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Exit Sandman, ECW's Future, The Rock
Makes it Official, WWE PPV Preview, More 
September 14, 2007

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


There's a thread in the OO Forums about "Worst Calls" you've ever made regarding wrestling. You know: like thinking Marty Jannetty would be the more successful of the two Rockers...

That got me to thinking if I've missed any calls all that badly so far this year; and I can't say that I have. At least, not about wrestling.

However, I have one mind-blowingly poor call to my credit that I made in my wrestling column, even if it had nothing to do with wrestling, per se.

To wit: it was almost exactly one year ago when Kevin Federline showed up on RAW, and it became apparent they would be building to a Cena/K-Fed showdown. At the precise same time, K-Fed was getting his ass dumped by Britney Spears. I believe my quote at the time was something along the lines of "Welcome back to pop culture relevance, Ms. Spears, I can't believe it took you this long to figure out your mistake."

Whoops. Twelve months later, and one half of the happily-divorced couple seems to be a relatively well-mannered and responsible parent. And the other is a vagina-flashing, batshit-insane, no-talent-having trainwreck. That's not the way I would have guessed it would turn out, but then again: paying attention to the subtle nuances of famous morons' behavior isn't really my strong suit, anyway. I tend to just mock and move on.

By the way: how big an asshole does it make me if I joke that Britney should be grateful for whatever remains of her career, and thank people even more mind-bendingly awful than her for stealing headlines after her VMA performance? Here, I am specifically thinking of Osama bin Laden (whose two hot new tracks were both catchier than Britney's) and OJ Simpson (who is apparently making a play at besting Ronnie Dobbs for Most Arrested Man In America).
Go ahead, Britney: send out some Thank You Notes. If not for thoughtful assclowns like those two, people would have no choice but to still be talking about you, instead. Oh, and while you're at it, thank MTV, too; without their baffling incompetence, the VMAs might actually still matter and might still have huge audiences. But after years of the network slowly morphing into a cosmic joke, the VMAs are a third-rate awards show, and the perfect place for a fourth-rate pop star to showcase her fifth-rate performance in relative anonymity.

In the meantime: eleven days till new Foo Fighters. Eleven days till new Foo Fighters. Eleven days till new Foo Fighters. I am the Rainman of Rock 'n' Roll; and Dave Grohl is my Wapner. Eleven days till new Foo Fighters.

Here's a bit of rasslin' for your weekend perusal:

