At the time of writing this article, news broke that Reid Fliehr, son of the legendary Ric Flair, had passed away at the age of only 24. Wrestle Enigma extends its condolences to the Fliehr family.
He is, without doubt, one of the defining names of the professional wrestling industry. A man for whom the squared circle is home. A man whose unparalleled passion and connection to wrestling has manifested itself as blood, sweat and tears spilt over 40 years of performing.
Undoubtedly a legend. Undoubtedly one of the greats.
So when on this day, five years ago, Ric Flair formally retired from active competition, it was quite simply one of the most emotional moments in the history of wrestling.
It began when, as part of a storyline, he announced he would “never” retire from wrestling. Fans could believe it.
This was Ric Flair, after all.
He was told, aged 26, that he would never wrestle again after being involved in a plane crash that broke his back in three places. The exceptional Flair obviously thought otherwise; after that, he wrestled for another 34 years, amassing countless World Titles and legions of devoted fans along the way.
So when he said he would “never” retire from wrestling, of course fans could buy into it. One man who didn’t, however, was the nefarious Vince McMahon.
Playing his role of evil boss, the dastardly McMahon told wrestling’s elder statesman that the next match he lost would be his last. Suddenly, retirement was a looming danger for Flair. This stipulation led, as we all know, to WrestleMania XXIV.
For those that don’t know, Ric Flair dodged the bullet countless times on the road to that WrestleMania. He defeated, among others, Umaga; Triple H, and Vince McMahon himself.
Also for those that don’t know, his final match is a quintessential WrestleMania moment. As we approach yet another WrestleMania, it remains as poignant as it was five years ago. Truly, it felt as though an era was coming to an end.
These feelings of sadness and gratitude were summed up, inside the ring no less, with five simple words.
“I’m sorry. I love you.”
Shawn Michaels grew up idolising Ric Flair. And ultimately, he also became the man who retired him.
It was Flair himself who chose ‘Mr. WrestleMania’ to be his opponent at the biggest event of the wrestling calendar, his reasoning being that he wanted to be ‘the Nature Boy’ one more time.
Meaning, of course, that he wanted to be the main event. He wanted to have the match everyone remembered, and be the person everyone was turning up to see.
He got his wish.
And after three super kicks, and three excruciating seconds, his career, arguably the greatest ever, came to an end.
The writing had been on the wall. Ric was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before his final match; the only active competitor to earn that honour. As he spoke about the good times he had spent in wrestling, it began to feel academic.
On this day, five years ago, the retirement ceremony to end all retirement ceremonies took place.
What began with Flair simply talking about having the “greatest wrestling career” in the history of the business ended with the entire WWE roster surrounding the outside of the ring, while legends past and present hugged and celebrated inside it.
It was a who’s who of icons. Triple H led the charge, introducing each man as they entered the arena. Beginning, of course, with the Four Horseman. The famous stable, so revolutionary, stands as testament to how much Flair pioneered.
Others included Ricky Steamboat, the man with whom Flair had no less than three five star calibre matches; Harley Race, another of his great opponents; Batista, one of the main beneficiaries of his veteran knowledge, and Shawn Michaels, who of course had to be there after the events that took place a night before.
And while all this took place, Ric had eyes only for his family, who celebrated with him in the ring.
There are few perfect moments in wrestling. Perfection, of course, is an entirely subjective concept.
But this, surely, was one of those perfect moments.
It would be an extremely cynical wrestling fan who thought otherwise.
As he left the building, a guard of honour was formed by his fellow wrestlers. He left, as was fitting, the centre of attention. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Since then ‘the Nature Boy’ has in fact stepped between the ropes and competed, somewhat diminishing the impact of a retirement unmatched in emotion, tributes and unanimous respect.
Indeed, many have claimed to have lost a great deal of respect for this most dedicated of wrestlers, who to be frank did go back on his word.
Stop for a moment, however, and observe the facts. Observe the facts, and pay close attention to that word: ‘wrestler’. Take into account the fact Ric Flair first wrestled in 1972, making his career 35-36 years old as of March 30, 2008. And ask yourself if you could simply walk away after all that time.
Ric Flair obviously couldn’t. Reports of financial issues aside, he obviously cared deeply enough about wrestling that he couldn’t entirely tear himself away from it. Even now, he involves himself with recurring WWE appearances.
Fitting that a man who redefined charisma and showmanship in wrestling is still enamoured with the limelight.
It has been a while, thankfully, since Ric Flair has competed. For the moment he is well and truly uninvolved with wrestling. Wrestling fans, in truth, are relieved; this man, considered in some quarters as a 24-time World Champion, has quite possibly woven the richest tapestry of wrestling accolades possible.
His legacy is without competition. It should remain untarnished.
Leave the memories alone indeed.
Since that amazing day five years ago, Ric Flair has indeed betrayed the retirement stipulation of his WrestleMania match with Shawn Michaels. But given that he is Ric Flair, he is entitled to some forgiveness from the community of wrestling fans.
Five years ago today, the wrestling world stopped in unison and bowed down before a legend. Homage was paid to one of the all-time greats, by peers who themselves are worthy of similar labels.
That is how Ric Flair will be remembered.