By Mike Mooneyham

March 26, 2006

It’s seven days and counting until Wrestlemania.

Yet something seems missing.

It could be the lack of a dream match such as last year’s Kurt Angle-Shawn Michaels classic. Or perhaps the fact that past Mania favorites such as Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock have no plans to be on the show.

Nor is it likely to produce Kodak moments similar to the ones two years ago when Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit proved to the world that “the look” wasn’t a prerequisite to the biggest prize in the business.

On paper, this year’s event appears to be predictable and below the lofty level of previous Wrestlemanias.

Fortunately, though, the quality of the show won’t be measured by how it looks on paper.

John Cena, who has been consistent yet unremarkable in his current world title reign, needs to pull a career match out of the hat against Triple H. Although Cena won the strap from JBL at last year’s Wrestlemania, it was a forgettable performance and one he hopes not to repeat if he’s going to deliver a Mania-quality main event this time around.

Cena said Friday that he’s ready for anything and everything April 2 in Chicago.

“From a creative standpoint, nobody knows what the hell to do, because from a creative standpoint, they don’t know what the hell is going to happen. That’s what I like best about it. I like it being completely off the cuff. I’m like a no-holds-barred, live-with-the-moment type of guy. I like the mixed reactions (of the crowd).”

A return by Jim Ross to the announce table could help tremendously in putting over the show, although nothing is confirmed at this point. What is confirmed is his excellent outing to mark the company’s return to NBC on last weekend’s Saturday Night’s Main Event.

The Oklahoman’s removal from his spot last year was a miscalculation of monumental proportions by Vince McMahon, a move akin to the NFL hierarchy giving John Madden the boot because of his appearance.

Politics and egos aside, Ross is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Not having the man in the black Resistol hat call the company’s most significant matches only lessens their historical import.

McMahon and company also can’t be too happy with the broadcast ratings from its first SNME outing on NBC in more than a decade. Final numbers came in at 3.1, or 3.3 million households, below even last week’s Raw with a 4.1 cable rating on USA, or 3.6 million households.

– A highlight from last week’s Raw was the three-way match involving Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam and Shelton Benjamin. It was hard-hitting and a good lead-in to the six-man ladder match at Mania.

One reason the match was so good, joked the 57-year-old Flair, was that “it was real.”

“He (RVD) kicked me in the head three times. I’ve got a hole in my head and he’s got 20 stitches in his eye. It was the ultimate fight.”

Flair, sporting two loose teeth, added that he could do “without the kicks in the mouth.”

– Watch for Flair’s former Evolution stablemate, Triple H, to be next on RVD’s list.

There’s no love lost there – inside or outside the ring. RVD expressed his behind-the-scenes dislike for Triple H last year in an interview when asked about The Game: “He carries himself like his position and championship mean all the world to him. He’s voted most least likely to be chilling at RVD’s pool.”

– Vince McMahon for new NFL commissioner? listed the wrestling czar as a candidate. After all, noted the article, he has experience in running a pro football league (the XFL) and was the innovator of such gimmicks as sideline strippers and replacing the coin toss with two guys sprinting for the ball.

It might be noted that Saddam Hussein also was included on the tongue-in-cheek list, with his drawback being that filthy, sunless spider holes are for the guys who break down game film, not prospective commissioners.

– WWE held its first drug testing at Raw tapings last week. There will be no penalties for anyone testing positive for steroids, but anyone who does test positive will have to have levels decrease whenever a second test takes place.

– There was probably no one more surprised than Tony Atlas when he recently was tabbed for induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Atlas, once a top star for Vince McMahon Sr.’s World Wide Wrestling Federation and later for son Vince’s World Wrestling Federation, had remarked in a recent interview that he thought his association with the company was long over.

“It would shock me if they did (made contact). You have to understand McMahon. When he says something, he means what he says. And like he said, I’m ‘the example.’ He hasn’t gotten over that yet. We were like brothers. Vince likes closure. Bringing me back wouldn’t cause closure.”

Atlas was referring to the time he says McMahon told him: “I’m going to make you the example.” It was a direct warning, he says, to others on the roster that if McMahon would fire Tony Atlas, he would fire anybody. Other promotions became reluctant to take a chance on him as a result.

“Nobody missed a show after they got rid of me,” he lamented.

Atlas, now 52, arguably had the best body in the business at the time. The muscleman had beaten Hulk Hogan on numerous occasions during the early ’80s, shortly before the Hulkster’s ascension to the WWF throne. But Atlas had a drawback, and it cost him dearly. He started missing shows. His dalliances with drugs, he admitted, didn’t help his cause. He wasn’t the only one, but McMahon wanted to put an end to it. And he did.

McMahon gave Atlas a painful parting shot: “Every time you see Hogan, I want you to remember these words: That coulda, shoulda, woulda been you.”

– WWE released Matt “Rosey” Anoai last week, but added Andrew “Test” Martin and Chuck Palumbo to its roster.

Martin, who was dumped by the company in November 2004, less than four months after undergoing neck fusion surgery and while still recovering from the procedure, has been critical of the company in recent months. In a post last week, however, he made an 180-degree turn and had nothing but love for his past and present employer.

– Raven (Scott Levy) will be returning to TNA soon after an extended layoff to deal with health issues that included thyroid and adrenaline glands problems and high blood pressure.

Raven will renew his feud with TNA figurehead commissioner Larry Zbyszko. The Living Legend, who is scheduled to undergo hair restoration surgery, is expected to conveniently drop a match in which the loser gets his head shaved.

– Longtime ladies wrestler Maria Bernardi passed away recently after having been in a coma from a cerebral hemorrhage on March 9. She was 80.

Known as the First Lady of the Cauliflower Alley Club, she served as the organization’s secretary for three decades. She made her ring debut at the age of 12 and was dubbed “The Tigress.”

“I fought like a dog for female wrestlers to make as much money as the men. If you can’t call that woman’s lib, I don’t know what the hell it is,” she told L.A. Style Magazine in 1988.

Bernardi won her first major championship, the Italian lightweight title, in 1948. She won the world lightweight title in 1952 and retired, undefeated, in 1963.

She was the third person to sign off on the Cauliflower Alley Club upon its founding by the late wrestling and move star Mike Mazurki. She became the first woman ever to be awarded by the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1985.

– On a personal note, there’s an old saying that adversity introduces a man to himself.

My friend and newspaper colleague, Arlie Porter, showed us all his indomitable spirit and courage in the face of tremendous adversity as he bravely battled ALS over the past several years. Although Arlie quietly passed away Thursday evening, it can never be said Arlie lost the fight.

His shining example will live on in this newsroom for many years to come.