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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
Lashley Injured, Hardy Sent Home,
Unbelievable Ratings, TNA Wackiness 
August 1, 2007

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Looks like John Cena catches another lucky break here at OO...
 

For today would have been the perfect day to bust out the facts and figures explaining how he is the most dominant world champ in WWE since Hulk Hogan of the mid-80s, yet does not comes anywhere near close to commanding the same sort of success in terms of fan appeal and TV ratings.

Nope. Can't do that today. But we'll have to do it soon, before

all my ratios and calculations are outdated and have to be redone to account for an extra 2 or 3 weeks.

Instead, today we must cover a different Tale of Woe. Three of them actually. For as much as we lament SmackDown's decline (sometimes due to nothing more than injuries and bad luck), this week it appears that RAW is the brand that is snakebitten.

To wit:

  • Monday night's RAW was rewritten almost entirely in the afternoon preceding the show. This was to accommodate pending absences of Jeff Hardy and Bobby Lashley, both of whom were expected to be key players at SummerSlam.
     
    Instead, at TV tapings on Monday, Jeff Hardy was sent home (for reasons that are still quite mysterious) and Bobby Lashley was diagnosed with a severe shoulder injury (and was "written out" courtesy of an injury caused by Ken Kennedy).
     
    The slapdash preparation was a bit obvious, I thought, and it seemed almost from the opening moment of the show that things were off-kilter. 
     
    For instance, RAW's opening promo featured John Cena, Carlito, and Kennedy. Existing #1 Contender, Randy Orton was absent, and (in an utterly awkward and awful turn of events) Cena was forced to essentially do Orton's talking for him, putting Orton over as a tough competitor (who exclusively beats up on 60-year-old men?) and a worthy challenger. Granted, it's probably a more eloquent presentation of Orton's side of things than Orton could ever stutter his way through on his own, but still.... it's just so damned lazy and unimaginative to have to have Cena talking about how awesome Mantard Randall Orton is.
     
    Meantime, Carlito and Kennedy staking their own claims to the #1 Contendership had the odd effect of blowing up any standing feuds they seemed like they might have been building (Carlito vs. Lashley and Kennedy vs. Hardy both seemed to have seeds planted that might finally blossom later this autumn). Though in their defense, both guys were crazy-over, with Carlito doing an especially good job of playing the eviler of two evils in his mic work with Kennedy (dickishly reminding us that he beat Cena for the US Title twice, including doing so in his debut match). Still, the opening 15 minutes or so of RAW were quite jarring.
     
    Then in the third segment, the planned Umaga vs. Jeff Hardy SummerSlam match was clearly out the window, as Umaga pretty much turned himself babyface by destroying a ranting and raving Santino Marella. Granted, Marella is ostensibly a fan favorite, but his last few weeks are clearly pointing to him being a slimeball; cameras/announcers/truckmonkeys kind of missed it, but I thought the finish of the women's tag match was supposed to convey that Santino was too busy copping a feel on Candice to be paying attention to his woman, Maria, getting pinned in the ring. Needless to say, if they'd more effectively picked up on that, and combined that with Santino's ranting promo (which was interrupted by Umaga), then there'd be no doubt about Umaga being the babyface.
     
    Then the fourth segment was the  Kennedy vs. Lashley match which from the opening moments was pretty clearly being designed to establish a major injury for Lashley. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened, as Kennedy scored the surprise win, and Lashley seemed crippled after the concerted attack on his shoulder.
     
    As interesting as all this nonsensical, out-of-left-field twisting and turning was, it didn't hold up, and RAW kind of fell apart into mere sloppiness in the final hour, including a couple boring squashes, an unsatisfying non-finish for Booker/Lawler (you're telling me Lawler can't do a clean job?), a dead-on-arrival Crime Tyme skit... just now how you build momentum. Things did pick up again just in the final 10 minutes of the show, as Carlito scored the night's second upset win by pinning Superman John Cena. Even with the mild interference from Randy Orton, any loss by Cena tends to be at least a little bit refreshing.
     
    If you didn't catch on to the off-kilter feel as early as I did, I suspect you did by the end of the show. You went from Jeff Hardy and Bobby Lashley being arguably two of the top five guys on RAW to them being written out. All while Carlito and Kennedy got huge pushes into what appear to be top level roles. Along with King Booker, RAW's heel side now appears to be very well fortified. If they don't do anything stupid to undermine that progress, then Cena, the returning Triple H, and the establishing-himself-as-a-babyface Umaga have an interesting set of opponents to keep themselves occupied in the near future.
     
