Ric Flair on the Super Bowl: "Philadelphia has a great team, but anything is possible with Brady."

By Justin Barrasso
January 31, 2018

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

News of the Week: Tom Brady is Ric Flair, Flair is Brady

Massachusetts native John Cena did not endear himself to anyone back in New England with his performance of “Fly, Eagles, Fly” for a live crowd in Philadelphia after Raw went off the air Monday.

Cena played to the crowd by singing the Eagles’ fight song, but this Sunday’s Super Bowl is another reminder that the New England Patriots are the NFL’s Four Horsemen, and Tom Brady is “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. 

“I heard Tom Brady had surgery to apply a sixth finger on his hand for a sixth Super Bowl ring,” said Finn Balor. “So I can see the similarities.”

The parallels between Flair and Brady, who is preparing for the Super Bowl this Sunday, are striking.

Flair was known as a 60-minute man throughout his career. As evident by his all-world performance against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship game, Brady still saves his best moments for the end of the fourth quarter, right before the 60-minute mark.

“Brady is still producing at a high level, and like Ric, as long as he’s producing, he’ll keep playing,” said Shawn Michaels. “Even if there are 30 seconds left and Brady is pinned on his own five, it’s still not over. Philadelphia has had a great season and I wish them the best, but you don’t go against the GOAT.”

Barstool Sports president Dave Portnoy is one of New England’s premiere Brady experts, following the future Hall of Famer closely since their days together at the University of Michigan.

“Any time you have two guys who are perceived as the best at what they’ve done, then naturally there are comparisons,” said Portnoy. “Every guy wanted to be Flair and every girl wanted to date him, and that certainly applies with Brady.”

Flair strutted his way to 16 world titles, yet the most beloved wrestler in the world was Hulk Hogan, who was surrounded by a more talented roster and championed around the world. Brady is a five-time Super Bowl winner, but Peyton Manning–who had a better receiving core than Brady for the majority of his career with the Indianapolis Colts–was the face of the NFL despite winning fewer titles.

Both Hogan and Manning have had questions regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs during their storied careers, but those charges were ultimately dropped in the court of public opinion.

“Manning is a kiss ass,” said Portnoy, and the Brady-Manning debate closely mirrors Hogan-Flair. “Manning played nice with the media and gave the quotes, but all Brady cared about is winning. Manning played the game with commercials and endorsements, whereas Brady only cares about the game between the white lines.”

Portnoy offered a warning to Eagles fans, who were already chanting “Brady sucks” at WWE’s NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia this past Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

“Philly fans are trash,” said Portnoy. “They’re going to learn a hard lesson on Sunday.”

Neither Brady nor Flair have steered clear of controversy. Flair’s 1991 exit from World Championship Wrestling was the result of bubbling turmoil with WCW president Jim Herd, and Brady was handed a four-game suspension by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before the 2016 season for his role allegedly deflating footballs in “Deflategate.”

Brady was forever labeled a cheater among rival fans, but he dealt with the consequences by leading the Patriots to another Super Bowl victory.

“It’s one thing to be great yourself, but it’s another thing to make the people around you even better,” added Shawn Michaels. “Flair and Brady make everybody around them better.”

Brady is loved throughout New England, no different than Flair and his Horsemen were adored in the Carolinas, but viewed much differently–to put it bluntly, hated –in other territories.

“That kind of hatred is out of respect,” said Flair. “Sometimes, you’re just so good at what you do that it’s easier for some people to hate you than like you.”

Flair, of course, will forever be known as “the dirtiest player in the game,” and the moniker still holds true: tears of sadness turned to joy when Flair cheated his way out of death this past summer.

Even the broadcasters calling Super Bowl LII on NBC–Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth–are aware of the similarities.

“People either love [the Patriots] or they love to hate them, but you pay attention to them,” said Michaels. “For what it’s worth, you can’t tune away. It doesn’t get any more exciting if you’re in this business.”

Collinsworth expressed a familiar sentiment: in order to be the man, you need to beat the man.

“People want to see the champion dethroned,” said Collinsworth, who is broadcasting Super Bowl LII with Michaels on NBC. “If you’re going to be considered the best, you want to beat the best. Brady and the Patriots have lived on that top rung of the ladder for so long.”

The Philadelphia Eagles believe Brady is ripe for defeat. Flair’s entire career was built around the fact that he could be beat on any night, yet he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and found a way to win.

“The Philadelphia Eagles are known for their power, so they could be the Steiners,” said noted Flair historian Shane Helms, who returned to WWE this past Sunday as “The Hurricane” for the Royal Rumble. “But I have to go with the Patriots and Tom Brady, because you know I have to pull for the Horsemen and Ric Flair. Yes, they can be beat on any day, but you have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves. Brady is going to lock that figure four leglock right on the middle of that field.”

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Even Brady’s Patriots connect to Flair’s Four Horsemen: longtime Flair advisor JJ Dillon is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, NWA promoter/Flair stalwart Jim Crockett is Patriots owner/Brady loyalist Robert Kraft, Horsemen enforcer Arn Anderson is defensive assassin Malcolm Butler (with his game-clinching Super Bowl interception against the Seahawks serving as the equivalent to a Double A brain buster), the pesky Tully Blanchard as wide receiver Danny Amendola, lovable big man Barry Windham is Rob Gronkowski, and even joining forces with a respected foe in Sting relates to former Steeler James Harrison signing with the Patriots.

