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‘The Man’s a Star’: Ric Flair Talks Up John Cena’s Return Ahead of Collectors Convention

The Week in Wrestling: Ric Flair is excited about John Cena’s WWE return and an upcoming collectors convention, Limitless Wrestling’s Davienne discusses intergender competitions, and much more.

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

Ric Flair says John Cena “represents WWE at the highest level”

Flair has watched Cena closely over the last two weeks since his return to WWE, marveling at the way Cena commands an audience.

“John Cena, the man’s a star,” says Flair. “He gave 10 years, every day of his life, to the business, and he is still finding new ways to work hard. John just doesn’t know any other way. It’s been a pleasure to see every piece of work he’s done so far since coming back.”

Flair says it is an honor to share with Cena the WWE distinction of being recognized as a 16-time world champion.

“John represents WWE at the highest level,” says Flair. “I’m as big a John Cena fan as you can find. Look at what’s in store. John working Roman Reigns—that’s going to be special.”

***

On July 31, Flair will be a featured part of the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. There are a plethora of stars conducting autograph signings, but the favorites for the longest line are Flair and Hulk Hogan. Their friendship runs decades, with Flair’s recalling a few early meetings with the man who helped redefine WWE.

“I first met Hulk when he was coming through Atlanta on his way to Memphis, back when he was ‘Sterling Golden,’ ” says Flair. “That’s probably close to 1979. He was in AWA, and I saw him a few times with Verne [Gagne], but we really didn’t get close until we wrestled in New York in the early ’90s.”

Flair and Hogan first locked up in 1991 in New York, which remains the insider term for WWE.

“I loved working with him,” says Flair. “How can you not love working with a guy who’s over like that? I had moments like that working with Kerry Von Erich, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Ricky Morton and, of course, Dusty Rhodes. They all attained that level, but Hulk was unbelievable. Working with him was great. Those were the easiest nights of my life.”

Flair’s most recent public appearance was last month at Fenway Park as the surprise grand finale during a ceremony honoring Dustin Pedroia. The longtime Boston second baseman clearly enjoyed seeing Flair, and the Red Sox and visiting Yankees were eager to see the legendary wrestler style and profile.

“Dustin is such a great guy,” says Flair. “I was able to surprise him, and it was so great to see him and his family. It’s a shame he had to retire due to his knee injury, because he would still be making a difference on the field otherwise.

“That was a special night with Dustin. And I got to see all my old friends, like Pedro Martinez and Luis Tiant, who I knew back when he pitched for Minnesota [in 1970]. My wife and I were treated first-class by the Sox, downtown Boston was beautiful and the Sox played the Yankees. Now that’s a night.”

The collector convention is an opportunity for Flair to reconnect in-person with his fans, and he is hopeful to set the standard with the longest autograph line of the weekend.

“I am very grateful for people’s support,” says Flair. “That carried me through my career, and I’ll never forget it or take it for granted. I’m ready to see some people in Chicago.

“You’re going to hear the ‘Woo!’ coming through the door. As soon as that happens, everyone there will know I’m there to wheel and deal, limousine ride and have a blast. I can’t wait to see everyone.”


The (online) week in wrestling

  • Maybe it is because they are polar opposites in terms of persona and the way they are presented within wrestling, but Paul Heyman and John Cena are perfect for one another in every one of their segments, with Heyman particularly standing out last Friday on SmackDown.
  • Finn Bálor is a perfect opponent for Roman Reigns, especially with Balor’s history of defeating Reigns cleanly on Raw in July 2016
  • The setup of the split show on last Friday’s SmackDown was extremely fun to watch, with the fans at the Rolling Loud music festival adding energy to the show.

