By Mike Mooneyham
July 17, 2005
The wrestling world is heating up faster than the waters along our coast. Firings, hirings and controversial angles have marked the business in recent weeks, and all signs point to a sizzling summer for the industry.
Matt Hardy’s worked shoot last week on Raw was reminiscent of the late Brian Pillman’s infamous angle nine years ago when he outed Kevin Sullivan as a backstage booker during their match at WCW’s Superbrawl pay-per-view. Blurring the lines of reality and fiction has been a hallmark of the profession over the past decade, and if skillfully executed and not overdone, can translate into lucrative business.
Hardy’s real-life animosity toward former friend Adam “Edge” Copeland has been well documented, as has his nasty break-up with Amy “Lita” Dumas. Throw in the company’s regrettable release of Hardy three months ago, and the table is set for a potentially red-hot program.
Hardy, though, is taking a chance in re-signing with WWE. His unintended notoriety had made him one of the hottest commodities on the independent circuit, and an offer had been floated that would have guaranteed him a major spot in TNA, where he would have been pushed as a top singles star and had a ready-made tag-team program with brother Jeff against The Dudleys.
While the exposure (and most likely the monetary incentive) is far greater in WWE, Hardy will not have the creative control he would have enjoyed wrestling elsewhere. On the flip side, Hardy likely viewed TNA as a risky venture without a firm TV deal, although it is expected that the group will soon have an agreement with Spike TV for a late Saturday night slot this fall.
Hardy also has worked the Internet in playing up his domestic soap opera and risks the possibility of alienating some of his diehard supporters. He was perceived as a jilted loved, a sympathetic character and an anti-establishment renegade who was wronged by the system and unfairly cast aside by his company and those he thought were his closest friends. Selling the storyline as a shoot on his personal Web site, he had the ability to evoke strong emotion from a loyal fan base that may now feel used by the same system that Hardy so vehemently railed against.
So far, though, most of his followers have defended his decision to rejoin WWE.
“This will forever blur the line between a work and a shoot,” wrote one fan. “How much of all of this is a work or a shoot? What is real and what is scripted? The day of gimmicks like the ‘Boogeyman’ and even Hassan has passed. The day of ‘kayfabe’ when it comes to what is happening behind the scenes is over. Silly storylines are finished. While we should keep the ‘magic’ a secret, for pro wrestling to prosper, it will have to present itself as real as possible. Honesty will be the best policy. No more (deceiving) the people, be it the fans or the boys. The new era is here.”
“The more real they make wrestling, the better,” echoed another fan.
Unlike most of today’s wrestling storylines, this one has its roots in a real-life issue, literally wrote itself and ironically may have afforded Hardy the biggest opportunity of his career.
– Numerous media outlets, as well as a sizable number of wrestling fans, have continued to criticize WWE’s ill-timed airing of the Muhammad Hassan-Undertaker angle the same day as the deadly subway and bus bombings in London.
The entertainment trade journal Variety noted that UPN’s screen crawl advising parental discretion wasn’t enough of a warning for some viewers. WWE and UPN said they were unable to alter the episode due to the tight time frame between the show’s taping earlier in the week and its Thursday night time slot. WWE did edit the segment out of the UK version of Smackdown.
“We all feel bad about the timing of the segment,” WWE spokesman Gary Davis told Variety. Davis added that the show wasn’t attempting to depict a terrorist attack, although he said he understood how some viewers might have construed it as such.
WWE executive producer Kevin Dunn told the New York Post that it’s an entertainment business and that the angle was meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek.
“We’re very proud of our product,” said Dunn, who last year lauded the company’s Diva Search as a wholesome departure from 50 years of lowbrow entertainment. “We try and be sensitive with everything we portray, but there’s got to be protagonists and antagonists on our TV shows. We just happen to reflect the politics of the world sometimes – especially with these Arab-American characters.”
The Post described the angle as “a scene that looked eerily like a beheading.”
WWE took advantage of the controversy by having Hassan (Mark Magnus) blast the New York Post last week. He lashed out at the criticism by saying anytime something happens the public “blames the Arabs.”
Sadly WWE has not learned much from history. In 1991 the company played off an ongoing war in a wrestling angle and was harshly criticized by the mainstream media. The negative press resulted in the company moving that year’s Wrestlemania from the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum to the much smaller, indoor Sports Arena, where only 15,000 tickets were sold, and played a role in the eventual end of its popular Saturday Night Main Event program on NBC.
– Brock Lesnar, who left the wrestling world 16 months ago to pursue a new career in pro football, is knocking loud and hard on the door of his former employer. Discouraged that Vince McMahon wouldn’t even return his calls in recent months, Lesnar is now asking the WWE head honcho to forgive and forget that he bailed out on a lucrative, long-term contract.
Lesnar recently was granted a face-to-face meeting with his ex-boss, and it appears that he will be given a second chance with the company. Many second-guessed his decision to try pro football in light of the fact that he had never played a down of college ball and wasn’t even overly successful in the high school ranks. His NFL dream fell short when he couldn’t advance beyond the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad.
Lesnar made a number of statements that were considered demeaning to the wrestling business following his departure from WWE. His tone in recent interviews has been much more humble.
