Up next in the countdown of WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches is a closer look at the last WWE match for perhaps the greatest wrestler ever, Ric Flair. His opponent was another man that many consider to be the greatest wrestler ever, Shawn Michaels. Let’s go back to WrestleMania 24.
If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Who: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair
When: March 30, 2008
Where: Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida
It was a “Career Threatening Match” because in late 2007, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon told Flair that if he lost another match he had to retire. It was specified that it only applied in singles matches. Flair went on to beat a bunch of different wrestlers in the next few months. We all knew where it was headed, though. By late 2007, it was known online that he would face Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24.
Here’s the summary of it straight from my review:
Michaels was the one that announced that Flair would be an inductee in the 2008 Hall of Fame. Michaels said he idolized Flair and called him the greatest wrestler of all time. The “Leave the Memories Alone” video started up that showed highlights of Ric Flair’s career. They skipped ahead to a promo where Vince McMahon told Flair that if he lost one more match then that would be the end of his career. Flair said the best way for him to cap off his career is to wrestle Michaels at WrestleMania. Michaels said he didn’t want to be the guy that ended Flair’s career. Flair said he needed to know if he could still go with the best and that was Michaels. When Flair put it that way, Michaels said he would do it. The intensity picked up on Raw. Flair slapped him in the face as his way to get the best out of Michaels. Michaels said he was going to put Flair out of his misery.
One night before WrestleMania at the WWE Hall of Fame, Flair was the headline name. It was a night to celebrate his legacy while also paying tribute to the one and only “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
What I Thought Back Then
It was obvious going into the match that Flair was going to lose. We all knew that was coming. I remember watching a bunch of Flair matches leading up to the weekend because I knew I was going to miss watching him. I didn’t grow up on Flair like some people because NWA/WCW wasn’t as popular here in southern Ontario, Canada, but the older I got the more I liked him and appreciated what he did in the business.
I also thought about the setting because it was only the second WrestleMania that would take place outdoors. WrestleMania 9 in Las Vegas was the first. This time it was a football stadium. A lot of people were talking about what would happen if it rained and stuff like that. Thankfully the rain held off, so they were able to have the match without any problems.
This was also the kind of match where it made perfect sense to do face vs. face. If it was a heel against Flair it wouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Michaels was the best choice for an opponent for him.
Here’s my full review of the match plus the analysis, which was written in 2012.
The video package for the “Career Threatening Match” between Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels was next.
Backstage, Mike Adamle interviewed Ric Flair. He didn’t mess up the intro to the interview, so that was good for Adamle. He asked Flair for his game plan. Flair: “My game plan. To be the man. Woo!”
They did the intros for the Career Threatening Match. Michaels came out first. Huge babyface pop. Flair was next. He got a big ovation as well. In case you were wondering, Flair was 59 years old going into the match while Michaels was 42. Everybody knew who was going to win, but we didn’t care. It was a big deal.
Career Threatening Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair
The ref of the match was Charles Robinson, who a lot of people referred to as Lil Nature Boy (or Lil Naitch) over the years. They traded some basic holds early. Flair won an exchange with an arm drag. Lots of “Woo” chants in the crowd. Flair shoved him hard in the chest, so Michaels slapped him in the face and told him he wanted HBK so he got him. Flair’s mouth was bleeding. Flair chopped him. Crowd chanted “Woo” with every chop. Flair put him down with a back elbow followed by the patented running knee to the head. Michaels countered a corner charge with an elbow to Flair’s mouth. Michaels went up top and Flair threw him off the top rope. That’s the typical Flair spot. Then Flair went up, Michaels went to throw him down, but Flair countered that and Flair hit a cross body. He hit a move off the top! Flair went for the Figure Four, but Michaels kicked him out to the floor and then gave him a baseball slide dropkick. Michaels went for a springboard moonsault. Flair moved. Michaels went rib first right into the corner of the announce table, which broke it. Crazy bump. JR: “My God! My God! My God!” The replay showed that Michaels’ ribs did hit the corner edge of the table. That had to hurt. Ref Charles Robinson counted him out, but HBK rolled back in at the count of eight. Flair gave him a back suplex for two. Flair gave him a double underhook suplex for two. Nobody believed that was it, but JR was yelling about it as if it was close. Flair gave Michaels a delayed standing vertical suplex for a two count. More chops. Michaels came back with a neckbreaker. He gave Flair a back body drop over the top to the floor. Michaels went to the top rope. He hit a Moonsault onto Flair, who was standing on the floor. Flair really didn’t catch him well. You could see Michaels’ knee hit the ground pretty hard. They rolled back into the ring at the same time.
