Win or go home - for good

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November 26, 2007

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As WWE Champion Randy Orton stood over a prone and battered Ric Flair, a faint hush seemed to fall over Charlotte Bobcats Arena. Our fans -- longtime followers of the "Nature Boy" in "Flair Country" -- looked on and believed they were seeing history, the end of a monumental career. They were saddened, but they knew someday this moment would come, that Flair's legendary career would end.

But thanks to Chris Jericho, someday did not come tonight. Due to Y2J's timely distraction, Flair will live to fight another day, and Orton was, in his mind, robbed of a moment of glory. (WATCH)

Before Raw tonight, rumors circulated throughout Charlotte that "Naitch" was going to announce his retirement. He hadn't competed in a match in months and speculation about his retirement spread when it was announced that he would appear on Raw in front of his hometown crowd in Charlotte. How fitting would it have been for the 16-time World Champion to end his career in front of the legion of fans who had been by his side from the beginning.

But when Flair appeared tonight, he admitted that his career must come to an end someday -- but not tonight. This brought out Mr. McMahon, a longtime Flair detractor, who claimed that he had watched too many legends continue to compete and make a mockery of their legacies and risk their health. The Chairman told Flair he could continue his career -- as long as he kept winning. Per order of Mr. McMahon, the next match the 16-time World Champion loses  -- whether it be by disqualification, pinfall or submission on Raw, ECW, SmackDown or on pay-per-view -- will be his last. He will be forced to retire, and his glorious 30-year career will end. (WATCH)

As a self-proclaimed "Legend Killer," WWE Champion Randy Orton leapt at the chance to retire the legend of legends. He immediately challenged Flair, his former mentor in Evolution and a man he grew up watching, to a Career Threatening Match. In Orton's mind, the opportunity to end the Nature Boy's career in his own hometown was a chance to further cement his already-impressive legacy. (View the photo gallery)

Flair has never backed away from a fight. But in some ways tonight, he seemed resigned to the possibility that his career could end. He received well-wishes from two admirers, Shawn Michaels and Triple H. He conferred with two of his best friends in the world, Barry Windham and Arn Anderson, his former teammates in the Four Horsemen. The Raw locker room gave him a standing ovation. Flair had always wanted to end his career on his terms, but Mr. McMahon took that away from him. However, no matter what, if he was going down, Naitch was determined go down swinging.

For a while, it seemed that Flair would be forced into retirement. The younger, stronger Orton, who has sidelined John Cena and beaten greats such as Triple H and HBK, dominated the 16-time World Champion. Flair showed flashes of his brilliance and rallied in spurts, but the Legend Killer's victory seemed almost assured.

But just as Y2J returned last week to "save us," he helped save Flair from retirement. His distraction of Orton enabled Flair to give Orton a low blow and roll him up for a miraculous three-count. (Relive the action in this photo gallery)

Flair breathed a deep sigh as the rafters in the Charlotte Bobcats Arena shook. He avoided retirement tonight, but every match from now on will be a battle for his life. Flair has made an entire career out of defying the odds. He has won championships long after so-called experts thought he was past his prime. But when will the odds catch up to the Nature Boy?

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