In Memoriam: Seattle Slew. Dies on the silver anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win. Talk about great timing. BTW, wouldn’t you like to live a life like his? Three years of a relatively light workload followed by twenty-five years of hot sex for money (and it was hot sex up until the end; he was moved to a different farm because his stall was too close to the breeding shed and he’d become “agitated” when mares arrived)? Shit, put me in the Preakness, promise me that if I’d win, and I’d do my damndest.
And it’s Wednesday here at 411, a Wednesday where I promised you that I’d talk about the stuff I blew off yesterday. Well, I’m here to keep that promise. Let’s get right to it after a word from our sponsor…
THE PIMP SECTION
By the way, anyone who charges me with unmitigated egotism didn’t catch the Allen Iverson press conference. He makes me look completely humble.
Gamble weighs in on the name change.
Cole has the news from the places outside of whatever little world WWE resides in.
Letawsky makes me happy, and answers all your questions to boot.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
HEY, YO, SURVEY SAYS HEAD BACK TO JAPAN
Okay, who had four months in the pool? You should be a clean winner, since most people didn’t think he would last that long (I didn’t). Now I feel a bit guilty about fast-forwarding through Scott Hall’s final match in North America ever. Well, not that guilty, but it’s still the principle of the thing.
What the hell was he thinking? “Okay, I’ve been a good boy. I’ve proven I can be reliable. I did Wrestlemania against Austin. I’m involved in the top feud on Raw. Now I can relax a bit.” WWE’s patience had already worn paper-thin in regard to him (the Observer described this as being “strike six”, which might be a characteristic-of-the-Observer underestimate). They only needed one excuse to end this little experiment, and Hall gave it to them. The suits were already in a bad mood considering the Michael Hayes hair-cutting goings-on, and Hall (who wasn’t involved in that) was the perfect focus for a little catharsis.
So he’s gone. Wither the NWO? Nope. Nash just gets unsuspended and plugged into Hall’s place. The NWO still has four members (assuming Flair’s part of them), and there’s always the possibility of more to come. So it’s status quo all the way in regard to that, until they have a chance to blow off the angle completely (and we can all hope this involves Flair having faked his turn in order to destroy the NWO from within).
Does it send a message to the rest of the locker room? No. They know that WWE has a no-tolerance-to-f*ckups-unless-you’re-making-big-bucks policy courtesy of Road Dogg and Bagwell. This doesn’t change anything for them.
The one person who should be worried is X-Suck. If this is Step One toward ending the failed NWO experiment, he’s the person on the hot seat. Vince Loves Big Men, and he can easily find something for Nash to do, but Waltman’s more problematic. They’ve demonstrated their willingness to let him go his merry way before, as long as it isn’t on their programming. He now needs a good reason to justify his presence, and right now, there isn’t one other than the fact that Austin needs someone to feud with.
Speaking of the NWO’s newest member…
TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON…
Let’s talk about Ric Flair. I’d like to go over the positives of what happened on Raw first. We all know that Flair’s a better heel than a face. It’s been demonstrated time and time again for over a quarter century. He’s the grandmaster of heel tactics, the person held up by the wrestling community as the exemplar of the dirty heel. He’s not only the man you love to hate, but the man you love to love to hate. Other wrestlers work from heel archetypes; Flair is a heel archetype. Whatever he does with this turn, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Now let’s bring up the negatives and categorize them:
1) Can this be considered an act of desperation by the bookers? Yes. Raw’s main heels were supposed to be the NWO and the Undertaker. The NWO, however, was booked to be a complete joke, and UT’s booking has shifted toward being a tweener in his feud with Hogan (they’re hedging their bets about Hogan’s face turn wearing thin very quickly, and with this angle becoming what my pal BFM calls Old Men On Scooters, it will). Raw needed a mega-heel, and needed it now. Again, it’s Ric Flair to the rescue. He’s the only one on the roster with main-event status who the audience would buy as a heel. So how did they get into that position? Bad luck, really. You can tell that this role was meant for Kane, but his injury knocked those plans for a loop. So now Flair takes that slot. It sounds like a good trade-off, getting the Dirtiest Player In The Game in full heel mode, but it isn’t. The one thing Raw needed to differentiate itself from Smackdown was a No Vinces Here policy. Now with a heel “owner” on both shows, what’s the difference between the two?
