By Mike Mooneyham
June 15, 2002
Steve Austin has retreated to Texas, The Rock’s in movies, and the rest of the WWE crew is coming apart at the seams.
The increasingly bleak situation may be too daunting a task for even Ric Flair to handle – not that he wasn’t asked.
The 53-year-old Flair, who had been building heat for weeks as the top heel on the Raw roster, was forced to suddenly shift gears and turn babyface on last week’s show for a main-event bout with Vince McMahon over total control of the company.
The match-up, though, made little sense in light of Flair’s storyline feud with Austin, who defeated him the previous week on Raw to set up a scenario in which Flair would have to be the Texas Rattlesnake’s “servant.” After dropping cage matches to Austin on consecutive nights during Raw’s weekend house show swing, Flair was asked to “do the honors” once again Monday night, but this time to the 56-year-old McMahon.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]How many losses will Flair have to endure before the increasingly inept writing team figures out that’s not the way to put heat on one of its major characters? Like in WCW, Flair has had to put over everyone and everything except the proverbial kitchen sink, and in this case there’s no WCW to blame. And, as in WCW, Flair has at times delivered extraordinary interviews, even against the backdrop of the annoying “What?” chants that have only served to disrupt the quality of WWE promos over the past six months. Nobody seems to be listening anyway.
The WWE’s woes, however, extend far beyond the mishandling of Flair’s character. The Austin situation portends an even deeper problem within the ranks of the company.
The WWE officially announced on Thursday that Austin was no longer an active member of its talent roster. Its Web site noted that Austin had failed to appear at the June 10 Raw in Atlanta, “instead choosing to return home to San Antonio without notice and without company approval.” The story also mentioned Austin taking a “two-week hiatus” after Wrestlemania, which the story claims he also did without permission.
“Although Steve was unhappy with his character’s creative direction, Steve made the personal and unprofessional decision not to report to work to address his concerns,” said the Web site. “Therefore, Stone Cold Steve Austin is no longer an active member of WWE’s talent roster.”
Austin’s second defection in the past three months was the result of growing frustration over what he considered sub-par writing and lame storylines. One proposed angle in particular – a match with “Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar last Monday night on Raw – prompted him to walk out that afternoon and book a flight back to Texas, forcing McMahon and the creative staff to rework the show at virtually the last minute.
Austin, though, isn’t the only one who has become increasingly critical of the company’s creative direction, which in recent weeks has focused on overdone and stale “evil owner” storylines and shock-inducing toilet humor. Even Vince McMahon admitted in a recent interview that the company was in a state of flux and may have fallen into a “comfort zone” with the success of the late 90s.
While Austin’s recent antics have caused friction in the back among workers who believe that lesser talent would have been fired on the spot for walking out, there’s no argument that hot-shoting an Austin-Lesnar match on free TV doesn’t make good business sense, not to mention the fact that Lesnar simply has not yet gone through enough quality opponents to justify such a bout.
The flip side is that not only did it leave McMahon and the writing staff in the lurch, it disappointed thousands of Atlanta fans who paid good money to see the WWE’s top draw. With the roster already diluted as a result of the heretofore failed “brand extension,” having Austin bail out at the last minute certainly did nothing to curry favor with the company’s paying audience.
One of Austin’s best friends, Jim Ross, on Friday expressed his feelings concerning the situation by saying, “Walking off the job and ending his career with this company at his own hand is damn hard to swallow and I still do not fully understand why this method of protest was selected by one of the fiercest competitors in the business’ history.” Ross also wrote on the WWE’s Web site that the company needed more “positive people” who cared more about the company than “their own careers and fragile egos.”
“As the head of our Talent Relations department, if I am unable to accomplish this goal, maybe it is time for old J.R. to head back to Oklahoma and go fishing,” Ross said in closing. “However, I will not walk away from this task at hand without a fight and when I leave I will give my notice in person.”
One thing’s for certain – the WWE needs to regroup and rebuild. A change is not going to happen overnight; it may not come for months and possibly even longer. Signing Bill Goldberg isn’t the answer, either. The WWE has botched one moneymaking angle after another over the past year, and until it effects some major changes from within, there is no guarantee that it won’t botch another.
– The Rock, who was scheduled to work his first match in months at a WWE show Saturday night in Honolulu, received considerable mainstream publicity during his weekend swing in Hawaii. The Rock, who attended a Samoan ceremony there, will play Hawaii’s legendary King Kamehameha in an upcoming movie.
“I’m proud to announce – I just got the call from my agent today – Sony Pictures has purchased the rights and will be in development for myself to play King Kamehameha in a movie based on his life,” The Rock told a gathering of friends and members of the press last week.
According to the Honolulu Advertiser, it is believed to be the first film exclusively on Hawaii’s king who united the islands and ruled from 1795 to 1819. The Rock said the film would be shot in Hawaii, as will another of his upcoming action-comedy productions, “Helldorado,” with filming on the latter scheduled to begin in late August or early September.
The WWE’s Honolulu show sold out in only two hours.
– For all of the Jarretts’ talk about wrestling tradition and commitment to producing hard-working young talent, within a one-week period they signed Rick Steiner, Scott Hall, Buff Bagwell and Brian Christopher to short-term contracts, a sure sign that the fledgling company has not learned from history.
