WM Top 25: #4 – Ric Flair’s retirement, WrestleMania XXIV

Make sure to click over to Examiner.com to check out the original posting of this article which includes a video of "Leave the Memories Alone."

I’m sorry. I love you.

With those five words Shawn Michaels superkicked a groggy Ric Flair in the chin and the ended the 36 year wrestling career of the most prolific professional wrestler in history.

Ric Flair began his wrestling career in 1972 after finishing the intense training camp of the legendary Verne Gagne. In 1975 he broke his back in three places during a plane crash and was told he would never wrestle again. Six months later he was back in the ring full strength and “The Nature Boy” was born.

Over the next thirty years Ric Flair would go on to win sixteen World Heavyweight Championships (that are recognized anyways; the exact number reaches in the twenties at least.) He was the top of any and all promotions and territories he stepped foot in. He had the respect of his peers, the promoters and the fans. He could wrestle better than most, he could talk fans into the arenas better than most and he lived his gimmick better than most. To many in the industry and to many of the industry’s fans he was simply “The Man.” He had his share of detractors as well but no one could deny his impact on the professional wrestling.

But like the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Even though Flair could cut a promo better than most of the current wrestlers and could still wrestle inside the ring better than half of them, he was well into his late fifties and it was time for Flair to say goodbye.

So in November 2007 Flair showed up on an edition of Monday Night RAW and was told by Mr. McMahon that it was time for him to go and the next match he lost would be his last. Flair was about to embark on a forced retirement tour. Everyone figured that Flair’s epic story would come to an end at WrestleMania XXIV on March 30, 2008, at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. And we were all correct in that assumption.

Week in and week out on WWE’s television shows and pay per view events Flair kept winning and kept surviving. As it got close to WrestleMania XXIV Shawn Michaels came out live on RAW to announce that “The Nature Boy” would be the first inductee into the Class of 2008 Hall of Fame. Flair and Michaels became linked on television and Flair challenged him to a match for WrestleMania. Michaels was hesitant because he didn’t want to be known as the man who retired the legend.

Fans instantly took to the storyline, offering up their own takes on who should be the one to retire Flair. It was like watching Titanic or a biopic in the theatres; you know the ending but it’s how they get there that makes its entertaining. A lot of fans believed a rising bad guy like Mr. Kennedy or Montel Vontavius Porter (MVP) should be the one to take out Flair and get an instant boost. Yours truly hoped for a ghost of Flair’s past like Terry Funk or Sting to show up to send off their old rival. But in the end the company made the right call when it was decided that Shawn Michaels would the man to send Flair out in style.

The story heated up in the weeks leading to WrestleMania as Michaels made it clear that he would not lie down for Flair, and would come at him as he would any other opponent. Flair responded that Michaels was the best in the industry and if he couldn’t hang with the best anymore then he didn’t need to be in the ring.

That night at WrestleMania was emotionally charged from the onset. Michaels managed to “The Nature Boy” to one more great match in his career. It was always said that Flair could wrestle a broomstick to a “three star” match, meaning that Flair was so good in the ring that he could make any opponent look good, and here it was Michaels who helped elevate Flair. Virtually every wrestling fan watching knew that Flair was going to lose this match but these two professionals held the crowd in the palm of their hands with a great story. In the end Shawn Michaels caught Flair with a glancing superkick out of nowhere to gain control of the match. Then as Flair rose to his feet Michaels stood in the corner “tuning up the band” for his patented “Sweet Chin Music” superkick. As Flair arose he left his guard open and challenged Michaels to bring. Michaels, with tears in his eyes, told Flair that he was sorry and that he loved him. Then just like that he kicked Flair’s lights out and got the academic three count.

As Flair lied on the mat, Michaels briefly went to him to say give his respects and then quickly left the ring to contemplate his bittersweet victory. Flair came to his feet and received a hero’s welcome from the 74,000 plus in the Citrus Bowl as he embraced his family who was sitting front row ringside.

The next night on Monday Night RAW, Ric Flair received a farewell ceremony befitting very few in the industry. Many of Flair’s biggest rivals, allies and modern day peers joined him in the ring for a celebration of his storied career. Since then Flair has gracefully stepped out of the ring as an active competitor but still remains quite active in the industry to this day. Flair himself has said that he will not step back in the ring without the permission of Shawn Michaels, as he does not want to tarnish his final match and the farewell ceremony that World Wrestling Entertainment so graciously bestowed upon him.

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