Flair shows he¿s still `the man¿

In what was very likely his last appearance on Raw as an active wrestler, Ric Flair stole the show last night as only the “Nature Boy” can.

Flair gave one of those impassioned promos that longtime wrestling fans have seen him do hundreds of times yet never get old. The live crowd in Columbia, S.C. – the heart of Flair Country – reveled in the moment, as Flair engaged in a verbal sparring match with Shawn Michaels, his opponent at WrestleMania XXIV Sunday. Michaels told Flair how much he respected him, and then began reciting one of Flair’s signature catch phrases. Before Michaels could complete it, however, Flair abruptly cut him off and told him to shut up.

Flair took offense to what he perceived as Michaels being condescending to him. He then threw off his jacket and really got rolling. Flair even brought out the old NWA world heavyweight title belt and mentioned former opponents such as Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Sting and Bruiser Brody.

The segment already was great at that point, but then Flair and Michaels took it up yet another notch. After seeming to reach some common ground, Flair and Michaels shook hands. But Michaels wasn’t finished. He compared Flair to Old Yeller and said that, just like the dog in the old Disney movie, Flair needed to be taken behind the woodshed and put out of his misery, and that’s what he was going to do to him at WrestleMania.

Flair responded in classic fashion. With a crazed look in his eye and veins popping out of his head, he stomped on his jacket and ripped open his shirt as he got up in Michaels’ face, slapped him twice and screamed, “Go ahead. Take out Old Yeller right now!” Flair showed great intensity, while Michaels remained calm and then walked out of the ring to a chorus of boos.

This confrontation really made viewers want to see these two go at it. It looks as if Michaels will play the subtle heel role, but by the end of Sunday’s match, I’m sure Flair and Michaels will be friends again.

Flair also had a big moment later in the show. In the eight-man tag match main event, Flair scored the victory for his team when he forced Randy Orton to tap out to the figure-four leglock. It’s a questionable booking decision to have the WWE champion submit to a wrestler who isn’t in the main event with him at WrestleMania, but since it’s Flair, WWE gets a pass. …

Other thoughts on last night’s show:

The video package on Flair was well done, but, as I have said before, I think it would have been a nice touch to have had comments from past and present foes of Flair’s. I also think WWE should have done a video package on Michaels, focusing on his past WrestleMania performances as well as the fact that he is in the awkward position of trying to end his idol’s career. I thought for sure we would see that famous photo of Michaels as a teenager holding up a Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine with Flair on the cover and Michaels emulating his pose. …

WWE also did a nice job on the video package for the triple threat main event for the WWE title. John Cena and Triple H had a good verbal confrontation backstage, too. …

The opening segment, in which Cena, Orton, Triple H, Big Show, JBL and Umaga all cut promos, was an effective way to promote several WrestleMania matches all at once. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Triple H was scripted to come off looking like the biggest star of the segment. He also got to enter the ring last during the main event. I think Cena should have had that honor…

It was great the way Umaga grabbed the microphone and looked unsure how to use it. His character would really benefit from having a mouthpiece. I’ll never understand why Armando Estrada was taken out of that role. …

The Big Show has done a great job of making the Floyd Mayweather angle seem like a shoot in his promos and training videos. Big Show hasn’t actually turned babyface – he was on the heel side in last night’s main event – even though he comes across like one in the video packages. …

It was announced that Candice Michelle is out of the BunnyMania match at WrestleMania after undergoing surgery yesterday to repair her broken clavicle. Ashley made her return and will take Candice’s spot as Maria’s partner against Beth Phoenix and Melina. I guess having Ashley in there makes sense with the Playboy theme and all, but where is Mickie James, who is more over than any of these women? It might be wishful thinking, but I hope Mickie not being on the card is part of a story line for her after WrestleMania. …

Poor Santino Marella. Not only did he have to sell for 58-year-old Jerry Lawler, but also for Maria and Ashley.

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