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Benoit's Contract Status, PPV Buyrate
Analysis, Heyman, TNA, and Lots More 
November 7, 2005

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


You may or may not be able to tell, but I'm basically a man of exceptionally specific tastes. I mean, you should be able to tell how picky I am just by my rants about how 95% of TV sucks, or how I fail to become aroused (as is apparently expected of my gender) when WWE carts out women unless they prove themselves capable of doing more than standing around mutely looking pretty. 

But take my word for it: my ability to find fault at the molecular level, apply insanely high standards, and all around be a picky bastard knows no bounds.

Don't believe me? Then take the following as evidence that I probably get annoyed WAY too easily:

I fricking hate the goddamned "Hot Pockets" people for not making full-size breakfast Hot Pockets.

That's right: *this* is the Issue of Cosmic Significance that is currently weighing 

most heavily on my mind. Because instead of the normal Hot Pocket Standard of 2 Full Size Hot Pockets per box, Breakfast Hot Pockets come 4 Mini Hot Pockets per box. Which, quite frankly, only seems to accomplish one thing: it lets the Hot Pockets people reduce the Filling-to-Crust ratio versus the traditional full-size Hot Pocket. And I don't know about you, but I'm not eating Hot Pockets for the pleasure of gnawing on the oddly-flavorless crust. I find this cost-cutting Flavor Reduction to be extremely annoying.

And I always have, too. It's just that I don't really go in for Hot Pockets all that often, but they're currently on sale for $1.50 a box at Krogers, so I picked up a few last shopping trip (what can I say? I'll buy almost anything if it's 40% off normal price). Just this morning, I was reminded of one of my many pet peeves. And I'm still peeved this afternoon. 

Is it any wonder that you can't spell "finicky" without "Rick"? And an "f"? And an "n," a "y," and an extra "i"? I guess maybe that joke works a little better if I use "picky" instead of "finicky," eh?

Well, who cares? I'm past the ad box, and I think I can scare up a pretty decent slate of wrestling news here today. So let's get to it:

  • We'll start with something that seems to have exploded over the weekend and gotten the internet's collective panties in a bunch...
    Because judging by my in-box, Chris Benoit is as good as gone from WWE. You folks know it because the internet told you so.
    At this point, however, you're probably jumping the gun just a little bit. The real story, as near as I can suss it out, is that Benoit's contract does expire at some point in the next two months (reports vary from late November to January). At present, he has not signed an extension. Anything beyond that is speculation and hearsay, folks.
    I'm not sure who's reporting it, but if you're reading that Benoit has already been low-balled just like Christian and has already told WWE to stuff it and he's quitting and he'll be in TNA by December, you probably should stop reading that website. I know you won't, cuz some of you are just whores for Useless Information and love those newsboard-y type sites where you can click on as many as 15 different "news" items per day; but you should.
    Now, if you want *me* to engage in speculation, I will admit that (depending on specifically when Benoit's contract expires), we are getting close to the point where it's odd that Benoit would not have signed an extension. This COULD suggest that negotiations have opened and Benoit is not satisfied with WWE's current offer. But it could also be as simple as WWE and Benoit not having begun substantive talks about re-signing with the company, and once they hunker down at some point in the next 2 months, they'll get a deal done.
    If it seems like I'm tending towards a less-alarmist point of view than what you've read elsewhere, it is probably because even I cannot fathom the possibility that WWE's institutional retardation is such that they wouldn't desire to keep a guy like Benoit around and wouldn't negotiate in very good faith with him. 
    I mean, with each passing day, it sounds more and more like Johnny Ace is an incompetent sycophant who has badly bungled many aspects of Roster Management because he's more interested in keeping his job than he is in actually crafting the best possible talent roster. His "negotiations" with guys like the Dudleys and Christian are reportedly deals where he goes and says "This is WWE's offer and that's that." But Johnny Ace's  incompetence shouldn't apply in this case... unlike the Dudleys -- who asked to speak with Vince about their contracts with the expectation that they could work things out with the Head Honcho, were told by Vince's people they could speak to Vince, and then were chopped off by Johnny Ace's people and prevented from talking directly to Vince, because Talent Relations is Johnny Ace's domain -- Chris Benoit is a former World Champion, and a guy who is a perpetually legitimate main event wrestler. One would simply have to assume that negotiations with Benoit would be handled in a different way, with the buck stopping at a higher level of management. Hopefully with somebody more sensible than Johnny Ace.
    A few people -- either in the name of playing Devil's Advocate or in the name of being true to their own natures as ass-hatted morons -- wrote in and suggested that WWE would be right to lowball Benoit. Their "evidence" included: a history of injuries, being 38 years old, a "failed" run as World Champ, and a lack of charisma/personality.
