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N-W-No!  And Other News!
April 1, 2002

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


-  Everybody expected Steve Austin to mend his fences with WWF management and return to RAW tonight...  but nobody could have foreseen the dramatic turn of events that would have to take place before Austin finally agreed to resume his spot as one of the company's top stars.

As part of Austin's decision to come back to the WWF, management has decided to terminate the contracts of nWo cornerstones Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.  Both had clauses in their contracts allowing the Fed to release them within their first 90 days on the active roster; it was designed to be a last resort "out" for the WWF if the nWo wound up "living the gimmick" as locker room poison.  Instead, it was a clause that Austin insisted upon exercising before he came back, causing many to question just who should be saddled with the reputation as a back stage politician.

Austin was openly unhappy with being shunted into a second-level program against Hall leading into WrestleMania X-8, and went positively berserk when it was suggested that he lose the match to Hall at Mania (via interference from Vince McMahon).  Austin was instead granted his wish, and won the match at WM... but the damage was done, and Austin believed that the infusion of the nWo would ultimately erode his character even further.

I had begun hearing rumors on Saturday that the very real tension between Austin and the nWo members was going to necessitate a shift in storylines as part of accommodating Austin...  because Austin did not want to be a part of shows involving the nWo, and because Austin was penciled in to join the WWF-RAW roster, Federation management had to promise Austin that the nWo would be shifted over to the SmackDown! roster.  And that seemed to be the extent of the drama as of earlier this weekend.

Then late Sunday night, it all exploded, as word got out that the WWF wound up going one step further, completely excising the nWo from the WWF.  It remained in the realm of the "unconfirmed rumor" until Nash himself revealed that both he and Hall had parted ways with the WWF in a brief update to his official website.  The tone of the commentary suggests that there is a chance this situation can be mended at some point in the future;  Nash certainly didn't call out Austin specifically or burn any bridges in making the announcement.

At this point, the situation has two humongous dangling issues...

First is whether it was Austin who insisted on completely axing the nWo members or whether WWF management simply decided to act on their own and remove an influence that caused a once-happy locker room leader to go on tilt.  If further information surfaces on that front, it could go a long way towards determining how fans react to Austin, who has already caught some flack from fans for his two-week self-imposed vacation following Mania.

And second:  Nash and Hall were not just a two man back-stage operation...  though Hulk Hogan had wisely distanced himself from the duo and remains in everybody's good graces, Sean "X-Pac" Waltman is perceived by many as having walked into a main event spot in the nWo simply because of who his friends are.  The release of his real life friends and on-screen partners puts his future in some question.  And to a lesser extent, Triple H may feel the effect of the loss of two political allies.  Though intimately tied to Hall and Nash backstage, he might escape any serious damage to his position simply because of his status as the WWF Champ.  [It's ironic that HHH finds himself in this spot today, as five years ago, he was the ONLY one of the "Clique" members who the WWF could punish after the MSG Incident; Nash, Hall, and X-Pac had all departed to WCW, and Shawn Michaels was "untouchable" due to being WWF Champ.]

It'll be interesting to watch RAW tonight to see how they work this sudden personnel change into storylines...  you might also want to keep an eye on WWF.com through the day on Monday to see if they publicly acknowledge this move (the Fed has been increasingly good about this sort of thing in the last year or two).

-  Moving down to substantially less mammoth news...

There is a movement afoot to radically shake-up the WWF developmental program.  While the WWF is very pleased with the way Jim Cornette (OVW) and Les Thatcher (HWA) are preparing talents in the ring, they feel a lot of those talents hit a wall while working in Cincinnati and Louisville, mostly due to a lack of chances to work the "sports entertainment" side of things in front of TV cameras and bigger crowds.

That is why, even after months of utilizing developmental guys for major WWF split-crew shows, the Fed has only introduced one of those talents -- Brock Lesnar -- on TV.  They simply don't feel comfortable that these guys are marketable as is, and don't want to push them on to TV without all the tools necessary to succeed.  Even in Lesnar's case, they have been careful to make sure he's got Paul Heyman on stand-by to do his talking.

I haven't heard anything specific, but one VERY credible rumor has Jim Cornette shifting over to join Thatcher in the HWA offices, where they will head up "Tier One" of the WWF developmental program (basically doing everything exactly as they do now).  Then, under this scenario, Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer will head up a "Tier Two" promotion, which will have the benefit of some WWF muscle in terms of TV production and distribution.

The plan under consideration now has Heyman and Dreamer simply revamping the existing OVW territory (with a new, less-region-specific name), since Louisville and the Mid-South region have a long history of supporting a bloody "extreme-style" product (which Heyman would no doubt default to).  And ultimately, it won't matter much exactly where the home base is for the territory, since the Fed hopes to have them expand to touring 2000-3000 seat venues throughout the entire eastern half of the US on the strength of a syndicated TV show (which would also tap established indie workers and WWF stars who are "on hiatus" to supplement the developmental roster).