  • From the "Not Exactly Surprising, But Kinda" File...
    WWE released the Sandman on Tuesday.
    Now, going back to the spring, Sandman was one of the guys widely thought to be on the chopping block as WWE continued to make-over ECW... along with RVD (whose contract was expiring) and Sabu (already in the dog house), Sandman was considered expendable as soon as the "Originals vs. New Breed" feud ran its course.
    So it was a bit of a shock when Sandman was not only retained after that feud, but was drafted over to RAW and given a mini-push over the past few months. If anything, it felt like he had a solid level of job security after coming close to getting fired in June.
    On Monday night, Sandman was showcased pretty nicely, both in a match/angle against Santino Marella, and then in the Main Event Promo where Sandman was the third-to-last man eliminated from the McMahon Bastard Hunt (only HHH and JBL stayed in the ring longer). Then on Tuesday: BAM, fired.
    Again, going back a few months, this is an utterly unsurprising turn of events. But the timing is still awfully odd. A few months ago, it makes sense. A few months from now after all the avenues for using Sandman as a bit player on RAW have been explored, it makes sense again. But now? Huh, that's a stumper for me.
    And I know what you're thinking: No, this is not a Wellness Issue. Sandman has not been linked to any pharmaceutical wrongdoing. Unless it's a PR thing where WWE didn't think it was a good idea to continue showcasing a character whose defining characteristic is drinking beer prior to his matches, this is just a case of the company not having any further use for the guy.
    As odd as the timing may seem, however, this is still no great loss. Consider it the wrestling equivalent of your favorite baseball team designating a rarely-used relief pitcher for assignment.
  • Sandman's release did get me thinking about something the past few nights, however...
    The thing called ECW on Tuesday nights has been essentially unrecognizable as anything previously known as "ECW" for a few months, now. With Tommy Dreamer recently being asked to resume some of his front office duties, you're basically looking at Stevie Richards and a bunch of potential-laden prospects populating a glorified Developmental Territory.
    Oh, and Balls Mahoney. Can't forget Balls Mahoney.
    Anyway: going back to last summer when ECW re-launched, I made it clear that there was no good reason to be 100% beholden to the past ECW stars. Instead, those old stars should be used to faithfully recreate the atmosphere of the old ECW, which could then be used to develop new stars. 
    Sadly, this never happened, and with each departing ECW Original, I begin to wonder about the future of ECW. I wonder about it a lot. because a couple nights ago I realized that there are only 15 weeks left on ECW's current TV contract. 
    After re-launching with strong ratings last summer, ECW can no longer be counted on to deliver anything much stronger than a 1.5 rating (and that's on a good week). While this is acceptable by Sci-Fi Network standards, it's certainly no guarantee of a renewal if executives perceive other problems or inequities (such as how wrestling fits into the network's programming strategy, or how profits from the show are split between the network and WWE).
    This is something that's bound to become a hot topic among wrestling fans in the next month or so. ECW could essentially be dead at year's end. Without a TV outlet, WWE's lone alternative would be to turn ECW into an internet-only brand. Except: unlike the utterly irrelevant "Heat," ECW requires the services of 15-20 additional performers to fill up a broadcast (whereas everybody who shows up on Heat is already under contract and are just RAW guys with nothing else to do in a given week). That makes ECW a huge money-losing proposition if there isn't a TV show involved. That might make ECW a hard sell to investors who no-likey the losing money.
    If it comes to this, it'll be remarkable for two reasons:
    (1) You'll have those 15-20 guys (and girls) who are the core of ECW right now, and you'll have to make room for them elsewhere. Obviously, your CM Punks and your Elijah Burkes can easily step into mid-card roles on other shows without too much trouble. Your Johnny Nitros and Kevin Thornes aren't without potential, either. More than likely, your Boogeymen and Visceras are the kind of guys WWE would like kept around. But that still leaves at least half the roster as marginal prospects for retaining jobs. And what of Joey Styles and Tazz?
    And (2) This will be every bit as monumental a failure as the WBF and XFL and WWE Films. The difference being that nobody ever accused Vince McMahon of knowing jack shit about football or movie-making, but everybody (including Vince himself) thinks he's a Wrestling Genius. This is what he's supposed to be good at, yet: when the chips are down, he will have royally fucked it up to the point that he's single handedly responsible for putting ECW out of business a second time. He did the same thing with WCW, and it once again raises the issue of whether this is outright incompetence on his part, or if it's rampant insecurity that prevents him from letting an "outside creation" thrive. At this point, I tend to think it's a little from column A and a little from column B. The fact that Vince listens to advice from the likes of Kevin Dunn could be grounds for the creation of a Column C, which centers on the incompetence of others and Vince's inability to determine the difference between Good Advice and Bad Advice.
