Case study: WrestleMania 24, Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels (Career Threatening Match)
Both men lock up in a collar-and-elbow tie-up position to start the match. Michaels applies a side headlock on Flair. Flair shoves Michaels into the ropes, but Michaels follows it up with a shoulder tackle on Flair. Flair and Michaels lock up for a second time. Flair applies a hammerlock on Michaels, but Michaels reverses into a hammerlock of his own. Flair performs a drop toehold on Michaels. Michaels, however, recovers promptly and applies a hammerlock on Flair. Flair counters into a hammerlock, but Michaels escapes when he elbows Flair in the face. Michaels charges at Flair, but Flair hip tosses Michaels.
Analysis: Good start to the match. Back-and-forth action as well as some chain wrestling early on. Chain wrestling refers to a series of holds and counterholds in succession.
Michaels powers Flair into the corner. Michaels slaps Flair causing Flair to bleed from his lips. Flair jams his knee into Michaels’ abdomen and corners Michaels. Flair and Michaels exchange countless chops before Michaels Irish whips Flair into the opposite corner. Flair punts Michaels’ chest and hits a running elbow on Michaels. Flair connects with a jumping knee drop onto Michaels. Flair Irish whips Michaels into the corner. Flair rushes into Michaels, but Michaels elbows Flair. Michaels climbs to the top turnbuckle, but Flair recovers and press slams Michaels onto the canvas. Flair climbs to the top turnbuckle and Michaels briefly attempts to knock Flair off. Flair, however, punches Michaels and connects on a top rope crossbody into a cover. Michaels kicks out at the count of two.
Analysis: Flair connecting on a high spot off the top turnbuckle is a WrestleMania moment in and of itself. Flair is known for never being able to perform a top rope move due to his opponents always halting his attempts. For him to succeed on this night was totally unexpected yet gratifying at the same time.
Flair performs a shin breaker on Michaels. Flair attempts to apply the figure-four leglock, but Michaels kicks Flair causing Flair to fall out of the ring. Michaels connects with a baseball slide on Flair. Michaels stands on the apron and launches himself off the second rope. Flair dodges Michaels’ moonsault off the second rope forcing Michaels to land ribs first onto the edge of the announce table. Flair returns to the ring and referee Charles Robinson begins his 10-count. Michaels rolls back into the ring to avoid losing via countout.
Analysis: Michaels’ fall on the announcers’ table looked painful. This creates a memorable spot in what promises to be a memorable match.
Flair hits a back suplex on Michaels. Flair covers Michaels and earns a two count. Flair executes an underhook suplex on Michaels and covers Michaels. Michaels powers out at two. Flair performs a delayed vertical suplex on Michaels. Flair covers Michaels repeatedly, but earns only a two count each time. Flair and Michaels exchange haymakers until Michaels plants Flair with a swinging neckbreaker. Michaels dumps Flair over the top rope. Michaels climbs to the top turnbuckle and moonsaults into Flair. Both men return to the ring before the count of 10.
Analysis: Michaels and Flair sold the effect of the moonsault well by struggling to get back to the ring. Flair’s offense prior to the moonsault was not something we were accustomed to seeing from him on a regular basis. Since this is the biggest stage in sports entertainment, performers such as Flair, tend to go above and beyond on this night.
Michaels drops Flair with a flying forearm. Michaels kips-up and connects on a pair of inverted atomic drops. Michaels punches Flair and Flair flops to the canvas in classic Flair style. Michaels body slams Flair. Michaels dives into Flair with an elbow drop off the top rope. Michaels hesitates to superkick Flair. Flair takes advantage and applies the figure-four leglock on Michaels. Michaels rolls over to reverse the pressure and break the hold. Flair drops Michaels with a side headlock. Flair bridges Michaels for a cover, but Michaels kicks out at two. Flair attempts to hit a second shin breaker, but Michaels reverses into a rollup. Michaels earns a two count. Flair Irish whips Michaels into the corner and follows it up with a chop block on Michaels. Flair attempts to go for the figure-four leglock, but Michaels reverses into an inside cradle. Michaels earns a two count.
Analysis: Fantastic storytelling from Michaels. He was reluctant to superkick Flair since if Flair lost the match he had to retire. Michaels was sympathetic towards Flair especially since he was working as a babyface.
Flair ducks Michaels’ enziguri and applies the figure-four leglock in the middle of the ring. Michaels grabs the ropes to force Flair to break the hold. Flair kicks Michaels with Michaels still hanging onto the ropes causing the referee to push Flair away from Michaels. Flair struts with his back turned to Michaels. As Flair turns back around to face Michaels, Michaels knocks Flair out with Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. Michaels drapes his left arm over Flair for a cover, but Flair raises his right shoulder for a two count. Michaels sets up for Sweet Chin Music once more, but Flair plays possum and doesn’t get back to his feet. As Michaels lifts Flair to a standing position, Flair distracts the referee and low blows Michaels. Flair covers Michaels and earns a two count. Michaels applies a figure-four leglock on Flair. Flair drags himself to ropes to force Michaels to break the hold. Flair removes a turnbuckle padding to distract the referee while he pokes Michaels’ left eye. Flair rolls up Michaels for a two count. Both men trade chops before Michaels connects with Sweet Chin Music on Flair. Michaels hits the third Sweet Chin Music of the matchup and covers Flair for the win.
Analysis: The storytelling in the finishing moments of this match was perfect. Michaels uttered the words “I’m sorry” and “I love you” before superkicking Flair one last time. It was a brilliant way to showcase the affection and respect Michaels has for Flair. Flair was emotional as he came to terms with the end of his WWE in-ring career. Post match, Flair soaked in all the cheers and chants from the crowd and embraced his family who sat ringside.
Additional comments: A sensational send-off match. Flair should be proud of his performance. He put on a phenomenal effort and retired from WWE in-ring competition on a positive note. He wrestled his last WWE match in front of over 70,000 fans who gave him a standing ovation in recognition of his storied career. Flair received a storybook ending and deservedly so.
Verdict: A bittersweet WrestleMania match.
Final rating: **** (out of five)
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Kevin Pinto- email@example.com
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