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By Mike Johnson & Buck Woodward on 2009-04-04 18:58:16

Mike Johnson, reporting from Houston: 

The televised portion of the WWE Hall of Fame opened with a video feature on the Hall of Fame class members.  Todd Grisham then introduced our host, Jerry Lawler.

Lawler came out to a standing ovation.  The Toyota Center chanted his name.  Lawler said tonight was a special night and his favorite night of the career.  He said it was the night the past, present and future collide.

Lawler said that they would kick the night off with the quintessential Hall of Famer, Ric Flair.

Ric Flair said that he wanted to follow on a comment Kevin Von Erich made.  He said they are all brothers in WWE...old timers, current stars and today's talent.  He said they are all brothers and shouldn't forget it.

Flair said he's had a lot of blessings in his career but the biggest was the day Ricky Steamboat walked into Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic office.  He said he is in the position tonight to do for Steamboat what Triple H did for him last year.  Flair said he and Steamboat have been intertwined since that first day and today things come full circle as he gets to induct one of his best friends and his greatest wrestling opponent, Ricky Steamboat.

Ricky Steamboat

They aired a video piece on Steamboat's career.

Flair said that over the 36 years he's stepped inside the ring with the greatest stars, but whenever he's asked who his favorite opponent is, its Ricky Steamboat.  He said Steamboat epitomized what a fan's wrestler was...built like a Greek God and being able to go every night   He said the women loved Steamboat.

Flair said he wrestled 2,000 times against Steamboat and that as good as the matches were in 1989, the bouts in the 70s were better but sadly they weren't seen by anyone but those in the arena.  Flair said they both settled in Charlotte to raise families, opened gyms together and have sons who are carving their own chapter in the Flair-Steamboat feud.

Flair said it doesn't get any better than this and that Steamboat was the purest good guy to ever walk the aisle.  He asked everyone to give it up for Steamboat.

Steamboat came out and hugged Flair for a long time and then the two locked up playfully.  The fans chanted Steamboat's name.  Steamboat began to break up and cry, noting he knew he would but he didn't know it would be before he started talking.

He said that when he looks back, he feels humbled by what he's been blessed with.  He said that he thinks of the great ones who have left and are remembered by their performances, the fans who trusted you to provide them with entertainment, the nod of the pencil knowing you did a good job, and laying in the back after a draw and being told "we got them", he knew he was a blessed man.

Steamboat talked of young wrestlers asking him for advice and for him to watch their matches for advice, telling stories of John Laurinaitis and riding an airplane with a young Triple H while getting into a deep discussion about the business.

Steamboat said his career wasn't about wins and losses but knowing that he gave his all every night in the ring.  He said that the work with Ric Flair helped give him the work ethic he brought into the ring with Valentine, Piper, Snuka, Blackjack Mulligan,  Jake Roberts, Bret Hart, Harley Race, and Arn Anderson.  Steamboat told Chris Jericho to be prepared because tomorrow he is being taken to school.

Steamboat said he pushed them all but he was pushed back.  He said he had great partners he worked with and without them, he wouldn't be here today.  He thanked them for his career and his Hall of Fame.

Steamboat pointed out Mickey Rourke in the crowd and said tonight, this is his Oscar.  The crowd popped huge for Rourke.

Steamboat thanked and praised the creative team and the other producers.  Steamboat thanked his ex-wife Bonnie for all the outfits she made and for blessing him with his son, Richie.  He then introduced his son, who stood up.  Bonnie was crying her eyes out.

Steamboat closed out by thanking his current wife and saying he is extremely humbled and thanked everyone.

Coverage continued on next page.

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