    And no, I didn't forget Randy Orton. It's just that the less I have to think about him, the more enthusiasm I can muster up for the RAW product. The ratings since Orton was pretty much put in place as RAW's top heel (essentially, he's been built up into the role starting immediately with the Draft Lottery) seem to suggest I am not the only one. One can only hope and assume that Orton gets his token title shot at SummerSlam, and then fades quietly into lesser feuds until once again his Density comes calling. I've said it before, but it still holds true: Young Randall, through a combination of seeming both of sub-normal intelligence and of barely-adequate in-ring competence (aside from his chinlocking mastery), simply has all the Gravitas of Ryan Secrest competing in a Heterosexuality-Off. He's just not somebody who an average person is compelled to take seriously. 
     
    Maybe the better comparison is to say that Randy Orton is to wrestling what Paris Hilton is to fellatio. Both look right for the jobs, and both are technically capable of performing the necessary functions. But both do it without any particular sizzle or exceptional brilliance, and frankly, after you've seen them go through the motions once, you couldn't care less if you ever see it again. 
     
    Also: both seem to be phenomenally stupid people with possible tendencies towards mental instability who never earned a single thing in their worthless lives, but have felt entitled to fame simply because of their last names.
     
    But I digress. 
     
    Point is that RAW got flipped upside down on Monday, and though it was not the smoothest of rides, if WWE plays things smart, RAW might be positioned to weather these storms better than SD! has in the past, all by re-aligning things for a fall season built around Cena, HHH, Umaga, Booker, Carlito, and Kennedy. 
     
  • Now... the bad news.
     
    Bobby Lashley will undergo surgery next Tuesday in Birmingham, AL, for a torn rotator cuff. Or at least, that's the expectation. 
     
    This is a situation where the extent of the damage won't be known until Lashley's actually on the operating table. If damage is minimal, and the rotator cuff is just frayed, the procedure with just be arthroscopic in nature (minimal incisions and just cleaning up damaged tissue). A full tear will involve opening Lashley's shoulder up and performing structural repairs. 
     
    Even in a best case scenario, Lashley will be sidelined for 2 months. However, WWE trainers/doctors aren't enthusiastic about getting any good news, and it's more likely Lashley will have the more serious procedure and be out of action until at least January.
     
    This was not a new injury for Lashley, who has been suffering from a shoulder condition for the better part of the past year. You'll remember that he was even pulled off of house shows and did only limited work at TV tapings for about a month this past Spring, in an attempt to re-strengthen the shoulder with exercises and rehab, as WWE had just invested a lot in Lashley by making him the new face of ECW and by putting him in the middle of the Trump/McMahon angle at WM23. 
     
    Alas, that didn't work out, and now, it's to Dr. James Andrews that Lashley must go.
     
  • And some more bad news: 
     
    Jeff Hardy was absent from RAW. Initial reports are that he no-showed, but it now seems that he did arrive at the building on Monday, but was told to go home.
     
    The Hardy Party Line (from the Hardys message board/MySpace) is that Jeff is still experiencing back/neck pain following last Monday's RAW, and so WWE is giving him time off to heal.
     
    And while Jeff did take a rather spectacularly sick bump last Monday, something smells fishy about this explanation. If Hardy were merely still a little tweaked from last week's bump, would WWE have blown up the entire Hardy/Umaga feud with a month still to go before SummerSlam? I don't know, but I'd think they'd at least tread water for a couple weeks to see how Jeff is feeling, instead of turning Umaga face and making Hardy vs. Umaga an impossibility.
     
    Plus: not referencing Jeff at all and not showing the bump from last week strikes me as odd. It was a big spot, and this would have been a chance to say "hey fans, if you're wondering about Jeff, he's not here tonight, and here's why." I guess one rationalization would be that telling fans about Jeff being injured would somehow lessen the impact of the angle they did with Lashley, but still....
     
    I'll not get too much into speculating or rumor mongering, but at the very least, this seems to be a move by WWE that maybe they wouldn't have made 2 months ago. As we talked about with Edge's situation (where he vacated the title, rather than being asked to tough it out for one more match), WWE knows there's a spotlight on them in the wake of the Benoit tragedy. The perception of a destructive "culture of wrestling" where, one way or the other, Vince McMahon is a slave driver who asks too much of his performers is out there and permeating the media. 
     
