By Mike Mooneyham
Aug. 11, 2002
Officially the main event for the WWE’s upcoming Summer Slam pay-per-view is a showdown between The Rock, the company’s biggest star, and Brock Lesnar, a still relatively untested performer being asked to step into some very big shoes. Since it’s a well-known fact that Rock plans to take another lengthy movie-making hiatus after the event, it’s not much of a secret that the 25-year-old Lesnar, a former NCAA heavyweight champ at the University of Minnesota, will win the title and continue his path up the WWE ladder.
The Summer Slam matchup that holds far greater intrigue is the pairing of Triple H, who is coming off of elbow surgery, and Shawn Michaels, the company’s top in-ring performer until a serious back injury cut his career short nearly four years ago while he was still in his early 30’s.
Doctors at that time recommended that the self-proclaimed Heartbreak Kid never wrestle again, pointing out that the pounding he took during his career had virtually destroyed two disks in his back, and that further pressure might cause permanent damage. After a grueling operation Michaels (real name Michael Shawn Hickenbottom) agreed that a return to the ring wasn’t worth the risk.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“It’s time to say it’s a wrap,” said Michaels, who took pride in having the best match on high-profile shows and bowed out as figurehead WWF commissioner in 2000, limiting his ring activities to a trainer’s role at his wrestling academy in San Antonio.
Several years later Michael remains on contract with the WWE and is two weeks away from his first bona fide match since losing to Steve Austin at the 1998 Wrestlemania. But don’t expect him to try to reprise his role as one of the top bump-takers in the business.
The buildup for his appearance at Summer Slam is being meticulously crafted so as not to raise anyone’s expectations for a possible five-star classic. Michaels last week made it a point to emphasize that the contest would be a “fight” and a “brawl” as opposed to an actual “match.”
In fact, there’s a good chance that Michaels won’t work another match until next year, possibly at Wrestlemania. Sources have indicated that the bout is more of a test to see how Michaels can handle the strain, which is why longtime friend Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Paul Levesque) will be in the ring with him.
And while Michaels may not show many flashes of the in-ring brilliance he exhibited throughout the 90s, many colleagues are singing praises of his new and improved out-of-the-ring demeanor.
The 36-year-old Michaels professes to be a changed man since his earlier days in the World Wrestling Federation, where he seemingly took enjoyment out of ruffling the feathers of choice adversaries, found a number of innovative ways to avoid doing clean jobs, and helped shape backstage politics through his leadership role in the infamous Clique and later as part of Degeneration X.
Most of his co-workers today, however, agree that Michaels is a changed man, and that not only he is talking the talk, but he’s walking the walk.
Former “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase acknowledged recently on the Trinity Broadcast Network that Michaels, indeed, was a born-again Christian, having been saved by San Antonio-based pastor John Hagee.
“I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and it has completely changed my life,” Michaels revealed in an interview on the WWE Web site. “It has given me a new life, a new energy, a new perspective on everything, which is what He does.”
Michaels said his return to the company would be without the profanity he was known for previously, adding, “I’m thrilled that the Lord brought me back to do this one more time, so that I could do it differently this time.”
Michaels, who is married to former Nitro Girl Whisper and has a 2-year-old son, also said he no longer identified himself as a wrestler, but as “a Christian man and a husband and a father,” adding that he did not plan to “beat anybody over the head with a Bible.” But “it is my job to send the message out there. And when I get a chance, I’ll do that. You know, He wouldn’t have sent me back (into wrestling) if He didn’t want me back there for a reason.”
Even more revealing was a remark Michaels recently made on DiBiase’s Web site, stating that even he doesn’t watch the WWE product and admitting that he was uncomfortable doing a version of the DX symbol recently on television.
“I didn’t actually do the crotch chop,’ explained Michaels. “I went to my waist and I was very uncomfortable because I told them I wasn’t going to do that. But I did make the X’ sign, I did do that, but I didn’t do what we used to do. I made it a point not to do that because I am uncomfortable doing that.”
Michaels said that he stays in the word and now prays every day before he goes to work.
“I feel very good when I go to work and strong, and there’s some other guys who were Christians before, but sort of like closet Christians … Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho. But now with me there, I’ve been sort of a staple in that company for a long time and I’m somebody who’s a little more outgoing that we openly talk about it now. So that it’s something that can be openly talked about in the dressing room around the guys, and the guys can take part of it or not. A lot of guys don’t talk about it for whatever reason. I think a lot of it has to do with, the business can be very intimidating. Not that we all are subject to anything that’s not cool, but to a certain extent that’s true. If it’s something you don’t think that everyone is going to accept, then you sort of don’t talk about it. And me, I’m thrilled about it, and the thing is now there’s other guys, there’s guys in there who believe but just don’t want to talk about it, but now it’s a subject that can be talked about.”
