Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon

By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 8, 2002

Vince McMahon took a bold step nearly six months ago when he announced that he was splitting the WWE’s roster and dividing talent between his Raw and Smackdown shows. What has evolved is a company that seems to be struggling for an identity and desperately seeking to recapture some of the magic that made the product a cash cow during the late ‘90s.

McMahon has succeeded in making Raw and Smackdown distinctly different shows fashioned by writers with distinctly divergent philosophies. Under Brian Gewertz, Raw has embraced the “sports entertainment” philosophy that McMahon credits with bolstering his product during the latest glory days. Under Paul Heyman, Smackdown has showcased quality wrestling with less emphasis on backstage vignettes and crash TV. Results for both have been disappointing, and that’s what concerns McMahon.

Putting “general managers” in charge of Raw and Smackdown have given the shows more of a WCW vs. WWE, Raw vs. Nitro feel, although most fans today realize that one man runs the entire company. With Raw GM Eric Bischoff unveiling his own world title for Raw, it further solidifies the perception that both shows are competing with one another.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]The challenge is getting viewers to watch the product. Smackdown’s numbers have been down in recent months, and Raw dropped to a disappointing 3.6 this past week, the second lowest rating for a live Raw in more than four years and a far cry from the 6’s it was bringing in just a few short years ago. And things most likely will get worse before they get better, since Monday Night Football, with popular broadcaster John Madden now aboard, joins Raw’s competition this week.

With the company tightening its belt as a result of a soft economy and a downturn in business, it may be time for McMahon to take a gamble and reinvent his product once again. A modern-day riverboat gambler who has rolled the dice more than once, McMahon has artfully averted crisis after crisis, fighting (and defeating) everyone from the government to Ted Turner.

There’s no one in the wrestling industry left to defeat, and that could be Vince McMahon’s biggest challenge yet.

- Up until now, the WWE’s ambiguously gay duo of Billy and Chuck have done nothing more controversial than wearing matching red outfits and bandanas, and exchanging Valentine’s Day chocolates and hugs. It now appears that the WWE wants to take the act one step further.

Vince McMahon will finally get his wish of doing a gay wedding angle when Billy and Chuck “tie the knot” on Thursday night’s edition of Smackdown (to be taped Tuesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis). The stage was set with an “engagement” on this past week’s show in which Chuck got on one knee, presented Billy with a ring and asked him to be his partner for life. Several years ago McMahon approached Brian Christopher (Lawler) and Scotty Too Hotty, who at the time were working as a team called Too Much, about a same-sex “commitment ceremony” as part of a WWF St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view. The angle, orchestrated by then-chief writer Vince Russo, was to have propelled Too Much as a top heel team. Christopher, however, flatly rejected the potentially career-killing move, and the idea – along with their planned push – was dropped.

Three years later McMahon seems to have found a willing pair in Billy (Kip Sopp) and Chuck (Chuck Palumbo), heterosexuals in their nonwrestling lives whose in-ring act has met with moderate success.

“They’ll definitely have a babyface run. Guaranteed. It will be great television,” WWE executive producer Kevin Dunn said in a recent New York Times article.

The 1wrestling.com Web site reported Friday that both Road Dogg (Brian James) and Honky Tonk Man (Wayne Ferris) had been contacted about taking part in the festivities. The offer to James, who recently completed a six-month house arrest term for a parole violation, was later pulled. James, who held the WWF tag-team title with the former Billy Gunn several years ago as The New Age Outlaws, was fired by the company last year.

WWE posted the following warning on its Web site for parents: “In the next two editions of WWE SmackDown!, one of our storylines will be looking at the issue of same-sex relationships. This storyline will be done in an entertaining and humorous fashion, but may be considered by some to be provocative. We would encourage parents who watch SmackDown! with their teens and children to be mindful that this storyline will be appearing.”

Look for the WWE to pull out all the stops, with a wedding entourage that will most likely include Billy and Chuck’s mutton-chopped stylist and best man, Rico (Constantino), and Goldust (Dustin Runnels), a character once described by Terry Taylor as “a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Dick The Bruiser.”

- Steve Austin (Steve Williams) has dropped divorce proceedings against wife Debra. Austin had filed for divorce from Debra Williams on July 22, 20 days before charges were formally filed against him for allegedly assaulting his wife earlier this summer. An arrest warrant was issued by Bexar (Texas) County District Attorney’s office on Aug. 12, and Austin turned himself in to authorities the following day. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and released after posting a $5,000 bond.

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The Associated Press reported that the court dismissed Austin’s petition to file for divorce when he chose to no longer pursue it last week. He will still stand trial on a misdemeanor charge stemming from the June 15 incident where he is alleged to have assaulted Debra at their San Antonio home.

Jim Ross reported last week on the WWE Web site that there were no plans for Austin to return to the company at this time, but added that once his personal matters were addressed, “anything is possible.”

- Ross on Friday refuted rumors that Scott Steiner could be headed for the WWE soon.

“Our office has had zero conversations with Scott in quite some time,” Ross said.

Steiner is one of the few top holdovers from WCW who have yet to sign a WWE deal. A persistent foot problem has put Steiner’s status in question since early last year, but he reportedly has passed a battery of WWE-mandated physicals.

Brother Rick Steiner said in a recent interview that he doubted McMahon would ever hire him due to the heat he and Scott had with the WWE owner, but added that he could envision a future tag-team match pitting he and Scott against fellow collegiate standouts Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar. – Although he’s been in some high-profile matches himself, Triple H listed Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat as the best match he’s ever seen, according to an article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Flair later returned the compliment, saying Triple H was “one heck of a hand.”

- Brock Lesnar was unable to compete at an Ohio Valley Wrestling show Wednesday night in Louisville, Ky. Lesnar, who had been scheduled to defend the title against Doug Basham in the main event, suffered a minor elbow injury during a Smackdown match with Randy Orton that was taped the previous night. Lesnar was replaced by Chris Benoit.

- Wedding plans have been announced for ex-ECW hardcore king Tommy Dreamer (Tom Laughlin) and former valet Beulah McGillicutty (Teresa Hayes).

- Heartland Wrestling Association will hold the first in a series of five-day training camps from Nov. 11-15 with Les Thatcher, Ricky Steamboat and Sherri Martel as instructors. Cost of the camp is $995 which includes hotel, breakfast and lunch, and transportation. For more information, call (513) 771-1650 or check the Web site at www.hwaonline.com.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at mooneyham@postandcourier.com. He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” published by Crown.