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Flair-Michaels victim of booking casualty

| Sunday, June 1, 2003

The feel-good ending was in place.

Ric Flair stood in the middle of the ring last Monday on "Raw," basking in the adulation of the live crowd in Mobile, Ala., and reveling in every heartfelt word professed by "The Heartbreak Kid," Shawn Michaels, one of Flair's many predecessors.

For once, Flair, the most coveted world champion in professional wrestling's history, would have a fitting end to a career that spanned three decades and saw "The Nature Boy" capture 17 world heavyweight titles and define and demonstrate the true mettle of a champion.

Michaels brought Flair's attributes to the surface: a well-respected human being, main-event performer and superstar who epitomized attitude before the slogan became WWE's cash cow.

If Hulk Hogan is the Babe Ruth of wrestling, then Ric Flair is the entire New York Yankees team.

And finally, Flair was getting the kind of treatment he deserved and that was lacking during his final few years with WCW, a company that threw away its history when it tossed Flair aside and tried to tarnish his ego for a few cheap laughs.

WWE apparently learned from its competition's misguided hand and decided to honor Flair's legacy with one final iconic run. Call it, in the words of Flair's most notable adversary, Dusty Rhodes, the "Flair Retirement Tour, if you will."

First up, a monumental clash at "Bad Blood" on June 15 with Michaels, a showman who patterned his career after Flair. The near-perfect chemistry between Michaels and Flair promised an even more memorable match in two weeks at the pay per view -- a spectacle no doubt that would have ended with an embrace, signifying that something unprecedented had just happened.

Then, something with all too much precedence took place.

WWE's hindsight took over, and Flair turned on Michaels later in the evening on "Raw" during their handicap match against Triple H, signaling the end of Flair and Michaels mutual admiration for one another and maligning their pay-per-view match as nothing more than a rudimentary good vs. evil showdown.

The frustrating part isn't Flair turning on Michaels, it's why and how soon it was done.

WWE can't seem to fathom the thought of a storyline, angle or character twist lasting longer than a week, a booking blunder stemming from a lack of planning and aspirations of a quick ratings fix.

The entire allure of soap operas, movies or any type of drama is timing, pacing and payoff.

Flair siding with Michaels could have been drawn out for months, perhaps heading to "SummerSlam" in August. The two, along with Nash, could have 6-man tag matches at house shows against Triple H, Randy Orton and a new member of the "Evolution" faction.

If nothing else, the thought of that particular 6-man headlining house shows would only strengthen that sagging aspect of WWE business. Furthermore, the participants involved wouldn't be forced to wrestle 15 or 20 minutes every night in a main event. Instead, they get their lavish entrances, do a few signature moves and work only a few minutes. Everyone essentially goes home satisfied.

Along the way, the Flair-Michaels' bond continues to strengthen, perhaps with a tag-team title run. Later, "Raw" general managers Steve Austin or Eric Bischoff mutually agree to sign Flair vs. Michaels for a series of pay-per-view matches, a best-of-7 showdown between two of the more prolific world champions.

Fans get a glimpse at an All-star-like event, and the series makes each pay-per-view worthwhile because two legendary performers are jockeying for position on professional wrestling's storied list of all-time greatest superstars.

Then, after months of teaming together, Flair turns on Michaels and rejoins his protege-slash-client, Triple H. A shocked, yet angry Michaels battles Flair at "SummerSlam," in what would end up being the final match in their best-of-7 series. Now, WWE gets its babyface Michaels vs. heel Flair, but only after it allowed the storyline to mature into more than just a hot-shot booking move.

The idea behind longevity with Flair and Michaels is to build a relationship between them. That's not something that can be accomplished in one week, which is what WWE attempted to do.

Two weeks ago, Flair challenged Triple H, delivered a stylish, throwback match and almost won the WWE Heavyweight Championship. Last Monday, Flair and Michaels begin a beautiful relationship, and WWE shirks its storyline responsibility and ends the union before it even had a chance to blossom into a worthwhile, money-drawing feud.

WWE writers and creative sorts seemingly have the attention spans of 10-year-olds, which affords that group the opportunity to book in a bubble. The beginning, middle and end of a storyline doesn't have to occur in two hours and can be stretched over a series of shows and a significant period of time.

Think of it as an ending that not only would feel good, but one that WWE could feel good about once it got there because of patience, not pacification.

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