By Mike Mooneyham
April 21, 2002
Vince McMahon said it was dead eight years ago when Hulk Hogan took the money and ran with Ted Turner’s WCW. Vince Russo officially proclaimed its demise nearly two years ago when he verbally assassinated the aging superstar during a pay-per-view in Florida. And when McMahon bought out the competition a little more than a year ago, there was little hope that it would ever return. But this is professional wrestling and, like the pundits are wont to say, “Never say never,” and, more specifically, “Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation.”
It’s true. The rumors of Hulkamania’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Hulkamania has, indeed, risen from the ashes. If there were any doubts, Hogan’s reception at Wrestlemania during his match with The Rock left legions of naysayers scratching their heads. Chances are very good that tonight at the Backlash pay-per-view he’ll put an exclamation point after that fact by winning the world title from Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]McMahon, though, who once claimed he’d never do business with Hogan again, is taking a sizable risk putting Hogan on an equal ring footing with the younger WWF hierarchy. While Hogan is viewed as an icon, it does absolutely nothing for the credibility of the WWF’s elite to have them trade lame chair shots and weak-looking punches with the Hulkster, whose deteriorating skills have been accentuated due to physical problems (rib injury suffered his first match back against Rikishi). Having them lay down for Hogan’s terribly outdated leg drop is even more embarrassing.
It also has been more than a little disquieting watching the WWF’s top tier of performers fawn over Hogan. The Rock, whose meteoric ascension in the sports entertainment field has put him in a position to become a bona fide Hollywood star, has gone above and beyond the call of duty in paying homage to Hogan’s legendary status. At times he has seemed very un-Rocklike describing how, as a youngster, he idolized Hogan (actually his favorite growing up was Ric Flair). And while Hogan officially did the job at Wrestlemania, it didn’t come close to the one Rock did in putting Hogan over. Furthermore, The Rock later champions Hogan for a title match with Triple H at the Backlash PPV, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he should be next in line for the shot since he beat Hogan at Mania.
While it’s true that Hogan currently is the company’s freshest babyface, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he has a history of getting big pops initially before burning out and growing stale. With limited quality ring time left, he’s riding the crest of a nostalgia kick, but how long that momentum lasts is anybody’s guess. Hogan’s path is strewn with victims of his behind-the-scenes politicking and backstage gamesmanship, a fact not lost on a number of current WWF stars who fled WCW for that very reason.
Helmsley, whose return to the ring from a torn quadriceps that sidelined him for most of last year has thus far fallen short of expectations, stands to lose the most if he falls victim to Hogan. Sources say Triple H has been asked to join the thinning ranks of the NWO in an attempt to bolster that group. Losing to Hogan, no matter how the match is booked, would not enhance Triple H in the eyes of many who see Hogan, looking older and moving slower than he ever has, more as a cartoon figure than a credible world champion.
Hogan’s two main goals at this point appear to be getting another run with the world title and working a major program with Steve Austin.
“That’s not going to happen,” said one WWF source. “Austin definitely will not go there. The only way Austin will work with Hogan is if Hogan drops the strap to him.”
Austin has shown his propensity for playing hardball time and time again. A major proponent of the “DTA” (don’t trust anybody) philosophy, Austin well understands the politics of the business. He is known for keeping his guard up whenever a threat, or the prospect of a threat, looms. Claiming he was unhappy with the direction his character was headed, he recently made a point by skipping a series of shows.
– A mere six years ago Dwayne Johnson, with seven bucks to his name, could be found hauling off a discarded hotel mattress because he couldn’t afford to buy one. Today the 29-year-old Johnson, now much better known as The Rock, finds himself on the throes of becoming Hollywood’s next big thing.
One thing is for certain: The Rock’s days as a regular WWF performer are numbered. He has said in recent interviews that while wrestling will always be a big part of his life, he foresees fewer dates down the road as he branches out into films and other related pursuits.
The media blitz surrounding The Rock and this weekend’s opening of “The Scorpion King” has been phenomenal, with Rock’s extensive publicity tour last week alone including stops on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The View” and E! Network’s “Revealed with Jules Asner,” along with his second stint as host for “Saturday Night Live.”
Touted by many as “the next Schwarzeneggar,” The Rock got a lofty compliment last week when “Scorpion King” co-star Michael Clarke Duncan said he once turned down an invitation to an event at the White House because it was being held on a Monday.
“Mondays are Monday Night Raw and I don’t leave the house for anyone or any reason,” Duncan told The Calgary Sun.
“I’ve been a huge fan of The Rock for almost five years,” added Duncan. “I don’t usually go up to celebrities in person, but I saw him at a restaurant about four years ago. I just had to tell him I’m probably his biggest fan.”
