By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 19, 2003
The Royal Rumble may be the talk of the wrestling world today, but the minute the smoke clears after tonight’s final match, all eyes will be on Wrestlemania. And the one big question heading into that event revolves around whether Bill Goldberg will take his long-anticipated plunge into the stormy waters of World Wrestling Entertainment.
My money’s on Goldberg, simply because money talks and Goldberg will follow the trail all the way to the bank and Seattle.
Forget all the gab about how Goldberg doesn’t approve of the way Vince McMahon conducts business, about how he cringes at some of the tasteless WWE storylines, or about how he’d like to ram his fist down Triple H’s throat. Don’t forget that Goldberg readily admits that he learned a trick or two from Hollywood Hulk Hogan, the master of manipulation.
The bottom line will determine whether or not fans get to see a Wrestlemania dream match between Goldberg and The Rock, who has publicly said that Goldberg is the one fresh opponent he would like to work with at the mega-event.
With their first face-to-face meeting behind them, the time is now for Goldberg and McMahon to seal the deal. The clock is ticking toward Wrestlemania, and McMahon would like nothing better than to sign Goldberg for the show, creating a major media buzz and virtually ensuring a huge pay-per-view buy rate. More than 50,000 people are extended to attend the March 30 event, breaking all attendance records at Seattle’s Safeco Field (during its first weekend of sales WWE sold all of the 40,000 tickets it initially made available for the show, grossing more than $2.3 million).
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Goldberg is the one big fish McMahon has been unable to land, and to let him get away would not only put a kink in plans for Wrestlemania, but would be seen as a personal setback for McMahon. Such a missed opportunity, though, would be equally damaging to Goldberg.
While Goldberg boasts of potential big-money deals in Japan, he’s a savvy enough businessman to realize that it doesn’t stand up next to the exposure he’d get headlining the biggest show of them all. It’s no secret that Goldberg wants to parlay his ring notoriety into a lucrative film career, much like The Rock. That’s not likely to happen overseas.
Goldberg categorized his initial confab with McMahon at a Los Angeles hotel on Jan. 8 as a “philosophical … meeting of the minds.” “It was good to finally sit down and talk with him after so long,” Goldberg wrote on his Web site last week. “Now the ball is in the WWE’s court.”
One stumbling block is that Goldberg only wants to wrestle at two events – Wrestlemania and the following pay-per-view.
– Let’s hope that Vince McMahon’s ultimatum to Eric Bischoff about turning Raw around in 30 days was directed at the creative team as well. While the WWE owner is busy issuing orders and warnings, he should toss one in the direction of the Brian Gewirtz-led Raw writing staff.
Widespread rumors that McMahon was considering giving partial control to Bischoff have been since discounted, and Bischoff has been confiding to friends that he’s not sure if he’ll even be around after Wrestlemania. One plan currently being bandied about is a match between Bischoff and McMahon at the big event.
McMahon’s appearance on Raw helped push the program to its highest rating (3.91) since August.
– A few comments about the 10th anniversary Raw show Tuesday night at The World.
For a show that revolutionized the business, this anniversary celebration was a train wreck. Had it been a wrestling match, Jim Ross most certainly would have called it “as ugly as a bowling shoe.”
Although it was billed as a 10th anniversary, there was little pre-1997 material on the show with the exception of a segment on bad gimmicks. The program wasn’t nearly as innovative or even campy as similar WWE productions in years past, such as The Slammys or Tuesday Night Titans.
With the exception of Kevin Dunn’s video packages and a heartfelt presentation by Ric Flair honoring the WWE’s fallen warriors over the past decade, this program was a bland, boring letdown.
Big names from the past had been promised, but none were delivered (unless one includes “company employees for life” The Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young and Classy Freddie Blassie). Bobby Heenan, who had been advertised as one of the presenters along with Mean Gene Okerlund, wasn’t there either. Then again, he wasn’t even invited until three days before the show.
Unfortunately the biggest name in Raw history – “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – didn’t make the bash, nor did fellow icons such as The Rock (at least not in person), Mick Foley, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan or even The Undertaker. Those who weren’t there certainly had a bigger impact on the show than those who were.