    Well, other than the last one, you know what, dum dums? You basically just described Batista. The only difference? Batista is a spry, young 37. So, WWE Defenders, explain to me how Batista rates a raise and a five-year contract extension just 8 months ago, but today, you say that WWE has no business offering Chris Benoit a fair deal.
    I'm serious: both guys do have a "history of injuries," but both have been completely healthy and have missed few if any shows in the past 2 years... both guys are probably at the point where you wouldn't want to offer them any more than 5 more years, but also are still essentially at "peak" levels in terms of pro wrestling... and both guys didn't exactly set the world on fire from a box office perspective with their runs (comparing all stats -- house show attendance, TV ratings, and buyrates -- I defy anybody to prove to me that Batista's run has been any more of a success than Benoit's was; if anything, numbers for Batista are slightly lower, and we'll never know what Benoit might have been capable of if WWE hadn't made the Biggest Mistake of 2004 and gone with the Babyface Orton Project). And yes, Batista might have an edge in terms of personality/promos, but it's not a HUGE edge; and if I wanted to, I could simply note that Benoit more than makes up for that by being about 10 times the wrestler that Batista is, capable of doing other things that will wow fans.
    I mention none of this to denigrate Batista, who I genuinely enjoy (especially when he's being booked properly). I mention it only to shove into the faces of any idiots out there who honestly feel that re-signing Chris Benoit would be a waste of WWE's money... hopefully most of you were just playing Devil's Advocate, though. And hopefully there's not actually anybody up at Titan Tower who feel this way, either.
    Has the business changed since Benoit signed his last contract? Sure, and it might necessitate a different type of contract, one with a little less guaranteed money, but one where Benoit's compensation could still reach previous levels if business picks up. But any attempt by WWE to significantly improve their bottom line by low-balling a talent like Benoit is simply an unacceptable situation, and one that I have a hard time believing would actually come to pass.
    I've been talking about this quite a bit the last few weeks: about how WWE is, in the absence of competition, is content to skate by with declining ratings and an almost-embarrassingly bad on-screen product at times, as long as they remain profitable and are satisfying their networks, partners, and advertisers. Instead of putting the resources into competing with their own past standards of audience size and product quality, WWE is only competing with the bottom line. But if that means that Chris Benoit's contract is a cost WWE's willing to cut, because he's too pricy to compensate fairly, the Fed has officially lost its collective mind.
    I guess maybe I do I fear that -- unlike 1997 and 1998 when the WWF was willing to spend what it took to produce and market the best possible product because they didn't like being WCW's bitch, even though their ratings and revenues were still sufficient to keep the company afloat -- WWE might be trying to cost-cut their way to being a success on paper, without any regard for being a success with fans.
    I really wish something would happen so that WWE would lose face, some kind of a public de-pantsing. Something to make them find their pride, so that they remember, "Hey, just because we're placating USA Network and able to cut our costs enough so that our stock is holding steady doesn't mean that we can forget about years past when our ratings were even higher and when our product was exciting and fresh and connected with fans in such a way that they weren't motivated to boo our babyface champion, en masse."
    As it stands, I think WWE is just too lazy, too complacent, too intimidated, too incompetent, and too mis-prioritized to actually find that pride and compete with its own past excellence. Which is too bad, because I don't know that anybody will ever muster the resources to kick WWE in the balls, to make them second best in the eyes of fans, and to motivate them to deliver the best product possible.
    Let us hope that this stubborn belief that "everything is just perfect and we don't have to try to fix anything at all" doesn't keep WWE from making a serious mistake with regards to Chris Benoit. The Fed's two rosters are already kind of thin, as it is; you don't go and alienate a main eventer at a time like that. You just don't.
  • Something that proves my point about WWE's belief that there's nothing wrong and that they are still god's gift to television:
    On this weekend's SmackDown!, Michael Cole spent countless minutes blathering on about how SD! was the highest rated show on Friday night the week before. Of course, for that to be true, he had to add several qualifiers about specific demographics, but unless you were really paying attention, all you heard was: WWE is still just as popular as ever, perhaps even moreso.
    Which might work on some members of the audience, but which is such a gross misrepresentation, such a pathetic bit of self-congratulation, that it only goes to show that WWE is more concerned about using smoke and mirrors to convince fans that Everything Is OK than they are in putting the same energy into THE ACTUAL PRODUCT. And silly me, I have this weird fetish where I am apt to become more enthusiastic about a show that's ACTUALLY GOOD instead of in a show that desperately clings to TELLING US that they are a ratings success, which clearly must equal quality.
    Who cares that WWE's audience five years ago was about double what it is today? And that the quality of the product was also notably stronger? And that those two things are more than likely related? All that matters is that, if you add enough stipulations, WWE can lay claim to being the most watched show on television's least-watched night. Wheeee!
  • Speaking of SD!, it's rating for Friday was a 2.5, which is down just slightly from the week before, and may well provide WWE with more fodder to brag about their flaming mediocrity.
