Wrestlemania XXIV: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels
Career Threatening Match
Inducted by Benjamin Button
Flair’s been my favorite wrestler since 1993. I’ve loved his character and studied it for many years, and when speaking of the density of his career, I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface of it all. That career –that heavy weight, HBK put on his shoulders in order to tell a tremendous wrestling story.
And the story they told that night topped every stunt of a money in the bank ladder match, the pageantry of a HHH entrance, and the power and streak of the Phenom, and all else Wrestle-Mania boasted of in 2008. You remember? You do remember where you sat the first time you saw it. You remember because it came out of the TV and touched your heart. From the time Flair hits that flying cross body, early on, (such a rarity), you knew there’d be magic. You knew something was in the air.
But why is it Hall of Fame worthy? Is it because it’s Flair’s retirement? As it goes, we know Flair continued to wrestle in TNA after this night. Was it because it was a dream match? The two wrestled before. This one stands the test of time for the emotional story it told, by the professionals who told it.
The narrative went that HBK felt the need to take Flair, “Old Yeller” behind the barn and put him out. Jerry Lawler, astute in the commentary booth, stated the dog didn’t get put down because he was old but because he was rabid. That night, Flair wrestled like a beast, Shawn like the boy not wanting to put his dog down.
Mercy vs. Survival
For every time Shawn didn’t pull the trigger, Flair took a cheap shot, fighting hard against his own well-being. It’s like you’re taking care of you grandad, telling him to take it easy, and you walk in on the naughty old man’s getting into your alcohol and banging two college girls. When you tell him it’s not good for his heart, he bites you.
There’s a moment in the match; a moment Shawn goes for Sweet Chin Music. On the re-watch, I knew it to be too early for the win, and thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Flair catches his leg, sweeps his foot from him, and locks him in the figure four? But something cooler happens, Shawn hesitates, stops, then Flair kicks him down and locks in his signature. Why is this cooler? Because it’s not about a clever spot, but putting another fine detail in this piece of art.
All the while, Flair and HBK tell this story, they’re touching the audience with their facials and their words. “Old Yeller?!!” Flair shouted when punching Shawn. Shawn took amazing bumps, making up for Flair’s limitations. At one point, HBK whips his body with a moonsalt to the table outside. Shawn looks to be in real pain as Flair works his midsection. It’s making each move mean something that sets Flair and HBK apart from the stuntmen. Think of all who came and went during Flair’s final years. They may be able to leap off cages, but if they can’t maximize its affect to the audience, it’s not as powerful as Flair’s viscous thumb to the eye on Shawn behind the referees back. Yes, you have a powerful story in this match, but even better, you have master storytellers telling it.
With their talent and ability to touch an audience, two greats created real, breathing life out of this idea of Shawn’s hesitance and Flair’s desperation. Flair’s aggressive throughout, but when Shawn superkicks Flair out of a reflex from Flair’s chop, it’s over. Finally, Shawn does pull the trigger and Flair knows there’s nowhere left for him to go. For in tears, he asks for the final kick. With the words, “sorry, I love you.” Shawn ends the match and puts this Mona Lisa into the amazing body of work during these years.
Seeing the two on the mat with Shawn’s arm around Flair’s head, chokes me up to this day. And while Flair didn’t stay retired, the way these men told that retirement story will live forever.
Please join me in inducting this worthy piece of work into the Lords of Pain/Wrestling Headlines Hall of Fame!