“I’m glad I did it. I didn’t want to look back years from now and regret not taking that chance,” said Lesnar on his decision to try football. “I’m done with football now, though. Like I said yesterday, professional wrestling is in my blood. This is what I want to do. You only get one life to live, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to live my life to the fullest.”
McMahon made Lesnar a superstar at the expense of already proven talent. Lesnar alienated a number of WWE performers when he abruptly left the company last year. It’s no secret that bad blood still exists and that Lesnar will have to eat a certain amount of crow before he will be accepted back into the locker room.
“I have to take into consideration that this is a business. Hopefully, a return is what everybody wants to see. I can tell you that I will commit myself to be the guy I was in the ring before I left. If there’s problems from the boys, that’s not my problem. I never had a problem with them. They’ve been nothing but great to me in the past. If I do come back, though, people should be aware that they need to be on their toes. There ain’t nobody that can hold a candle to me.”
WWE colleague Shelton Benjamin, who was an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota when Lesnar was NCAA heavyweight champion at the school, foresees rumbling behind the scenes but expects it to subside once Lesnar starts drawing again.
“It’ll pass, and most of it won’t be to his face,” Benjamin said of the anticipated response. “Bottom line, Brock is still Brock, and Brock will hurt the above-average person who steps out of line, and he has no problem doing that. There may or may not be some resentment. That’s to be expected, and I’m sure he’s aware of that. But at the same time, this is a business. Brock Lesnar is good for the business. My opinion on that is: Do we want to hold grudges or do we want to make money?”
Look for Lesnar to square off with Batista at next year’s Wrestlemania. – There’s also growing resentment among some of the WWE performers who were released in the company’s recent talent purge.
One wrestler, Spike Dudley, voiced his feelings on his Web site.
“Does it sting? Hell, yeah. Especially since I’ve always been one of their ‘model’ employees. It makes sense that I was released … I just didn’t fit in with what the WWE puts on TV. It was my turn and that’s the nature of the beast.”
Dudley called WWE a “sinking ship” and said the company was cursed by owning 100 percent of the industry.
“I can see how they couldn’t afford my outrageous salary in these times of number crunching. Hey, they gave me a great opportunity and maybe I didn’t make the most of it. That’s life. At first I was (peeved) but I woke up this morning feeling, I don’t know, alive … I woke up and visioned having a wrestling match without a script. I visioned going to an arena and actually having fun again. I visioned not having to go to the hospital after being hurt by a ‘future’ WWE superstar who may look good but have the wrestling ability of a dead walrus. I visioned pitching an angle without having to get approval from writers who six years ago were buying ECW tickets and making signs (it’s true). Hell, I visioned blading.
“I really don’t want to burn bridges (if I haven’t already) and all that, but that company sucks the life out of you and then spits you out … I want to love wresting again. I want to be passionate about the business. It’s been so good to me, I want to give back. I don’t know how yet, but it will happen.”
The recently released Charlie Haas also took a shot at the WWE creative team in an interview last week.
“WWE are letting themselves down by hiring these writers that all they’ve done is read comic books or, if they’re lucky, played chess as the most physicality they’ve ever had … He (Vince McMahon) wants yes-men. If he wanted someone that would speak up, he had that with Paul Heyman or Jim Cornette and that’s why you’d see them pushed to the back.”
– Paul Heyman has taken over the Ohio Valley Wrestling booking duties on an interim basis from deposed creative mastermind Jim Cornette.
“I loved Jim Cornette,” said OVW product Shelton Benjamin. “He was nothing but good to me. We got along fine. But some people may take things you say personally. At no time during my stay in OVW did I feel that I was being disrespected, mistreated or anything. For my time and my group, it was a great experience.”
– Raven defends his NWA title against Abyss in a steel chain dog collar match in the main event of TNA’s No Surrender pay-per-view tonight in Orlando.
– Shinya Hashimoto, one of Japan’s top performers during the ’90s, died of a brain hemorrhage Monday in Yokohama.
The 40-year-old Hashimoto was a former IWGP and All Japan Triple Crown champion as well as one third of New Japan’s “Three Musketeers” with Keiji Mutoh (The Great Muta) and Masahiro Chono.
Hashimoto, who founded Japan’s Zero-One promotion, had been recovering from major shoulder surgery.
– Former NWA world champion Harley Race was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Saturday night at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton, Iowa. Also inducted were Antonio Inoki, Jerry Brisco, John Pesek, Earl McCready and Dr. Big Bill Miller.
– VH-1’s debut episode of “Hogan Knows Best” was the highest-rated debut episode for a series in the network’s history, as well as the highest-rated single episode of any VH-1 production.
– WWE returns to the Lowcountry with a Smackdown house show at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Batista will defend the WWE world heavyweight title against Muhammad Hassan in the main event. Also on the bill: Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero; Booker T vs. Orlando Jordan in a U.S. title match; Hardcore Holly and Heidenreich vs. MNM vs. Psicosis and Super Crazy in a three-way WWE tag-team title match; Christian vs. William Regal; Paul London vs. Juventud in a WWE cruiserweight title match; and Funaki vs. Boogeyman.
Tickets prices are $41, $31, $26 and $21 (plus applicable fees). Tickets are available at the Coliseum box office, www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster outlets (including select Publix grocery stores) or charge by phone at 554-6060. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. July 30.