    And while I might be annoyed with WWE putting so much energy into bragging about mild ratings successes to protect themselves from having to actually acknowledge anything resembling the reality of their situation, I will once again give credit to SD! for putting on 2 hours that were easily better than RAW.
    You had three pretty good matches, and you had the jumpstart to the RAW vs. SD! feud that'll pay off at Survivor Series. You could add up the last 3 RAWs, and combined they wouldn't have accomplished that much.
    Probably the big story was that Eric Bischoff showed up, and in an in-ring debate with Teddy Long, they agreed to a 5-on-5 RAW vs. SD! Survivor Series Elimination Match at the (duh) Survivor Series PPV. It should be interesting to see how that goes down, since it won't be like Taboo Tuesday where SD! sent two babyfaces against two RAW heels; they teams will be Fully Integrated, and having heels and faces interacting opens a lot of doors for storylines after the SS PPV match is done. All signs point to Shawn Michaels and JBL being the "team captains." From there, who knows? Edge and Christian were both slated to be in the match last I heard, but now Christian's gone and Edge is injured, and I'm not sure what effect that might have on things. If I book it, Shawn gets Big Show, Kane, Shelton Benjamin, and Carlito; JBL gets Rey, Matt Hardy, Chris Benoit, and Booker T. [That still leaves  Angle/Cena, Batista/Eddie, Flair/HHH, and Taker/Orton as the other marquee matches; throw in a women's match and a cruisers match, and you're up to a full card.] Of course, with my luck, WWE will forge ahead with crap like Chris Masters and Bob Holly having to be involved in the match.
    Ideally, we'd also have room for each brand to also present a 5-on-5 elimination match of its own, just as a throwback to the True Survivor Series Format, and also as a catch-all to get more guys on the card. Using the line-up I suggested above, RAW could still do a Masters/Helms/Chavo/Conway/Tomko vs. Eugene/Rosey/Tajiri/Venis/Viscera match, and SD! could do a Kennedy/MNM/Regal/Birchall vs. Holly/Lashley/Mexicools match (and it'd be neat to have the heels dominate, take a 5-on-1 advantage on Lashley, and then have Lashley come back to take out everybody by Kennedy, at which point you could have Kennedy puss out and get counted out, which would be a great way to let those two guys shine).
    But I'm digressing, cuz there probably isn't room on the PPV for things like this... and that's because Long and Bischoff have already agreed to another cross brand match, too: Teddy Long vs. Eric Bischoff. Ugh. Why? Any stipulation you want to attach to them fighting (and by christ there had better be one before we get to the PPV), you could just attach to the 5-on-5 match, instead, and with better results. But no: we need a GM catfight, instead. Oh well...
    Other than that:
    Booker/Benoit had a better match than they did the week before, I thought. Whether that's due to a lack of chronic chin-locking, or just because this time there was a distinct heel/face alignment, which meant the fans were more into it, I don't know. But either way, I appreciated it.
    Hardy/Rey vs. JBL/Christian was also quite good, and seems to be establishing Hardy/Rey as a potential full-time tag team. That amounts to an elevation for Matt, but given how well Rey has done in marquee singles action this year, it's almost a demotion for him.
    And Batista/Eddie vs. MNM was good, if kind of predictable in terms of how it had to finish. Batista got distracted, allowing MNM to cheat to pin Eddie... though nothing overt happened after the match, you have to think this could be the seed that eventually grows into Eddie asking Batista for another title match. Since they didn't really do any skits/banter for Eddie/Batista on this show (a mistake, if you ask me, given how strong the chemistry between the two has been), I just hope they continue to play it as deftly as they have till now, with Eddie doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SUSPICIOUS to telegraph that he will, eventually, be turning heel on his amigo Batista.
    I don't really remember anything else from the show... well, Lashley had a squash, which was well and good, but not really anything to give special mention to. I think I FF'ed a lot of the rest of the show... 'tis my right when I'm watching the show on Sunday afternoon.
    That also means I'm not really well equipped to give you any additional details. I'd like to direct you to the Hosehead's recap, but I'm guessing he's still suffering Technical Difficulties. We might be without a recap this week.
  • While on the subject of SD!, I'm going to quickly mention the last SD! PPV, No Mercy. Because WWE apparently didn't exactly have high expectations as it was (the line-up was exceptionally weak, and on top of that, the PPV was competing with Playoff Baseball)... but the information they've received was STILL disappointing.
    No Mercy only did 190,000 buys. PPVs drawing less than 200,000 were unthinkable 3 years ago, and are still rare for WWE to this day. For reference, as recently as this summer, brand-specific PPVs were still drawing around 300,000 buys for events like Bad Blood and ECW One Night Stand (with SD!'s shows drawing just slightly less). I believe that this is the least-watched WWE PPV since the original Taboo Tuesday (which, as you recall, had the misfortune of going up against a Yankees/Red Sox playoff game).
