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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
Cena Injured, Foley Gone For Sure, Gail and
Tomko TNA Updates, and TONS More News 
August 28, 2008

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com

 

SEPTEMBER 1, 2008 -- NEWSFLASH
Reports from last night's joint RAW/SD! "Supershow" Tapings indicate that Shawn Michaels may have suffered a severely torn triceps muscle in a seemingly innocuous bump during a "contract signing" segment that will air tonight (9/1) when RAW returns to its normal timeslot on the USA Network.

After initial treatment backstage by WWE trainers, Michaels insisted he would work the upcoming Unforgiven PPV as scheduled. However, following that, it now seems likely Michaels will miss on the order of months as this injury heals; he had been expected (following his brief summer hiatus) to resume a full-time TV role following the PPV. Now rather than helping to cover up the loss of John Cena, Michaels appears headed to the sidelines himself.

More on this situation in future OO Updates. Till then, the gigantic Holiday Weekend OO Update remains yours to enjoy below...

 
Should I be all a-twitter? John McCain is going to be in Dayton tomorrow, and the pundits agree: THIS IS WHERE HE'LL ANNOUNCE HIS RUNNING MATE~!

 

Why do they think this? No real good reason, except Obama did things along the same basic schedule last Friday (albeit much later, after midnight, and we all know McCain goes to bed right after Jeopardy, that old fart, so he'll have to make any important decisions before he heads off to dinner at 3pm).
 

So: color me "who gives a shit?", unless said running mate turns out to be me. Which it won't. For reasons that are many and, in some cases, possibly even valid.

I'm far more worried about a much larger issue... namely: what the hell am I supposed to do, baseball-wise, for the next month? Usually, this is the part of the year where I just pretend like I never liked the Reds, anyway, and just start giving the Yankees my full attention. Except: this year, the Yankees suck, too. Oy. What's next? Will the planet Earth's magnetic field suddenly dissipate? I hear that thing goes wonky about once every 14,000 years, which is about how long its been since I've had to deal with a Yankee-less October. Well, give or take a factor of 1000.

Still, my point remains (mostly) valid. I have bigger fish to fry than joining the incessant local harpies in wetting myself because McCain might name his VP-elect here in my hometown, and thinking that this is somehow significant.

One of those fish is the following surprisingly huge and informative news update from the world of pro rasslin'. Enjoy, my peeps, enjoy: 

  • For the majority of his still-young career, John Cena's most remarkable quality has been his durability. 
     
    I say that admitting that it's one-part smart-ass (because little else about Cena's on-screen performance is universally acclaimed as "remarkable"), but it's also at LEAST one part honest assessment: since Cena's ascension in 2004, he saw every other major WWE player around him go down to an injury, while he remained solid as a rock, never missing a booking.
     
    Until last September. That's when he had a 4-month lay-off following a pectoral injury. The only reason that lay-off was 4 months (instead of 6 or 8) is because Cena made a sooner-than-expected return to TV; one permitted only by the fact that Cena would only work one day per week (TV tapings) while shooting a movie for the remainder of his injury rehab.
     
    Now, roughly 11 months after that first injury -- and only 3 months after Cena resumed a genuine full-time WWE schedule -- Cena is again in the headlines for a major injury. Oft mocked (and rightfully so) for the lazy way WWE books him as an 80's-style, one-dimensional, kiddie-pleasing "superman," Cena's seemingly been cohabitating with kryptonite lately.
     
    In the past two weeks, a nagging neck condition flared up to the point that Cena went from working a house show on Sunday to being written off TV on Monday to having surgery on Tuesday. The timeline, largely as reported by WWE.com (but also corroborated by simple eyeball reports of Cena's state of discomfort over the weekend), suggest a guy who had to come to terms very suddenly with an injury and who also opted for a surgical/recovery option that tends towards the "rapid" rather than the "reliable" end of the continuum.
     
    Originally, fears were that Cena would miss a year of action following spinal fusion surgery. That, in fact, was the "conventional wisdom" as late as Monday. Then, less than 24 hours later, word got out that Cena had ditched out on at least two scheduled appointments with neck/spine experts and had ALREADY HAD SURGERY in Pittsburgh. This was described as a microsurgical clean-up of the disc herniation, and which would allow Cena to return to action in 3-4 months.
     
    Stunningly, this cutting edge operation was apparently even done as an out-patient procedure, as Cena briefly appeared backstage at that night's SD! TV tapings in Pittsburgh before heading home to begin recovery and rehab. And yes: more than a few (including myself) have heard this story and got a sinking feeling that Cena "pulled an Angle" by going for a quick fix rather than a reliable one, and part of that is because he had the procedure done in Pittsburgh (where Angle's home town doc took care of him back in '04).... it should be noted this was a different doctor and an updated procedure done merely by the first doc on Cena's scheduled tour of experts (again, because WWE was in town for TV tapings that day/night), so you should probably leave a lot of your Angle-inspired concerns at the door.
     
