WM PPV Countdown: #7 – WrestleMania XXIV

Despite three different matches that were hyped as the main event of WrestleMania XXIV, once again it was Shawn Michaels who stole the show from the undercard. He once again lived up to his moniker “Mr. WrestleMania,” only this time at the expense of the arguably the greatest professional wrestler of the modern era – Ric Flair.

For the first time since 1993 at WrestleMania IX the company dared to emanate WrestleMania outdoors, as WrestleMania XXIV broadcast from the outdoor Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Nine matches made the live card but it there were five matches that made the show so memorable.

The first was fourth edition of the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Originally eight men were scheduled for the match but only seven men entered as the clear cut, far and away odds-on winner, Jeff Hardy, was removed from the match just days before the match for violating WWE’s Wellness Policy. Hardy’s removal made the field wide open for potential winners. Five villains and only two heroes (CM Punk and Chris Jericho) participated but the character divides showed no boundaries as this match showed more high risk and insane moves than had ever been displayed in the match. But in the end CM Punk stood tall and set himself on an almost improbable path onto immortality in WWE.

Infamous boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. also played a high-profile part of WrestleMania XXIV. He was a guest of the company during February’s pay per view No Way Out, only to encounter the 7’2, 500 lbs. Big Show. During the confrontation Mayweather clocked Big Show and broke his nose. It set up a one-on-one match between the two athletes at WrestleMania XXIV, which naturally Mayweather won via knock out. The size differential between the two men made for an outstanding visual and brought a lot of mainstream coverage for WWE during the build-up to the match. The match is one of the two or three best “celebrity” matches in pro wrestling history and was actually a help to the PPV as opposed to a detriment.

The World Title bout was built on a long-standing rivalry between Edge and The Undertaker dating back to early 2007. Their match at WrestleMania XXIV was an unheralded classic. Undertaker was coming into WrestleMania 15-0 while Edge was coming into the show 5-1 (with a disputed loss due to an injury in Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 23). Many fans still pegged this as an undefeated-undefeated match. However as the night rolled on and it was established that Undertaker-Edge would main event WrestleMania it was obvious that the hero Undertaker would reign supreme in the main event and regain the World Championship and close out the show with a happy ending.

The other big Title bout featured Randy Orton defend the WWE Championship against John Cena and Triple H. These three men were arguably the three biggest stars of the post-Attitude era as the wily veteran Triple H battled his younger opposition in the controversial Cena and the evil Orton. It was three of the company’s biggest stars in one match, on the company’s biggest stage, challenging for the company’s biggest prize. It would have been like if “Macho Man” Randy Savage defended the WWF Title against Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior back in the very early ‘90s at WrestleMania. Virtually no one pegged Orton to walk out of this match still as Champion but due to its mid-card position on the card the finish became even more in doubt. It was once again a triple threat match cut too short before it could really get going but Orton’s surprise victory over two of the company’s biggest heroes made this match so memorable.

The show stealer Shawn Michaels was faced with an envious task at WrestleMania XIV when he was chosen to be the one to face “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in what was supposed to be Flair’s last match. The build-up was perfect. 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.

“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.

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.

Of course since that time Flair has done everything possible to tarnish the retirement ceremony the company threw him the night after the retirement. The match was still amazing and a great piece of wrestling art, but much of the emotional impact has been lost since Flair has come out of retirement numerous times.

Match Results:
– Kane won a battle royal live on wwe.com before the pay per view went on the air to earn an ECW Championship match later on in the evening. Other participants included Elijah Burke, Trevor Murdoch, Lance Cade, Brian Kendrick, Deuce & Domino, Mark Henry, The Miz, Chuck Palumbo, Snitsky, The Great Khali, Shannon Moore, Jesse & Festus, Jimmy Wang Yang, Val Venis, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Tommy Dreamer, Hardcore Holly, Cody Rhodes, Jaime Noble, Stevie Richards and Kofi Kingston.
– John Bradshaw Layfield beat Finlay in a Belfast Brawl.
CM Punk won a Money in the Bank Ladder match. Other participants included John Morrison, Carlito, Mr. Kennedy, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho & MVP.
– Batista beat Umaga.
– Kane pinned Chavo Guerrero (c) to win the ECW Championship.
– Shawn Michaels pinned Ric Flair.
– Beth Phoenix & Melina beat Ashley Massaro & Maria in a Lumberjack match. Lumberjacks included Santino Marella, Cherry, Eve Torres, Kelly Kelly, Layla, Katie Lea Burchill, Mickie James, Jillian Hall, Maryse, Victoria & Michelle McCool.
– Randy Orton (c) beat Triple H and John Cena in a triple threat match to retain the WWE Championship.
– Floyd Mayweather, Jr. beat The Big Show in a no disqualifications match.
– The Undertaker beat Edge (c) to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

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