"The Nature Boy" Ric Flair: The Story of Professional Wrestling's Imperfect Man
"The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell.''—Ben Okri
There is so much ground to cover when it comes to Ric Flair.
He has been in the wrestling industry since 1972—getting his start in the American Wrestling Association (AWA), where he put on classics with names such as Dusty Rhodes, Andre The Giant, Larry Hennig and Wahoo McDaniel.
He holds the record for most reigns as a WWE/WCW World Champion with an astonishing 16, a number simply unheard of in his day and age.
He is about to become the only man to be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame twice, once for his singles career and the second time for being a member of the legendary Four Horseman stable. He also was inducted into the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Hall of Fame in 2008.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as Ric Flair’s resume goes, as just a list of his accomplishments would provide enough material for a novel.
That, however, is not my intention here today.
I wanted to touch upon the essence of the man. I wanted to touch on his humbling beginnings, financial struggles, yet his ability to overcome all these things to become one of the most well-rounded professional wrestlers ever.
Ric Flair before the 1975 plane crash.
Ric Flair was adopted by a man in Detroit from Tennessee Children’s Home Society, as a boy with two God-given names depending on what documents you look at (his other name being Fred, but I suppose that didn’t flow off the tongue as nicely as Ric did.)
This tough childhood, followed by instant wrestling stardom, likely led to Flair’s lavish lifestyle.
His financial issues, along with marriage issues, are very well documented. This has caused him to carry on wrestling in TNA at the age of 62, putting his health in danger much like Hulk Hogan.
His new-found family would settle in a small town in Minnesota, before Ric was sent off to a boarding school named Wayland Academy (in Beaver Dam, Wisc.)
Here, Ric Flair got his first exposure to wrestling along with football and track.
As a teenager, a summer job as a lifeguard got him his first real connections with the wrestling business; being trained by the Vachon Brothers.
He was recruited by the University of Minnesota for a football scholarship, but Ric decided to drop out to pursue more wrestling training with Verne Gagne. Flair also trained alongside his friend at the time, Olympic weight-lifter Ken Patera.
Gagne is a 16-time world champion himself in AWA and NWA, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 for his contributions to the sport.
From Gagne's wrestling school, Flair would be signed to an AWA contract as a 300-pound man who once was a bouncer at a strip club.
Information from this slide is courtesy of Wikipedia.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship, Four Horsemen Stable, Feud with Dusty Rhodes
Ric Flair began as a brawling heavyweight that charmed people with his unmistakable presence and charisma.
After a plane accident nearly took his life at 26, Flair returned to the NWA as a much slimmer man, and changing his style from a brawler to a technical wrestling master.
He opened eyes in matches with Ricky Steamboat, Bobo Brazil, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Greg Valentine, sky-rocketing up the NWA’s roster without looking back.
A feud with Buddy Rogers is where he attained the ‘Nature Boy’ mantra that he carries to this day, and it’s also where he truly became a star.
He soon beat Dusty Rhodes to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and would stave off countless legendary challengers to maintain the gold.
Finally, in 1986, Flair met Rhodes once again.
Flair has talked about how he and Dusty had good chemistry and always put on an entertaining show in the ring, no matter what kind of match it was or where they were.
"Dusty was the epitome of what they wanted a good guy to be, and I was the bad guy," said Ric Flair.
It was really that simple, as all wrestling is to its core.
As Flair had already won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from the American Dream, they once again stood toe-to-toe inside a steel cage at the Great American Bash.
The cage was to avoid interference from Flair's Four Horsemen (Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson, Arn Anderson and manager JJ Dillon), who had attacked Rhodes in a parking lot and talked trash in a pre-match promo.
Flair beat Rhodes into a bloody and battered state, locking in the Figure-Four leglock hoping to compromise the big man's legs.
That, however, wasn't going to put away Dusty Rhodes, who made one hell of a comeback.
He tossed Flair around the ring with multiple bodyslams, and gave the Nature Boy a taste of his own medicine with open-handed slaps in the corner.
At the end, Rhodes rolled up Flair to be crowned the new NWA World Heavyweight Championship, to end Flair's run atop the NWA.
First Stint in the WWF as Champion, Feud with Randy Savage
Ric Flair and his lackey at the time, Mr. Perfect, told the world that if Flair beat Savage, they would put a centerfold exposing Miss Elizabeth for the entire world to see.