    Still, I admit that the timeline leaves me with a few nagging worries.... chief among them is that Cena did schedule an evaluation with "neck doctor to the stars" Dr. Youngblood in Texas for Thursday afternoon. As well as with at least one other doc for Friday. Well, as I write this, it's Thursday afternoon, and Cena's been post-op for 48 hours already. That just seems.... odd. Especially when Youngblood's work has served so many guys (Edge, Rhino, Austin, Lita) so well, even if his work has universally taken 12-14 months to "take" after he operates.
     
    Like I said: nothing that'll hold up in court, but still... odd.
     
    Here's the extent of what I know about how things went down....
     
    First: Cena had been experiencing nagging neck pain for a while. Contrary to WWE Canon, this didn't start entirely with the Cena/Batista SummerSlam match 11 days ago. [Then again, I shouldn't have to tell you that. According to the last 2 weeks of WWE Canon, that Cena/Batista PPV match was the greatest of all times, when in reality, it was barely above average and BOTH men have had at least a dozen better matches, more worthy of installment in the permanent record on their respective DVDs.]
     
    Cena worked the post-SummerSlam RAW with no additional issues, but following those tapings and a chance to tighten up, things got worse as the week progressed. This was not good, as normally, that 3-4 day off period is when guys start feeling better. Not worse.
     
    RAW's house shows the following weekend (this past weekend) were in Bridgeport, CT, and at MSG in NYC, so they were basically in WWE's backyard, and Cena had arrived in the region a day early on Friday to do some shit at WWE HQ, where he first revealed his growing concerns that things were still getting worse every day instead of starting to get better again.
     
    Original house show cards had Cena in singles matches (against Jericho), but were changed for both Saturday and Sunday to tag matches (Cena/Batista vs. Jericho/Kane). In neither tag match did Cena's ring-time surpass 90 seconds (Batista did the face-in-peril bit, hot tag to Cena, and then straight to the quick crowd pleasing finish). At some point along the way, Cena had an MRI done in NYC.
     
    On late Sunday and into early Monday, the severity of Cena's condition started to circulate a bit. At the arena on Monday, Cena finally had a reading of his MRI, which confirmed worst suspicions: Cena had a herniated disc in his neck that was impinging on his spine/nerves in such a way that was causing severe pain and 20% loss of function in one of his arms and which would only be getting worse. It was throughout the day on Monday that the "wrestling press" pounced on the story, all while Cena scheduled a full week's worth of doctor's appointments to determine his options. 
     
    Oh: and also while WWE's creative team tried to figure out what to do... obviously, the decision was made internally to not get cute, and to just cut Cena out of booking plans immediately. At least one person I talked to said that this was a tough choice, because some people thought that if Cena saw even one doctor who told him "you can half-ass your way through one more match before surgery," he would actually do it. And not everybody in WWE thought that would be a bad thing. Luckily, saner heads prevailed, and though Monday's RAW was clunky as shit due to last-second re-writing that left the show without a discernable climax, we've now got Rey Mysterio announced as Cena's replacement in the Championship Scramble, and that is a Good Thing. 
     
    Then, after this tumultuous day where Cena was reported to have scheduled check-ups with at least a trio of spinal experts, Cena goes in to see some guy named Dr. "What a" Maroon on Tuesday morning, and comes out Tuesday night with a microsurgical clean-up of his herniated disc.
     
    I still say it doesn't quite compute, but WWE says it means Cena will be back in action around the New Year, which is probably a really good thing for them, and for their shareholders. And yes, the shareholders matter in this case: the latest update on Cena's anticipated return was issued with the full "WWE Corporate" treatment, rather than the standard WWE.com treatment. 
     
    Significant? Sure: there are few guys who are "bigger than" the company or who have shown the ability to single-handedly impact ratings in a positive way. Cena is one of them (he boosted TV ratings by a half-point when he made his surprise return at the Royal Rumble, though that gain was not sustained). Moreso than assuaging wrestling fans that one of their favorites is OK, this is a case of assuring buyers of stock that one of the company's biggest draws is in the best of medical hands and will return soon.
     
    Rather than -- oh, let's just say -- Randy Orton. Who didn't get the "WWE Corporate" treatment, and instead got WWE.com treatment that claimed he was thrown 300 feet off a motorcycle, and physics be damned~! For whatever it's worth, the "conspiracy theorists" I mentioned in my last update about Orton's re-injury at the hands of his bike aren't going anywhere, and claim that there's no media/police record of a wreck in St. Louis involving Orton anywhere near as serious as the one claimed and on the night in question.
     
    Whatever. Real or not real, I don't give a shit, and to be honest, I'll lose more sleep the night Orton returns to TV than in whatever number of weeks we have left when he's out of sight and out of mind. The point here is that WWE wouldn't scramble to update stockholders about Orton's absence, simply because he has no discernable positive affect on business. But Cena -- love him or hate him -- is a guy who makes money, spikes ratings, and makes people feel better about buying WWE stock.
     
    But man alive: that gets me thinking... Cena seems like a swell guy and all, who is at least partially a victim of circumstance when it comes to his TV Personality (none of which changes how much I want to punch his TV Personality for belonging in 1988 instead of 2008).... but if everything about Orton's re-injury is true and if Cena's quick-fix surgery works as planned, that means both of them will be back on TV at just about exactly the same time. And won't that just be an atomic bomb of suck dropped on RAW just in time for the holidays?
     
