From Porter to Williams?
These days, Ric Flair is a lot like Montel … though not exactly the Montel our fans are inclined to think of.
OK, so the "Nature Boy" did admit in the weeks leading up to his Career Threatening Match against Montel Vontavious Porter at Royal Rumble that the brash upstart "reminds me a lot of me early in my career." But the United States Champion is not the only Montel whom Flair can identify with; in addition to MVP, the 16-time World Champion could find himself soon sharing a lot of common ground with the legendary Montel Williams.
Wait … Montel Williams, the retired Navy Lieutenant and 2007 World Series of Poker participant who hosts The Montel Williams Show?
Yes, that Montel Williams. And it has nothing to do with career choice, recent marriages or their Mid-Atlantic roots. No, it has to do with television exposure; specifically, Williams' loss of it, and potentially Flair's after this Sunday. You see, if the "Nature Boy" is unable to defeat Mr. Kennedy at No Way Out, he and Montel Williams will have one huge albatross in common: Unemployment.
If Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center is indeed the final stop on Flair's farewell tour, at least he's known the day would eventually come for almost two months now -- ever since Mr. McMahon informed him in December that his next loss would be his last. Poor Montel, however, learned about his "forced retirement" in a completely different way.
Late last month, Williams appeared on a cable news program and was asked to discuss the tragic passing of actor Heath Ledger. Instead, the talk show host used the platform to recognize the absence of coverage of the recent deaths of 28 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, imploring media news outlets to use their influence in shaping the country's attitudes in a more positive way than a celebrity tabloid.
The show quickly went to commercial, and when it returned, Montel was no longer on the air. Days later, it was announced that production of new episodes of Williams' talk show, which had run for 17 years, would be shut down immediately. The show was ostensibly cancelled, leaving Montel without a job -- a move which many industry insiders cite as a result of cause and effect as opposed to coincidence.
If that's the case, Montel's predicament actually makes Ric Flair's "lose or retire" ultimatum seem like a noble gesture from Mr. McMahon. After all, the WWE Chairman could have just fired Flair; instead the "Nature Boy" has limited control over his destiny, and the chance to go on a winning streak that will keep his career alive.
But what if Flair loses, and he joins Montel in the unemployment line come Monday? Perhaps the 16-time World Champion could take a page out of Mr. Williams' playbook. Being the stylin' and profilin', wheelin' and dealin' son of a gun that he is, maybe Flair could stay in Vegas and enter this year's World Series of Poker. The 2007 Main Event winner, Jerry Yang, has only been playing poker for a few years, yet he won over $8 million by capturing the title. With a few months of practice, "Naitch" could easily "walk that aisle" and become a two-sport legend.
Then again, perhaps Flair could follow Montel into the world of advocacy. Williams, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a decade ago, established The Montel Williams MS Foundation to help raise money for a cure. He is also the spokesman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a cause that helps low-income patients apply for discounted prescriptions. With Ric Flair as popular and legendary as he is, he could become as iconic a spokesman as Williams, former Quaker Oats pitchman Wilford Brimley or Hanes' own Michael Jordan.
In the interim, the "Nature Boy" surely hopes to just keep winning. Flair has said he will never hang up his boots, and Monday night on Raw, it became painfully clear -- for him, at least -- that he won't go into forced retirement placidly. Even with an injured knee -- courtesy of the aforementioned MVP -- that was attacked once again by Mr. Kennedy on Raw, Flair refused to forfeit his No Way Out match against the loudmouth from Green Bay.
But will such determination and iron will be enough to propel Flair to victory on Sunday? He may be the "Dirtiest Player in the Game," a 16-time World Champion and one of the most resilient Superstars to lace up the boots, but at less than 100 percent against a hungry, cocky young opponent like Kennedy... well, he's in for a fight.
Flair -- and our fans, as well -- obviously hopes that No Way Out is merely one stop on his "Farewell Tour" and not the final one. After all, WrestleMania just wouldn't be the same without an icon like Flair, who was already a multiple-time World Champion when the inaugural spectacular occurred in 1985.
Maybe he can get Montel a job here at WWE; Raw recently brought Mike Adamle aboard as a correspondent, and Montel's experience would make him a natural fit for a similar role on SmackDown or ECW. At the very least, Williams could use his talk show experience to trump Maury or Jerry Springer, by helping Mr. McMahon and Hornswoggle overcome their family problems.
On second thought, perhaps it's just best if Ric Flair sticks to keeping his career afloat. The first step is preventing his career roulette wheel from coming up green -- as in Green Bay, as in Kennedy -- this Sunday night in Vegas. Because if he doesn't … there will be No Way Out of retirement.