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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
WrestleMania, Flair, Jeff Hardy, Title
Changes, and the All Around Wacky
State of the Wrestling Industry Today 
May 1, 2008
 
by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com

 

OK, so I could start with some telling of the story of what happened around here the past month that resulted in OO's new home. Except that (1) it's not a very interesting story, (2) even though it's 95% Network Solutions' fault for being The Single Least Common-Sensible Customer-Service Company In The World, it's also still 5% my fault, and I don't like talking about my own shortcomings, and (3) you couldn't possible care, anyway. All I ask is that if you run across anything broken, let me know (and know you can fix it yourself by taking out the onlineonslaught and replacing it with an OOWrestling); same goes for you guys making a note of my new email address.
 

So let's just forget about it, and start rifling through 5 weeks of pent-up smart-ass pre-ramble comments I've been saving...

Except, well, the more I pent them up, the more mean spirited and vile they get. Let's just say if I let fly, I'd probably have the Secret Service at my doorstep in hours, wanting to interview me as a potential Presidential Assassin. 

 
[Note: nothing could be further from the truth. It's merely gotten to the point where I want to assassinate the Presidential PROCESS. Hilary has been decisively selected against by members of her own party, but in purely hypothetical polls that have margins of error wider than Paris Hilton's vagina, she'd stand a better chance of beating McCain than Obama, so therefore she still thinks she should be nominated. Really? REALLY??? That's how it works now? Well, great: I've been unable to amass a personal fortune through being an Internet Personality, but I just a took a poll (of me) that indicates I'd really like to be filthy rich. MILLIONAIRE ME, PLEASE!!!!! Rick Scaia, Theoretical Internet Tycoon: I did nothing to earn it in Step One, but in Step Three it's agreed that I should have it, so somebody invent the Step Two in which you just give it to me! NOW!!!]
 
Anyway, lest I end up earning the ire of some person or institution that I'd rather not irate, I'll keep it simple and harmless, and stick to the very latest of current events, and joke that I was quite shocked to hear that Roger Clemens is such a womanizer. I feel sorry for these women... I mean, good as Clemens is, it's still been six or seven years since he could get you much further than 5/9ths of the way to where you want to go,before giving way to a bunch of borderline-competent guys you've never heard of who can hopefully last long enough to turn things over to Mariano Rivera to finish you off. Poor girls. 
 
This joke about Roger Clemen's decreased stamina has been brought to you by the International Consortium of People Who Wish You'd Just Shut The Hell Up and Get On With The Wrestling, Scaia. 
 
Oh, OK, you whiners. I'll definitely do a bit of catch-up, starting with WrestleMania and hitting pertinent older news, and then moving us closer and closer to the present day, in roughly-chronological fashion. Enjoy:
 
  • The timing of OO's hiatus couldn't have been worse, as I managed to miss WrestleMania (and all of the sweet, sweet advertising revenue that always goes with it).
     
    Thing is, in build-up, the coverage wouldn't have been much different than the past few years: simply put, WWE's roster has stagnated to the point where it's VERY tough for them to assemble a "Granddaddy of 'em All" that feels like the big ones from the past. The top stars of today just aren't as big as the top stars of before (no matter how you slice it, guys like Austin and Hogan have the word "Era" put after their name for a reason, while Triple H and Undertaker are "Solid Hands" for another reason), and even in the matter of producing middlin' new stars, WWE has faltered to the point that there are very few new iterations that seem fresh and special come WM Time.
     
    The result is a month or so spent wondering "so *this* is WrestleMania, another flaccid retelling of Cena and HHH and Orton?" while WWE insists "Yes, this *is* WrestleMania, because we call it WrestleMania, and who are you to question us?" It's enough to lead to annoyance and prickly heat on the part of some observers, such as myself, who figure there HAS to be a better way.
     
    And while this will go down as basically the fourth straight Mania that didn't *feel* like a Mania heading in (not since 2004 has WWE pulled off that trick), they did catch the same break that they did in 2006: namely, once you ordered the show up, sat back, and watched, you got yourself a Video Keeper. It had nothing to do with "smarky" elements like lowered expectations, it had simply to do with a show that ended up supplying genuinely memorable moments, ones that are not (and SHOULD NOT) be present every single month. Ones that belong on the WrestleMania stage, and nowhere else.
     
    In '06, the satisfying elements were things like Edge/Foley's Match of the Year brawl, the McMahons/Michaels Sports Entertainment Segment, and the sheer wonky back-and-forth inverted emotion behind the HHH/Cena main event. This year, at WM24, you had probably the best Money in the Bank Ladder Match to date, a surprisingly-compelling pay-off to the "mainstream" drawing card (Mayweather/Big Show) that made the previous year's Trump Stupidity look downright pointless, a strong Taker/Edge main event, and of course....
     
    You had Ric Flair.
     
    Here's the thing about that, though: until the night before WM, no part of me was prepared for or anticipating the end of The Nature Boy. The storyline with Shawn Michaels was, to put it bluntly, cheap. Rushed. Granted, it had the kind of "false gravitas" that you can always generate in most babyface/babyface matches, but it didn't have any heft or substance. Surely not enough to justify ending Ric Flair's career over. 
     
    Just another chink in WWE's promotional armor when it comes to creating Sizzle for WM before the show, if you ask me. They have the Vince's Career Threatening Stip, throw it out there in December, have NO idea what to do with it, and four weeks before the biggest show of the year, they throw Shawn Michaels into the mix as the guy who will retire The Man. For the life of me, it felt like a middle chapter in the "career threatening" storyline. Not the climax. Not only did the feel like there might be men more appropriate than Michaels for the job, it felt like -- if Michaels was to be the One -- there were places HBK's character needed to go before he FINALLY did it. Places you go over the span of months, not over the span of 3 weeks.
     
    And yet, there I was on Saturday night, watching my recording of the Hall of Fame, and all of a sudden, Ric Flair can't maintain eye contact with the camera (or a cogent thought for more than one sentence), and I realize: Holy shit, Naitch is saying good-bye. As great a performer as Flair has been (and still was), he telegraphed it big time that night. 
     
    Of course, 24 hours later, it also didn't matter. Newly-foregone conclusion or no, Flair and Michaels turned in an incredible match. You might as well mark it down as 2008's Match of the Year, because it'll take two men not just performing amazing things over the course of 30 minutes inside a 20' x 20' ring, but it'll take them doing it within a storyline context that I'm almost certain cannot be created by any of the monkeys currently handling creative for WWE or TNA to top HBK/Flair. An instant classic, to be sure, and whether it's on the WM24 event DVD or the new Flair DVD that's coming out this summer, it's a match that any reasonably serious wrestling fan will have in his collection, post haste.
     
    Then you can fast-forward another 24 hours, to RAW, where WWE inexplicably put on an hour and 45 minutes of some of their more challengingly-boring programming, before turning things over to Flair's Farewell Ceremony. I wept like a schoolgirl, and I kind of knew I would once I heard some of what was planned earlier that afternoon. It was a shame that Roddy Piper couldn't get free to be a part of the celebration (or anything earlier in the weekend), but he was the only major omission I came up with. Of guys who got "VIP Treatment," only John Cena really made me shake my head (I mean, nobody questions Cena's credentials as a fan or anything, but in terms of development as a performer, a guy like Edge has approximately one billion times more reason to share that moment with Flair than Cena does). But by and large, you can't argue with anything about that night or that moment. Vince and family even had the good sense to keep themselves out of it, as they had next to nothing to do with Ric Flair becoming Ric Flair. Vince may, retroactively, have bought the video library, but he can't buy responsibility for why fans feel about The Nature Boy the way they do.
     
    And on that quip about the Video Library, perhaps I've reached my limit on talking about Flair. For one, it's not like the guy's dead and needs eulogizing; he remains in the employ of WWE, and should for a long time to come. His retirement, however permanent it is, should be viewed as a good thing; I, for one, am happy about the changes that have taken place in the last year that allowed Flair this opportunity (he kept wrestling to right the fiscals wrongs he committed, but luckily, it was decided that it was most advantageous -- not just to Ric, but to his creditors, be they ex-spouses or government agencies -- that he not be wrestling four nights a week at age 60), and look forward to many future bite-sized tidbits of Naitch in the future. 
     
    And for two, it's not like we haven't all known Flair's best days were behind him for years. Which is why we already have such spectacular home video options for reliving Flair's career (with a third multi-disc set coming soon). Said samples from the voluminous Video Library do a better job than I ever could conveying the greatness of The Man. Truth be told, I doubt my credentials to really pay tribute to the guy, anyway. I mean, once I was in high school, yeah: I was at the VERY FIRST EVER Flair/Hogan match (Dayton, OH, October '91) and early exposure to the Apter mags meant I was cheering for Flair then and again at the memorable 1992 Royal Rumble. But it wasn't out of any great appreciation or understanding of Flair's history at that time. It was probably mostly because being a contrary dickweed is what teenagers do, and I was at exactly the right point to want to see Flair stick it to that tired ol' muscle-head Hogan. Years of WWF fandom, and years of thinking WCW's broadcasts on TBS looked pitifully bush league had served me well, but by '91 and '92, I'm glad to say I started to turn it around. The internet and newsletters followed soon thereafter, too.
     