    My family might just have to be on Red Alert, and minding their Ps and Qs, lest I start busting out my Eyeball Punching Fist for no discernable reason in the middle of Christmas Eve.
     
    Ahhhh, I keed. Like I said: Cena gets on my nerves (no more than he has this summer, with what seems like a willfully amped up version of his one-dimensional, intelligence-insulting faux intensity that only an 11-year-old could believe), but he also seems like he's a decent enough guy and a huge enough part of WWE's business health and "sizzle factor" that it sucks to see him struck down by injury again. On behalf of pre-teen girls everywhere, here's hoping JonJon gets better soon, and (let's be schmaltzy: on behalf of all of us who are wrestling fans and decent human beings) that he STAYS healthy for a long time to come given the nature of his injury and choice for treatment....
     
  • I mildly touched on the "conspiracy theorists" regarding Orton's injury above, and it seems there are a few same-minded folks when it comes to Cena's injury.... some very CREATIVE like-minded folks ("Cena's not injured, he's serving a drug suspension, and here's how you can tell!").
     
    Normally, I'd stomp all over that kind of dumdum think, except WWE isn't doing a whole hell of a lot these days to make themselves, their website, or their other media apparatuses look good.... 
     
    Case in point, SummerSlam weekend, Jeff Hardy missed a few public appearances and rumors circulated that *he* had a serious neck injury and would be out for a year. Those rumors? Came straight from WWE in an attempt to explain why Hardy missed a few appearances.
     
    In reality: Hardy has a staph infection, and had to have that tended to (included having fluid drained from his elbow the very day before his PPV match).
     
    Why WWE made up and endorsed a fake neck injury story is beyond me. But I guess if I were Oliver Stone, I'd view it as a "test run" for a John Cena cover story. This is just like Australian newspapers having the full dossier on Lee Harvey Oswald 2 hours before he shot the president. WWE forgot all about TIME ZONES. Or something. I dunno.
     
    I also duncare. 

     
  • You can pretty much etch it in stone: Mick Foley is ending his 12-year association with WWE at the end of this week to begin a new association with Total Nonstop Action.
     
    Foley was the talk of TNA TV tapings this week, and though everybody was enthusiastic about the idea of him coming in, the very few who might have any idea what Foley might do once he IS in were tight-lipped. About the only things that were admitted to: yeah, we're brainstorming Foley ideas, and yeah, Mick's already submitted t-shirt and merchandise ideas for himself.
     
    Sounds pretty cut-and-dry. Me? I remain "conflicted" (tm, JR), as I noted quite clearly in my last column. There are good things for Foley to do in TNA, but there are just too many BAD ideas to be had (and too little chance that Foley would be dick enough to say "no" to them) for me to feel confident that this is a "can't miss."
     
    Yes, Foley has done some pretty amazing things in the last decade by way of Selfless Acts for younger stars. But TNA's track record with trying to use vets to do "selfless acts" is pretty craptacular; for instance, I guess I liked Nash and the X Division, but I might have been the only one (and even then, TNA cut Nash off at the knees and the thing never got paid off the way it was intended). And if there is one person out there who thinks that Booker vs. Bobby Roode was in any way defensible or a productive use of time, I hereby challenge you to a fourth-grade standardized test. Because I'll be able to finish the whole thing in 3 minutes with a perfect score, and you're clearly the sort of intellectual titan who will turn in a well-gnawed pencil to be graded.
     
    Mick's WWE contract expires at the end of this week, and as this is not a case of him quitting/being-released, most believe that there isn't a No Compete Clause in effect. Enhancing this belief among some of Mick's supporters on the WWE side of things: Foley was originally intended to be a part of the SummerSlam PPV. His promo-of-the-year with Edge was designed to lead to a key spot in the Hell in the Cell match between Taker and Edge... but in the week leading into the PPV, Mick got a call and was told that his presence would not be required at SummerSlam. [It seems the super-gay-spooky post-match "chokeslam into hell" -- complete with lame-ass pyro -- was pitched early in the week and was immediately accepted by Vince as an adequate replacement for the originally intended pay-off to the "Edge gets his comeuppance" story arc.]
     
    Most agree that if there were a 90 day no-compete, WWE would have gone ahead with the originally envisioned Edge/Taker/Foley angle, but once it became apparent that Mick wouldn't be re-signed by WWE, pettier heads prevailed, and decided that Mick shouldn't be on TV ever again, because it would look bad if Mick went from appearing on SummerSlam (requiring subsequent video packages for at least one or 2 weeks to fully sell the impact of the match/angle) to showing up on TNA only days later. This way, they figure, Mick hasn't really been on TV since August 1, and clearly, no fans have thought about him or missed him since or will think anything of it when he shows up on Impact.
     
    Idiots.
     
    So what's next?
     
