By Mike Mooneyham
March 2, 2003
The Rock might have shaved his head, added an unsightly tattoo and turned heel on his fans, but his return to wrestling last week only reinforced the fact that he is still “the most electrifying performer in sports entertainment.”
One night after defeating Hulk Hogan in the main event of the No Way Out pay-per-view in Montreal, The Rock put on a one-man show on Raw in Toronto. Not only did he cut one of his unique 15-minute show-opening promos in which he artfully berated fans for choosing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and not him as “Superstar of the Decade,” he also helped elevate The Hurricane via a comical backstage segment before putting over Booker T in a 20-man battle royal, setting up the underutilized Booker for a Wrestlemania title match with Triple H.
What wasn’t as apparent, at least to the television audience, was The Rock’s genuine goodwill and compassion. While the Toronto throng had a hoot hollering at “The People’s Champion” during the show, they gave him a standing ovation after the cameras stopped rolling when Rock approached a mentally handicapped child at ringside.
“I know I’m not supposed to do this because I’m a bad guy now,” Rock said before doing his “If you smell what I’m cooking” catch phrase with the smiling youngster.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]In between movie gigs, The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) has volunteered his services to ensure that Wrestlemania is a success. Unfortunately for WWE, his return will be short-lived as he returns to the silver screen shortly after the big event. He is tentatively scheduled to start filming on the remake of “Walking Tall” in late May. The Rock will take on the role of Southern sheriff Buford Pusser (who also briefly wrestled professionally) in an updated version of the 1973 film that starred Joe Don Baker in the lead role.
Until then, though, his TV appearances should give WWE a much-needed ratings boost.
– No Way Out’s Rock-Hogan II fell far short of their critically acclaimed first meeting at Wrestlemania X8 last March, with Hogan showing his age (49) and ring rust, along with complaining about a bad back.
“There was this overriding pressure tonight that made me not even worry about that type of pressure – actually getting through this match with my back,” Hogan told the WWE Web site after the bout. “My back has been so damn bad. Five discs. They tried to burn it in California to get it to slide back in, which didn’t work. Tonight, from about 4 p.m. on, I iced it every 20 minutes. The ice is the only thing that would take the pain out. As soon as I got in the ring, taking little short bumps off his punches, I was testing my back. I’m sure it’ll be weird tomorrow. But right now, I’m so happy because it doesn’t hurt, and I’ve only had one beer.”
Hogan and the company drew the ire of scores of unhappy fans when he no-showed Smackdown Tuesday night in London, Ontario, Canada. “Tonight Hulk Hogan, the Hulkster himself, will not be here,” Vince McMahon told the sold-out crowd. “He’s using the flimsy excuse of a family emergency, something to do with his son, Nick.”
Hogan, however, stayed home in Florida to be with 14-year-old daughter Brooke, an accomplished singer, dancer and pianist who was auditioning in front of major record producers. Hogan reportedly told McMahon the previous week that he had to be with his daughter to prepare for her performance last Wednesday.
Hogan, who hasn’t yet signed a new WWE contract and is working on a handshake agreement with McMahon, told the WWE Web site that he would have called off his match with McMahon had his back not held up at No Way Out. “Without telling Vince, if I wouldn’t have made it through this match, there would have been no Wrestlemania. But now I can live to fight another day.”
– Paul Heyman, who has been credited with the resurgence in quality wrestling on Smackdown, last week was removed as head writer for that show. Heyman reportedly butted heads with key members of Vince McMahon’s inner circle, including longtime WWE production chief Kevin Dunn, over creative aspects of the show. Heyman’s duties will now include serving as a “consultant” for both Raw and Smackdown, in addition to his managerial role.
Bruce Prichard and Dave Lagana, who had been working as Heyman’s assistants, have been named as his replacements.
Heyman, the brains behind Extreme Championship Wrestling, reportedly had displayed his combative nature on several occasions, one of which got him and chief Raw writer Brian Gewirtz placed on a one-week suspension from their creative duties. Sources also cited McMahon’s desire to have a greater influence on the Smackdown product, and that he and Heyman had major philosophical differences.
Rumors began to surface last week in the NWA-TNA locker room that Heyman, who is scheduled to face Brock Lesnar in a cage match next week on Smackdown, could be Nashville-bound as a result of the fallout, although sources say McMahon doesn’t want Heyman to leave the company.