Back to their feet, they exchanged more chops. Flair whipped him into the ropes and Michaels came back with a flying forearm to the face of Flair. Michaels hit two atomic drops and then a body slam. Michaels was selling the rib injury. Michaels went to the top rope and hit a Flying Elbow off the top rope. It wasn’t one of his better ones, but it did the trick for sure. Michaels “warmed up the band” to set up for the superkick. He stopped at the last second. Flair took advantage of the hesitation to give Michaels the Figure Four Leg Lock to a huge ovation! The crowd was going wild as Michaels tried to fight the move off. It was a sustained loud pop. Michaels turned it around, so Flair got out of it. They did a pinning sequence. They tried to do the spot where Michaels was on the floor and he would bridge up, but Flair couldn’t move his body up. You could tell it was a tough move for him to do. Michaels broke it up with a shot to the ribs. Michaels got another nearfall for two off a sunset flip. Flair was really starting to tire at around this point of the match. Flair whipped him in the corner and Michaels took the bump by flipping upside down. Flair gave him a chop block to the back of the knee. Big pop for that vintage Flair spot. Flair went for the Figure Four, Michaels countered with a cradle for two. Great nearfall. Michaels went for an enziguri, Flair avoided it and put him in the Figure Four Leg Lock one more time. Michaels was in a lot of pain. After about 45 seconds, Michaels got to the ropes. With Michaels in the ropes, Flair stomped away at him. The ref told him to break it up. Flair did his strut. When he turned around…Sweet Chin Music. Wow. That was a perfect one. Both guys were down. Michaels covered. Flair got his shoulder up. Huge reaction for that. Fantastic nearfall right there. Michaels sold the knee injury and he got back to his feet while Flair was still down. Michaels yelled at him to get up. Flair got back to his feet while HBK warmed up the band. Flair hit a low blow without the ref seeing. Big pop for that. Woo! Dirtiest player in the game. Flair covered for a count of two. I love that these two were so good that they could make a low blow into a nearfall. Michaels put Flair into his inverted Figure Four Leg Lock. Flair pulled off a turnbuckle pad. Ref took it away from him. Flair did a thumb to the eye to break the hold. A rollup got two for Flair. They did another chop-fest on their knees. Flair hit him with three chops in a row and then Michaels hit a superkick out of nowhere. Michaels pulled himself to his feet. Flair struggled to get back to his feet. Michaels said the infamous words: “I’m sorry…I love you.” Sweet Chin Music to the head of Flair. One…two…three. Michaels wins at 20:23.
Winner: Shawn Michaels
Post match, Michaels said something to Flair while he was on the mat. He kissed Flair on the forehead. Then he walked away.
Moments later, Flair got to his feet. The 70,000+ fans gave him a standing ovation. He was crying. His family at ringside was crying. Flair hugged his family at ringside. He was in tears. The fans continued the standing ovation for several minutes. Flair gave one final wave at the top of the ramp. The crowd was awesome.
Analysis: **** I know people who call this the best match of the show and even the best match of the year. I wouldn’t go that far. It was a lot of fun, though. Considering Flair was 59 years old, he needs to be commended for wrestling such a good match against somebody like Michaels, who was considered the very best in the business. How many 59 year old men could wrestle a four star match for 20 minutes? Probably only Ric Flair and maybe Shawn Michaels if he wants to have a match like this in 15 years. It’s not easy. The match told a good story with Michaels missing that moonsault that sent him crashing on the table. Flair got the advantage. Michaels came back with his fast paced offense and then Flair focused on the knee. Eventually, though, Michaels came back. The finish was great. They did a lot of classic Flair spots and then Michaels was overcome it all to win with the Sweet Chin Music. A lot of people thought this was really it for Flair. That he was finally retired for good. It ended up being his last match in WWE, but he would move on to TNA where he had some more matches. “I’m sorry…I love you” is one of the more memorable moments in wrestling history, I would say.
