Sometimes all it takes is one single moment to define an entire career, or an entire life. On this particular spring night of March 30th 2008, the legendary career of Ric Flair was ended by a man who heralded him as not only his childhood hero, but one of the greatest wrestlers in the entire world. The man, as we all know, was none other than the Heartbreak Kid himself, Shawn Michaels. Who could argue with Shawn Michaels? For a man who achieved world-wide renown and collected a staggering sixteen world championships, it’s hard to call him anything but one of the greatest.
As with all good, glorious, and amazing things in life though, there will always be an end. Ric Flair had done it all, and at this point, what else was there left to do? If you asked the evil, corporate mastermind known as Vincent Kennedy McMahon, fighting for his career in every single match seemed like a more than sufficient idea, and fight Flair did. In his incredible stretch of what would become known as “Career Threatening Matches”, Flair put away a who’s who of current wrestlers: Triple H, Mr. Kennedy, Montel Vontavious Porter, even the depraved and damnable chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment himself. On this night, however, his fate would be sealed with the superkick heard around the word, and a stew of words that are now infamous in the annals of WWE history.
Indeed, Shawn Michaels was sorry. In that one, singular moment that now echoes through time, the legendary career of Ric Flair was ended, sealed with Sweet Chin Music from one of his very best friends in the entire world. It was simply inevitable for the career of Ric Flair to end. To even get to that point, however, Flair strapped up his boots one last time and entered with the stereotypical pomp and circumstance that we had come to expect from the Dirtiest Player in The Game all years prior to the bright lights of WrestleMania. Before he endured the painful jolting of the superkick that sealed his fate forever, Flair had to fight for his life for an incredible twenty minutes and thirty-four seconds. As a fan of not only wrestling (or sports entertainment, if you prefer), but of both of the tremendously talented performers in the ring, it was almost like being spoiled. Better put, it was like being a seven year old on Christmas Eve and your parents finally let you open that one gift early that you’ve wanted the entire year. Not only do you get what you’ve finally wanted, but it’s everything you expect it to be – and more.
Right off the bat, even with the entrances, you could tell this match was special, like you were about to be witness to a piece of history no matter what the outcome was. It was one of those special feelings you just couldn’t help but smile about. The buildup to get to the match was just as emotionally charged as the encounter itself, with HBK showing just a tiny, tiny bit of that dormant heel that still laid in Michaels. His smiling, dancing, and charismatic ways soon left his face for a blank, emotionless stare as he claimed that he would take “Old Yeller” out back and put him out of his misery. Flair became an emotional tornado of anger, furious that his friend would imply that he’s simply not cut out to survive in the wild, wild world of WWE anymore. Whether Michaels was right or wrong, Flair was not ready to give in, not yet. After all, the man has made a living off of thirty-five years of destroying odds and dominating a laundry list of the greatest names in wrestling and sports entertainment.
Once these two grizzly, seasoned, hardened gladiators stepped between the ropes, all bets instantly became off. Flair and Michaels traded furious spears, chops, and punches, and all to answer one question. Could Flair overcome the man who made a living off of incredible and jaw dropping performances on The Grandest Stage of Them All? Could Flair, after thirty-five years, find one more trick in the book he knows all too well and survive one more day? Would HBK be able to do the hardest thing of all, and when the time came, retire his mentor and best friend? All of these questions were answered in the ensuing match. Again, as we all know, Flair would ride off into the sunset just one night after being inducted into the highest honor World Wrestling Entertainment has to offer: The Hall of Fame. Even with the outcome almost certain, we were treated to a roller coaster of emotions and drama.
It’s arguable that Flair was well past his prime at this point, but being in the ring with Mr. WrestleMania himself takes a special athlete. No one is more special than Flair, and no one is more timeless either. Flair gave it his all, but on this cold, breezy, rainy night at the Citrus Bowl, it just wasn’t good enough. One thing is for certain though…regardless of the result of this match up, Ric Flair went out a winner on this night. There will never be another Ric Flair. There will never be another Shawn Michaels. There will, without a shadow of a doubt, never be another moment like this in the history of WrestleMania. As a fan of wrestling, I strongly urge you to watch this match if you have yet to watch it. It encompasses everything that makes us, as fans, passionate about it. One thing is very appealing about this match, to me, as well: it’s timeless. I’ve seen this match and will see this match hundreds of times. I will never find myself less than enamored with the story that Michaels and Flair dragged us on.
In the immortal words of Ric Flair himself: To be the man, you have to beat the man. On this night, Shawn Michaels was the man.