By Mike Mooneyham

March 13, 2005

What happens in WWE … well, unlike Vegas, doesn’t always stay in WWE. And what’s happening behind the scenes lately in WWE has become a potential embarrassment for the company.

While indiscreet dalliances and liaisons on the road certainly aren’t unique to the wrestling business, the problem has reached headline news stage for World Wrestling Entertainment.

With the WWE publicity machine at full tilt hyping the Wrestlemania pay-per-view April 3 in Los Angeles, most of the backstage buzz over the past week has centered around the breakup of longtime sweethearts Matt Hardy and Amy Dumas (Lita). A poster couple over the past five years, Hardy and Dumas’ split was painful – and public.

But what makes the situation a major concern for the company is that it involves another top star on the Raw brand, Adam Copeland (Edge), whose wedding to his second wife less than six months ago was attended by both Hardy and Dumas.

According to Hardy, deception and duplicity abound in this real-life wrestling love triangle, leaving him feeling betrayed by both his companion and one of his closest friends in the business. The proof, says Hardy, presented itself when he recently uncovered some revealing messages from Copeland on Dumas’ cell phone.

Edge and Lita

Edge and Lita

The company, quite naturally, is exercising damage control and has talked to all three parties about handling the matter in a professional manner. Hardy, who is coming off a knee injury that has sidelined him for several months, had planned to attend Raw tapings last week in Raleigh, since he lives in nearby Cameron, N.C. With company officials fearing a potentially explosive situation backstage, Hardy was advised to stay away from the arena.

The news wasn’t lost on the Raw audience Monday night, as a sizable portion of the crowd booed both Edge during his match and Lita during her run-in, although her music drowned out a chorus of catcalls. The reaction to Edge, who’s a storyline heel, won’t be as much of an issue in coming weeks as will potential anti-Lita chants and signs. The crowd response at Raw was made even worse by the fact that Hardy is a homebred star who is generally well-liked and respected by the local following.

With Edge and Lita both having prominent roles at Wrestlemania, WWE officials are rightly concerned that word will spread and the reaction will grow. The development, sources say, has created uneasiness and awkwardness in both the Raw and Smackdown locker rooms.

Thomas Simpson, a friend of Hardy and Dumas, said he, too, was floored by the news.

“They seemed like the perfect wrestling couple – in and out of the ring,” said Simpson, a professor at the University of South Carolina-Union and a College of Charleston alumnus. “The story made me cry. As much as he sacrificed for her, I can’t believe she would do this to him. It’s totally surreal. I don’t know what to think even now. I hurt for my friend because I know how much he loved her. It’s like a bad dream.”

The Hardy Boyz and Lita were one of the most popular acts in the business several years ago. Although drug problems and other issues led to Jeff Hardy’s departure from WWE in 2003, Matt Hardy and Lita have maintained good standing with the company despite disappointing injuries that have sidelined both for months at a time. Both the Hardys (“Exist 2 Inspire”) and Lita (“A Less Traveled Road”) penned autobiographies while on hiatus. The books chronicled not only their unlikely rise to stardom in the big leagues, but also the bond Lita formed with both brothers as Team Extreme.

Simpson, a part-time wrestling promoter who helped launch the North Carolina-based Omega organization, said he knew something was brewing when Hardy took Dumas’ pictures off his Web site and alluded to having a really terrible week. Simpson said he could feel the pain and anguish in Hardy’s voice when the two finally talked.

“I would never in a million years have thought this would have happened between them, and certainly not that it would happen with Adam. He’s a good guy, but I just don’t understand it. This is hard for everyone.”

Matt and brother Jeff were involved in one of WWE’s most memorable tag-team programs with Edge and Christian (Jay Reso) during the height of the company’s “Attitude” era. That series included a 2000 triangle ladder match also involving The Dudleys that was hailed as one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history, along with another ladder match at the 1999 No Mercy pay-per-view and several innovative TLC bouts that put both teams on the map.

“Those boys made a lot of money together. I always thought if you made a lot of money together, you tend to watch out for one another,” said Simpson. “I’m flabbergasted by all of this. Matt has always made the right choice. He’s a very fair and honest person. I just hope everybody ends up happy.”

Both Hardy, 30, and Dumas, 29, attended Edge’s wedding last October in Tampa. Copeland divorced his first wife, Alanah Morely (sister of WWE performer Sean “Val Venis” Morely) a year earlier. Copeland made brief mention of his first marriage in his recently released autobiography “Adam Copeland on Edge.”

