By Mike Mooneyham

Feb. 15, 2004

Eddy Guerrero, quite possibly the most underrated performer in World Wrestling Entertainment, is finally getting his well-deserved shot at the brass ring. His showdown with WWE Smackdown champ Brock Lesnar at tonight’s No Way Out pay-per-view should be the match that puts him over the top.

With WWE already tipping its hand and announcing that the winner of tonight’s triple threat match involving Kurt Angle, John Cena and Big Show will get a crack at the WWE Smackdown title at Wrestlemania, a Guerrero upset win appears likely since it has been strongly hinted for months that Lesnar will meet Bill Goldberg at Mania.

For Guerrero to be accepted as a legitimate champion, however, his anticipated victory shouldn’t come due to interference or distraction from Goldberg, who is expected to make his presence known at ringside to hype his program with Lesnar. Such a tainted win certainly wouldn’t represent a vote of confidence from WWE brass, nor would it give Guerrero the strong push he needs to be viewed as a credible champion.

Eddie Guerrero

Eddie Guerrero

Guerrero, despite a well-documented substance abuse problem that got him fired from WWE two years ago, went to rehab, cleaned up his act and worked as hard as any performer on the WWE roster. Regarded as one of the most skilled ring technicians in the company, as well as a strong talker on the mic and a magnet for the growing Hispanic audience, the popular Guerrero has more than earned a spot in the upper echelon.

Guerrero’s likely ascension represents the latest in what appears to be a change in WWE booking philosophy. Chris Benoit, who also doesn’t fit the typical physical or ethnic blueprint for WWE elitism, gets his shot at Triple H’s Raw heavyweight title at Wrestlemania, with Shawn Michaels being added to the mix. Chances are good that the Canadian Crippler will win the strap either at that event or at the following month’s Raw pay-per-view in Benoit’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta.

– The Undertaker, despite denying earlier reports that he would return to his old-school gimmick this year, will reprise the vintage Undertaker character at Wrestlemania when he meets storyline brother Kane (Glen Jacobs).

Vince McMahon may have recently admonished those leaking future storylines to the media, but his own company has been guilty of letting this cat out of the bag. Taker, who was last seen by WWE fans “buried alive,” is featured on the cover of the new Smackdown magazine, now on newsstands, with the headline “The Dead Man Returns – 3/14/04 – Where It All Begins Again.” The accompanying article also hints that Taker will be returning in his “Dead Man” garb. WWE’s own Web site features a link to retro Undertaker T-shirts that will be marketed headed into Wrestlemania.

– Ed Leslie, who gained fame in the wrestling business as Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake and Hulk Hogan’s longtime sidekick, recently triggered an anthrax scare at a Boston subway station, where he had been working as a fare collector, when he allegedly left cocaine unattended at the station, which had to be evacuated.

It was assumed at first that someone had left anthrax, which also is a white powder, but Leslie finally came clean and admitted that it was his cocaine, the Boston Herald reported. A source told the newspaper that the 46-year-old Leslie, a Winchester, Mass., resident, voluntarily checked into a treatment facility Monday.

Leslie’s face was reconstructed with plates and bolts after a freak parasailing accident in Florida in 1990. Last April, the IRS placed a lien on him for $57,425, the Herald reported.

– Reader Bill McIntosh relates a heartwarming story about his uncle, Clarence Duke, a St. Stephen nursing home resident who recently was hospitalized after taking a nasty spill. Duke was taken to Roper Hospital with a broken nose and a bad cut above his eye. There doctors found heart irregularities and placed Duke in the cardiac intensive-care unit.

“Uncle Clarence has Down Syndrome,” explains McIntosh. “He is 60 years old. He has led a happy life. When he was only 6 he took care of my grandmother after her husband died. My grandmother ran a boarding house. She fed 30 men every day, and Clarence did most of the cleaning and sweeping. After my grandmother passed away, he lived happily in a group home in Lake City. He worked at the Coleman factory, and took group trips with his friends to basketball games, etc.

“Clarence did get to see live wresting once. My father took Clarence, my brother and I to the Fair Deal Warehouse in Kingstree. He got to see The Kentuckians, The Amazing Zuma, and George and Sandy Scott. That was about 1968. I remember one of the Kentuckians blowing his horn to signal the other to come back to the corner for a tag. Clarence, as I remember, was a little awed by the whole experience, but I was too!

