What can you say that truly encapsulates the 36 year career of The Nature Boy Ric Flair?
How can you do justice to The Man who was a sixteen-time World Heavyweight Champion, a man synonymous with the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship and the Big Gold Bel, a man whose interviews are the stuff of legend and whose reputation for living his gimmick to excess is carved in wrestling history?
WWE 24: The Final Farewell provides an emotional insight into the last three days of Ric Flair’s WWE career, which culminated in his much-lauded career-ending showdown with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24 in 2008.
Whatever your thoughts on the company (and I have to admit, I’m no fan in the current climate) it has to be acknowledged that the WWE Network is certainly making a habit of putting out some excellent documentary series.
The Undertaker: The Last Ride (reviewed here) and the Broken Skull Sessions both provide compelling behind-the-scenes looks at key moments in past and present WWE history.
The Final Farewell follows Flair as he is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and the interview segments with his daughter Charlotte provide an insight into the man behind the stylin’, profilin’, limousine ridin’ persona.
What I like about the Final Farewell is that it confronts the thorny issue of Flair’s extramarital affairs, even if it doesn’t go into much in the way of detail.
After all, this is a celebration of the Nature Boy’s career rather than a look at his personal life.
As he recounts paying alimony to his three ex-wives at the same time, we hear from Charlotte about his true nature as a doting father, which is extremely touching.
We also see the devastation wrought on Flair’s self-confidence by the continued politicking behind the scenes at WCW, and being sat at home after the company collapsed and was subsequently bought by Vince McMahon.
Seeing a bereft and unconfident Ric Flair taken under Triple H’s wing is also heartwarming, as Triple H reminds his childhood hero that “you’re the only one here who doesn’t know you’re Ric Flair”.
This is where Triple H’s power seems to come from in terms of empowering his employees, at least in some cases.
We’re then reminded of Flair’s red-hot run with Dave Batista, Randy Orton and Triple H as part of Evolution. What’s quite clear from these retrospective segments is that Flair drew strength from being around younger talent.
As we then fast-forward to Flair’s final weekend and his Hall of Fame induction, emotions run high for Flair, the man who “never had a bad time” in his life.
And it’s easy to see why.
Why would anyone want to give up a career laden with such success? He was an icon in the 1980s and a global mega-star in the 90s. Flair ponders what it would have been like to have still been the guy from the 80s and 90s going into his final match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 24.
However, if he was the Ric Flair of the 80s or 90s, then we would have lost something integral that blazes through the screen when watching his last hurrah, and that is the old wrestling cliche of heart.
The emotion etched across his face, trying to keep it together, was a fundamental part of what made Flair’s matches so damn good. Putting him in the ring opposite Shawn Michaels, a master of heartfelt matches and massive Ric Flair fan, was a masterstroke.
And the match itself?
Probably a personal favourite of mine. It has absolutely everything you could want as a fan. Emotional investment from Flair and Michaels, crazy table spots, Flair pulling out every trick in the book to win, and all punctuated with Michaels’ iconic “I’m sorry…I love you” line before landing his Sweet Chin Music finisher (sans his foot-stomping, tuning up the band, such is the raw emotion on show) and picking up the win.
Re-watching it, I had a lump in my throat and that’s with several years distance.
As Flair hugs his family at ringside and takes his epic last walk up the ramp, it’s obvious how grateful he is for his monumental career.
He truly was the The Man, and his indelible mark on professional wrestling will always be looked back on with reverence.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @goodmanstephenj. Thanks for reading!