    Well, TNA has taped all their TV till the next PPV (3 weeks worth), and clearly Mick wasn't present for anything live in the WankerZone.... but that wouldn't stop TNA from inserting teaser vignettes or bumpers for Mick that could lead to an in-arena debut as soon as September's PPV. Alternately, they could take their time to come up with an ideal entry program for Mick, and duplicate the same timeline that they have for the very biggest past WWE stars to come on down to Orlando (Angle, Christian, Booker, Rhino) who I think all debuted at the October Bound for Glory PPV.
     
    One can safely assume TNA will not (and cannot, legally speaking) tease Foley on tonight's Impact, but after that? All bets are off.
     
    Something else we know: Spike TV has been directly involved in contract negotiations for Foley. In terms of full-time TNA stars, this would make Foley one of two guys with a contract somehow subsidized by Spike (Sting was originally this way, but I believe that ceased to be the case with Sting's last contract). Kurt Angle is the other, not just because of the dollar figure of the contract, but also because of Angle's possible use on Spike projects outside of TNA. It is presumed that Spike's involvement in Foley negotiations means that he's also looking for some non-wrestling cross-over-y goodness. In Foley's case, that also makes sense since it's a virtual impossibility that he'd be a full-time, year-round talent for them, leaving him with time (and creative energy) to spend elsewhere. 
     
    In terms of what Mick does once he debuts? I know I said in my last update that he could pick up where he left off on SmackDown!: as a commentator. But that was born more of my visceral loathing of Don West than anything else; TNA has had chances to unload West before, and hasn't, so why would they now?
     
    I also joked (not in entirely good humor) that Mick's first in-ring "selfless act" would OBVIOUSLY come with Abyss, since Abyss is TNA's own, in-house "Mankind" rip-off gimmick and in TNA Think it makes "perfect sense".... but a few wrote in to suggest something else: Foley might prioritize a Selfless Act for Samoa Joe. 
     
    Hmmmm.... you folks are right. Foley was going around preaching the gospel of Joe for a full year before I "got it." Even after Mick's endorsement and a few ROH live shows here in town, Joe hadn't hit me yet. Needless to say: he has "hit" me since, and I get it. And if anybody could use a crystal-clear vision and a selfless act, it's Joe: Russo has screwed with Joe's babyface championship run in ways that are almost unbelievable. Months ago, I'd have wagered that Joe/Nash was foolproof (what with Joe bringing the bad-ass and Nash bringing the gravitas), but Russo and Jarrett and Mantell have proved that "fool" is a relative term.
     
    Mick could truly do some great work in terms of Project Joe, not just because of the type of talent and storyteller he is, but because I don't know of anybody off the top of my head who is as big a fan of Joe as Mick is. No strings attached, and no distractions. Trust me: I loves me some Master Nash, and I think he does a great job of meaning well while still being aware and rightfully-protective of his own legacy, but if the target of a "Selfless Act" is truly deserving, there's something to be said for the kind of unconditional approach that I bet Foley would take with his boy Joe.
     
    I also re-assert my belief that Foley/Angle is one of the few "dream matches" of the second WWE Golden Era (1997-2004) of superstars that we haven't seen yet. And maybe now we could.
     
    Then again, it could also just end up being all Foley vs. Abyss (or "Cactus Jack vs. Chris Park" or "Dude Love vs. James Mitchell's Bastard Son" or whatever other garbage they invent). Or worse yet: Foley's taste for alleged "humor" lands him hanging out with Super Eric and Sharkboy for skits even longer and more painful to endure than they currently are. Oy.
     
    TNA fans: brace for Foley. And in the meantime: kick-ass Hall of Fame Retirement Ceremonies and kicker-ass 4-DVD retrospective sets get stuck on the back burner until at least 2011.
     
  • Even as TNA makes a HUGE score off of WWE, they are also registering a notable loss: Gail Kim.
     
    Kim's really-awesome street fight loss to Awesome Kong on Impact last week was her final match in TNA; Kim and the company knew it but managed to keep it pretty quiet for almost 2 weeks.... she did, however, add to the awesomeness of her TNA farewell by sneaking in an "easter egg" to her pre-match promo ("Yeah, so I'm fighting Awesome Kong. What do you suggest I do? Pack my bags and leave?"). And then there were also the jean shorts she opted to wear in keeping with the "carpe denim" street fight tradition; oh, those jean shorts!
     
    But I do digress....
     
    There's no real drama or story involved, here: WWE came at Gail with a substantial financial offer, one which was greater than TNA was willing to match. Everybody in TNA loved Gail's work and attitude and company. There is no ill will and there are no bridges burned.
     
    Gail had been pushed as TNA's top female star since she debuted nearly 3 years ago, and as TNA's women's division has flourished, that role almost became a double-edged sword. On one hand: the promotional support for Gail was and remained huge, so her leaving is a big loss. But on the other hand: during Gail's tenure (and most notably in the past 8 months), TNA's women's division has flourished MASSIVELY on the backs of MULTIPLE talented stars. Gail's work was probably the key that opened the door, but when you look at how effectively TNA has marketed their women lately, you can't help but note how stellar Kong and Wilde and ODB and Roxxi and the Beautiful People have been at marching through that door and into top spots in the company (including, on two recent occasions, the main event match on Impact, something that WWE hasn't seen in ages).
     
