By Mike Mooneyham

July 13, 2003

Hulk Hogan has taken his ball and gone home.

For the third time in less than a year, Hogan has parted ways with WWE, officially citing creative differences.

Hogan’s last match was at the June 24 Smackdown at Madison Square Garden. Teaming with Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar in a six-man bout, Hogan apparently felt like a third wheel, particularly since he was asked to do the job despite receiving a thunderous ovation from the Garden crowd.

Hogan, 49, who won his first WWE crown nearly 20 years ago at MSG, made the decision to leave a couple of days later following an intense phone conversation with Vince McMahon, who refused to give the Hulkster more creative control over how he is used on television.

Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan

Some inside the company were surprised that Hogan, who had freshened up his act somewhat as Mr. America, would exit in the midst of a lucrative program with McMahon that eventually was to lead to a high-profile hair vs. mask match on pay-per-view. Others, however, have confirmed that Hogan wasn’t happy in the unfamiliar role of second fiddle and was upset that his last Smackdown appearance drew the smallest WWE crowd at the Garden in six years, considerably less than what Raw drew at the same arena the night before.

It also has been reported that Hogan was unhappy with a less-than-expected payoff for Wrestlemania XIX. The event, which had been projected to do more than 900,000 buys, came in at less than 600,000, meaning considerably smaller payoffs for the top performers.

Hogan left the company last August after putting over Brock Lesnar on Smackdown, and again bailed out before a scheduled rematch with Lesnar at Survivors Series, telling McMahon he wouldn’t work unless he was guaranteed a win over the former NCAA heavyweight champion, who is half Hogan’s age.

Hogan returned earlier this year, putting over The Rock at the No Way Out pay-per-view in February and later defeating McMahon in their heavily hyped, first-ever meeting at Wrestlemania. To explain Hogan’s most recent departure, McMahon aired a clip of Mr. America removing his hood, proving the masked man and Hogan were one and the same, and then fired him.

Like The Terminator, though, Hogan most definitely will be back, probably well in time for the 20th edition of Wrestlemania next year at Madison Square Garden. Hogan already has met with former XWF officials concerning a possible reformation of that Universal Studios-based promotion, and also sent out feelers to a group once associated with the defunct WCW. Hogan is not expected to make any overtures to NWA-TNA due to Vince Russo’s affiliation with the promotion. Any serious talks involving Hogan and other interested parties, however, most likely would be used by Hogan as bargaining ploys for leverage in future negotiations with McMahon.

Hogan’s unexpected departure comes in the wake of Roddy Piper’s ouster.

Piper, 49, was released from the company shortly after his controversial appearance on HBO’s “Real Sports.” A terse post on the WWE Web site stated that Piper “revealed disturbing facts about his own personal drug use. Piper stated that he used drugs for many years while working in professional wrestling and that he does not like the person that he has become when he actively performs as a professional wrestler … WWE sincerely hopes for Piper and his family that Roddy can find happiness.”

Several nights later, Bruce Prichard, in his old role of Brother Love and subbing for the previously scheduled Piper’s Pit, turned his bit with McMahon into a spoof on Piper, taking shots at him and explaining to the crowd that Piper couldn’t be there because of a “sickness,” the theme of the HBO segment and a term that Piper used in his recent book to describe the excessive lifestyles of wrestlers.

– WWE officially announced last weekend that Bill Goldberg will challenge Triple H for the WWE Raw crown at Summer Slam.

The first-ever Goldberg-Triple H matches are scheduled July 19 in Salt Lake City and July 20 in San Jose, Calif., but likely won’t happen due to an arm infection Goldberg recently suffered. Goldberg was pulled from the Raw lineup last week when he arrived at the arena nursing the infection. He later had his arm drained, but isn’t expected to miss more than a week or two of action.

– More than 1,400 folks turned out for Miles Road Baptist Church’s annual Family Fun Night on June 27. The event, which was highlighted by a wrestling show featuring such names as Jimmy Valiant, Greg Valentine, The Barbarian, Ricky Morton and George South, was a major success. The Rev. Jim Palmer and his staff deserve major kudos for putting together another enjoyable event.

– Carolina Pro Wrestling will hold a show at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Stall High School gym. Advance tickets are $5 and are on sale at Words Unlimited Printing in Summerville at 200-A North Main St., or call 810-5601 for more information.

– A house belonging to Mick Foley was destroyed by fire Monday night. Because of the extensive damage to the single-story, Mediterranean-style home near Pensacola, Fla., the cause of the blaze will probably never be known, said a fire investigator. Damage was estimated at $300,000.

