411’s Top 30 WrestleMania Matches of All Time: #13 – Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (WM 24)
Posted by Larry Csonka on 03.24.2014
411 continues its look at the top 30 matches in the history of WrestleMania with the final match of Ric Flair’s WWE career against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24!
Welcome back to 411Mania, and welcome to 411's official countdown to WrestleMania 30! Every year, the 411 staff comes together in some way to bring you, the fine readers of our site, a special countdown to WrestleMania. In past years we have done special countdown columns, ranking the shows, rating them overall, discussing special aspects of the big event, and even columns that have served as odes to the matches and moments that are etched into our minds.
To some fans, WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, and the way that WWE has transformed the event into a near weeklong party, it may as well be a holiday to the fans that love our special brand of entertainment. Call it sport or call it a specially designed male soap opera, we love it and we love to talk about what makes things special. WrestleMania is an institution, and this year, as the WWE gets prepared to put on their 30th WrestleMania event, we decided to go big. Starting on March 7th, and running all the way to April 5th, 411 will present the top 30 matches in WrestleMania history.
Each writer on the 411 staff was given the opportunity to nominate 30 matches of their choosing. #1 on their list received 30 points, #2 received 29 points, and so on and so forth. Writers were asked to base their lists on both match quality and historical significance to create their nominations. The final list was created, and there was a ton of competition for the top spot. In fact, the voting was so tight that the top FOUR matches were separated by a mere 16-points.
Each day we will present a match from the list, which will include a full recap of the match from the 411 archives (from Scott Slimmer, JD Dunn, and Robert Leighty Jr.) as well as thoughts from the writers. Thank you for reading, and we hope that you enjoy our presentation…
#13. From WrestleMania 24 - Career Threatening Match: Ric Flair vs. HBK
As everyone is aware, if Flair loses his career is over because of a mandate issued by Vince McMahon a few months earlier. Flair gets quite the entrance and is sporting a fantastic blue and silver rope that is more than fitting for the occasion. The production truck gives us the awesome visual of Flair posing with the WrestleMania stage in the background and fireworks going off over head. Sweet! JR mentions that tonight we celebrate Ric Flair. I know everyone knew he was losing here, but give us a little suspense. Fittingly Charles Robinson is the ref for this match. Shawn hits a shoulder block to start as both men jockey around the ring. They go into a reversal sequence and Flair gets the upper hand for a short period before Michaels locks in a hammer lock. Shawn charges into a hiptoss, and Flair struts to the delight of the crowd. Shawn looks a little embarrassed by that actually and he slaps Flair in the face. Awesome! I love pissed off and cocky Shawn. The slap actually drew blood from Flair's lip which I always found cool for some reason. They take turns teeing off on each other with chops, and Shawn ends up eating a back elbow. He drops his patented knee to Shawn's head, but a blind charge eats an elbow. Shawn heads up top and in a reversal of fortunes he gets caught by Ric and slammed to the mat. Flair heads up and they tease Flair getting caught, but he fights Michaels off and hits the crossbody. That would have been an even cooler moment had he not hit the move several other times in previous years. They head to the floor and Michaels tries an Asai moonsault, but Flair moves and Shawn lands on the announce table in sickening fashion. Damn! That table did not budge and Shawn took the full force on his ribs. Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know what Flair will be targeting now. He hits a few suplexes to continue the damage to the back and ribs. A beautiful standing vertical suplex gets a loud pop as Flair shows off some power. Lawler makes sure to mention that Old Yeller wasn't put down because he was too old. He was put down because he had rabies. Flair makes the mistake of charging and Shawn sends him over the top to the floor with a backdrop. Shawn hits the moonsault from the top rope to the floor, and while a piece of Shawn clipped Flair, most of him hit the ground and hit the ground hard. Back inside the ring they start trading chops again before Flair hits the flying forearm. He kips up and starts quickening the pace more to his tempo. He drops Flair with an inverted atomic drop, and heads up top. The flying elbow hits and it's time to tune up the bad. The crowd is not pleased though and Shawn starts having second thoughts. He hesitates and Flair has no problem taking the advantage as he sweeps Shawn into the figure four. The crowd is thrilled by the turn of events, but Shawn reverses rather easily since Flair never targeted the leg earlier in the match. They attempt to do a Flair/Steamboat wrestling sequence, but this isn't 1989 Flair anymore so they have to abort that idea. That's kind of sad actually. Shawn gets sent into the buckles and as he bounces back Flair finally goes for the leg with a nasty chop block. Woo! That's the Ric Flair we all know and love. Flair ducks an enziguiri and locks in the figure four. This time Shawn is in a lot more trouble and can't reverse the hold. Each time he tries Flair just rolls with him to keep the hold applied. Michaels rolled enough though that he's able to get to the bottom rope. Flair struts a little too much though and walks right into Sweet Chin Music. It only gets two however as Flair somehow gets the shoulder up. Shawn starts tuning up the band again and starts screaming at Flair to get to his feet. Flair doesn't get up though and as Shawn looks to get him to his feet, Flair's trick knee comes into play as he casually hits Shawn in the balls. Tremendous! Flair is still a little out of it though and gets caught with Shawn's inverted version of the figure four. A thumb to the eye breaks the hold and Flair gets a cradle with the tights for two. The two men battle to their feet and start firing off chops once again. Flair gets in one last chop, so Shawn decides to fire off Sweet Chin Music. Shawn looks heartbroken as he stands in the corner and watches Flair struggle to his feet. Flair tells him to bring it with tears in his eyes and Shawn ("I'm sorry. I love you") finally delivers the final Sweet Chin Music that ends Flair's career at 20:24. Shawn says something to Flair before exiting the ring to little fanfare. That leaves Flair all alone to soak in the cheers from a very appreciative crowd. He hugs his wife (now ex-wife, who is smoking hot by the way) and kids on the floor before making the walk back up the ramp. Just a chilling moment at the time and one that still gives me chills today (even with what we know now).
