By Mike Mooneyham
While it may be a little too early to sound the alarm, World Wrestling Entertainment has to be concerned with a downward trend in business over the past few months.
The Chris Benoit tragedy and subsequent drug-testing controversy certainly have played a part in the downturn, as well as a number of untimely injuries to some of the company’s biggest stars. Major angles – specifically the Vince McMahon fake death and illegitimate child storylines – also have had to be dropped or altered due to circumstances beyond the company’s control.
But there had to be a collective shudder at Titan Towers last week when ratings for Monday Night Raw came in at a numbing 2.8 – the show’s lowest mark for that period in 10 years.
Only the McMahon love child storyline has generated a significant bump in ratings over the past couple of months, but the unsatisfying payoff has resulted in declining ratings ever since.
This past week’s drop can be partially attributed to Raw’s competition during that time period -a Monday Night Football game featuring the Dallas Cowboys and a deciding Major League Baseball game featuring the New York Yankees. But the number is particularly alarming since it came the night following a pay-per-view in which a new world champion was crowned, and it continues a disturbing trend for a company that lately has been bereft of compelling storylines and short on star power.
Moreover, it could be a loud and clear sign that there is overall dissatisfaction with the product, an issue that the WWE brain trust will eventually be forced to confront.
It’s a very telling commentary when one of the company’s biggest names, Ric Flair, sits on the sidelines specifically because “creative” can’t find anything for him. And, when they do, it’s certainly nothing befitting a 16-time world champion and a performer widely regarded as the greatest in the modern era.
– Main event for WWE’s Cyber Sunday pay-per-view on Oct. 28 will be Randy Orton defending his WWE heavyweight title against the fans’ choice of Shawn Michaels, Mr. Kennedy or Jeff Hardy. The original main event was to have been Orton against John Cena.
– The controversial Teddy Hart, whose unpredictable behavior has plagued him his entire young career, appears to be on his way out at WWE, placing a major angle planned for later this year in jeopardy.
There had been talk that a reformation of The Hart Foundation – already in play in WWE’s Florida developmental territory – could make a surprise appearance at the Survivor Series in November. Michaels is expected to play a major role on that show, which marks the 10th anniversary of the infamous Montreal screwjob, and an attack by The New Hart Foundation reportedly was in the works.
The new generation of the Canadian-based group consists of Teddy Hart (Annis), a third-generation member of the famous wrestling family and grandson of the late Stu Hart; Harry Smith, son of the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and grandson of Stu Hart; T.J. Wilson, who started his career at 15 working for the Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling and is the current boyfriend of Nattie Neidhart, Stu Hart’s granddaughter; and Ted DiBiase Jr., a third-generation wrestler whose step-grandfather, Iron Mike DiBiase, grandmother, Helen Hild, and father, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, all wrestled.
– TNA is bracing for a major power shift as a group led by Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Christian and Vince Russo is expected to make a pitch to company president Dixie Carter to have minority owner Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell removed from the booking process. The coup most likely would place Russo, who oversaw the dying days of WCW, as main booker.
Angle, arguably the company’s biggest star, and Russo have bonded in recent months, and both feel that Jarrett has held the company back. While Jarrett and Carter are longtime friends and associates, Angle’s influence has grown even stronger, and sources say Carter may be forced to make a difficult decision in the very near future regarding the creative direction of the company.
Russo, who was given credit for WWE’s resurgence in the late ’90s but widely panned for his later booking stint with WCW, reportedly has contacted actor David Arquette concerning a possible TNA angle. It was Russo who booked Arquette to win the WCW world title, although the stunt failed to garner the positive publicity Russo had hoped for.
Russo and Jarrett were close friends and allies at one time, but their friendship took a hit several years ago when Jarrett negotiated to bring Hulk Hogan in with the proviso that Jarrett get rid of Russo. Hogan, however, never came in.
Jarrett’s approach is seen as too “old school” in some TNA circles, while Russo and Angle advocate a bigger push and more TV time for the younger stars on the roster.
Carter thus far has maintained a neutral position in the power struggle, but most expect her to side with the Angle faction if pushed to play a hand.
Jarrett has suffered a series of personal setbacks over the past year, including the passing of his 37-year-old wife to cancer, along with a growing rift with his dad, Tennessee wrestling legend and TNA co-founder Jerry Jarrett.
– Karen Angle, whose husband Kurt will meet Sting in the main event of tonight’s Bound For Glory pay-per-view in Atlanta, told the Chicago Sun-Times last week that she’d get in the ring and wrestle if asked by TNA officials.
‘I don’t know if I’ll ever wrestle, but if asked, sure, I’ll do it. And, yeah, I have a few tricks under my sleeve, so I certainly could beat all of the TNA Knockouts and probably some of the TNA guys, too,’she said. “Actually working in wrestling for the first time is like we’re newlyweds. Personally, I now have the best of both worlds: a career and I can still be with my kids.’
The Angles have a daughter (Krya, 4) and a son (Kody, 10 months).
– John Graziano, the friend of Nick Hogan (Bollea) who was seriously injured in a car crash, remains on total life support and is comatose, according to reports.
The 22-year-old Graziano , who recently had returned from his second tour of Iraq, was a passenger in a car driven by the 17-year-old son of Hulk Hogan and suffered extensive injuries in the accident. According to the reports, Graziano is not responding to light, touch or sound and will most likely spend the rest of his life in a nursing facility.
Further complicating things is that Graziano’s estranged parents are arguing over who will be the one in charge of looking after him. His mother, Debra, was granted temporary guardianship on Sept. 27. This allows her to apply for military benefits for her son.
The St. Petersburg Times reported last week that Graziano’s parents have agreed that a civil lawsuit against the Hogan family will be necessary to pay for their son’s long-term care.
“I think that any guardian would file a civil suit; that goes without saying,” said George Tragos, who represents Debra Graziano.
Edward Graziano’s attorney, Steven Hearn, told the newspaper that Debra Graziano is not a good choice because she has received financial support from the Bollea family. After the accident, the Bolleas paid for her to stay in a hotel room, Hearn said. She now is staying in a condominium or town home in Clearwater provided by the Bolleas, he said. Edward Graziano is staying at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. Hearn said the Bollea family paid his hotel bill for a while but he is paying it now.
No charges have been filed in the case thus far.