This Week in ‘E – Titan Tower Massacre

Big week of news from Titan Towers, as the company released a slew of office personnel and in-ring talent, but still continues to sign other new talent at the same time. Meanwhile JBL gives thoughts that doesn’t tow the company’s line and apparently will be a cover model for “Muscle & Fitness.” What alternative universe are we in?

Opening Witty Banter
Congrats to the continuing success of “The Wrestler.” I was finally able to catch the movie over the weekend and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. For a wrestling nerd like me it was fun to pick out random wrestlers in the background of the shots and then geek out to my roommate who went with me about the Necro Butcher and other stuff from the movie. Then last night at the Golden Globes Bruce Springsteen won original song for “The Wrestler” and Mickey Rourke picked up a Best Actor nod for the film as well. Things are looking good.

Let’s take some ‘E…

The News of the Week
It seems as if the economy has also hit the publicly traded World Wrestling Entertainment. Back in November when the company released their third quarter financial reports they announced that profit had slid 37 percent over the quarter and WWE CEO Linda McMahon said the company would be looking to trim $20 million from their budget. Sure enough over the next week after that announcement six on-air talents were released from their contacts. In the following weeks that followed two developmental training talents, another on-air talent and high-ranking backstage employee Bruce Pritchard were also released from the company.

Then on January 9, it was officially announced by the company that the releases would continue.
They released this official press release to explain their actions:

WWE® Reduces Staff by 10%

World Wrestling Entertainment® today announced a 10% reduction of its staff across all areas of its global operations. This reduction will result in annual savings of approximately $8 Million in compensation and benefit costs. Additionally, the Company will incur an approximate $3 Million one-time restructuring charge in the first quarter of 2009.

The staff reduction is consistent with the Company’s previous commitment to implement stronger cost controls, increase earnings and margins, and reduce its cost base by $20 million in 2009. In addition to staffing, the Company has completed a comprehensive evaluation of its operating and capital expenditures and has identified additional efficiencies. Collectively, these initiatives will strengthen the Company’s financial performance.

“These efficiencies will help position the Company for the long term, by placing it in a stronger, more flexible position,” said Linda McMahon, CEO, WWE. “With these actions, we believe we can execute our key strategic initiatives, including our digital strategy and international expansion, in a more profitable manner.”

The layoffs wouldn’t just affect on-air talent, the usual scapegoats when it comes to employee releases, but also office personnel. It was also reported that many high-ranking office personnel who have worked for the company for a long time have been let go as well, and some of the office workers are calling this the “Titan Tower Massacre.” It seems as if the company was trying to reduce their overall pay scale, so some higher paid employees were in bigger danger. Security was called to escort out laid off employees of the property.

Almost immediately after that announcement of the on-air talents began rolling out.

By the time the smoke cleared on Friday night, Kevin Thorne, D-Lo Brown, Bam Neely, Val Venis, Gavin Spears, Mike Kruel and referees Timmy White, Jimmy Korderas, Mike Posey and Kevin Keenan were released.

Val Venis has been working uninterrupted for the company since 1998, which was is quite an impressive length of time for a wrestler to be working at the same company and its sad to see his time finally come. With Val gone I’m thinking Undertaker, Bob Holly and Edge hold the longevity record for working for the company the longest uninterrupted.

D-Lo’s return to the company was mishandled from the start and was barely on TV at all. As for the rest of the on-air guys, they were all basically just developmental talents that didn’t leave much of an impact on the company. This was Thorne’s second stint with the company and I question whether he will get a third chance somewhere down the road. I always liked Spears as well and think he may be brought back somewhere down the line.

As for the referees, Korderas has been a referee for the company since 1987 so it shows that longevity doesn’t pay apparently. The same can be said for Timmy White as well as I believe that of all the releases so far, White’s has to be the biggest shock, as he was a company employee since the mid-‘80s and besides his on-air duties as a referee he served as the personal assistant/handler/best friend to Andre the Giant.

So far the official list of on-air talent released looks to be this:
Kevin Thorn
Val Venis
Bam Neely
D-Lo Brown
Backstage Agent/Producer Tim White
Referee Jimmy Korderas
Referee Mike Posey
Referee Kevin Keenan

Amongst the on-air talent and office personnel released, the word is that Vince McMahon’s two limousine drivers have been let go as well.

