This Week in ‘E – Bret Hart versus Hulk Hogan, Let the Battle Begin

It’s all TNA and WWE’s battle in this week’s issue, plus Doc passes away and Melina injures herself at an inopportune time.

Opening Witty Banter
I hope everyone had a fantastic New Years Eve and is already starting the New Year in style. I had a much better than anticipated New Years Eve and New Years Day. So if that is any indication to how the rest of the year is going to go then I am on board. Now tonight, pro wrestling looks to embark on their biggest night in a long-time as the first head-to-head battle between TNA and WWE is about to erupt. I’ve personally had more than one of my friends, who were fans during the Attitude era, ask me about Bret Hart coming back so pro wrestling is definitely on people’s minds.

Let’s take some ‘E…

The News of the Week
With virtually all the news this week stems from tonight’s battle, here is a repost of a commentary I published on examiner.com giving all my thoughts on tonight’s battle:

The wrestling world has been abuzz in the past few weeks thanks to TNA Wrestling once again picking a fight with World Wrestling Entertainment. After years of signing WWE’s former top stars (like Kurt Angle, Booker T, Mick Foley and Bobby Lashley) and claiming each would be the one to turn the tide in the supposed “war” between the two companies, TNA finally secured their biggest weapon when the signed Hulk Hogan to an exclusive partnership. Hogan was (and is one) of the very few remaining wrestling personalities (other than probably Goldberg, The Rock, Steve Austin or Brock Lesnar) who could conceivably make people stand up and take notice of TNA Wrestling.

It has been reported that Vince McMahon and company were not all riled up that Tuesday in October when Hogan and TNA’s partnership was announced. WWE is a global organization with over 40 years of experience, top-notch production values and partnerships with companies and media outlets worldwide. WWE doesn’t even acknowledge TNA’s presence on television. Realistically why should they? WWE is far and away a clear number one in the pro wrestling race, while TNA is a distant number two in terms of visibility, TV ratings, pay per view buy rates, fan awareness and virtually any other business-related category.

Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan are great business partners and probably better opponents. They know each other well and know how the other does business; after all they helped each other grow as businessmen and entertainers in the early ‘80s. So when Hulk Hogan came out live on Spike TV’s Ultimate Fighter 10 season finale and announced that TNA would present a live three-hour Impact live on January 4, 2010 someone stood up take notice. It would be TNA’s first time trying to go head-to-head with WWE RAW live on a Monday night.

Since that night on December 5, TNA Wrestling has been pounding their chests about this “coup.” They even got Spike TV officials so behind the concept that they allowed Hogan to be interviewed on the network’s bread-and-butter programming (UFC). UFC President Dana White has always been adamant about staying away from pro wrestling and now UFC is being used to promote the channel’s latest pro wrestling endeavor. So clearly Hulk Hogan’s involvement has already been successful in that regard.

Hogan, to his credit, has been making the rounds recently promoting his debut on TNA on various radio shows. He has promised he is going to overhaul the creative writers aspect of today’s pro wrestling (which isn’t a bad thing), bring in talent who will help him take the fight to WWE and promote TNA stars he feel is worthy of main event status. He also indicated he won’t initially be in the ring wrestling himself (another good thing.) But the Hogan bravado kicked in a radio interview he gave to Arda Ocal and Corey Erdman of the “Right After Wrestling” program on SIRIUS 98 and predicted that Nielson ratings would triple to a 3.0 on his debut appearance.

But this is where Hogan gets delusional. TNA’s highest rating for Impact has hovered right around that 1.1 or 1.2 area. A 1.0 rating is about the base level for TNA, indicating their core audience (which is about right in line, ratings wise, with WWE’s third and fourth string shows – ECW and Superstars.) Meanwhile WWE RAW (their flagship show) draws in the neighborhood of a 3.0 rating on average weekly. It is a far cry from ten years ago when a combination of RAW and WCW Monday Nitro were drawing a combined 10.0 rating every Monday night on cable television. Today’s wrestling landscape clearly shows that a lot of old wrestling fans have moved on to other forms of entertainment (most notably MMA and the UFC in particular) while other have just given up altogether.