Savage, meanwhile, stayed inside his locker room, refusing an interview with 'Mean' Gene Okerlund and perhaps opting to prepare for the match instead.
Live from the Hoosier Dome, Ric Flair was putting his WWF Championship on the line against The 'Macho Man' Randy Savage at the Showcase of Immortals; WrestleMania VIII.
Confidence oozed from the Nature Boy as he strolled his way down to the ring, with the WWF Championship belt around his waist and a suited Mr, Perfect by his side.
Next, was Randy Savage making his way to the ring. The crowd went absolutely insane as the Macho Man ran out of the back and wasted no time getting to the ring to stand in the opposite corner of Ric Flair.
Flair tried to escape before the bell rang, but Savage caught him from behind and nailed him the back with a double-clenched fist.
Savage pounded Flair's head into the blue carpet as the bell finally rang and the match was officially underway.
Mr. Perfect retaliated, not letting Randy Savage to have the momentum for long. He manhandled Savage, tossing him to the floor at ringside, giving Ric Flair time to recover.
Macho was too enthused, and he continued to have control over the future two-time WWE Hall of Famer early on in this classic match.
Flair turned things around with a backdrop over the top rope, putting the match to a momentary halt.
Ric slowed the pace, methodically wearing down his opponent outside the ring using the brawling side of his arsenal to ground Randy Savage.
Flair walked up the stairs, as Macho Man had to just crawl in the ring, of course leading to Flair stomping on his mid-section.
Ric Flair was now the man in control.
The match followed suit with the old wrestling cliche—the well defined heel was toying with the face, yet couldn't quite finish him off.
Macho Man showed life, countering Flair's strikes in the corner with strikes of his own.
Flair whipped Savage across the ring, only to be met with a neck breaker, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Macho's fight back was halted with a thumb to the eye by the dirtiest player in the game, but continued when he tossed the North Carolina native from the top turnbuckle to the canvas.
Macho's dominance transitioned the match from the midpoint to the climax, busting Flair open outside the ring in this process. He soon followed up by going airborne of his signature elbow drop to the heart of Ric Flair.
As Savage went for the cover, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig pulled him from the ring, leaving Macho livid as he glanced into the eyes of Hennig and referee Earl Hebner.
The altercation that ensued, with Hebner in the middle of it, was the distraction Flair needed to blast the Macho Man in the face and keeping his hopes to retain the WWF Championship alive.
Miss Elizabeth made her way out after Perfect hit her husband with a chair while the referee was distracted.
Elizabeth watched at ringside as Flair had the nearly-unbreakable Figure-Four applied on Randy.
Hebner kicked Perfect as he was hungry to get involved once again, and Savage broke the lock, limping his way to the corner to catch a breather.
The commentators debated who Miss Elizabeth was truly rooting for as Flair had the advantage in the corner.
The brawl spilled into the middle of the ring, with a right hand from Savage stunning the Nature Boy just long enough to get a roll-up victory!
Flair, not interested in a fairy tale ending, trapped Miss Elizabeth to kiss her, only to be met with a slap to the face.
Savage pummeled his rival as he was pulled off by agents and security, allowing him to celebrate his big win.
Return to WCW, Title Unification Match with Sting
WCW decided they wanted to unify their World and International Championships at Clash of Champions 1999. And the two champions at the time: Ric Flair and Sting.
A big feel came over the arena. The fans were ready to get behind Sting and interested to see what a conflicted Ric Flair was going to do on this night.
Sensual Sherri made her way down to the ramp, revealing her face to have Sting's face paint on, meaning she had chosen to be in his corner.
The two foes, both with flowing blond locks, locked up in the center of the ring and Sting knocked Flair to the mat numerous times.
This though only seemed to pump up the Nature Boy, as he got in Sting's face, screaming 'Wooooo!' and Sting shouted right back at him.
The animosity between Flair and Sting from previous bouts started to rear its ugly head.
Sting pointed at Flair in the corner, as if to warn him to not pull any tricks from his sleeve, or he would pay.
A great submission sequence both by men, along with their signature taunts began the real wrestling in this thing.
Sting threw Flair outside the ring, followed up by Ric taking his classic nosedive right in front of Sherri. Flair showed some anger as he demanded the cameraman get out of his face.
He had words with the fans as well, with a referee forcing him to get back in the ring for the safety of the fans and so Flair wouldn't lose this critical match by countout.