It'll be up to Cornette and Thatcher to keep churning out talents who are up-to-speed in the ring... and then it'll be up to Heyman (and Dreamer, especially while Heyman is away as a sporadic on-screen persona for the WWF) to put these guys in front of cameras in situations where they can get comfortable cutting promos and developing characters for themselves.  Even if the "Tier Two" developmental territory only succeeds at a moderate level, it'll still result in the WWF getting a somewhat better-known and significantly more polished incoming star from the developmental territories than they do today.  

Keep an eye on this situation, as it may well turn out to be as close to a really VIABLE #2 national promotion as we get...  and at the very least, it'd be interesting to see how Heyman would do in a situation where he'd be able to focus on creative work while the WWF accounting department handles the books.

-  Look for an announcement from the WWF about the location of WrestleMania X-9 to come very soon...  it is well known within the WWF inner circle the Vince McMahon covets a chance to promote a WM at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was slated to be the venue for WM8 until poor advance ticket sales prompted a change of plans.

With the Rock on the cusp of mainstream movie stardom, and with Hulk Hogan in the midst of a remarkably effective "nostalgia run," it could well be that 2003 is the year when the pieces fall into place and the WWF takes a stab at filling up the 100,000 seat outdoor venue.

-  Speaking of the Rock...  he's already been conditionally attached to a few scripts, and a lot will shake out after "The Scorpion King" opens in 2 weeks.  If the movie tanks, look for the Rock's name to disappear from a lot of those scripts and rumors...  but if it does gonzo box office, the sky is the limit for the Rock.

The latest word on the street is that Warner Brothers DESPERATELY wants to revitalize its live-action Batman movie series, and that they are considering the Rock to play Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Contingent, of course, on the Scorpion King establishing the Rock as a movie star.  Hell, he can't be any worse for the part than George Clooney was (and I say that as a guy who likes George Clooney... he just wasn't Batman)...

-  On the tails of word that Jerry Jarrett is going to try an exclusive-to-PPV wrestling promotion later this summer, there are now talks on-going to bring wrestling to premium cable.

Showtime Event TV execs brainstormed the idea of promoting wrestling events with absolutely NO content restrictions, and then airing the program in a late night weekend timeslot (and possibly head-to-head with the proposed In Demand PPV wrestling show).  Whereas the WWF has to settle for teasing us, this show would pay-off on the titillation, featuring periodic nudity, lots of swearing, and of course, plenty of blood and ultra violence.

At present, SET is trying to develop the show on their own, but there is word that they have talked to California-based XPW (X-treme Pro Wrestling, the infamous ECW knock-off which last borrowed against its 15 minutes in the spotlight when Vic Grimes almost killed himself at one of their shows following a botched scaffold spot) about importing their show almost in its entirety, name and all.

The current timetable has this show being ready to go by August, though I have about as much hope for this panning out as I do for the PPV-only company...  it only becomes a dodgier proposition if the XPW gets involved, too.

-  Chris Benoit actually reported a few days early to Cincinnati's HWA, where he is scheduled to begin his in-ring rehab today.  The reason for his early arrival was a top secret meeting with Pat Patterson, who wanted to present Benoit with the creative plans for his character, so that Benoit can work on incorporating some of those elements during his training regimen.

No big deal, you think?  Guess again...  because the Fed wants Benoit to COMPLETELY re-work his persona to focus on the "Wolverine" nickname that has been downplayed in favor of "The Crippler" for the past few years.  Patterson presented Benoit with a new wardrobe, too, designed to partially emulate the well-known "Wolverine" from Marvel Comics "X-Men" series.  Benoit was also told to start growing his facial hair to resemble the comicbook character.

The redesign of Benoit's gimmick was meant to be kept secret, but that became impossible when Benoit stormed out of the meeting, in front of the handful of HWA workers present at their training facility on Friday afternoon.  Word travelled the 45 minutes up I-75 to me that it took about an hour before Benoit could be calmed down, at which point he resumed the meeting with Patterson with both trying to compromise with the other.  Benoit admitted he should try something to spice up his on-air persona, while Patterson assured Benoit that if these changes did not seem to be working, he would NEVER be asked to appear on TV with the new gimmick until he was 100% comfortable.

Though the unspoken expectation is that Benoit will tank the gimmick on purpose, the Fed has a vested interest in making it work.  In exchange for borrowing elements of the comic character, they've already paid Marvel Comics a large up-front fee.  Those negotiations were actually finalized last month when the Fed was settling how to handle their continued licensing of the "Hulk" Hogan name from Marvel, and were kept quiet until Benoit's outburst last Friday.

Man alive, I HOPE when Benoit comes back to TV next month, it's as "The Crippler"...  but hearing all this, I've got a sinking feeling, he'll be doing this stupid gimmick.  Or maybe not coming back at all.

-  And the last thing for today...


That's right, after a SportsLine-enforced one-year hiatus (those no-sense-of-humor-having bastards!), the OO tradition is back in full force.  You have been had, and there is not one whit of truth to anything I've written here in this column.

I hope I gave you a few seconds of "What in the Holy Hell?" caliber bewilderment before you came to your senses and forged ahead anyway...  at which point I also hope you got a few chuckles (to make up for any confusion)!

And since you've made it this far, I guess it's only fair to offer you this direct link to Monday's REAL news, too... 


Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

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