To say that TNA will draw a 3.0 is ludicrous. There is not that many wrestling fans left in the world. Sure Hulk Hogan and his name value has the potential to bring back plenty of nostalgia viewers back to the fold (especially if those disillusioned wrestling fans were watching UFC during Hogan’s announcement) but he doesn’t bring that many fans with him. That 3.0 rating is the base of WWE’s fans as well. There is plenty of crossover between the two companies as well, which will either bring a lot of channel switching back and forth like it used to be ten years ago, or more likely in today’s climate, one will get watched live and one will be DVRed. Even if RAW were pre-empted that night, TNA would not draw a 3.0 rating. Sure Monday night has been institutionalized as THE night to watch pro wrestling on TV, but Spike TV and the TNA Wrestling brand do not have the luxury of that recognition.

The idea is that Hogan is supposed to draw viewers to the program and supremely talented athletes like Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Desmond Wolfe are supposed to keep them hooked. It is a very sound in theory, but execution of that will be a whole other story.

Now on the other side of the fence is the question of how Vince McMahon and WWE will react to TNA bringing the fight directly to their proverbial battlefield. WWE has been the king of Monday nights since World Championship Wrestling and Monday Nitro folded in March 2001. McMahon has had plenty of time to rest on laurels. He has gotten complacent with his brand and reverted back to the family-friendly theme of programming that WWE was known for before the initial Monday Night Wars began back 1995.

Vince McMahon works at his absolute best when he has real, direct competition. When World Championship Wrestling and Eric Bischoff put the WWF’s back against the wall in 1995, McMahon came back swinging with a wild veracity. Bischoff’s Nitro broke all the rules of televised Monday night wrestling that the WWF had instituted. Nitro came out live every week with superstar versus superstar matches in every segment of the show, unexpected arrivals and the taboo practice of giving away a taped RAW’s results live on the air.


Thanks to the influence of his son Shane and his lead writer Vince Russo (who is now TNA’s lead writer) Vince McMahon came out swinging with the “Attitude” era, full of adult-themed storylines, T & A, foul language, and undefined characters that were not “good” or “bad,” but rather had shades of grey. It led to the most profitable time in pro wrestling history. WCW ruled the War for 82 straight weeks in regards to television ratings throughout 1997 and 1998, but when the smoke cleared it was the WWF that stood tall.

Vince McMahon is a workaholic; he thrives on competition. It is what keeps him sharp. TNA has been poking around and been on the radar for over seven years now. They have done things in the past to get WWE’s attention. They have taken verbal, on-air jabs, taken their former talent and basically tried to present themselves as an equal “number two” to WWE. Now this is chance to finally get into the trenches of competition.

Publicly WWE has made no acknowledgement about TNA’s announcement of the three-hour show going against RAW. Yet by front loading their show with a big WWE Unified Tag Team Championship match between DeGeneration X and The Big Show & Chris Jericho, a grudge match between Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton and of course a return twelve years in the making with Bret Hart making his improbable return to WWE.

Now TNA picked what I believe to be their most opportune time available (the Ultimate Fighter finale) to announce they would be going head-to-head with WWE at their first opportunity in 2010. However where I feel TNA failed in this opening salvo is that they gave the master genius an entire month to come up with a returning shot. While I applaud TNA for giving itself a month of promotion time for this big super event (because let’s face it, normally TNA is awful at promoting future free TV events), this could backfire on them. WWE had a month to find their biggest celebrity guest host or their most prized wrestling legends and came back with Hart agreeing to a return.

Without trying WWE RAW draws in that 3.0 – 3.4 ratings area. And while they have been hyping up Hart’s appearance all week (as opposed to the weeks TNA has been hyping Hogan’s), I think WWE and USA Network should be incredibly happy with a 4.0 or above. By keeping the show at a tight two hours it also keeps their ratings from falling, as their three-hour specials usually skew lower due to a poor first hour rating. Bret Hart, while a great coup for WWE, will just be a part of WWE’s well-oiled machine. WWE is such a slick production and an institution on Monday nights that anyone could have been slotted in the guest host slot, and things would have gone on business as usual.