A poke to the Stinger's eye temporarily gave Ric Flair the upper hand, only for Sting to quickly take the advantage right back and send the Dirtiest Player in a Game crashing against the guardrail on the outside.
Ric walked down the ramp, talking to the crowd in disgust. Meanwhile, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan kept preaching on commentary that Flair needed to focus on Sting, not anybody else.
Sting maintained control until Flair finally showed signs of life by moving out of harm's way when Sting went for the Stinger Splash. Flair, from this point forward, slowed down to suck the life out of the live crowd.
Flair soon got the Sleeper Hold tightened up on Sting, making it look as if this match may come to an end via submission.
Sting fought out and sent Flair head into the turnbuckle, leaving both competitors down going into the final stretch.
The rivals traded the advantage, as the crowd woke back up, reviving the frenzy from minutes earlier. Sherri became a victim when Flair moved her into Sting's way.
Flair pulled Sting back into the ring, and Sting eventually checked on Sherri again. Flair, using his veteran ring smarts, grabbed a handful of tights to roll-up Sting for the win.
Ric Flair was the new WCW World Heavyweight Champion! As he celebrated, Sherri approached him and he dropped both title belts for a kiss. A stunned Sting broke it up, but Sherri nailed him in the back and Flair put him on the canvas.
Two splashes by Sherri led to the Figure-Four Leglock on the former champion.
Hulk Hogan then appeared, with Flair escaping and also pulling Sherri to safety.
This completed Flair's slow-burning heel turn and began a feud with Hulk Hogan, in which the Nature Boy lost both encounters, once for his championship and the next his career.
Face Turn, Feud with New World Order
When the New World Order was formed, it turned WCW upside down in that most wrestlers suddenly became faces no matter who they were.
Ric Flair and his Four Horsemen were no different. They for the first time, were playing good guys and had a fellow dominant stable to feud with.
So just two months before their War Games match at Fall Brawl, in which the team of Hollywood Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Impostor Sting beat Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Sting by submission, these men were involved in one of the most shocking moments in Monday Night Nitro and WCW history.
Sting, Luger and Macho Man battled three of the Four Horsemen, still heels, in a six man tag match live during the first hour of Nitro.
The bad blood between the two parties immediately showed, as the faces rushed to the ring to begin an all out brawl.
It appeared that all hell had broken lose, only for us to realize it was tame in comparison to the events that unfolded just a few minutes later.
Control was restored as Nitro returned from commercial break, and this thing was starting to play out as a legitimate match.
Yes, WCW fans around the world likely groaned as they were reduced to watching just another six-man tag match. The only difference being, they had no Twitter, Facebook or Bleacher Report to vent from in 1996.
Flair dominated the majority of the match, meticulously picking apart Sting, Savage and Luger. However, angering Luger wasn't a smart move on Ric's part, causing him to lose his upper hand in the match.
In the next couple of minutes, every participant would get a decent time as the legal man to showcase their skills.
Jimmy Hart, once a calm spectator at ringside, suddenly began to urge the cameraman that 'somebody was in the back;' The Outsiders had invaded the WCW locker room!
Luger and Sting followed Hart to see what was going on, and those same fans that groaned minutes earlier were now speechless about what they were witnessing.
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall wiped out the entire locker room with the help of baseball bats, numerous superstars even had to be taken off in an ambulance.
WCW was never the same again.
WCW/NWO, Perfect Turns on Naitch
'Mean' Gene Okerlund was backstage with Ric Flair, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael, none of whom seemed to be intimidated by the daunting task of facing the NWO in a War Games match later that night at Fall Brawl 1997.
Curt Hennig, a man who was the on the verge of joining the Four Horsemen, had a questionable status heading into the match, stacking the odds even more against Flair's team.
Chris Benoit and Buff Bagwell battled inside the cage to start of the match, with all the other competitors watching from the outside.
As the clock ticked down to one minutes, the NWO won the coin toss to get the one man advantage, similar to TNA's Lethal LockDown match.
Konnan raised his arms in the air the celebrate, and the referee unlocked the cage door to allow him into the match.
Konnan and Bagwell double teamed the lone Benoit, although Benoit made a valiant effort to stave off the two, and succeeded by slamming both against the unforgiving steel.
Once the clock again milked it's way to zero, Steve McMichael of the Chicago Bears rushed into even the odds.
This staggered entrance system kept going throughout the match, until all seven were inside the cage (with Hennig hurt, New World Order kept the 4-3 advantage.)
