By Mike Mooneyham
May 11, 2002
Vince McMahon wasn’t his usual confident, upbeat self Monday night at Raw. Then again, the 56-year-old owner of the world’s most successful wrestling company didn’t have much reason to be.
McMahon, flustered over a series of disciplinary problems within the ranks of his organization, personally had to rework a major portion of the show at the eleventh hour. The last-minute changes were precipitated by a raucous plane flight involving his Raw crew, which only compounded an already trying time for McMahon, who also was dealing with a number of peripheral issues affecting the company.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]His outfit, on the losing end of a lengthy legal battle with the other WWF (the London-based World Wildlife Fund), had recently lost rights to its famous initials and was in the process of debuting a new name – World Wrestling Entertainment. Although officials put a positive spin on the situation, it was only after all legal possibilities were exhausted that the company was forced to make the switch, changing its scratch logo and Web site domain name, along with altering other facets of the organization to conform to the new brand. Some media outlets, however, seized the opportunity to take some jabs at the former WWF, joking that it wasn’t the name, but the product itself, that needed to be changed.
A few days earlier USA Today had included McMahon’s defunct XFL on its list of the 12 worst shows in the 75-year history of NBC, a reminder that everything the WWE owner touches doesn’t necessarily turn to gold. It was a ranking that certainly couldn’t be disputed, since the XFL broke records for the all-time lowest ratings in the history of Saturday night network television.
McMahon, who saw last week’s Smackdown show dip to an all-time low, also had been preoccupied with increasing speculation that his biggest star, The Rock, has been leaning more toward Hollywood and less toward wrestling in recent weeks due to the success of his latest movie venture. The 29-year-old “Scorpion King” star has made it abundantly clear in a number of mainstream interviews that wrestling, while it may be his first love, isn’t where his future lies, and that future WWE appearances could be few and far between.
Even more pressing on McMahon was a series of incidents, most fueled by excessive drinking, that took place on the Raw crew’s European tour and the seven-hour flight back to the States, a trip later dubbed as “the plane ride from hell” and a major black eye for a company that in recent years had prided itself on the stability and professionalism of its locker room.
Among the incidents:
- Veteran road agent Michael Hayes was stripped of his clothes and had his mullet (hairstyle) cut off while passed out on the private charter jet. No one has publicly claimed responsibility, but Bradshaw was involved in an altercation with Hayes on board the plane prior to the haircut. A source said Hayes had instigated the fight by hitting Bradshaw in the forehead and reopening an old cut, only to be decked by the 6-5 Texan. Hayes reportedly was irate when he awoke and discovered that his hair had been cut, and was even hotter the next evening when he found his ponytail pinned to the wall in the locker room at Raw. “Michael was out of his mind,” said one performer.
- Curt Hennig and rookie Brock Lesnar also tussled on board the plane after arguing over who was the better “shooter.” Sources say Hennig, an infamous ribber, had been spraying shaving cream into the hair of Big Show and others, and goaded Lesnar into a collar-and-elbow test of strength. Paul Heyman and Hunter Hearst Helmsley both attempted to break up the inappropriate sparring session, and at one point Triple H reportedly was thrown into an emergency door on the plane.
“It was a work, but Curt just wouldn’t stop,” commented one WWE performer. Hennig, one of the company’s top stars during the late 80s who was rehired in January, was later fired over the incident. A frequent traveling partner of fellow Minnesotan Lesnar, Hennig reportedly has been warned on other occasions about his behavior.
- Goldust (Dustin Runnels) also received a stern reprimand from WWF management for what was described as unprofessional conduct aboard the plane. According to reports, an inebriated Runnels sang “love songs” to former wife Terri over the plane’s public address system. Terri, who was said to be uncomfortable with the attention, reportedly asked WWF talent director Jim Ross to order her former spouse to cease the serenading. Ross later said that the company would stop serving alcohol on its overseas charter flights.
Ross, commenting Friday on his Ross Report, said the flight “was low-lighted by a handful of people who consumed too much alcohol and consequently acted like children whose parents were away and left the liquor cabinet unlocked. The conduct of this inebriated minority was unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Procedures have been put in place to ensure such conduct does not occur in the future. The bottom line is this: yours truly is the person in charge of the talent roster and the buck stops with me. We will do all we humanly can to solve the problem.”
