Author's Notes: I don't think anything else needs to be said apart from these are my thoughts and feelings following WrestleMaina 24.
Thanks to Karen for checking this through before I posted.
To Be The Man: My Tribute to Ric Flair.
Why do I feel as though I've lost something really important to me? Everyone says that wrestling is fake, but it's not. When you're a fan, and someone finds their way into your heart, it's as real as any other emotion in the world.
I've known for months that Ric Flair's career was coming to an end. He's a sixteen time World Champion after all, and nothing can last forever, sadly.
However, that didn't make it any more difficult for me to believe. When Flair announced on RAW that he was never going to retire, and then Vince McMahon gave him the ultimatum that the next match Flair lost would be his last, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the Nature Boy left the WWE. But that didn't stop me watching his every match on the edge of my seat, biting my nails in anxiety, with the small bubble of hope forming in my stomach that 'Naitch might pull off something amazing and surprise us all.
Then, his induction into the 2008 Hall of Fame was announced. And, while I think that there's no more fitting tribute to one of the greatest wrestlers who ever lived, I knew the clock was ticking down.
I watched, in stunned silence as Ric said he wanted to go out on the grandest stage of them all – WrestleMania – against the immortal icon, Shawn Michaels. When HBK accepted the offer, I knew this was it. The count-down was on, and soon The Nature Boy's career would come to and end.
Week after week, in the build up to WrestleMania, I watched in awe, as the rivalry between Flair and Michaels continued. Obviously, HBK didn't want to end his hero's career, who would? But then, would there ever be a more fitting end to such a legacy like Ric Flair's?
The morning of WrestleMania, I sobbed my heart out, as I watched the Hall of Fame, and Flair was inducted into it. His acceptance speech was heart-wrenchingly honest; just what I'd come to expect from 'Naitch. All throughout his illustrious career he's held nothing back – from his opponents or the fans – so why would now be any different?
Then, the hours ticked away, and WrestleMania was upon us. I was on the edge of my chair, glued to the screen, as Flair's match drew closer and closer. I knew the end was coming, but oddly enough, a small part of me had hope. He's a sixteen time World Champion, I told myself. If anyone could beat all the odds, and surprise the fans, Ric Flair could.
The match it's self far surpassed anything I could have imagined, or have ever seen in the eight years I've been watching wrestling. Flair and Michaels wrestled their arses off, and stole the show.
I held my breath with every near pin-fall, wondering would this be it? The wait was agonizing in a way.
And then it happened. Michaels looked up, with real pain and emotion in his eyes. I don't know how he found the courage to do what he did, and end his friend's career. But then, I suppose HBK found it an honour, and a fitting tribute to his hero to have been given such an opportunity.
I don't think I've ever seen anything more heart-breaking than Michaels looking at Flair, with tears in his eyes, and saying, "I'm sorry. I love you."
I think that moment will be forever imprinted in my mind.
And then it was all over.
Thirty-five years of limousine ridin', jet flyin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin' had finally come to an end.
People say wrestling is a guys sport, and that guys don't show emotion. Well, when Shawn Michaels embraced Ric Flair, and the two men lay in the ring crying, I don't think I've ever seen anything more real, more wonderful and more loving. And I couldn't help, as my own tears ran down my cheeks.
The record – seventy-five thousand - Citrus Bowl crowd were on their feet, giving Flair the standing ovation he truly deserved.
And my heart broke.
It was the end of an era. Wrestlers like Ric Flair only come about once in a life time.
And that's why, not just me, but the whole of the wrestling world feel as though we've lost something really important.
Thank you Ric Flair, you really are the man!