    A Jeff Hardy with just a sore neck should be grounds for a little vacation and a careful assessment before he's put back in the ring. Turn that into a Jeff Hardy with a sore neck who has also had his Battles With Personal Demons, and you quadruple WWE's reasons for wanting to monitor how Jeff is dealing with the pain so as not to facilitate any poor decisions.
     
    I'm sure if there's more to this story, we'll hear about it soon enough. For now, I'll just hope it's nothing too sinister or serious. Against all odds (and against my own predictions), Jeff has spent the last year healthy and motivated, producing great in-ring results, and clawing his way back to relevance for the first time in years. It's been great having him fleshing out the mid-card on RAW.
     
  • And after the bad news, are you ready for the WORSE NEWS?
     
    Monday night's RAW scored a 2.5 cable rating, with 3.4 million viewers according to Nielsen.
     
    I would like to note that at this time, I'm almost expecting to hear about some glitch in the system or some reporting error by Nielsen. Because otherwise, that number is so horrible that it almost defies explanation.
     
    To put it in perspective, it would be a drop of 0.9 ratings points (26%) from the week before. In the past 5 years, the largest one week fluctuation experienced by RAW (aside from those caused by holidays/preemptions/special situations) has been a 0.6. The 0.9 shift would be unprecedented. A drop to a 2.5 would also mark a loss of 1.6 ratings points (39%) from RAW's average ratings of six months ago. 
     
    Then again, to put it in perspective another way: Monday's RAW was still seen by 2 million more people than watched David Beckham's "huge" debut for MLS on ESPN. And they scored the audience 250% bigger than Beckham without the benefit of ESPN spending 25 minutes out of every hour (on four different channels, for two weeks straight) pretending like America gives a shit about some European Ladyboy and The Desiccated Corpse of The Former Hottest Spice Girl. ZING on you, MLS~! And you, too, ESPN~! Who's NOW, now??!!!???
     
    Anyways, *if* the 2.5 rating holds up, and isn't found to be an error or a glitch, it's also the lowest non-holiday/non-preemption rating for RAW in nearly 10 years.  You have to go back to September 22, 1997 to find a 2.4 rating for RAW (for a show that, ironically enough, was a pretty strong one, featuring Cactus Jack's WWF debut at MSG, among other things) And keep in mind: in September 1997, RAW was head-to-head with the direct competition from Nitro *AND* Monday Night Football was still such a ratings juggernaut for ABC that wrestling always saw a considerable drop-off in viewership every fall.
     
    Here, on the last Monday in July 2007, there is no direct wrestling competition, MNF is still a month away (and is a shell of its former ratings self), and there's no real rationalization for how WWE could score so poorly. Unless you want to blame Shark Week. Go ahead: blame Shark Week. I dare you.
     
    If the 2.5 holds, this will also be far-and-away the least watched contiguous month of RAW in a long time. If RAW had held around a 3.4, they would have matched the Month Of Orton from late Summer 2004 in terms of ratings futility. Now (with Orton once again waxing into prominence), that 2.5 number would drag the month average down to a 3.2. And again, to find RAW performances that poor, you again have to go back to the autumn of 1997.
     
    Still: I've gotta think we'll be hearing about a correction of some kind. The massive one week shift just seems to unrealistic, especially when RAW was already performing so poorly. A 0.9 drop from a relatively strong average might be explainable. A one week drop of that size from an already depleted audience? Tough to buy into. In fact, even during some relatively rough stretches, the worst RAW has EVER scored in the past 5 years has been a 3.0 (during the Orton Debacle of '04) with a few 3.1s and 3.2s in there (during periods such as the Katie Vick mess and when WWE intentionally dogged it for the last month on Spike TV). To suddenly drop a full half-point below that ratings floor doesn't jibe.
     
  • It goes without saying that nobody is pleased with WWE's recent ratings trends. In fact, marking a serious change of policy, even USA Network is now actively working with WWE to make sure the problem is being addressed. 
     
    Now, in almost all TV production cases, a network has a hand in development of creative content. This is obviously relaxed in cases like HBO original shows, and stuff, but 90% of what you see on TV has been vetted and massaged by network executives who give "notes" to writers and directors about how they want things to go on a TV show. Having casting decisions and story arcs influenced by people at the network is the norm.
     