    The dubious performance motivated me to go look up some PPV data to see just how bad things are for WWE. What I found? More evidence that WWE's got problems that they are simply too stubborn to admit exist: namely that from 2000 (actually WWE's "fiscal year 2001") to 2005-to-date (again, WWE's "fiscal year 2006"), WWE has lost almost exactly half of its PPV audience.
    A note: WWE's Fiscal Years end on April 30, and essentially coincide with what most fans would recognize as the "booking year" (which culminates at WrestleMania every year). Thus, "Fiscal 2005" ended shortly after WM21 earlier this year. Basically "Fiscal XXXX" more closely correlates with the the calendar year XXXX-minus-one.
    Using WWE's own annual and quarterly reports for all data through July 30, 2005, and using other accurately-reported numbers for the 3 PPVs since then that have been measured, we find that WWE averaged 667,500 buys per event in Fiscal 2001 (which is actually May 2000-April 2001, and represents the last year of the Monday Night War). So far in Fiscal 2006 (8 PPVs since May 1, 2005), WWE is averaging  297,500 buys per event.
    In fairness: of the 8 PPVs to date, only one represents the traditonal "Big Four" cross brand PPVs, leaving three of those remaining in the 7 PPVs that are yet to come this fiscal year. But with off-month brand-only PPVs floundering, it would take incongruously strong buyrates for the Rumble and WM22 (Survivor Series has historically become a big of an also-ran compared to the other three) to make Fiscal 2006 anything other than a box office flop.
    For your edification, consider these numbers:
    In Fiscal 1999 (which is the year following Steve Austin's emergence as the company's signature star, the first full year of "Attitude," and essentially the year that wrestling started its boom in earnest; it is the first year of the wrestling business as we know it today), WWE averaged 447,500 buys per event.
    In Fiscal 2000 (year ended with WM16, and the year WWE began truly kicking WCW's ass and took over the mantle of the best wrestling company in the world): WWE averaged 574,200 buys per event. This was a huge 28% gain over the previous year.
    In Fiscal 2001 (year ended with WM17, and represents the last year of the Monday Night Wars): WWE averaged 667,500 buys per event. This was a 16% gain over the previous year.
    In Fiscal 2002 (year ended with WM18, and covered the inVasion angle): WWE averaged 595,000 buys per event. This was a nominal 11% loss from the year before.
    In Fiscal 2003 (year ended with WM19, and covered the first year of WWE getting the "F" out because of the panda-huggers): WWE averaged 448,300 buys per event. This was a huge drop of 25% from the year before.
    In Fiscal 2004 (year ended with WM20, and represents the first year of the Brand Extension): WWE averaged 466,700 buys per event. This is a nominal gain of 4% from the year before.
    In Fiscal 2005 (year ended with WM21, and marks the first year WWE attempted running 14 PPV events instead of 12): WWE averaged 377,600 buys per event. This was a significant 19% drop from the year before (but WWE claimed a victory because TOTAL buys were slightly up because of the extra two events).
    So far in Fiscal 2006 (8 PPVs since May 1, 2005): WWE is averaging 297,500 buys per event. This is another huge drop, of 22%, from the year before.
    Looking at the numbers, I think you see that WWE grew quickly, and reached a plateau of success from May 1999 through April 2002 during the latter stages of the WWF/WCW war and the first year thereafter when fans stuck around to see what the WWF would do after buying their competition.
    Then there's one significant drop that takes place, leading to a plateau at a lower level between May 2002 and April 2004. Then there's another huge drop between May '04 and April '05, and currently another huge drop is projected between May '05 and April '06.
    To me, I think the implications are simple: WWE might claim that the first drop-off (starting a year after putting WCW out of business) was a cyclical thing that was out of their control, that wrestling just became "less cool" because there wasn't the Monday Night War going on anymore. But they still plateau'd for two years after that.... then the numbers took another nosedive over the past 18 months.
    It just so happens that 18 months ago is almost exactly where I've pin-pointed WWE current round of creative problems as starting up. So it makes perfect sense to me that there's where a precipitous reduction in the number of people who find the product worth paying for takes place. Is it a matter of too many PPVs? Almost certainly that's a contributing factor to WWE's inability to put together PPV cards that seem compelling enough to justify a price tag... but it's not the only reason. If today's PPVs seem more and more like shows that we used to get for free on Mondays and Thursdays (and they do), it's because problems run much deeper.
    With Taboo Tuesday unlikely to score much better than the low 200,000's, and with SD!'s Armageddon in December a candidate to once again perform below the PPV Mendoza line of 200,000 buys (unless the brand not only continues its current string of strong TV *and* pairs that with a top-to-bottom interesting PPV card), it's hard to see the 2006 average (even with huge audiences for the Rumble and WM22) being anything but significantly lower than 2005's. Since this is one of WWE's major revenue streams, maybe *this* is the dwindling metric that'll finally kick-start them into not sucking?