The connections are seemingly endless between the two legends. Both careers spanned multiple generations, so the different incarnations of the Horsemen even share connective tissue with Brady’s five different champion squads.

Both Flair and Brady have won on the road–think of the ‘92 Rumble as the fourteen-point 2005 AFC title triumph in Pittsburgh–and both showed resiliency as underdogs, with Brady’s first Super Bowl win over the vaunted St. Louis Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI and Flair successfully putting his career on the line and winning the world title over Big Van Vader at Starrcade ‘93.

Will Brady find a way to win the Super Bowl this Sunday? The Nature Boy, who can relate to him in ways most cannot, would not bet against him.

“Seeing Tom Brady do it for all these years and so many different times, I’m a believer,” said Flair. “Philadelphia has a great team, but anything is possible with Brady. I love football, I’ll be watching, and I wish both teams the best of luck.”


Kenny Omega lost the IWGP United States championship to Jay White and was attacked by fellow Bullet Club member Cody Rhodes this past weekend, so expect the rampant speculation that Omega will leave New Japan Pro Wrestling for WWE–even though he is signed up to January of 2019–to only intensify in the coming weeks and months.

Omega shared with Sports Illustrated that, unlike years past, he has kept a close eye on WWE programming, particularly The New Day.

“They’re three of my favorite guys in the entire company,” said Omega. “They clearly know how to entertain, and they’re all great athletes.”

Despite the individual and collective talent between Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods, Omega was asked why The New Day’s storyline within the company has not evolved over the past three years. Does WWE have the stars boxed in to a certain role?

“When I see Big E, I clearly see someone who could be world champion,” said Omega. “The guy is on another level. Kofi is one of those guys who is good in all situations and can challenge for all titles, and Xavier is another great athlete who is talented in the ring and confident on the mic.”

The New Day’s character arc is an interesting one to follow. The trio is undeniably part of WWE’s upper echelon in terms of talent and popularity, but there has been no evolution, move to the main event, or segue into featured singles programs for any of the three stars.

“It’s things like that that really make me think twice about what I would be getting into if eventually I do go there,” said Omega.

Omega, who was Sports Illustrated’s Wrestler of the Year for 2018, remains a must-see attraction in 2019.

In other news…

• WWE appears to be denying the Sports Illustrated report that Jimmy Fallon was ever supposed to be involved with Raw 25.

I stand by the reporting, I trust my source, and I have spoken with multiple people involved who confirmed the story.

• This is no other way to state this: Ronda Rousey better be good.

Rousey will be ripped apart if she is anything but strong in a WWE ring. There will be no learning curve and very little space for mistakes. Rousey will have a bright spotlight shining directly on her, which is exactly how WWE has designed her arrival, but hopefully she is prepared to work against women who have spent the better part of their adult lives learning the craft of professional wrestling.

There are so many deserving women on the WWE roster, but only two spots for premiere singles matches at WrestleMania 34. WWE will be wise to keep Rousey in a mixed tag match with The Rock against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, which will also allow four of the full-time talents on the roster to take the spots in the two title matches.

• Hulk Hogan spoke earlier this month at the Arizona Comic Con about Bill Goldberg’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

“I saw a spark in Bill Goldberg,” said Hogan. “The [WCW] office gave him the push, the office gave him the wins, but he had that electricity. He was so intense, and the crowd gravitated to him. I’ve seen it tried with a lot of other people, but Bill pulled it off. He’s a huge star and I’m really happy he’s going in the Hall of Fame.”

Hogan also touched on Goldberg’s transition from professional football to the politics and entertainment aspects of pro wrestling.

“The transition was a little tough for Bill because he got pushed so fast,” said Hogan. “He didn’t have a chance to be on the road for five or ten years, wrestling 200 matches a year. He reminds me of the kids who come out of the Performance Center. They get pushed so fast and they learn to go through that choreographed match. Sometimes, the ring awareness and the physicality–knowing when to push it and when not to push it–is not there. Bill learned, he was a quick study.”

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Hogan is currently persona non grata with WWE, but he would make the most sense to induct Goldberg into their Hall of Fame.

“I wish he would have kept going,” said Hogan. “I wish he would have not walked away from the WWE. I wish he was still working, he’d give you another good reason to watch Monday Night Raw.”

• On the topic of Hogan, there is no truth to the reports that AJ Styles was facing any negative response from Vince McMahon as a result of his “Let me tell you something, brother” promo to Gene Okerlund last week on Raw.

The entire interview was scripted, and Styles did not go into business for himself by straying from the script. Styles was close to Hogan in TNA, and requested to make the comment out of respect.

• The NXT TakeOver main event from this past Saturday between Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano was absurdly entertaining. Favorite matches are obviously a subjective endeavor, but this 32-minute affair included physical storytelling in its most sublime form.

Tweet of the Week

My first in-person interview with EC3–who is 34-year-old Ohio native Michael Hutter–took place a few years ago while he was wrestling at a banquet hall just north of Boston. After signing with WWE and appearing at the NXT TakeOver this past Saturday in Philly, it appears he won’t be returning to that banquet hall any time soon.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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