April 1, 2008
Orlando fans as emotional as Flair
By BOB KAPUR - SLAM! Wrestling
ORLANDO, Fla. -- After a night of high emotion at Wrestlemania, one might have expected the Orlando fans to bask in the afterglow and mellow a bit for Monday Night RAW. Instead, the night took things to new levels, culminating in the fans and the company pay loving tribute to the legendary Ric Flair one last time.
The near capacity crowd was raucous throughout the night, reaching deafening levels several times, such as when Matt Hardy attacked Randy Orton during the opening segment, the Big Show's entrance and subsequent face-off with the Great Khali, and even the surprise return to the WWE of Cryme Time.
But the sentimentality hit a crescendo when Ric Flair, who wrestled the final match of a 36-year career the night before, took to the ring. As the crowd stood in deference to the legend and most recent WWE Hall of Famer, Flair's face was stoic, yet one could sense he was overwhelmed by the warm ovation. He spoke briefly, choking on his words on occasion, to essentially thank the fans for all their support through the years.
When Triple H's music hit, fans could sense that something special was going to take place -- but it's doubtful they could predict how special things were going to get.
Introduced to the ring were many of the men that had the most significance in Flair's life: Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham and J.J. Dillon, a.k.a. the incarnation of the Four Horsemen that Flair mentioned the night before was his favourite; famed opponents Harley Race and Ricky Steamboat; Greg "the Hammer" Valentine; former Horsemen partner Dean Malenko; Evolution teammate Batista; and Chris Jericho were all specially introduced. As each man entered and embraced Flair, the audience thundered in appreciation. After that, Triple H called down the entire WWE roster to pay their respects to "The Man." The entrance ramp filled up with bodies, and soon thereafter, there was an amazing visual, as all of the superstars, and virtually all of the fans in attendance hailed, arms raising and lowering in unison, in honour of Flair.
The tribute lasted well after the TV cameras went dark. First, the Undertaker came to the ring. He entered, took off his hat and overcoat, and hugged Flair tightly. As Taker dropped to one knee with an arm raised to toast Flair in classic Undertaker fashion, Flair's face broke with emotion yet again, and tears flowed freely, both his and many of the audience members'.
Next, Vince McMahon strode briskly to the ring, whereupon he enthusiastically hugged Flair before raising his arm as a symbol of in-ring victory. At this point, the audience reached fever pitch, and many fans could be seen openly weeping.
Shawn Michaels, the man who retired Flair at Mania, was the last to arrive on the scene. He and Flair hugged repeatedly. The respect each man had for the other was evident during their interaction, as was the pure mutual love that each one had for one another.
Flair beamed as he, at McMahon's urging, recreated his traditional in-ring craziness, strutting and then dropping an elbow and a knee drop onto his jacket. He then took the mic, and said repeatedly, "Thank you" to the audience, undoubtedly because he could not hope to say more without breaking down completely.
Flair then embraced his family, who had been sitting at ringside for most of the show before Flair's final address. Hugging them tightly, Flair seemed both elated to be with them, at the same time sad due to his storied career coming to a close. He walked with them down the rampway lined by WWE superstars, pausing only to shake a hand with, or hug a colleague. The final image the crowd saw, after Flair ushered his family through the curtain, was Flair blowing a kiss and offering a wave of thanks to the Orlando crowd.
This writer is not nearly articulate enough to capture the level of emotion that Flair's final moments represented. However, he can say that it was one of the most powerful, most honest, and most emotional moments he has ever experienced. And has no doubt, that every fan in the building on this historic night would say the same.
Other Live RAW Notes
In dark matches, Charlie Haas defeated Super Crazy, and "Canadian Bulldog" D.H. Smith pinned "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan by putting his feet on the ropes to gain a cheap pinfall victory.
About one quarter of the building was blocked off for the giant RAW video screens. While the rest of the seats were fairly full (say, 90% of the remainder), rumour has it this was largely due to WWE giving away free tickets to people who complained that the video screens on the rigging at Mania obstructed their view.
Bob Kapur still can't believe that he lives in a world where Ric Flair is no longer wrestling -- and that's not meant in a good way.