    Or maybe not: given WWE's current staging/production costs for shows (and the fact that they only net half of the overall PPV revenues once cable and satellite companies get done taking their cut), their PPVs remain profitable even at points well below 200,000 buys per event. I'm not positive where the current break-even point is, but a few years ago, I was talking to somebody who said that as long as WWE did 100,000 buys for a PPV, they weren't losing money.
    And hell, if they ever got down to that point, they'd just cut costs, instead of trying to improve the product so more people would buy it! In the name of keeping the company in the black, Eddie Guerrero can join Chris Benoit and Christian! And maybe we'll only use half-as-much pyro! Makes perfect sense to me....
    Anyways, I hope you've enjoyed this little foray into WWE PPV Buyrate Trends and what it tells us about the company's issues. One drop-off you can blame on cycles and outside factors; but the other one over the past 18 months? That's just you putting out a sub-par product, WWE. The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can reap the benefits of people deciding to throw you $35 per month again... it really is in your best interests to stop sucking, dum dums. So hop to it! If you need help figuring it out, I'm right here, and I'll work for half of what Johnny Ace is making (and I'll only be 0.0000883% as big a cancer to the company as he is; promise).
  • Another possible tack to TRY to get WWE to nut up and actually fix things... although last week's RAW -- which scored a 3.4 rating and put RAW firmly back at the abysmal level of performance they were at during their last month on Spike TV -- is still strong enough to out-score almost anything USA could put on in that timeslot and will be two of the higher rated hours on cable TV for the week, it's still a marked 33% decline from RAW's debut on USA four weeks ago, and in some quarters there WILL be disappointment registered in WWE's inability to retain that audience.
    This becomes a potentially huge deal to WWE because they will be shopping SmackDown! around to prospective new networks starting after the new year. It's considered unlikely at this point that UPN will decide to pick up SD!, as it is at odds with their attempt to re-brand themselves as a Real Network. If UPN does, indeed, pass, then SD! needs a new home. Many believe that WWE's relationship with NBC/Universal (parent company of USA) is such that WWE wants to bring SD! under their umbrella.
    But what if USA feels burned by what it (correctly) believes are sub-par RAW ratings and a company that can't hold on to an audience that NBC/Universal helped deliver to them on Homecoming via a remarkable promotional campaign?
    Suddenly WWE's leverage in terms of getting SD! on USA or another NBC/Universal network is decimated. It is in WWE's best interests to not just placate USA with ratings that are "better than what the 8-billionth replay of The Hulk would have scored," and impress them with ratings that are "better than they expected." Cuz at this point, all parties involved might be putting on happy faces, but there is nothing happy about a media conglomerate busting its ass to create awareness for WWE's homecoming, only to have WWE piss away a full third of the audience they had that night.
    So there you go, WWE: yet ANOTHER reason why you would be best served to quit being so stubbornly in-denial and just start fixing things, so that people are coming to you asking about SD!, instead of you having to go around begging someone else to take it. Cuz trust me, it's one thing if you have to go the TNA route and put your b-shows on the web; but you won't get away with doing the same with a brand that is supposed to be taken seriously as the Equal Of RAW.
    Then again, speaking purely as a fan: if WWE wanted to end the brand split tomorrow, I'd be 100% fine with that. At the very least, recombining the rosters would mean an end to RAWs that have less sizzle than some early editions of Sunday Night Heat.
  • And while on the subject of disappointing ratings, I am sad to report that TNA got some bad news over the weekend.
    Their Thursday night primetime special on Spike drew a 0.9 rating. That is, essentially, exactly what Impact has been averaging on Saturday late-nights. Which means that, despite a MUCH improved time slot and a lot of promotion, TNA only had its existing audience show up to watch. It gained nothing.
    In fact, SpikeTV viewers went out of their way to not watch the special; TNA lost over half of its lead-in audience (a CSI rerun that scored a 2.0 rating). Contrast that to Saturday nights when TNA essentially retains 80% of its lead-in. It might just be further evidence that, for TV Network Purposes, wrestling exists in its own bubble where its ratings are completely unrelated to ratings of shows around it (there's lots of evidence to support this notion, despite WWE's continued attempts to pursue pointless cross-promotion)... but that doesn't mean that SpikeTV won't be a little miffed that TNA couldn't perform stronger.
    There were hopes that TNA would draw a 1.2 or better... nobody expected the difference to be quite as distinct as it is between UFC's crappy reality show and when they do big-ass live events (the live events, at least the first two, roughly doubled the regular series rating). But I think all parties expected to make at least SOME gain over the standard Impact rating. 'Twasn't the case.
    Another disappointing aspect of this: not having any new eyeballs for what was EASILY TNA's best TV show of all times means that they didn't have the chance to win over any new fans for their weekly show. And it also means they didn't get a chance to lure in any potential new viewers for their upcoming PPV. 
