveled on “Dark Side of The Ring,” the most damaging of which came from Heidi Doyle, who served as one of the flight attendants for the notorious flight.
“I was in the galley,” Doyle said in the episode. “The galley is our little kitchen area on the airplane. Ric Flair was naked in a cape only, and then he decided to come back to the galley to get a Coke, and then he wouldn’t leave the galley. He had me up against the back door, and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get away from him … I couldn’t move.
“He was spinning around his penis and he wanted me to touch it. He took my hand and put it on him. And he kept me back there for I don’t know how long. It felt like a really long time. It wasn’t short, it was minutes. And I asked him ‘Please stop.’ And he wouldn’t.”
Doyle’s recollections were initially corroborated by former WWE star Rob Van Dam, who saw the incident as it occurred.
“I remember him crowding the flight attendant in the aisle way back there by the bathroom, where it’s real skinny and you can fit two people through there,” Van Dam said. “I remember him crowding her and trying to make her touch him and stuff.”
It should be noted that Van Dam later attempted to clarify some of his remarks on his “Dark Side of the Ring” statements after viewing the episode. Flair would later retweet Van Dam’s clarification in an attempt to support his own innocence.
Doyle, along with fellow flight attendant Taralyn Cappellano (who did not appear in the “Dark Side of the Ring” episode) would file a lawsuit against Flair in 2004, which was eventually settled out of court. Flair faced no discipline for his actions and would go on to work for WWE until 2009. He would return to WWE in 2012 following a several-year stint with TNA, and remained with the company until his release last year.
In the same “Dark Side of the Ring” episode, AEW commentator Jim Ross, who was on the flight and then served as WWE head of talent relations, was asked why Flair faced no punishment for his actions.
“Good question,” Ross said. “I guess, for lack of a better term, he was a made man. And since he was such a high-level main man, he got a pass. Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know. You’re listening to it, folks, you decide. He got a pass.”
Flair had denied any wrongdoing on the flight prior to the episode and did so again following its airing. Nevertheless, his alleged behavior received strong attention, criticism, and the pause of certain endorsement deals in his wake. It has also been reported that the episode cooled any potential talk regarding Flair joining AEW, who were supposedly interested in signing him following his WWE release.
While “Dark Side of the Ring” impacted Flair the most, he was not the only one whose reputation took a hit following the episode. Impact Wrestling’s Tommy Dreamer, who had been on the flight with Flair, was suspended by both Impact and Busted Open Radio for comments he made in the episode that seemed to dismiss Doyle’s story. He returned to both Impact and Busted Open later in 2021.
With the Starrcast V fanfest this weekend largely built around Flair, including “Ric Flair’s Last Match,” Starrcast promoter — and, it must be observed, Flair’s son-in-law, Conrad Thompson — faced criticism for focusing so much on Flair in the wake of “Dark Side of the Ring.” Thompson addressed the situation in May, during an interview with Wrestling Inc. Senior News Editor Nick Hausman.
“I totally understand,” Thompson said. “I am a big fan of ‘Dark Side Of The Ring’ and all that they do, and I think a lot of the folks who put it together, we’ve worked together a lot and on their new projects. I’ve been helpful behind the scenes on that, sort of helping connect the dots, I think they are creating great content. But I also know the story they talked about is a story that is 20 years old, they got one side of the story, they didn’t get two. I don’t know that was necessarily new information for folks who kept up with the news back then.”
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