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SD! Raises Expectations, Rock Update, 
TNA Continues Build-Up, and More...
February 6, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


My usual shtick about how there's nothing to talk about on weekends?  Not really applicable; it's a busy news day...  my other usual shtick about wanting to be done with this so I can walk away from the ol' PC and get this weekend started?  Still in full force...

So I'm gonna can the banter and move this along.  Let's just shuffle up and deal:

  • Just like RAW earlier in the week, last night's SmackDown! represented a step down from the previous week's very strong outing.  But also like RAW, there were enough good bits and forward progress to keep the show from being anything close to a total loss.
    On the contrary, SD! gave fans a LOT of interesting material.  Especially if you're one of that class of smarks who gets a raging erection at the thought of a WrestleMania featuring both Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero in World Title matches...  because we already know Benoit's in on RAW, and after last night, that's one of SD!'s most intriguing possibilities, as well.
    Because of my preference to not say anything spoiler-y here until after it airs on TV, I'm now only about the one-billionth person to mention this on the internet, but heading into the No Way Out PPV, WWE has set things up in such a way that Brock Lesnar (more concerned with/distracted by Goldberg) drops the title to Eddie Guerrero, while Kurt Angle (percolating as a not-quite-sincere-babyface since coming back a month ago) wins the #1 Contender match over John Cena and Big Show.  
    Clearly, the three big singles programs for SD! heading into WM20 are gonna be Lesnar vs. Goldberg, Eddie vs. Angle, and Show vs. Cena... but other than knowing with confidence that Show/Cena will be over the US Title, we don't know what'll be at stake in the other two.  Certainly, to me, Lesnar/Goldberg gains no extra cachet by having the title involved.  In fact, if anything, it loses a little, since very few expect Goldberg to stick around WWE after Mania, meaning if the title's on the line, a screwjob or loss for Goldberg would be a sort of expected anti-climax.  Lesnar/Goldberg with no title on the line leaves just about all outcomes possible, while anything to shove Eddie and Angle and their potential show-stealing match up the card is A-OK in my book.
    It is in these 3 programs that SD! was a success last night.  Like RAW, I felt it was kind of a half-good, half-eh show... and the good stuff was all centered around these six guys.  Big Show had a very effective outing against Billy Gunn; either that, or I was just stunned into thinking he looked dominating because I was THAT HAPPY to finally see the US Title defended after 4 months of dormancy.  His case for the #1 Contender spot at WM was strong.  Lesnar and Eddie had a good face-to-face where my concerns about Eddie going a little over-board with the "acting tormented" were offset by the fact that I really liked how Lesnar sold it as being a bit freaked out by the intensity of Latino Heat.  And Angle/Holly in the main event was actually a really solid match, and it set up the "main event promo" in which Heyman made the #1 Contender match.
    Actually, Heyman doing another one of his "land of opportunity" shows is what set the stage for the good stuff.  By tying all those elements together into a show-spanning story, I think there wound up being more heat on Angle/Holly, and certainly the post-match angle with Heyman, Cena, Show, and Angle seemed bigger and more important as a result.  This is sort of a distant cousin of the "clipboard shows," I think work pretty well: but instead of having the authority figure come out with a clipboard and a list of all the matches to take place, Heyman's "theme shows" consist of him opening the show, establishing the thesis, and then (one way or the other) paying off on that main thesis.  In the last month alone, he's done it about three times...  he did it with the "Wash Cena's Mouth Out" show.  He did it with the "Mini-Rumble" show.  And he did it again last night with the "Impress Me and Maybe You Can Be #1 Contender" show.  Good stuff....
    Everything else outside of those main issues was kind of forgettable.  Rikishi and Scotty winning the tag belts was more of a "What the hell?" moment than anything.  Well, not "What the hell?" since I HAD read the spoilers, but still kind of baffling...  unless this was just a move to spice up a forgotten division, and the Bashams are gonna be right back in the title hunt, I'm not sure what the purpose would have been.  It's not like there are tons of great heel challenger options for Rikishi/Scotty (especially when it seems like Haas/Benjamin have been spending the last 3 months teetering on the edge of babyface responses in some matches).  Then again, there weren't a ton of great babyface challenger options for the Bashams, so....  still, in the absence of anything super-compelling, my instinct is usually to keep the titles on heels and let the tepid babyfaces chase.  Now, tepid babyfaces will be defending the titles, which is a recipe for channel surfing....