You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 24 right here.
What They Said
Shawn Michaels on his character motivation going into the match on the Ric Flair Show podcast with a transcript from WrestlingInc:
“To me, this speaks to the simplistic psychology as opposed to what I think is good psychology, which is what I always felt like I had. It wasn’t about being old. It was about the fact that somebody that loved that dog loved him so much he had to take him behind the shed and kill him. And that’s what it was. It was a mercy killing. That was the difference. For me, all the Old Yeller stuff was more about love. It was about someone being put into a position that they did not envy and they were going to have to do something and put an end to something that they didn’t want to put an end to. And the reason they didn’t want to put an end to it was because that person, that everything about that meant so much. And again, that’s the conflict that ‘HBK’ and the character were going through in the whole storyline with Ric. And that’s what made it so, for me, enjoyable to do.”
Shawn Michaels in WWE magazine about his favorite WrestleMania moments:
“Everything in that match, emotionally, for Ric [Flair] and me was genuine. So it’s fitting that I actually didn’t go quite as far as I wanted to [when I went for the moonsault to the outside] and ended up breaking my ribs on the table. It changed things for the viewer. If, just for a moment, you can make the audience feel genuine emotion, that’s the key to what we do. And that makes all the difference in the world.”
Ric Flair, from the day after WrestleMania 24, on the gift he received from Shawn Michaels after their match. Thanks prowrestling.net for this:
“Shawn Michaels came over to me after my match last night (at WrestleMania 24) and he had a bag and he took out two boxes. He had two diamond Rolexes with a diamond-faced 24 for WrestleMania 24. One was mine and one is his. Mine says Richard Fleir, my real name, vs. Shawn Micahels ‘To be the man.’ And his says, ‘Richard Fleir vs. Shawn Michaels: You gotta beat the man.'”
What I Think Now
It is one of the most emotional matches ever because Ric Flair was one of the most beloved wrestlers ever. Yes, he was a heel for most of his career, but he always had the respect of the fans.
I remember some fans talking about how this was the match of the year, but I never saw it that way. It’s a very good match worthy of the four star (out of five) rating that I gave it. However, there was a better match on the same show and a few other matches that took place later in the year that I loved more. I don’t think anybody is necessarily wrong to say it was match of the year because it’s a personal opinion.
Great call by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on this match as well. No announcer can compare to JR in a big match setting. I’m glad he was there to call this match.
Also, we didn’t know it at the time, but one of his daughters at ringside named Ashley would end up as a great women’s wrestler herself known as Charlotte. She was in her early 20s at this point and didn’t start her career for a few more years.
The next night on Raw, there was a big celebration of Flair’s career. There were a lot of tears that night, but it was also one of my favorite moments in Raw history because he deserved to be honored one more time.
Flair went on to wrestle again for TNA Wrestling as well as various indy promotions, but this was his last match in WWE. Was this match tarnished a bit because he kept wrestling? Yeah a bit, but it didn’t really bug me that much.
As for Michaels, he continued to wrestle on Raw and pay-per-view events for two more years. His biggest feud in 2008 was against Chris Jericho and it was one of my favorite feuds ever. Two years after this match at WrestleMania 26, he had his last match. I promise you that both his WrestleMania 25 and 26 matches are coming up later in this list.
I think it’s very impressive that a guy in his late 50s could have one of the top 30 WrestleMania matches ever. It shows how great Flair was even at an advanced age. When most of us think of wrestlers still having matches in their 50s we might groan because they might look terrible in the ring. In Flair’s case, he was still able to have a four-star match. Yes, Michaels deserves a lot of credit as well, but I think this match is a testament to Flair’s legacy.
It’s a great match that I enjoyed a lot back in 2008 when I first saw it live, then in 2012 when I wrote about it and today nearly a decade later.
Rankings So Far
30. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
31. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.
Thanks for reading. My contact info is below.
John Canton – firstname.lastname@example.org