By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 28, 2003

Iraq was invaded again last weekend, but this time the friendly forces were the men and women of World Wrestling Entertainment.

While it’s too early to tell if the newly freed nation is ready for WWE, the American military troops who were treated to a Smackdown show at Baghdad International Airport certainly were.

The soldiers got an extra surprise when WWE owner Vince McMahon was attacked by a visiting Santa Claus, who was actually “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in disguise. McMahon got a Stone Cold Stunner much to the delight of the troops in attendance.

In addition to performing two shows, WWE toured the entire region to greet the forces as well as give them care packages as part of “Operation USO Care Package.”

The visit was featured on a Christmas night edition of Smackdown on UPN.

Paul Wight with the Troops

Paul Wight with the Troops

Among those who made the tour were McMahon, Austin, Big Show, Torrie Wilson, Sable, Dawn Marie, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, Bradshaw, Faarooq, Rikishi, Rhyno, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin. McMahon told the Fox News Channel that it was a pleasure for his company to fulfill the request by Armed Forces Entertainment. He added that they could only take 34 people, so many who wanted to go couldn’t.

Wrestlers met with enlisted men and women, ate in mess tents and slept on cots in a palace used by Saddam Hussein’s sons, the late Uday and Qusay. Kudos to WWE for helping brighten the holidays for our troops smack dab in the middle of a war zone.

– The highlights of last week’s “Best of Raw 2003″ show were the replay of the Ric Flair-Triple H match from last May in Greenville, and a nicely produced video feature on those who passed away during the last year. It was the company’s first acknowledgement of the passing of Crash Holly (Mike Lockwood), who joined Curt Hennig, Miss Elizabeth, Mike Hegstrand, Fred Blassie and Stu Hart on the list of fallen stars.

– Pro wrestling has produced its share of failed gimmicks and ridiculously horrible characters, and wrestling fans can read all about them in a new book titled “WrestleCrap: The Very Worst of Professional Wrestling.”

Authors Randy Baer and R.D. Reynolds take a hilarious look at the many terrible storylines and characters that have made many a fan wonder: Who’s booking this garbage?

You won’t find success stories like the Nature Boy and Stone Cold in this book. You will, however, have your share of laughs reading about The Red Rooster, Gobbledy Gooker and Saba Simba, and the wrestling world’s misguided attempts to attract viewers.

Also included in “WrestleCrap” (ECW Press, $18.95) are such entertainment catastrophes as an evil one-eyed midget and a wrestler from the mystical land of Oz. John “Earthquake” Tenta, who has had some bad gimmicks of his own, writes the book’s foreword and takes some good-natured jabs at his own failures.

“Being the Shark and being an Oddity – that was WrestleCrap, no doubt about it. But it was also kind of funny. Unlike some folks in this business, I can laugh at it, because I can laugh at myself.” He also can laugh at his friends.

“Who can forget my former partner Typhoon as the Shockmaster in WCW? I know he wishes he could. He was actually set for a huge push, but maybe the push was a little too big; during his first entrance he stumbled through a hole in a wall that he’d just burst through. What was that I was saying about gimmicks falling flat on their faces? Maybe his head, which was covered in a storm trooper helmet, was getting too big?”

No matter how bad some of these gimmicks were, it’s fun recounting them through this book.

– Shawn Michaels, who will meet Triple H for the WWE world crown Monday night on Raw, is back in the title picture since assuming a heavier schedule. Michaels recently told management that he was ready to take on more dates since his back was responding well to the grind.

Michaels, 38, left the business following the 1998 Wrestlemania due to chronic back pain. He slipped away into retirement after having surgery, spent time with his wife and new baby boy and started his own wrestling school in San Antonio.

Unfortunately he missed out on one of the most successful and lucrative periods in wrestling history.

Michaels told the Fresno Bee in a recent interview that he one day he got a call from Vince McMahon asking if Michaels wanted to return to TV again. Michaels said he was reading his Bible on the airplane home when he got the call, and the Book of Joshua struck him. In it was a passage about Moses being gone and Joshua being asked to lead.

“It was the first time I ever felt like I could get back in the ring and everything would be OK,” Michaels told the newspaper.

Returning initially in a limited role, wrestling mostly at pay-per-view events, Michaels gradually discovered that he was responding well.

He recently told McMahon: “Use me; nothing’s going to happen.”

Michaels’ show-stopping performance at Survivor Series in November and a critically acclaimed old-school match with Ric Flair earlier this month at Madison Square Garden have placed him back in the spotlight.

“I feel as good now as I’ve ever felt,” said Michaels. “That’s why I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Physically, I feel unbelievable. I’ve experienced healing that only comes from miracles. I know for some folks that’s a stretch. I was told I’d never wrestle again. Not with that type of back injury. And I am.”