Since this is yet another act of desperation by the owners, we should expect the same result as from the last few acts of desperation: a one to two-week ratings pop, and back to normal. Ric Flair turning heel will not guarantee you an audience anymore. This is WWE in 2002, not JCP in 1982.
1a) So this had nothing to do with Scott Hall? No, this had all the earmarks of something that was planned, despite the fact that the show was written on the plane flight back from England, where the decision was supposedly made to fire Hall. Besides, they have Nash in reserve, who hasn’t worn out his welcome.
2) Have they just destroyed continuity again? Yep, and they’re betting on the audience not remembering or knowing about the past feuds between the NWO and Flair/the Horsemen. On this subject, I’d like to turn the mic over to my colleague Elliot Olshansky, who was slightly miffed Monday night when he wrote me:
If you’re going to turn someone nWo, that’s fine, but make it someone who fits the frickin’ concept…after fighting the nWo when he was in WCW and fighting the nWo in the WWF and all that other crap, it made NO SENSE for Flair to turn nWo. And the entire point of Lawler claiming that Flair was screwing Austin was so that it would be a big swerve and Flair would be clean in the end. You know, earlier tonight, when I saw Flair talking with Anderson, I thought they were going to turn Anderson. I thought that’d be worse, because Anderson had even less reason to go with the nWo after they mocked his retirement, and he
can’t have a match to blow off the turn anyways. But I was wrong. There is no WAY that ANYTHING the WWF could pull anything worse than what I just watched. It’s 1994 all over again, starring Van Dam, Guererro, Edge, Angle, Storm, Venis, Jericho, D-Lo, and Regal in the collective role of Bret and Owen Hart (the guys who put on kickass matches and made the product watchable), and Austin, Bradshaw, Flair, Big Slow, Hall, X-Pac, Taker, and Hogan in the collective role of Undertaker and Yokozuna (the guys who had shitty matches with shittier angles to back them up).
I couldn’t have said it better. This turn makes no sense from what they’ve given out in the storyline. The only way to salvage this whole issue is to retrocon heavily next Monday and state that it was Flair’s intention from the moment he bought Shane’s and Stephanie’s stock to drive Vince so crazy he’d be desperate enough to bring in the NWO. Once the NWO was there, they could get revenge on Vince for destroying WCW by turning Raw into Nitro. Replay Flair’s speech from the final Nitro for emphasis. Of course, they couldn’t be that creative, so expect a lame explanation that doesn’t answer any of the audience’s questions. They’ll probably give us something like “mutual respect among dirty players” or something like that. At least with Kane it could have been a reconciliation with X-Suck, which’d make sense from a male bonding standpoint.
3) Will the audience buy this, and if not, will it hurt Flair? No and no. The audience didn’t buy Austin’s turn last year due to poor execution, and there was more of a foreshadowed set-up for that than for this turn. Unexpected turns for shock value don’t work anymore for the simple reason that audiences aren’t shocked by anything that goes on in wrestling/Sports Entertainment anymore. Credit Vince Russo and Paul Heyman for that if you must, but after seeing dogs eaten, men falling in love with mops, gender-bending, admissions of lesbianism, crucifixions, on-camera dog crap incidents, feuds involving gunplay, mental institutions, undefeated streaks ended by use of taser, guys falling off of giant TV screens, etc., unexpected turns don’t really jolt the system anymore, especially when it’s done with a guy who, as a face, billed himself as The Dirtiest Player In The Game.
Now, as to why it won’t hurt Flair, simple. The guy’s the Teflon Wrestler; no matter how much crap you bury him in, nothing sticks. He’s survived participation in more imbecilic angles without any root damage to his career than anyone in the history of the business (Savage and Sting are the only ones who even come close to Flair in this category). Flair’s had the misfortune of working with some of the worst bookers in the history of the business, from Ole Anderson to Vince Russo. Yet he not only survived disasters on the level of those that ruined people like Terry Taylor, he’s also developed the rep of being the go-to guy when stuff does go wrong beyond all repair (and deservedly so; just look at the Black Scorpion situation, a hole that only Flair could have dug the NWA out of, just to name one situation). However, the rules have changed. The audience is different today and expects different things from wrestling. The WWE’s mindset on booking is stuck firmly in the past, with Heyman trying to recreate his old glories and Steph trying to show daddy that she’s just like him. Flair’s old tricks might not be replicable with this new dog. It’s possible that hee could, for the first time, suffer real damage. It’s doubtful, but it’s still a possibility.