Despite this, the Horsemen gained the advantage as soon as Ric Flair entered the cage, to be countered by Kevin Nash.
The clock for the final entrant hit zero, and it seemed as if Curt Hennig was going to give it his all even with a sling on his arm, to help his friend Ric Flair.
Hennig ripped the sling off to the shock off the crowd, and pulled out handcuffs.
He moved Kevin Nash out of the way, with still what one thought was good intentions. That, however, wasn't the case.
He hit two of the Horsemen, before jumping the ropes to the other ring and beating down Ric Flair.
Konnan handcuffed Benoit and McMichael to the cages as his cronies went to work on the helpless Ric Flair.
They dragged Flair to the cage door, and Hennig slammed it on Flair's head to cement his heel turn and force the Horsemen to surrender.
Flair's Reign as WCW President
Ric Flair wanted to rid WCW of Eric Bischoff once and for all, after returning from a hiatus caused by a lawsuit from not showing up to a Thunder taping, a vintage Ric Flair move.
He faced Bischoff at Starrcade, when Curt Hennig interfered to save Bischoff from the beating of his life and costing his arch-rival Ric Flair a match at the biggest pay-per-view in all of World Championship Wrestling.
Flair responded by going on a crazy streak, stripping down to his boxers to plead Bischoff for another match.
If Bischoff won, Flair became the president of WCW for 90 days. If Bischoff won, Ric Flair promised he would retire for good (sounds humorous now, doesn't it?)
Bischoff accepted when standing across from a handcuffed and half-naked Flair. When it was time though, Bischoff had to be carried to the ring by the Four Horsemen, of course he lost the match.
Flair began to enjoy his power as WCW President too much, once again turning heel by favoring the bad guys numerous times.
He even awarded the United States Championship to his son David, and formed a stable to make sure he kept full control consisting of the Jersey Triad, Arn Anderson and 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper.
His presidency came to an end when he put it on the line against Sting, thanks to Eric Bischoff. Sting then gave control back to Bischoff.
Last Night in WCW
Vince McMahon turned the professional wrestling industry upside down forever, when he bought WCW in 2001.
The final Monday Nitro featured many conflicted feelings by wrestlers, with Ric Flair later saying he was rather glad that he was finally enabled to move on from the company he had been with the majority of his career.
On television, Flair broke the fourth wall for the last night of WCW.
He gave an impassioned speech, claiming he was going to apologize about anything he did, nor stand in the middle of the ring and cry knowing it's his last time to be on TNT or TBS.
He told Vince McMahon thanks to all the guys in the back, WCW ran with him neck-to-neck for years. Heck, McMahon's own father voted Flair to be World Champion when he was on the Board of Directors in 1981.
He told a story of every man on that roster giving their blood, sweat and tears every night for years for the good of WCW, so Vince McMahon wasn't going to come in and control their lives now.
Before leaving, he called out Sting to main event with him one last time, calling him his greatest opponent ever.
They did wrestle one last time on this night, not to meet again inside a wrestling ring until about a year ago in a company named TNA, coming about thanks to former WCW Superstar Jeff Jarrett.
WWF/E Return, Co-Owner
The night after screwing 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Kurt Angle was about to be crowned the WWF Champion by the sole owner of the company, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
McMahon, always happy to get the best of Stone Cold by any means necessary, was about to hand the prestigious gold over to man who was no stranger to gold, having held countless championships and being the only Olympic gold medalist in professional wrestling.
A familiar tune to wrestling fans and North Carolina, the place where Raw was taking place from that night, blasted through the arena. This tune, however, had not been heard in the hallowed arenas of the World Wrestling Federation since the early 1990's though.
Jerry Lawler was clueless as to what was going on, and Jim Ross was floored at who it just might be. And it was the 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair, who was the face of the rival WCW that Vince had put out of business just months earlier.
A look of shock filled the faces of McMahon and Angle, and a feel of excitement had taken over for the previous uneasy feeling of Angle merely being handed such a championship without doing anything to deserve it.
As if the chairman had no idea that a living legend was in the building set to redebut, Vince questioned as to why the hell had he step foot in his ring.
Flair responded, in no better place than his home state of North Carolina, that he had bet on a winner!
A winner? Fans, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon and Kurt Angle all thought to themselves. What winner? Has Ric Flair lost the little common sense he once had?
The answer was no. You see, when Shane and Stephanie McMahon sold their stock to a consortium, that consortium was Ric Flair.
