The world of professional poker and professional wrestling have some interesting parallels. Both have competitors that travel the world performing in the largest venues for their sport. Each has players with larger than life personalities with legions of fans that wishing to emulate them.
We’ve looked back at some of pro wrestling’s greatest performers and matched them to those that we feel are their poker counterpart. We didn’t restrict ourselves to the modern era, making for some interesting player-wrestler comparisons.
Phil Hellmuth – Ric Flair
Ric Flair is easily the greatest world champion in the history of professional wrestling. He is officially credited with 16 world title reigns but that number is in reality closer to 30 if you consider some short term title swaps in the days of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). For decades, Flair took on all comers and was the standard bearer for professional wrestling.
Phil Hellmuth is a 13-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and one of the best Hold’em tournament players in history. All but one of those bracelets have come in Texas Hold’em.
When it’s World Series of Poker season, Hellmuth always finds a way to run deep in events and make final tables. He has $18 million in professional earnings and has produced some of the greatest moments in poker history.
One major similarity between the two is that they are masters of self promotion. Ric Flair has been known for decades as one of the best talkers in professional wrestling and can still draw a crowd based on his mic skills. Hellmuth is well known for hyping his own abilities as well as name dropping.
Imagine the following in Ric Flair’s voice and “It’s all about this right here, the World Series of Poker gold bracelet. For 20 years, all the big names have tried to stop me. Whether it was Ivey, Negreanu, Matusow or Brunson, each of them have tried and failed. I am a 13-time World Series of Poker champion and the greatest tournament player alive. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, and in poker, I am the man.” (Feel free to insert the obligatory whooo anywhere in the above statement.)
Doyle Brunson – Bruno Sammartino
Doyle Brunson and Bruno Sammartino are both considered the “Greatest of All-Time” in their respective industries. Brunson became famous as one of the legendary “Texas Road Gamblers” where he traveled the country playing high-stakes poker.
The modern poker generation knows Doyle primarily for his tournament accomplishments. He won 10 WSOP bracelets in his career including the 1976 and 1977 WSOP Main Event. Doyle also has one WPT title, winning Legends of Poker in 2004. He has won over $6 million in poker tournaments and countless millions in cash games over the years.
If not for boycotting the WSOP for a few years from 1999 to 2002, he may have the all-time lead for bracelets. Although retired from tournaments, he still plays high stakes cash games in Las Vegas.
Bruno Sammartino was perhaps one of the most dominate pro wrestlers in history. His mat-oriented style coupled with his amazing charisma won him the hearts of fans worldwide. Sammartino opened the door for what is modern professional wrestling today.
Typically, a two-time world champion would not be considered among the all-time greats. However, those two title reigns lasted a combined 4,040 days, or over 11 years. His first title reign came in the WWWF from 1963 to 1971. He defeated “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in less than a minute That first reign lasted seven years, eight months and one day.
Sammartino later regained the title in 1973 and held it until 1977, completing over 11 years as heavyweight champion. He retired in 1981 but returned in 1984 before retiring for good in 1988 over a dispute with current WWE owner Vince McMahon. It wasn’t until 2013 that they resolved their issues and Sammartino was finally elected into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Vanessa Selbst – The Fabulous Moolah
Vanessa Selbst is simply the greatest female tournament player in the history of the game. Just look at the stats. She is the all-time money winner among the ladies, tied to most bracelets all-time and easily the most feared woman in the history of live poker. Selbst is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame one day and unless she decides to retire early, she still has decades of dominance left in poker.
The Fabulous Moolah is considered by most to be the greatest female wrestler of all-time. She won the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) title five times in her career and took down the WWE Women’s Title four times. She continued to entertain in a WWE ring in one capacity or another until her death in 2007 at age 84. Moolah’s career helped to spawn generations of female wrestlers and many of the current Diva’s currently wrestling today.
Daniel Negreanu – John Cena
When you think of the WWE in the last decade, no wrestler has been more important to the company than John Cena. Whether you love him or despise him, Cena has a history of being one of the first men to work every day and the last one to leave.
He is a hero to children all over the world and a staunch supporter of the U.S. military. Cena is also a 15-time World Heavyweight Champion, just one behind Ric Flair. Many consider him the greatest performer in the industry today and perhaps of all-time.
Few would debate that Daniel Negreanu is the face of professional poker. He is tournament poker’s all-time money winner, a six-time WSOP bracelet winner, a two-time WPT champion and the #1 guy that producers want on their televised poker events.
Negreanu has been able to adapt with the ever-changing face of the game and is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Sometimes controversial, he isn’t afraid to speak his mind if he believes it will help the game. Like Cena in the WWE, Negreanu is “the man” in professional poker.
Mike Matusow – Paul Heyman
While Paul Heyman may not take bumps in the ring, he is easily one of the best talkers in the history of the WWE. Not since the days of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan has there been a manager that has had the charisma and the ability to enthrall an audience.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s WrestleMania, Heyman’s segments have been among the highest rated and each promo tends to be better than the last.
When thinking about poker champions with the gift of gab, the first that comes to mind is Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. For over a decade, Mikey has been one of the more charismatic players at the tables.
Originally portrayed as a villain for his taunting of Greg Raymer, Mikey’s ability to overcome adversity and succeed in poker has won him the hearts of fans around the world. You never know when the next “Matusow rant” is coming, and sometimes they are worth the price of admission to an event.
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[WWE WrestleMania image at top used for illustrative purposes only]