- By Robert Leighty Jr.
Mike Chin: When it comes to telling emotional plotlines, contemporary wrestling has a handful of stock storylines to work into the mix. There's lengthy title chase. The occasional love angle. The tag partner or close friend who turns on his buddy.
I dare say that Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair was one of the most emotional wrestling matches of all time, and achieved this end without clichés or recycled plotlines. Yes, there was an element of teacher vs. student at play, and plenty about a veteran's last hurrah. But Flair didn't train Michaels—he was his teenage idol. And Flair wasn't just some old coot getting his last licks in before his body gave out on him entirely—he started a legend and forty years later, retired the very same way.
And that's what this was—a clash between two legends, certainly both past their physical primes, but more than wise and invested enough to assemble a truly brilliant match between two friends. From the intensity of the brawling segments, to Michaels's ballsy willingness to moonsault an announce table, to Flair working the knee en route to the figure four, this match was pure poetry, remarkable for a man of Michaels's 42 years of age; let alone the fact that Flair was pushing 60!
But the match all comes down to its finish. The point at which Michaels has victory well in hand and he hesitates, not wanting to end The Nature Boy's career. In perfect Dirtiest Player in the Game fashion, Flair capitalizes and locks in the figure four one more time. Michaels escapes and has the opportunity to go for Sweet Chin Music once again. This time, Flair makes no motion to counter the inevitable. And Michaels stares at him, sweat on his brow, tears in his eyes and says, "I'm sorry. I love you." HBK proceeds kick Flair's head off for the one-two-three.
Make no mistake about it—this match is all about Flair, the cap to a very good storyline in which he would retire the next time he lost and proceeded on a hot streak, beating the likes of Mr. Kennedy, MVP, Mr. McMahon, World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton (in tag action). Were this match not the culmination of that story and that career, I don't know that we, the fans could have been as emotionally invested. All of that said, let's keep in mind that the match never could have happened without the talents of Michaels, giving Flair all he had and buoying Flair not to a match that was not an epilogue to an epic career, but rather a fitting final chapter in its own right.
Daniel Wilcox: Not every match has to be a technical marvel or a spot-laden showpiece in order to be considered a classic. Professional wrestling is about telling stories, it's about hope and glory, triumph and struggle, and it's about characters. Ric Flair, despite playing the bad guy for majority of his career, is one of the most sympathetic characters in wrestling history, or at least he was by the time WrestleMania 24 rolled around. See, Flair was a cheating defiant for the majority of his career but he was so damn good at it that you couldn't help but admire and respect the man. Often times it was a shame to see him wrestle the way he did towards the end of his career because we all knew what he had once been capable of, but because he's so good at playing his character, he always kept us entertained right up to the bitter end. The story Flair and Michaels told in this match was one of both sadness and elation as we saw one of our all-time favorites have his career ending after a devastating super kick. But we also saw him go out in a blaze of glory, in one of the most memorable and emotional matches not just in WrestleMania history, but in wrestling history. These two would beat the hell out of each other for the entire match, but they did it in such a way that they told a story without having to really do anything to spectacular, with the exception of Shawn's cringeworthy collision with an announce table. See, the match played on our emotions. It tugged at our heart-strings. It featured two of the most respected performers in the history of our industry going at it in an classic at WrestleMania. Nobody really wanted to see Ric Flair retire, but we all knew he had to. Does the fact that Flair went on to wrestle again outside of WWE take away from the greatness of this match? To some, but not to me, such is the brilliance with which it was executed. If you had told me you could end a professional wrestling match with the words, "sorry. I love you," I'd have laughed at you. But that's how good these guys were. Four simple words and one swift kick, and the whole thing felt genuine, because it was.