    Noble/Kidman with the Nidia thing was disposable, and became even less valuable when it resulted in a Nidia vs. Noble match for the PPV.  Rey vs. Chavo Sr. was also a disposable match, but I guess at least that's leading to what SHOULD be a very good PPV contest with Rey vs. Chavo Jr...  unfortunately, Rey was also responsible for 3 minutes of my life that I'll never get back after last night's show: I promise you all this, if his "music video" ever shows up anywhere but on WWE TV, I'll amputate an appendage....  and Rue's Red Hot Playboy Update didn't contribute anything substantial, either.  I'll say this: I know my story on the Torrie/Sable Playboy has been "They're just recycling old/alternative pictures" for the past month.  Now, with evidence that Torrie and Sable obviously did another photo shoot, together, I guess I'm probably supposed to say "Whoa, it's ALMOST like they're lesbians, that's sooooooo HOT, I've never been happier to be wrong!".  But actually, my heterosexual male card will probably be confiscated after I announce, "Huh, I've never cared less about being wrong."  There is, bottom line, gonna be nothing we haven't already seen in this lay-out; certainly nothing to justify King and Coach's last two weeks of suck, at least...  but now I'm getting off track.
    Overall, still an OK outing for SD!.  But it's sure gonna be tough to pick a winner between it and RAW when Battle of the Brands time rolls around...
    Get the full report from Big Danny T in his SD! Recap.
  • The preliminary rating for last night's SD! is a 3.3.  That's down a bit from the past couple weeks, and for the time being, lands UPN in fifth place (out of six) for the night.
    However, there's a LITTLE bit of wiggle room between these prelim numbers and the final ratings.  If the final calculations end up with SD! gaining even two-tenths, they'd be right back to their recent level, and would move past FOX into fourth place.  Which would be good, as Sweeps Month officially started with last night's programs, which means SD! is competing up against even stiffer competition than usual (like some sort of mega-super-duper "Survivor" thing on CBS, over-hyped "super-sized" crap from the final few editions of "Friends," and the Mighty Trump).  Maintaining last month's mid-3 ratings up against stiff Sweeps Month competition would be a win for WWE and UPN...
  • A few pretty big items from the WWE Talent Relations office...
    First: Zach Gowen is done with WWE.  WWE.com announced the parting of the ways, and used the usual flowery "Best of luck in his future endeavors" language and all.
    And while I'm not contending that anybody at WWE actually wishes Zach ill, this is pretty much the least surprising talent release in recent memory.  In fact, it's entirely possible that WWE would have released Zach sooner, except that they feared a possible discrimination lawsuit (Zach may even have confided in friends that he was ready to pursue this if WWE dropped him).  So even though Zach's not been on TV since October, the Fed kept him on board until this week.
    It was last February when Zach made 2 appearances on TNA shows, and then the Fed swooped in and signed him to a contract.  Now, after a full year, the Fed has a contractual "out" with Zach, and they took it.
    Trouble started not long into Zach's WWE stint...  although a reputation as a bit of a spoiled and aloof kid preceded him, the WWE locker room was more than willing to give him a new start.  But when the expected mainstream media attention didn't develop and when crowd responses to Zach were not as strong as anticipated, THAT is when things went south.  Heels who would have been more than happy to drop matches and sell for the one-legged wrestler if it meant getting huge heat on themselves and wrestling near the top of the card and making a bunch of money began to sour on Zach because he wasn't getting over.  And selling for a one-legged upper-mid-carder is one thing.  Selling for and dropping matches to a one-legged curtain jerker is another.  Matt Hardy's "Zach Zach, the Novelty Act" was supposed to be a heelish asshole comment, but it increasingly represented the boys' and office's opinions of Zach's value to the company...
    So after Zach came back from his "broken leg" and finished his feud with Matt with a PPV win, Zach kind of faded into the background while WWE kind of urged him to work on his performance and appearance.  But assigned to OVW, Zach showed little interest in training sessions or on putting hours in in the gym to add some size to his frame.  That lack of dedication, on top of the dearth of mainstream attention and crowd interest and the now festering issue of guys not wanting to look bad by selling for the one-legged wrestler, was more than enough to start the rumors circulating.