4) Who benefits from this? It’s possible to jerk the ol’ knee and say Austin. This puts Austin indisputably as Number One Face on the Raw side, given Hogan’s show-hopping. However, with Flair as heel and eminence grise of the NWO, all that can be done with Austin is a replication of any number of Austin/McMahon feuds. Bradshaw could come out as a major winner, because now the deck’s clear for him to vault to main-event status. I don’t see anyone else who could come out ahead, though. If they hadn’t ghettoized the upper-mid-card, Van Dam would have been a beneficiary. The NWO doesn’t benefit, not even if Flair introduces them as the Horsemen (oh, imagine the reaction from the Net if he does that). The damage has already been done to their reps.
All the Flair turn amounts to is a no-win situation and a solution to a problem that really didn’t exist in the first place. If you perceived that Raw’s anemic ratings were a problem and wanted to build some excitement around the show, hot-shotting turns in the upper card for the sake of creating a buzz doesn’t work anymore. The booking team should have learned that lesson from last year. No one gets out of this alive, except for Flair. He’s Houdini coated with Teflon.
ELDERLY MEN BEHAVING BADLY
Memo to Cabbageboy and to Big Daddy Kurt Dieckmann: I didn’t cover Hogan’s cycle stalling out on him multiple times because I treated that moment like any other one involving the Goblin and Undertweener: fast-forward.
So let’s talk about Old Men On Scooters (tm BFM) for a bit as well. Let’s ignore the fact that the “destroying the motorcycle” bit is old hat and concentrate on the actions. The only face who can get away with destruction of vehicular property is Austin, because it’s part of the Stone Cold character. He has license to do shit like that. Hogan, however, even the edgy formerly-evil Hogan of today, doesn’t. It isn’t in his character to destroy heels’ vehicles. The heel Hogan, yes, but not the face Hogan. That’s why I’m sticking to the Undertweener monicker.
That being said, did the whole vignette on Monday really make you care more about the match at JD? From indications, the answer is no. The current spin on this, as promulgated and spread by Milord at 1bullshit, is that the writing team wrote this on the raucous plane ride back from England (something that no one other than 1bullshit is really reporting, BTW) and that the show was spotty because of it. So what’s the excuse for the other crappy shows they’ve been giving us? The current level of apathy about Goblin/Undertweener is a symptom of that problem.
Yeah, a decade ago, this match was something. A decade ago, Nirvana was something. But Cobain’s dead now and the music hasn’t aged very well (with the exception of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, of course). Back then, it was Hogan the Invincible, a man who went through bad-ass heels like a guy with diarrhea goes through Scott Tissue, against an indestructible force, the Living Dead Personified, a man who felt no pain and no emotion over what he did to other wrestlers inside the ring. Now it’s some old fud with a pre-cancerous tan up against an aging biker who thinks he’s cool because he listens to Limp Bizkit. Oh, yeah, that’s a must-see in my book.
In my first feature column for The Smarks back in November 2000, I said that Steph’s Platonic Ideal seems to be the WWF circa 1991-1995. Now we have the ultimate proof of that. This match is straight out of that era. She must have been salivating at the prospect of booking this one (Come to think of it, maybe Heyman’s Platonic Ideal is his Dangerous Alliance-era memories of WCW, and maybe that prompted the prospect of the Flair turn). Like I said before, do we really need a revenge match from This Tuesday In Texas? Do we want it? I don’t think I know anyone in the IWC who wants it or needs to see it. How out of touch with its audience is WWE right now?
This match (and the Flair turn, for that matter) is designed to appeal in two different directions: as nostalgia for long-time fans and as something “new” for the post-1998ers. The problem is that the first group remembers how sucky that feud was and has no nostalgic impulses toward it and that the second group doesn’t want to see it for various reasons, like not caring about either of the participants or hearing from the first group about how much it sucked the first time around. There’s a feeling of marking time with this feud, until something opens up for King of the Ring. Now those avenues are slowly being closed off courtesy of the Flair turn.
