By Mike Mooneyham

Oct. 1, 2006

Total Nonstop Action may have pulled off the biggest coup in company history with the recent signing of Kurt Angle.

And while TNA is a better – or at least safer – choice than mixed martial arts competition, which Angle had teased just days prior to his signing, it’s not exactly what the doctor ordered when WWE literally pushed the former Olympic gold medalist out the door last month.

It’s no secret that Angle has been battling painkiller addiction for quite some time, and WWE officials had feared for his well-being. When mandatory time off and suspensions didn’t work, the company had no other option than to force the issue and show Angle the door.

It was an unceremonious departure for a performer with Angle’s credentials, and the split was characterized as acrimonious. While the door was left open for Angle to return at some point in the future, the wrestler spent little time in working out a deal that would put him right back in the ring, although in a less demanding environment and with a much more relaxed schedule.

“Our ring has six sides … but only one Angle,” trumpeted the TNA machinery.

Kurt Angle

Kurt Angle

“Kurt is considered the greatest wrestler in professional wrestling,” boasted TNA president Dixie Carter. “His in-ring ability is matched only by his leadership and attitude. We are thrilled Kurt is joining the TNA family and we look forward to a long, successful relationship.”

A healthy Kurt Angle is a shot in the arm for a company that may have finally positioned itself to make some waves in the wrestling industry. Unlike the star signing of a 47-year-old Sting (Steve Borden) late last year, the acquisition of Angle could have tangible and lasting effects in TV ratings and pay-per-view buyrates.

How Angle handles the challenge – mentally and physically – is anyone’s guess.

“What is the over/under on how long Kurt Angle stays in TNA? I think the world of Kurt and hope he gets totally healthy much sooner than later,” Jim Ross said last week. “Perhaps being a part of TNA will work for Kurt as it relates to travel and in-ring demands. I do think this genre is much better suited for Angle than mixed martial arts, UFC, etc. I wish Kurt well on his new opportunity and that is true, damn true.”

Stay tuned.

– As if the surprise signing of Angle wasn’t enough, TNA announced that its weekly Impact show was moving to a prime-time 9 p.m. Thursday time slot beginning Nov. 16. An additional hour also has been discussed and appears to be a distinct possibility.

The TNA product seems headed for yet another change with the return of Vince Russo to the creative team. Russo, known for his cutting-edge storylines, was one of the most controversial figures to have emerged during the glory days of the Monday night wrestling wars. Love him or hate him, and passions rarely settled into any middle ground, Russo spawned an era of sports entertainment that was in your face and sometimes downright crude.

Russo, whose focus was entertainment over wrestling, was credited with being one of the main reasons behind the then-WWF’s resurgence and was one of the driving forces behind the eventual de-emphasis of the in-ring product. Russo, while credited with giving the WWF its once-trendy “Attitude” direction, left the business after two unsuccessful stints in WCW where he shamefully put the world title on actor David Arquette (and later himself), booked himself as the first man to ever cut Ric Flair’s hair as part of a wrestling angle, and turned the company’s No. 1 babyface (Bill Goldberg) heel.

A run with TNA in the company’s early days also proved unsuccessful.

“Whatever glued those eyeballs to that television set … I did it,” Russo later admitted. “Sex, violence, drugs, nudity, homosexuality, transvestites, men beating women, the killing of household pets, castration, the unnatural love between mother and her son, demonic worship, demonic sacrifice, blasphemy, degrading the cross, there was nothing off-limits. Did I know it was wrong? Sure I did. But in an effort to stay on top, in an effort to please my boss, in an effort to be a ‘worldly’ success, I simply hid behind the excuse -‘I’m not writing this show for kids.’ But the fact was kids were watching. They were watching and we knew it – that’s why we were shipping out Stone Cold Steve Austin lollipops by the truckload every week.”

Don’t expect the same Vince Russo in his new capacity with TNA. This version is a born-again Christian who has started his own ministry and online site aptly named “Forgiven.”

– WWE has signed veteran Too Cold Scorpio (Charles Scaggs) to a three-year deal. Scorpio, 40, has been a regular for Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan the past several years.

Other recent WWE signings include Henry Godwinn, Brad Armstrong, Marty Jannetty and and Rodney Mack. The latter three signed on to work with younger talent.

– WWE released Kid Kash (David Cash) last week after a stormy tenure that has marked many of Kash’s relationships with various wrestling companies in the past. Kash was one half of The Pittbulls tag team with Jamie Noble (James Gibson).

Also fired was ECW performer Justin Credible (Pete Polaco).

– Ricky Gibson, the older brother of longtime Rock ‘N Roll Express member Robert Gibson, passed away at the age of 53 Sept. 15 in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.

Gibson, whose real name was Rick Kane, was a star during the ’70s throughout the Southern territories and formed a top team with younger brother Robert (Rueben Kane), who later would form one of the top duos in wrestling history with Ricky Morton.

– The premiere of “The Marine,” the new John Cena movie, will be on Tuesday at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in San Diego. Among those appearing will be Triple H, Ric Flair, Carlito and WWE divas Candice Michelle and Maria.

– Sting (Steve Borden) hosted TBN’s “Praise the Lord” show last week and featured Nikita Koloff and Lex Luger as his guests.

– Former WWE champ John Bradshaw Layfield and WWE reportedly have come to terms after the wrestler gave notice to the company.

Layfield, who also works as an investment banker on Wall Street, had expressed travel concerns stemming from his weekly duties as commentator for Smackdown.

– It’s not that uncommon for a WWE performer to cut a promo that pushes the envelope.

But Matt Striker definitely crossed the line during a recent live ECW telecast on the Sci Fi network.

WWE sunk to a new low with Striker’s crass and classless comments alluding to the tragic death of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, who had been killed less than 48 hours earlier after a stingray barb pierced his heart while filming an underwater documentary.

Striker, whose gimmick is that of a cocky and preppy schoolteacher who espouses his intellect, remarked that fans wouldn’t catch him swimming with stingrays during his “Striker’s Classroom” segment.

“There is a reason you’ll never see me carelessly swimming in the ocean with stingrays, and that reason is, by the grace of the almighty Lord and Savior, I am different than each and every one of you. I use my vast intellect to solve problems,” said Striker.

To the company’s credit, WWE owner Vince McMahon issued an apology on the ECW Web site.

“We at WWE apologize for the remark alluding to the death of Steve Irwin which was made on ECW on Sci Fi Tuesday night. The remark was, in the least, disrespectful to Mr. Irwin’s fans and family.”

The fault, however, doesn’t all lie with Striker. Unfortunately the line had been approved by McMahon after having been scripted by WWE Creative member Brian Gewirtz.

There was nothing funny about the remark. Topical humor is one thing.

Spitting on someone’s grave is another. Striker’s gimmick, incidentally, isn’t much of a stretch either.

The 32-year-old lost his job last year as a social studies teacher at a high school in Queens, N.Y., after the school discovered he was constantly calling in sick due to his wrestling bookings.

By day he was Matt Kaye, high school social studies teacher. By night he was Matt Striker, professional wrestler.

The scandal eventually landed him a full-time contract with WWE. The infamy also earned Striker a spot in an issue of GQ magazine in which he struck poses among kids in a classroom while wearing yellow wrestling trunks.

“Ultimately, I owe the Department of Education a debt of gratitude,” Striker told the magazine. “Had none of this happened, I might still be teaching.” “Some people, they love to hate me,” Striker said in an interview earlier this year. “And I love that they love to hate me.”

– WWE star-turned-Hollywood actor Dwayne `”The Rock” Johnson may have cleared yet another hurdle in his path to dramatic credibility with his latest movie, “Gridiron Gang,” which recently opened in theaters nationwide.

“My goal is to become a versatile actor able to do a wide array of different roles,’ Johnson told the San Jose Mercury News. “That was my goal five years ago, but I wasn’t getting the material that was going to allow me to do it. It was all action, and frankly, a lot of it was bad.’

The movie is a heartstring-plucking drama about a group of teenage felons molded into a successful football team. Johnson stars as a tough-as-nails juvenile detention camp probation officer who in four weeks turns a group of teenage felons into a high school football team. The movie is based on the 1993 Emmy award-winning documentary of the same name.

Johnson said he was moved to tears in watching the documentary, which took him back to his own checkered youth in Hawaii. Johnson could easily relate to the experiences of troubled youth because, he used to be one.

Police had collared Johnson eight times by the time he was 17 for “fighting, theft and more fighting,”‘ he said. Arrested several times by the age of 14, Johnson says, “I was running the streets. I was making all the wrong decisions [and was] involved with people who were not good people.”

It wasn’t until Johnson was 17, through the support of his high school football coach and his family, that he was able to turn things around. That background gives him perspective for “Gridiron Gang” and the role of Sean Porter, the real-life juvenile detention camp probation who fueled his inmates’ rehabilitation by having them form a football team.

The former University of Miami defensive lineman, who has said in numerous media outlets that he has no plans to return to wrestling, was in New York last Monday promoting his movie but didn’t stop by Madison Square Garden where WWE was holding Raw.

The 34-year-old “Rundown” and “Scorpion King” star is adding another football flick to his big-screen resume in his next film, “The Game Plan,” where he plays an NFL quarterback living the bachelor lifestyle until he discovers he has a young daughter from a former relationship.

