By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 12, 2004

The stage is set for tonight’s Armageddon pay-per-view. The big question is: How many people really care?

On the heel of some of the company’s poorest-drawing pay-per-views, WWE is closing out the year with an event that looks, on paper, to be among its worst.

But don’t blame the four participants in tonight’s main event. Eddie Guerrero is one of the hardest-working performers in the business. Booker T is a prime example of a major talent that just couldn’t quite grab hold of the brass ring (at least in WWE). The Undertaker is pushing 40 but can still deliver the goods in a big-match setting. And although John Bradshaw Layfield has shown considerable improvement since his days as a member of The Acolytes, his six-month reign as WWE champion can hardly be considered a success.

The problem is that the Smackdown brand offers nothing compelling enough to prompt fans to shell out $34.95 for a pay-per-view. Tonight’s headliner with Layfield putting up his title against Guerrero, Booker and Taker is merely an amalgamation of a series of bouts that Smackdown fans have become all too familiar with over the past several months. And with the exception of the recent Tough Enough segments, Smackdown’s weekly TV show has offered little water-cooler material as well.

By Mike MooneyhamThere’s only so many ways you can spread out the brand’s limited top talent, and putting all four of them in the ring at the same time isn’t going to draw big numbers. The ultra-talented Guerrero is the most over of the four and consistently gets the biggest pop at the arenas, but he’s cursed by being on the wrong roster at the wrong time. With WWE owner Vince McMahon firmly committed to Layfield’s push, the chance of a title change tonight appears slim at best.

And with creative mastermind Paul Heyman removed from the Smackdown writing team, don’t expect things to get better before they get worse. One might think that with the tremendous success of the recently released “Rise and Fall of ECW” DVD, which has sold more than 35,000 copies in its first two weeks, WWE would give the former ECW boss even more control over the Smackdown product. Heyman, however, apparently has again failed to play the political game to perfection, which by WWE standards can be a fatal flaw.

There’s also the sobering sign of the times that Armageddon will be held at the Gwinnett Center as opposed to the much larger Phillips Arena in Atlanta. A recent Sunday matinee Smackdown show at Madison Square Garden, the mecca of wrestling arenas, drew less than 6,000 fans.

– The always controversial Randy Savage has walked out on TNA for the second time in a month.

Savage, who was scheduled to meet Jeff Jarrett for the TNA heavyweight title at the company’s next pay-per-view in January, bolted over a disagreement on the finish of their match.

It’s amazing that a company like TNA, with cagey veterans like Jerry Jarrett running the show, would even negotiate with the likes of Savage, whose overinflated ego is the primary reason he’s not working for Vince McMahon right now.

Savage’s unreasonable demands, in addition to an incredible payday that surely makes hard-working TNA performers feel underappreciated and underpaid, include being picked up from his Tampa home in a limo and driven to the shows, a pair of $1,000-per-night “bodyguards,” and a guarantee that Hulk Hogan associate Jimmy Hart be nowhere near him in the building, or even in the production truck, lest Hart get a notion to “sabotage” Savage’s short ring appearances.

Jerry Jarrett reportedly spent three hours trying to placate Savage before throwing up his arms in frustration, realizing that the only term the Macho Man would settle for would be putting the company’s heavyweight title around his waist.

Like the latter days of WCW, TNA has become a haven for overpaid wrestlers who want to pad their bank accounts at the expense of the company’s well being. As long as TNA is willing to throw money around to one-time stars who refuse to sign long-term deals, the health of the company will remain at risk.

Coincidentally, TNA’s February pay-per-view is titled “Against All Odds,” which sounds fairly ominous for a company desperately hoping to turn the corner. With reports of TNA’s parent company dropping anywhere from $10 million to $15 million thus far in the endeavor, it’s probably not far-fetched to say that the Nashville-based promotion’s time is running out. As for truth in advertising, the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling still holds the honor in that category, aptly dubbing two of its last pay-per-views “Sin” and “Greed.”

– Billy Spears, a Southeastern star who headlined in Georgia, Tennessee and the Gulf Coast during the ’70s and early ’80s, passed away recently at the age of 72 in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

Spears, whose real name was Bill Spearman, was a top heel as both a wrestler and a manager.

Spears was Hulk Hogan’s first territorial heel manager in the late ’70s when Hogan was billed as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder in Alabama. A classic angle on Dothan TV saw a villainous Hulk, with Spears as his manager, attack Andre The Giant following an arm-wrestling contest.

Spears also was noted for his ’70s feuds with Roberto Soto in Georgia and Ricky Gibson in the Gulf Coast territory.

– Longtime Portland-based wrestler Bart Sawyer, 38, suffered a major stroke on Nov. 20. Sawyer was on life support for two days before being able to breathe on his own.

Sawyer, who served for a number of years as Roddy Piper’s confidante and assistant, once held the USWA tag-team title with Flex Kavana (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) when a young Johnson was working under a WWE developmental deal.

– Wrestling legend Ricky Steamboat is wrapping up a three-week tryout for a potential road agent job with WWE. Steamboat retired from the ring in 1994 after suffering a career-ending back injury.

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air WWE’s Armageddon pay-per-view tonight at 8 p.m.

– Universal Championship Wrestling will present a show at 3 p.m. today at the Wade Hampton High School gym in Greenville. The card, headlined by Juventud Guerrera vs. La Park (La Parka) for the AAA-Universal title and Lex Luger vs. Buff Bagwell, also will feature David Flair, Ricky Morton, Konnan, AAA president Antonio Pena, Ron Kilings and Mike Sanders.

– Another sign of the times: The second annual Mid-Atlantic Legends convention recently held in Charlotte drew a disappointing turnout of only several hundred fans, significantly below the 1,500-2,000 mark estimated at the inaugural event in January. The recent proliferation and over-saturation of legends shows and fanfests appears to have reached its peak, resulting in smaller crowds and declining fan interest.

Legends promoter Greg Price has scheduled his next convention, the Georgia Legends Fanfest, for April in Atlanta. Among those scheduled to appear are Mr. Wrestling No. 2, Jack Brisco, Harley Race, Bobby Heenan, The Superstar, Tony Atlas, The Assassin, Tully Blanchard and J.J. Dillon.

– Initial reviews for “Blade: Trinity,” the new movie featuring Triple H (Paul Michael Levesque) which opened Wednesday, have been mixed. Despite his portrayal on WWE telecasts as a major star, most of the reviews failed to even mention the WWE champ.