    And this week, the rumors were bourn out, and Zach was released.   I think the important thing to realize is something noted in WWE.com's own article on this issue: that Zach is only 20 years old.  Did he ruffle a few feathers in the past year?  Sure, it certainly sounds like it from what I'm told.  But it's a year he spent as kind of a boy among men, and years from now, nobody will begrudge Zach a few youthful indiscretions.  If he learns from this and it helps him grow into a better man as a result, chances are very good he'll show up in WWE again some day....
  • The other WWE roster item of note: 
    Mark Henry is gonna be on the shelf for upwards of several months following a shoulder injury.  He had surgery yesterday, and a more accurate timetable for recovery should be known by next week.
    The Fed is going to, in storylines and even on the allegedly "honest" WWE.com website, present this injury as happening during Monday night's match against Chris Benoit.  Certainly, it's a great idea to use that on TV to put over how dangerous Benoit and the Crippler Crossface are...
    But in reality, the injury took place over the weekend house shows, before the TV match against Benoit.  In fact, if you were paying attention, I guess it was pretty obvious Henry was working pretty much one-armed.  I, myself, didn't notice that, because I'm not even half as smart as I like to pretend.  However, I did make a comment during RAW about how it was really weird that the commentators (and HHH later on) made comments about Mark Henry's injured shoulder and going to the hospital, unless they were really gonna hold Henry off TV to sell the Crossface...  So I was guess I was SORT OF onto something even back on Monday...
    I guess it doesn't really matter how WWE presents it, though, even if I wanted to be the kind of internet douchebag who give the rest of us a bad name.  Because, you see, even if Henry wasn't hurt in that TV match against Benoit, he was still hurt in a match against Benoit.  It was just the night before without any cameras rolling.  So big fricking deal, says I.
    And if it helps to perpetuate the idea that Chris Benoit is a "Crippler," then all the better...
  • In an interview with my one-time pal Alex Marvez, the Rock has revealed that his plans at WrestleMania 20 are, much to my own personal satisfaction and edification, to team up with Mick Foley against Randy Orton and Batista.  That's close enough to my own idea for government work.  I still wish we'd gotten either Michaels (in a six-man, adding Flair to the Evolution side) or HHH (replacing Batista in a straight tag match) involved, here, so as to keep the RAW main event a heads-up one-on-one match, but this is definitely a wise move in my book...
    It's looking more and more like this'll be the Rock's only wrestling match of 2004, as well.  He's got a busy schedule: after wrapping on "Be Cool" and having a cup of coffee in WWE, it'll be on the road to publicize "Walking Tall."  Then pre-production on "Spy Hunter" and a lengthy shoot for that project, then by the end of the year, he'll be out on the road hyping the release of "Be Cool."
    To my understanding, Rock's WWE contract only runs through mid 2005, so I'd suggest you enjoy him while you can.  Unless he's involved in about 3 bombs in a row, I don't see him being anything but a once- or twice-a-year cameo guy for WWE (if that) following 2005...
  • If you're interested in what the Rock looks like in his "Be Cool" role -- which, if it's true to the book, if a gay Samoan bodyguard -- you can check some on-the-set photos right here.
    Nice 'fro, Rocky....  and thanks to OO Reader Josh Mauthe for the link.
  • RAW's Japan tour is two-thirds complete after Friday night's show that happened earlier today.  Or something.  I swear, if there's one thing I do before I'm worm food, it'll be to figure out some exciting new verb tense to describe WWE overseas shows in these columns....
    They're playing to big crowds, and raking in tons of cash, but of course, that doesn't make the trip any less hellish.  Oh, wait, dammit!  I MEANT to say: it's an honor and a privilege just to be asked to tour overseas and Trish Stratus' feelings are really hurt that she had to remain in boring old Canada and stay in her tired own house and do an arduous one-night charity appearance.  I'd make some lecherous comment about how I'd love to console her and be her shoulder to cry on, except I have it on good authority that she's positively MISERABLE company after not being able to join the rest of the RAW roster for their non-stop fun in Japan...
    Ha ha!  I kid!  Overseas tours ARE fun!  For the accountants, anyway!
    Two shows in, and fans in Japan have been treated to two unique main events.  On the first night, HHH faced off against fellow-heel Kane, and retained the World Title.  Later tonight, HHH will have boaten (see, I'm working on it!) Chris Benoit in a preview of WM20 (or, assuming Shawn Michaels joins that match for a 3-way, of the post-WM Backlash PPV).
