By Mike Mooneyham
April 20, 2003
Few would argue the fact that Triple H wields more political power than any wrestler in World Wrestling Entertainment. Most would venture to say that he carries more clout than most of the company’s creative talent and many of the front-office executives.
He is, after all, the promotion’s world champion and one of its biggest acts. Being engaged to the boss’s daughter doesn’t exactly hurt, either.But lately these “perks” have become an albatross around the sizable neck of Hunter Hearst Helmsley aka “The Game.” Many fans, as well as a number of WWE performers, have blamed him for not releasing what they consider a stranglehold on the WWE championship. Some have even compared him to Shawn Michaels during his heyday in regard to the many creative ways in which Michaels held on to his titles.
With numbers declining in a variety of categories, Triple H seems an easy target for a growing and increasingly vocal peanut gallery. The problems in WWE, however, lie much deeper than Triple H’s perceived power behind the scenes.
While it’s painfully obvious that WWE desperately needs a shot in the arm, a serious look at the company offers no easy answers concerning a successor to Triple H’s crown. With the brand extension in full force and apparently here to stay for the foreseeable future, the options appear even slimmer.
Until recently Rob Van Dam had been hailed by many as a possible candidate. His style, however, lacks discipline and psychology, his mic ability is limited and some wrestlers are understandably reserved about placing their bodies in his hands. Even the long-championed Booker T doesn’t seem to have the depth necessary for a long-term run.
WWE officials held out cautious optimism when they brought in Scott Steiner late last year, but were forced to pull the plug on him before serious title consideration was given. Former WWE champion Kane has a gimmick that’s grown long in the tooth despite the company’s attempt to expand his character. Chris Jericho is a top-notch worker but has suffered far too many setbacks in high-profile matches. Shawn Michaels’ role will remain a limited one due to physical concerns. As for Kevin Nash, another ex-WWE champ, odds of him ever carrying the strap again are slim to none.
The 29-year-old Edge (Adam Copeland) has teetered on the brink of superstardom for the past couple of years, but his full potential will be delayed for at least one more due to neck surgery. At 54, Ric Flair has held more world titles than any performer in the history of the business and still exudes star power, but any future title reign would most likely be a short-term, transitional one.
Ironically, the next champion will be the company’s latest big-name acquisition and the man with whom Triple H has the most heat, stemming from a much-publicized incident at a New York toy fair several years ago. And, whether he likes it or not, good business will dictate that Triple H drop the strap to Goldberg, and do so in a convincing, decisive manner. It won’t likely happen, though, before the June pay-per-view.
The duration of a Goldberg title run remains to be seen. Despite his success in WCW, he’s still viewed as an untested commodity by some in the company who fear that he brings to the table some of the same issues Steiner did – namely a volatile, sometimes overly aggressive attitude backstage, coupled with a stiff, bordering-on-reckless style inside the ring that could threaten both himself and his opponents. (To Steiner’s credit, his locker-room demeanor in WWE has improved considerably; unfortunately his ring work has not).
Goldberg would be well advised to heed the words of many a wise wrestler – “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Along those lines, the segment on Raw last week with Goldust placing the blond wig on Goldberg’s chrome dome did little to elevate Goldberg’s character. Skits like that one, perceived by some WWE writers as being witty and hip, should be used with caution, lest they damage one’s gimmick, as was the case with Steve Austin two years ago during a questionable heel turn.
And while Triple H will continue to entertain criticism, it should be noted that his ascension to the crown was not exactly a fluke. Underutilized in WCW and initially stuck in a mid-card role as an aristocratic blueblood in WWE, Helmsley was far from an overnight sensation and paid his share of dues and time in the doghouse during his first few years with the company. When the proverbial ball was finally handed to him, he took it and ran. It’s the same advice he recently offered on the company Web site to aspiring WWE ladder-climbers.
“My advice would be to not worry about other guys, worry about yourself. This company can’t strap a rocket on somebody who is not ready for it, no matter what. But a talent can strap a rocket on himself whether the office is ready to push him or not, and get himself over. It doesn’t work the other way around. There have been numerous examples in the past of guys who they’ve tried to go to the moon with – Sid, Lex Luger. Guys that they really tried to go with. And then it didn’t work out. They can’t push somebody that the fans aren’t ready to accept in that position.”
Many of the company’s younger performers have expressed frustration with the company for hiring older, more established wrestlers to assume top spots. They point at Triple H – rightly or wrongly – as a key influence behind the scenes who plays “the game” and reaps the benefits of a close relationship with the McMahon family.
“It’s not about getting a turn,” Helmsley said recently. “Not everybody gets a turn. It’s about making your opportunity. That’s a fact; that’s the way it is.”
Most of the criticism directed at Helmsley has come since his return to the ring in early 2002 following rehab from a torn quadriceps. Having established himself as the company’s most valuable player heading into 2001, the injury derailed his momentum and kept him out of action for more than six months. His much-hyped return to the ring didn’t live up to expectations; a decline in workrate seemed to be tied to a dramatic increase in muscle mass.
Those who know Triple H don’t question his passion for the business. The 34-year-old, whose real name is Paul Levesque, has always maintained that wrestling has been burned into him, a hobby that he enjoys doing every single day. The wrestlers he has admired the most reflect his appreciation for the history of the profession. Ric Flair is his favorite on a list that includes names like Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, wrestlers he highly respected for their ability to have intense matches on a regular basis.