    But before that? I'm as bad off as most of you, and I thank my lucky stars for plenty of Flair videos and DVDs. I think WrestleMania weekend gave us our last-ever fresh material for such home video compilations, but it's hard to really mourn that fact when Ric Flair (with a little help from his friends) managed to go out in such magnificent fashion.
     
  • The rest of WrestleMania? Well, it pales, but it was not without a few items of note.
     
    As mentioned, Edge and the Undertaker got the job of headlining the show (instead of the RAW title match), and they certainly made the most of it. I thought they build-up to the match was inexcusably poor (I have nothing against Vickie Guerrero and her storyline with Edge remaining a going concern, but I think WWE mishandled it badly, a la the craptacular Steph/HHH/Jericho nonsense that ruined the genuine intensity of the 2002 WM Main Event; there is something very wrong when the first -- and ONLY -- really excellent promo of the build-up happens on the night of the PPV, hours before the match), but when push came to shove, Edge and Taker delivered just about the perfect "WWE Main Event Brawl." The "streak" continues, the title goes to Taker, and all was well with the world.
     
    Big Show/Mayweather was just about the only good thing about the WM24 build-up... I think I noted this prior to OO's hiatus, but no matter what WWE paid Mayweather ($20m or not), this was a case where I thought they got their money's worth out of a celeb. There were two bona fide "holy shit" type segments using Mayweather, where he got physically involved, where you couldn't help but be sort of interested (even if in a trainwreck sort of way) to see what happened next, and where WWE got tons of free publicity on ESPN and the like. WWE also rolled with the punches, helping to keep the "trainwreck" fears partially at bay, as they allowed fans to turn on Mayweather (who really does exude "obnoxious, eight-grade-drop-out douchebag" with aplomb) and embrace Show (who almost can't help coming off as a sharp and likeable chap).
     
    Then again, as well as WWE handled the unexpected crowd responses and build-up, it would have been just our luck if the match itself still turned into a trainwreck. And I guess it almost did. Mayweather, not exactly the sharpest bulb in the shed, had difficulty grasping the psychological process of building the match. It's not that he had a problem being a heel or anything (he was getting paid, he was going to win, that's really all that mattered), it's just that when told (usually by Shane McMahon, who had brokered the whole deal, or possibly a few other agents and legends the ilk of Pat Patterson) what to do, he thought they didn't know what they were talking about and just wanted to to it his way. Reports indicate that it's only after Triple H stepped in and took over the choreography/booking of the match that Mayweather relented and listened (because HHH is a big bad-ass wrestler that Mayweather sees on TV and who totally kicks ass and knows how to have a match; which, luckily in this case, is true). Trips put more time and energy on WM24 weekend into Show's match than into his own.
     
    It showed. And as mind-numbingly forgettable as HHH's match was (which is par for the course when he and Cena have about 2 years of combined service time feuding with each other and Orton is going on 4 years of being the "Oh, Hey, That Guy's Still Here" Guy), I mean that fundamentally as a compliment, as Show/Mayweather turned out pretty well. Any casual fan who ponied up just because they saw the "WrestleMania" name or saw some clips on ESPN had to have gone away happy, and any serious wrestling fan would have a real hard time finding legitimate fault in the match without resorting to Impact Zone levels of wankery.
     
    The other highlight of the PPV was definitely the Money in the Bank match, which I thought was the best of its kind in its four years of existence. The appeal isn't exactly complicated, either: it just flat-out seemed like they got carte blanche to go out and do whatever crazy flippy shit they wanted. And they did. And it was good. For as much as I'm happy that WWE's 'toning it down" of the past 4-5 years has probably preserved lives and careers, there's still something to be said for cutting loose and doing it right if you're going to be doing it at all. I don't care if it's attempted titillation or crazy spotfest ladder matches: I'd rather you not bother at all than insult me with watered-down or PG-rated attempts at them. Granted, the ladder matches and whatnot have never reached the mind-bending levels of pointlessness as WWE's last half-decade of unhot attempted spankathons, but I think it's safe to say that -- outside of the memorable Edge/Cena match -- there's been a scaling back. I think it's just as safe to say I didn't get that sense so much at WM24.
     
    I appreciated that.
     
  • And speaking of the MitB match: it was won by CM Punk, but you can wager handsomely that that wasn't the original plan. But it's worked out just fine so far, and I've almost forgotten how just-on-the-cusp-of-greatness Jeff Hardy was.
     
    Until two weeks before WrestleMania.
     
    When he failed a drug test.
     
    And lost his IC Title.
     
    And his (likely winning) spot in the MitB match.
     
    And got to go home for 60 days because it's the second drug-related offense for the guy.
     
    D'oh.
     
    Though WWE hasn't specifically identified the substances in question, contextual items (including comments from Jim Ross' blog) confirm that we're talking about another case of Jeffrey's recreational habits, and nothing steroid/HGH/performance-enhancing-related. In fact, in the immediate wake of the suspension (which was handed down to Jeff on a Sunday, and then he was asked to drop the IC Title to Jericho on a Monday), there were even indications that Jeff thought the suspension was stupid, and that he was giving serious thought to taking his ball back to TNA (where testing is, to put it mildly, less stringent than WWE) rather than having to deal with WWE's Wellness Nazis. 
     
    That talk died down fast.
     
    Because just when it couldn't get any worse for Jeff, it did. Later that same week, his house burned to the ground. Nobody was hurt, but Jeff literally lost everything he owned in the blaze: the fire was that bad and on top of it all, he had no insurance. [Trust me, it's been a month since this happened, and I'm still trying to exercise good taste by not joking too flippantly about the irony of Jeff's fire and lack of insurance and the possibly-related issue of him HAVING A FREAKING GAS-POWERED FAKE VOLCANO IN HIS BACK YARD. Too soon, I figure....]
     
    Anyway, something like that happens, and one starts to take a more careful account of one's finances. And one quickly realizes that one might be at a point in one's life where cleaning up one's act to remain employed by WWE in order to cash their large checks would be more sensible than quitting in order to work three days a month for TNA.
     
    Tentatively, Jeff is back on booking sheets for WWE in early June. That's actually a longer lay-off than the mandated 60 days, but as part of the Wellness Program, there's also a clause that allows WWE to extend suspensions until a clean bill of health is obtained (in return, they, of course, pay for any substance abuse treatment programs and the like). However things are being handled by Jeff, it does seem, though, that he's doing what it takes to make himself ready and eligible to return to WWE.
     
    Jeff's suspension certainly puts a different twist on things versus where they were just prior to WM and prior to OO's lay-off. Starting in January, even *I* was marveling at Jeff's development: I thought he'd found that last piece of the puzzle that would allow him to be taken seriously as a main eventer. Sure, Jeff's always been willing to jump off of high places, and he started doing that again with great results in the last six months. Sure, Jeff's always been kind of a fruitcake who seems like he's got a propensity for emo bands and writing shitty poetry, not to mention the less than masculine displays of nail polish and press-on tattoos, and that wasn't changing either. But something about Jeff's intensity seemed to change. 
     
    It could have just been the simple fact that his primary foil was Randy Orton, the intellectually-stunted walking chinlock, and Jeff merely seemed sharp-witted and physically-able by comparison. But I honestly think there was more to it than that, because watching Jeff, and envisioning a possible WWE Title reign (not a long one, not as a signature star, but certainly something crowd pleasing along the lines of Mick Foley's runs), it wasn't just matching up well against Orton that I was seeing. In fact, my favorite part about Jeff's prospects were a feud with Triple H, who is anything but forgettable and mediocre. I thought HHH being "conflicted" as he battled between his "respect" for the young Jeff Hardy and his unquenchable thirst to destroy anything between him and the WWE Title would have been the last great story you could tell before finally giving in and doing the inevitable: putting the strap back on Hunter. Jeff Hardy exists to be "collateral damage" in HHH's path of rage, and the fans have to decide how to react to that (as well as to HHH and Hardy in these roles). It would have been fresh and new, and even a bit more nuanced and complex than your typical WWE storyline.
     
    Of course, WWE didn't explore any of those options, leaving the title on Randall for the slog to WM. And of course, I had a few weeks to act indignant and superior about this tepid turn of events. But now: well, I guess I'm the one who looks stupid.... because what would have happened if WWE had predicated a fresh and compelling and nuanced WWE Title Storyline starting in January on Jeff Hardy as the champion? Well, by the third week in March, they'd have had a real mess on their hands, wouldn't they? Minus ten for utterly disposable Orton-heavy WWE Title feud, but plus several million, WWE, for knowing better than I to not quite trust Jeff Hardy.
     
    With Hardy due back soon enough, we could, conceivably, talk about where he fits in, and if resuming main event status is in the cards for him... but I dunno if that's really how things'll go. Especially in the short term. Certainly, Jeff Hardy is a "free spirit," and that's just fine, it's who he is, and it might even be part of his goofy appeal. Up till now, though, the only real victim of his flakiness has been himself. And maybe his fans (though they always seem to be quite forgiving). This time, Jeff flaked out at the wrong time: this time, the company itself would be within its rights to feel victimized and burned, and restoring that faith may be more than a matter of completing a "letter of the law" suspension.