So, Flair was now Vince McMahon's partner in owning the WWF.
Just when you believed things couldn't get any bigger, glass shattered, signaling the arrival of Steve Austin.
He pummeled Angle and McMahon, then looked Flair dead in the eyes, taking his rightful championship off Flair's shoulder onto his.
Flair smirked, and Stone Cold decided to grab some beers.
After a glance that teased a Stunner, he tossed Naitch a beer and they had some fun with the fans as Angle and McMahon were in disbelief on the ramp.
Jim Ross uttered "Oh my God!" as Monday Night Raw faded to black.
Stone Cold alas had an ally who was sitting atop the corporate structure of the WWF.
Flair continued on as co-owner of the WWF, beating Vince McMahon on numerous occasions. He also was one of The Undertaker's victims at WrestleMania X8, and eventually lost authority when McMahon finally beat him for sole possession of the company.
Not to worry, The Nature Boy was far from finished making an impact.
Ric Flair interfered in Triple H's World Heavyweight Championship match, nailing Rob Van Dam with a sledgehammer after teasing hitting Triple H.
Over the next few weeks, Flair and Trips began recruiting young stars to perhaps join them in a stable that was sure to be the next great thing.
Finally, on a night centered around Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff, they attacked Tommy Dreamer.
After the attack, Triple H grabbed the microphone explaining that a new era was about to begin. Because in life, things evolve. And standing in the center of the ring, was the greatest example of evolution one could ever see.
In this stable, Randy Orton built up his new 'Legend Killer' persona by first taking out Shawn Michaels. Triple H kept his World Heavyweight Championship with the help of Ric Flair.
His opponent at Bad Blood, Evolution's first pay-per-view as a legitimate faction was Goldberg, whom he soon put a bounty on that was answered by the returning Batista.
Soon, this group controlled all the championships on Raw; Batista and Ric Flair were tag team champions, combining the legend with the powerhouse.
Randy Orton was the Intercontinental Champion, being the young, thoroughbred who was no doubt the future of the company.
Triple H was the world champion, in the prime of his career and cruising towards a WWE Hall of Fame induction down the road.
This stable began to decline though, as each man lost their titles in the aftermath of WrestleMania XX.
Triple H lost his final chance at a rematch, and Randy Orton won the No. 1 contendership on the same night, with Orton being crowned the new champion at SummerSlam.
Triple H, Flair and Batista would then turn on Orton. After Triple H got Orton over as a future star, he reclaimed his world title and feuded with Batista, the winner of the Royal Rumble leading into a WrestleMania showdown.
A titleless Triple H turned his attention to former ally Ric Flair following an injury that sidelined him, officially ending the dominant force known as Evolution.
There was no doubt that Flair and Triple H had significantly brightened the future of Batista and Randy Orton, and set the standard on how to build and destroy a heel stable.
Feud with Edge
Edge was hosting yet another riveting edition of the Cutting Edge, with girlfriend, Lita by his side. His guest was none other than 'The Dirtiest Player in the Game,' Ric Flair.
Edge began by mentioning that Flair had a nasty road rage accident and a rather nasty divorce, and outright said his life was in shambles.
Of course, that was vintage Ric Flair, we had come to expect absolutely nothing else.
An image of Flair popped up on the screen, moving lips and all, with Edge mocking and embarrassing his guest for the better part of five minutes.
Finally, Flair's music hit and the real Nature Boy came down the ramp.
With no words, not a common trait of Ric Flair, he attacked Edge and fought off Lita.
The 'Rated R Superstar' escaped up the ramp and Lita ran the opposite way in hopes of avoiding an angry Flair.
After defeating Edge to retain his Intercontinental Championship at New Year's Resolution to kick off the year of 2006, the same night Edge cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase to become the WWE Champion, the two faced off in a TLC match for that championship live on Raw.
Giving Edge the momentum to go into matches with John Cena, Flair fell just short of capturing his 17th world title and third WWE Championship.
He did prove he still had what it takes, the direction and passion for the business to maintain stardom on the biggest stage one given wrestler can possibly reach.
Feud & I Quit Match with Mick Foley
The next step in Ric Flair's legendary career was having a couple more show stoppers with future Hall of Famers in their own right; first up being Mick Foley.
This was set up by real-life problems between Flair and Foley, with each taking jabs at each other in their books.
