As I have alluded to in a Mars post (which of course reminds me that it’s been ages since I wrote one), people often mock my fondness for professional wrestling, questioning how I reconcile that fondness with my extreme displeasure over expressions of a Low IQ. Quite frankly, I believe that a person who belittles pro-wrestling quite clearly has no knowledge of the same and is therefore exposing his or her IQ as being low by belittling the sport.
A couple of weeks ago, the WWE held WrestleMania and the night prior to that was their Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Skipping over the non-essentials, I just saw excerpts of the acceptance speech given by Ric Flair, the first ever (and probably last ever, too) active wrestler to be inducted into the pro-wrestling HoF. It was quite an experience to say the least.
Seeing the whole hall rise to their feet for the man and then see that not a person had a dry eye in the entire place was an edifying experience. Seeing wrestlers and fans across age groups stand up to applaud the achievements of the greatest of them all was something to savour. Seeing a 7-foot tall man (Paul Wight aka the Big Show) blubbering and crying like a baby when Flair said it was an honour for him to have wrestled Big Show was stirring. Just as stirring was to actually realize that even after a speech that lasted an hour, those who saw it aver that they still wanted him to go on speaking.
As Paul Levesque (otherwise known as Triple H) stated, while introducing Flair, “people say that Ric Flair is arguably the greatest wrestler ever, but we’re all still waiting to hear the argument.” The man inspired most present-day wrestlers. He revolutionized the way mic-work was perceived and was the best mic-worker ever. His promos are the stuff of legend and his career – all 36 years of it – is studded with more landmark promos and 5-star matches than the rest of pro-wrestling combined.
(Let’s face it. No promo ever will come close in tone, wording or emotion to the near-shoot promo that Flair did when he tore into Bischoff (The ‘It was real damnit!’ promo) and nobody will ever forget the line, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man”. And his in-ring wrestling was classic too. As a famous wrestling commentator said, Flair and Steamboat (Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat) could have put on a classic on one leg with both their arms around their backs and drugged! And for Flair to then move seamlessly from that era to the current one where wrestling is more about kicking and punching is another pointer to his greatness. There seemed to be nothing he could not do…even at this age. Look at his Ladder match with Edge as an example, or his street fight with Triple H!!!)
Then, at WrestleMania the following night, Ric Flair wrestled the last match of his 36-year career. Once again, he belied his age with a match that was probably the best of the night. On a night that featured Triple H in a World Championship match, Undertaker and Edge in their Championship match and the awesome 7-man Money-in-the-Bank Ladder match, this was an achievement in itself, but it was hardly surprising, given the man that is Ric Flair. Special mention also to Shawn Michaels for working that match to perfection, but for a 59-year-old man to pull off a match like that? Divine.
The following night’s RAW (which aired last night in India) was something special too. The last 20 minutes were the Ric Flair farewell and what an experience it was. When Flair’s address lasted only a couple of minutes, you knew there was something special that was going to follow and for once, WWE did not let us down. When Triple H walked in, I expected him to have a block-buster statement to make and boy, did he or did he! We saw some of the most awesome scenes I can remember in a ring. Sorry, the undisputedly best scenes ever seen in a ring.
Seeing the original Four Horsemen walk out (without Ole Anderson of course and with Barry Windham), followed by Dean Malenko, another Horseman who featured in the next generation of Horsemen was a pleasure. Perhaps the best moment for most smarks and aficionados was watching Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat walk in, of course. Then there was Harley Race. Watching Shawn Michaels (the man who ‘retired’ Flair in the storyline) walk out and hug Flair and burst into tears was touching, but the real scene-stealers were yet to come. Triple H started it off when he went down on his knees and bowed to Flair. The crowd stepped in with the ‘Thank you Ric’ chants. Then each and every wrestler on the roster walked out and the entrance ramp was crowded with bodies as they stood there and applauded and chanted ‘Thank you Ric’.
There were only a couple of things that could – perhaps - have been better. The first was that despite the fact that Orton is a heel at the moment and may have been booed, he really should have been in the ring, introduced as the others were and not in the crowd that came out together in the end. The second was that John Cena should not have been in the former category. Orton was part of Evolution, Flair’s last great faction and a man who was elevated to the top (along with Batista, who was introduced as the Evolution stable-mate and was in the former category) thanks to that association with Flair. John Cena never had any storyline association with Flair. Still, I guess the WWE did that to avoid any booing and they may have had that down right.
It was something else to see the top heels, Edge and Orton standing at ringside and see tears flowing freely down their faces. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the arena. There were grown men in the audience who were weeping. Flair was weeping as he hugged his family who were introduced to the ring after the Horsemen. After RAW went off the air, Vince McMahon walked down to the ring too.
It wasn’t a soppy scene. Oh no! This was a landmark moment and I couldn’t help wonder what Flair felt like, standing there and seeing all that respect and all that adoration. How many of us get to experience that as we leave? Most people just fade away and become dim memories, if even that. Only the rare and really special experience the exhilaration that Flair must have felt.
For most of us, a farewell will probably comprise of a token watch, a short speech by our bosses and perhaps a small drinks party with close friends. Contrast that with the scenes I mentioned (and trust me, I have skipped a fair bit). You get to see multitudes of people thronging the funerals of famous people, but that’s when they’re gone!
Started wondering what I could ever do to experience the feelings that I mentioned. I don’t really think there is anything. Most of us don’t have the gumption that is needed. In 1975, after a plan crash doctors told Flair, he’d never wrestle again. I wonder what they think now…
For those of you who don’t watch pro-wrestling, perhaps you could try catching a re-run of the RAW episode I mention to understand what I am saying. For those who do follow pro-wrestling, missing this would be a crime. And go ahead and buy the WrestleMania DVD when it comes out. I’ve seen excerpts of the HOF ceremony and can assure you that it’s a must-have. And you can imagine what a speech it was from Ric that nobody mentions the speech that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson made at the same ceremony!
Think about it. What wouldn’t a person give to be in Flair’s position? Pro-wrestling may not be something that the masses take seriously; the pseudo-intellectuals may deride it as ‘childish’; the authorities may criticize it for ‘portraying brutality’, but for me, the entire WrestleMania weekend and the RAW that followed it reinforced once again just how wrong these people are.
So, thank you Ric Flair. Woooo!