By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 16, 2001

World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon realized a longtime goal when he purchased what was left of World Championship Wrestling last March. The company had been mismanaged – both financially and creatively – to a staggering degree. But the fact of the matter is that pro wrestling still produced some of the top ratings for the Turner networks. Unfortunately for WCW, the man who had always been there to bail out his beloved “rasslin” company was no longer a factor.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Ted Turner, who has often credited wrestling with helping launch his media empire more than a quarter of a century ago, was pushed aside last year in the merging of America Online and Time Warner. Outgoing AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin relieved the brash billionaire of his duties supervising the Turner empire within AOL last spring. Turner learned he was fired when he was sent a fax informing him that Jamie Kellner had been named chairman and chief executive of Turner Broadcasting.

“I’m in spiritual and mental pain,” Turner told the Washington Post earlier this year. “When you’ve worked to build a company for 40 years and you know all the people there, and one day it’s gone, well, that’s a hard transition for anyone. It’s like taking your pencil away and telling you you can’t write anymore.”

“He has a love-hate relationship with me,” Levin recently said of Turner. “I have a love relationship with him.”

Although Turner voted for the merger and his net worth was boosted to more than $9 billion at the time (that figure has dropped due to AOL Time Warner’s falling stock price), Turner was outmaneuvered by Time Warner’s Levin and AOL chief Steve Case. The cable TV networks have sputtered since then.

Making matters worse was AOL Time Warner’s “fire sale” of WCW nine months ago. Turner, by then far removed from the decision-making loop, reportedly was both saddened and infuriated when learning that his wrestling company had been sold, and was especially upset over the way new Turner Broadcasting chairman and CEO Kellner handled the cancellation of WCW programming.

In the meantime some insiders have speculated that Turner, 63, would bring wrestling back on board to TBS and TNT if restored to a major position. Those feelings were buoyed last week when Levin announced his retirement, effective in May, and his successor, Richard Parsons, immediately declared that he wanted the estranged vice chairman back in the fold of the world’s biggest media company.

“Ted is my man. I love Ted,” Parsons, 53, recently told Electronic Media. “He knows more, particularly about the television space, which is at least a good third of this company. Ted and I have always had a wonderful relationship, and I am going to be reaching out to him.”

Sources say Parsons is the one “peacekeeper” who could bring Turner, whose contract expires at the end of the month, back into the mix. If Turner is restored to power at AOL Time Warner, Monday nights could get mighty interesting again. If not, there is a strong possibility that the Atlanta media mogul might start a new enterprise that could compete with AOL Time Warner, and one of his first acts could be throwing his hat back into the ring and restarting a national wrestling promotion.

“Ted Turner remains one of the few people with the finances, knowledge and sentimental attachment to mount a serious challenge to McMahon’s WWF,” said one industry source.

- The Florida-based XPW continues to put forth its best efforts at making a dent in the national wrestling scene. The company, still trying to land a syndicated television deal, has scheduled several house shows at the end of the month and more Universal Studio tapings the first of the new year. With TV being the main part of the equation in the success or failure of the company, XPW would be well-served to pursue the services of former WCW production chief David Crockett, who would provide not only his considerable experience and knowledge of the business, but also a valuable inroad into the tradition-rich Carolinas.

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- The WWF returns to the North Charleston Coliseum on Jan. 22 with a taping of its nationally televised Smackdown show. Among those scheduled to appear are Ric Flair, Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, The Undertaker, Kane, The Dudleys, Rikishi, Lita, Edge, Christian and many others. Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Dec. 29 at the Coliseum ticket office, Ticketmaster outlets (including all Cat’s Music and Publix Grocery stores), charge by phone at (843) 554-6060 or www.ticketmaster.com.

- ECPW will hold a show Dec. 21 at the JJ Mitcheom Center in Hemingway. Matches include: Ricky Morton vs. Christopher Dream; a battle royal with the winner to be crowned ECPW Southeastern champion; Kid Kash vs. Engel; The Down South Juggalos vs. The G.O.D.S. for the ECPW tag-team title; Bulldog Brody vs. Magnificent Michael Devine for the ECPW heavyweight title; “The Shooter” Vordell Walker vs. Jackhammer for the ECPW cruiserweight title; Onyx vs. Apryl Rayne vs. Amber Holly in a three-way ladies match; and Talon vs. Doc Johnson. Doors open at 7 p.m., with bell time at 8. Tickets are $8; kids 5 and under are free.

- Raw posted a strong 4.7 for last week’s show. It was the best number since the 4.7 for its show coming off of Survivor Series last month (Ric Flair’s return).

- Randy Savage has challenged Hulk Hogan to a match to benefit a St. Petersburg, Fla., children’s hospital. Savage has dared Hogan to accept by Christmas Eve.

- Rick Steiner has signed on to work three dates with XPW in January.

-Trash talk show host Howard Stern accepted Stacy Keibler’s request last week to accompany her to the New York nightclub Scores. Keibler asked if she could bring along Torrie Wilson (Stern had no idea who Torrie was, but he agreed).