“We were in Toronto when someone spotted him,” recalled Duncan. “People suddenly came from everywhere and they swarmed past me to get to him. They just figured I was another one of his bodyguards. I imagine this is what it must have been like to be with The Beatles in their heyday.”
“It has high energy, the action never stops, the dialogue knows it’s funny, and The Rock has the authority to play the role and the fortitude to keep a straight face,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, who gave Rock’s latest movie venture two-and-a-half stars. “I expect him to become a durable action star.”
The Rock is taking a two-month break from wrestling while he honors his ever-increasing movie commitments and spends time with his family. He is scheduled to make an appearance at a May 4 house show at the National Car Center in Sunrise, Fla., (just minutes from his home) in which he will team with Hogan against Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho. He will begin filming on his next movie, “Helldorado,” in the late summer or early fall.
The Rock, who has generally shied away from controversy, recently raised some eyebrows over remarks he made during an interview on ESPN’s “Unscripted.” Without mentioning names, he noted that there were a couple of WWF performers who did business in an underhanded way, with many in the company pointing to Triple H.
– Raw continues to draw strong numbers with its third consecutive 4.8 last week. Smackdown scored a 3.8 broadcast rating, up from the previous week’s 3.5.
– Kane (Glen Jacobs) underwent surgery Monday in Birmingham to repair a torn right biceps suffered during a workout last Sunday. He is expected to be out of action three to four months.
“This is a very unfortunate injury to one of our most valuable talents,” said Jim Ross. “Timing is never good, but this injury occurring so close from the brand extension will be challenging for us. Kane’s surgery went very well and he is expected to be back at 100 percent in four months, as the entire biceps was torn.”
– Sources say that Scott Steiner is close to signing a contract with the WWF. Steiner, who has been heavily courted by the WWF since his AOL-Time Warner contract expired last December, is said to be showing improvement from a foot condition that has hampered him for more than a year.
– The WWF recently made one of its better hires in Dawn Marie. The ex-ECW personality, who was signed to a developmental contract, has the total package – looks, brains, ability and desire – and is a sure bet to crack the elite WWF Diva list in short order. Her ring skills also should provide a boost to a Smackdown women’s roster that includes Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler and Ivory.
Dawn’s fiancé, Simon Diamond (Pat Kenney), is expected to land a full-time spot in either the Florida-based XWF or Jerry Jarrett’s new promotion scheduled to start up in June.
– Bill Goldberg, who displayed his quick temper on national TV several years ago when he put his hand through the windshield of a limousine during an edition of Nitro, suffered wrist tendon damage last weekend when he punched a car at the Long Beach Grand Prix Celebrity Race. Goldberg, who became angry when his vehicle wasn’t functioning properly and slammed his arm into the gearbox, is expected to be in a cast for six weeks.
On the flip side, Goldberg reportedly spent a lot of his time doing charity work while there and visited several children’s hospitals.
– Superstar Billy Graham is still prayerfully waiting for a matching liver donor. Anyone who would like to help ease Billy and wife Valerie’s mounting financial burden can make a donation to: Wayne and Valerie Coleman, 15402 N. 28th St. #105, Phoenix, Ariz. 85032. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated by a man who gave wrestling fans so many wonderful memories over the years.
– Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Paul Bearer (Bill Moody) and his wife, Dianne, who is battling cancer. Doctors discovered a sizable new tumor during a recent check-up, and she began radiation treatments last week.
“This has been a horrible year for our family, physically, mentally and financially,” Bearer wrote on the WWF’s Web site. “I would also like to thank the McMahon family for the constant strength they have continued to give us. I really didn’t want to write another column like this, but I thought you all would be interested in exactly where we stand at this point. The road ahead has become a bit longer for us, but with our faith in our Dear Lord, we will overcome this trial.”
– Jeff and Jerry Jarrett’s new NWA promotion is scheduled to begin June 19 with a series of weekly Wednesday night pay-per-views at $9.95 per show.
– Stanley Weston, a longtime publisher of such wrestling magazines as The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Revue, passed away recently at the age of 82.
– After watching former mat star Burrhead Jones mount and ride a 10,000-pound elephant at the recent Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. show at Ladson’s Exchange Park, I don’t expect to see the local legend running away and joining the circus anytime soon. Burrhead, who along with myself served as guest elephant riders at the event, later said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but felt much more comfortable (and safer) in the squared circle than under the big top.
– Former world champion Bobby Managoff (Robert Manoogian) recently passed away at the age of 85. Managoff, who worked more than 30 years as a pro, won the National Wrestling Association heavyweight title from Yvon Robert on Nov. 27, 1942, and held it until Feb. 19, 1943, dropping the strap to Wild Bill Longson.
Managoff was a second-generation performer whose father held the distinction of being the great Frank Gotch’s last opponent. Gotch broke his ankle in the 1916 bout and died a year later.