    A strong rating for last Thursday, and you get a snowball effect going... more viewers tuning in on Saturdays, more viewers checking out PPV, more faith from the network to give TNA more primetime exposure. As it is, the big two-hour special gives TNA exactly no additional momentum heading forward. Too bad.
  • Speaking of TNA, a quick thanks to everybody who wrote in over the weekend about my Friday column, where I talked about the 2-hour special and how it was entertaining, but still exhibited huge problems that would keep TNA from breaking through to the mainstream.
    I think I expected a lot more angry hate-mail, but it turns out that even most TNA fans who wrote in commended me on focusing on fair and important issues for once, instead of bitching about fricking laser beams and whatnot. Even they agree that there are serious shortcomings in terms of TNA developing characters and stories with real friction and tension, and that's a problem when it comes to presenting matches. They still clearly appreciate the Pure Workrate Matches more than I do, but they admit that at least having heels and faces would be a good thing, and would increase the sizzle of TNA's line-ups.
    See, I *do* so know what I'm talking about! Even about TNA! I'm not biased, I don't have an agenda, I just calls 'em likes I sees 'em. And when I leave the laser beams alone, what I sees is pretty close to what even TNA's fans see.

    Well, their sane and level-headed fans. I did get about 3 dissenting e-mails from people who I'm guessing might be regulars in the Orlando "Impact Zone," or at least would get along smashingly with those pathetic twits. All I can say is you can accuse me of having it out for TNA, but the truth is that I'd be doing the company a bigger disservice if I just blithely said it was such a great product and everybody should watch it (causing people to watch it and wonder what the fuck is wrong with The Rick) than I do if I offer up honest constructive criticism on the easy things they can do to improve the product so that it's actually a legitimate Superior Alternative to WWE instead of a niche product that'll only ever appeal to a tiny subset of wrestling fans. 
  • More TNA news: the company is thinking about finally escaping the aforementioned twits in Orlando by running other venues after the New Year. 
    Well, I'm sure they aren't as concerned as I am about escaping the twits, but this *is* the first step towards TNA being a legitimate grown-up wrestling company. Only after they are running a few house shows to go with their bi-monthly TV tapings will they really be doing the things they need to do to build a national audience and to perhaps compete with WWE.
    The first venue TNA is planning to run: the ECW Arena. Supposedly, they've even gone so far as to reserve a date sometime in February. Huh: 10 years after to took off and 4 years after it died, ECW's still got so much gravitas that a fledgling wrestling company feels like it's gotta prove itself to ECW's fanbase before it'll be taken seriously. That's pretty remarkable.
  • Although, by the time February rolls around, there might be an entirely other reason for TNA wanting to get into Philly...
    Let's just say that Paul Heyman's contract with WWE is also expiring at some point in the next 2 months (like Benoit, I'm unclear on the specific date, but it's coming up soon). He's not signed an extension, and it's unclear if WWE will even offer him one. Heyman's rarely a performer on screen, and he's been unable to maintain a backstage job for more than a few months at a time because of butting heads with asshats on the creative team; in other words, he's getting paid to not do a whole lot.
    Now, that's not quite true lately, as Heyman has single handedly made OVW's weekly TV show a more-than-watchable experience (a case could be made that if you can look past production values, OVW blows away TNA's weekly show). And is it coincidence that most-recent call-ups from OVW (such as Ken Kennedy) have seemed eminently better prepared than their predecessors (Chris F. Masters, anyone?)? Heyman runs OVW's TV like WWE's TV tapings, resulting in more well-rounded performers who need to be able to shine in all aspects of the business if they are to succeed on a Heyman-scripted show. 
    Sadly, I have no idea what value WWE puts on Heyman's contributions to prepping the next generation of wrestlers. Back when Heyman was running ECW, the WWF valued Heyman's contributions on that front at $1,000 per week, if I remember my history correctly. And that ain't gonna be enough to keep Heyman around this time.
    Something WWE should keep in mind: if they ever want to do anything with the ECW brand again (and that's up in the air; despite the hands-down success -- both critical and financially -- of this summer's ECW reunion, factions within WWE feel threatened by that success and don't want to risk fans truly latching on to ECW and possibly thinking less of WWE as a result), WWE simply MUST have Paul Heyman around. I called "douchebag" on everybody who tried to paint One Night Stand as a cheap attempt by WWE to cash in on ECW without having any of the real emotion of ECW (strangely, these same indie-wanker douchebags are the same ones who professed the sheer greatness of Shane Douglas' Hardcore Homecoming reunion, despite that show only having about half the real roster of ECW's glory days). But if WWE ever tried presenting an ECW product without Heyman's participation and blessing, even *I* might question the legitimacy of the product.