– Negotiations with Bill Goldberg are proceeding at a snail’s pace, and it appears that any potential agreement won’t come in time to place the former WCW champ in a slot at Wrestlemania. There is an outside chance, however, that a deal could come in time for Goldberg to make an appearance at the event.
– A MediaLife report last week attributed a recent WWE ratings pop to the return of Steve Austin. Raw garnered a 4.0 rating and first place in the 18-34 and 18-49 demographics last week despite the fact that Austin wasn’t on the show.
The Rock said on Friday’s edition of “WWE Byte This” that he and Austin have talked over their differences and made peace following his impassioned speech blasting the Texas Rattlesnake for walking out on the company last year.
“We solved that and I can’t wait for this Monday,” he said. “It’s going to be off the hook, guaranteed.”
– It’s the end of The World for WWE – at least as far as its New York nightclub is concerned.
The company announced Tuesday that it was closing its theme facility and taking a $32.9 million dollar loss on the Time Square establishment.
Because of the facility loss, the company lost $26.7 million for the quarter. The restaurant closed last week, and the adjacent retail store will close on April 27.
The company is still estimating an annual gross of $370 million to $375 million and annual profits for the fiscal year, which ends at the end of April, of $27 million to $30 million.
Linda McMahon said the company was close to finalizing deals for two tape libraries (ECW and AWA) and would make the product available on video-on-demand.
– Cody Runnels, the son of Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels) and brother of Goldust (Dustin Runnels), won the Georgia high school wrestling championship in the 189-pound division Monday night. Runnels won the final, 6-2, completing a perfect 48-0 season.
– Goldust’s “up-close” interview with Jim Ross last week on Raw drew laughs from the Howard Stern gang. The trash radio host played the interview on his show last week and remarked that Goldust, who Stern said must have graduated from the Shannon Doherty school of acting. was dressed up like one of the members of Insane Clown Posse and was being interviewed by “a big, fat guy in a cowboy hat,” referring to Jim Ross.
– Roddy Piper has signed for a role in Maverick Production’s $40 million project “Knight Fever.” Starring in the movie, which begins shooting later this month, are Janet Jackson, Christopher Walken and Angela Bassett.
– A trust fund is being set up for the children of Curt Hennig, 44, who was found dead in his hotel room on Feb. 10 in Brandon, Fla., hours before he was to do a wrestling show in Tampa. The cause of death is still being investigated. Hennig is survived by wife Leonice and children Joe, Amy, Katie and Hank.
“Curt would give his heart to you,” Barry Darsow told The Minnesota Sun last week. “If he was your friend, he was your friend forever. He joked around, but he would do anything for you. I loved that guy.”
“I thought Curt was the greatest guy in the world when he gave me my first pair of wrestling tights,” added Darsow, who played football with Hennig at Robbinsdale High in 1976 and later joined the WWF as Demolition Smash. “It turned out that he took the tights from his father’s dresser as one of his practical jokes. It’s not good to mess around with the Axe (Larry Hennig).”
– NWA-TNA’s Jeremy Borash blasted Jimmy Yang on the NWA-TNA Web site last week. “Jimmy Yang burned a bridge with TNA management this week, refusing to sign a very simple and basic one night (with no further obligation) contract,” wrote Borash. “Everyone who performs in the ring must sign the same document, including referees and dark match wrestlers. In the contract, the wrestler agrees to allow us to use their name for their performance on the pay-per-view broadcast. For instance, if Vader appears on the program, by signing the contract, he is agreeing to allow us to use the name Vader as relates to his performance on that particular show. It is that basic. Yang had signed a previous multi-date agreement several months ago, but that agreement had expired and when he refused to sign a new agreement it was impossible for us to put him on the show.
“It’s very disappointing for me, personally, as Yang is a former roommate of mine, and someone I still would consider a friend. After several minutes of trying to personally convince him that this was a completely safe thing for him to sign, and our record of trust speaks for itself, he still refused my plea. This caused a last-minute scramble to rearrange a very important segment on the program, and in my opinion, hurt the show. I still like Yang as a person, but he has burned a bridge professionally that will be hard to repair. Don’t expect to see him back. My gut is someone from another organization told him not to sign anything, which is code for, We don’t like you enough to give you a contract right now, but maybe we can keep you from being on TNA, unless you are a one-legged guy from Florida … or is it Michigan.’
“The bright side of this silly situation? Julio Dinero stepped up to the plate, took his place and impressed everyone. I’ve been a big supporter of Dinero since I first saw him, and was glad to see something good to come out of such a ridiculous situation.”