By Mike Mooneyham

April 18, 2004

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s eight-year run with WWE has come to an end. World Wrestling Entertainment announced late Friday that the two sides had been unable to come to terms on a new contract and, as a result, mutually agreed to part company.

“Both parties have left the door open to work together again in the future and the WWE wishes Steve the very best in his future endeavors,” according to a WWE statement.

Austin and WWE had been involved in intense negotiations for several months over his future with the company. At the center of the discussions was the rights to the “Stone Cold” name and Austin’s cut of profits from ventures outside WWE.

Although Austin (real name Steve Williams) came up with the “Stone Cold” moniker, WWE legally trademarked it and claims it as intellectual property. Austin, the all-time merchandise seller for the company, hired an outside attorney to plead his case and had been exploring other options in the event the talks with WWE fell through, including the possibility of working potentially lucrative matches in Japan.

Steve Austin

Steve Austin

Austin, the subject of a less-than-flattering piece in a recent edition of The National Enquirer, has expressed interest in pursuing movie and television endeavors.

– Orangeburg native Shelton Benjamin is basking in the spotlight of one of the most impressive runs seen in quite some time. His first three weeks on Raw have been nothing short of amazing, with two consecutive main-event upsets over Triple H, along with another high-profile victory Monday night, teaming with Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley to defeat Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista.

The Orangeburg-Wilkinson High product looks to cap off a spectacular month with his first singles meeting ever with Flair at tonight’s Backlash pay-per-view. For Benjamin, a lifelong wrestling fan, it’ll be a dream come true.

“Just to watch Ric Flair work is amazing,” he says. “He is the man, without a doubt. He was the real total package. Some guys you don’t have words to describe, and he’s one of them. I was never a big Hulk Hogan fan. I always wondered why he was pushed so far.”

Look for the Nature Boy to elevate Benjamin to yet another level.

While Benjamin has shown considerable ability in the ring, he’ll need to continue to develop his promo skills, a task easier said than done. One has to question the decision to put Benjamin in the unenviable position of having to field a litany of lame questions on the “Outside the Ropes” interview segment of last week’s Confidential. The 27-year-old Benjamin looked understandably uncomfortable responding to such drivel as, “You went to high school in South Carolina. Name one good thing about South Carolina besides Myrtle Beach.” The best Benjamin could come up with on the spot was “fresh air.”

Not exactly “60 Minutes” material, nor an effective way to promote a budding talent whose weakness on the mic shouldn’t be exposed. With Benjamin’s grasp of the business, though, he should be a quick study as he further defines his character.

– Mick Foley proclaimed after last week’s Raw in Chicago that Triple H, Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels would become bona fide legends at Backlash, and Shelton Benjamin would become a bona fide star.

This also could be the event that puts Randy Orton over the top as a legitimate “legend killer.” A win over Foley, who most likely is making his final WWE appearance for the immediate future, would establish Orton in major fashion. With Foley bringing his Cactus Jack character (along with his barbed-wire baseball bat) out of mothballs one last time, the match is sure to be the type of bloodbath that put Foley on the wrestling map years ago.

There’s no doubt that Orton has the look, the mic skills and the charisma to be an impact player. What he desperately needs is a break-out match, a defining point in his young career, that puts him over the top. Foley’s intense interviews have set the stage perfectly for just such a scenario.

– Chris Benoit’s return to his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, site of tonight’s Backlash pay-per-view, was heavily covered by media in that city.

Despite the big buildup, only about 50 fans braved a spring snowstorm to greet Benoit at the airport last week upon his return from Minneapolis. As he walked through the doors of Edmonton International Airport, Benoit held his WWE title belt high over his head, stopping to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.

Benoit, who was recognized at a city hall reception Thursday, will be honored with his own “Chris Benoit Day” today in Edmonton.

A number of local fans, however, have been disappointed that WWE decided last month, on the night Benoit won the belt, to announce his hometown as Atlanta instead of Edmonton. Vince McMahon reportedly has been concerned that with so many of his top names hailing from Canada, it could lead to a backlash among the target U.S. audience. Benoit, who trained at the late Stu Hart’s “dungeon” in Calgary, now lives in Atlanta with wife Nancy “Woman” Sullivan.

Benoit, 36, who was born in Montreal and raised in the suburbs around Edmonton, told the crowd that he still loves the city.

“It’s been one hell of ride,” he told the Edmonton Journal. “I wouldn’t change anything. I’d love to do it all over again … Sometimes the crazy journey still doesn’t feel real. It’s too storybook-ish to me.”

Backlash is the first WWE pay-per-view event to ever be held in Edmonton and the first to take place in the province of Alberta since In Your House: Canadian Stampede in 1997.

– Ric Flair spent the past week in England on a promotional tour for WWE. His youngest son, Reid, accompanied him on the trip. His oldest son, David, is scheduled to meet former NWA world champ Dory Funk Jr. April 25 at the Dory Funk Arena in Ocala, Fla.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air Backlash tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.

Matthew’s Sport’s Bar & Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant, also will air Backlash tonight. Cover charge is $5.

