By Mike Mooneyham
March 30, 2003
Bill Goldberg, the hottest free agent in pro wrestling, recently ended months of speculation when he signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. Goldberg, who took the wrestling world by storm in 1997 before falling prey to WCW politics, is expected to make his debut Monday night on Raw. Initial reports hinted that Goldberg might play a role in the outcome of the Steve Austin-Rock main event tonight at Wrestlemania, setting up a match with The Rock at the Backlash pay-per-view April 27. It has since been confirmed that Goldberg will make his first official appearance Monday night.
Goldberg, who has worked only a handful of matches in the past three years, is still a question mark in the minds of many. The 6-3, 275-pounder has been highly critical of WWE’s product in the past, but company officials are hoping that he will appreciate a more structured environment than the chaotic one he experienced at WCW.
Goldberg, 36, debuted with WCW on Sept. 22, 1997, and began one of the biggest pushes in sports entertainment history with a reported 173 straight victories. A series of injuries and ill-fated storylines, however, eventually derailed the former NFL player.
While there undoubtedly will be a hue and cry among WWE personnel for Goldberg to “pay his dues,” this may be a unique situation where the company’s best interests would be served by keeping Goldberg strong for as long as possible. Whereas the now-defunct WCW stumbled into the Goldberg phenomenon, propelling the company to its greatest levels of success, WWE has the distinct advantage of being able to learn from history. Whether it chooses that route or not is anyone’s guess.
– WWE officials have to be concerned over last week’s dismal 3.4 rating for Raw. It was the show’s lowest number since the end of football season. Ratings have dropped each of the past three weeks since Austin’s official return popped a 4.5 a month ago. Monday night’s performance is a particularly disturbing sign six days before the company’s top-grossing event of the year, and even more ominous since the show prominently featured its two biggest stars, Austin and The Rock.
Smackdown, which featured a John Cena-Rikishi main event, also fared poorly with a 3.2 rating.
– Going into the company’s biggest show of the year, there also is great concern surrounding tonight’s WWE Smackdown title match between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar.
Angle, who is scheduled for neck fusion surgery, is proceeding with the match despite doctors’ warnings. He recently told a Pittsburgh newspaper that he risked paralysis by taking a bad bump.
In a contest billed as the first Wrestlemania bout between former NCAA wrestling champions, Angle most likely will pull out all the stops against Lesnar despite his condition, which has worsened considerably since he first suffered a broken neck en route to winning the 1996 Olympic gold medal. Angle is expected to miss at least a year of action following surgery.
– Numerous sources have reported that Steve Austin, whose contract expires in June, has become increasingly frustrated since his much-ballyhooed return to WWE.
The breakup of his marriage to Debra Williams, his worsening neck condition and the cooler-than-expected crowd response all have contributed to Austin’s disgruntlement.
And while it may not be the best business decision, it is expected that Austin will be putting over The Rock at Wrestlemania, as “punishment” for bailing out on the company last June.
Austin, who has generated more merchandise and pay-per-view sales than any performer in wrestling history, has been dramatically outshined by The Rock since his return to WWE.
– A number of WWE performers have joked that the 57-year-old Vince McMahon may have to put on his best “working shoes” to help carry Hulk Hogan to a watchable match. While “only” 49, Hogan’s limited ring skills have rapidly diminished over the past several years. The heavily hyped match tentatively has been set to go 25 minutes, so expect an intricately booked bout from master storyteller Pat Patterson. – The worst fears of many were confirmed when it was revealed last week that cocaine poisoning killed “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, whose body was found last month in a hotel room near Tampa.
According to an investigator with the Hillsborough County medical examiner’s office, the official cause of death was “acute cocaine intoxication.” Hennig was scheduled to wrestle at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Feb. 10. A housekeeper at the Homestead Suites Hotel in nearby Brandon found him dead in a room that afternoon.
– Pacific Northwest wrestler “Bruiser” Brian Cox passed away of a heart attack at the age of 32 on March 23.
– Ric Flair looked solid in his first ring action in months Monday night at Raw. Flair, who teamed with Triple H against Booker T and Goldust, had only one miscue when he tripped over Booker’s feet while being whipped into the corner. “It’s a new bump I’m learning,” joked Flair. The Nature Boy, who turned 54 in February, could be headed toward a pay-per-view showdown with Shawn Michaels in May.
– Michaels said on a recent edition of TSN’s “Off The Record” that he would like to bury the hatchet with Bret Hart over their infamous Survivors Series match in 1997.
Michaels added that he would apologize to Hart if they ever meet face-to-face, and thought that it was time to “let it go.” Michaels said that he was a changed man since becoming a born-again Christian in April 2002, admitting that he had “stepped” on people while on top in WWE and had made a number of bad decisions. Michaels told the WWE Web site last week that he might reunite with old Clique buddy Kevin Nash when he returns from a torn quadriceps.
“I think that’s a natural place for me to go,” said Michaels. “Kevin and I in a tag (match), or throw someone else in there for a six-man. Whatever it is they want to do.” The injury-prone Nash, who has worked only a handful of matches since the dying days of World Championship Wrestling, is expected to reprise his role as “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel, a Vince McMahon creation, when he returns.
– The poorly prepared Craig Kilborn interviewed Vince McMahon on “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” on CBS Wednesday night. Kilborn seemed unsure if McMahon owned “the league” (WWE) and didn’t even remember the name of the Wrestlemania pay-per-view. McMahon told the host that he and Hulk Hogan have patched up their rocky relationship. McMahon also revealed that he’s not like his character, doesn’t go church, was a major trouble-maker as a child, and used to beat up his brother when they were younger.
– NWA-TNA official Jeremy Borash reported Friday that doors were beginning to open for the company to secure a cable television spot on a weekly basis. He added that NWA-TNA would continue to offer pay-per-events.
– The Rock’s latest movie, formerly titled “Helldorado,” will now be called “Welcome to the Jungle.”
– WWE is working on a Steve Austin autobiography. “When I look at my life, it’s been very normal and very boring,” Austin told the WWE Web site. “I’ve still got reservations, but nonetheless I’m going to do one. I came back after a long absence, they dumped this book project in my lap. I could have said no again. But I think at this point in my career I’ve got a lot more to talk about than three or four years ago when they originally wanted me to write the book. I’ve done a lot, especially with this company as Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. So it’ll be pretty much wrestling and my life through my eyes.”
– Longtime WWE announcer, magazine writer and talent relations official Kevin Kelly has been let go by the company.
Kelly also helped produce WWE’s Confidential show and was a co-host on WWE Byte It.
– Chris Jericho’s band Fozzy lost a battle of the bands competition against Howard Stern’s band, The Losers, on Stern’s show Wednesday morning. Three music industry judges voted, and The Losers won by a 2-1 decision. Stern later admitted that Fozzy was better than Corey Feldman’s band, which lost to The Losers in a previous competition.
– A script has been completed and approved for the scheduled made-for-TV movie based on the life and death of Owen Hart.
According to an article in The Calgary Sun, the Artisan Entertainment film is slated to air on the FX Network. The original plan was to have finished production by the end of 2003 with Owen’s widow, Martha Hart, appearing at the end to talk about the Owen Hart Foundation charity she formed following his passing in May 1999. According to the article, they may not be sticking to that timetable for completion of the production. “The writer says it’s a very complicated script,” Martha Hart told the newspaper. “It will be very difficult to cast and to act. It’ll be most difficult to find someone to play Owen – very sweet and extremely likable, yet who can act and has some athletic ability.”
– George’s Sports Bar and Grill, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Wrestlemania pay-per-view today beginning at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $5.