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The Long Goodbye
"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." --Carl W. Buechner
ORLANDO, Fla. -- For 36 years, Ric Flair made people feel good. He was, and remains, the consummate showman -- a professional in the world of sports-entertainment that gave everything of himself to his fans and friends, both inside and outside of the ring.
On Raw Monday night, those fans and friends gave a little back. As the "Nature Boy" offered his farewell address to the capacity crowd at the Amway Arena and gave his sincere thanks for their support over the course of his career, he was overwhelmed by applause from the teary audience.
"I want to thank you all for the memories," Flair said, "I want to thank you for the support and most of all, thank you for making me who I am today."
The 16-time World Champion and 2008 WWE Hall of Fame inductee welled-up and basked in the admiration of fans, but that wasn't the end of his night. Triple H's entrance theme hit the air, and The Game began a parade of well-wishers who emerged to offer bear hugs and words of encouragement.
Among the well-wishers were those who Flair had taken under his wing and mentored over the years, including Triple H, Batista, John Cena, Chris Jericho and Edge, and contemporaries such as the legendary Harley Race, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Greg Valentine and Dean Malenko. And of course, it wouldn't have been complete without an appearance by the legendary Four Horsemen - Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham and JJ Dillon - and Flair's family, including his wife, daughter and two sons.
The road to retirement for Flair had taken many detours over the past six months, but the pavement ran out at WrestleMania XXIV when, in an epic match, Flair's show was finally stopped in a Career Threatening Match against his close friend Shawn Michaels -- a friend who also, albeit reluctantly and still tense with emotion from his own speech earlier in the night -- came to the ring to honor Flair during his farewell ceremony.
While HBK might have had reservations about appearing after ending his friend's career, all was forgiven as Flair enveloped The Showstopper in his arms.
It was a fitting ending to an emotion-filled evening. An evening that witnessed the long goodbye of a man who gave everything he had to the sport he so loved, an original who will never be duplicated, a Hall of Fame Champion who will never be replicated.
Goodbye and thank you to the one, the only, Ric Flair.