By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 19, 2002

What?

Enough already.

That four-letter word, which has become the biggest catch phrase in the business, has also become the most annoying.

Catch phrases have become a vehicle that has helped elevate many of this generation’s top stars. In small doses they can be fine – something the audience craves to hear. But in the case of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the audience has taken one simple word and created a monster.

Here’s hoping that the local fans on hand for the WWF’s nationally televised Smackdown event Tuesday night at the North Charleston Coliseum exhibit the class that has made Charleston a perennial favorite as America’s most polite city, and refrain from the less-than-respectful display exhibited two weeks ago on Raw by a Madison Square Garden crowd that chanted “What?” in between verses of our country’s National Anthem sung by ring announcer Lillian Garcia. Sadly the offensive chants emanated from a town that shares with Charleston the distinction of being America’s most polite city, from fans whose great city suffered a devastating loss and who should know better. There’s a time to get lost in the excitement surrounding a major WWF production, but it’s not during the Star-Spangled Banner.

There are, however, plenty of other reasons to ditch the “What?” chant. It has become old and tired and slows down the show. Several WWF performers have complained that their promos have been diluted, if not drowned out, by the thousands of fans shouting the phrase. It’s gotten out of control, overshadowing other wrestlers’ spiels and causing some to rush through their interviews in attempts to avoid interruption.

Steve Austin

Steve Austin

Local fans, who haven’t yet had the opportunity to get on board the “What?” bandwagon at a live event, will no doubt be in full force Tuesday night. But by the next time the WWF rolls into town, hopefully that once-entertaining catch phrase will be just a memory. As for me, I’ll take “Cause Stone Cold said so!” any day.

- Coming off an impressive 4.9 the previous week, Raw dipped to a 4.4 rating for last Monday night’s show. The number was especially disappointing since there was no competition from Monday Night Football or other strong programming. Smackdown posted a 4.0 rating and a fourth-place finish in the six-network race.

- Vince McMahon has postponed plans to split the WWF into two divisions due to the impending reformation of the original NWO. Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan are all expected to be returning to the WWF soon, which could spell trouble for the WWF locker room.

The split into two companies, which was to have taken place after the Rumble, has now been pushed back, possibly until as late as Wrestlemania. The working plan is to have Nash, Hall and Hogan appear on all shows and pay-per-views, while the other two groups will appear exclusively on Raw or Smackdown.

McMahon, a gambler by nature, is taking a giant leap of faith by courting the trio. Apparently he feels he can control the massive ego of the 48-year-old Hogan, along with the backstage politicking of Nash and the out-of-ring transgressions of Hall. The fear among many is that the group will disrupt the locker-room chemistry and derail the next generation of WWF stars. Jim Ross, however, stated last week that he didn’t believe that the WWF’s locker-room leaders would put up with “any games” from wrestlers coming into the organization.

McMahon also has held talks with former Clique and Degeneration X leader Shawn Michaels about a possible return.

- Sunday night’s “dream match” between Ric Flair and Vince McMahon at the sold-out Philips Arena in Atlanta should be one for the books. More than a few fans are looking for Flair, who is working his first match since Nitro’s swan song on March 26, to shout those immortal words – “Now it’s time to go to school!” – before applying the figure four to the WWF owner.

- Chris Jericho may have delivered his strongest interview to date with his “take me seriously” promo last week on Smackdown. Don’t be surprised if the WWF keeps the strap on the Canadian for a while longer.

- Tickets for Tuesday night’s Smackdown are on sale at the Coliseum box office, all Ticketmaster outlets (including all Cat’s Music and Publix Grocery stores), charge by phone at (843) 554-6060, or www.ticketmaster.com.

- The impasse between the WWF and DirecTV continues, with both sides losing potentially millions of dollars on every pay-per-view as a result.

DirecTV, coming off a stronger-than-projected fourth quarter in 2001 and poised to add one million new net subscribers, appears to have the upper hand in negotiating.

- “The Game,” a special edition magazine featuring Hunter Hearst Helmsley, is on newsstands through March 5. The publication is more than 70 pages of editorial and exclusive photographs capturing Triple H at home, in the ring, at rehab and more. Enclosed in the publication is a collectible CD-ROM that contains exclusive videos and photos, the latest from SmackDown! Records, information on upcoming PPVs, contests and links to the new WWFShopzone.com.

- Evan Ginzburg has produced another winner with this year’s Wrestling Then & Now annual. The numbered collectible, personally autographed by The Honky Tonk Man, features exclusive interviews, clips and articles on his career, plus a tribute on women in wrestling (including interviews with Stephanie McMahon, Trish Stratus, Rena Mero, Debra and Malia Hosaka, and features on The Fabulous Moolah, Sue Greene and legendary lady valets,) a Terry Gordy tribute, 10 years of rare result listings from Detroit’s Cobo Hall, and an interview with Ron “Golden Gladiator” Hill. The 72-page professionally printed magazine features rare photos, clips, merchandise listings and more.

The annual is $12 U.S./$15 overseas. Make all checks and money orders payable to Evan Ginzburg at P.O. Box 640471, Oakland Gardens Station, Flushing, N.Y. 11364. w Jim Ross reported in a media conference call last week that Chris Benoit is doing well and is progressing in his therapy. He said that Benoit, who is doing rolls in the ring and light jogging, is finally pain-free and could be back in time for Wrestlemania.

- Booker T (Booker Huffman) revealed on the Howard Stern radio show Thursday that he is dating former Nitro Girl and current WWF talent Sharmell Sullivan (formerly Paisley in WCW). Booker also disclosed that he was a millionaire (“If you have a million dollars, does that make you a millionaire?”) and plans on retiring in two years.

Booker also said that he had been in jail as a youth and is being sued by a fan who claimed Booker hit him during a WWF show.

- Bill Goldberg, in an interview with The (Palm Springs) Desert Sun, ruled out any possibility that he might wrestle for the WWF.

“I personally believe that everything I’ve stood for when I got into the ring would be compromised and succumbed to the circus-like atmosphere that’s out there, and that’s putting it mildly,” he said. “I would be an imbecile if I gave up half my money to work for a company I didn’t respect.”

“I don’t think the business runs through his veins,” Ross said of Goldberg during last week’s conference call. “I don’t think he has the passion for this product … That’s not saying anything negative about Bill.”