Flair and HBK on Triple H 'hanging up the boots'

He’s been a cornerstone of WWE for the better part of the last two decades, but on April 7 at WrestleMania, Triple H could be competing in a WWE ring for the very last time when he collides with Brock Lesnar in a barbaric No Holds Barred Match. Thanks to Paul Heyman’s sinister machinations, The Game must retire if he is unable to conquer the former WWE, NCAA and UFC Champion.

With Heyman revealing the stipulations of this bout only after Triple H had signed the contract on the March 18 edition of Raw ( WA TCH), the WWE COO was unaware that he was agreeing to terms that could prematurely end one of the most celebrated careers in WWE history. The revelation that Triple H’s final match could be fast approaching immediately sent shockwaves throughout the WWE Universe.

“He’s too young to leave the business and has too much left to offer,” two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair told WWE.com. “If he doesn’t wrestle again, no matter how much time he spends in the office working with the company, he’ll be miserable. He needs to be in the ring. That’s who he is.”

There are only a few who know Triple H quite as well as “The Nature Boy,” who served as a mentor to The Cerebral Assassin as part of Evolution and continues to be The Game’s close confidant. In fact, it was Triple H who inducted the 16-time World Champion into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008 — the night before Flair was retired at the hands of Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV.

“[At WrestleMania XXIV], the cards were dealt,” Flair explained, thinking back on his own legacy as Triple H’s career hangs in the balance. “I was nowhere near the level of ability as Shawn Michaels that night, and I don’t think anybody expected me to be. But I walked out of there a very proud man. It was sad to leave, but I was very proud.”

Just two years later, it was fellow WWE Hall of Famer HBK who would be facing similar circumstances on The Grandest Stage of Them All, battling The Undertaker in a “Streak vs. Career” Match at WrestleMania XXVI. Like Flair before him, “Mr. WrestleMania” took that long and final walk back to the locker room after falling to The Phenom.

Flair affirms that despite how difficult it was for HBK to bid farewell to the WWE Universe, Michaels — who co-founded D-Generation X with longtime friend Triple H back in 1997 — is the only Superstar in the last 10 years to leave the ring with “peace of mind.”

“Everything I did in the ring that night was moment by moment, second to second,” The Showstopper said in a phone interview. “You know, I think I was in a position that many people aren’t in. And I was very content with where I was at. Afterward, I was so proud of the match, that I was able to focus more on that than the idea that my career was over. And I was overjoyed that I was now at a place where I was going to be with my family on a regular basis. As much as I loved my life in WWE and still do, I was ready.” ( WATCH: HBK VS. THE UNDERTAKER AT WRESTLEMANIA XXVI)

But despite commitment to family and his role as a WWE executive, it remains to be seen whether The King of Kings will be fully prepared to vacate the throne when and if the time comes.

“I certainly believe that he’s got plenty of other responsibilities that would keep him busy,” said Michaels, Triple H’s “Kliq” cohort. “I think he would be content. He’s always had a level head on his shoulders — more so than me — so from that standpoint, I think he would. Could he say, ‘absolutely no more, not even here and there’? I don’t know. I think that’s always the million-dollar question for all of us.”

Flair, who himself has never strayed far from the vicinity of the ring over the years, is less confident that Triple H would settle into new roles that do not involve in-ring competition.

“Triple H is a student of this business and has studied and has loved it since he was a young man, and it’s reflected in who he is. And I think he needs to stay active and keep contributing in the ring. He can’t stay backstage or in the office. He’ll get bored with that real fast.”

Regardless of whether Triple H would embrace retirement, perhaps the bigger question is whether he would be able to accept his career coming to a close at the hands of someone like Brock Lesnar. Not only did The Anomaly defeat Triple H at SummerSlam, but he also broke The Game’s arm twice while targeting those close to him — including his father-in-law Mr. McMahon, his D-Generation X cohorts The New Age Outlaws and, last August, HBK. ( WATCH)

“This is unlike my match with Flair or my match with The Undertaker in that with Triple H and Brock, there’s no mutual respect,” said Michaels, who was the victim of Lesnar’s savage Kimura Lock submission hold, which nearly snapped his arm in two. “Brock Lesnar would take joy in ending the career of Triple H for all of the wrong reasons. The Undertaker [retired] me on a strict, professional level. Even he was saddened by the outcome because he knew what it entailed. Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar are going to take joy in ending the career of Triple H if it happens. And I think therein lies the tough part of making it stick. It’s harder when the guy gets enjoyment out of it, almost from a vendetta standpoint. The competitor in Triple H would have a difficult time having to deal with that.”

As someone who is no stranger to retirement matches, and certainly no stranger to the destruction Lesnar is capable of, Michaels had just one piece of advice to offer his friend.

“Hunter needs to use that anger,” Michaels asserted. “I know he doesn’t like Brock Lesnar, I know in Triple H’s mind, Brock Lesnar stands for everything that he doesn’t like about people in his line of work, so to speak. This isn’t a match about mutual respect. This is a match about two guys that don’t like each other and stand for two totally different things. Brock’s not there for the love of the job or for the WWE Universe. He has no respect for the tradition and no respect for the business. He’s in WWE for all the wrong reasons. And that’s going to drive Triple H to work harder. It’s going to be a war.”

Be sure to follow Ric Flair ( @RicFlairNatrBoy) and Shawn Michaels ( @ShawnMichaels) on Twitter, and don’t miss HBK on "Shawn Michaels' MacMillan River Adventures," Tuesdays at 11:30 p.m. ET, Fridays at 7:30 a.m. ET and Saturdays at 7 p.m. ET on the Outdoor Channel.

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