At last, the world knows what Ric Flair’s last match will be: him and Andrade El Idolo vs. Jay Lethal and Jeff Jarrett.
A 24-minute hype package that weaved together Flair’s working with Jay Lethal to get ready for his match, the question of whether or not Jeff Jarrett was ever a Horseman (which is the kind of thing you care about if you’re a me-level sicko for 1997 WCW), and the press conference where he said his ideal opponent would be “anyone who could work” was released to hype the match, and, frankly?
Even though I’m not a deep lore, Conradverse obsessive, this is one of the more well-constructed matches in American professional wrestling this year. Do I like all of the elements? Well, Jay Lethal is there, so no. But Ric Flair getting bloodied up at an event that’s important to him and calling on help from family in the name of Andrade El Idolo, who had previously called upon him for help during his TripleMania match against Kenny Omega, is surprisingly classic, threading the almost impossibly needle that was making this look like a wrestling show or making it look like a shameless cash grab on the drastically diminished goodwill afforded to the 73-year-old Ric Flair.
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Even so, the way this match is going to work could not be more obvious. Flair and Jarrett are going to sit most of this match out on the apron, Andrade and Lethal are going to do the work, Flair will get pounded a bit before Andrade equals things up, the two get double Figure Fours, and the two bleed on each other while embraced, happily having defended the sanctity of family and the 1997 Four Horsemen lineup of Flair, Arn Anderson, Mongo McMichael, and Chris Benoit.
I cannot imagine this will be good, but it’s not meant to be. In two retirement matches, Ric Flair is 0-2, and was only shown out like a legend after his first retirement match, against Shawn Michaels. Though nothing at Ric Flair’s last match will approach the grandeur and grace of that retirement, it will allow Flair the opportunity to go out his own way, which means with his hand being raised, with his music getting played.
If that doesn’t seem like such a big deal to you as a fan, it clearly does to legacy wrestlers, as Steve Austin made a one-match return at this year’s WrestleMania, The Rock returned at WrestleMania 32 to leave on his own terms over Erick Rowan, and The Undertaker just would not fucking leave until cinematic camerawork and editing managed to make him look at least 55% as dangerous as he used to.
Without WWE’s help, the heavy lifting on the whole “making Ric look good” end of things falls squarely on the shoulders of Andrade and Lethal. They’re capable, Andrade especially, but it is going to be weird seeing someone of Flair’s stature leave wrestling in a match structured to where he is the face in peril.
It makes sense, and I’m pretty sure this is the only way to really, truly ensure Ric Flair’s safety, but I kind of hate that that’s even a consideration, if I’m being honest. Retirement matches, even for wrestlers like Terry Funk and Atsushi Onita, draw their power from the idea that the wrestler who will retire when the bell rings, whether or not he’s been forced to do so, still has some juice left, still has something left in the tank.
Flair does not, and it’s not just his age or conditioning, both of which one has to worry about regardless of how well-prepared he is. Flair’s a very emotional performer who is extremely cognizant of how badly he is perceived — his autobiography details the emotional state the last three years of WCW left him in and what it took to find some semblance of the old Ric Flair. WWE itself was less than kind to Flair during his last run as a manager, particularly during his last angle, an aborted storyline that would have seen him become the father of Lacey Evans’ child at the expense of his own daughter.
Combine that with the disastrous effect Dark Side of the Ring had on his reputation and the fact that he is rebuilding from scratch to wrestle for the first time in 11 years, there are a lot of reasons to doubt that Flair will be of the body or mind necessary to accomplish his goals. Ric Flair’s Last Match already felt like something of a fan club meeting. How its president looks at the conclusion of the main event depends on the work Flair has put into his final bow, but not as much as it does on the wrestler’s he’s found to support him.