To say the crowd was hostile would be an understatement. But they had every right to be. Many fans reported braving the cold and standing in line for hours before they were let into the building, and then hastily herded out as soon as the festivities concluded. Tickets for the event were $20 in addition to a 20-buck minimum for food. A number of fans also reported being snubbed by WWE performers when asking for autographs. To top it all off, a fire across the street created mass confusion as fans and wrestlers departed the WWE-owned club.
Perhaps the most surprising reaction on the show was to The Rock’s satellite-feed appearance from the set of his movie in Hawaii. As he sped through his obligatory promos directed at some of the WWE stars in attendance, The Rock was greeted with a hearty chorus of boos along with loud chants of “sellout” and “boring.”
It has become increasingly apparent (dating back to The Rock’s match with Hogan at last year’s Wrestlemania) that the former “People’s Champ” has lost some luster since leaving for greener pastures in Hollywood. His dialogue Monday night was uninspired, long-winded and rambling, and he came across as having better things to do than to cut wrestling promos. But who can blame him? He’s making much more money now than he ever did in wrestling (and that was substantial), with a lot less wear and tear on his body. If WWE truly is listening to the fans’ reaction, the company will bring him back as a heel, especially if Goldberg enters the picture.
As for the special surprises and former stars of Raw, there were none. Even the Raw wrestler of the decade, Steve Austin, was a no-show, although no one expected him to be there. As McMahon, in his own inimitable style, glibly explained: “He wasn’t invited,” setting the stage for Austin’s imminent return.
It appeared that little thought was put into the award selection process, but it really didn’t matter since many of the top honors went to stars who weren’t even in attendance.
The Raw X special, more of a promo for the Rumble than a look back at a show that shaped the entertainment industry, appeared to have been put together at the last minute. If anything, it showed just how far the mighty have fallen. WWE would have been well-served to have spent a portion of those two hours Monday night focusing on the battle that culminated with the company winning the Monday night wrestling wars in 2000. Eric Bischoff, Vince McMahon’s major nemesis during that period, even had a ringside seat for the show.
As it were, the characters were over, the action was heart-stopping and the crowds were electric. Unfortunately it was all on video, and just served to remind us what a great show Raw used to be. – George’s Sports Bar on Savannah Highway will air the Royal Rumble pay-per-view at 8 p.m. tonight. Cover charge is $5.
– This year the Rumble, which usually falls on the Sunday between the NFL championship games and the Super Bowl, goes head-to-head with the AFC title contest and the Golden Globe Awards.
– WWE will be touring South Korea and Japan Jan. 23-25. Scott Steiner and Batista will meet Triple H in the main events of shows in Seoul and Tokyo, respectively, on Thursday and Friday. Triple H, managed by Ric Flair, will meet Tajiri on a second Tokyo show Saturday.
– Former Carolinas star Pistol Pez Whatley suffered a heart attack Wednesday night. He is being moved to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville where he’ll await a heart transplant.
“Pez has been sick for a long time,” Thunderbolt Patterson said Friday. Patterson said Whatley, who worked at WCW’s Power Plant in Atlanta before the company was sold, had returned to his hometown of Chattanooga.
Whatley also wrestled under the names Shaska Whatley (as part of The Jive Tones) and Willie B. Hert.
– A blast from the past: Wednesday night’s NWA-TNA pay-per-view at the Nashville Fairgrounds featured an eight-man tag-team match with Vince Russo, Low Ki, Christopher Daniels and Elix Skipper against Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors and Jeff Jarrett. Mr. Wrestling IV made a surprise run-in at the end of the match, floored Rhodes with a chain and unmasked, revealing none other than “Russian Nightmare”-turned-evangelist Nikita Koloff.
Koloff is also scheduled to make an appearance at a show Saturday night in Statesville, N.C., headlined by George South Jr. and Sr. and The Road Warriors against four Masked Assassins.
– Larry Zbyszko and Konnan also made surprise appearances on the NWA-TNA show.
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 and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown.