By Mike Mooneyham

April 8, 2007

Another Wrestlemania is in the books, and that means it’s time for WWE to begin charting a new course for next year’s big event.

While it’s a long way to Wrestlemania 24, to be held outdoors at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on March 30, 2008, planning began immediately following last weekend’s event, which drew more than 80,013 fans and set a new attendance record for Detroit’s Ford Field.

One name absent from this year’s extravaganza but sure to be a headliner at Mania 24 is Triple H. “The Game,” who initially was penciled in for the 2007 main event against John Cena, should be back in action by Summer Slam in August following several months on the sidelines due to a quadricep injury.

Cena, who retained his WWE title against Shawn Michaels last weekend, appears to be keeping the belt warm for Triple H when he returns.

While it might be unfair to make a connection or draw any conclusions, WWE has done some of its best business in several years with The Game out of the picture. If there is a correlation, it may very well be that other stars have had more time to develop their characters, and extra effort has been devoted to pushing new performers and storylines.

Some critics have argued in the past that Triple H, who just happens to be the son-in-law of WWE owner Vince McMahon and husband of WWE creative director Stephanie McMahon-Levesque, has been the recipient of too much TV time, and that the biggest angles have revolved around him.

Nonetheless, it’s a sure bet that when Triple H returns, the major focus will involve his chase for the WWE crown.

– WWE’s television ratings remain strong, and the promotion is selling out live shows at its best clip since the end of the industry’s last boom period in 2002.

WWE announced that not only did the attendance at Sunday’s Wrestlemania set a record for Ford Field, but it also was the second most well-attended Wrestlemania in history, ranking only behind Wrestlemania 3 at the Pontiac Silverdome, also in Detroit, in 1987. Although WWE officials have long claimed the 1987 event drew 93,173 fans, billed as the largest paid crowd in the history of professional wrestling and the largest for any live indoor sporting event in North America, that number has long been disputed. Some later records have indicated that the attendance at that event was just over 78,000 with a couple thousand comps.

– For someone who didn’t even make the Wrestlemania cut, Ric Flair sure got a lot of pub Mania weekend. It’s a sad day in the business when there’s a spot for 28 official competitors along with a slew of other accessory performers, but there’s not a slot for a 16-time world champ. Unless, of course, you count the non-televised, throwaway dark match before the show, in which Flair was one of 20 participants in a 10-team battle royal.

But you can’t hide the truth. And that came out loud and clear at Saturday night’s WWE Hall of Fame ceremony when new inductees Dusty Rhodes and Jim Ross both made it a point during their speeches to proclaim Flair the greatest performer in the history of the business.

Grammy award-winning music producer Timbaland made a special appearance at Raw the following night, and told announcer Todd Grisham that he was there specifically to see “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Flair also generated mainstream sports headlines the week before when he was flown in to deliver a special pep talk to the Florida Gators prior to their NCAA tournament game with Butler.

Gators coach Billy Dovovan asked his longtime friend to speak to his team before the game. Flair, who once appeared at Florida’s “Midnight Madness,” strutted through the locker room, delivered a few well-placed “Wooos!” and lit up the locker room with some inspirational words of encouragement.

The speech apparently worked, as Florida rolled past Butler, 65-57, and went on to win the national title for the second straight year.

– The much-anticipated Four Horsemen DVD will be released Tuesday.

“The Horseman DVD is getting a great deal of attention,” Jim Ross wrote on his blog. “I would submit to those worrying about two discs vs. three to not complain until you have actually seen the DVD. Plus, if this one sells, you know a sequel is forthcoming. There is too much good material about the Horsemen to get it all on one release anyway.”

– “Stone Cold” Steve Austin did a much better officiating at Wrestlemania than he did throwing out the ceremonial first pitch last week at the Chicago White Sox opener. “The Rattlesnake” missed the opening pitch to the right of the catcher by several feet. “I was a little disappointed with my pitch,” Austin said. “But you got to cut me some slack. It’s 30 degrees out here and I didn’t get one single warmup. To bring a cat like me, who has a lot of miles on him, with no warmups in 30 degrees, come on.” He also blamed the errant toss on not having enough beer in his system.

Austin, who hung out with White Sox players before the game, also expressed his views on baseball players crossing over to the squared circle.

“Just being back there hanging out, there’s a lot of guys who can talk trash,” said Austin. “To do the physical stuff, with the 162-game season, it seems like they have the durability. But it remains to be seen what they can do in the ring.”

Austin was alluding to an angle in TNA involving White Sox Minor League conditioning coordinator Dale Torborg and White Sox All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

– Former pro wrestler Sean O’Haire suffered serious injuries last weekend in a fight that took place outside a bar in Hilton Head Island.

O’Haire (real name Sean Haire), 36, who won a share of the WCW tag-team titles in 2000 and 2001, told deputies he was attacked while walking up to the Hilton Head Brewing Co., according to a Beaufort County Sheriff’s report.

O’Haire said he was going to the aid of a friend who was attacked by three unknown males when a 28-year-old Hilton Head man punched him in his left eye, knocking him into nearby bushes, according to The Island Packet. Other witnesses claim O’Haire tried to start a fight with alleged assailant Juan Brantley. Dave Robertson, the general manager of the club, said O’Haire had tried to start a fight with Brantley on several occasions.

O’Haire reportedly suffered a fractured orbital bone (in three places) as well as other fractures to his face and skull. Vision in his left eye is impaired, possibly permanently, and he will require extensive plastic surgery.

The Hilton Head graduate left wrestling in 2004 to focus on mixed martial arts fighting in Japan and recently had been training locally.

– The mighty midgets return to Joe Riley Park on Tuesday night as part of a special attraction following a Charleston RiverDogs’ game. Pint-sized brawlers Little Kato and Bad Boy Brian will lock horns for the third straight year.

“Post-game midget wrestling remains one of the most popular promotions we have at the ballpark each season, and each year we’ve increased attendance on the night,” said Promotions Director Jim Pfander.

What would be even better – maybe an idea for next season – would be a mixed tag-team match involving RiverDogs co-owner Mike Veeck and general manager Dave Echols in opposing corners paired with the little guy of their choice. Now that would be fun.

I’ll be on hand Tuesday night as guest announcer, with smooth radio play-by-play man Josh Maurer calling the action.

– CWA Pro Wrestling will hold a show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg.

Main event is Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Timber. Other matches include: Scotty Riggs vs. Chris Chance; Jean-Pierre Flex vs. Chris Mayne; and Xavier Night and Asylum vs. Malachi and Josh Magnum. Ringside seats are sold out, but $12 floor seats and $10 bleacher seats are still available. Contact (803) 707-4072, (803) 533-1111 or (803) 308-5357 for tickets.

– Old School Championship Wrestling will hold a show April 29 at Weekend’s Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek.

Main event is The Barbarian vs. Josh Mangum. Bell time is 6 p.m. For more information, call 824-1477.