    As a fan, I guess that disappoints me a bit, considering how easy it is to envision all kinds of shades-of-gray, complex, and compelling storylines for Jeff upon his return, be they with Triple H or CM Punk (who Jeff might see as the owner of "his" MitB title shot) or Jericho (who has Jeff's IC Title) or even a re-establishing winning feud with Orton. But disappointment or no, this is how it should be.
     
    Look: it's the biggest fucking joke in the world that Randy Orton is hanging around with "one strike" against him and has never once really been held accountable for his myriad mistakes. He's had rules re-written and ignored in order to accommodate him, and it baffles me why a company would go to such lengths to prostrate themselves for a guy who isn't even really all that good at his job. But for all my pent up annoyance over that issue, the simple fact is that no part of my own morality allows for me to call for a similar relaxation of posted rules, regulations, and basic human responsibility in the case of Jeff Hardy merely because I find him nominally more talented and entertaining.
     
    Four of Orton's strikes magically evaporating is an indictment of WWE. But the fact is that Jeff Hardy's second strike is an indictment on nobody but Jeff Hardy. And because that second strike actually was entered into the public record (and because a third strike means getting fired, no questions asked), he puts his employer in a tough position.
     
    It'll certainly make for an interesting feeling out process in the next couple weeks or so. I hope it goes quickly, so we can get to a situation that is fair and equitable to all: the suspicious employer, the fallen employee, and the paying fans.
     
  • Trying to keep this in some semblance of a chronological order, I think I ought to touch on updates of a few news items that took place in the few weeks leading into WM, while OO was still around, but which I hadn't yet gotten to in a column...
     
    First and foremost, Rey Mysterio's biceps surgery was deemed a success, although it's also thought that Rey unnecessarily complicated his condition by working two final matches (at the No Way Out PPV and that weeks' SD! tapings) a week after the initial injury.
     
    Against the advice of Dr. James Andrews, Rey worked that last match, and tore the bicep further, before finally getting the repair work done by a different doctor back in his hometown of San Diego. SummerSlam would be the optimistic return date for Mysterio, and if he's able to hit it, it would (if I'm not mistaken) be two years in a row where Rey returns from major injury at or around SummerSlam.
     
    That timing would probably be pretty spot-on for Rey in terms of having an ideal spot into which to return. Without spoiling anything, let's just say I don't think WWE sees Undertaker as a long term babyface champion. And Batista would really be best served with a heel turn. CM Punk and Edge have meshed great together so far, and might carry things for a while (I also keep envisioning the day when Edge is revealed to be a rat bastard who's boning a substantially younger, blonder chick than Vickie Guerrero, possibly leading to a mini-feud with Chavo), but before too long, SD!'s gonna need another babyface to play foil to the undisputed King Of Dickhead who is Edge. Rey could fit in nicely, seeing as how he and Edge have yet to really get to do what it is that they could do in a long-term, uninterrupted-by-injury feud.
     
  • Also in the week or so leading up to WM24, and something I don't think I got to properly address (read: "mock"), WWE found a new home for SmackDown! after being dismissed by The CW... the show will air on MyNetworkTV beginning in September.
     
    As alluded to previously, MyNetworkTV is a "broadcast network" in much the same way that a hot-air balloon is a "conveyance." Yes, technically it will be able to accomplish its specified task, but it's viewed mostly as a novelty, and if you use it, nobody will take you seriously.
     
    FACT: presently, most nights end with Nielsen issuing the disclaimer "there was insufficient data to calculate ratings for MNTV" in their fast national data. In other words: "so few people were watching that even we, with our unspeakable margins of error, are unwilling to go out on a limb and make a guess." [In rough terms, let's say this means that MNTV cannot and has not generated any average weekly ratings higher than 0.5 in its existence. By contrast, the CW's average weekly rating has tended to be around 2.4 or 2.5 -- and yes, that means SD! exceeds that average in most weeks, and they STILL got axed for other reason -- while NBC spent most of this season being lambasted as an abject failure among the four "real" networks for an average weekly rating around 8.0. The CW's ratings would make it a successful cable network; MNTV's ratings would make it "The Ocho."]
     
    FACT: MNTV is hoping to start a brand-building process this fall, and considers "SmackDown!" to be an anchor upon which the network's legitimacy can be built. Previously, the network was a stopgap created merely to fill a void following the UPN/WB merger into The CW, and was thought to have about a 3-year life span before either disbanding or making major moves to turn itself into a real network. This fall marks 2 years, and they seem to be attempting the "real network" route.
     
    FACT: at the same time as the announcement about "SmackDown!" MNTV proudly announced it had signed Flava Flav to develop a new series. Flava Flav is the only other remotely recognizable or marketable entity under the MNTV banner. And frankly, his 15 minutes were up about 18 months ago, weren't they?
     
    Putting it all together: you can spin it however you want (MNTV is spinning it as acquiring a major TV franchise, and WWE is spinning it as, uhhhh, not resorting to webcasting, I guess), but this isn't really good news.
     
    I think we talked about this a bit during the shopping-around process, but WWE's hands were actually tied, because they (quite stupidly) forfeited all rights to negotiate with any non-NBC/Universal-owned cable network for ANY of their programming (even if they offered to to NBC/U first, and they declined). So WWE had to find a network that was "over-the-air" or a broadcast network.
     
    MNTV is the only one of that ilk who took WWE's calls, and they do, technically, qualify. There are 210 metro media markets as defined by Nielsen. Out of those 210 cities, MNTV has a legitimate over-the-air signal in 115 of them (meaning you need no special equipment other than a TV and maybe a basic cable hook-up if yer fancy, to view the channel). Luckily for WWE, this market penetration is much stronger in the larger markets (which make up the majority of US population base). All of the Top 30 media markets are covered over-the-air by MNTV. [Between the "top-heavy" nature of MNTV's penetration and a few cases of market overlap, MNTV claims to be available in 96% of TV households, though no mention is made for how easily available....]
     
    Still: there are 42 media markets in which MNTV is not available by any means, and 42 more markets where viewers require special equipment/services in order to view a local MNTV affiliate on a digital sub-channel (that's how it is for me here in the #55 media market; the largest media market with this problem is #32, Columbus, OH). A final group: 11 fairly sizeable markets have MNTV as a "secondary affiliation" (usually to their FOX channel), which means that the primary affiliation airs in prime time, and MNTV shows air in late night or on weekends, once again where you really have to look for them.
     
    On one hand, WWE fans are loyal, and are known to "follow" their shows wherever they go. [The converse of this, in which WWE fans show up in droves for wrestling, but don't stay tuned for anything else on the same network, is also a matter of record.] So even if it means watching a channel they've never heard of or exploring all new and confounding aspects of their cable package with channels numbered "745.2," chances are good that not all SD! viewers will be lost in the transition.
     
    But on another hand, even the simple move of SD! from Thursdays to Fridays (while on a legitimate network and with proper advertising and so forth) resulted in a perceptible and permanent loss of viewers for SD!. Granted, SD! ratings (unlike RAW's) have been remarkable stable for the past 2 years, even through a network change, but that shift to Fridays was enough to scare off the better part of a half-a-ratings-point of viewers. It's enough to cause some worry in so far as SD!'s chances of surviving the shift to an anonymous and hard-to-find channel this fall.
     
    Making matters worse: WWE had no real choice but to make a deal with MNTV. But you'd think that in that relationship, they'd at least be wearing the pants and calling the shots. Nope. MNTV may be the absolute dumpiest and most frigid of hausfraus, but she's smacking her husband around with authority: SmackDown! will remain planted on Friday nights, despite some hopes that the show would be able to relocate (either back to Thursdays or to Wednesdays).
     
    WWE's "stroke" within the TV/entertinment industry? Fading.... fading.... fading.... RISING.... fading.... gone. Ahhh....
     
  • The most amusing/baffling bit of WM Weekend Fall-out ended up regarding the Hall of Fame ceremony.
     
    Apparently, the vast majority of WWE personnel were really upset and annoyed by The Rock for.... wait for it.... wait for it...
     
    Wait for it...
     
    Upset with him for ENTERTAINING ALL THE NICE PEOPLE!
     
    In short: the Rock has heat with WWE for daring to be one of the two or three most compelling personalities to appear on WWE that weekend.
     
    To make it longer: yes, there are slightly more involved issues, some of them even mildly relevant. Such as (1) The Rock showed up, did his thing, and left the event early rather than mingling. Or (2) the Rock "put himself over" in his extended riffing on current WWE wrestlers knowing full well that he'd never have to return the favor. And (3) the Rock's riffing lasted about 45 minutes and put serious pressure on WWE production crews to edit it down for broadcast and make sure that Flair's segment got adequate time to play.
     
    Of the three criticisms, only the third holds any freaking water with me. Being a clever bastard is not a crime. Being better at something than anybody else is not a crime (even if that something isn't your job anymore, and it still is the job of others). But if the Rock actually threw a logistical monkey wrench into things by not being able to stick to a few loose time guidelines, that's kind of a dick move, and a double dick move if it in any way threatened the established Highlight Of the Night, which was Ric Flair's induction.
     