Michaels recently was honored by San Antonio mayor Edward Garza and members of the city council. Michaels, a San Antonio resident, was awarded a Certificate of Commendation at the city council meeting to recognize his efforts in organizing a major fundraiser for the families of soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Michaels spearheaded the initiative that raised $80,000 via autograph sessions with WWE performers this summer and fall at FYE stores around the country. The money went to the Armed Forces Family Scholarship and Assistance Fund, which provides scholarships for higher education of children of all fallen personnel in the war operations.

– Mexican star La Parka (Adolfo Tapia) was arrested Tuesday at a show in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The former WCW performer’s arrest stemmed from an incident at a bar the night before after a match in Nuevo Laredo.

Emilio Guduz Enriquez of Nuevo Leon told police two men (La Parka and Luchadore Sergio Romo Jr.) approached him and insulted him for no reason before punching him and leaving in a pickup truck. He said he was unaware they were professional wrestlers.

Police had to use force during the arrest of La Parka the following day. Romo reportedly was apprehended without incident.

– The anticipated Bill Goldberg-Brock Lesnar title vs. title showdown at Wrestlemania 20 is in jeopardy. Goldberg’s current WWE deal expires in March, and the two sides reportedly are split over a number of issues.

Those differences were accentuated by an outburst by Goldberg in the locker room at the recent Armageddon pay-per-view. Goldberg met with Vince McMahon the following day in Tampa, with Goldberg telling McMahon that he didn’t think his character was being handled properly.

Some also feel that Goldberg’s base salary of $1.5 million is not in line with the rest of the company, considering the current economic landscape.

– A Mick Foley double DVD is scheduled to be released in early 2004. The set will include some of Foley’s greatest matches against the likes of The Undertaker, The Rock, Triple H, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Terry Funk, Vader, Sting and Sabu.

– Rene Dupree of La Resistance celebrated his 20th birthday Dec. 15. Dupree, the youngest man on the WWE roster, became the youngest performer ever to hold a WWE title when he and Sylvain Grenier captured the WWE world tag-team title June 15.

– Chris Nowinski reportedly is set to begin training again after suffering a serious concussion that has sidelined him the previous six months.

– The always controversial Jake “The Snake” Roberts (Aurelian Smith Jr.) said in a recent interview that he never wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, veteran wrestler Grizzly Smith, but instead aspired to be an architect. One night in an alcohol-induced state, Roberts said, he challenged a wrestler in a failed attempt to earn his dad’s love. Roberts, then 18, ended up beaten and humiliated.

“I was an 18-year-old stupid kid thinking how great and beautiful I was, and he really put a number on me. I walked back to the locker room and my dad said, ‘You’re gutless, I’m ashamed of you and you’ll never amount to anything.’ That’s when I gave up my dream of being an architect and chased my father’s dream. I’m still chasing it because I’ll never hear him say the words I want to hear.”

Roberts also took a jab at today’s style of wrestling.

“Jake Roberts didn’t go out there and play games, I played mind games. I didn’t need to dive off ladders through tables. It doesn’t take a great wrestler to jump off of a cage and crash through three tables, it takes a damn idiot. Today it’s kind of funny how the fans applaud people for doing all of these sick, foolish things. In the street, they’d lock you in a padded room and call you a suicidal maniac. That’s not a great wrestler.”

– The WWE Web site reported that Rikishi (Solufu Fatu) and his family got an early Christmas present this year: his mom, Elevera Anoai Fatu, recently returned home from the hospital and is recovering after a bone-marrow transplant to help clear her system of multiple myeloma cancer.

“After nine months (of battling cancer) she’s doing fine,” Rikishi told the company’s Web site. “She’s back home, and it couldn’t be at a better time – the holidays.”

Rikishi said the cancer will never completely be gone from his mother’s system. There is no cure for multiple myeloma, which affects plasma cells, although lengthy remissions can often be achieved. Even after nine months of treatment and a transplant, only about 80 percent of the cancer is gone. She will take medication to help control the remaining 20 percent, and help prevent it from spreading.

– Elix Skipper has signed a two-year deal with NWA-TNA.

– Jim Cornette, one of the best minds in the business, will oversee an Ohio Valley Wrestling tryout camp March 21-26. The camp will accept approximately 50 applicants (one from last year’s camp already has signed a long–term contract with WWE). Also involved in the camp will be Danny Davis and Rip Rogers.

– WWE and Columbia Records are joining forces with the release of “WWE Originals” on Jan. 13. The initial release will come with a DVD with behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the album.

WWE performers will perform newly penned original material. WWE Originals is the first WWE album to showcase the wrestlers themselves performing material written specifically for them. Artists include Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Dudleys, Trish Stratus, Rey Misterio, Booker T, Kurt Angle, Lita, Lillian Garcia, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Rikishi and Stacy Keibler.