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What planted the seed?
WWE may not have a mandatory retirement age, but after what transpired between Ric Flair and WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon on Raw Monday night, the company seemingly has something much more dangerous: A retirement ultimatum.
The "Nature Boy" had returned to Raw in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Monday night, intent on announcing that he wasn't planning on retiring, as had been widely speculated in the hours leading up to his announcement. The WWE Chairman, however, had other plans, making it clear that Flair's final day may come sooner than expected.
"I hope you go on forever … as long as you keep on winning," Mr. McMahon smugly said. "The first match you lose, Ric, your career is over! Whether by disqualification, pinfall, count-out, whatever … the next time you lose, you lose your career!"
Mr. McMahon went on to explain that the ultimatum came out of fear for Flair's safety -- "sometimes you old-timers don't know when to hang it up," he stated. But is that truly the case? As has been evidenced many times before -- including, perhaps, in his recent dealings with his illegitimate son Hornswoggle -- the Chairman sometimes seems to say one thing and mean something completely different. Could there be another reason behind his shocking decision?
There are some in the WWE locker room who believe so. Multiple sources -- who wish to remain anonymous, and perhaps for good reason -- have told WWE.com that Mr. McMahon's "noble intentions" are actually seeded in deep, long-running resentment for the 16-time World Champion, with each source citing a different piece of historical animosity between the two.
McMahon and Flair go way back, even well before the "Nature Boy's" 1991 WWE debut. Throughout the 1980s, the National Wrestling Alliance -- specifically Jim Crockett's territory of the Mid-Atlantic and Georgia -- was WWE's biggest competitor during the national boom of sports-entertainment. And who was the NWA's centerpiece and World Heavyweight Champion? That's right, Ric Flair. While Hulkamania was running wild in WWE, Flair and the Four Horsemen were the NWA's top entity, with the "Nature Boy" holding onto the World Title for the majority of the decade.
Flash-forward to late-1991, and what could be seen as an act of benevolence: Mr. McMahon welcomes a jobless Flair into WWE. While adding a star the magnitude of the "Nature Boy" can't be considered anything but a smart business decision, Flair's first WWE stay was short and turbulent.
In January 1992, Flair won the Royal Rumble, entering at No. 3 and outlasting 29 other men in an inspiring hour-plus performance to claim the WWE Championship. Yet just one year later, he was gone; Flair left McMahon and WWE high and dry, and returned to the enemy -- this time WCW -- to spend the next eight years as a key cog in the Monday Night Wars.
It seemed like the issue was buried in 2001, when Mr. McMahon put WCW -- then owned by son Shane McMahon -- out of business at Survivor Series. Little did he know, however, just who bankrolled Shane's purchase earlier that year. While the public was aware that Shane had sold his WWE stock to a "consortium" to garner the cash needed for the WCW acquisition, Flair showed up on Raw the night after Survivor Series with some shocking news for Mr. McMahon: "That consortium? It was me, pal! WOOOOOO!"
"Everyone saw what happened after that," one of the sources said. "Over the next few months, McMahon and Flair were the ‘co-owners' of WWE and couldn't stay off of each other's throats."
It was true that the two battled at every turn, with the "Nature Boy" even defeating the Chairman inside the ring at the 2002 Royal Rumble. Because of tensions between Flair and McMahon, WWE's Board of Directors decided in March 2002 to split Raw and SmackDown into separate entities, creating a brand extension with each man at the helm of one show.
"Sure, Mr. McMahon was eventually able to regain 100 percent control of the company by beating Flair in a match, but WWE as everyone knew it had already been radically altered," the source continued. "But even though Mr. McMahon won, Flair's still been a top WWE Superstar since. So did he really win?"
Old grudges die hard, and Mr. McMahon has proven that he'll go to any length to take down an enemy -- no matter the time, resources and even casualties of war needed to do so. He has taken on Ted Turner, the federal government, Congress and even his own children … and he has won every time. Sure, it may take a while and cost a lot, but nothing seems to satisfy Mr. McMahon more than being victorious.
Despite what these unnamed sources claim, only the Chairman knows for certain the true motive behind his actions. He seems to be in a position of power once again -- Ric Flair will lose eventually, even if the Chairman has to somehow facilitate it. But knowing what we do about Vincent Kennedy McMahon, will it be sooner rather than later that Ric Flair is walking down a different aisle -- one toward the unemployment line?