    The "not-mingling" thing? C'mon, what is this? Seventh grade? And plus, this is two-way street: for The Rock to be in a situation where he has to decide between his "Hollywood image" and mingling with friends, WWE must be compelled to beg him to come back and fraternize (however briefly) to begin with. As soon as the announcement was made that The Rock would be part of the show (inducting his grandfather and father), my immediate quip was "He might as well induct himself, too, for as much as he'll ever contribute to wrestling in the future." And I meant it: one half for the smart-ass-ness of it, and one half for the fact that the Rock deserves to go in now and ain't nothing on that front ever gonna change cuz he's done with the business.
     
    It's a textbook case of co-dependency. Or maybe not quite, I dunno. The Rock just wanted to show up and do his thing because, hey, it's a cool thing to do for your dad and family. But WWE, all clingy and needy and having low-self-esteem, no doubt made all kinds of big overtures to the Rock to get him to show up despite the fact that they know full well that Rocky is done with wrestling. And then they go and get pissy when Rock fulfills his contractual obligations and nothing more? Poor form, WWE. Very poor form. I mean, to people who have reason to believe they are friends of Dwayne Johnson, and if they felt shunned, I understand if he really shunned them. But that's a personal thing. It's not an institutional thing. Institutionally, WWE got exactly what it wanted, and it liked it, and if it was expecting anything different, well then WWE hasn't been paying attention for about the past four years.
     
    As far as Criticism #2 goes? Hoo boy, I could rant and rave all night long about how retarded that one is, but let's just keep it short and simple. To wit: in the process of "putting himself over" during that riffage, The Rock showed a familiarity (and thus, by extension, a lingering fondness) of the WWE product that frankly dwarfs that of -- oh, let's say -- Mike Adamle's. I don't care if the Rock had writers or if he just came up with the first one-liners he could after two weeks worth of watching RAW.... it doesn't matter. In having such killer quips for everybody from Jericho to Triple H's sperm to Santino Marella, all the Rock did was PUT WWE OVER for still having a product that was worth watching and commenting on in hilarious fashion. In other words: The Rock showed that he still thought the WWE was a turd worth polishing. You all know I find that to be noble and commendable work.
     
    So kudos to him, and a one-finger salute to anybody who thinks that the Rock did something wrong by taking it upon himself to be as amusing as humanly possible at the HoF.
     
    Ironically, the Rock's undisputed best zinger of the night came at the expense of a man who might be one of the one's who has the most sand in his vagina when it comes to the Rock's antics: Rocky DESTROYED John Cena with a one-liner about the essentially shittiness of "The Marine" (and then tried to make nicey-nicey by pointing out, "Hey, it's OK. I mean, I made Doom, so what do I know?"). Heading into WM, Cena was quoted in an interview criticizing the Rock for the way he used wrestling and wrestling fans to suit his needs. One got the impression that Cena wasn't a fan of Rocky deciding to be a part of WM Weekend, where he might steal the spotlight from "real" wrestlers.
     
    Granted, that's paraphrasing and maybe reading a bit into Cena's comments, but the gist was that Cena doesn't begrudge Rocky his success, but he does wish he'd quit claiming in interviews that he he still loves and misses wrestling, only to turn around and ignore wrestling and his fans except for the week or two leading up to one of his movies being released. It was sort of "If you love wrestling, then come on, we got guest spots for you, but if you're Mr. Hollywood, then go do that and quit yanking our chains."
     
    Meh. Going back to the CNN Misquoting Fiasco of last summer, one gets the impression that Cena speaks genuinely off-the-cuff sometimes (which I actually respect, and am willing -- in return for his unrehearsed honesty -- to repay with my own effort to understand context and intent). So it's unclear if any of that was intended to be as snarky as it sounded. But also, going back to a comment above: in so far as the Rock is cock teasing anybody in the wrestling world, it's a co-dependent thing. If Vince didn't cling to some irrational hope of getting Rocky back in the ring, *he* is the one who could terminate the relationship quite easily and end all that uncertainty. Yet: he doesn't. In so far as *we* also cling to hope, it's because WWE, as a company, isn't ready to let us forget the Rock, even if the Rock is (probably) ready to be forgotten.
     
    That said: *if* the Rock had one more in him, and the desire to do it up right (a full two-month full-time TV run), the Cena interview and the "The Marine" zinger at the HoF lead me to one inescapable conclusion... Cena versus The Rock would be a license to print money. And it'd be a perfect, synergistic meshing of in- and out-of-ring chemistry.
     
    The fact that anybody could possibly be upset with the Rock over the HoF, and the fact that Cena (by all accounts, one of the more laid back and sensible guys on the roster) is one of the ones most upset are just SO utterly flabbergasting (to the point of being comical), that I can't help but actual entertain the notion that this is some BS planted story, and that the Rock and Cena are in business for themselves, with some sort of delicious designs on WrestleMania 25.
     
    Note: I said "entertain the notion." I did not "report as fact."
     
  • More from the "so stupid I really wish it weren't true" file...
     
    WrestleMania was in Orlando. TNA's home base is in Orlando. Clearly, the twain was done gonna meet.
     
    There was much hubbub and posturing about who was going to do what and try to scoop who's heat and stuff, but most of that was diffused. What ended up being the main "rule of engagement" for the weekend was that there should be no engagement. TNA first forbade it's workers from attending the Hall of Fame (after several had even bought their own tickets, purely as fans, because they like Flair that much), and WWE basically said "don't fraternize with the enemy."
     
    Which is funny, since out of one side of their mouth, WWE will tell you that TNA isn't even on their radar, but out of their other, they're telling their employees to avoid them. Ahhh, the entirely logical and well-placed priorities of Vincent Kennedy McMahon!
     
    Anyway, like I said, nothing much ended up happening, except for that one of the Highlanders stood in line and went to the live edition of Impact that aired on the Thursday before WM. [Incidentally, the live show -- for which TNA had high hopes, seeing as how it might launch both a new era of live shows AND maybe a move to a new night, which also tied into whether or not WWE would be moving SD! back to Thursdays, which turned out to be a non-issue -- did only a 1.0 rating. This was up against NCAA tourney basketball, but also is in line with a recent down-turn in TNA ratings. They've been doing more 1.0s than anything lately, after averaging 1.2s for a while earlier in the year.]
     
    TNA showed the Highlander on camera, and said Highlander immediately received an angry phone call and had to leave the tapings. The next day, he was sent home by WWE management, for the unspeakable crime of liking wrestling enough to go watch it in person. Good christ. It's been a month, and I'm STILL struggling with who the bigger assmunches are: is it TNA for doing something utterly pointless knowing that they might be risking HIS job for absolutely no gain of their own? Or is it WWE for thinking this matters in any way?
     
    I'll let you decide (and feel free to let me know your verdict).
     
    All I know is said Highlander got squashed on RAW this week by JBL, which reeks of the wrestling fraternity's immature form of "locker room justice," and for all I know may well be the set-up to release the Highlanders as part of the annual "spring cleaning" (so far, only a few developmental talents and also Balls Mahoney have been let go, again a testament to how thin the WWE roster is, and how few truly disposable workers they have left). If that's what happens, it'll be a real shame.
     
    Let me explain it to you this way: the only WrestleMania I ever attended was WM8 in Indianapolis. It turned out that Brian Pillman (up-and-coming WCW wrestler at the time) had bought a ticket and was seated near me. This incident caused a greater stir among a greater number of fans (all seated in about 3 adjecent sections of the Hoosier Dome) than a Highlander being shown on TV to TNA's audience of dozens. So just freaking chill, everybody...
     
  • Other notable post-WM fall-out: Trish Stratus is unamused by what the women's division has become. And I [heart] her all the more, as result.
     
    Her thesis, in a radio interview, is not much different from that which I've long espoused. When asked about the "BunnyMania" match at WM24 (which involved Women's Champ Beth Phoenix in the same match with Maria and Ashley), Trish said: "I have always been this way. I just think there is a place for it because they've got the deal with Playboy. Obviously there's a place for that, there always will be, but I really think they could always provide the other side. That's kind of what I did." Yes. Yes, you did, Trish.
     
    Ladies and gentlemen, hear me and hear me well: it is only through a separation of titties and workrate that we will achieve a more perfect union. For with this division, we may come to more completely appreciate BOTH titties and workrate and to pay them the respect and honor they deserve. A wang divided against itself cannot stand. And so on and so forth....
     
    Seriously: I got nothing against Maria and whoever, who are all as pretty as you please and in most cases, even seem to be trying pretty hard. But the way WWE handles things sometimes, you'd think that there wasn't a world with Trishes (and Mollys and Litas and Ivorys and Victorias and - lately - Michelle McCools and pretty much every chick in TNA) to choose from when trying to populate a women's division that is imminently watchable for reasons OTHER THAN titties. By which I mean: ass cleavage.
     
    No, I don't. But you get the idea. It probably makes me a shitty person for saying this, but when Titties McSuperbowl reinjured herself, if that has ANYthing to do with Mickie James getting re-pushed (and getting the women's title), then I can't help but sort of feel the ends kind of justify the means. God, I feel like a heel for saying that. Sorry. Candice: my heartfelt apologies and I guess maybe I'll get a tube of Ben-Gay or something in the mail to help with the shoulder, OK, honey?
     
  • The post-WM "debut season" has been really thin this year, but that's just because Johnny Ace is an incompetent boob and the entire WWE Developmental System is quite thin....
     
