NWO

NWO

By Mike Mooneyham

March 10, 2002

The World Wrestling Federation’s biggest show of the year is only a week away, yet something seems missing.

Perhaps it’s coming to grips with the fact that the WWF is now the only game in town, unless one absurdly counts the XWF or the WWA as legitimate competition. Since last year’s Wrestlemania came on the heels of the WWF’s buyout of WCW, the realization that one company controlled the wrestling industry hadn’t yet set in for many fans.

But the 2002 version of Wrestlemania, with the exception of a great buildup and intriguing matchup between Ric Flair and The Undertaker, seems to be selling a lot more sizzle than steak. Maybe it’s the fact that the show’s marquee attraction has been built around the 48-year-old Hulk Hogan, whose last great stand at the Toronto SkyDome was 12 years ago against The Ultimate Warrior. Hogan’s ring skills, shaky at best during his glory days and downright scary in recent years, will require Pat Patterson to pull off some of his more creative booking and The Rock to put on his best working shoes in order to carry the Hulkster to a passable match, much less one worthy of headlining Wrestlemania.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Hogan, who is scheduled to work his second bout since returning to the WWF at this week’s Raw as he teams with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash against The Rock and Steve Austin, appeared on E! Network News Wednesday night to promote Wrestlemania. Hogan – with a straight face – compared his upcoming match with The Rock to Babe Ruth coming back and having a home run derby with Mark McGwire, and to Muhammad Ali meeting Mike Tyson in the boxing ring. And, just in case there was any doubt as to the headliner at Wrestlemania, the WWF has officially listed the main event as Hogan vs. The Rock, pushing its world title match between Chris Jericho and Triple H down to second billing.

There’s no doubt that Vince McMahon and company are counting on the NWO angle to carry this year’s big show and attract the kind of media attention that Wrestlemania has garnered in previous years. So far, though, the group’s arrival and Hogan’s return to the WWF after more than eight years have been disappointments, at least from a ratings standpoint. After an initial jump, numbers have returned to previous levels, certainly not a good sign for WWF officials who gambled by bringing the three controversial performers back on board.

No matter how many over-the-top angles the WWF creative team comes up with, no matter how many cinder blocks, wrenches and rigs are used to simulate graphic violence, no matter how much the WWF floods the airwaves with commercials promoting the show, the NWO’s act is tired, stale and old. While a talented young crop of budding stars await their shot at the brass ring, the wrestling audience is being asked to embrace a group whose best days are far behind them. Nash, whose hipness wore off well before his last days with WCW, now sadly must rely on Hall, one of the truly tragic figures of the business, to make his gimmick complete. Hogan, meanwhile, is keeping his fingers crossed that the act doesn’t blow up in his face, at least not before he sheds the Hollywood Hogan character and makes that final transition back to the yellow and red.

Hogan and his NWO cohorts have put on their best faces for the media, although behind the scenes more than a few WWF performers have been warily watching their every move. They would have their new audience believe that the WWF was truly the promotion all along and that their previous bosses at WCW never really knew how to run a wrestling company. While there certainly is truth to the notion that WCW was ineptly operated, it’s also fair to say that Hogan, Nash and Hall knew how to play the game all too well and contributed to WCW’s ultimate demise.

- Ratings for last Thursday night’s Smackdown, which was live from San Antonio, dropped to a 3.4, although the show was pre-empted in a number of Southeastern markets (including this one) due to college basketball tournaments. Last Monday night’s Raw drew a 4.5, down from the 4.7 the show did the previous two weeks.

- More than four years after the infamous Survivors Series finish in Montreal, Bret Hart is still fielding offers from Vince McMahon to make a return. McMahon’s latest overture came in the form of Carl DeMarco, who runs the Canadian arm of the WWF, offering Hart a job as guest referee for the Chris Jericho-Triple H match at Wrestlemania. In exchange, Hart would be given access to his archived WWF footage. Hart, however, declined.

“With one last-ditch effort, the guy who runs WWF Canada gave me other options,” wrote Hart in his weekly Calgary Sun column. “Instead of being a ref, I could come out and punch Vince – not for real, of course, just make it look like retribution. In that one phony punch, everything that’s happened would be minimized into an angle. Maybe wrestling fans would love it. My fans would hate it. And so would I.”

- Ric Flair will team with son David at an Ohio Valley Wrestling event on April 5 in Louisville at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. They will face Prototype and Sean O’Haire.

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- For some strange reason, Steve Austin had the wrong knee bandaged last week on Raw. His left knee was heavily taped, although it was the right one that was shattered with the cinder block by Scott Hall in the previous week’s angle.

- Shawn Michaels was backstage at Smackdown Thursday night in his hometown of San Antonio. Michaels, who has been rumored to be returning to work for the WWF, brought his wife and child to the show.

- Sources report that UPN will take a close look at the ratings for the WWF’s “Divas: Sex on the Beach” special Wednesday night and may consider adding a second WWF show to its weekly lineup.

- An independent show scheduled April 13 in Davie, Fla., has an interesting four-way main event: Terry Funk vs. Dusty Rhodes vs. Kevin Sullivan vs. Abdullah The Butcher. Can anyone say “bloodbath?”

- NBC will air another WWF episode of “The Weakest Link” tonight with Steve Austin, Jerry Lawler, Kane, The Dudleys, Terri and Debra.

- Tony Gonzales, who appeared as one of the Mysterious Masked Medics during the ‘60s and ‘70s, was found dead in his Mobile, Ala., home on March 4. Two days earlier he was honored with an award at the annual Gulf Coast Reunion in Mobile, but he wasn’t there to receive it.

- Jim Ross hit the nail on the head with his acute observation in a recent Ross Report:

“I get amused at the reports of occasional unrest with some of our developmental talents as it relates to their tenure in HWA or OVW and when they are going to get their big break. These talents do not know how good they have it, based on the long history of our business and the dues that have been paid by those before them. The potential rewards for those who make it are well worth the efforts being put forth now while they learn the business. The business owes none of us anything, and I’ve always looked at being a part of sports entertainment as an honor and a privilege not meant for everyone.”

On the flip side, some of these “talents” probably would have never gotten the wrestling bug had they been forced to endure the grueling schedules (and relatively modest income) of their predecessors. As Ross rightfully paid homage in his report to the late Nelson Royal and Swede Hanson, “two great stars who entertained fans around the world for many years,” I am reminded of a big-name performer who recently asked “Who was he?” when learning of Hanson’s death. What’s more surprising is that the star was past the 40-year-old mark himself and should have known better.

- Former WWF women’s champ Trish Stratus continues to show improvement with every match. Her current program with new titleholder Jazz ranks as her best to date.

The 26-year-old Toronto native, who majored in biology and kinesiology (the science of muscular motion) at York University and had once planned on attending medical school, debuted for the WWF on March 19, 2000. Stratus (real name Stratigeas) recently told the Boston Globe that she began watching wrestling as a youngster with a cousin and became a fan of Hulk Hogan. “My cousin and I would have our own tag-team,” she said.