    With the women's division so healthy and so clearly superior to WWE's (ironic, given that almost every "TNA Knockout" of note except for Awesome Kong was hired, partially trained by, and then fired by WWE before being deemed worthy of TV, all while Candice Michelle still has a job), you can see where TNA would perceive adequate depth to "let" Gail go without too much of a fight. 
     
    Still, all that said: TNA's loss *is* WWE's gain. There are few more undeniable combos of smoking-hot looks and respectable in-ring talent out there than Gail (and hilariously, most of them are the WWE cast-offs like Angel Williams and Taylor Wilde who are currently in TNA).... Kim's in-ring smoothness and comfort increased greatly in her waning WWE days, and has seen another quantum leap while working outside of WWE. We need to cope with the fact that our beloved Trishes and Mollys and Litas are probably gone for good, but it doesn't get much better than getting Gail Kim back to instantly take over as the "#2 Chick Worth Getting Excited About on WWE TV." And if Mickie James has an off-week, hey, the fight for #1 is gonna be a fun one to watch.
     
    How and when Gail returns to TV? I dunno. Could be a total surprise thing. Could be built up with vignettes. Could be as soon as early September. Could be held off for a while. Could be on RAW (where Gail's talents would be better utilized with the more talented women). Could be on SmackDown! (where Gail could be insta-pushed because freaking Maria is currently the #2 babyface there).
     
    What I will say is that the vibe I get is that WWE has An Idea. Which, for them, is a pretty big deal. The company doesn't just go out and offer a significant financial deal to a previously-fired star if they don't know what they want to do with her. To me, that means the storyline/role is already in place, and might even have been part of a sell-job in getting Gail to jump ship. 
     
    Or maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.... because if somebody had "an idea" for Gail that just couldn't quite be filled by any in-house trainees, then it's gotta be a pretty specific idea that requires somebody of Gail's specific skills. And oh wouldn't you just know it: the idea I had IMMEDIATELY upon hearing of Gail's jump was JUST such an idea.
     
    Forget having Gail come back and be the predictable "returning babyface hero." Well: don't forget it, but don't make it a long-term deal. Instead, let's all reflect on a few simple facts. (1) Gail is Canadian, and thus, not to be trusted. (2) Gail has been using the Codebreaker in her matches lately. Therefore, I think I speak for us all when I say that Gail should come back and tease all us gullible marks by acting like a lovable fan favorite.
     
    Then she should do something horrible to Shawn Michaels' wife at the first available opportunity and join Chris Jericho's burgeoning stable.
     
    It'd be sweet. WWE's ninth-grade mentality to all male/female interactions sucks, and it's why we haven't had a female character who just PROFESSIONALLY fits in with a guy/group-of-guys she's working with since Ivory in the RTC. Here: everything about Jericho's new 'tude and Gail's persona could mesh together to create a certain type of Canuck Synergy. I'm probably not explaining it fully, but just trust me: in my brain, this is a perfect fit.
     
    Not to mention a fun little swerve for fans, and the creation of a super-talented foil to Mickie, and moreso than that, a much needed heel replacement for Beth Phoenix (who is becoming less boo-able with each passing hilarious day of "Glammarella").
     
    Just a thought....
     
  • Although you can pretty much take it to the bank that Gail's heading back to WWE, it looks like we need to cool our jets on another recent TNA "departee."
     
    Tomko said his farewells 3 weeks ago amidst fairly strong annoyance at how TNA management had treated him after his remarkable efforts and improvements in recent years. But: he was back at TNA tapings this week.
     
    In the interest of Protecting Them Spoilers, I won't say much, but I will say it was a one-off match, and that unless bits were taped for backstage, Tomko only shows up on TV for one of the next 3 weeks.
     
    The reason given: his scheduled Japan tour was cancelled, and WWE has yet to offer Tomko a contract (whether they intend to or not is even unknown ), so Tomko -- wanting to keep sharp and in the public eye -- contacted TNA about spot work. He got it.
     
    Presumably, he could continue to get it if this situation persists, though the widely held assumptions is that Tomko has it in his head that it's "WWE or bust" at this point.
     
  • TNA's got a lot of contract stuff to sort out, actually... the Dudleys and Christian's original 3-year contracts are set to expire soon, and the balls are apparently in their respective courts as to what to do: TNA wants them, no questions asked. That unconditional love is probably enough for the Duds but believe it or not, Christian's playing it close to the vest, which is why he's been booked conservatively as Johnny TagTeam lately.
     
    Awesome Kong's one-year deal is up soon, but her re-signing is expected to be a matter of dotting i's and crossing t's. Girl's a remarkable athlete, but I don't think you have to worry about Vince and Johnny Ace deeming her a "must have" for their roster.
     
    Then there are the cases of Sting and Nash, who also get their deals re-done one year at a time, and are treated in a way entirely unlike anybody else on the roster. In both their cases, on-going relationships with TNA are predicated more on confidence in the creative direction of the company than on money, as they are entrusting TNA with their legacies (which, frankly, are greater than any as yet created by TNA).
     
