By Mike Mooneyham

July 11, 2004

Triple H and Chris Benoit, two of pro wrestling’s greatest stars, have turned in some of the year’s top matches. In the main event of tonight’s Vengeance pay-per-view, they’ll be shooting for a classic.

Since Benoit battled his way into WWE’s top tier with a monumental victory over Triple H at this year’s Wrestlemania, he has made believers out of critics who questioned his size and charisma. A graduate of the late Stu Hart’s infamous Dungeon, Benoit has combined a realistic brawling style with a strong technical background to emerge as one of the game’s all-time greats.

After spending 18 years vying for the top spot in his trade and doing it the old-fashioned way – by wrestling – Benoit, 37, is now firmly entrenched in wrestling’s upper echelon and should remain a major player.

Triple H, 34, also seems to have won back a legion of doubters who pointed to his position in the McMahon family as a shortcut to power. His bouts this year with Benoit and Shawn Michaels have ranked among the greatest in his career, and most of his detractors have all but faded into the background.

Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit

Both Triple H (Paul Levesque) and Benoit have a profound respect for the business and no doubt feel they have something to prove in tonight’s match. An even bigger payoff for the two looms down the road, most likely at Summer Slam, when the WWE heavyweight belt is expected to change hands back to “The Game.”

Other top bouts on tonight’s show, WWE’s fourth pay-per-view in the past eight weeks, include: Edge vs. Randy Orton for the Intercontinental title; Ric Flair and Eugene vs. La Resistance for the WWE tag-team title; Kane vs. Matt Hardy; Chris Jericho vs. Batista; and Molly Holly vs. Victoria.

– Mick Foley has a ready-made feud when – or if – he returns to WWE.

Sources say Foley is furious over comments made by Ric Flair in his new book, “To Be The Man,” and reportedly has not returned calls from the WWE office.

“To me, he’s taking it way too personal,” Flair said last week. “If I had reacted this way over what he said about me (in Foley’s first book, “Have a Nice Day”), it would have driven me crazy. I didn’t even read it. I never made a big deal about it, but he’s a different guy; he’s such a fan for himself now. He really believes that he is hardcore wrestling.”

Flair points to sobering statistics that indicate wrestling injuries accelerated at an alarming rate with the popularity of hardcore wrestling, and claims Foley had a big hand in the genre’s explosion.

“Not only did a lot of guys get hurt in the ring, how about all the kids at home who were jumping off their garages? And the WWF was getting blamed for it. The bar that was being raised wasn’t wrestling. It was being a stuntman. That’s the sad thing about it, and that’s the point I was making in the book. How would Foley have gotten along with Lou Thesz? Lou wouldn’t have gotten in the ring with him. Neither would Jack Brisco.”

Flair contends that he wasn’t downplaying Foley’s position as a major draw in the wrestling business.

“He did some things very few people would have attempted to do. I’m not knocking that. I’m just saying it’s not wrestling. And they’ve gone back to wrestling. We have enough injuries as it is.”

– Kurt Angle, who has been sidelined for several months nursing a neck ailment, is expected to return to the ring at next month’s Summer Slam for a match with Eddie Guerrero.

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

– Matthews Sports Bar and Grill, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., also will air the Vengeance PPV tonight beginning at 8 p.m. Carolina Pro Wrestling Association will hold a six-match card at the venue beginning at 6 p.m. Cover charge is $5 for both events. For more information, call 532-9924.

– Diamond Dallas Page and wife (former Nitro Girl) Kimberly have separated. “My wife is a very private person and out of respect to her, I’ll keep this brief and simple,” Page recently responded on his Web site. “Yes, we have separated, and it has been on good terms. There is no bad blood at all. We love each other very much and talk on a daily basis. We both just need a little time to ourselves right now and I hope that everyone will respect our privacy.”

Page, who has been working a limited schedule on the independent circuit since coming to terms with Lloyd’s of London on an insurance settlement, said last week that he is considering his options with regard to an offer from the Nashville-based TNA promotion.

– The Wrestling Observer reported that Bruno Sammartino, along with his lawyer, recently met with Jim Ross and WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt. The meeting represents a major breakthrough, considering that Sammartino has said on numerous occasions that he would never do business again with Vince McMahon or his company.

“It’s not the same business I was in,” Sammartino said in a 2000 interview. “It’s over with, and I don’t want to talk about it or do anything concerning wrestling. Wrestling and myself are history. I absolutely will have nothing to do with it ever again.”

Sammartino reportedly is being courted by the company to be part of its new subscription video-on-demand service, as well as a possible DVD and autobiography. WWE has made overtures in the past concerning inducting Sammartino, who headlined Madison Square Garden more than 200 times, into its hall of fame. Sammartino, one of the biggest stars in the history of the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation, has expressed little interest.

“It’s not a hall of fame,” Sammartino, 68, said in the 2000 interview. “What kind of hall of fame is it when he decides who will be in it? I wouldn’t want to be in that. Having fans tell me how much they enjoyed watching me wrestle and that I was a role model means a heck of a lot more than McMahon putting me in the hall of fame. That’s very rewarding. It makes me feel very good.”

According to The Observer, Sammartino expressed concerns about the possibility of Hulk Hogan returning to the company.

“I’ve always considered Hogan a cancer to the wrestling world,” Sammartino said. “A lot of people try to make him out to be the greatest thing that ever came into professional wrestling. That’s the biggest myth in the history of wrestling.”

– Mordecai’s recent loss to Rey Mysterio on Smackdown spelled the death knell for his character. Kevin Fertig, who plays the role, is being sent back to Ohio Valley Wrestling for more seasoning. Fertig most likely will reprise his former role as Seven in OVW.

– Jacquelyn (Jackie Moore) has been released by WWE. One of the company’s more talented divas in the ring, Jackie debuted in WWE in 1998 as Marvelous Marc Mero’s valet and has been a mainstay in the women’s division, holding the WWE women’s crown on two occasions and most recently enjoying a brief reign as WWE cruiserweight champion.

– Columbia’s Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young will be among the judges for the Raw Diva Search competition Thursday night on Spike TV. The competition includes Karen McDougal, 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year, and Carmella DeCesare, 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year.

Twenty-eight contestants will be whittled down to 10 finalists on the live special airing 10 p.m. Through telephone and Internet voting, viewers will dump one contestant each week until three are left. The winner will be chosen on the Sept. 13 edition of Raw.

– The injury bug is plaguing a number of WWE of performers. Orangeburg native Shelton Benjamin is still on the sidelines nursing a wrist and hand injury. Garrison Cade, who was working with Benjamin when the latter suffered the injury, dislocated his kneecap during a recent house show in Vancouver.

Trish Stratus also is out with a hand injury that will keep her sidelined for at least a month. Matt Hardy is working with an MCL tear in his knee that may require arthroscopic surgery following Summer Slam. Test remains sidelined with a neck injury that may require fusion surgery. A-Train also is sidelined with a tear in one of his rotator cuffs. Rico tore a hamstring last month during a match in which he and Charlie Haas dropped the Smackdown tag-team belts to The Dudleys.

– DirecTV has decided to stop carrying TNA’s Wednesday night pay-per-views. TNA sent a letter to their e-mail list informing customers of the situation. TNA, however, came to an agreement last week with The Dish Network, which will carry the weekly PPVs beginning July 21.

– Former wrestler and longtime Vancouver promoter Sandor Kovacs passed away June 30 at the age of 84 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.