WWE and The Greatest Matches of All Time: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair

William GulloCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2011

Creature Vs. Creature: Best Match Ever.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to the annual Bleacher Report CvC (Creature Vs. Creature) tournament. A spectacle unlike anything you've seen (or read) before.

This tournament has been designed by fellow BR writers to settle the following age-old question once and for all...or at least at this particular moment.

Who among us is the greatest WWE writer in the world?

OK, so maybe not the world, but you get the gist. While I'm not quite sure how I feel about being called a "creature," I certainly couldn't pass up on the opportunity to take part in this time honored tradition...

...But seriously, can anyone tell me where the term "creature" came from? Is it because it rhymes with bleacher? Because if that's the case then it's kinda cute, and has a surprisingly nice ring to it.


The first topic handed down to us was to choose one wrestling match and make its case for why it could be considered the greatest match of all time.

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While determining which match is truly the greatest of all time is like trying to determine which of your outfits is the best in your wardrobe; because let's face it, there's always someone who's not going to like the colors you like, how the pants fit, why you don't accessorize properly, or why you still think denim jeans and shirts are in style.

It is truly all about how you (or in this case, the writer) feels about the particular match.

Side Note: For the record, the greatest outfit in any wardrobe is the sweatpants and sweatshirt combo. They're (usually) clean, loose fitting, comfortable, and signify "down" time in your life. Time when you can unwind, not be judged, and relax. Everyone has this outfit combo. 

Want to use this logic to determine the greatest wrestling match of all time? It would be any John "Super" Cena match against (insert jobber). "Super" Cena matches are usually comfortable for the WWE, light-hearted, usually result in clean finishes, and signify "down" time in the WWE. Ba-Zinga!

What makes a match the greatest of all time? What constitutes a match to even be regarded as a good match? Is it really all about the wrestling? The spots? Near falls? Is it simply based on the crowd reactions? The subtle moments throughout a match that elicit different, random emotions as its events unfold?

Do entrances factor in? Or is there something that is just inherently built into a match that makes it special?

If I could, personally, describe what makes a match, and wrestling in general, beautiful, I would simply say this:

You know you've seen a special match when everything in the world stops. A moment in time when nothing else matters. Where wrestling transcends time, space, reality and transports us all into a single, unified moment.

Where emotions, reputation, egos, the buzz of the crowd, and the performance all collide to create a lasting effect that ripples from the beginning of the contest into the echoes of the universe forever.

This happens rarely, and you'll know when you've witnessed it. Such a moment happened at WrestleMania 24 between two icons of the industry. Their story, and the story they told through an art form known as wrestling will never be forgotten.

I now present to you one of the greatest matches of all time... 

  "I'm sorry. I love you." 

     ~ Shawn Michaels

In an unknown location. In an unknown reality. There lies a universe so rich and dense with history the ghosts of those long forgotten, those remembered, and those that rose above everyone else can be heard through the whispers of the wind if you listen closely enough.

If you happen to find yourself standing at the peak of its highest mountain, you can hear this quote echoing for eternity for all to hear. For all to remember.  

With these words whispered, Shawn Michaels unleashed a devastating rendition of "Sweet Chin Music" into the head of one of the all time greats, pioneers, and legends of the wrestling industry, Ric Flair.

The kick would explode decades upon decades of championships, memories,  wheelin' and dealin', stylin' and profilin', and the heart and soul of wrestling's long-lost glory days across the ring as Ric Flair floated down towards the mat.

It was symbolic. It was heartfelt. It was real.

As Shawn Michaels laid across the body of his long-time co-worker, teacher and friend, the referee gently counted to three. And with that, the WWE career of Ric Flair, who once proclaimed with such passion "that to be the man, you gotta beat the man"...was over. 

Michaels would hug the lifeless body of Ric Flair offering his condolences, respect, and admiration but would quickly leave the ring visibly upset and shaken.

The crowd of over 74,000 would rise as one and applaud Flair as he gradually rose to his feet, embraced his family sitting ringside, acknowledged the crowd and embarked on a lonely, yet deeply satisfying journey up the long WrestleMania ramp followed by a chorus of "Whoos" from the universe faithful, and grateful.

Moments in wrestling that transcend time, space, and reality happen very rarely. This moment happened for nearly 30 minutes.

