By Mike Mooneyham

July 20, 2003

It truly would be an exercise in futility to try and explain WWE’s latest sports entertainment storyline. Love it or hate it, though, don’t expect the bizarre angle involving the formerly masked Kane to be put on the back burner anytime soon. No pun, of course, intended.

Many fans undoubtedly cringed Monday night on Raw when they saw the Big Red Machine produce a gasoline can (How do we know it was gas? Because it was clearly spelled out on the can) during an “exclusive,” sit-down interview with respected broadcaster Jim Ross supposedly conducted at the company’s lavish headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Ray Charles could have seen what was coming next, but fans nationwide had to sit through a string of commercials to wait for the payoff, an old ratings ploy designed to hold the audience captive for a few extra minutes.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

The segment predictably reached a crescendo when the 6-7, 325-pound Kane shoved the frightened interviewer to the ground and poured lighter fluid over his sprawled body. With a WWE production crew doing their best imitation of the Keystone Cops as they awkwardly struggled to restrain Kane, the agitated behemoth set good ole J.R. on fire before leaving the crime scene. But, since it’s just wrestling, the only real crime committed was airing such a lame, over-the-top segment.

At this point, of course, it’s doubtful most watching the spectacle could have suspended their disbelief any longer. Surely the most skeptical viewers had to be waiting for a cross-promotional tie-in to J.R.’s new cookbook (WWE advertised Ross’s barbecue sauce next to a story on his burning on its Web site). Fortunately for Ross, a noticeably less horizontally challenged stuntman played his part being set on fire (somewhere in the faint distance, one might have detected sounds of Gordon Solie turning in his grave).

As Ross’s clothes burned while crew members tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, the show switched back to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with Eric Bischoff chastising his shocked co-general manager, Steve Austin, blaming the Texas Rattlesnake for his friend’s precarious predicament.

Forget the fact that there are enough holes in the Kane character and storyline to drive a Mack truck through. Portraying a monster heel that struck terror into the hearts of the WWE roster until the past year or so, when his supernatural-like character underwent a more human turn and took an even comic direction, Kane’s latest push has been designed to breathe new life into what had become a relatively stale act. To make his recent unmasking more dramatic, Kane unfortunately shaved his eyebrows and half his head, and was made up with fake scars.

For the past six years loyal WWE fans had been led to believe that the Big Red Machine, at one time billed as The Undertaker’s brother and the illegitimate son of the equally dark character Paul Bearer, had been badly burned in a raging inferno that had claimed the lives of the siblings’ parents (it was later revealed that Bearer had fathered Kane after having an affair with Kane and Undertaker’s mother, for those keeping score). As recently as two weeks ago WWE announcers had reacted in horror after getting a glimpse of Kane’s allegedly disfigured visage.

Just a week later, quite miraculously, the scars seemed to have disappeared. The latest storyline revelation has Kane suffering from a psychological disorder in which he only believes he’s a hideous-looking freak, and that his real scars are emotional and hidden underneath his make-up.

But don’t think too long or too hard about all this mindless pabulum. Obviously it’s not designed to make sense, only to entertain. Just remember that much of today’s product seems to be written on the fly, with little continuity, consistency or logic factored into the equation. It doesn’t help that some of the writers possess weak backgrounds in the wrestling business, even though that certainly doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite in this generation of sports entertainment.

There is, however, one absolute truth in the business today. It’s all about ratings.

While some performers I’ve talked to felt a little uncomfortable with the angle, all agreed that it was ratings-driven, and numbers the previous week had been among the best in months. Most fans who wrote or called in fervently disliked the segment and complained that it was entirely too implausible – even by professional wrestling standards – that someone would be burned on live television, and that the perpetrator would be neither fired nor arrested.

Although I basically agreed with that assessment, it certainly wasn’t the first time “fire” has been used in a professional wrestling angle. The late Original Sheik (Ed Farhat) made a career out of “burning” his opponents with a mysterious blaze. Longtime area fans may remember the fiery, red-headed manager J.C. Dykes and his masked Infernos successfully incorporating the fire gimmick into their act during the ‘60s and ‘70s, “torching” (usually with flash paper) the likes of such local favorites such as Sandy Scott and Les Thatcher.

Setting afire a helpless announcer, though, is quite another thing.

Some liked the angle, which was straight out of a comic book, one of head Raw writer Brian Gerwertz’s favorite resources.

Bill Moody, the former Percy Pringle and Paul Bearer, was one of them.

“Three weeks into the new Kane character, and I am pleased as hell with what they are doing with Paul Bearer’s son,” Moody said on his Web site. “They are creating a new monster out of Kane, and that is right where he belongs … This is the kind of storylines the WWE has been missing. They are on the right road again with this one.”

That, of course, remains to be seen. The proof will be in the pudding. Ratings for last week’s show dropped back to normal levels (3.6), a sign that many viewers may have already tired of the storyline.

As for Kane’s future, Glen Jacobs has displayed remarkable resiliency over the past decade portraying a number of diverse characters (Unibomb, Doomsday, the fake Diesel, Isaac Yankem DDS). None, though, have come close to approaching the success of his current persona, which even survived last year’s disastrous Katie Vick necrophilia storyline. For the latest twist in the Kane tale to succeed, WWE may have to enlist a manager with a strong presence to help get the gimmick over (such names as Paul Heyman and Jimmy “Sinister Minister” Mitchell immediately come to mind). Perhaps it might be time to grant the brand extension a temporary pass and allow Kane’s “big brother” (The Undertaker) to make a surprise appearance on Raw to confront Kane and his emotional dilemma.

More importantly, WWE should not treat what happened Monday night as a hotshot ratings stunt, but rather should act accordingly to sell the angle. Treating the storyline with a degree of seriousness could at least give it some credibility while not further insulting the fans’ intelligence, despite the obvious gaps in the script.

– Cordesville First Baptist Church will hold a Family Fun Night 5-8 p.m. Saturday. The free event will include food, games and jumping castles, as well as a wrestling program from 7-8 p.m. The event will feature George South defending his Exodus Wrestling Association title, as well as special appearances by longtime Carolinas favorite “No. 1″ Paul Jones and midget wrestlers.

The church is located at 1913 Highway 402, approximately seven miles from Moncks Corner.

– Terry Taylor, who rejoined WWE last October as a road agent, has been released by the company. Taylor received the news in a phone message last week from Johnny Ace, who worked with Taylor at WCW and had been instrumental in his hiring last year.

Remaining WWE agents, whose schedules gradually have been cut back, include Jack Lanza, Dean Malenko, Fit Finlay and Arn Anderson, who has been on leave while attending a drug rehab clinic.

– Bill Goldberg, who is scheduled to return to Raw this week after being on the shelf with a shoulder infection, is expected to work his first match with Triple H at a house show tonight in San Jose, Calif. Triple H also missed house shows last weekend due to a hematoma on one of his legs.

– Billy Kidman (Pete Gruner) and Torrie Wilson tied the knot July 11 in Old Saybrook, Conn. Wrestling personalities in the wedding party were Stacy Keibler, Victoria and Chris Kanyon. Others who attended include Dawn Marie and fiance Simon Diamond, Test, Chris Jericho and Glenn “Disco Inferno” Gilberti.