Shawn Michaels shoots on his 'love letter' to Ric Flair, their WrestleMania 24 match
HBK reminisces about the classic 2008 match against the Nature Boy in Orlando
With a nickname like "Mr. WrestleMania" and a reputation as quite possibly the best in-ring performer in pro wrestling history, Shawn Michaels has long been celebrated for his timing, acrobatics and ability to deliver on the biggest stage.
What doesn't get talked about as much was the WWE Hall of Famer's ability to tell a story while doing so. And maybe the best example of Michaels connecting emotionally with viewers was his victory over Ric Flair during their WrestleMania 24 match, one which ultimately resulted in the WWE in-ring retirement of "The Nature Boy."
As the legend of the 2008 match goes, formed from interviews with both in the aftermath, "The Heartbreak Kid" told Flair before it started to "shut up and listen" so that Michaels could call the match himself as the ring general.
Michaels, 52, was asked why he chose this pathahead of Monday Night Raw's 25th anniversary episode (Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network), emanating from dual sites in New York.
"Truth be told, when it came to that kind of stuff, I'm a bit of a control freak," Michaels told CBS Sports. "But just from the standpoint emotionally, I just knew where I wanted it. That match was -- quite honestly, as cheesy as it sounds -- it was my sort of love letter to Ric Flair and my way of trying to show him the friendship that we had and the impact that he had on the 15-year-old me and trying to convey that to him through a wrestling match.
"It was knowing that I couldn't be the only guy that he had that effect on. You hope that the other 80,000 fans out there get that and clearly everyone did and the millions watching at home did. But it really is, it's sort of just making that decision as a performer where it's, 'This is something I want to do. Please let me do it.'"
Flair, who was 59 at the time of the match, was being forced into wrestling retirement by WWE (although he would later return elsewhere) and Michaels was so honored to get to wrestle his idol in his final match that he wanted every detail to be perfect.
"I know the feeling and I know the emotion," Michaels said. "It's not just you don't want someone to do it because they will mess it up, it's your feeling and it's your emotions so you have to be the one who is sort of driving that, if that makes any sense. That's why I was so sort of adamant about that. Honestly, most of my matches were like that.
"As I always told people, I probably wrestled way too much from my heart than from my head. I think honestly, for me, that is what made the difference in those matches by doing it more from the 15-year-old wrestling fan in me."
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While the 20-minute match inside the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, certainly had its share of big spots, it's best remembered for the emotion it conveyed both in and out of the ring. Michaels famously stood in the corner, set to deliver his third and final Sweet Chin Music finishing kick before mouthing the words, "I'm sorry, I love you," as the camera panned in, moments before connecting it to the chin.
Flair began crying even before the three-count was recorded in one of the most enduring moments in WrestleMania history. Michaels instantly dove next to him and whispered a series of emotional words into Flair's ear before kissing him on the forehead.
In 2015, during an appearance on Steve Austin's "Stone Cold Podcast," which aired on the WWE Network, Michaels revealed what those words were.
"I told him that I loved him and I can't say it without getting weepy half the time," Michaels said. "You have to understand, the guy who was in the ring with him, I was in there in body but inside it was the 15-year-old kid who watched him every Saturday. It was, 'Thank you for giving me this honor, and I love you for it.'"
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