    With Nash, this comes down to the usual elements of self-preservation that have existed at all points in his TNA career. But with Sting -- as we discussed last column -- there's a huge new elephant in the room: Vince Russo wants very badly to turn Sting heel, and Sting really doesn't trust Russo's current vision to handle that gigantic development responsibly. So if you're wondering why there's all this slow-play and teasing and hemming and hawing and vague comments and mystery appearances by baseball bats and odd "tweener" behaviors, it's at least in part because TNA has to know (a) if Sting will sign a contract to stay with the company through 2009, AND (b) if Sting will agree to turning heel or if they need to find another "out" to current storylines. Only after (a) and (b) will there be clear-cut forward progress.
     
    We'll see how all this goes; I suspect no major fireworks (though how cool could it be if Christian came back to SD! and was booked appropriately given how far Edge has come?), and I should underscore one simple thing: the contract negotiated for Foley will have NO influence on working out financial terms with any of these other performers; TNA is starting to turn a profit and Foley's contract is at least partially being underwritten by Spike if rumors are true, so decisions made on these five will be limited to creative/backstage issues, not monetary ones.
     
  • Nothing much on the ratings front since we last spoke 10 days ago.... the only of the four brands that had a major divergence from averages was RAW, but that was this week, when the show was shunted over to Sci-Fi (the live broadcast did a 2.8, a loss of about 0.6 from recent averages, but depending on how you figure things, possibly offset by the late-night re-broadcast on USA after tennis, which did a 0.5 rating).
     
    SD! has begun to be affected, in earnest, by pre-emptions for baseball and will not really have a week between now and the end of its run on The CW where they are on a "full" network. The first Friday in October, though, they move to MyNetwork TV (many of you will have to look hard to find it, but most of you SHOULD have it available as long as you have digital cable), and WWE is contemplating exactly how best to make a huge splash with that broadcast.
     
    Meantime, there's more than a bit of interest in how the return of Monday Night Football will affect RAW starting in 2 weeks. A decade ago, there was a clear negative impact on wrestling ratings due to football, but that influence was mitigated as wrestling gained in popularity. Now, even though MNF is a shadow of its former self (having shifted to cable from network TV), the past 2 years -- with wrestling in a decided ratings slump -- the annual impact of football is back as the two programs scrap for the same niche audience of sports-minded young males. At this point, RAW has (since the Draft) clawed its way back to where it was LAST football season.... they can't afford any losses, which would put them at (or below) the decade-long lows they endured during the late spring/early summer.
     
    [WWE gets no help next week, the last week before MNF football gets into full regular season swing. Not only is Monday Labor Day, which is probably good for a mild dip in viewership, but it'll also be a taped show. Next week's ECW is already taped, and next week's RAW and SD! will both be in the can on Sunday night at a supershow taping, so among WWE's core fans who want to find out what happens and if it's worth watching, they'll be more than capable of doing so before 9pm on Monday.]
     
    Oughta be an interesting 6 weeks or so. For the first time in a while, I'm wondering if we might be poised to see SD! become the more-watched WWE brand. WWE has REALLY loaded up SD! (with HHH, Taker, their signature announcer JR, etc.) to try to survive the move to the "half-a-network" that is MNTV, all while RAW's now faced with MNF hitting at the exact same time that they unexpectedly lose John Cena.
     
    It's a complex mix of factors, some expected (WWE's building up of SD! to account for MNTV's weakness) and some not (losing Cena, and to a lesser extent, Orton and the way they've had to marginalize JBL to the point of pointlessness due to his rapidly regressing health status). So at least a few not-expected results might be in the offing. I assure you I'll be here to narrate the tale for you as we head forward....
     
  • Another reason I have reason to believe SD! may have a post-network-change pulse: they're just plain getting to be an interesting show, lately.
     
    All you need to see to discover this is the line-up for SD!'s version of the "Championship Scramble" (mmmmm.... eggs, sausage, cheese, hash brow..... wha? huh? you mean it's not a menu item at the breakfast-all-day place? DAMMIT!). Even with Cena out, RAW's line-up is pretty staid and boring. Some might even say "stupid," since JBL is a no-gravitas-having joke these days upon his 98th loss to CM Punk, and we're still trying to figure out if this latest version of Kane can be taken seriously or not.
     
    But SD!'s going balls-out, for better or for worse. What could be a "been there, done that" kind of a match with Khali, Undertaker, Big Show, and Edge challenging Triple H is a bona fide "well, hell, I gotta see what they have in mind for this one" kind of a match with Jeff Hardy, MVP, Shelton Benjamin, and Brian Kendrick. Yes, THAT Brian Kendrick. THE Brian Kendrick.
     
