By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 21, 2003

It may have taken World Wrestling Entertainment six months to deliver the heavyweight crown to Bill Goldberg, but tonight will mark the beginning of what should be a closely scrutinized title run.

None will be watching more closely than Vince McMahon and son-in-law to-be Triple H. Although Hunter Hearst Helmsley is scheduled to drop his Raw world title to Goldberg at tonight’s Unforgiven pay-per-view, odds are pretty good that Triple H will regain the gold by the Survivors Series PPV in November.

Timing, of course, is everything. Triple H will get a much-needed rest as he recovers from a pulled groin, while preparing for his Oct. 25 wedding date with Stephanie McMahon. With Helmsley on the sideline, it leaves very few credible heel challengers to feed to Goldberg. And with Monday Night Football back in full swing, numbers for Raw naturally will be lower than usual.

If ratings show a consistent slide with Goldberg carrying the ball, the new champ undoubtedly will get the blame and Triple H will re-emerge as the conquering hero, this time in an on-camera role as a babyface and a behind-the-scenes position as a bona fide power-broker.

Bill Goldberg

Bill Goldberg

WWE already has made plans to give third-generation star Randy Orton a mega-push that should start with an upset win over Shawn Michaels at tonight’s PPV. Unless Goldberg is willing to turn heel, a scenario he was highly uncomfortable with during his latter days in WCW, it’s quite likely that Orton will dethrone him before Triple H gets the chance to.

Goldberg has begrudgingly agreed to go out on the road as a concession to McMahon’s demands that the top stars work house shows in an attempt to boost sagging attendance figures.

Too little, too late? Time will tell, but judging from recent shows and storylines, there just isn’t enough compelling material to make the product appointment viewing as it was only a few short years ago.

– Triple H (real name Paul Levesque), who has made several trips to Hollywood over the past year seeking film opportunities, will realize his goal of big-screen exposure as WWE has commissioned John Milius, who wrote both “Apocalypse Now” and “Conan the Barbarian,” to write a movie for him. He will star in “Jornada del Muerte” (Journey of Death),” a modern-day Western set in the Southwest that involves motorcycle gangs, drug trafficking and broken codes of honor, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The film will be the first theatrical release from the recently formed WWE Films production banner.

In addition, Helmsley will battle Wesley Snipes in New Line Cinema’s “Blade: Trinity.” In “Blade,” Triple H will play a villain who takes on Snipes’ vampire-hunter character in the third installment of the franchise. The film is being directed by David Goyer.

– Tuesday night’s Smackdown in Raleigh (which aired Thursday as the season premiere) was one of the strongest in the history of that show. The 60-minute Iron Man bout between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar was a match of the year candidate and the latest in a series of classics between the former amateur greats. The only complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that the string of commercials hampered the flow of the match.

It also might be questioned why the company decided to give the bout away on free TV rather than save it for a pay-per-view main event. WWE officials viewed last week’s show as an experiment to determine whether long matches and fewer skits could attract a sizable viewership. Unfortunately, the rating came in at a below-average 3.2, which should spell the end for marathon matches on WWE TV. The last two 60-minute Iron Man bouts in WWE were Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels in 1996 and The Rock vs. Triple H in 2000.

Both Angle and Lesnar deserve tremendous credit for last week’s masterpiece. Lesnar has been working with floating cartilage in his knee, while Angle continues to carry the banner as best worker in the company, even coming off neck surgery earlier this year. In addition, Angle’s sister died of heart complications a day before the match, yet Angle fulfilled his obligations.

Angle has been a spokesman for the nation’s first angina awareness program, and was featured in a story on ABC News’ Web site on Thursday. Fifteen of his family members have either died from heart attacks or battled angina or other heart diseases.

– A bachelor party was held for Triple H after Tuesday night’s Smackdown in Raleigh. The bash was held at The Doll House and got under way around 11 p.m., although Triple H didn’t arrive until nearly 1:30 a.m. along with Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, The Undertaker and Kevin Nash.

And, yes, the Nature Boy was the center of attention with his table dance. – George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Unforgiven pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

– Bodybuilding legend Lee Haney and wrestling great Greg “The Hammer” Valentine will highlight Miles Road Baptist Church’s “It’s All About Jesus” crusade today through Wednesday.

Valentine, son of the legendary Johnny “The Champ” Valentine, will share his life story at Tuesday evening’s service. Haney, an eight-time Mr. Olympia and one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, will share his testimony Wednesday. The programs begin at 6 p.m. today and 7 p.m. the next three evenings. The church is located at 816 Miles Road in Summerville.

– Vince McMahon showed his kinder and gentler side when he threw a surprise birthday party for The Fabulous Moolah (longtime Columbia native Lillian Ellison) after Monday night’s Raw at the Carolina Center.

Earlier that evening he allowed Moolah to fulfill her wish of wrestling on her 80th birthday (which was several weeks ago), and even booked a 25-second win over Victoria. The feel-good moment was spoiled, however, when “legend killer” Randy Orton lowered the boom on Moolah (all in fun).

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin sang “Happy Birthday” to Moolah after the show, and McMahon paid tribute to one of the profession’s true legends, bringing the Grand Lady of Wrestling to tears. Garrison Cade later presented Moolah with a birthday cake which, in a time-honored wrestling angle, she and Mae used to smash in his face.

It was a nice touch and gesture to honor the hometown favorite. On the flip side, however, a number of unhappy fans complained that Ric Flair failed to make a live appearance right there in the heart of Flair country. Unfortunately for the throng of Flair followers, the reasoning behind the company’s decision to keep him off the show was that he would have received a huge babyface pop not in keeping with the storyline heading into tonight’s pay-per-view.

