Hot on the heels of delivering the best pay-per-view for several months WWE had another trump card up their sleeves for Monday Night Raw, the long awaited return of Ric Flair to their programming.
Flair presented his real-life drinking buddy John Cena with the "Superstar of the Year" Slammy Award before tangling with CM Punk, Paul Heyman and The Shield. Although, even he needed some help from Kane, Daniel Bryan and Ryback -- to even the odds -- so he didn't end up as the latest victim to the new heel stable that's been running roughshod over everybody. (video here)
Being put over so strongly as The Ultimate WWE Legend suggested he was back for good. But appearances, as they say, can be deceiving.
If you take Flair's exclusive word to WWE.com as gospel, then you'd believe he ain't going nowhere and this is only just the beginning of a full-time return:
"Well,... at this point in my life, I'm overwhelmed. I love working here, I love being a part of it, and whether I'm [at] home watching or I'm here working and having fun enjoying the moment, it's what I do for a living. It's the best place in the world to work, I've said it a thousand times. There's only one place in this world to work and that's the WWE. I'm proud to be here, I'm proud of the friendships I've made, and the link of the friendships, the loyalty of the people behind it that speak to each other. It's a very tight knit group of people here. But they're loyal to each other and they know I'm loyal to them. It is what it is, it's a great time in my life."
Those friendships he speaks of go right to the top of the organisation, including Vince McMahon, who has helped bail him out when he got into financial trouble with the IRS in the past, as well as Triple H who added years to Flair's career by choosing him to be a member of his Four Horsemen-esque group, Evolution.
Apparently, he was the happiest he had ever been to finally be back in the WWE fold once again. Given his lifelong self-esteem and anxiety issues, particularly during the dying days of WCW, his confidence likely took another battering from being mishandled in TNA, not to mention his latest nasty divorce proceedings. To be given the opportunity to really strut his stuff in the centrepiece angle on Raw was likely a huge morale booster. His self-belief that he's still got it and could step foot in the ring tomorrow and still be better than the majority of the WWE roster, will have been fully restored.
Indeed, in that interview with WWE.com it seemed Flair was already eyeing up a potential match with CM Punk down the road, given enough time to prepare and get himself in top shape:
"I could tell you (if CM Punk is the best in the world) if I got myself ready in two months. Give me two months and I'll tell you that. I don't want to say something I can't back up right now, but give me 60 days."
Vince McMahon had been adamant that Flair would never wrestle for his company again, wanting to uphold the stipulations of his WWE retirement match at WrestleMania 24 against Shawn Michaels, but maybe he'll relent given enough nagging, especially after Flair's top-notch performance in his return angle.
The truth is Flair may have longer than 60 days to prepare for his next confrontation with Punk. Bryan Alvarez of f4wonline.com is reporting that Flair has not been signed to a contract by WWE. Moreover, his appearance last night was strictly a one-off deal, similar to those by The Boogeyman and Tommy Dreamer.
The reason for this, is the obvious one. WWE has yet to settle (or get thrown out of court) the lawsuit TNA filed against them for contract tampering in May, after they were informed by WWE that their former office worker Brian Wittenstein had been fired by WWE for presenting management with insider information about TNA contracts -- and shortly thereafter, Ric Flair quit the promotion in order to return to WWE.
Crudely speaking, Flair's one-time only WWE comeback was to force TNA to "shit or get off the pot" regarding the lawsuit, as in recent weeks they've been content to leave the issue left hanging, doing nothing to forward the legal process. And why would they? The self-imposed embargo by WWE on signing current TNA talent was highly to their benefit, allowing them to lowball their contract offers to those performers whose deals were coming up for renewal, like Matt Morgan, Devon, Bully Ray, Velvet Sky and Eric Young; all of whom had no option but to eventually re-sign with TNA, as going to WWE was out of the question.
Of course, this story could well be bullshit, in the sense that WWE officials are lying about Ric Flair's contract status to the wrestling media so their legal position isn't jeopardised regarding the TNA lawsuit. Or, they could be paying Flair money under the table until he's legally free to sign with the company.
Whatever the contractual situation, I wouldn't expect to see Flair back on Monday Night Raw next week, unless Vince McMahon changes his mind and decides that it's worth the risk after "The Nature Boy" helped pull in the show's highest viewership in seven weeks. After all, anything can happen in WWE.