On television, Flair called Foley a 'glorified stuntman,' as he had in his book. Foley responded that Flair was just a 'washed up piece of crap.'
The two wrestled a Two Out of Three Falls match in which Flair won in the first two falls, leading to an 'I Quit' match at SummerSlam.
The odd twist being, Foley was playing the heel while Ric Flair was the face.
Jim Ross told the story of Flair surviving the 1974 plane crash that broke his back, and the countless hardcore matches he wrestled with guys like Blackjack Mulligan as Foley smashed him in the face with a garbage can early on.
Foley reached for the ever-disgusting Mr. Socko, and crammed it down Flair's throat to hold the Mandible Claw in place.
Foley grabbed a microphone, asking his rival to give up, but to no avail as the Nature Boy had too much life left in him.
Foley, more motivated to make Ric Flair utter those awful words, wrapped barbed wire around his covered hand. He was met with a low blow instead.
Flair took advantage at this point, weakening the 'Hardcore Legend' with a series of rights and left, also using Foley's own barbed wire to make his chops more painful.
The hardcore tone of this match continued, with Foley using his signature weapons and Flair using his dirty tactics.
Both had the upper hand at numerous points, although they couldn't force the other one to finally quit.
Foley fell off the ring apron, onto the floor with his head only padded by a metal garbage can. Officials had to make sure he was all right, as well as Melina, with blood gushing from his chest and even his head beginning to open up.
Flair, meanwhile, was sporting a crimson mask by this point and had thousands of thumbtacks stuck all over his body.
Ric proclaimed this wasn't a 'lay down on your ass match' minutes into Foley being checked out. He decided to grab Mick himself to attempt to finish him off.
Foley only quit once Ric threatened Melina with a barbed wire bat, who had thrown in the towel to save her friend from any more harm.
Despite the win, it was becoming obvious Flair was in the homestretch of his WWE career.
The Last Stand
Ric Flair was returning to Raw, with all evidence pointing towards him announcing his retirement.
Flair, though, had the exact opposite in mind; proclaiming he would never retire!
That had "no chance" in sticking when Mr. McMahon strutted down isle and told Flair that's great, as long as he wins. But if loses, he must retire.
Flair beat Triple H, Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton and others to keep his career intact in dramatic fashion every time.
When it came time for the Road to WrestleMania, Flair challenged one of his best friends, Mr. WrestleMania, the Showstopper, the Main Event, the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.
Michaels initially refused, much like The Undertaker to him two years later. Flair, insisted that it did happen, and eventually got his wish.
He told Michaels he would expect nothing less than his A game.
"Remember Old Yeller? They loved that dog. But when it came time, they took him to the back and finished him. This Sunday, the Showstopper is going to take you, Old Yeller, behind a woodshed and put you out of your misery," said Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair.
Sitting in the front row to Ric Flair's WWE Hall of Fame induction just 24 hours prior, Shawn Michaels was now standing in the ring looking the same man dead in the eyes. He knew that if he defeated him, it would be Flair's final match inside a WWE ring.
The first move of the match was as elementary as a shoulder block by Michaels, sending Naitch to his back.
HBK gave second thought to doing Ric Flair's taunt to the man himself, instead awaiting him to get off the canvas to lock up.
Lock up they did, with Flair closing the sequence with a toss of his buddy to the mat. He, to show Michaels how it's done, did his signature strut around the ring.
Tempers soon began to flare. Flair trapped HBK in the corner, pushed him and said 'Old Yeller, huh?' Shawn's reply was a slap right to his face, and told him he was about to put him down.
Flair wiped some blood oozing from his mouth, 'first blood brother' he said before they again locked up.
The two traded slaps to the chest, a craft HBK had learned from the Nature Boy himself. With one mistake, Flair kicked Michaels in the should when he bent down in pain, and was sent to the mat.
Although he obviously possessed more speed, Ric had the mental edge as sharp as Michaels maybe. After all, nobody outsmarted the Nature Boy. Not even a guy of the stature of Shawn Michaels.
We kept a slow methodical pace to things, with neither being able to have control for long. Michaels booted Flair to the outside of the ring, though, opening up the chance for a moonsault off the apron that missed the mark. He crashed into the announce table instead, with his opponent a mere spectator.
As one would expect, they both crawled around trying to recompose themselves before just creeping back into the ring to meet the referee's 10-count.