“As a failed football player, how lucky am I?” Johnson told the Baltimore Sun. “Now, I’m playing an NFL quarterback on a great team in Boston, winning the Super Bowl, holding the Lombardi Trophy. I got my little girl. I get to sing Elvis. It’s great.”

Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville recently told the Hunstville (Ala.) Times that Johnson “didn’t quite fit the background of a Miami defensive player.”

Tuberville was a Miami assistant coach when Johnson played alongside the likes of Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis. Tuberville said Johnson was “low-key” when he first arrived on campus and was surprised when he saw Johnson several years after he left the school.

“I’ll never forget this, God’s honest truth, I was at Ole Miss and I was at home watching TV. I had lost track of Dwayne in the last five or six years. I’m flipping through channels and I kinda hit wrestling. I saw a guy hanging on the top of the rope and he jumps out and does a belly-flop on the floor. I look at him and go, ‘My gosh, that’s Dwayne Johnson. And he’s made it.’ He’s already made a name for himself. And I had no clue.”

“His personality was never a wrestler,” added Tuberville. “His body looks like a tough guy, but he was very smart, low-key, never any problems. He made very good grades. He was clean-cut. No jewelry, short hair, always dressed nice. Not exactly the personna of that team.”

“I drew from all the greats I’ve played under (for inspiration),” Johnson recently told Sports Illustrated. “Dennis Erickson, Greg Marks and Tommy Tuberville – I borrowed from their intensity and passion.”

– Greg Gagne, who had been working as scriptwriter for Ohio Valley Wrestling TV and helping with training in the developmental system, has been released. Mike “Simon Dean” Bucci is expected to be named as Gagne’s replacement.

– Former WWE champ Molly Holly (Nora Greenwald) recently told the Cambridge Times that she wouldn’t trade her experience in the wrestling business for anything.

Said the one-time Charleston resident: “I escaped fairly well off. I have no major injuries, I’m not a drug addict and I’m still young enough that I can come back if I ever want to.”

– Larry Zbyszko is writing an autobiography titled “The Adventures of Larryland.”

– Bobby Eaton recently was released from a Tennessee hospital after experiencing a health scare that originally had been reported as a heart attack.

Eaton, one of the greatest tag-team specialists in the history of the business, released the following statement:

“Thank you for all the kind words and well wishes, but I must admit that I did not have a medical emergency. What did happen was I have high blood pressure and during a visit to the doctor he found that I have a slight hint of sugar diabetes. Looking forward to seeing all of my fans as I plan to keep all of my scheduled dates.”

Eaton did just that, as he teamed with Midnight Express partner Dennis Condrey in a match several days later.

– Rikishi (Solafa Fatu Jr.) recently was arrested after a vehicle stop in Pensacola, Fla.

The 41-year-old, 6-2, 400-pound wrestler was taken into custody without any resistance. A Federal District Judge for the Northern District of Florida had issued a warrant for his arrest after Fatu failed to appear at a show cause hearing, carrying a charge of civil contempt.

The U.S. Marshals Office in Pensacola had repeatedly attempted to locate Fatu to serve him with a civil subpoena but was unable to find him. The Task Force’s investigation eventually led them to discover he was in Italy during that period and touring with a newly formed Italian wrestling organization. The investigation revealed that it appeared as though Fatu returned several weeks ago. Once the Task Force learned that, they started searching for him again locally.

– King Booker recently told the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer that he’d like to pursue a career in acting when his wrestling days are over.

“I have a script right here that I’m reading,” he said. “I’m trying to build a youth center. And I want to work behind-the-scenes in WWE, in production and commentary. I’m trying to develop some talent that’s coming up. I’ll continue to do that.”

He also has a wrestling school in his hometown of Houston called the Booker T Wrestling Academy that teaches “youngsters the way of the wrestling ring, and more importantly, to stay away from drugs and alcohol.”

His current WWE contract runs through 2008.

– Batista (Dave Bautista) is in the process of getting divorced and is now dating Rebecca DiPietro, from this year’s Diva Search.

– Eddie Sperry, who worked with Harry Slash in creating many of the ECW custom-made theme songs such as “Path of Rage” for Taz, “Total Elimination” for The Eliminations and the “This is Extreme!” company theme, recently passed away in Thailand.

– Independent World Wrestling Superstars is presenting a fund-raiser Oct. 13 at the Horizon Convention Center in Muncie, Ind. The show, billed “Halloween Havoc,” is raising money for youth centers in Muncie.

Scott Steiner vs. Buff Bagwell and Greg Valentine-Bobo Brazil Jr. will headline the card.

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