– Raw was knocked out of its usual spot atop the basic cable ratings last week. Cable’s latest foray into senseless escapism, the Anna Nicole Smith show, garnered a 4.1 to claim the honors. Raw registered a 3.7 for the second straight week.
Smackdown, meanwhile, recorded a 2.7 broadcast rating, its lowest number ever for a non-holiday edition.
– The WWE needs to walk a very fine line with its pro-Canada, anti-America storyline involving The Un-Americans (Lance Storm, Christian and Test). With the 9/11 anniversary quickly approaching and the tragedy still painfully fresh in the minds of many Americans, anti-U.S. rants like the ones delivered on last week’s Raw could very easily backfire.
Surprisingly enough, the remarks made last week were originally scripted to be even more inflammatory, but fortunately wiser heads prevailed and at least toned down the rhetoric.
– Hulk Hogan is celebrating his 49th birthday at home, much to the disappointment of an Australian audience that paid money expecting to see him highlight the WWE’s current Australian tour.
Hogan, a focal point of the Global Warming tour, was pulled from the highly publicized event because of “back problems” allegedly resulting from his recent Smackdown match with Brock Lesnar. Company officials claimed that the back ailment had been plaguing Hogan for some time, and with a 16-hour flight back and forth in a short period of time, Vince McMahon decided to pull him from the tour. Others, however, claim money was at the root of the pullout, which prompted widespread fan backlash Down Under.
WWE executive vice president Roger Marment apologized for Hogan not appearing at the Australian event during a recent press conference. Marment said it was Hogan’s desire to attend, but said he is 49 years old this weekend and didn’t know how much longer he would be wrestling. Marment also cited the attack Hogan suffered at the hands of Lesnar on Smackdown for aggravating the back injury.
– A total of 15 employees, around three percent of the company’s workforce, have been released from World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. A release issued by the company stated that the firings were done to reduce and realign the company’s operating budgets by approximately $20 for the current fiscal year. It also stated that several departments were reorganized to save additional operating costs.
– Bret Hart continues to make progress from the stroke he suffered six weeks ago while riding his bicycle, but the left side of his face remains paralyzed and the prognosis indicates a long road to recovery.
“I’m getting a lot of my movement back. But I’m worried about my face,” Hart told the Calgary Sun last week. “I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. I believe I’m going to totally recover and I don’t want people to remember me like I am now, with this glassy stare or this droopy palsy look.”
“My vision in the left eye is still bad, so I can’t drive,” said Hart, who was discharged from the hospital on Aug. 2. “My voice is weak and I have trouble talking for any length of time or swallowing. I’ll be happy when I can smile and wink. I can’t smile and wink now. It really cuts down on my flirting.”
– Longtime Pacific Northwest promoter Don Owen passed away on Aug. 1 at the age of 90.
Owen promoted wrestling shows throughout Oregon and southwest Washington for nearly 70 years.
His weekly televised shows out of Portland ran for 38 years until closing down in 1991.
“It doesn’t appeal to bankers and lawyers,” Owen once said of the telecasts. “It’s for the mill workers, the farmers, the working class, the old people in nursing homes.”
Owen, who raised cattle and thousands of turkeys at his ranch near Eugene, Ore., promoted his final show in 1992 at the old Portland Sports Arena, a converted bowling alley and the promotion’s home base where names such as Lou Thesz, Ric Flair, Gorgeous George, Dory Funk Jr. and Andre The Giant had headlined over the years. Many stars such as Jimmy Snuka and Curt Hennig got their start working for Owen, while others such as Roddy Piper, Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Mad Dog Vachon developed their personas in that territory.
Owens’ Pacific Northwest Wrestling was at one time the longest-running promotion in the country, and he was a longtime member of the National Wrestling Alliance.
– Quote of the week comes from Dusty Rhodes in a Q&A sidebar in the Aug. 11 issue of Sports Illustrated. When asked if (Atlanta Braves star) Chipper (Jones) is a good name for a man, Rhodes remarked, “I knew a hooker one time in Kansas City who was named Chipper.”
– Stacy Keibler is scheduled to make the jump soon to Raw to be closer to boyfriend Test (Andrew Martin).
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,” currently No. 27 on The New York Times Extended Bestseller List.