    Now: before jumping the gun, let's get one thing straight.... because Heyman could very easily remain affiliated with WWE in some capacity. There's time for him to work out an extension. But it's also likely that if he left WWE, he'd just pursue other things outside of wrestling. Yes, friends and neighbors, Paul Heyman has (more than once) discussed his aspirations to Go Hollywood and get into TV and movie writing. (Strangely, Heyman has even been quoted in the past as supporting the idea of Hollywood writers coming to WWE, since they think of things that "wrestling people" wouldn't. What was not stated in that interview was how Heyman feels when Hollywood Monkeys come up with ideas that don't have any fricking business in wrestling, but still get pushed through.)
    But "What If?"... in a lot of ways, I would consider Paul Heyman to be the move valuable wrestling free agent on the market, were he to leave WWE. Moreso than Christian, moreso than Benoit, moreso than any one man.
    Now, taken together, a group of high-visibility WWE cast-offs like Christian or Benoit would have value as instantly giving the top of TNA's roster the kind of credibility it'll never have as long as we're being asked to take Monty Brown seriously. But if TNA could pluck just one man from the free agent market? They should take Paul Heyman and just tell him, "Book. Book like the wind, you balding Jew."
    Heyman would not only be able to help mold the roster so it's as strong as humanly possible (cutting some chaff, elevating some forgotten talents to important positions, etc.), but he's proven expert at accentuating positives and masking negatives in the past. Which is what you need when your company's golden boy is an amazing athlete who might be a little bit dim and possesses no charisma to speak of. 
    Plus: imagine Paul Heyman getting to tell stories with Raven once again. That would rule.
    Again, we're speculating here, but we're not hurting anyone. Paul Heyman is the last man to have a wrestling company that had to make do with a single hour of TV per week. And with that single hour, he took his company from obscurity to PPV. TNA has proven to be fairly clueless in terms of how to make use of their one hour per week, but they already have PPV and all the other necessary resources.... they've got the horses. They just could really use somebody who actually knows how to run them.
    Something to think about as we keep our eyes and ears open regarding Paul Heyman's WWE contract status...
  • One bit of happy contract news... apparently, after considering leaving WWE to spend time back home in Japan with his family after his contract expires, Tajiri is now in negotiations to extend his current deal, afterall.
    So he's at least CONSIDERING sticking around, assuming WWE offers something worth staying for. I say this is a good thing. And if the deal CAN be worked out, maybe that would mean that Tajiri would once again have a higher-profile on RAW, since WWE wouldn't be under the impression that they should phase him out as a precursor to him leaving.
    If it seems odd that WWE would make amends with Tajiri before some of these other guys like Benoit or Heyman, they do have at least one good reason: Tajiri is one of the few bankable drawing cards the Fed has when they run tours of Japan. In a lot of ways, WWE's success overseas would be adversely affected to a significant enough degree that keeping Tajiri around is important. And it's not like he commands anything near the salary of a Benoit, anyway. Low cost, high returns: that's Tajiri for WWE.
  • And lastly, let's just quickly touch on tonight's RAW.
    We know that the main thrust of the show is gonna have to be getting set for Survivor Series in 3 weeks time. That'll mean getting RAW's side of the RAW vs. SD! story rolling, likely with Bischoff starting to pick his team. As mentioned above, if it's a deal where heels and faces have to work together, it could be interesting to see play out.
    You can also expect to see Kurt Angle chime in with the fact that he was not beaten in the Taboo Tuesday 3-way, and that he's deserving of a one-on-one rematch against John Cena (which is expected at the PPV). We know that the two will also be on opposite sides of the ring in RAW's main event. Cena will team with Shawn Michaels to take on the team of Kurt Angle and Chris F. Masters. Don't ask me why that makes any sense... hopefully, there will be a promo/angle to explain the oddball pairing of Masters and Angle, and give us a reason for Masters to once again be in main events after he's spent the last week being Rey Mysterio's bitch. Honestly: does nobody but me remember the month of September, when Masters was in 3-out-of-4 main events, and RAW's ratings hit a 14-month low?
    Anyway, wouldn't surprise me if Angle once again got the better of Cena in a non-title setting in order to justify his one-on-one rematch. Also: it'll be interesting if being proximate to Shawn Michaels is enough to keep Cena from getting booed...
    I'm expecting that Edge's lack of desire to defend the RAW brand against SD! will make him persona non grata on RAW. If WWE wanted to be clever, this would be a great time (assuming Edge just needs a few weeks off to heal, instead of months off to have surgery) to basically ostracize Edge from everybody on RAW.... you actually make Edge a more and more marginal character with each passing week. But then, as soon as Edge is ready, you have him pull the trigger on his Money In The Bank Title Shot, and do a storyline where the guy everybody hates could conceivably become RAW's champion. The possibilities for complex storylines where RAW bands together to keep Edge from winning their belt (which would allow Edge to go back to his time-tested, whiny "everybody's out to screw me" gimmick) are endless and intriguing. This means that they will not be seen on WWE TV.