So this must be Vince’s way of trying to empathize with his employees and showing that he too is suffering alongside everyone else.

All the releases led to a couple unintentional moments of comedy on Friday night, as WWE.com accidentally posted a potential spoiler about Steve Austin being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at WrestleMania 25. Then moments after Thorne got his release he posted a farewell message to his fans on his official WWE Universe account. The site was taken down minutes later.

Hahaha…I would like to think some disgruntled wwe.com employee posted that Steve Austin spoiler on his was out the door. And the Thorne message was a nice touch to his fans, and technically if the Universe is for both fans and athletes, shouldn’t Thorne’s account remained as part of the Universe?

In the wake of the releases, WWE continues to hire for the future as they recently signed Jason and Johnny Riggs as well as Michael Hutter to developmental contracts. All three used to train in OVW back in the day.

I remember The Riggs Brothers as Daniel Puder’s seconds back in Ohio Valley in 2005 when Paul Heyman was booking. He was playing up Puder’s MMA background and trying to mold him into a new age Taz with The Riggs Brothers playing “Team Puder.”

According to his website, Low Ki has signed with WWE:

It is with great excitement that we announce “The World Warrior” LOW-KI has joined World Wrestling Entertainment! Speculation had been in circulation after he participated in a non televised match November 4, 2008. Nothing was confirmed or reported, since it was assumed that he was still contractually obligated to compete in New Japan Pro Wrestling and was the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion. After NJPW’s “Wrestle Kingdom” events, contract negotiations begin for the new year. Terms apparently were not agreed upon and in his debut match, LOW-KI was victorious, putting away Florida Championship Wrestling’s Trent Berretta with the “Warrior’s Way”. Words cannot describe the excitement we feel here and we would like to congratulate “The World Warrior” on his incredible success!

I’m excited about the prospect of Low Ki working with WWE as Rey Mysterio has been pushing for his signing for months now. The question is whether he will be completely retrained, buried and renamed like Scotty Goldman or Braden Walker or whether he will be allowed to cut loose like Evan Bourne.

On his official WWE Universe site, JBL posted his thoughts on “The Wrestler:”

“A lot of people ask me about The Wrestler. I thought it was awesome and extremely well written. This was the business I broke into many years ago. However, that business has changed – and for the better. In the last six months, I have had MRIs, concussion tests, HIV test, trauma test, drug test and even my cholesterol tested – which was the only one I failed. This business in WWE is really a corporate environment these days – it has changed for the better. I am glad for my old days, I wouldn’t change a thing. But the WWE has done so much to clean up the abuse that the business as I knew it was so known for. All that being said, I loved the movie. Even with all the negative stereotypes in the movie, this was a part of what I did to get to WWE and it was fun to watch. A little scary to watch, but fun.”

I’m so glad JBL didn’t just tow the company line about the movie and gave his true thoughts about the movie. I’m always interested to hear what older wrestlers think about the movie.

Speaking of JBL, he will be on the cover of the May 2009 issue of “Muscle & Fitness” magazine and doing an interview in the magazine discussing his weight loss and his new energy drink.

Something about JBL and “Muscle & Fitness” just don’t seem to go hand-in-hand.

Ted DiBiase, Jr. is scheduled to return to WWE TVin late February. He has been off TV selling the concussion kick he got got from Randy Orton, while working on “The Marine 2.”

I was really wondering when DiBiase would be back. I keep expecting him to make a surprise return every week on RAW, but at least now I know a little time frame. It seemed like such an odd time to take him off TV as he and Cody Rhodes were just gaining steam. At any rate I welcome his eventual return.

Florida Championship Wrestling has suspended their Tuesday night house shows at Bourbon Street in Port Richey, Florida, at the request of Johnny Ace, who felt running WWE promoted shows in a bar didn’t fit the company’s new image.

Where are they gonna run the shows now, an elementary school?