    Certainly no Brock Lesnars or Umagas showing up this year after WM. Not even a Santino Marella (who debuted last year right after Mania). But if we're talking about divas, well, Nattie Neidhart has now debuted on SD!.
     
    She ain't bad. She ain't had the chance to really show she's any good, yet, either, though from tapes I've seen I'm willing to lean towards the slightly optimistic. Hanging around with Victoria is not going to do the girl anything but favors, and personality-wise, let's just say her version of "Yeah, baby!" already works on levels that her dad's never did.
     
    Originally, Nattie (who is actually going by "Natalya" on the grounds that WWE can copyright it) was going to be a part of the New Hart Foundation stable, which was scuttled last fall when Teddy Hart got fired for being a dipshit. With her presently as the only member of the remaining proposed group with a meaningful TV role (technically, Harry Smith is working Heat webcasts as -- I shit you not -- "The Canadian Bulldog," which has angered at least one highly famous Online Onslaught personality who you should not pretend like you don't know who he is), so who knows if anything will come of that, but for now she seems to be content to cut her teeth on the "b-division" of divas. 'Tis OK by me. Victoria's a good partner, and McCool is more than serviceable as a babyface, and although I can't get over how unflattering the overly-gimmicky character/wardrobe is, there's something about Cherry that I really (really) like. Those four may be the entire SD! "b-division," but if you take an average of the four, they're probably stronger than what RAW's serving up....
     
  • Vladimir Kozlov is the other SD! debut from the past few weeks. If you remember him, it's from 18 months ago, when he was a jolly Russian who just wanted to be friends and meet all the "double-double-E" fans. Which, of course, actually got him a marketable hook, so he was taken off TV, and is now a mute, unjolly Russian without so much as entrance music.
     
    Huh.
     
    Scouting report on this guy was (and still is) that there's definitely a kind of "it" factor to him -- as witnessed by "double-double-E" and his broken English going over so well in limited appearances back in 2006 -- but is an absolute disaster inside the ring in terms of the mental side of wrestling. Probably why the backpedaled from the original version of the gimmick, and probably a reason to temper your enthusiasm going forward.
     
    Though nominally skilled (for real) in some martial arts styles, one person whose opinion I value said that the best comparison for Kozlov among the past decades worth of WWE prospects is a guy by the name of Brakkus. If you remember him, you'll remember that this is not a compliment. 
     
  • In this day and age of Jeff Hardy's second strikes and Randy Orton's missing strikes and all, I'm not quite sure how I'm supposed to feel about this, but....
     
    WWE employee Mike Knox used to live in a southern suburb of Atlanta, near where the old Deep South Wrestling facilities did business. After Mike moved (relocated to the developmental territory in Tampa, FL), the new owner of the house in which Mike lived found a buttload of steroids and syringes and Knox-related paperwork in a crawlspace.
     
    Given the Atlanta media's general byper-sensitivity to anything that could net them ratings like Benoit did, this was a minor story for a few days in early April. And how does said story end? Well, much to my confusion, instead of ending with Mike Knox winning Super Dum Dum Of The Month, it ends with him returning to ECW TV right after the incident was publicized.
     
    Wow. I officially have no idea what the hell is going on, anymore...
     
  • Ric Flair's first major post-wrestling entertainment job was SUPPOSED to be "Hidden Talents of the Stars" on CBS. I believe Flair's talent was ballroom dancing. No word on if he'd be doing it clothed, or in his robe with nothing underneath in front of throngs of horrified observers.
     
    In any case, now we'll never know: in a rare showing of swift and intelligent decision making by TV network executives, "Hidden Talents" was cancelled after one episode and poor ratings. Flair was not scheduled to appear until 3 or 4 weeks in.
     
  • In news that is sort of related: American Gladiators was a pretty big hit for NBC back during the writers' strike, and returns for a summer season this month.
     
    As you know: this was my idea (as publicized well over a year ago in this very column) and I take full credit for knowing that it'd work in an updated prime time format. So suck on that, people who think my irrational hatred of most TV shows means I'm woefully out of touch!
     
    Anyway, this relates to wrestling fans for a few reasons.
     
    One, NBC/Universal returns "Gladiators" to its 8pm Monday timeslot, inviting you (if you are so inclined) to make an evening of Gladiators on NBC and then RAW on USA Network (which they also own).
     
    Two, Hulk Hogan returns as host of the show, and is quickly turning into every bit the ludicrous and borderline pitiable punchline that Lindsay Lohan is.... this week, he's photographed inappropriately oiling his nubile young daughter's bare ass at poolside (just google the pictures, they're everywhere) while his girlfriend (who looks uncomfortably identical to his nubile young daughter) sits one chaise lounge over. Next week? Only the Hulkster knows. Whatchya gonna do when a desperate need for attention (and alimony money) runs wild on YOU???!!!????
     
    And three, if you've been seeing tantalizing new commercials for "Gladiators" where they're hyping some mysterious force of nature that is apparently being restrained in a cage, is 7 feet tall, and weighs 318 pounds? Well, say hello to current TNA (and former WWE) performer Matt Morgan, who will be a Gladiator going by the name of "Beast." Yay? 
     
    For whatever it's worth, don't expect any real acknowledgement of Morgan's day job on either side. TNA may or may not mention it, but NBC's relationship with WWE and TNA's status as a competitor to WWE makes it a legal improbability that "Beast" will be billed as a TNA Superstar.
     
    Instead, he'll simply have to live with being the most unfortunately named of all Gladiators. I mean, I'm not THAT old, surely college kids the world over are still calling the unpalatable swill sold as Milwaukee's Best "Beast," right?
     
  • I guess on that note, it's as good a time as any to also do a quick bullet about TNA. One has to grant that had an eventful month, but from my perspective, the jury is very much out as to whether they've had a productive month while OO has been away.
     
    The big news for them is that Samoa Joe is the new TNA Champ. To some, that's great news and big story. To others, it ranges between several months to a few years too late to be meaningful.
     
    Me? I'm not quite in either of the two camps, as I certainly believe a bigger splash could have been made with Joe as a new signature star if TNA had done this sooner. But I also believe that things like "timing" and "context" are at least partially man-made constructs, and TNA could have re-created the right situation for Joe... and they didn't, which is part of why I feel this title change is less than impactful.
     
    Keeping in mind that I'm actually a pretty big Kevin Nash fan, and personally enjoyed the idea of a Nash/Joe relationship, my first gripe is that said relationship went against what 90% of TNA fans wanted out of Joe. The money-grubbing, politicking, Nash-mentored Joe has a ton of potential in my mind, but when TNA half-assed it and kept trying to have their cake and eat it too by presenting Joe as the babyface versus Angle, I dunno.... it just didn't click for me.
     
    The "over-shoot-fight-i-fication" of the feud fizzled, too. Your mileage may vary, but I figured out long ago that wrestling isn't MMA and vice versa. What I like about one isn't what I like about the other. And after my one genuinely enthusiastic foray into Ken Shamrock WWF Superstar, I sort of gave up on being able to merge those elements with any real success. TNA hasn't given up, and they amped up the Joe/Angle match beyond any "shoot" style presentation done in a wrestling match that I can recall. To the point of it actually boomaranging around and becoming even more fake and forced than a typical pro wrestling match.
     
    Of course, Joe and Angle work really well together and have reached a definite comfort level with each other, so the match itself was solid with a better-conceived mix of styles/tones... but the build-up did them a disservice, I think.
     
    Not helping matters: now that Joe is champ, the first "build him up" opponent is apparently Scott Steiner. What I do to Randy Orton today, I did to Scott Steiner 10 years ago, so you fill in the blanks. Frankly, I don't have the energy.
     
    Following a strong winter phase -- check the archives, I said nice things! -- TNA has definitely started to test my patience. A month spent trying WAAAYYY too hard to find a new way to retell Road Dogg versus Billy Gunn should be enough to justify my annoyance. But it goes deeper than that to a sense that there's just a loss of focus on the Big Picture in TNA right now.
     
    For one, I'm not entirely sure how constructive the big pushes for career mid-carders like Bobby Roode and James Storm are, simply because they are being done at the expense of Booker T and Sting. Am I saying that Booker and Sting -- at this point of their distinguished careers - should be stomping all over the development of younger guys to pad their own resumes? Of course not. But there's a difference between a meaningful act of elevation (which takes planning, timing, and attention to audience buy-in) and just throwing a veteran under the bus because he's willing to do a selfless act.
     
    I'll save back the meat of this discussion for another time (note: it involves bastardizing Newton's Laws to create The Rick's first through third Laws of Gravitas), but the gist is that if you don't have foils who are close enough to equals in the fans eyes, then forcing feuds and storylines like this will actually DELAY the process of the lesser star getting over. Think of it as the difference between how the Rock and Triple H helped each other greatly in opening matches and IC Title feuds, but how when JBL was suddenly thrust (with no qualifications) into the World Title Picture it took him 9 months before ratings stabilized and any fans were taking him seriously. I like Storm well enough (Roode, less so) in terms of potential, but are you really telling me that being presented as the equals of Booker and Sting is doing them any good in the eyes of any but the most gullible of fans?
     