Perhaps the biggest news resulting from the European tour was the firing of Scott Hall, who was released after Monday night’s show. Hall, who has been on probationary status with the company since being hired earlier this year, reportedly had been impaired at a number of recent shows and had even fallen asleep backstage at the aptly titled Insurrection PPV in London last weekend. When he showed up in little better shape Monday night for Raw, the decision was made to sever ties with the controversial performer. Ross later stated that Hall agreed that he wasn’t ready for the “road life” again.
The fact that Bill Goldberg days earlier had bought out of the remainder of his contract with AOL Time Warner immediately fueled speculation that the company had added impetus to rid its hands of Hall, since Goldberg has publicly stated his disdain for Hall on a number of occasions. Goldberg, though, also has expressed his dislike for the WWE, which means absolutely nothing if the right money is offered. Goldberg reportedly got a dream deal when AOL Time Warner, wanting to get his high salary off the books, offered him a full buyout.
- Vince McMahon will appear on Bob Costas’ HBO show, “On the Record,” at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
- Veteran referee Randy “Pee Wee” Anderson died on May 3 in Rome, Ga.
Anderson, who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, began his wrestling career during the early 80s along with childhood friend Marty Lunde, who later achieved fame as Arn Anderson. The two were trained by journeyman wrestler Ted Allen, who first booked the two in Cowboy Bill Watts’ popular Mid South promotion. The 5-7, 170-pound Anderson, however, was too small to work as a wrestler, so he learned the ropes as a referee.
“When we left here, Arn and I had $80 in our pocket when we went to Louisiana,” Anderson said in a 1997 interview. “We stayed in these dumpy motels, and there were a lot of nights we went hungry. We had to wait two weeks to get our first check. I was shooting pool at night trying to get Waffle House money. I look back, and that’s the fun of it … Things change if you just stick with your dreams.”
- Mary Gagne, the wife of pro wrestling legend Verne Gagne, passed way on May 7 at the age of 75 from complications from colon cancer surgery. The two had been married for 55 years.
- Superstar Billy Graham (Wayne Coleman) is still prayerfully waiting for a matching liver donor. Anyone who would like to help ease Billy and wife Valerie’s mounting financial burden can make a donation to: Wayne and Valerie Coleman, 15402 N. 28th St. #105, Phoenix, Ariz. 85032. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated by a man who gave wrestling fans so many wonderful memories over the years.
Valerie recently wrote: “Billy and I have a very dear friend, his name is Ron Pritchard. Ron was going through the process of testing to see if he could be Billy’s living donor. Things were looking great, he was passing all of the medical tests with flying colors, but today things fell apart. Ron took an MRI two days ago, and when he went back to the Mayo (Clinic) today for what he thought was going to be another day of testing, he was told that he was disqualified as a donor. The MRI showed a mass on his kidney as well as some spots on his liver. He was told that during one of the tests when he was sedated he was having difficulty breathing, which is of great concern to the doctors. So here’s the situation. Ron was immediately set up for test at the Mayo starting tomorrow morning. He will have another, more definitive type of scan of his kidney, liver and lungs. They do suspect cancer. I believe that the Lord’s hand is in all of this because if Ron hadn’t felt compelled to help Billy he would never have known about these things. So once again I’m asking you to pray, this time for our dear friend Ron and his wife, Claudia. Remember, God is listening.”
- Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Paul Bearer (Bill Moody) and his wife, Dianne, who is battling cancer. Doctors discovered a sizable new tumor during a recent check-up, and she has begun radiation treatments.
“This has been a horrible year for our family, physically, mentally and financially,” Bearer wrote on the WWE’s Web site. “I would also like to thank the McMahon family for the constant strength they have continued to give us. I really didn’t want to write another column like this, but I thought you all would be interested in exactly where we stand at this point. The road ahead has become a bit longer for us, but with our faith in our Dear Lord, we will overcome this trial.”
- Kurt Angle said last week that he will begin training for the 2004 Summer Olympics beginning in December. Angle had previously stated that his contract allows him to take two years off to train for the Olympics.