By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 2, 2005

Coming off a generally disappointing year, World Wrestling Entertainment will be looking to stir the pot in 2005, hoping to come up with the right formula that will get the company back on track.

The establishment of Randy Orton and John Cena to head their respective divisions is one of the company’s major goals. The two are expected to emerge from Wrestlemania as new world champions, with the working plan to have them switch brands shortly thereafter as part of a major roster shuffle.

The company will look for the 27-year-old Cena to bring his youthful, unbridled energy to Raw, with Triple H naturally penciled in to feud with him over the title. Orton, 24, who became the youngest champion in WWE history during a one-month stint last year, is being counted on to give the struggling Smackdown brand a much-needed boost and some fresh new matchups. Fans also can look for WWE to get a little edgier in 2005.

Based on the phenomenal success of the “Rise and Fall of ECW” DVD, WWE plans to ratchet up the violence quotient with its plans for the new year.

John Cena

John Cena

The company will present its first-ever barbed-wire cage match on a Smackdown pay-per-view in February. The details of the bout have not yet been disclosed, but if history is any indication, the match promises to be a bloodbath. The flip side is that the participants, John Layfield and Big Show, seem mismatched in such a setting.

And in June, the company has made plans to hold an ECW-themed pay-per-view at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, site of ECW’s final two PPVs. The ECW video has whet the appetite of fans throughout the country who fondly remember the revolutionary company’s groundbreaking shows and storylines, and WWE wisely is looking to capitalize on the groundswell of interest.

Many of WWE’s current stars are ECW products. The list includes Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Tommy Dreamer, Tazz, The Dudleys, Dawn Marie, Nunzio, Stevie Richards and Mick Foley. Even Jerry “The King” Lawler was involved in a brief ECW storyline, labeling the company “Extremely Crappy Wrestling” and setting off a torrent of emotion among ECW diehards.

The main ingredient for such an undertaking unfortunately isn’t expected to play a major role in the show. Paul Heyman, the real mastermind behind the ECW phenomenon, has found himself back in the WWE doghouse and has been told he won’t be part of the planning. Stephanie McMahon, who heads up the WWE creative team, recently suspended Heyman after claiming he listened in on a Raw booking meeting conference that he wasn’t invited to be part of.

There also has been talk of a WWE-ECW spinoff show that would carry a late-night slot with material geared toward the young male demographic.

The WWE juggernaut has struggled with image issues this past year while combating claims that it was losing its cool quotient and falling behind the times. With newer, hipper TV shows presenting edgier and more topical programming, fans can look for Vince McMahon and company to get back in the pop culture battle and attempt to create water-cooler talk for its legion of followers.

No stranger to pushing the envelope, WWE is entering the new year with a heat-charged and politically controversial gimmick revolving around the Muslim American team of Muhammad Hussan (Mark Magnus) and Khosrow Daivari (Shawn Daivari). Reaction thus far has been mixed, but it’s a sure bet that the two will be heavily pushed in hopes of getting fans – and the media – to talk.

The angle takes an even more serious turn when the two spar with announcers Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler in a debate on this week’s Raw.

– It’s an appropriate time to reflect upon the many influential wrestling personalities who passed away in 2004. They all touched the lives of fans and the profession in general.

Ray Traylor, whose portrayal of Big Bossman, a rugged, nightstick-wielding prison guard who was one of the World Wrestling Federation’s most entertaining characters, died far too soon at the age of 42. The erudite Jim Barnett, who passed away at the age of 80, was one of wrestling’s most influential figures over a period that spanned the past half-century. Closer to home, Henry Marcus, who passed away at the age of 93, was known as “the dean of wrestling promoters” in South Carolina. His weekly Friday night shows at the old County Hall on King Street were a staple for local mat fans for many years.

Among those we said goodbye to in 2004:

Dandy Jack Donovan (Jack Dunnavant), Nov. 27, age 86; Billy Spears (Bill Spearman), November, age 72; Big Bossman (Ray Traylor), Sept. 23, 42; Jim Barnett, Sept. 17, age 80; Dr. Wagner (Manuel Gonzalez Rivera), Sept. 12, age 68; “Gentleman” Ken Timbs, Aug. 1, age 53; Henry Marcus, July 25, age 93; Pat Roach, July 17, age 67; Tito Kopa (Joseph Kopa), July 3, age 80; Sandor Kovacs, June 30, age 84; Kurt Von Brauner (Kurt Brawner), June 4, age 77; James Dudley, June, age 93; Balk Estes, June, age 91; Pepper Gomez (Joseph Serapio Palemino Gomez Jr.), May 6, age 77; Great Goliath (Pablo Ordaz Crispin), April 12, age 69; Hercules Hernandez (Ray Fernandez), March 6, age 47; Jim “Dano” McDonald, March 4, age 81; Coach John Heath, Feb. 13, age 80; Billy Parks, Feb. 11, age 83; Hard Boiled Haggerty (Don Stansauk), Jan. 27, age 78; and Jack Tunney, Jan. 24, age 68.

– New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Antonio Inoki has announced that former WWE champion Brock Lesnar will appear as a guest at the promotion’s Jan. 4 Tokyo Dome event. It will mark the failed football hopeful’s first public appearance at a pro wrestling event since walking out on WWE following his loss to Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX.

Triple H said in a recent interview that even though Lesnar will likely return to WWE down the road, there is no interest in bringing him in at the current time, despite Lesnar’s calls to the WWE office. Triple H also said that Lesnar made a huge mistake in feeling as if he could come and go as he pleased.

A no-compete clause in effect in Lesnar’s WWE contract prohibits him from wrestling for another group, so his New Japan appearance most likely will be in a non-wrestling role.

– Rob Van Dam refused to go on WWE’s recent Smackdown tour of the Middle East. The trip reportedly was purely voluntary, but sources have reported that pressure was put on performers to make the tour or be ready to face possible consequences from Vince McMahon.

RVD told talent chief Johnny Ace (John Laurinaitis) that he had no desire to go into a war zone (Iraq). He later met with McMahon and held fast to his decision.

– TNA’s new time slot change will begin Jan. 7. The show will move to 4 p.m. on Fridays with a midnight Saturday replay.

– Ricky Steamboat, whose illustrious in-ring career ended in 1994 due to serious back problems, has signed on as a WWE road agent.

– Paul Bearer (Bill Moody), who has lost nearly 200 pounds over the past year since undergoing gastric bypass surgery, was backstage at Raw tapings last week in Biloxi, Miss.