I think the waves of non-interest have broken through the reality firewall surrounding Steph and Heyman, and that’s why they’re not really trying with this one. If they’re saving their energy for KOTR and giving UT a good-faith title push to keep him quiet, I’ll cut them a little slack. But I have no faith in them being able to come up with something at all considering past evidence, so I’ll keep on railing.
IN DEFENSE OF HOGAN
I got an interesting letter from Robert Topping, who defends the Goblin against one of the more recent charges against him (I think we all know, Master Topping, that there are some things he’s done that no one can ever defend him for doing). I think he makes some very good points:
The WWF’s, or should I say, the WWE’s, falling ratings have been pinned squarely on the shoulders of Hollywood Hulk Hogan by a number of wrestling sources and internet chat rooms.
Yes, that’s the IWC’s main form of exercise: jumping to idiotic conclusions.
This is not only ridiculous, but yet another attempt by long-time Hogan bashers to lay the blame on the Hulkster, out of jealousy and resentment, as is often the case for athletes that dominate a sport for so long.
No, I’d say it’s more reflexive due to conditioned behavior: ratings are down, Hogan’s got the belt, we’ve seen this happen before, so let’s put one and one together and come up with three. And I don’t think that anti-Goblin sentiment is done out of “jealousy and resentment”, mostly because I’ve heard the same line of bullshit being spewed about me viz. Flex. It comes more from the reason that Hogan has, directly or indirectly, caused heavy damage to careers and entire federations because of his overweening ego and its need to be constantly stroked. Ask Ted DiBiase or Steve Austin sometime how Hogan’s presence helped their careers.
The fact is the ratings have been in a slow decline for a long time. An extremely long time. But the blame is not given to the Rock?
Flex, please. This is my column, remember.
Or Stone Cold? Or Angle? It can’t be them. It just can’t be.
Actually, Austin did take heat for last year’s ratings drop, but it was more due to the fact that the turn was so horribly blown more than anything else, something for which he does bear some responsibility, but not the bulk of it.
It can’t be the horrible story lines, or Undertaker’s inability to get a single cheer, even with the help of the brain dead Fred Durst fans.
That’s a redundancy, I think.
It can’t be Flair either. It must be Hogan, even though he’s been in the WWF for only two months now, and his Wreslemania match and subsequent shows were the only ratings boost for the WWF in eons.
Since November, actually, when Flair came in. That boost lasted two weeks, roughly the same amount of time that the NWO’s entrance boosted ratings.
The fact is that Hogan is very popular, and the only bright star in the league that’s able to get even a response from the crowd.
Which tells you more about WWE crowds than anything else.
What? Yeah, Stone Cold, not even you can. What? One could argue he is the only thing keeping it afloat, with the Rock on another hiatus and Stone Cold as interesting as watching paint dry.
That’s giving way too much credit to Flex. Remember when he came back last summer? Two-week boost.
I’m sure if Hogan left the WWF the ratings would skyrocket again, and all would be well.
Wake up Hogan Bashers. Take him out of the equation and you’re left with a lot less content, and a lot less entertainment.
But when you’re starting from a base that low on both content and entertainment, how much is there to lose?
He’s right; the problem isn’t Hogan. But Hogan isn’t the solution either. The ratings have shown that audiences aren’t interested in him as both face and heel. Of course, the audience hasn’t been given anything to be interested about in him. I’ve always put the blame solely where it belongs: on the shoulders of the bookers. It’s their responsibility to come up with things that will be interesting and entertaining, and they’ve failed. Hogan is just the current excuse. With Steph off TV and Heyman pretending to be a manager, fans need an obvious target. As usual, though, they’re blaming the puppet, not the puppet masters. So don’t blame Hogan, but don’t credit him either. He’s just the latest symbol of a failed strategy that WWE is going to persist in doing. And that’s a good segue into “who’s next” on that particular list…
I WAS ON YOUR SIDE, BILL, WHEN YOU WERE LOSIN’…
Why is everyone getting excited about Bill Goldberg settling his Time-Warner contract and becoming a free agent? Why is Ashish creaming his jeans promising people more news about him as warrants? Apparently, we’ve forgotten about him. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess. After all, Goldberg was the living symbol of the last time WCW had a heartbeat of any sort, and we’re all missing WCW right now considering everything that’s on our plate. However, lest we forget…
Goldberg was the man who ended Bret Hart’s career before Vince buying WCW could.