While they also signed a number of valets to enhance the “TNA” part of the company name (the first event will feature a lingerie battle royal including Francine, Bobcat and Electra, although that match will not air until the second week on pay-per-view), the nostalgic “NWA” contingent will be represented by former world champions Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race and Ricky Steamboat.
Not surprisingly, advance ticket sales for the group’s inaugural show Wednesday night in Huntsville, Ala., have been sluggish (less than five hundred tickets had been sold a week before the show), which means that the promotion will probably have to give away more tickets than they sell in order to make the building look respectable for its debut. NWA-TNA launched a major ticket giveaway when it recently announced that everyone who showed up at the Huntsville Speedway this weekend would get complimentary tickets to the pay-per-view.
NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Sterling Marlin, who is also scheduled to appear on the PPV, told the Huntsville Times on Friday: “I’m not going to get in there and hit anybody in the head. I think I’m just supposed to present the belt to the pile-driving winner or something. Huntsville is close to the house, so they asked me if I’d come.”
The Nashville-based company also announced that it will run live weekly every Wednesday night starting on July 3 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Ticket prices have been dropped to $10 for every show starting with the Nashville card.
Other names signed (at least for the first event) include Ken Shamrock, Konnan, Steve Corino, Norman Smiley, Vampire Warrior, Devon Storm, K-Krush, Gran Apollo, Lenny and Lodi (who will be managed by Joel Gertner), Ron and Don Harris, Christian York and Joey Matthews. “Minister” James Mitchell, formerly known as The Sinister Minister in ECW, James Vandenberg in WCW and Daryl Van Horn in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, also has joined the roster.
– Diamond Dallas Page (Page Falkenberg) announced last week that he is retiring from wrestling. DDP, 46, made the decision after meeting with Vince McMahon prior to Tuesday night’s Smackdown taping in Greenville. Page had been advised by some doctors to not return to wrestling due to neck problems, with his doctor in Atlanta warning him that one bad bump could snap his spinal cord and cause him to become paraplegic. Corrective surgery would have required a lengthy rehabilitation process.
Page suffered the neck injury during an April match against Bob Holly. An MRI taken shortly after the injury occurred revealed that Page has degenerative discs and bone spurs.
– Shawn Michaels, one of pro wrestling’s top workers of the 90s, is expected to gradually work his way back into the ring, although it’s not a given at this point. A serious back injury took Michaels out of the business several years ago, at which time he said he’d never come back unless he could perform at 100 percent.
The time off apparently has benefited Michaels, who recently attributed his youthful look to his newfound faith.
“To be perfectly honest, that’s bringing the Lord into my life,” Michaels told the WWE Web site. “That is why I look so happy. That is why I look healthier than I’ve ever looked. I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and it has completely changed my life. It has given me a new life, a new energy, a new perspective on everything, which is what he does. It was the first time ever that I ever walked into that dressing room and never worried about if anybody liked me or not. And it felt the most comfortable since I’ve ever been in there. I saw Kevin (Nash) and Kid (X-Pac). I had spoken with Kevin about it. I wanted him to know that before I came back – for him to know that things were not going to be the same exactly for me. There would be no going out and doing this, or doing that. I’m not going to use profanity. Those things just aren’t a part of my life anymore.”
The new NWO, however, is minus founding member Scott Hall. “I pray for him,” said Michaels. “I miss him. I have made myself available to him, to do anything for him that I can. We all think about him. Me, Sean (Waltman) and Kevin were talking about him the other night. It’s a shame that he couldn’t be a part of this with us. But we’re all still friends. I’m thinking about packing up after the next show and going to see him in Florida, if he’ll let me in.”
– Former ECW valet Francine, now with NWA-TNA, made some candid observations on Tommy Dreamer’s new character in the WWE last week on a Chairshots Internet interview.
Said Francine: “I haven’t seen any of the skits, but I heard they’re disgusting. I remember one time a dumpling fell in a toilet and he ate it out of the toilet and it got a big pop by the boys. And I remember one time we were in a restaurant and he had stepped in mashed potatoes and he took it off his shoes and ate it. I used to heel him for it all the time because I just thought it was disgusting and then he stopped doing it, but now he’s starting up again. God bless him. It’s getting him television time.
“If you dare him, he’ll do it. He’s that type of person. If the boys say you’re not going to do it, he goes, Oh yeah, watch me.’ And he’ll go out and do it. He’s a little sick in the head. God bless him for getting his spot. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all the boys that are working. You know, what can you do? You won’t see me eating anybody’s chew.”
– If you’re in the market for a “hardcore cookbook with attitude,” do yourself a favor and check out Jim Ross’s “Can You Take the Heat? The World Wrestling Federation Is Cooking!” I’ve sampled some of the recipes, and can vouch that they’re quite good.
In his inimitable style, the popular announcer gives the behind-the-scenes background on each delectable dish. Some favorites are J.R.’s Slobberknocker Pork Chops, Rikishi’s Rump Roast and Stone Cold’s Rattlesnake Rib Rub, along with his Stomp a Mud Hole in Your Steaks and Ribs Simmering Sauce. There are plenty of stick-to-your-ribs meals that get the Oklahoman’s stamp of approval, as well as lighter fare such as Kane’s Red Velvet Cake, Sgt. Slaughter’s Mess Hall Dip and McMahon Millionaire Pie.
Published by Regan Books, this unique cookbook lists for $15.95.
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies & Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” to be published by Crown next month.