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  • Raw had its share of lowlights (including the second loss in two weeks for Keith Lee), but highlights included the story of Mansoor’s teaming with Mustafa Ali, laying the groundwork for a great tag clash at SummerSlam pitting AJ Styles and Omos against Matt Riddle and Randy Orton, and the beginning of a real surge of popularity for Reginald.
  • Wednesday’s Dynamite is appointment viewing for wrestling fans, especially the tag match pitting FTR against Santana and Ortiz. There is also Chris Jericho in a no-rules match against hardcore indie icon Nick Gage, as well as a pivotal 10-man tag between The Elite and Hangman Page–The Dark Order.
  • It is official: Samoa Joe is back as an active wrestler in NXT, challenging Karrion Kross at next month’s TakeOver. And another highlight of Tuesday night’s NXT was Dakota Kai’s turn on Raquel González.
  • Jay White has the chance to emerge as a star during this stint in Impact Wrestling, especially while building to New Japan’s Resurgence show in California next month. Adding someone as talented as Chris Bey into the story as a part of Bullet Club is a great touch.
  • Deonna Purrazzo is a headliner for the NWA Empowerrr show in August.
  • Shingo Takagi defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi this past weekend at New Japan’s Tokyo Dome show, then was challenged by EVIL to close the show.
  • In addition to Zack Sabre Jr.’s and Taichi’s regaining the IWGP tag titles from Tetsuya Naito and Sanada, the other New Japan title change this past weekend was Robbie Eagles’s winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title, ending the title reign of El Desperado.

Davienne ready for match against Mac Daniels at Saturday’s “Undeniable” show

Limitless Wrestling presents its Undeniable show Saturday, offering a loaded card and an opportunity for Davienne to further stake her claim as one of wrestling’s rising talents.

Davienne will wrestle Mac Daniels, seeking to put a hurt on him and the rest of his entourage in Prestigious. She relishes intergender wrestling, and this match will showcase an element of the indies not present in companies like WWE or AEW.

“Intergender wrestling is something I love,” says Davienne. “We’re opening the doors to work with so many talented individuals and not just be limited by a gender barrier. There are so many more stories to tell, and that’s what I have with Mac Daniels. He’s very talented, but he’s going to get beat up on July 31.”

Davienne Long is an eight-year wrestling veteran, who brings constant value and electricity to her work. Her in-ring performances are consistently atop the Limitless card, and there is no ceiling for her future, though that nearly was not the case. Thirteen months ago, as dark secrets of the wrestling industry came to light at the start of the “Speaking Out” movement, Davienne reflected on whether this was the right place to give her heart and soul.

“I was ready to walk away last June,” says Davienne. “The ‘Speaking Out’ movement was very hard on everyone, and I questioned whether I wanted to be in an industry that was so toxic. I texted my trainers and let them know I wasn’t going to do this anymore.”

Knowing how much passion and talent she has for wrestling, Davienne faced some serious inner conflict as she considered stepping away.

“I really love wrestling,” says Davienne. “Right around that time, we had a taping of The Road for Limitless Wrestling. I had the most fun I ever had in my entire wrestling career. It changed my whole outlook, and it’s helped me fall back in love with wrestling.”

Davienne is accomplishing an incredibly hard feat by building momentum through her work on the indies. An integral piece of her success is the joy she finds in the process of all things wrestling, including character development, a constant desire to work in new moves to her arsenal, enhancing the people around her and the will to accomplish her goals.

“I’m going to leave wrestling better than I found it,” says Davienne. “These past few months have reinvigorated my passion and gave me a whole new confidence. That’s helped me connect more with the audience than I ever had.

“When I grew up in New England, there weren’t a lot of women’s wrestlers and there wasn’t a lot of intergender wrestling. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to be around people as hungry as I was, and I think that dulled my fire for a bit. Then Ava Everett and Becca started coming around, and that really lit a fire in me. Before, I was always trying to be somebody I wasn’t. In the past year or two, I’ve been myself. That’s why you’re getting the best version of Davienne.”

In addition to Saturday’s match against Daniels, Davienne is focused on her future.

“Right now, I need to get Prestigious out of my hair, and that’s what you’ll see happen this Saturday,” says Davienne. “Eventually, I want to wrestle Daniel Garcia and be the Limitless Wrestling champion. I want to take over the independents and get a job where I can make my living wrestling. That’s the next step for me.”

Tweet of the Week

RIP to someone who brought energy and excitement to the wrestling industry.

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