    Consider that the Hardy/MVP/Shelton triad feuding over the US Title has provided most of SD!'s heft and quality content for the past month, and consider that Kendrick (aided by My Man Zeke) is one of the more promisingly-douchey (in a good way) personas to come down the pike in a while, and you can see why this isn't a bad thing. If it works, great: somebody (or somebodies) will get elevated for having taken the risk. If it doesn't work: well, RAW's Scramble still has a bit more star power, and HBK/Michaels and Edge/Taker singles matches should give the show more than enough sizzle to allow SD!'s Scramble to fizzle.
     
    But I don't think it will; just a gut feeling. Shelton and HHH have had such great chemistry in the past, and earlier this year, HHH/Hardy was on the cusp of being WM-worthy. Kendrick (as a student of HBK) is one-step-removed from being pals with HHH, so you won't even necessarily see him insta-squashed. It could just be a fun-ass experiment in chaos, especially if they book it so that all these whippersnappers are in the ring trading the title for 15 minutes, while HHH looks on, increasingly sweaty and worried backstage, because they're passing his title around like Ryan Seacrest at Elton John's birthday party, and he'll only have 5 minutes to sort out the mess once he's the last man to enter. Oh yes: that's definitely how you play the dynamic, especially if you're putting this match on early in the show.
     
    SD!'s got that "freshness" going for it, and even coming out of the PPV (where one has to assume HHH retains, since he won't lose the belt to anyone short of Edge or Taker prior to the network jump), you have good stuff a-brewin'. Kendrick's spot comes sort of at the expense of Big Show, and a Kendrick (w/ Zeke) vs. Show feud just seems to scream "perfect chemistry" to me. Some of CM Punk's old pals from Chicago and ROH are starting to surface, which won't lead to any major stars of Punk's ilk (sorry indie wankers!) but which definitely increases roster depth (let's just say at this point that Scotty "Colt Cabana" Goodman will never ever suck in the ring, but he's already cemented his ceiling as "later-career comedy-act Chris Candido" since debuting). Jesse and Festus are the best tag team act going in the business today. Maryse (despite being unable to wrestle a lick) is channeling her inner Beautiful Person to be WWE's best heel female act (while Nattie Neidhart and Victoria are both SD!'s best in-ring female acts, leaving Michelle McCool with a lot of catching up to do). Much as I miss Mick, Tazz and JR have quickly jelled into the best commentary act in the business. And it goes without saying that Edge is just flat-out the best act in the business.
     
    Adds up to a show worth watching, if you ask me. But you still might want to just go ahead and skip anything involving Vickie Guerrero at this point. Just sayin'....
     
  • One thing NOT helping SD!'s cause: Ken Kennedy's shoulder injury will require surgery and he will be out of action until at least late January. He'd originally sustained the injury at a house show 3-4 weeks ago, but couldn't get a definite diagnosis until swelling went down and docs could get a good look.
     
    I believe the surgery is scheduled for tomorrow, and then immediate rehab, since the Royal Rumble is out there as kind of a "cut-off date" in terms of guys getting back into the mix in time for WrestleMania.
     
    Kennedy had originally been slotted to work his way up the card courtesy of a US Title feud with Shelton (in fact, that's putting it diplomatically: he was slated to win the US Title from Shelton by way of being moved up the card). More than likely, two of the four "Scramble" spots now held by Shelton/Hardy/MVP/Kendrick were originally going to be held by Kennedy and Umaga (also being briefly sidelined with an injury). Not sure how to feel about that, but I do dig Kennedy and think he'll be sorely missed....
     
  • Expect Steve Austin back on WWE TV in about a month.... originally, my impression was that this was something short term tied to getting SD! launched on a new network, or possibly to an appearance at the October Cyber Sunday PPV (where there is always some throw-away vote regarding legends that Austin could get involved with).
     
    It still might be.
     
    But I should also note that in the last week, a UK tabloid (the same one that was all over Mick's departure from WWE) has suggested that Austin could be making one last grand swing through WWE, leading up to a "Flair-like" retirement weekend at WrestleMania 24 next year in his home state of Texas.
     
    Huh. Interesting idea, and probably a perfect place for it, though it does raise the question: who gets the job as Austin's farewell opponent? Hmmmm.....
     
  • Mike Adamle has been working out hard in his spare time, after being told by WWE to expect to be wrestling in "matches" sometime soon as part of his job as RAW GM.
     
    Before you vomit in terror: Adamle isn't lying when he mentions his NFL career, and did the same cross over from announcer-to-participant at least once that I remember on a special edition of "American Gladiators." It need not be a trainwreck. [Note to WWE: when Adamle books himself into his first match, have footage of that "Gladiators" episode ready as Adamle's proof of how awesome he is. And Hocking's right: the old "Gladiators" theme song should be the dude's entrance music. SPARE NO EXPENSE~!]
     
    And plus: just keep in mind that Adamle's best-possible career track in WWE means duplicating what Jonathan Coachman did. Suck incredibly badly as an announcer. Make a fantastic part-time stooge/heel character. Sometimes fumble through a crowd pleasing "match." I only hated Coach when it was 2 hours of him at a stretch and he just wasn't very good at it; but in 5 and 10 minute spurts of "Sports Entertainment" that guy was gold. Adamle could be, too.
     