    Kane and Big Show are the tag champs. Does this mean resurrection of the tag division? Or Kane and Show continuing to have singles agendas that are at least as important as their teaming together? I'd say it's coin flip which way WWE will go. I'm still guessing that eventually the team breaks up, although I'm hard-pressed to see a heel turn working for either guy at this point.
    I'm sure we've not heard the end of Triple H and Ric Flair. A rematch is a certainty. The only thing I'd suggest: they really need to take the IC Title out of the equation. I'm still unclear as to why they put it INTO the equation in the first place (since the only purpose it's served since Flair won it is having HHH mock it for being a mediocre title)... HHH should cause Flair to drop the strap to somebody who'll actually put it to use. I'd vote Carlito. Or Shelton Benjamin. Except we all know that only one of those two is a viable option in "WWE Think." Dammit.
    Those are about the only top line stories... we'll also see more in the women's division, where Mickie James' loyal idolatry of Trish is surely heading towards her challenging Trish; hopefully we'll find out that WWE has a good idea for how to put Mick Foley to weekly use that won't involve random wrestling matches before Mick's back in shape and ready to compete; and though it seems destined to go nowhere, the repackaging of Gregory Helms should get at least SOME token attention on Monday nights before he's permanently reassigned to Heat.
    Other than that, the thing I might be most excited for is the fact that Joey Styles will apparently be back on commentary again tonight. His work at the PPV was reviewed very positively, and I'd love to hear for myself how Joey does with the WWE product. Oddly, they did not do an injury angle with Coach at the PPV (in fact, he was back on his usual duties for this weekend's Heat), so that won't be the reason he's off headsets. This might mean they go ahead and do some kind of angle/story like we discussed last week, with Coach's loss to Batista earning him some kind of punishment from Bischoff and/or Vince. Either that, or we could be looking at a three-man booth again. Please god: not a three-man booth. I'm beggin' ya...
    So you can go ahead and check out the show to see how RAW gets rolling towards Survivor Series. Maybe WWE will surprise you with a "bounce-back show" after last week's compellingly-awful show and 3.4 rating? And if not? Hey, at least make sure you check out the hour-long block of "Arrested Development" tonight, and your evening's TV viewing won't be a total waste. [Just don't get too attached to "Arrested Development," since I gather that FOX only has a few more episodes in the can and ready to air, and then there'll be a hiatus, because star Jason Bateman had emergency throat surgery last week and will need a few months off to recover...]
    And no matter how your TV Viewing for tonight goes, you Web Surfing for tomorrow will be Guaranteed Excellent. No matter how much it hurts, I'll bring the usual gOOdness in the OO RAW Recap.  What's this gonna be? Thirteen weeks without a break for The Me? Even I'm surprised that I'm still writing recaps that I find tolerable upon a late-week re-reading. But christ can the end of the Broad's Semester of Stupid Scheduling not get here fast enough.... oh how I long for that day, roughly a month from now, when issues of GPA-lowering due to sleep deprivation are moot and I can go back to being a pushy boss who insists Erin actually, you know, do something around here. Like keep me sane by doing RAW recaps at least once a month.
    But that'll be then, and this is still now. So enjoy RAW tonight if you can. And if you can't, you know where to find me tomorrow. See you then, kids.... 

SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
RAW RECAP: The New Guy Blows It
PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
RAW RECAP: The Show Must Go On
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Boot Gets the Boot
RAW RECAP: Heyman Lands an Expansion Franchise
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Losing is the new Winning
RAW RECAP: Say My Name
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Deja Vu All Over Again
RAW RECAP: Dignity Before Gold?
PPV RECAP: SummerSlam 2012
RAW RECAP: Bigger IS Better
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Hitting with Two Strikes
RAW RECAP: Heel, or Tweener?
RAW RECAP: CM Punk is Not a Fan of Dwayne
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Returnening
RAW RECAP: Countdown to 1000
PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Friday Night ZackDown
RAW RECAP: Closure's a Bitch
RAW RECAP: Crazy Gets What Crazy Wants
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Five Surprising MitB Deposits
RAW RECAP: Weeeellll, It's a Big MitB
RAW RECAP: Johnny B. Gone
PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
RAW RECAP: Crazy Go Nuts
RAW RECAP: Be a Star, My Ass
RAW RECAP: You Can't See Him
RAW RECAP: Big Johnny Still in Charge
PPV RECAP: WWE Over the Limit 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: One Gullible Fella
RAW RECAP: Anvil, or Red Herring?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Everybody Hates Berto
RAW RECAP: Look Who's Back
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Care to go Best of Five?
RAW RECAP: An Ace Up His Sleeve
PPV RECAP: WWE Extreme Rules 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Sh-Sh-Sheamus and the nOObs
RAW RECAP: Edge, the Motivational Speaker?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: AJ is Angry, Jilted
RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



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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