By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 25, 2004

Chris Benoit, the first entrant, and Bill Goldberg, the 30th and final contestant, loom as the favorites going into tonight’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view.

Benoit, one of Smackdown’s top performers, appears to be headed to the Raw brand, while Goldberg’s status is uncertain following Wrestlemania, where he is tentatively scheduled to meet Brock Lesnar. Since figurehead Smackdown GM Paul Heyman has told Benoit that he’d never get another shot at Lesnar’s world crown, it opens the door for Benoit to jump to Raw and go after Triple H’s version of the title. Benoit, widely regarded as one of the best workers in the business, would provide Triple H with a fresh opponent with whom he could work credible, hard-fought matches.

Goldberg’s contract expires at the end of March, and at this point it’s far from a given that he will be offered a renewal. Sources say Goldberg, who has been frustrated with the handling of his character since joining the company 10 months ago, is looking at the next two months as his last with WWE. He undoubtedly will be expected to job to Lesnar on his way out.

– Randy Orton credits Rob Van Dam with the success of their recent Raw match. Orton accidentally cracked the top of his forehead on the ring post three minutes into the bout, knocking him “goofy but not unconscious,” he said on his Web site. He said he was disoriented to the point where he had trouble with balance and vision, and that he was basically inoperable during the commercial break.

Bill Goldberg

Bill Goldberg

“He (RVD) is the reason that match was able to go on,” said Orton. “We had 20 minutes for that match. Three minutes after the bell rang, I was in a state were I didn’t quite know what was going on. Rob showed what a ring general he was, by talking me through the rest of the 17 minutes of that match. I hate ‘exposing’ the business like this, but I feel that as fans, you should hear this so that you can see how difficult our trade can be, and possibly enjoy and respect it more then you do already.”

– Raw performers weren’t the only ones delivering passionate promos Monday night. Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean gave an inspirational, albeit strange, concession-non-concession speech after finishing a disappointing third in Iowa’s Democratic caucus.

Former Raw commissioner, best-selling author and part-time political pundit Mick Foley gave his take on Dean’s caucus night rant.

“Man, it was a little too close to a wrestling speech for my taste,” Foley told Newsday. “If he had leveled with the people, saying, ‘I am disappointed (and) things are going to be tough down the home stretch … ‘ Instead, we got a full-fledged WWE wrestling promo and that’s not what I’m looking for in my president.”

He added that “it appeared to me like he was a guy who had lost his mind, and I don’t know if ‘president’ and ‘maniacal’ are supposed to be words that go hand in hand.”

– The Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Convention and Fanfest on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at the Hilton University Place Hotel in Charlotte is touting a loaded lineup that includes Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, The Rock ‘N Roll Express, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, J.J. Dillon, George Scott, Greg Valentine, Jimmy Garvin, Jim Cornette, Bobby Eaton, The Masked Superstar, Ronnie Garvin, Sir Oliver Humperdink, Dory Funk Jr., Buddy Landel, David Crockett, Bob Caudle, Johnny Weaver, Jimmy Valiant, Ivan Koloff, Tony Atlas, Les Thatcher, Don and Rocky Kernodle, Tommy Young, Penny Banner, Bobby Fulton, George South, Tommy Angel, Jim Nelson, Gene Ligon, Gary Royal and David Isley.

Ric Flair will not be at the show due to family and WWE commitments.

George South and Ivan Koloff are scheduled to oversee a non-denominational worship service Sunday morning.

– Reid Fliehr (Ric’s son), one of the top high school wrestlers in North Carolina, emerged victorious in the Tulsa (Okla.) Nationals Jan. 17 with a 2-1 win in the finals.

– WWE held a post-show birthday bash for Pat Patterson after Raw went off the air Monday night. Among those participating was Gilbert Brown of the Green Bay Packers.

– The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) donated $10,000 for food to help Samoa after the island was hit by Cyclone Heta earlier this month. The Rock’s grandmother lives in a village in Samoa and told her grandson they need food.

“What a perfect example of a local boy who has done good and is doing well. You know it’s that old adage, ‘It takes village to raise a child.’ In this case, it takes one child to feed a village,” said Gus Hannemann, who has been coordinating relief efforts.

The food container will arrive in early February. More has been collected at local Samoan churches and Oahu fire stations.

– Steve Austin hinted in interviews last week that he might have a couple more matches left in him. “We’re gonna see. Never say never,” said Austin. “I think I’ve got a match or two left in me. Maybe after Wrestlemania, let’s play it by ear and see what happens.”

Austin also said he wished the Raw and Smackdown were still together, “but Vince is a different man.”

– Jimmy Hart said in a recent interview that he and Hulk Hogan were looking to start a promotion based out of Universal Studios in Florida and had been talking Ted DiBiase, Sting and Buff Bagwell.

Friday marked the 20th anniversary of Hogan’s historic WWF title victory over The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden – an event many consider “the birth of Hulkamania.”

– Maven is expected to be out of action for six to eight weeks after suffering an elbow injury at a house show Jan. 16 in Des Moines, Iowa. An X-ray revealed a radical head fraction in his elbow.