Flair did bring the house down at a show last Sunday night in Asheville, N.C., when he used Arn Anderson as his corner man in a match with Triple H, who was seconded by Randy Orton. Triple H retained his title when he used his championship belt on Flair, but not before the Nature Boy got in plenty of offense and Double A dropped Orton with his patented spinebuster.

– Hurricane (Shane Helms) and Rodney Mack were involved in a backstage tussle at a Raw house show Sept. 13 in Knoxville. The fur flew when Mack insisted in laying out their match, and the more experienced Hurricane took offense. Punches were exchanged in the building’s catering area, and Hurricane reportedly got a trip to the hospital for his efforts.

– Another backstage skirmish involved Raven and Sinister Minister (James Mitchell) after Wednesday night’s NWA-TNA show. Raven lambasted Mitchell in the locker room after Mitchell accidentally bloodied Raven’s scalp following his loss to Shane Douglas in a hair vs. hair match. Mitchell reportedly apologized to Raven for the sloppy trim job, and the longtime friends agreed to bury the hatchet.

– Hulk Hogan will meet Masahiro Chono at a New Japan Pro Wrestling show Oct. 13 at the Tokyo Dome.

It will be Hogan’s first match since appearing as Mr. America and teaming with Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar against Big Show, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin at WWE’s Smackdown taping at Madison Square Garden on June 24.

Hogan said last week in a radio interview that he has been negotiating NWA-TNA’s Jeff and Jerry Jarrett, although it’s unlikely that Hogan would ever agree to work alongside Vince Russo.

– NWA-TNA continues to strengthen its office and roster. Dutch Mantell, one of the game’s most knowledgeable veterans, will assume his new duties as booker on Monday. Terry Taylor, one of the better finish men in the business, also has been hired as an agent for the group.

– Wrestling strongman The Great Antonio, who impressed fans during the ‘60s with such stunts as tying himself to several city buses and pulling them with a chain, and pulling a train loaded with lead for 65 feet, passed away Sept. 7 at the age of 77 after suffering a heart attack in a Montreal grocery store.

Antonio Barichievich, who stood 6-4 and weighed 450 pounds in his prime, achieved his greatest success in Japan where he headlined against the likes of Rikidozan and Antonio Inoki.

Barichievich was born in Yugoslavia, one of five sons in a Siberian immigrant family (although later in life he claimed to be of Italian origin), and moved to Canada in 1946. He started his career as a scrap yard worker, a scavenger and a resident who lived in a shack that he made for himself out of old planks, cardboard, cement blocks and the hood of a junked car. The owners of the scrap yard let him stay there in exchange for the work he did moving scrap iron around. He later made his living as a wrestler giving exhibitions of strength.

Antonio enjoyed tremendous notoriety in Japan, where his brute strength mesmerized that culture, but his wrestling skills were limited and he was used more as a special attraction. He eventually gained a less-than-stellar reputation among his co-workers, and was brutally beaten in the ring by Rikidozan in two straight falls before being “taught a lesson” backstage by legitimate shooters Karl Gotch and Mr. X (Big Bill Miller) and sent home.

The WWWF attempted to capitalize on Antonio’s freakish nature by pairing him with Pampero Firpo during the early ‘60s, but he was relegated to opening matches after dropping two straight falls to Bruno Sammartino and Argentina Rocca in his only main event at Madison Square Garden.

Widely known in the Montreal area as an oddball “street freak” who frequented parks and subways, the eccentric Antonio wore a huge beard and long hair parted down the middle that hung to his shoulders. He kept every scrap of paper that had been written about him over the years, news clippings from all over the world, in garbage bags. In recent years he could sometimes be seen sitting in metro stations peddling pencils and postcards.

Antonio, who was rumored to be a millionaire but preferred living like a homeless person, died penniless and with no family.

– Orangeburg native Shelton Benjamin, who has been working with loose cartilage in his knee, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday and is expected to miss several weeks of ring time.

– Randy Savage bombed at a concert promoting his new rap CD Wednesday night at a nightclub in Treasure Island, Fla. Savage was heckled throughout his short set, the CD skipped three songs into the show as Savage lip-synched his music, and Savage eventually threw down the mic and left the stage, with the show ending abruptly.

Most of the hecklers attended the show in response to Tampa deejay Bubba The Love Sponge, a close friend of Hulk Hogan who encouraged his listeners to crash the gig.

– Kurt Angle told an audience at Pennsylvania’s West Chester University that he will form a team with John Cena in the near future.

– The Rock, who has been busy promoting his new movie, “The Rundown,” is on the cover of the current GQ magazine.

Rock got a mention in last week’s People magazine when he was asked under what pseudonym he checked into motels. Rock, whose real name is Dwayne Johnson, said Mac Daddy Cook or Luther King.

– Bret Hart called Randy Orton’s father, Cowboy Bob Orton, as one of the 10 greatest wrestlers of all time in his recent Calgary Sun column.

Hart also praised nephew Teddy Hart. “He does some of the most innovative and spectacular high-risk moves in a business where everyone is constantly pushing it to new, more dangerous levels,” said the Hitman.

– Booker T, who has been sidelined with a bulging disc in his back, will return to the ring in October.

He recently confirmed that he doesn’t “plan to be around for a lot longer” in terms of years left in his career, but added that he was working hard at getting back into the ring.