Ric Flair

Ric Flair

By Mike Mooneyham

Feb. 3, 2002

The WWF did something last week that it hasn’t done in a while. It came up with two consecutive great shows – the kind that will draw ratings and pay future dividends if the company stays on track. Raw and Smackdown both featured all the ingredients that make for compelling wrestling. And, for almost 20 minutes on Monday night, viewers were treated to “sports entertainment” that is as good as it gets.

Basically it was the handiwork of two men whose careers, both vastly successful yet totally divergent, seem to have intertwined in an intriguing storyline that, like most good wrestling storylines, contain more than a hint of truth. Following a fantastic retrospective video Monday night, Ric Flair and Vince McMahon put on a tour de force, a textbook study in how to captivate a wrestling audience. The two followed up the next evening at Smackdown (shown two nights later) with ye another memorable confrontation. The two shows were held in Norfolk and Richmond, Va., both Flair strongholds, and it was readily apparent that the crowd connected with Flair like it did 20 years ago.

Although Raw’s rating came in at a 4.5, down from the previous week’s post-Rumble mark of 4.6, and Smackdown slipped slightly from a 4.2 to a 3.9, those numbers should be on the rise if the WWF continues to produce the kind of programming it did last week. With the imminent return of the NWO, there’s no question that the ratings will begin an upward turn very soon.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]- A word to the wise: It doesn’t always pay to make an appearance on the Howard Stern show.

Despite Stern’s high-profile program and the exposure (no pun intended) it provides, some would be better off passing up the opportunity. In the case of Booker T, he was not only ridiculed (Stern sidekick “Stuttering John” Melendez asked him belittling questions, such as “How do you spell WWF?,” due to his less-than-stellar outing on a recent edition of “Weakest Link” that featured several WWF personalities), but unwisely volunteered that he had once served time in prison. Recently smokinggun.com, after researching Booker’s statement, disclosed that Booker (real name Booker Tio Huffman) had served 19 months in jail after pleading guilty to armed robberies at several Wendy’s fast-food restaurants in Houston in 1987. The report also revealed that Booker, who was employed at a Wendy’s at the time, and three cohorts actually wore Wendy’s uniforms at the time of the holdups.

Huffman pleaded guilty in December 1987 to two aggravated robbery counts and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released after serving about one-third of that term and was placed on parole until April 1992.

Bottom line: Don’t look for Booker on a Wendy’s commercial anytime soon.

- Scott Steiner is scheduled to appear on the WWA’s pay-per-view in Las Vegas on Feb. 24.

- Jim Ross said recently that he expects Ohio Valley Wrestling sensation Shelton Benjamin to be brought up as soon as the WWF splits its roster. The Orangeburg native and former University of Minnesota wrestling standout has worked in the WWF’s Louisville-based territory for two years under the capable guidance of Jim Cornette and Danny Davis. The 26-year-old, 6-3, 250-pounder, who describes his style as a “black version of Sting,” could be an impact player in the coming years.

Another “can’t-miss” prospect out of Louisville who is expected to make the jump is Brock Lesnar, an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ at the University of Minnesota in 2000 and Benjamin’s OVW tag-team partner. Lesnar made his local debut in a dark match at the Jan. 22 Smackdown in North Charleston, teaming with fellow OVW worker Ron “H20″ Waterman against The APA.

- Carolinas legend Rip Hawk is recovering at his home in Herford, Texas, after undergoing heart surgery. Hawk, whose real name is Harvey Evers, suffered a minor heart attack on Dec. 12 and had a pacemaker put in on Jan. 14.

“I’m pretty lucky,” says Hawk, who underwent a bypass in 1985. “I spent 11 days at the Veteran’s Hospital, and they didn’t do anything with me. They were good, but they didn’t know what to do with me. I went to another hospital in Amarillo on a Friday, and by Monday I had my surgery. I’m doing pretty good, I’m just real sore.”

Hawk, who coaches an amateur wrestling team based at the local Y, says he’s itching to get back on the mat.

“My doctor told me just to supervise for now,” says Hawk. “I’ve got a kid I coached who’s going to Ohio University on a wrestling scholarship, and he’s up for All-American this year.”

- The WWF is raising pay-per-view rates from $29.95 to $34.95 starting with the Backlash PPV in April. Wrestlemania X8 will be a four-hour event and will cost $39.95.

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- Steve Austin is scheduled to appear on the Feb. 18 edition of Fox’s “MADtv” and on “Weakest Link” March 10. Austin is looking for more acting roles, according to the WWF Web site, but doesn’t want it to interfere with his WWF schedule.

“Things fell through with the agency I was working with,” said Austin. “Basically I haven’t had anybody representing me for the last year or so anyway. I’ve been focused on trying to do what I do with the World Wrestling Federation. That’s my bread and butter; that’s what has gotten me to where I am. To make a long story short, I’d like to do more acting stuff as long as it fits into our schedule.”

- From Jim Ross’s “Ross Report:” “I’ll bet Eric Bischoff never thought he would appear on a Federation tribute video. I sure didn’t.” Neither did I, but don’t be so sure Bischoff won’t be appearing in a WWF ring before it’s over.