    Whatever the case, this still boils down to ECW's future being quite uncertain right now. It'll be interesting to see how the TV situation pans out. And if ECW does get picked up, it'll be interesting to see if any steps are taken towards making the brand even remotely relevant, or if they'll continue to limp along with 1.3 ratings, and run the risk of a jacked-up 2-hour version of Impact over-taking them as the #3 Wrestling Brand.
  • While ECW rating this week was another disappointment, Monday's RAW did a 3.9, which is approaching levels of early this year, and up a half-point from July's average. And the big number came up against the first Monday of the new fall season, too.
    This appears to be a case where WWE benefited greatly from interest in the McMahon Bastard Son storyline. RAW's first hour did a 3.6 rating, which is not significantly higher than start points for the past several months. But what happened in the second hour -- where the show surged to a 4.2 average -- is what drove the overall bump in ratings. This is the trend when RAW is doing well in the ratings (a second hour that increases a half-point or so), whereas RAW's summer doldrums saw shows where viewership was almost exactly the same at the end of the show as at the beginning.
    One theory I'll throw out there: with the new fall season and Monday Night Football, there are more people sitting on their asses in front of TVs. More eyeballs to draw from. If I weren't lazy, I'd check the HUT levels from Monday versus those from July, but intuitively, if you've got a couple million more people watching the Idiot Box, and some percentage of them are flipping around, it stands to reason you can snare a few of those viewers with a "sticky" show or one promising an interesting climax. They don't have to have set out to watch wrestling, but if they flip past it and see something they like: they're WWE's eyeballs to win or lose. On Monday, it appears they won them.
    Of course, the next logical question is "Having entrapped those extra viewers for the pay-off of the McMahon Bastard Son angle, did WWE satisfactorily pay off on the angle to win those viewers back next week?".... I don't really know the answer to that.
    What I do know is that the revelation of Finlay's Midget as McMahon's son has drawn a lot more scorn and ire than I would have guessed. Myself: I got a kick out of it, though we all know I'm a sucker for midgets, anyway. My amusement runs a bit deeper than that, though: we have to consider the context of this storyline, which was reportedly designed to have a legitimate and serious pay-off involving Ken Kennedy. Further: it was a storyline that was to have been introduced in June, but which was shelved for over a month, and then brought back in a slightly revised form (a situation handled none-too-elegantly by WWE's ever-mediocre Writer Monkeys). On top of that aspect of ham-handedness, then Kennedy went and got himself suspended. But WWE still wanted to pay off on this story and be done with it. Granted, I didn't have high expectations going into Monday, but when Hornswoggle popped out from under the ring, I chuckled and thought that was about as entertaining a cheap "out" as WWE could have delivered.
    It's funny on its own merits (HHH and Vince's facial expressions sold it well, too), it might be good for a few harmless skits going forward (Vince and his own Mini-Me practically writes itself), and most importantly: it doesn't heroically screw up the backstory of a top star (the way, say, Kane will never be able to shake the fact that he's a date-raping, bad-driving Katie-Vick-murderer). A harmless but amusing pay-off to a storyline that could have ended in epically awful fashion. I'll take it.
    Now if we could just get rid of Randy Orton and Candice Michelle, things would REALLY be looking up... either that, or just make sure that each receives a severe Trachea Blow every Monday afternoon so that they can stand around dimly and look Allegedly Pretty, and not befoul our ears with their soul-sapping vapidity. I don't know whose idea it was to put Titties McSuperbowl on guest commentary, but that person should be ejected into the heart of the sun at the earliest possible opportunity.
    Oh, and I wouldn't be me if I didn't also bitch about the fact that -- for a contest that is supposedly an "WWE.com Exclusive" -- they sure as hell wasted a buttload of my time on Monday with Diva Search Crap. Morons.
  • In a recent radio interview, Ric Flair confirmed that he's now expecting to remain a WWE employee. While not denying the speed bump 2 weeks ago, he said it's a matter that's being taken care of, and the two sides are working on achieving agreement on a creative direction for Flair going forward.
    This is a good thing. The thought of Flair working high school gyms for ROH or TNA made me sad. The thought of WWE owning Flair's legacy, but not owning Flair himself, made me sadder. Because let's face it: we all remember how the Ultimate Warrior's career retrospective DVD turned out. This is best for all involved.
  • The Rock (or Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, as he's now being called) has started the promotional rounds for his next movie, "Football Princess Daddy." Or something like that. Perhaps I'm thinking of what the title would be if it were translated into Japanese and then back into English.