After last week when Congress released their findings on their investigation about steroids in wrestling, people went through and actually read the large documents and found a few nuggets of goodness. One in particular from Vince McMahon’s 2007 Congressional Testimony stood out:

“I would suggest to you that adolescents are pretty smart, even though that is a very small segment of the viewing audience that we have. But nonetheless, I think that they’re pretty smart. They know that what we do is a performance. So they know that everything we have are characters. They are not real-life individuals. So I would suggest that no one believes any of these human beings are role models any more so than Batman.”

How does he not think his wrestlers are role models to these young children he is now marketing to so hard? This is just a ridiculous statement on many accounts. Those little kids that look up to John Cena and Jeff Hardy also look up to Batman. This sounds like a statement Vince would be making when the company would be going into more “Attitude” style marketing, not when the company is shifting completely PG.

Speaking of WWE’s move to PG, Jim Ross on his blog has mentioned that John Cena’s finishing move the F-U will be renamed The Throwback. His submission will also go back to just being called the STF, as opposed to the STFU.

Well the F-U was kind of a dated name, as it referred to his old 2003 feud with Brock Lesnar, who used the F-5 as his finisher. And the STFU just came from Joey Styles off the cuff and somehow it stuck. The Throwback is nice name, but Cena used to have another move called The Throwback that was some sort of running overhead neck snap thing.

Remember when Cena used to have a shirt and a hat that said “Ruck Fules?” Yeah, me neither.

More information has been released on the return of “WWE Superstars” that will premiere on WGN in April. I will be a first run show, featuring original matches and content from superstars of all three brands. The show will debut at 7 pm central time on Thursday nights and then air again that night at 10 pm. There will also be a Saturday afternoon replay. WWE and WGN have agreed on a two-year deal. The Tribune Company, which is the parent company to WGN, is paying a licensing fee to WWE for the show.

I’m pretty excited for the return of “Superstars,” especially being that it will feature first-run content. Finally guys like Paul Burchill and Jimmy Yang will have a place to show off their trade.

The Road to…Royal Rumble
30 Man Royal Rumble Match
Participants:
Triple H, Vladimir Kozlov, The Big Show, Shelton Benjamin, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Kofi Kingston, Rey Mysterio

World Heavyweight Championship
John Cena (c) v. JBL (accompanied by Shawn Michaels)

WWE Championship
Jeff Hardy (c) v. Edge

Women’s Championship
Melina v. Beth Phoenix (c)

Wrestler of the Week
Week of January 5 – 11: Triple H
Nothing really earth-shattering happened on WWE TV this week so I have to give some love to Triple H, who worked three times on this past week’s SmackDown! He had a pretty good match with John Morrison, a decent match with Chavo Guerrero & The Miz and a much better than expected Last Man Standing match with The Big Show. Triple H really carried the show on his back this week with other big stars like Jeff Hardy and Edge virutlly absent from the show.

RAW’s On Tonight!
RAW has been hitting the ground running these past few weeks with big-time main events and matches announced ahead of time and for upcoming weeks in order to give the show that episodic feel it needs. This week is no different as already three big matches have been announced for tonight’s RAW in my old stomping grounds of Sioux City, Iowa. Kane will go one-on-one with Randy Orton stemming from Kane stalking Kelly Kelly, who had a fling with Randy Orton. How much of an evil pimp is Orton? Also Shawn Michaels will meet John Cena as hype for Cena’s World Title defense against JBL at Royal Rumble. With the storyline hanging over the match, I don’t expect this to be the four star match that Cena and Michaels have had in the past. Plus CM Punk will get a rematch against William Regal for the Intercontinental Title. I’m expecting more shenanigans in this match that will lead to a proper blow off at the Royal Rumble.

On Last Week’s Episode…
Norine again does double duty and covers both RAW and SmackDown!

How They Rated
SmackDown! (1.2.09) – 2.1

A.M. RAW (1.4.09) – .8

RAW (1.5.09) – 3.38

ECW (1.6.09) – 1.4

This is Boring, What Else is There to Read?
Wiswell looks back at the first shows from the Pearce era of ROH.

Ditch looks back at how his predictions for 2008 fared and makes new choices for 2009.

Marshall breaks down TNA’s drug testing policies and practices.

For more relevant wrestling information from your truly, check out my other gig as the Pro Wrestling Examiner over at Examiner.com.

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