“I really don’t want to go into details about why and how our marriage fell apart, it just did ” he wrote. “Sometimes things just are what they are … I realized she was not the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and couldn’t ignore that feeling anymore.”

“I really hate what’s happened,” said Simpson. “Relationships are so insane between people in the wrestling business. But if there was any relationship that I thought could survive the drama, I certainly thought it would be Matt and Amy.”

The best guess of most insiders is that either Hardy or Edge and Lita will be sent over to Smackdown following Wrestlemania. With WWE boss Vince McMahon laid up for several months following surgery to repair torn quads, talent head John Laurinidas (Johnny Ace) is expected to serve as point man in charge of keeping the peace backstage and making any appropriate moves.

“Obviously there’s some immaturity there, but I would think that they’re at least mature enough to keep things on a professional level. I hope it all settles down, and I think it will,” said Simpson.

Unfortunately for WWE, the Hardy-Lita-Edge triangle isn’t the only issue simmering on the company’s plate. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and at least two other top stars reportedly have been approached by management concerning extracurricular activities and improper conduct.

The company also is bracing for possible legal repercussions stemming from an alleged harassment incident involving one of its former divas.

Smackdown’s Amy Weber left the company after reports of ribbing and harassment on the road that occurred during the brand’s recent tour of Japan. The situation came to a head when a group of WWE performers found her picture on a flyer for a Japanese strip club that caters to Americans, and the flyer was passed around during a WWE flight. Weber, who reportedly lived and worked in Japan for several months, denied that she ever worked for the club, claiming the establishment used her photo without authorization. Weber also says she was harassed on the flight from Japan’s Narita Airport to the Anchorage Airport.

Weber, who had been playing the role of WWE champion John Bradshaw Layfield’s image consultant on Smackdown, paid to fly herself home from the tour.

Like many WWE newcomers, Weber fell victim to the usual ribs and practical jokes, but some have speculated that treatment to some of the new divas may be more pronounced due to the growing resentment from veterans concerning the perks afforded the divas while on the road. Some of those wrestlers reportedly were upset with the fact that Weber, claiming to have been suffering from a sore back and tailbone, had requested an entire row of seats so she could stretch out to sleep during the long overseas flight, while the others were relegated to coach seats. During the flight from Japan to Alaska, Randy Orton reportedly poured a Bloody Mary on her while she was sleeping.

Orton, in particular, has caused concern among management due to what some have termed an “overbearing attitude and overly aggressive nature” with some of the divas and female talent backstage and on the road. “He’s trying to live the lifestyle of a 21st-century Harley Race and Ric Flair, and you just can’t do that in this day and age,” remarked one observer.

The former underwear model also ruffled feathers when he reportedly told a group of fans who were seeking autographs at the recent Madison Square Garden show to “get lost.”

There has been some discussion about moving the 24-year-old Orton, who initially had been pegged to meet Triple H in the main event at Wrestlemania, to Smackdwn where he would turn heel for a program with John Cena.

“There are a lot of delicate situations. I hope they manage to get their house in order. There seems to be a lot of blatant and wholesale hell-raising that’s like a college fraternity,” Simpson said of WWE.

– Spike TV announced last week that it has closed negotiations with WWE for programming beyond September. While not a done deal at this point, WWE is expected to move Raw and its weekend shows to the USA Network, which was its cable home for nearly two decades before moving to Spike (then called The National Network). Raw was Spike’s most popular program and led it to be the No. 4-rated network when it came to the coveted 18-34 and 18-49 demographics. WWE’s two hours of Raw last week landed as the top two hours in the ranking of the most-watched primetime basic cable shows.

“After several months of negotiations, we have decided to end our discussions about extending our relationship with the WWE beyond September 2005,” stated a Spike TV release. “Moving forward, Spike TV will expand its investments in original programming and new acquisitions for its core audience.”

According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter, WWE had asked Spike TV for a fee of about $40 million a year, which was more than 40 percent above what Spike has paid WWE over the last five years for the primetime powerhouse.

Spike TV could shift from its “Network for Men” mantra and build around the broader audience it is drawing for its CSI syndicated programming. Or it could open the door for a possible Monday night time slot for TNA and a recreation of a Monday night wrestling wars scenario that once dominated cable television.