    Michaels actually stole the show on the first night with a 20 minute match against Ric Flair in the semi-main event.  Also on that first show: Randy Orton d. Rob Van Dam...  Chris Jericho d. Christian (another "vision of things to come")...  Chris Benoit d. Batista...  Molly Holly d. Lita...  the Dudley Boyz d. Matt Hardy/Test...  and Hurricane d. Rico.
    HHH/Benoit was the hands-down highlight of later tonight's show.  Also at that event: Orton d. Jericho in the night's second best match...  HBK/RVD d. Test/Christian...  Flair/Batista d. the Dudleys...  Kane d. Hurricane... and Molly/Matt d. Lita/Rico.
    On both shows, Steve Austin, Eric Bischoff, and Stacy Keibler were involved in non-wrestling antics which also played well.
    On the final show of the tour, WWE will set a new record for live gate for a non-televised event, with ticket sales already up around $1.7 million (US) for a show at Saitama Super Arena (dome).  The pre-tour line-ups I saw haven't been completely reliable, but according to the last one I got, tomorrow's supposed to be headlined by HHH vs. Michaels, which should be outstanding, with Benoit vs. Jericho on the undercard as a potential show-stealer. 
    Look for highlights coming soon to a "Confidential" near you...
  • Bret Hart's official website has just started a poll that a number of folks felt was intriguing enough to pass along word to me...  at www.BretHart.com, the question of the day (week?) is "Should Bret Appear at WrestleMania 20?".
    When I saw the e-mails, I figured, "Well, how stupid is this?  Of course everybody wants Bret at WM20!"...  it'd be like asking me, "Would you like to be the new bassist for the Foo Fighters?" or something.  A total no brainer.  But I checked it out, and the votes are only running about 2/3rds in favor of Bret appearing at WM.
    So I guess some people are still being salty about Montreal on Bret's behalf?  Cuz lord knows HE'S gotten over it...  Bret and WWE have been on speaking terms for well over a year, now, and this is just the latest indication that a special appearance for the Hitman is a very viable possibility.
    There are so many very good reasons for WM20 to be the time and place for Bret's return... and not a single one I can think of to vote against it.  Anyone out there vote "No" and want to mail me with their reasons?  I'm honestly curious....
  • And last for today, some more TNA....
    On this week's show, Dustin Rhodes made his TNA debut as the Mystery Opponent for Jeff Jarrett.  Dustin's participation in TNA is not exactly shocking, given that his dad's been working for the company as a foe of Jarrett's, but it was still a surprise that went over nicely with the TNA crowd.  Dustin, however, fell short against Jeff due to the incessant interference of Jarrett's cronies (he's got Jonny Fairplay, Don Callis, and the redshirt security guys as his most frequent lackies lately).
    Jarrett's celebration was cut short, however, when it was announced that the TNA Board had assigned a new "Director of Authority" as their last act...  the storyline is that Jarrett had won control of the company the previous week and disbanded the Board, but now, they've made one final last stand...  with Dustin's appearance, speculation might turn to Dusty Rhodes as a decent authority figure, though with the plans continuing for an April Sunday night PPV, somebody like Roddy Piper might be more in line with what TNA needs...
    Speaking of that big full price TNA PPV, the company is really loading up on a roster that will be able to fill up the 3 hours and have some drawing power even with casual fans.
    Dustin should help in that regard.  Piper, Sting, and Lex Luger are all expected back in TNA for major roles at the Sunday night show.  Terry Funk was on this week's show, and TNA could do a lot worse than have him around as a role player and for symbolic purposes on their make-or-break full-price show.  Insane Clown Posse also made TNA debuts this week, and have a loyal fanbase who could help bolster buyraters.  And the company also announced last night that Joanie "Chyna" Laurer would be making her debut for TNA later this month, as well.
    Toss in Toby Keith as a non-wrestling draw, possibly Randy Savage as the top "free agent" who'll face Jarrett in the main event, and a venue that might be Ft. Campbell, KY (where Keith's shtick would go over huge, and where they're still close enough to TNA's home base to attract every single one of the company's regular fans), and you might have a recipe for success.  We'll have to see how things continue to play out....  certainly, TNA is playing it closer to the vest this time, and hasn't announced anything official after the way they were burned with Hogan and their last November PPV plans.
  • That's it.  Enjoy the weekend, and I'll see you on Monday....


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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