Goldberg was the vehicle WCW used to push Kevin Nash into the stratosphere, enough that someone had the bright idea of giving him the book. The Summer of Suck was the result, one of the final nails in WCW’s coffin.
Goldberg is a man with four moves and inexplicable charisma. WWE already has one of those. His name is Flex.
Goldberg is a lumbering lummox with a power wrestling repertoire, performing in squash-style matches, and has an aura of invincibility. WWE already has one of those. His name is the Undertweener.
Goldberg’s persona is dependent on a severe look, a short catchphrase, and a bad-ass attitude, which took an incredible knocking courtesy of a blown heel turn. What?
(Goldberg’s entire existence, in fact, is due to Steve Austin’s popularity and Eric Bischoff’s reaction to it. We all know about Bisch’s famous statement, so there’s no need to reiterate it.)
Goldberg was the lucky beneficiary of a well-calculated push, so well-calculated that the Brains From Planet Arous behind WCW didn’t know how to end it. When they did, it killed his image completely, and they had no idea what to do with him afterward.
Goldberg was the man who injured himself severely punching a car window that wasn’t tricked out to shatter. It’s still debatable on whether or not he actually asked about that or whether he thought he could do it anyway.
Goldberg is a man with the reputation of being one of the Queen Bitch Locker Room Prima Donnas of all time, even moreso than Scott Steiner, and that’s really saying something.
Goldberg is a man who has repeatedly said that he doesn’t give a f*ck about wrestling, and yet somehow the freaks in the IWC believe that he’d be doing this for more than the money he’d be getting.
Goldberg is a man who commands such an enormous salary that he’d alienate the real workers in the locker room, especially if he comes in with his I-don’t-give-a-f*ck attitude and tries to becomes Queen of the Lot. For a fourth of the price, Vince could get Randy Savage, who’d give you similar workrate, similar name recognition among fans, similar mark-out value, less attitude, and another thread connecting WWE back to its WWF glory days. For far less than that, Vince could put Brock Lesnar on the Kurt Angle Track and get the same result by Survivor Series. I’m sure you can come up with other, much cheaper, solutions (and don’t say Scott Steiner; it really doesn’t matter that Vince was able to keep Nash on a short leash, because with Steiner, you’re talking about a maniac without any sense of control, while Nash is a helluva lot more pragmatic, calculating, and mature).
Goldberg will provide WWE with yet another in its continuing series of two-week boosts in ratings, the audience disappearing yet again when the bookers can’t figure out what the hell to do with him. He’d land up joining the NWO, or turning Shawn Stasiak into Jerry Flynn redux. That is, if he’s lucky enough to get on Raw instead of the ailing Smackdown. If he ends up on Smackdown, Trip turns him into his bitch inside of a month, or he ends up ruining any chance the audience has of taking Angle and Chris Jericho seriously ever again.
Goldberg is the living symbol of the Last Desperate Act. If WWE takes him in, it’s time to officially say they’re at the end of their rope. Everything they’ve tried, the casual audience has rejected. Flair, Hogan, Nash, Hall, nothing’s worked. Now it’s time to play the hole card to see if the audience gives into their bluff. If it works, WWE’s Matt Damon in Rounders. If not, they’re Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid. That leaves me with the fine-by-me-either-way choice of being John Malkovich or Edward G. Robinson. I can’t lose either way. If this works, then as a wrestling fan, I’ll be happy to see WWE start to revive itself from its year-long coma. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be happy to dance over its grave while yelling out “I told you so”.
So bring him on. I’m next.
SMACKDOWN RESULTS ET AL
Since they aren’t on the main page courtesy of Scott Hall’s idiocy, I get to steal from Rajah (which is not RajahWWE yet)…
Jakked/Metal Taping Results:
Syndies don’t get italics or very many comments.
Val Venis over Albert (Pinfall, rollup from second rope)
Chavo Guerrero over Sho Funaki (Pinfall, brainbuster)
Billy Kidman over Christian (DQ, low blow). Expect a tantrum.
