By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Here on WrestleMania Recall, I will be ranking my top 31 favorite matches in WWE WrestleMania history. A new installment will be posted every day in the month of March, culminating with my No. 1 favorite match on Thursday, March 31st, mere days before WrestleMania 32. Each article will offer an in-depth look at each match and an analysis of why it is among my favorites.
I freakin' love WrestleMania 24. It would have been my first WrestleMania as a wrestling fan (instead of the lousy WrestleMania 25) had I not started watching regularly almost two weeks later. Needless to say, watching it back every year is always enjoyable. Fair warning: this isn't the last match from that WrestleMania you'll see on this list, simply because there are just so many great ones. This bout in particular, however, is exceptional for its emotion, storytelling and drama.
In November 2007, Ric Flair declared on Raw that he would never retire before being confronted by Vince McMahon, who said that the next singles match he lost would be his last. This made every Flair match from that point forward must-see. It couldn't have come at a better time, either, because Flair was largely an afterthought on WWE programming in the months leading up to his retirement. That sounds strange for a legend such as Flair, I know, but at least he knew his place and was putting people over in the twilight of his career.
"Old yeller? Who are you calling old yeller?!" The promo preceding this masterpiece was magical. Flair was announced as the first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame for the Class of 2008 by none other than Shawn Michaels. He showed The Nature Boy respect while at the same time insinuating he needed to be put out to pasture like the dog in "Old Yeller." And if anyone was going to do the honors, it was going to be Mr. WrestleMania himself.
MVP, Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, Umaga and many others had previously failed to defeat Flair and end his in-ring career, but then again, they weren't Michaels. The same man who thrived every time he competed on the grandest stage of them all, regardless of whether he had his hand raised or not by the time the bell rang. At the same time, this is Flair we're talking about here. His time in sports entertainment spanned over three decades, and he wasn't going down without a fight.
I highly doubt you could name five amazing singles matches Flair had in his second stint with WWE, but I'd be dammed if this wasn't among them. Michaels brought the absolute best out of Flair and pushed him to his limits like no one else had before. Even at 59-years-old, Flair held his own in the squared circle, and there were points where it looked like he had the match won. It didn't matter how tough his opponent was; his patented Figure Four Leg Lock could put just about anyone away.
HBK wasn't willing to give in that easy, though. He battled back against Flair and showed zero remorse (which Batista criticized for him later). Every time Flair powered out of a pinfall, Michaels nearly lost his mind. Despite everything he said before WrestleMania, deep down he didn't want to be the one to put Flair into retirement. He couldn't do it, but he knew he had to. That's what led to him hitting Flair with not one, not two, but three Sweet Chin Musics.
"I'm sorry, I love you." Those five words uttered by Michaels before he delivered that final superkick have been forever etched in the minds of anyone who has had the pleasure of watching this marvelous matchup. With tears in the eyes of both HBK and Flair, he covered him, and as soon as the referee's hand hit the mat for the third time, Michaels immediately flipped back around and hugged him on the mat. Flair's wrestling days were over, and the sadness ensued. Leave the memories alone!
SEE ALSO: "WrestleMania Recall, Match #20: Money in the Bank Ladder Match, WrestleMania 21"