“I confess that I have not been to see him as much as I should. When I went into his room at Roper, I though he recognized me, but was not sure. There was one connection I thought I could make. I knew from my childhood, one thing he loved above all. So I sat beside the bed, and looked at him and said, ‘Clarence, do you still like wrestling? Do you still watch Ric Flair, the Nature Boy?’

“He smiled wanly at me, the first sign of recognition, and said, ‘Nature Boy!’

“I went back to see him today, and he was resting comfortably … I thought you and Ric Flair might like to know that it takes more than a fall to keep a true Nature Boy fan down.”

– Superstar Billy Graham (Wayne Coleman), who underwent a liver transplant in 2002, survived another recent health scare. Graham returned home Thursday after spending 13 days in the hospital (twice as much time as the liver transplant had required) fighting a bowel obstruction. At one point doctors feared that an operation would be necessary due to the twisting of Graham’s intestine. The operation would have been a risky one due to the immune suppression drugs Graham has been on for his liver.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the No Way Out pay-per-view tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

– WWE announced in a terse statement on its Web site last week that Smackdown performer Kanyon (Chris Klucsaritis) had been released.

“For the past year or so I have not been 100 percent happy with the direction of my career and of my life in general,” Kanyon later said. “This release actually comes at a very good time for me … I have not completely decided what I will do at this time, but there are many prospects for me in and out of pro wrestling and I am excited about the potential for my future. I know a lot of this sounds like politically correct bull, but the truth is I am happier, more motivated and more excited than I have been in a long time. My past 12 years in this business have been phenomenal and have provided me many great opportunities and memories. I am sure that whatever I decide to do in the future will provide many more great opportunities and memories for me, my family and friends. I will keep everyone updated on my future.”

“The fact that the guy does have considerable skills in the ring and the fact that he still, at this age, has many years of in-ring activity ahead of him, it only seemed fair, if we weren’t going to do anything with him, to not string him along and to be honest with him and say, ‘We don’t have anything,'” WWE talent chief Jim Ross said last week.

Also cut from the roster was Ernest “The Cat” Miller, who was fired at the Smackdown tapings Tuesday in Tacoma, Wash. His sidekick, Lamont (Desmond Howard), remains with the company.

“We made the decision that there’s no sense in retaining Ernest when we see that we’re not going to use him as much as we envisioned, and utilize his skills as much as we had hoped,” Ross said.

– Controversial and talented Portland forward Rasheed Wallace was informed that he was being traded to the Atlanta Hawks while he was seated front row at Raw Monday night at the Rose Garden in Portland. Before he was summoned to meet Maurice Cheeks in the coach’s office, Wallace was shown on the screen and booed heavily.

Wallace, who was found guilty of marijuana possession last year, was the team’s leading scorer for the past four seasons despite becoming the lightning rod for fan discontent because of his volatile and temperamental behavior. Mick Foley alluded to the arrest during the post-show Austin beer bash, joking that he’d take RVD to look through Wallace’s bag and keep whatever they found.

– Kudos to Steve Austin for giving props to veteran Portland stars Buddy Rose and Col. DeBeers at Raw Monday night. The two watched the show from a luxury suite.

– Feb. 10 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Curt Hennig and the 20-year anniversary of the death of David Von Erich.

– Mick Foley’s story last week on Raw of Randy Orton going AWOL was a shoot. Orton has publicly discussed an incident in which he jumped on a Greyhound bus and went AWOL for 32 days while serving in the Marines. Orton later returned and turned himself in to military authorities. Orton was court-martialed and served 38 days in a military prison.

His dad, Bob Orton Jr., got Randy a WWE tryout shortly after he was released from prison. Orton was signed to a developmental deal and sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling before being called up to the main roster.

– Torrie Wilson and Sable (Rena Mero) are featured in the March issue of Playboy. Sable last appeared on two of her own best-selling Playboy covers nearly five years ago.

– Shaniqua (Linda Miles) was fined $200 at the Feb. 8 house show in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when she arrived late and missed a pre-show practice session that she was expected to attend.

– Mick Foley said recently on the Don and Mike radio show last week that he is backing Bob Kerry for president. Foley said he crossed Howard Dean off following his meltdown, and sees John Edwards as more of a vice president. Foley called President George Bush a nice guy and would vote for him if he unloaded Vice President Dick Cheney and picked former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.