– WWE has released Brian “Spanky” Kendrick at his request. Reports say the split was amicable. The underutilized Kendrick, who wasn’t being used at house shows enough to make more than his downside guarantee, will be working Japan’s Zero-One promotion along with a number of U.S. indies. – Longtime mat fan Jon Dalton, who stirred controversy as obnoxious beach bum Jonny Fairplay on the most recent “Survivor,” made his NWA-TNA debut last Wednesday night.

Dalton gained a measure of national notoriety when he fabricated his grandmother’s death to buy three more days on the island, and then bought three more days by swearing allegiance on her nonexistent grave.

The Danville, Va., native has a background in professional wrestling with stints at independent promotions New Dimension Wrestling and Portland Wrestling. Dalton also worked as a production assistant for Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Dalton’s NWA-TNA angles are being put together by another controversial character, Vince Russo, who was in exile during Hulk Hogan’s brief stint with the Nashville-based company. Hogan refused to be part of NWA-TNA if Russo were around because of the lawsuit Hogan filed against Time Warner and Russo for his final night in WCW when Russo made unplanned shoot comments against him on a national pay-per-view.

– Chicago Bears standout Brian Urlacher will be at next Wednesday’s PPV to support Erik Watts in his match against Don Callis in a bout with each authority figure’s power on the line.

– WWE announced last week that UPN has exercised an option to renew Smackdown on the network through September 2006. A statement by WWE said that “UPN’s renewal of WWE Smackdown for two more years is great news for us and all WWE fans. We are delighted to continue to be part of the UPN family.”

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Royal Rumble pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

Ole Anderson was such an effective heel in the wrestling business that he once infuriated a 79-year-old fanatic to stab him in his chest with a hawk-bill knife after a match in Greenville in 1976. Though he received more than a hundred stitches, the tough-as-nails grappler refused to be admitted to a hospital and drove back home, returning to the ring a day later.

It was just one of many outside-the-ring incidents that colored Anderson’s controversial career.

Anderson also recalls in his new book, “Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling,” an incident that occurred at the old County Hall in Charleston in 1977. According to Anderson’s account, a ringside fan who had been heckling him and partner Gene Anderson took a swing at him.

Anderson says he then took one of his huge title belts and smacked the fan in the face with it. As a result Anderson says he was served with a lawsuit about a month later. When he returned to Charleston, he says, police officers warned him to stay away from the fan. According to Anderson, the fan spit at him and told him he was going to sue him for every dime he had. Anderson says that’s when the officers took the fan behind the curtain and to the backstage area.

“He was just a little bit taller than me, so I grabbed him by his ears and pulled him down in front of me. I smashed his face into the radiator and really messed him up,” Anderson wrote in his book. “I think the guy believed it was a prearranged deal between the cops and myself.”

The victim, Bobby Caraviello, recalled a slightly different story in a recent interview with The Post and Courier.

The North Charleston resident was 25 in 1977 and two years out of the Marine Corps. He remembers sitting in the third row minding his business when Anderson pointed him out. “I had never seen the guy except on television, and he later said I looked like another wrestler he didn’t like,” he says.

Caraviello, who denied spitting in Anderson’s face, says the burly ruffian approached him after his match and smashed him over the head with one of his tag-team title belts. Caraviello, who retaliated, says he was handcuffed by security at that point and ushered off to the back of the building.

Caraviello says Anderson, who was in an adjoining room, attacked him while no officers were present and rammed his head into a radiator several times, making the cut he suffered at the hands of the belt-swinging grappler that much worse.

“He beat the hell out of me while I was handcuffed behind my back,” says Caraviello. “When he first grabbed me, I thought a bear had gotten a hold of me. His hands were stronger than a vice grip. When he hit me, I felt it.”

Both were taken to the city police station, he says, where they were fingerprinted, processed and released on personal recognizance bonds. Both, however, were required to appear before a magistrate the following day. The magistrate, says Caraviello, just laughed. “He thought it was part of a wrestling set-up.”

“(Promoter) Henry Marcus wanted the judge to bar me from County Hall, but the judge told him that you couldn’t bar a paying customer who wasn’t guilty from a place that was open to the public. Plus there were a lot of witnesses who said that I didn’t start it.”

Caraviello, who required 75 stitches, had his medical bills taken care of, but nothing ever came of the lawsuit. “Ole told me he was going to kill me if I sued him. I said, ‘Man, you must be crazy.’ All I wanted to know is why he wanted to fight.”

“I was 6-4 and about 250 pounds at the time, had fought in the Marine Corps and had been around, but I’ve never been hit as hard as that by any man,” says Caraviello. “He had the hardest six-inch punch I’ve ever seen. I can tell you from experience.”

Caraviello, who ironically became a state athletic commissioner several years later, a title which he still holds today, says he has no hard feelings toward Anderson.

“I liked Ole, I still think he’s a good man. I just don’t know what he had against me that night. I guess I just looked like somebody he didn’t like.”