    It matters now, however. What matters is that this is the movie that completes the Rock's duplication of Vin Diesel's career path. Start out as a promising action-hero-in-training. Headline a few tolerable shoot-'em-ups. Start making unmitigated crap. Trade in all remaining credibility by starring as a tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold in a Disney-esque kid flick. Way to be, Rocky. At least Ah-nold didn't start pussing it up in movies like "Kindergarten Cop" until he was 50 years old and had grossed eleventy billion dollars worldwide.
    Which makes it all the more ironic that Rock's comments this past week paint him as convinced he's a bankable a-list movie star. In two separate interviews (including one on one of ESPN's mid-day round-table shows), Rock explicitly stated that he's done with wrestling for good, and will never go back because he did everything he could in a wrestling ring, and is 100% focused on accomplishing all sorts of exciting new dreams as an actor.
    One can only assume none of those dreams are "Football Princess Daddy" and acting like a choade for 90 minutes of painfully unfunny gags aimed at 6-year-olds.
    In fairness: Rock's dead-on about the "accomplished everything he could in a wrestling ring" thing. But this is as much a result of WWE's failures of the past 4-5 years as anything. Since Rock's last match in 2004, not a single new real star has been made, not a single new opponent who would be exciting to see Rock face off against presented. It MIGHT be fun to see a Rock/Cena match, just because so much of what Cena does is cribbed from the Rock's playbook (making it an even money on whether their promos would be hilariously prickly, or painfully over-the-top and unfunny). But that's about it. Rocky really has no reason to want to come back to wrestling.
    By the same token, I bet if you really pinned the guy down, he'd admit that right now is as good a time as any to take a public stance against pro wrestling. The guy wants to be an actor, not a "wrestler pretending to be an actor," and with the PR nightmares stemming from Benoit and the steroid scandal, this is the right time for Rocky to be saying "What, me wrestle? No way."
    None of this changes the fact that Rocky can still be one entertaining sumbitch, even if he's picking shitty movies to make and isn't technically a wrestler any more. So I'll tell you that he's scheduled to be a guest on Conan next Thursday (I think), and it's the show where he usually comes off the best. It's been 2 years, now, and I *still* get giggly thinking about the appletini/sippy-cup interview Rock did with Conan while promoting the John Travolta movie he was in.
  • Speaking of ESPN and wrestling's PR troubles.... espn.com currently has two big stories up about wrestling (I don't have the links handy, but both should be easily enough found from the site's front page).
    One is a lengthy interview with Lex Luger, in which Lex talks about how close he came to death in his years spent using and abusing various substances. He even sees fit to admit that maybe, just maybe, he kinda sorta possibly had something to do with Miss Elizabeth's death. Gee, ya think, Lexy? He also says that a stint in the Gwinnett County Slammer straightened him out, and he's now a born again Christian. No telltale signs he's a Jake Roberts-style born again, so hopefully he's serious and is getting his stuff together.
    The other is a further investigation into Dr. Phil Astin, the personal physician who stands charged of over-prescribing for Chris Benoit. That article focuses a lot on the death of Johnny Grunge, a friend of Benoit's and a patient of Astin's. Luger is also mentioned, as he was receiving painkillers from Astin up until his arrest in July (reportedly appropriate amounts of them, for a legitimate hip condition).
    The two articles, together, barely mention the Benoit Family Tragedy, nor the recent suspensions and steroid scandals facing WWE. Instead, they paint a bigger picture of Poor Decision Making, both on the parts of wrestlers and irresponsible doctors. They paint the picture of guys who -- even once out of the business for years like Luger and Grunge -- continued to feel the need to medicate, and continued to have no trouble finding purveyors to provide the medication. Rather than an indictment on the industry or a company, it felt more like an expose on Personal Accountability.
    And you know how I loves me some personal accountability. Check out the articles if you get a chance.
  • Triple H and Shawn Michaels recently spent two days in Louisville, KY, evaluating OVW's developmental program. With the dismissal of Mike "Simon Dean" Bucci, and with Tommy Dreamer still not 100% installed as the full-time replacement as the liason between OVW and Titan Tower, it was decided to just get a couple other eyeballs down to OVW and maybe a fresh perspective on what's going on.
    In the brief visit, the two were said to be more reserved onlookers than anything, though they gladly helped out anyone who approached them with questions. HHH has zero history as a trainer of any kind, but Michaels (during his 4 year "retirement") ran a wrestling school and promotion in Texas that turned out both Spanky Kendrick and Lance Cade. [A nice little bit of trivia you can impress your friends with during the RAW Tag Title match on Sunday's PPV, since I doubt JR will find an excuse to mention they are both protégés of HBK.]