“I learned this business the old school way,” Helmsley said in a 2000 interview, crediting his ex-trainer, Killer Kowalski, and the older generation for paving the road for today’s stars. “I very strongly believe that it’s the best way – not just high spots and what gets the biggest pop or how to be flashy or do a four-minute match. It’s how to work, how to think and the psychology of the business. I was taught that from day one.”
– If you’re a longtime wrestling fan – especially one who was raised on Friday night wrestling at County Hall – there’s a good chance you’ll remember the man who brought that unique form of entertainment to this area for nearly half a century.
Promoter extraordinaire Henry Marcus blessed the Lowcountry with some of the country’s top wrestling for those many years, making Friday nights special for thousands of Lowcountry mat fans. The man affectionately known as “High Pockets” promoted everything from pro wrestling to ice shows to the Harlem Globetrotters, brought the original Superman and Lois Lane to Columbia’s Township Auditorium, had Jesse Owens race a thoroughbred horse through that town’s Capital City Park and featured the likes of Joe Louis and the original Gorgeous George at the old County Hall.
The past several months, however, haven’t been kind to Mr. Marcus, who will turn 92 next month. The loss of sight in one eye and two falls, the last of which resulted in a broken arm several weeks ago, have required hospitalization and rehabilitation. He is able to read, and I’m sure he’d love hearing from not only the many fans whose lives he has touched over the years, but also newer fans of the game who appreciate what men like him have meant to the business.
Send cards and get-well wishes to Henry Marcus in care of: National Health Center, 1018 N. Guignard Drive, Sumter, S.C. 29150.
– Congrats to College of Charleston alumnus and sometimes indie wrestling promoter Thomas Simpson for being named 2003 Distinguished Teacher of the Year at the University of South Carolina-Union. Simpson has been a math instructor at the school for three years and was a finalist for the award the past two.
Simpson was a driving force behind the critically acclaimed North Carolina-based OMEGA promotion that spawned such stars as Jeff and Matt Hardy, Lita (Amy Dumas), Shane “Hurricane” Helms and Shannon Moore.
– TNN (The National Network), formerly The Nashville Network and home for WWE programming, will take its next step toward being the first network aimed specifically at men when it changes the name of the network to Spike TV on June 16. The network, whose ratings have been sagging, will unveil the new logo on at the MTV Networks upfront presentation in New York City on May 6. The company has signed partnerships with Men’s Health magazine and CBS MarketWatch and will launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to promote awareness of the new name.
WWE programming is expected to remain a focal point of the network. “Today the first network for men has a name, and it’s Spike TV,” TNN president Albie Hecht said last week. “Spike TV captures the attributes and essence of what we want the first network for men to be. It’s unapologetically male; it’s active; it’s smart and contemporary with a personality that’s aggressive and irreverent. This is a first major step in our journey to super-serving men in a way no one has done before.”
TNN is available in 86 million homes. Almost 65 percent of its audience belongs to the coveted demographic of males 18 to 49 years old. The network’s ratings have been sagging, with an average prime-time audience of a little more than 1 million viewers during the first three months of 2003, down 16 percent from the same year-earlier period. TNN dropped from the eighth-most-popular basic cable station to 14th.
– Got a kick out of the annual awards issue recently put out by Wrestling Perspective. In addition to the annual list of “best of” awards in 11 categories, there’s also a “Phannies” division that highlights the “worst of the worst” of the past year. An in-depth interview also is included in each issue. Former TBS studio director Tommy Edwards, who produced the NWA shows in the dying days of Crockett Promotions and WCW programming during the early days of Ted Turner’s reign, is featured in the latest issue. Edwards makes some interesting observations about all the heavy hitters from that day including Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone, Ricky Steamboat, Lex Luger and Jim Herd.
For more information or to order an issue, check out the Web site at www.wrestlingperspective.com.
– Longtime Mexican star Rey Mendoza (Jorge Diaz Mendoza) passed away Thursday at the age of 73.
Mendoza, also a headliner in California where he formed a top team with Mil Mascaras, was the father of Los Villanos.
– The “suspended” Hulk Hogan will be returning to Smackdown under a mask as Mr. America.
– More sobering news for WWE: Last week’s Raw dropped to a 3.4 rating, with a 5.2 share, down from the previous week’s 3.5. None of the quarter hours on the show broke a 4.0. The highest-rated segment was the overrun, which did a 3.9 from 11 to 11:08 p.m.
– Tony “The Viking” Halme (former boxer and WWE performer Ludvig Borga), who was elected earlier this year to Finland’s Parliament on a right-wing ticket, has apologized for calling Finnish president Tarja Halonen a “lesbian.”
Halme apologized in an open letter to the president following remarks he made during a radio interview. Responding to the interviewer’s question about starting his own parliamentary group, Halme said: “We have a lesbian as president and me as parliamentarian. Everything seems possible.” Halonen, who was once chair of a gay rights group, is married and has rejected suggestions that she is gay.
– Former “First Lady of WCW” Missy Hyatt’s latest work has been on the strip club circuit.
– Tough Enough 2 co-winner Jackie Gayda is scheduled to work as valet for the returning Kanyon.