Faarooq over the Godfather (Pinfall, rollup with feet on the rope). They seem to be undecided about who’s turning heel, since Godfather follows up his loss by an attempted beatdown.
Opening promo leads to Trip/Jericho Hell In The Cell at JD. Now if the card didn’t involve Goblin/Undertweener, I’d be buying it for that.
Hurricane Helms over Yoshihiro Tajiri, Cruiserweight Title Match (COR, Tramp-ference, no title change): And the emasculation of Tajiri continues. People wonder why I don’t watch SD. Gee, you think this stuff might have something to do with it?
Test over Mark Henry (Pinfall, Big Boot): Another reason not to watch. When this match goes over five minutes, you know that Vince Still Loves Big Lummoxes.
Kurt Angle and Edge have another in their series of contretemps. Bald jokes galore.
D-Von Dudley over Trip (Pinfall, Jericho assistance courtesy of the money box): Trip does a nice little blade job, and D-Von gets a deacon to assist him (apparently it’s Damager from OVW getting the Constantino intro to the bigs).
Speaking of Constantino, he gets some ringtime…
All-Gay Three-Way over Al Snow, Maven, and Rikishi (Pinfall, Gunn pins Snow, Fameasser): NEXT!
Randy Orton promos, and Lance Storm decides to convince the audience that, compared to him, Orton is Jericho in the charisma department. This leads to…
Lance Storm over Randy Orton, Bob Holly as Special Guest Ref (Submission, Testicle Ecstacy (?)): Well, at least Storm got a clean fall against someone. Shouldn’t hurt Orton depending on the editing.
Edge and Hogan engage in a little bonhomie prior to their main event match.
Hulk Hogan and Edge versus Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho (ND, Trip Runs Wild Over You): Trip, a sledgehammer, five bodies (the wrestlers plus Tim White), and a thoroughly symbolic closing to this mess as everyone’s put out of their misery. Did they write this one on the plane ride back too? That’ll be the excuse.
AND IN OTHER WRESTLING NEWS…
First of all, our condolences to Verne Gagne. His wife, Mary, passed away yesterday. That sorta blows the “deaths in threes” principle when we’ve already lost Wahoo, Thesz, and Pee Wee over the past couple weeks.
Chester the Molester’s up to his old tricks again. According to the Torch, Bob Ryder owns the domain for the Jarretts’ NWA Total Non-Stop Action promotion and will be doing webmastering, just like he did for ECW. The Torch finally mentions what we all knew a long time ago (and what a number of us have said): that Joey Styles owns half of 1bullshit and owned half of ecwwrestling.com (Milord was the matchmaker in that relationship). I’m still wondering after all this time why Time-Warner never called him out on conflict of interest. The Torch is also speculating-without-speculating that Styles will become the announcer for NWATNA’s Wednesday night syndie show. And memo to the Wadester: I’m having a tough time not typing “the WWE” too.
Another speculation-without-speculation from the Torch is that they may be changing the name and format of King of the Ring. WWE Magazine is listing the June PPV as To Be Determined. The website doesn’t help matters. They’re still listing it as King of the Ring, but July’s PPV is still listed as Fully Loaded. That’s been changed to Vengeance (December goes back to Armageddon). So it’s going to be wait-and-see to determine if there’s going to be a KOTR tournament. Why not? It seems the perfect vehicle for a bragging-rights confrontation between the Raw group and the SD group. Have a Raw side of the bracket and an SD one, with the tournament winner gaining the ability to cross over for a year. That stip should actually put some cachet back into the King of the Ring title.
TROLLING FOR MATERIAL
BFM’s pal Dale brought up a good thought experiment in alternative history. He asks the question, “What if Hogan was injured while in Japan between the time he left the AWA and the time he entered the WWF, and he was forced to retire? What would happen to the WWF and the future WCW?” He posits some possible answers, and I obviously have mine. I’d like to hear yours and turn this into a feature column for the right-hand side of the main page. So if you’d like to join in on the speculation, please write me. It’s an interesting thing to think about considering the present.
That’ll be it for me this week. I’ll give the whiskey and car keys over to Grut so he can turn the world of wrestling into roadkill. Ashish will be in on the weekend. You enjoy yourselves and have a good week, and I’ll be back to ruin those good feelings on Tuesday morning.