Foley, whose latest book, “Tietam Brown,” was released Tuesday, was not living at the unoccupied home, which was listed for sale. The three-time WWE heavyweight champ, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., with his wife and four children, had not lived at the home for about three years.

– Any favorable plans for a strong Evolution faction took a major hit Monday night as Ric Flair and Randy Orton bowed to a makeshift team consisting of former ECW mainstays Bubba Ray Dudley and Rob Van Dam, while once-projected Evolution member Mark Jindrak did an unimpressive job for Chris Jericho.

Plans for Jindrak to advance to the next level have been dropped, while the current three-member unit of Flair, Orton and Triple H appear to be headed for a babyface turn.

– Also from the “WWE booking never fails to amaze department:” The potential-filled Shawn Michaels-Chris Jericho segment last week on Raw laid a major egg as the Montreal crowd, traditionally one of WWE’s hottest audiences, turned on both performers by the end of the skit, killing any intensity for the rest of the show.

It was somewhat ironic to watch Michaels take the mic and tell the Montreal crowd to “get over” what happened to Bret Hart in 1997, when that’s exactly what WWE has no intention of doing. (The 1997 Survivors Series double-cross of Canadian icon Hart was the jump-start to WWE’s biggest boom period ever).

More surprising was Winnipeg native Jericho, with the then-hot Canadian crowd clearly in his favor, suddenly turning on his home audience, leaving the crowd confused and effectively taking them out of the rest of the show. The segment also drew a response from Hart’s Web site.

“Bret Hart has never received any apology whatsoever from Shawn Michaels. For a man who claims to have found God to outright lie to millions of people is disappointing to say the least. Then again, it really isn’t surprising when you consider that this is the same Shawn Michaels who swore to God, on videotape, right after the Survivor Series ‘97 (double-cross), that he wasn’t in on it … only to admit, years later, that he was in on it all along.”

Michaels offered a halfhearted apology during an interview on TSN’s “Off The Record” several years ago, saying that he would ask for Hart’s forgiveness if he was ever put on the same show with him, but adding that he’d do it (double-cross Hart) again if asked by management.

– Kevin Nash’s worst fears were probably realized when he jobbed to Test last week on Raw. Nash has been rightfully concerned about his status with the company after failing to dethrone longtime friend Triple H on two consecutive pay-per-views. It’s now crystal clear that Nash – despite Jim Ross’s best efforts on commentary to put over the big man – is destined for a dreaded mid-card role.

– Despite a lackluster show without big names such as Bill Goldberg, Triple H and Scott Steiner, last week’s Raw did a 4.2 rating. That number was up considerably from the previous week’s 3.6 and was the show’s best rating in a number of months. The overrun featuring Steve Austin and Kane was the show’s highest-rated segment at 5.4.

Last week’s Smackdown drew a 3.6 rating, one of its highest marks of the year.

– This week’s Smackdown will be taped tonight in Columbus, Ohio, rather than the usual Tuesday schedule since the Smackdown crew will be in Thailand and Japan for a four-day tour.

– The perils of the independent pro wrestling circuit made for sobering headlines last week.

C.J. Sensation, a Pittsburgh-area indy performer, suffered a broken neck on July 4 at a show at a naval base in Sugar Grove, W.Va. He was flown by helicopter to University Hospital’s trauma center in Charlottesville, Va., where he was diagnosed with a fractured C-6 and C-7 vertebrae.

On an even more tragic note, independent promoter Darlene “Jersey” Brown was found dead from a gunshot wound at her home in Mesick, Mich., on July 6, a day after running a hugely unsuccessful show in Traverse City, Mich.

Brown, 45, had promoted her first show under the Global Professional Wrestling Entertainment banner, but it was a show marred by controversy. A projected crowd of 5,000-7,000 for a nostalgia-based legends event July 5 headlined by The Rock ‘N Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) against The Powers of Pain (The Barbarian and The Warlord) yielded a turnout of only 120 fans.

Police responded to a call at approximately noon July 6 and found Brown with “what appeared to be a self-inflicted single gunshot wound,” according to a media release from the Wexford County (Mich.) sheriff’s department. Alcohol use was involved to some degree, according to the report. Brown was transported to Mercy Hospital in Cadillac, Mich., where she was pronounced dead at 12:50 p.m.

The wrestling show was to coincide with the beginning of the town’s annual weeklong National Cherry Festival, which organizers had expected to draw 500,000 visitors.

“I don’t think the (wrestling) show was advertised very well,” said one source. “The matches were held about 20 miles from the actual festival, and many of the wrestlers even had a hard time finding the place. Nobody seemed to know much about the show. It just wasn’t well advertised. I doubt if she had much experience promoting. She apparently was banking on a very large crowd. There were 100,000 people at the festival, and had it been advertised properly, there could have been a lot at the wrestling show. But you have to let people know that you’re there.”