    For over a decade, WWE has been largely exempt from this rule. UPN did manage to exert enough pressure to get the "Muhammad Hassan" character killed off in 2005, but other than that, the unique nature of the WWE product (scripting 50 first-run shows per year, and doing it almost entirely with 7 days of lead time or less; as opposed to producing 13 or 22 episodes per year, each with a script prepared and ready for examination well in advance) has left them free of such issues.
     
    In fact, the last time USA was upset enough with WWE ratings that they took an active hand in helping plot a course for WWE programming was in 1996 and early '97, when they revamped the WWF's TV offerings and helped foot the bill for taking RAW live more often (and then for taking the show to two hours every week).
     
    Now, a decade later, and USA is again displeased. Even before the (possibly erroneous) 2.5 rating, the preceding months of 3.4 ratings had resulted in a vast influx of "notes" from the network to WWE. Precisely what the "notes" contain is not known, though a generally accepted theory is that USA voiced a lack of faith in WWE's "star making" power in recent years and has suggested aggressive recruitment of past stars and free agents to recapture old fans with A-list names, rather than counting on WWE's C-grade creative talents to try to figure out how to attract new fans with a new generation of B-grade performers.

     
    Of course, that's an interesting idea and all, but it's tough to say how feasible it is. A lot of guys who would help recapture past magic for WWE are guys who left the company at least partly of their own accord and who seem disinterested in returning (Jericho, Angle, Big Show, Hogan, and even your types like Christian, the Dudleys, and Trish Stratus would make any show they are on more entertaining and yet have no real interest in returning to WWE). Some other guys are simply "un-get-able"; you think there's enough money in this world to get the Rock to come back to wrestling for anything resembling a regular recurring role? You think there's enough money in the world to get Steve Austin to put his fragile neck (if not his life) on the line by becoming an in-ring performer?
     
    If I'm USA Network, and I want to try a "Hollywood" approach to fixing the WWE product, I might start smaller and be willing to play a long-term waiting game. I'd find somebody with at least a mild interest in wrestling (even if its lapsed), and with a track record of spotting talent. Probably somebody who's been a successful casting agent for a while. And DEFINITELY somebody who's just a regular guy (or girl) who's never once been mesmerized by the hunks of gassed-up manmeat in bodybuilding magazines and is unaware that Vince McMahon actually sees a value to looking like Chris F. Masters versus looking like Edge.
     
    You hire this person for a six month consultation, in which he will attend all WWE TV tapings, and also be on the road for lengthy stays in both Louisville and Tampa (attending not only TV tapings for OVW and FCW, but also putting in week-long stints attending training programs). This person would then, using his/her talents for Star-Spotting (and devoid of WWE's institutional biases), report back to USA on promising performers who are (a) underutilized on the main roster, but are always over with live fans, (b) promising stand-outs in the developmentals who seem to have an "it" factor, or (c) possessing any kind of unique look/attributes that could represent a gimmick or character hook that is as yet unexploited by WWE. And of course, there's always (d) identifying any talents who are not up to snuff and who don't deserve any further promotional effort.
     
    With that six-month report thus generated, USA big wigs can do whatever it is they do to process and synthesize such information, and provide WWE with a set of independent and impartial "notes" about everything from casting, to character development, to storyline ideas. Ones that may or may not end up being any good, but which would at least be a lot more feasible than suggesting that Vince make The Rock vs. Steve Austin the main event at WrestleMania 24.
     
    The quality of the "notes" and results they generate is really all dependent on who USA could find to be a reliable in-house "expert." And you really do need an "expert," because just siccing some TV industry person on the job is a recipe for disaster. Wrestling is unique, and that's part of why WWE gets away with so much freedom from the network (the suits just believe that it's some mystical genre and that Vince McMahon is the only evil genius in the world who knows how things work)... but it's also why -- if USA wants to stop taking Vince's word for it and create some genuine oversight -- they should have somebody in-house who can examine the product in both an unbiased AND informed fashion, so that suggestions made to WWE will not be standard unimaginative TV Executive Drivel or stupid ideas that could never, in a billion years, be implemented.
     
    Then again: WWE could get the best ideas and best "notes," and just ignore them and keep doing things their way out of sheer stubbornness and spite. In fact, I'm positive they would. How many times have you read a great (and reasonable) idea presented on the internets in the past decade, only to turn around and see WWE doing the exact opposite? Well, if you're reading OO, I know that the answer to that question is not zero, at least....
     
