Director’s take on the making of ESPN 30 for 30 doc ‘Nature Boy’

Rory Karpf directed “Nature Boy,” an ESPN 30 for 30 special on the career and life of the charismatic Nature Boy Ric Flair. The 90-minute docu film premieres 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 7 on ESPN. It marks the first 30 for 30 special on a pro wrestler.
Rory Karpf directed “Nature Boy,” an ESPN 30 for 30 special on the career and life of the charismatic Nature Boy Ric Flair. The 90-minute docu film premieres 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 7 on ESPN. It marks the first 30 for 30 special on a pro wrestler. Photo By Melody Serrano/Courtesy ESPN

Rory Karpf (”I Hate Christian Laettner” and “Book of Manning”) directed “Nature Boy,” an ESPN 30 for 30 special on the career and life, the ups and downs of the charismatic and pop culture icon Nature Boy Ric Flair.

This marks the first ESPN 30 for 30 on a professional wrestler. Wooo.

The excellent 90-minute docu film premieres 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 7 on ESPN.

Good timing. That’s right after WWE SmackDown Live on USA Network.

In an interview I conducted with the director, he discusses how the swag of The Nature Boy Ric Flair influenced athletes, hip hop artists, celebrities, entertainers, and fans to become a pop culture icon.

“He’s incredibly relevant today,” Karpf said. “Hip hop artists, NFL players, basketball players are quoting him, wearing his shirts. You can make the argument he’s more popular now than he’s ever been.”

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Wrestling legend Ric Flair survived a recent hospital scare, just another example of how the Nature Boy continues to cheat death.

Karpf said: “Ric appeared in a film that I directed called ‘I Hate Christian Laettner.’ He only appeared in one interview, talking to him about what makes a good villain, and just that byte kind of trended on social media, and ESPN noticed that. Ric has such a complex story. so when ESPN dug a little deeper, they’re like, ‘Wow, this is such an interesting dude.’ Then they came to me and said is this someone you’d be interested in.”

Of course.

Karpf used a ring and a bar as settings when interviewing Flair. How apropos.

Karpf also spoke with The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan.

“Well, we interviewed 40 some people for the film,” he said. “A lot of them were incredibly interesting, and people I watched growing up, so that was a big thrill for me. It was awesome getting to interview The Undertaker, and he’s someone who doesn’t do many interviews out of character.”

Karpf talked more about The Undertaker and mentioned The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, using footage from a Flair interview on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show from the 1980s, and Andre the Giant.

“I’ve talked to [ESPN] about doing stuff on wrestling for a long, long time,” he continued, “and for the longest time, they seemed only interested in Andre the Giant. I like Andre the Giant, but I feel he’s pretty one dimensional and doesn’t have the layers of complexity that Ric does.”

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He noted the Ric Flair interview on Sally Jessy Raphael from the 1980s, what he learned when the project was completed, the interviewing process (who to interview), Eric Bischoff, Snoop Dogg, Mick Foley, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Ross, whether to include the opinion of a psychiatrist, interviewing wrestling media and non-wrestling media and more.

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Karpf reveals the editing process with so many good interviews (some which made the cut and some that didn't), if some of the footage that didn't make the cut will be shown as an added bonus on, the sports mainstream and entertainment mainstream acceptance of pro wrestling, a possible Vince McMahon ESPN 30 for 30, using animation in the doc, reaction from others and more.

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ESPN 30 for 30 “Nature Boy”

ESPN Films 30 for 30 documentary “Nature Boy,” on wrestling legend Ric Flair, will premiere on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Director Rory Karpf (“I Hate Christian Laettner,” “The Book of Manning”) will take an inside look at Flair’s story, including his triumphs, his tragedies and his pivotal role in turning pro wrestling into mainstream sports entertainment.


Real or Fake? It’s a question that’s long shadowed professional wrestling. But for one of the industry’s most legendary performers, there’s never been any separation between the ring and the world around it.

His story starts in the Midwest, when a young Richard Fliehr set his sights on rising to stardom in a unique world, and decided to do anything necessary to get to where he wanted. A character was born, along with a singular desire “to be the man,” and a drive that made him as popular and polarizing as any figure ever to step into the ring. The success took a considerable toll – on his body, and on his wives and children – and in 2013 came a tragic postscript. Flair is proud of his legacy.

This is the story of a man, a character and their unbreakable connection.

“This film was basically borne out of working with Rory Karpf on our ‘I Hate Christian Laettner’ documentary,” 30 for 30 Executive Producer John Dahl said in a release. “Rory interviewed Ric for his take on sports villains and wanted to do a film on him next. After watching that interview for the Laettner film, we were convinced that Ric would be a fascinating subject to explore for our first feature-length 30 for 30 on a pro wrestler.”

“Nature Boy” features two in-depth conversations between Karpf and Flair over a 16-month span, surrounded by interviews with those closest to the man himself; including Triple H, Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, Baby Doll, Tully Blanchard, The Undertaker, Arn Anderson, Shawn Michaels, Sting and Road Warrior Animal as well as his first wife and his children.

“I grew up a huge wrestling fan in the 1980s, and I was captivated by Ric Flair,” Karpf said in a release. “It’s been a personally rewarding experience to tell the story of arguably the greatest wrestler of all time. Ric’s story transcends the wrestling business, and my hope is that it will appeal to wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike.”

Actors, celebrities, entertainers, athletes are into Ric Flair. From Jim Harbaugh to Snoop Dogg to the PGA Tour. They know him. They like him. They imitate him. Wooo.

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Follow 30 for 30 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and join the conversation with hashtag #NatureBoy.



About ESPN Films

ESPN Films has been an industry leader in documentary film-making since its inception in March 2008, producing more than 100 documentaries that have showcased some of the most compelling stories in sports.

The high quality of storytelling, highlighted by the Peabody and Emmy-Award winning 30 for 30 series and the Academy-Award winning documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” has led to record viewership as well as multiple honors and critical acclaim.

Additional projects from ESPN Films over the years have included 30 for 30 Shorts, Nine for IX and the SEC Storied series.

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