    Another "big picture" problem with TNA lately: it could just be my imagination, but they seem to be hitting on some of the same themes but in different, unrelated storylines, to the point of repetition. For instance, the "all around goofy moron" thing is something usually best reserved for just one character or one inter-related storyline, but TNA's got "Stone Cold" Shark Boy and Curryman and Scared Eric Young and AJ Styles all behaving equally unbelievably, usually in things that have nothing to do with each other. Also, I don't know if it's intentional and leading somewhere or not, but the whole "masked wrestler who we know who it really is" thing would probably work best if being used only once. But instead: TNA's got Chris Daniels doing Curryman, Eric Young doing Super Eric, and Cheerleader Melissa doing Awesome Kong's Translator. In the first and third cases, TNA fans are politely not "spoiling it" for the less-well-read non-wanker fans, and in the second, you're supposed to know the secret identity, but still... something's odd about all that.
     
    In any case, as I mentioned above, the net result has been a likely-significant downward trend in TNA ratings since earlier this year. They're hovering steadily around 1.0 instead of 1.2, and all talks of bi-weekly live shows or switching to a different night/timeslot are currently dormant.
     
  • Compartmentalizing TNA news; Tomko was absent from Impact tapings this past week, and now won't be seen again on TNA TV until after their next PPV. Tomko was addressed tangentially (but reportedly never by name) in a few skits  taped for the next few weeks of TV, although the party line is that nothing is amiss and Tomko will be back next month.
     
    I was too lazy to follow up thoroughly, but I *think* you can take this one at face value, as TNA's been trying to cut a few corners by only flying in essential personnel for TV tapings. On the upside, this probably does force them to plan ahead a bit more in order to be more efficient. But on the downside, since they tape in 2- and 3-week chunks, when they decide not to use somebody (especially the lower on the card they are), it's almost like starting fresh with them when they comeback, instead of how WWE can just choose to "rest" somebody for one week if they're getting over-exposed.
     
    That said, if there is anything going on under the surface, I wouldn't really be too surprised. Tomko's a guy who's really made the most of his post-WWE career. Part of that is all him, working hard and adopting new moves and stuff by finally working outside the "WWE developmental bubble." Part of it's definitely on TNA, too: you know what I said about the disservice TNA is doing to Roode and Storm with their unrealistic pushes? Well, it's the opposite with Tomko, who they treated just perfectly, allowing him to associate with bigger stars in such a way that he was never totally outshone, and slowly got to be accepted on a higher level. Kind of a Batista-with-Evolution thing. If any part of him is feeling unappreciated or something, I guess you'd have to grant him that he's finally earned the right to have a mild hissy fit, and frankly, with TNA morale being what it is (and what it has been for ages), said hissy fit might almost be inevitable from a guy who's now straddling the line between being a pampered ex-WWE star (who generally have no morale issues) and being one of TNA's homegrown underlings (who tend to be perennially miffed).
     
  • Speaking of straddling that line: during the aforementioned underwhelming build-up to Joe/Angle, Joe did interviews claiming that his contract status with TNA was up in the air. This was merely a ploy to perpetuate the TV storyline where Joe would leave TNA if he didn't win the title, and was playing hardball under the tutelage of Master Nash. 
     
    In reality, I think it was less than 9 months ago when Joe himself announced a new multi-year TNA deal.
     
  • Speaking of contracts and the strange things they make people do:
     
    Two weeks ago, WWE pulled Joey Styles from the lead announcer duties on ECW. The published reason is that WWE decided to increase Joey's responsibilities on WWE's website, including overseeing all internet content and integrating more effectively with the on-screen product. Recently, some gaffes had occurred where WWE.com had run with stories that were at odds with material that eventually appeared on WWE TV. Joey, who has lots of experience with ECW's old website and others in the genre, is actually quite qualified to handle this task, and the story of his promotion/new duties is 100% factually true. In so far as it goes.
     
    BUT.... if you, as a thinking human being, are wondering why these new duties would somehow prevent Joey from appearing on TV for one hour a week, lending his uniquely qualified voice to the ECW product, you would be asking a very wise and very relevant question. Sadly, the answer is quite simple: Vince McMahon doesn't like Joey Styles' announcing.
     
    Another typical case where Vince is incapable of grasping that it's possible to do things "not the WWE way," but to still do them very well. Oh well. Vince is probably one of 38 people around the globe who can detect Joey's glaring faults as a commentator, but he's the one calling the shots, so.... since Joey signed a five year contract with WWE in 2005, he gets the WWE.com duties, and probably continues to lend his voice to WWE 24/7 and other ancillary duties, even if Vince thinks he's a blubbering fool.
     
    Replacing Joey on ECW: another blubbering fool with a long term contract that must be justified! Mike Adamle. A bachelor-degree-certified "broadcaster," Adamle came to WWE winter with a resume including lots of football, real sports, American Gladiators, and more, and was compensated well as a result. He also almost immediately proved that no matter what his degree says, there's at least one thing he's unqualified to speak into a camera about, and it's wrestling. Still, he's a "broadcaster" and he can be trained, right? Meh, not so much, it turns out.... his miscues and gaffes (sporadic during his time as a "sideline reporter" on RAW) were amplified tenfold upon his debut on ECW. Compilation videos of his fuck-ups are mild sensations on YouTube, if you want to look them up.
     
    Adamle's reign of incompetence took a turn for the confusing this week, but we'll get to that in a moment. 
     
  • Another announcer shake-up came just one week later, as WWE called Mick Foley and asked him to replace Jonathan Coachman as the lead color analyst on SmackDown!... and here, at least, you cannot argue with the move: even after merely one part-time showing at the Backlash PPV, Mick gives us every reason to believe he'll be an unqualified upgrade.
     
    It's certainly a bizarre turn of events, as Mick's only other WWE commentary experience was during the first ECW One Night Stand PPV where he worked alongside Joey Styles. I (and others) certainly loved the work, though most reports indicated the nicest thing Vince could muster was that the announcing was "authentic to ECW." In other words: shitty.
     
    So the same week Joey leaves, Mick arrives. Huh.
     
    I think there may be more to come here, as I'd been getting an odd vibe from the Coach/Cole duo, and was less than shocked when it was announced Coach would be replaced. It almost had seemed like they were having Cole get "zingers" in on Coach where, previously, Cole is the butt of every joke... I can't explain it, but it was a tangible sense of marginalizing Coach, if you ask me.
     
    For as big a fan as Vince seemed to be of Coach (and for as good as the guy was as a character for one skit a week, rather than as a 2-hour-per-week commentator), it'd seem sudden for Coach to be jettison entirely, but I heard he was absent from the PPV/tapings this week, and certainly anybody who's been following OO for any length of time knows that Coach hs been expanding his non-wrestling sports commentary work, often to my direct dismay. Such as him becoming the lead voice of Atlantic 10 basketball coverage on CSTV this season. Oh the pain of watching the UD Flyers lose! Oh the pain of having Coach narrate it!!!!
     
    Anyhow, we'll have to see what happens with Coachman and his attempt to juggle wrestling and "real" announcing. For now, I'm just pretty stoked to see the Foley/Cole team find a voice; certainly, there are timing/chemistry issues that will have to gel, but I'm confident they will. I mean, Foley's main gift is and always has been his ability to tell a story. It's ingrained, and he's used it with incredible success in the past. The difference is that now, instead of using that storytelling ability to tell stories about himself and one or two opponents, he'll need a broader scope and the ability to have deep probing insights about 20 or 30 different folks on the SD! roster. I have no doubts he can do it, but I'm just saying it's an adjustment from laying awake in bed inhabiting the mind of 2 wrestling foes to script promos and laying awake trying to inhabit the minds of 20 so you have something interesting to say even if it's a Chuck Palumbo match.
     
  • Michael Hayes, who had been the head writer on SD! and a contributor to ECW's creative direction, was suspended by WWE for 60 days following WrestleMania.
     
    It was *not* a wellness issue, and WWE tried to cover it up, but the truth got out: Hayes was suspended for racially insensitive remarks made towards Mark Henry, including use of the dreaded "n-word." Rather than beat the living piss out of Hayes (as he probably could), Henry -- who we all know is not a bad-ass, but rather a giant teddy bear and WWE's most-almost-published poet since the days of Lanny Poffo -- slept on it and decided to report the incident to WWE management.
     
    Hayes -- especially when inebriated, as he was in this case -- has a history of being kind of a dipshit in this general area of decorum (it's been more than intimated that he made both Bobby Lashley and Booker T uncomfortable at times), and so the Fed decided to take this action. This is done despite the fact that pretty much everybody agrees that Michael Hayes -- drunken dipshit and all -- is not a racist in the malignant sense of the word. He just doesn't know better when it comes to choosing his words.
     
    And amplifying that problem: things Hayes thinks he's entitled to say and get away with because he said and did them 20 years ago with co-workers ranging from Junkyard Dog to Iceman Parsons don't quite work the same way when you're Management, and the guy you're just trying to be "folksy" with is technically your employee.
     
    It's a tough situation in the sense that it seems a lot of people don't want to perpetuate a falsely evil image of Michael Hayes....  but at the same time, they can't deny that WWE had to do what they did because Hayes brought it upon himself.
     