    I gather WWE might continue sending a few guest stars down to OVW as they re-evaluate the developmental program (which has been stagnating for a while, and in which the only real exciting things happening involve the continued progress of the Next Gen Hart Foundation). Some have said that a huge shake-up is not out of the question, with Al Snow being shown the door as the lead trainer of the OVW territory. That'd be a pretty huge mistake, if you ask me. WWE's developmental problems aren't on the ground and in the trenches: they're up at Titan Tower, where certain sycophantic asshats have spent 3 years guessing at what Vince McMahon likes (which is to say "beefy, oiled up hunks of man meat"), and focusing on developing as much of that as possible. I am, however, too classy to name names.
  • And since I touched on it two paragraphs ago, I might as well close out today with a quick mention of Sunday's WWE Unforgiven PPV.
    I apologize in advance for not being able to muster up even a modicum of enthusiasm (and for admitting in advance that on Sunday night, I'll be Curbing mine, instead of watching wrestling). This show re-commits the primary crimes of the SummerSlam line-up: Randy Orton and the [redacted] Khali are once again in the two main events. But unlike SummerSlam, you can't look to a Returning Superstar to save things: unlike HHH and Rey returning against superb opponents, this month, the Undertaker returns to face the human weeble-wobble that is Mark Henry. Oy.
    Here's a look at the 8 announced matches: 
    Cena vs. Orton (WWE Title) -- I didn't give a shit last month, I give less of one, now. Orton's return match is predicated on the sheerest stupidity which, while fitting for him, does not for compelling TV make. In fact, the "Orton kills Cena's dad" bit had the added side effect of making Cena way less likeable. His old, petulant, "I'm over-reacting for no apparent reason, and not doing so in a particularly believable fashion" act was back at full force the last few weeks. John Cena + Unfounded "Intensity" = Eyeball Rolling. Needless to say, there's even less reason for Orton to win the title this month as there was last month. For the sake of the paying fans, I just hope that en route to the Cena victory, the two deliver a match that doesn't outright suck like last month's did. 
    Khali vs. Mysterio vs. Batista (World Title) -- It was gonna be Rey vs. Khali, but once again, it seems WWE has zero faith in fans buying into Rey as a worthwhile underdog champion. So here comes Batista shoe-horned in. Only semi-interesting possibility: Rey wins, but only be sneaking in to steal a pinfall after Batista does the heavy-lifting. Then Batista gets PMS'y, and he and Rey could have a decent little feud for the strap till Edge gets back. The fact that this is semi-clever and intriguing, of course, means that it will not happen.
    Triple H vs. Carlito (No DQ, Sorta) -- Were I to watch this show, this would be the match I'd be most excited for. I like both guys, and the stip where Carlito can do whatever he wants without getting DQ'ed, but HHH is still bound by the rules, is the sort of thing you could have a billion kinds of fun with. HHH may or may not win the match (handing him the DQ loss would be perfectly fine), but you know he's going to hand Carlito his ass before all is said and done. And we're still early enough into HHH's comeback that the fans will go apeshit for it.
    Undertaker vs. Mark Henry -- Duh. Just try not to suck too badly, Mark.
    CM Punk vs. Elijah Burke (ECW Title) -- They already rushed one emergency title switch due to Johnny Nitro's Wellness Suspension. They won't rush another one. Punk gets the win and awaits Johnny's return. Only question is: which Punk and Burke show up? Punk's had a string of really sub-par PPV outings, but still hit the ball out of the park with a strong free TV match 2 weeks ago when he won the title. There's potential here, if they're hitting their stride. Of course, then there's also the whole issue of whether or not the fans will give a shit, either way....
    Matt Hardy/MVP vs. Deuce and Domino (SD Tag Title Match) -- Hardy and MVP are forced partners, who are kind of doing the Pacman/Killings dynamic that they're trying in TNA (except doing it better and doing it first). This was done mostly to mark time while MVP was being treated for a heart problem. Now that his in-ring future looks safe, you probably put the tag titles back on D&D, and then return to your regularly scheduled MVP vs. Hardy US Title feud.
    Cade/Murdoch vs. London/Kendrick (RAW Tag Title Match) -- London and Kendrick are pretty much last second replacements for the recently-fired Cryme Tyme. Which is OK with me, since they are twice as likely to have a good match. Although only half-as-likely to get the crowd into things. Oh well. A total coin flip as near as I can tell; but since Spanky and London are purest whitebread babyfaces, let's have them fall short due to chicanery, and have to continue their chase in a series of Inspirational Rematches.
    Candice Michelle vs. Beth Phoenix (Women's Title) -- A true Double Whammy of a match. If you don't watch it, not only will you avoid seeing Candice "wrestle," you'll also not have to hear the word "Glamazon" uttered even once. Win/win, baby!
    Regardless of whether I watch it with mine own two eyes, OO will still have full results of Unforgiven late on Sunday night, after the show, and then additional coverage and fall-out in the standard OO follow-up column. 
    I'll see you then, kids...

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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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