– Reader Scott Labrusciano of Ladson wrote to express his dismay with the way one-legged phenom Zach Gowen is being portrayed in WWE.

“I am a longtime fan of pro wrestling. I started watching wrestling when NWA was in Florida, some 30 years ago, so I have seen my share of disgusting things done. From Kevin Sullivan wearing a painted black face and red cross on his face to him throwing dye into Dusty Rhodes’ niece’s eyes, to the present day. But what Vince McMahon did on Thursday night, with this boy named Zach, was without a doubt the most disgusting thing he has ever done. I do know that it is showbiz, but when you make fun of an amputee, knowing that many amputees might be watching this program, you have to wonder how he is hurting his viewers. I myself am a double below the knee amputee, and when I was younger I dreamed and played wrestling in the backyard with my friends. We played like Steve Keirn and Ric Flair and admired them for their abilities.

“Now I watch it for fun, which may change after this stunt. By Vince’s little ‘I think I will tie my hand behind my back, or tie a leg up or even be blindfolded’ to wrestle Zach not only hurt him, but also amputees in general. Does he not know that we do not want to be treated different than others or is he just not interested in the fans anymore? And also to pit him against a 500-pound man (Big Show) was again totally tasteless. I think Vince needs to look back at how his dad ran the business. Go back to those old standards, and not rely on stunts like this. I do wish Zach the best and I admire him for what he is doing with his life.”

– The Jacksonville Coliseum, for years one of pro wrestling’s top venues, was imploded on June 26. Many of the profession’s biggest names appeared in that building, which was a regular Thursday night stop for Florida Championship Wrestling during its heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

WCW ran its final pay-per-view at the Coliseum in 2001.

– TNN, home of WWE programming, is now free to use its new “Spike TV” name after a judge lifted an injunction that prevented the network from changing its name. Filmmaker Spike Lee settled out of court with the network Monday after deciding against posting a $2.5 million bond required to keep his lawsuit going.

Lee, the director of such movies as “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” had won a preliminary injunction after saying Viacom was exploiting his name for its male-oriented cable channel. Lee claimed “Spike TV,” billed as the “first television network for men,” was named for him and said he didn’t want to be linked with the channel because it featured lowbrow programming.

Lee later acknowledged that efforts to prevent the name change could undermine the First Amendment rights “of Viacom and others.”

“On reviewing the circumstances concerning the name change of the network, I no longer believe that Viacom deliberately intended to trade on my name when naming Spike TV,” said Lee. “As an artist and a filmmaker, I feel that protection of freedom of expression is a critical value, and I am concerned that my efforts to stop Viacom from using the Spike TV name could have the unintended consequence of threatening the First Amendment rights of Viacom and others. I am pleased to be able to resolve this matter and be able to work with Viacom on new projects.”

– Vince McMahon appeared on TNN’s animated “Striperella” as the voice of evil strip club owner Dirk McMahon. The show will be replayed immediately following Raw on Monday night.

– Heartland Wrestling Association founder Les Thatcher made his in-ring return Tuesday night when he teamed with Rory Fox and Matt Stryker to defeat Cody Hawk, Time Bomb and Patrick Black. Thatcher, who took the fall using a Stump-Puller finisher, celebrated with some ice cold Diet Coke in the middle of the ring after the match.

– WWE has paid a six-figure sum for a screenplay written by Alan McElroy, whose past credits include “Spawn,” “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever” and “Wrong Turn.” WWE Films head Joel Simon told the Hollywood Reporter that the company “intends to extend the WWE brand into mainstream movies and television shows.”

– Billy Kidman, who was scheduled to tie the knot with Torrie Wilson this weekend in Connecticut, is expected to turn heel on Rey Misterio as they challenge Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas for the WWE Smackdown tag-team belts at the Vengeance pay-per-view.

– D-Von Dudley missed last week’s Raw due to the death of his father.

– Shannon Ward, who appeared in WCW several years ago as the screaming Daffney character, has signed a developmental deal with WWE.

The Georgia State grad is married to rocker Rich Ward of Stuck Mojo and Fozzy Osbourne.

– Also signed to a developmental contract last week was indy star Paul London. A top performer with the NWA-TNA and Ring of Honor promotions, London impressed WWE officials with his recent showings at Heat and Velocity tapings and should start soon for Ohio Valley Wrestling.

– Chris Jericho is the subject of a four-page feature in the current issue of Penthouse.

– Steve Austin will host VH1’s “Classic Jukebox” show on July 19.

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 wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.