    Hayes' departure comes within about 2 months of former SD! head writer Dave Lagana being fired and SD!/ECW creative team member Dusty Rhodes being re-assigned to the Tampa developmental territory as their head booker. Net result: the SD!/ECW creative roster is now every bit as gutted as their talent roster. Lagana seems to have left amidst some bad blood, while Dusty is taking nicely to his new job, so nobody's expecting them back. Hayes will be back, but not till June, so not only are things being done ad hoc for now, but we may see/hear of some current agents getting in on the booking duties, at least until WWE can make another cattle call of c-grade liberal arts school grads.
     
  • On his way out: the [redacted] Khali, who was squashed by the Big Show at Backlash, and will be resquashed tomorrow night on SD!, just to be safe.
     
    His final feud -- intended to be a quick and effective rehab for Big Show following Show's loss to Mayweather at WM24 -- turned out to be an abject failure, in the sense that the match was awful, and WWE knew it would be once they started running house show tests in mid-April. Instead of a glorious victory for Show, proving that even if a 150 lbs. twit can KO him, he can still out-fight a 500 pound fellow giant, Show got a tepid win in a match that even your average fan could tell blew.
     
    Khali has a few acting projects lined up (in India) that require his attention, and supposedly also needs either rest or surgery for a nagging knee condition. A WWE return is not ruled out, but my guess would be that it's a less than 50/50 shot we'll see him befouling our TVs again.
     
    On his way back: Ken Kennedy returned this week to TV after a lay-off nearly identical in length to OO's! His excuse is that he was filming a movie in Puerto Rico. It's not a WWE-sanctioned film, which might give you hope that it won't suck. But it's also a direct-to-DVD film with a title like "Marked For Death IV (Not Starring Steven Seagal)," so don't get your hopes up.
     
    Kennedy returned as a babyface, and is slated for a feud with William Regal, and try as I might, I cant' really find anything to bitch about here. Kennedy's good. In-ring-wise, he's had the same "WWE developmental" watering down done to him (which doesn't dictate what he CAN do, but does dictate what he DOES do), but much like rarities in the vein of Cena and the Rock, he's got the "it" outside of the ring that clearly opens things up to him in terms of crowd reaction/acceptance that just aren't there for your typical developmental cookie-cutter guys. Kennedy's first night ever as a babyface was instantly embraced by live fans, which is all I need to see to sign off on it. Hell, I even like the newest remix of his theme song: it's like they found the shittiest guitar player possible and told him "make this riff rock." The result: lots of feedback and pick hand muting! In other words: for all you know, that's ME playing the guitar, since those are about the only two things I love and do well. God bless you, Kurt Cobain. [And sorry I missed April 8 this year, too, you bastard.]
     
  • In limbo: Santino Marella. As of this writing, he was arrested and booked less than 12 hours ago on drunk driving charges in Tampa, FL.
     
    Here's the catch: he was pulled over at 3am and did fail a field test, despite claiming to have limited his consumption to roughly one lite beer per hour since going out around midnight (he was the "designated driver" of a car full of fringe WWE/developmental employees that included Katie Lea and Kevin Thorne). After failing the field test, he was tested for his blood alcohol level, which was 0.06. That is 25% below the legal limit.
     
    That Santino failed a field test and apparently was driving badly enough to warrant being pulled over? Bad. That Santino equates "slow lite beer consumption" with "designated driver"? Worse. But that he tested well below the legal limit? The guy just might have a case, I dunno.
     
    To the best of my knowledge there is no precedent for this falling under the "wellness program," as there were no sanctions against Ted DiBiase Jr. earlier this year when he was arrested for a "legit" DUI. Unofficially and just in terms of PR and internal trust, maybe Santino did himself some harm, I dunno. But with the reactions he gets, I'd think WWE would try to let this slide as much as possible.
     
    The worst the guy should face is dickhead fans (you know, like us) who hear about this story, and determine that any man who drinks three lite beers, is below the legal limit, and is still stumbling drunk enough to get arrested is a bona fide sissyboy. Considering that his erstwhile tag partner is the posterboy for foo foo drinks with fruit and umbrellas in them, the potential for comedy is unlimited. Santino or Carlito: which is the bigger lightweight?
     
  • And with news fresh from less than a day ago, we have reached the present day, and a chance for me to briefly do a "reset" on things as we start a fresh era of commentary and analysis here at OO...
     
    And an interesting era it is. Not even as wizened an expert as I dares to claim to understand all that is transpiring. And WWE's spastic and random actions (especially in the past week) indicate that they can't make heads or tails out of it, either.
     
    Here's the short of it: on one hand, WWE is getting set to announce WrestleMania 24 as the biggest grossing event in industry history when they do first quarter financials next week. They actually got all three major presidential candidates to submit taped, pandering comments to RAW. Clearly WWE is on top of the world, boasting a heretofore unidentified cultural significance, right?
     
    On the other hand, the presidential comments were embarrassing to watch and were lambasted in other media outlets that thought *they* were the bottom of the barrel when it came to TV that candidates had to pretend to care about (Jon Stewart did this especially well). And more telling, WWE TV ratings -- regardless of the one-night grandeur of WM24 -- are at a 10 year low, with RAW specifically having its worth six-month stretch of ratings since early 1997 (SD! and ECW are both relatively steady versus last year, albeit both at levels that are depressed versus the more distant past).
     
    It's a riddle wrapped in a conundrum inside a mystery resting upon an anomaly, and yadda yadda yadda... WWE, as a publicly traded company, is not compelled to care where they're making money, as long as they are making money. And yet, something as alarming as the core TV ratings rotting from the inside out, and stinking worse than they have in a decade has GOT to be on their radar.
     
    How does WWE deal with this and try to make sense of two seemingly divergent sets of data? Well, it appears the answer is "not very well."
     
    And in this case, I honestly don't mean that as some flippant criticism. Because here, *I* don't even know what's going on. WWE's last financials were the start of it: core business revenues (mostly driven by an upsurge in house shows) were stronger than they'd been in a while, even as TV ratings and PPV buyrates were continuing their downward trend. Now, those trends are amplified, with the exception of WM24 being predicted to do on the order of 1.3 million buys. It's confounding, and as somebody who prides himself on not talking out of his ass, ever, I can't make bold, authoritative proclamations without either more detailed information or three or six months more of the sort of data that's currently available.
     
    I'd assume WWE has better data (and pays competent people well enough that they'd be able to interpret it in a meaningful way), but I still don't begrudge them if they're a bit flummoxed, too. It certainly seems like that's how things are going this past month, anyway. Maybe that's not "institutional flummoxation," though... just knowing what I know of how things work, it could just be Vince not having a clue what's going on, not wanting to let on that he's clueless, and just making up random shit as he goes along to try to look like he's doing something.
     
    Case in point: WWE's latest responses to these issues range from the Utterly Safe and Sensible to the Completely Insane and Incomprehensible. WWE's booking decisions lately are just as schizophrenic as the data that motivated them, it seems.
     
    On the "safe and sensible" side: Randy Orton has finally, mercifully, and thankfully been relieved of his duties as WWE Champion. I say a lot of things about Orton. Some of them, granted, are flavored by my purely personal read on him that he is both of below normal intelligence and an inexcusable choade in real life. It *is* my belief that no matter these personal "reads," they also manifest themselves in his objective, on-screen work in the sense that morons make bad public speakers and that if you're inherently repellent then working in an industry where people have to pay to see you may not be the right career choice.
     
    But that's neither here nor there, as I can leave my personal feelings at the door with regards to Orton, and simply report the following statement: he is the lowest rated WWE champion in over a decade. If I happen to find him uncompelling -- as boring in the ring as he is vapid out of it -- then I have company.
     
    Since the brand split (which, for all intents and purposes, is when the current wrestling landscape was forged, and all ratings and performances since then have been on a level playing field and with equal opportunities to draw viewers), Orton is BY FAR the lowest rated RAW headliner who held the title for more than 8 weeks. Going back further than that, you have the whole WWF "attitude" explosion of 1998-2001, and comparison to that era would be unfair. The last time RAW had sustained ratings this low, it was 1997, Shawn Michaels was losing his smile, and all the cool kids were watching Nitro.
     
    Here's the data, in capsule form.... since the brand split in 2002, six men have held the top title on RAW for long enough to "flavor" the show (I set this bar at 8 weeks, two months). Their average ratings, in descending order:
     
    4.07 -- Edge (2 reigns, 12 weeks)
    3.82 -- John Cena (3 reigns, 108 weeks)
    3.80 -- Chris Benoit (1 reign, 22 weeks)
    3.76 -- Triple H (5 reigns, 89 weeks)
    3.59 -- Goldberg (1 reign, 12 weeks)
    3.47 -- Randy Orton (2 reigns, 39 weeks)
     
    It's not even close. I mean, I joke about Nielsen and their margin of error (because they have a huge one, and don't admit to it), but the value of ratings is in trends and data repeating again and again and again. In these measurements, we have multiple data points, and the closest Orton comes to duplicating another performer is Goldberg's reign which even then was widely regarded as a mishandled disaster, aborted after 3 months. Compared to other stars whose reigns have stood the test of time, Orton's in a whole other ZIP Code, not coming within a third of a point of any of them.
     