    That said: I knew about Adamle's training back on Monday, and when he was drawing out the tease for the announcement of Cena's replacement in the Scramble, oh yes, you better believe my bowels clenched when I thought "Shit, this assclown is going to put himself in a PPV main event." Ow. How do *I* spell relief? "M-Y-S-T-E-R-I-O." Whew.
     
     
  • Speaking of bowels, the last thing I can think of to cover today is something hidden deep in the bowels of WWE's last round of quarterly financial reporting (short version: core business results are mixed, but the movie division and DVDs of when wrestling was good are really going gangbusters)....
     
    Namely, in covering pending litigation, there is a terse one-sentence mention of a a class action lawsuit being fronted by Scott "Raven" Levy that challenges WWE's classification of wrestlers as "independent contractors." 
     
    Folks, I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill, here, but to me, this is a fascinating and important issue that stands to become a monumental legal ruling. A lot will have to do with PR work, which may not sound "fair," but which is simple pragmatism. For other former WWE "contractors" to join Levy's class-action case will require the right mix of (1) thinking Levy's legal team can win and/or (2) not wanting to be employed ever again by WWE.
     
    In other words, as we slowly start to hear more about the facts, the more it looks like Raven and Co. have a strong case, the more others will want in. And the more others want in, the stronger the case will look. Like I said: not really fair, but in terms of how much weight to give to this suit, it's how we're all going to be proceeding. Right now, the only other guy I know of for sure who is attached to the suit is Chris Kanyon, who obviously has his own share of sour grapes with WWE that go above and beyond this issue.
     
    The reason I tend towards the dramatic and consider it a potentially big deal is because this is flat-out one area where WWE really HAS done some folks wrong. You've had righteous douches and posers like Phil Mushnick whining about drug testing in wrestling for decades, but that still comes down to choices made by grown men. You can argue how plentiful they are(n't), but there ARE cases of WWE wrestlers who obviously had no strong attachment to steroids or other substances and some of them were even pretty successful. One thing that has NEVER existed in the history of the planet, however, is a WWE wrestler who was a full-blown employee instead of an "independent contractor." 
     
    Not once. Not ever. It could not happen. The performer had no choice, other than to not work for that company (or, as it turns out, much of anywhere else in the wrestling industry).
     
    That always struck me as far more unfair and "evil" than WWE turning a blind eye to drug abuse. Maybe that's just me, but doesn't it seem way more wrong to give a guy a job and then trust him to behave responsibly with whatever substances he enjoys, rather than refusing to give a guy a job AT ALL unless its under clearly-bullshit terms as an "independent contractor"?
     
    I dunno, you make the call.
     
    All I know is that you can look at pretty much any definitions of the terms "contractor" and "employee" (be they common sense ones or ones set forth by the IRS) and it's clear WWE has been doing some fudging here. Even more so in recent years, as the requirements of "contractors" have become WAY more highly scripted, way more schedule-intensive, and way less "independent" than in the past.
     
    Granted, this is a door that swings both ways, and there are certainly some benefits to Contractor status for wrestlers... but on a net basis, they don't really outweigh the losses. It's just "how things are" to them. For WWE, this distinction between contractor/employee carries with it HUGE implications (mostly tax and benefits related), and they've clearly been making out like bandits as a result for decades. Eric Bischoff, in a blog on the subject, conservatively estimates that if Raven's case is successful and the government (petty, vindictive bitches they care) wants to, they can go after back taxes and stuff and the cost to WWE would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
     
    Then, of course, going forward this would impact WWE's operating expenses and employment strategy. Do you hire fewer workers, because you can less afford to have them sitting around collecting "full employee benefits" when you go through phases where creative doesn't have anything for them? And a big question: can rulings made regarding full time WWE workers also apply the same way to developmental workers who are essentially on a minimum retainer while they learn their craft (and do so in a far more "independent" way than full time WWE performers do their jobs)? Does the mere fact that WWE is providing IN HOUSE TRAINING prove that these are employees and not self-made contractors? if so, does this re-open the doors for other trainers and other indie programs to bear the brunt of preparing the next generation of workers because it's no longer worth it to WWE? I really do think it could be a big deal if Raven makes his case, which I think he can.
     
    Interestingly enough, this contractor/employee distinction is ALSO a part of Konnan's pending case versus TNA (which, unfortunately, is a messy and wide-spanning goulash of accusations only some of which appear to make any real logical sense). Basically, costs related to Konnan's recent health problems and subsequent treatments are a matter of much dispute, and in trying to get the legal recompense he believes he is owed, Konnan's throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. One prong of his legal attack is to undermine the legitimacy of the "contractor" label for wrestlers.
     
    That case goes to court in less than a month (I believe), which means that *it* now bears watching (moreso than it did before, anyway) as a possible precedent for Raven's case against WWE. Konnan was also -- albeit VERY briefly -- a former WWE "contractor" in the early 90s (he was the original Max Moon), so his involvement in the Levy case can't be written off, either.
     
    Curiouser and curiouser, as they say.
     

  • That's it for me. Enjoy your Friday and your big-ass holiday weekend, folks. I'll see you again soon.


  
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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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