The Final Waltz of Ric Flair

Ric Flair began his wrestling career in 1972, and over the next 30 years Ric Flair would go on to win sixteen World Heavyweight Championships (While these are the only ones recognized, I don't think I'm to far off in saying he probably held nearly double that).

There is no arguing that his place in wrestling history and lore gives him a proper place in the upper echelons of the WWE kingdom.

But like all good things, they must come to an end and on March 30, 2008, at the showcase of the immortals, WrestleMania 24, Ric Flair's WWE career came to an end at the hands of another living legend, Shawn Michaels, in a classic bout that showcased what kind of storytelling could be told during a simple wrestling match. 

Upon his return to the ring, a year earlier in 2007, Ric Flair was given an ultimatum by WWE owner and chairman Vince McMahon. It was time for Flair to let go of the business he held so closely to his heart, and that the next match Flair lost would be his last.

Ric Flair then began his odyssey (aka retirement tour) week in and week out on television and pay-per-views defeating each of the opponents who tried to claim stake as being the one to deal the deathblow to the career of Ric Flair.   

With the buildup to WrestleMania 24 in full swing during the early spring of 2008 it was a known fact among casual fans, wrestling pundits, and the entire wrestling community that Ric Flair was on his way to retirement.

The only question that was left unanswered was who would be the one to retire one of the greatest, if not the greatest, wrestler in the world on the grandest stage of them all.

Shawn Michaels, who earlier had let the people of the universe know that Flair was going to be leading the Hall of Fame inductee class of 2008, was issued the challenge from Flair himself.

Reluctant to accept the challenge, Michaels finally accepted due in part to heavy encouragement from Flair. The final waltz for Ric Flair was set. Shawn Michaels Vs. Ric Flair in a career threatening match was scheduled for WrestleMania 24. 

What better place, time, opponent, and stage could their possibly be to end the career of a legend? WrestleMania 24 would be the burial grounds for the career of Ric Flair. A fitting send off that would be packed with emotion, passion, nostalgia, and love. 

Everyone knew Flair's career would end that night, but something special happened. While many believe there is no such thing as magic, the WWE reached down into its always-boiling cauldron and cast a spell on the 74,000 in attendance and the millions watching at home.  

The Long Goodbye

A match that had an obvious, logical conclusion already known to the majority watching did the unthinkable. It made us believe again. It made us think, perhaps for a brief, suspended moment in time that Flair might actually win and keep his career alive.

The match from the onset was beautiful. While not the exquisite technical, ring psychology laced marvel that many look for when determining the greatest matches of all time. The pure joy of watching these two men exchange chops across the chest as the crowd, in unison, filled the open-aired stadium with cries of "whoo!" was enough to put a smile on the biggest of skeptics.

The sight of seeing Michaels fly through the air and crash (aka nearly cut himself in half) through the announcing table on an attempted moonsault, and the fleeting moments of joy when Flair, in desperation, locked his patented figure-four leglock on Michaels for nearly 30 seconds was filled with passion and revel from the crowd. 

The fist-pumping moment when Flair unexpectedly, and uncharacteristically went to the top rope and actually connected with a flying cross-body.

The electrifying moment when Michaels slapped Flair in the face drawing a trace of blood from the mouth of Flair, the following staredown, and Flair simply responding with "it's only blood, brother."

The heartfelt moment when Michaels, early in the match, hesitated on a wide-open chance at "Sweet Chin Music" was a perfect example of the story being told.

The story of Michaels, a man who was torn between his competitive spirit and his love for a man who had chosen this fight, this path, this destiny. Flair was clearly out-manned during the course of this match, as he should have been.

The story of Flair, a man grasping at the last breaths of his career wanted, needed to prove to himself he could still compete with the current legends of the industry he adored.

The crowd who supported Flair with numerous, nearly 20-foot signs they spread across the arena simply reading "Whoo" were in a frenzy for the entire story.

I use the word story, because that's what we witnessed this night. Not so much a match, but a story that captured the hearts of millions. We all knew the ending to Titanic, or the ending to any other story based around facts and history. We all knew the inevitable conclusion to this story as well.

As Flair, in a daze, stumbled to his feet. Michaels, who had already tuned up the band, set the orchestra, and only awaited the cue of the maestro looked deep into the eyes of a desperate, disoriented Flair.

Flair caught his eyes, raised his hands to a fighting position, and with his last act signaled for Michaels to finish him. Michaels solemnly obliged, but before the final blow whispered into the universe...

                               "I'm sorry, I love you"   

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