I’ve been trying to think of how to describe this, but I don’t think anything I write could do it justice.
On March 30th 2008, in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL, at Wrestlemania XXIV, in front of a record-setting crowd of nearly 75,000 fans, “The Greatest Wrestler of All Time”, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, wrestled his last professional match, ending a 35+ year career.
Through all the changes there have been in the wrestling landscape (ECW folding, WCW bought by WWE, ECW resurrected by WWE, lack of competition), there were three things you could always count on: Death, Taxes, and that Ric Flair would still be wrestling.
It’s not like I didn’t see this coming. When they set up the storyline 6 months or so ago that the next time Flair lost a match he would be forced to retire, you knew it was just a matter of time. Wrestlemania seemed like the logical place for that to happen. But during the match I kept hoping that it was just a big swerve. That maybe they would tease the retirement and that Flair would win the match. I ignored the feeling I had after seeing the expression on Flair’s face while he was walking down the ramp to the ring. It was the expression of a man that has been given one more night to live and wants to take in every moment.
I might be a little over-dramatic here, but in some ways his retirement actually feels more like a death. When other wrestlers have “retired” over the years, it seemed like it was always with a wink in their eye, or their fingers crossed. You knew the retirement wouldn’t really stick. Would they be out of action for six months? Eight? Would they jump to another promotion? Wrestlers like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, while they never technically announced retirement, would keep popping up from time to time and get back in the ring for “one more match”. Newer superstars like The Rock, Mick Foley, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would be away from the squared circle for a while doing movies, books, and other projects, but you always had the hope that they would come back for “one more match”. Usually, the only thing that would take away that hope was when they left this Earth.
But when Ric Flair said in his farewell speech on Monday Night Raw that he “…will never, ever, wrestle in this ring again.”, I believe him. I don’t think we will ever see him wrestle again. And since he has already been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (the first active wrestler to be inducted), there is a chance that we may never see him in front of the camera again.
How long will wrestling fans remember him? Will the next generation of fans know who he is and what he’s done for professional wrestling? Will they care? If we as the current generations of fans keep reminding them, will they listen?
I would hope so, but I can’t be sure.
The only things I am sure of are Death, Taxes, and that there will never, ever, be another “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. He will always be “THE Man”.
The tribute during the last 20 minutes of Raw was well done. It was good to see some of guys he ran with like the Four Horsemen, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and Harley Race come out to congratulate him, along with his family, all the wrestlers in the back, and what seemed like the entire production crew. There is a decent writeup of this on the WWE site as well.