By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 12, 2003
The year 2003 looms as a pivotal one for World Wrestling Entertainment. Coming off a particularly disappointing year in 2002, WWE officials realize that this year could be a make-or-break one for the entire industry, whose fate rests squarely on the shoulders of mat czar Vince McMahon and his brain trust in Stamford.
This week also is a particularly important one for WWE, which is presenting a special two-hour 10th anniversary Raw show on Tuesday night that will be broadcast live from The World in New York’s Times Square. The company has reached out to a number of past performers to be on the show; due to the nature of the business, however, many had left on bad terms and are unlikely to make a one-shot appearance just to be on the anniversary fete.
McMahon met last week with Bret Hart at McMahon’s vacation home in Florida, although it is not known whether Hart was invited or would even consider taking part in the show. Hart’s last WWE appearance, at the 1997 Survivors Series, is an event that will forever be etched in stone.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]McMahon and company also hope to set the tone for a rebuilding year by reminding fans just how exciting things were in happier – and more lucrative – times. Those times, however, seem further and further removed as the company faces declining television ratings and house show attendance.
Just last week the company announced that house shows in a number of towns – San Angelo, Texas; Lake Charles, La.; Baton Rouge, La.; New Orleans, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Utica, N.Y.; Lowell, Mass.; Louisville, Ky.; and Valparaiso, Ind. – all had been canceled. Although no official reason was given, it is believed the cancellations were due to poor advance ticket sales, a rare occurrence in years past.
McMahon also hopes to shake things up on Raw, a show that has been increasingly criticized over the past year for not only a series of tasteless angles, but uninspired and lackluster storylines that have contributed to the drop in ratings.
Unsubstantiated reports have surfaced in recent weeks that McMahon has been considering giving partial creative control of Raw to Eric Bischoff. The former WCW boss and current figurehead Raw general manager has been used strictly as an on-air talent thus far, but it’s no secret that he’d like to have a bigger hand behind the scenes.
Bischoff, who last week declared that 2003 was going to be “the year of Eric Bischoff,” announced at the end of the show that one-time hated arch-enemy McMahon, who has not been on TV since naming Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as Raw and Smackdown GMs, respectively, was going to make an appearance on this week’s edition. It has been speculated that the WWE owner will blame Bischoff for Raw’s downturn, which will lead to a “coup” and eventual takeover by Bischoff.
McMahon, of course, is in control of this storyline. But by allowing Bischoff more creative input, he hopes to give Raw more of an identity of its own and add believability and another dimension to the heretofore failed brand extension.
McMahon might be well-advised to remember that timeless Latin phrase: “Caveat emptor!” (Let the buyer beware). While Bischoff may have been the man at the helm of WCW during its peak, his handprints remained on the final product that was put to rest in March 2001. One longtime observer was skeptical that Bischoff would be given any power behind the scenes at WWE.
“He has too much heat with the guys. I have no doubt that a number of them would leave if Bischoff got any type of control.”
– Due to Tuesday’s live 10th anniversary of Raw special, the Jan. 16 edition of Smackdown will be taped today at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
– Last week’s Raw did a 3.6, slightly up from previous weeks, but without competition from Monday Night Football. Smackdown drew a 3.4.
– The first singles bout between Scott Steiner and Triple H took place Tuesday night in El Paso, Texas, and from all reports, the match was a disappointment. Steiner won by disqualification due to interference from Ric Flair and Batista. Making matters even worse, Steiner failed to “send the fans home happy” when he refused to take the mic from Howard Finkel at the end of the show. While that may seem like a minor point, the WWE needs to do all it can to reverse its declining house show attendance.
– Recent reports indicate that the widely speculated dream match between The Rock and Bill Goldberg may not take place at this year’s Wrestlemania.
“Goldberg has made an ass of himself,” said one source. “He’s said some things publicly about guys in the company, and has just done some stupid things. He has disappointed a lot of people and has gotten some very bad advice. He won’t talk to Vince personally or even take his calls. He’s cracked on Hunter (Hearst Helmsley) and different individuals. For a guy who was given so much in this business, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Goldberg did, however, have his first face-to-face meeting with McMahon at a Los Angeles hotel on Wednesday. No deal was reached, but it is believed that Goldberg wants to come in for a one-shot deal at Wrestlemania, along with prior appearances to build up the show.
“Whoever they’re going to feature at Wrestlemania needs to be in the arenas the next day,” said one WWE performer. “If they are going to pay Bill Goldberg a lot of money, it should be to put someone over.” – Rumors continue to swirl that former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is planning a return to WWE.
“It depends on whether Vince McMahon puts the decimal point in the right spot,” Ventura told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week. Ventura claims to be running a mile in less than 10 minutes as part of his “reconditioning” program.
ESPN reported Friday night that Ventura has hired a personal trainer and would like to work a match with fellow Minnesotan Brock Lesnar if the money was right.
The New York, Post, however, reported last week that Ventura will host his own show on MSNBC. The paper hinted that Ventura might replace Phil Donahue’s low-rated show “Donahue” at 8 p.m.
– Stacy Keibler said in a recent on-line chat that she has never felt pressure to fall in line with the majority of WWE divas who opt for breast augmentation.
“I’ve been told by most of the wrestlers and guys in the company that if I was to get implants I would just blend in with the rest of the girls,” the 23-year-old Maryland native said. “I am proud to be different in that way. Also I have lovely long legs – and I didn’t have to go to any doctor to buy them.”
“Jim Ross actually told me that if it was my personal decision to get implants because I wanted them for my own self-confidence, then that would be fine,” Stacy added. “But he said I shouldn’t feel pressured as the company didn’t want me to get them. It was very nice and it was refreshing to know they didn’t want me to change anything about myself.”
Charleston’s own Molly Holly reflected the same sentient in a recent interview.
“Nobody asks the girls to get implants,” she said. “Each girl decides how they want their hair, what they want to wear, how they want to look. They (WWE officials) just stress that you take care of your body. It’s also a role model thing. We’re setting an example of being athletes and wanting to look like athletes.”
Molly also put to rest a rumor that there was pressure behind the scenes for her to lose weight, explaining that the on-camera ribbing was just part of the storyline.
“Stephanie McMahon asked me if they could do an interview with Trish where she said I had a big behind, and if I would mind. It was no problem with me. It was like pointing at someone wearing glasses and joking that they had poor vision. So what? It doesn’t matter to me. God gave me two legs to walk on and I’m healthy, so why should I be offended if someone criticized my physical appearance when God created me this way. It would almost be a slap in the face to God to say that I’m not happy with the blessings he has given me.”
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. For more wrestling news, check out www.mikemooneyham.com.