    It'll be interesting to see if the situation with USA gets any stickier. It's not like there's any imminent threat to WWE, as their contract with USA runs for another 15 months, and that leaves plenty of time to spite management, and still turn ratings around just enough to make themselves a valuable commodity for USA during a renegotiation. But my guess is that if RAW continues to draw the same sized audience (or smaller) than SmackDown! does (an audience which the CW tolerates only because they know Friday is a TV ratings wasteland, and SD! usually does about as well as you could hope for given the limited audience availability), we'll at least hear some more rumblings from the Network.
     
  • Is there room for TNA to take advantage of WWE's misfortunes, and continue inching towards relevance? Maybe so... though it'd be an empty victory if they accomplished it more because WWE faltered and fell back to them, instead of TNA growing and reaching the point where they were competing with a healthy WWE.
     
    Impact's rating for last week was back up to a 1.1, keeping them firmly entrenched in the tiny sliver between 1.0 and 1.2 where the show was lived for the past several months.
     
    And at TV tapings this week, TNA's roster continued its slow expansion (to prepare for what many feel is the inevitable expansion of Impact into a 2-hour show this fall). Both Matt Morgan and Andrew "Test" Martin debuted. Given Master Kevin Nash's current shtick of "making over" lesser talents by giving them gimmicks from the past, I can't be the only one dying to see him take Test under his wing, and turn him into "Diesel Jr.," can I?
     
    Rikishi is another WWE cast-off reportedly in talks with TNA.
     
    Scott Steiner also returned at the tapings, and the Steiners/Dudleys feud is back on, as expected. 
     
  • TNA's other big news of the week may or may not be news at all, when things are sad and done. They have had preliminary talks with the agent for disgraced Tennessee Titans' football star Adam "Pacman" Jones....
     
    Word leaked out over the weekend (to the dismay of many within TNA management), and it was presented as a done deal, though nothing could be further from the truth. Although Pacman is suspended for the entire season (per his being an accomplice to a shooting in Las Vegas; allegedly), it turns out there are sticking points in the negotiation process because his NFL contract is still enforceable, and would prohibit him from wrestling. Trying to determine what level of physicality would be allowed, and then trying to determine if it'd be worth TNA's money to sign a guy who can't so much as take a bump are the current issues preventing this from being finalized.
     
    TNA hopes, if the deal is to be done, that they might get it done in time to insert a video package/announcement on tomorrow night's Impact.
     
    All I can say about this is: What the fuck are you thinking, TNA?!?!
     
    Seriously: wrestling's already under the microscope because Chris Benoit turned out to be a murderer. Luckily, you -- as a company -- have avoided most of the negative publicity because the media only wants to pick on Benoit's employer. What are you, feeling left out? You want to keep up with WWE, so you find an out-of-work football player who's an accomplice to murder, and try to wave enough money under his nose to get him to come work for you? The fuck?
     
    Unless you've got some master plan to also sign Michael Vick to come in and face Pacman in a non-physical Ultimate Test Of Character (or Lack Thereof), with half the Cincinnati Bengals' roster as the Expert Judges, this is the single dumbest thing you've ever done, TNA. And I still remember The Johnsons.
     
  • As yet, WWE hasn't issued an official response to the congressional request for drug testing records. Well, they issued a response earlier this week, but it was "We've gotten the request and we're looking at it, but we won't issue a real response until we've had our lawyers tell us what to do."
     
    Meantime, one of the biggest shocks I've gotten in recent memory was seeing that Eric Bischoff (yes, he of the delusional and inflated sense of self) had one of the best and most thoughtful responses to the congressional request that I've seen. Or in other words: it was a lot like mine, except not quite as cleverly wordsmithed.
     
    As Bischoff notes on his blog (at ericbischoff.com), he's not a WWE apologist and still has his prickly heat with some in the company. And I'm no Eric Bischoff apologist and would no doubt generate prickly heat with the guy pretty quickly if we were ever in the same room. But on this issue: we're birds of a feather, and think there have GOT to be more constructive uses for Congress' time.  
     
  • I do believe that's all I got for today, kids. Sorry there was nothing happier to talk about. But I don't make the news, I just report it. And this is what wrestling gave me to talk about today.
     
    I'll see you again (hopefully with the long-promised Cena Championship Stats feature) real soon. Later on...


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

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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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