Flair was the first to really take the momentum and run with it, attempting pinfall after pinfall. Referee Charles Robinson, often referred to as 'Little Naitch" backstage due to his blond hair and Ric Flair fandom, could only get a two count each time.
Michaels showed signs of life with every kick out, and back dropped Flair over the top rope, enabling himself a slight breather in the middle of the WrestleMania instant classic.
Shawn Michaels climbed to the top rope and went for his second moonsault of the night, nailing it onto Flair this time around.
Again, parallel to minutes before, both Flair and Michaels crawled in the ring to just beat Robinson's count of ten.
"Mano a mano," Jim Ross said as the two were exchanging hand slaps again. Michaels then burst off the ropes with an forearm to ground the Dirtiest Player in the Game.
You could sense the tides turning. Shawn Michaels perhaps had stamina that the older Flair did not, taking his first real edge of the matchup.
A silence absorbed the crowd, as they were in awe of what these two artists were painting inside the ring that night. They wondered if they were witnessing the final match of one of the biggest legends professional wrestling has ever had.
Michaels pulled himself up by the ropes, with a grimace. He tuned up the band, and extended his leg as Flair got to his feet.
With hesitation in his mind and heart, he stopped before the kick reached Flair. Ric had a brief moment of surprise before putting his friend in the Figure-Four leglock.
The crowd exploded, in what may have been the only they rooted against Shawn Michaels at this point of his career for; to save the career of their beloved Ric Flair.
Michaels squirmed as all do inside the lock, before having the craftiness to reverse it by rolling over.
Flair reached the ropes, not soon enough in his mind, forcing Shawn to break the hold. With a noticeable limp, he walked around for a minute wondering what move in his arsenal he had not yet used.
We entered a portion of the contest where the two shared numerous near falls, with a mix a technical wrestling, high-flying, and brawling. You could see many similarities in the moveset of HBK and Nature Boy during this time, as was the case the whole match.
As the near was near, Michaels hit a beautiful Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere on Ric Flair.
Jerry Lawler groaned, a reaction many in the crowd in Miami, Florida and the millions watching around the world shared.
Michaels slid his arm across the limp body of Flair. Flair, with an ounce of energy still remaining, managed to kick out.
Michaels got to his feet and pleaded with Flair to do the same. Flair met Michaels with a low blow, showcasing that he's the only man on earth who can hit another man below the belt and be cheered for it.
As dramatic irony would have it, Michaels recovered and locked in Flair's own Figure-four submission in an attempt to put the 60-year-old out of his misery.
While it did not put Flair away, it did weaken him.
One last exchange of chest slaps was in store, although Michaels abruptly ended it with a sudden Super Kick to Flair.
A state of sadness and realism overtook HBK as he got to his feet. He stood in the corner contemplating his future actions rather than tuning up the band.
A sobbing Flair looked Michaels dead in the eye. He was sure to see Michaels mouth the words "I'm sorry" before being hit with Sweet Chin Music.
Charles Robinson counted to three, and a legendary wrestling career had met its conclusion inside a WWE ring.
The Limousine Ridin', Jet Flying, Kiss Stealin', Wheelin' Dealin', Son of a Gun was a young, arrogant heel before his time. He wore suits, he was a ladies man, he was rich, really playing himself for a gimmick.
He is known for his rambling, nonsensical promos, almost always capped off by his one of his many trademark catchphrases, a style later to be molded into his own by The Rock.
His charm and charisma is unmatched in wrestling, as is his ability to manipulate the crowd into any desired reaction.
He may well be the most sound technical wrestler of all time, famous for his chest slaps, knee chops and of course the Figure-Four Leglock itself.
Flair was also the innovator of the heel stable, as the leader of the Four Horsemen, Evolution and most recently Fortune in TNA.
Without Ric Flair, heel stables may have never come to be. We would have never witnessed the Four Horseman, putting the whole WCW company in tremendous jeopardy, meaning we have may have never watched the groundbreaking NWO come about, nor D-Generation-X in the WWE. We wouldn’t have been so privileged to see Evolution or Fortune, either.
Regardless of if you believe Ric Flair has tarnished his legacy in recent years or not, it is undeniable that he changed the landscape of pro wrestling forever. He was a game changer in the purest form.
He has left the biggest impact on the business as one can possibly make, because shades of this guy are all over the place in 2012, 40 years after debuting. No wrestler can perform a series of chest slaps, nor lock in the Figure-Four, without the capacity crowd unleashing a ‘woooooo!’
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