– Ohio Valley Wrestling talent Nick Dinsmore seems terribly miscast as Eugene, a George “The Animal” Steele knockoff, in WWE. It makes little sense that an accomplished worker like Dinsmore would be put in a potentially career-killing role just as he’s finally getting his shot at the big time.

The character, billed as Eric Bischoff’s “special nephew,” is portrayed as “a person with a mental disability whose dream is to become a professional wrestler,” says a company spokesman. “WWE intends to portray the character of Eugene as a hero, as are the many people with disabilities around the world who must every day face challenges to live the type of life many of us take for granted. Eugene, despite his disability, will get a chance to achieve his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. We hope that Eugene’s story will encourage other people with disabilities to strive to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be.”

While that sounds admirable, don’t be surprised if Eugene ends up being exploited. The introduction of the “mentally challenged” character has sparked outrage among some fans who believe the portrayal to be insensitive and inappropriate.

Times have changed since The Mighty Igor was cast as a Polish strongman with limited mental acumen during the ‘70s, or even the early ‘90s when WCW billed Dave “Evad” Sullivan as the slow-witted brother of Kevin Sullivan. The company needs to make sure it handles this character with care.

– WWE’s Confidential, which began two years ago with strong insider pieces on WWE talent but in recent months has featured mainly puff pieces, is nearing the end of its run. Host Gene Okerlund most likely will be moved to the company’s new video-on-demand division.

WWE announced last week that it will debut a new one-hour show at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 2, on Spike TV. “The WWE Experience,” which reportedly will combine “the best of Monday Night Raw and WWE Smackdown,” will be hosted by Ivory (Lisa Moretti) and Todd Grisham.

– Terry Taylor, whose bright career took a nosedive when the then-WWF cast him as The Red Rooster during the late ‘‘80s, underwent back surgery Monday to fuse three vertebrae in his neck. Taylor, who had experienced numbness in his hands, is expected to resume his backstage duties with NWA-TNA this week.

– A Legends Fanfest will be held Aug. 14-15 in Fayetteville, N.C., at the Clarion Hotel. More than two dozen former NWA stars get together for two days to meet and greet fans. Former Four Horseman Tully Blanchard will be featured in one of two Saturday night VIP question-and-answer sessions. Advance tickets go on sale May 1. A complete guest lineup will be announced soon at

A Tribute to Starrcade is scheduled Nov. 26-28 at the University Place Hilton in Charlotte. Among those scheduled to attend are Ricky Steamboat, Tully Blanchard, Magnum T.A., J.J. Dillon and others. Jack and Jerry Brisco will be featured in a VIP question-and-answer session. Advance tickets go on sale May 1. A complete guest lineup will be announced soon at

– Jim Ross has been promoted to Executive Vice President of Business Strategies and will work closely with Vince McMahon as an adviser on WWE’s core business. John Laurinaitis, who as Johnny Ace teamed with Shane Douglas (Troy Martin) in the late ‘80s as The Dynamic Dudes, has assumed Ross’s duties as WWE Vice President of Talent Relations. Laurinaitis has been working as Ross’s assistant in that area for some time now, and the move will allow Ross to work more closely with McMahon. Ross also will remain an announcer on Raw.

One of Ross’s last bits of business before turning over the talent relations post was bringing back Brian Christopher (Lawler), son of announcing sidekick Jerry “The King” Lawler, to WWE. Lawler returned to Raw last week with his outdated Grandmaster Sexay gimmick in a losing effort against Kane.

Lawler lost his job in 2001 after being nabbed at Calgary airport for possession of illegal drugs. Canadian authorities found in his possession one tenth of a gram of marijuana, one tenth of a gram of methamphetamine and a half a gram of cocaine. He later plead guilty to the charge of cocaine possession with the other charges being dropped. He was ordered to pay a fine and make a donation of $500 to the Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Program.

– Ring Of Honor and NWA-TNA have reached an impasse in their negotiations to reach a deal whereby both companies could use TNA-contracted talent. The Nashville-based NWA-TNA, reportedly nearing a television deal with Fox Sports Net, has pulled its talent from upcoming Ring Of Honor shows over uncertainty concerning ROH ownership.

NWA-TNA wants sufficient proof that former ROH owner Rob Feinstein, who was involved in a recent pedophile sting, has been removed from all roles in that company. The company is fearful that any negative publicity could hamper talks with Fox Sports Net, and has told its wrestlers that they are forbidden to work ROH shows at the present time.

Ring Of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky recently issued the following statement: “We understand TNA’s position in this unfortunate circumstance. We are still trying our best to resolve this issue, but now we are looking forward to new lineups and new talent in ROH … ROH has always been about presenting the top, hungry wrestlers and now there will be new opportunities. You are sure to see some great talent giving everything they have to make the most of their opportunity in ROH and we urge you to focus on that.”

NWA-TNA is looking at holding bi-weekly tapings in Orlando for Fox Sports Net and is expected to drop the weekly pay-per-views in favor of airing monthly events.

– NWA-TNA’s Raven (Scott Levy) and Jonny Fairplay (Jon Dalton) were guests at Hugh Hefner’s 78th Birthday Pajama Party at the Playboy Mansion in Hollywood on April 3.