    In other words: he HAD to be unseated. He wasn't working out. His legacy as this generation's Lex Luger was only gaining in solidity. I don't know if Orton will ever find whatever it is so that the fanbase at large will care about him, but it's clear that he hadn't found it yet.
     
    So WWE did something safe and sensible by putting Triple H over him, and back into the headliner spot. Sure, it's not fresh, and smarks will gripe and kvetch because they're all a bunch of HHHaters, but the guy is more than proven in the role, and it's a role he hasn't played in three years. Going by ratings performance, HHH and Cena are a virtual coin flip: HHH is slightly fresher, and he doesn't still have a few weeks of filming a movie, so he got the nod. Until we can completely reboot the WWE title scene (which is something I don't think is completely far-fetched, as you can insert a returning Jeff Hardy, a re-made Chris Jericho after the other shoe drops on his involvement in the Michaels/Batista deal, possibly CM Punk, a short-term heel in King Regal, and in the not too distant future, even Ken Kennedy), HHH as Champ makes perfect sense to me.
     
    Just a bit ore fun with numbers: as noted above, Orton's last title reign also counts as RAW's worst six consecutive months of ratings since early 1997. Well, actually it's a 3.45 average rating and it's seven calendar months exactly, but who's counting? Not Randall. Numbers makes his brain hurt.
     
    More telling: historically and reliably, the "Rumble to Mania Corridor" has been a strong stretch of ratings for RAW, besting that year's annual ratings average (and usually by more than a few tenths of a point). Keeping in mind that the playing field is level starting in 2003 (the first full year after the brand split), the "Rumble to Mania" (January through March) RAW averages are:
     
    2003: 3.9
    2004: 3.9
    2005: 3.9
    2006: 4.2
    2007: 4.0
    2008: 3.5
     
    Orton's ratings as he quarterbacked the brand to WM24 were basically a full half-point lower than anybody else's during the comparable era. Worse: coming out of WM, the month of April's average ratings usually act as kind of an indicator of whether fans feel like WM gave them what they wanted and if they're re-upping for another year. Historically, RAW retains it's "Rumble the Mania" ratings bump for that month before hitting the summer doldrums.... this year, in 2008, the already horrible ratings plummeted to an April average of 3.2. If "Rumble to Mania" is the ratings high point of the year (and it usually is) and if April is our indicator of how things'll go the rest of the year, one might have projected that Orton would have RAW in the upper 2's by year's end at the rate he was going as the brand's top guy.
     
    It's also worth noting that a new little twist on ratings data is making the rounds, as Nielsen has "changed their policies" regarding DVR viewership, and that could explain RAW's recent dip. Nuh uh. Nielsen has not really changed anything, they've merely added a new metric. The ratings we talk about here (which usually come out late on Tuesday or on Wednesday for RAW) are essentially the same as they've ever been, and represent all live and "same day" viewing of a show. That is to say, if you time shift RAW or otherwise watch it before you go to bed on Mondays, you're still counted in with the same old rating as before.
     
    What's changed as of this calendar year is that Nielsen has tried to be accountable for ALL DVR viewing (not just same day/time-shifted viewing), and released revised DVR Viewership numbers at the end of the week. Since the inception of these numbers, RAW has been on of the higher rated DVR shows (which is to say, they have a higher percentage of DVR viewers versus live viewers compared to most cable shows).
     
    Even this little tidbit is a confounding and self-contradictory bit of data. Does it mean RAW has "hidden viewers" and WWE should be proud? Or does it mean that even among people who deem wrestling worth watching, a larger-than-average percentage of them watch it later, when it's convenient, and when they have the benefit of a fast-forward button?
     
    Trust me, it's not just WWE that should be confused by this: the entertainment industry as a whole still has no idea what all this DVR and internet download viewing really means (and that was a big part of the reason behind winter's writer's strike; trying to affix meaning, and therefore dollar figures, to nontraditional viewing is still an impossible task). But for the most part, I think we should take the minimalist view of incremental "DVR Viewership" gains. Why? Well, for one: that's how advertisers take them, and the only real reason ratings exist is to give advertisers a ballpark idea of what they should pay for ad time. If their ads are being fast-forwarded or are being seen 2, 3, or  5 days after their were scheduled to air (possibly with time sensitive information), then they don't care, and they don't want to pay.
     
    More importantly: even as one of the "most watched DVR shows," RAW is only increasing its audience about 6% once the weekly adjusted figures are in. In other words: all this hubbub about DVR viewership means a difference of 0.2 ratings points. It's the difference between Orton bombing to the tune of 3.2 and bombing to the tune of 3.4.... NOT the difference between a 3.2 and a possibly-defensible 3.9. Adjustment or no, those numbers still suck out loud.
     
    And perhaps THIS is what spurred the past week's spasticity. I mean, installing HHH as champ is a safe and conservative move. But in a ratings free-fall, WWE did something truly unique this week: every single show featured a bona fide "What the fuck are they thinking?" moment.
     
    On RAW, they decided to go off the air without broadcasting the end of the main event. This was, ostensibly, the work of William Regal, who felt "disrespected" by fans earlier in the show. Despite the fact that they've disrespected him far worse in the past, and it was actually Kennedy who dissed him the worst. Still: with no real compelling character reasoning behind it, GM Regal "took RAW off the air" to punish us. Wow.
     
    On ECW, the conducted a main event without announcers, as Mike Adamle threw down his headset and walked off, followed soon by Tazz. It's a storyline that WWE has played up, suggesting that Adamle was upset by heckling from ECW fans who found his commentary inept. Which may be true, but does raise the question: who gives a shit what Adamle thinks?
     
    And SD! will... well, I don't want to spoil tomorrow night's show for those of you who still hold such things near and dear, but I feel quite safe in saying that it's another case of a General Manager acting out in a way that doesn't quite mesh with previously established parameters in an attempt to controversial situation that (maybe) fans will care about.
     
    Paul Heyman has spoken on this issue lately, initially tying his theory into the indefensible decision to replace Styles with Adamle. Heyman believes that -- in the absence of ratings -- Vince is losing his mind and doing any random thing that pops into his head or is suggested to him if he thinks that people will talk about it. The old "there's no such thing as bad publicity" theory. Vince has (be it momentarily or permanently) lost his ability to distinguish Good TV from Crap, so in order to bide the time, he's rubber stamping any random nonsense that he figures his hostage fans will be so perplexed by that they have to talk about it.
     
    In the absence of a better theory, I'll go along with Paul E. on this one.... I don't like it, and I think it's unconscionably stupid, but I can't think of any other reason for what I've seen the past few days. 
     
    All I can say is that I hope that somebody, somewhere sits Vince down and soon, and reminds him that there IS a difference between engaging your audience's emotions in a productive way and outright antagonizing them. And furthermore, all manner of "stunt casting" and "stunt booking" in an attempt to create Water Cooler Content are almost always pointless endeavors: those sort of "moments" can be manufactured at some level, but most times, they are unpredictable and determined solely at the whimsy of us, the Home Viewers. You don't tell us what to talk about: we tell you what we're talking about.
     
    Sorry, but that's just how it is. And this week, near as I can tell, we're not really talking about "OMG, who won between Orton and HHH on RAW?" or "Holy crap, I hope Adamle didn't go gobble both barrels of a shotgun just because I've spent the last week mocking him."  Not only do I suspect an audience of zero for the ultimate fate of Adamle, but among any fans who cared enough to double-check that nothing unexpected happened after RAW was "taken off the air," they got their answer by about 11:15 on Monday, and sure enough: nothing important happened, exactly the same as it wouldn't have happened if you'd gone ahead an aired the non-finish. Yippee?

    Actually, I don't know if that's a "yippee" or not. I mean, christ, even WCW at it's very worst HAD AN ENDING when their went off the air early and held their audience hostage in the middle of a title match (remember the "Robin Hood" incident?)... here, you even out-cheaped Nitro's cheapness by not having an ending to hold us hostage with. You just waited till you were off the air, and then had Regal come out in front of the live audience to call for the bell and the no decision, doing the exact same spiel he did for the "magic cameras" (which, of course, JR and Lawler couldn't see, even though all of us could) five minutes before. Truly, that was a study in not having any clue what the hell you're doing.
     
    On top of all that random weirdness, we've also had stuff like Singing Trevor Murdoch (some kind of homage to the Chicago Bears guy who sang to the jilted Brian Urlacher, maybe? I dunno) and the crowning of King William Regal (who, until this very week, has either been a curtain jerker or a non-wrestling comedy act in WWE, but was suddenly crowned King; not that I mind, but to what purpose is this? Should I get excited for a brief main event push for Regal? Or settle in for a quick squashing at the hands of Kennedy?)... all of a sudden the WWE product has become damned tough to get a handle on. I don't mind, as at least it means I can keep my mind nimble, coming up with new slants on critiquing the product (the old ways and old cliches don't seem to fit just now), but "new" and "different" aren't always good if they don't, ultimately, make some kind of sense.
     
    Truly, that means we're living in interesting times. Who can tell if business is up or down on the whole? And if parts are up and parts are down, which are important? And how should that translate into the on-screen product? I don't know. But I'm glad to be back soaking it all in and writing about it. And at the risk of sounding sappy, it's also my very great honor to have you all back along for the ride listening to me.
     
    See you again next week when... well, when who the hell knows what's gonna happen.


  
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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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