Plus the month of January always gets WWE creative going as the Royal Rumble is only weeks away and the company actually gets on fire when it comes to booking for WrestleMania so potential is there to put together a home run show. TNA Wrestling (and Dixie Carter herself) threw out the “first shot.” I’m afraid for TNA (but very excited as a wrestling fan) to see how McMahon fires back with a response shot. Welcome to the big leagues TNA, you may have finally awaken the monster. And as a wrestling fan I cannot wait.

Since that was posted in the wee hours of Sunday morning, much more news has come out on TNA’s side. Scott Hall is all but confirmed to be on the show. Shannon Moore has spilled the beans that he is heading to Orlando and Jeff Hardy will literally be riding shotgun with him. Rob Van Dam has posted hints that he may/may not be in Orlando. Plus Hogan’s running buddy Bubba The Love Sponge is going to be TNA’s new backstage interviewer. Because nothing says big-time promotion like an interviewer named Bubba.

Hype for tonight’s shows has reached a fever pitch and put wrestling fans in a fervor not seen in a long time. Things can only get more interesting as the day and evening progresses.

During a RAW house show this past week Melina slipped during a tag match and looks to have torn her ACL. She is still expected to be at RAW tomorrow night regardless.

This couldn’t come at a worse time as Bret Hart has publicly said in an interview that he thinks Melina is one of the best wrestlers in the world and would likely interact with her during his short run. Plus a healthy Melina would have a ready-made run against Natalya Neidhart that could conceivably elevate both women. On a side note, all three members of The Hart Dynasty are expected to be on RAW as well.

Speaking of Divas, it is being reported that WWE Creative is reportedly more “interested” than concerned by Impact. Apparently they have been mocking the fact TNA has only announced to women’s matches for the show and have joked that they could trot out Maryse every time TNA has one of their women out to show that one WWE Diva can beat all their women combined.

I wouldn’t be opposed to watching Maryse and Kelly Kelly roll around again like they did last week.

Steve Williams passed away early on the morning of December 30, finally succumbing to a long battle with throat cancer. He was 49.

Williams, more famously known as “Dr. Death” in wrestling circles, was a standout athlete at the University of Oklahoma, excelling in both wrestling and football. He began wrestling professionally in 1981 for Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling. He was a big star for Watts and was one of the company’s top champions.

In the 1990s he formed a tag team with the late Terry Gordy known as The Miracle Violence Connection. They were huge stars in All-Japan Pro Wrestling; some of the most successful non-Japanese wrestlers ever in All-Japan. He and Gordy also found success in World Championship Wrestling in between trips to Japan.

He ended the decade with a brief stop in Extreme Championship Wrestling before moving on to the World Wrestling Federation in 1998 and then to World Championship Wrestling in 1999. He continued to wrestle on the independent circuit well into the new millennium, and returned to WWE in 2006 as a trainer for up-and-coming wrestlers.

He underwent his first surgery for throat cancer in 2004, which caused the cancer to go into remission. He retired officially in 2009, having his last match in Tokyo in October.

Jim Ross and Bill Watts’, Williams’ staunchest supporters, said more in tribute to Williams than I ever could. Rest in peace Doc.

James Roday and Dule Hill, stars of USA Network’s “Psych,” are going to guest host WWE RAW on January 25. They are there to cross-promote their show, obviously, but that week’s show especially as John Cena will guest star in an episode titled “You Can’t Handle This Episode.”

This has “win” written all over it. Roday and Hill are admitted wrestling fans, highly entertaining actors and familiar with the USA Network so all the pieces look to be in place for an entertaining guest host spot. Plus it will be the week before Royal Rumble so everything should be at a fever pitch.

Wrestler of the Week
Week of December 28 – January 3: Tommy Dreamer
This is more of a sentimental pick than anything else to start a new year of WOTW awards. While I spent much time in last week’s column talking about Dreamer’s departure, he surprised me by coming back to ECW one last time this week to put Zack Ryder over for real this time and then receive a hero’s farewell. Vince McMahon must be getting soft in his old age letting his talent say their goodbyes and leave with their head held high these days. It was a fitting end for Dreamer to lie his ECW t-shirt in the middle of that ring as he left, as now any remnants of the old ECW is now gone for good. Thanks for the hard work; now don’t end up in TNA in 90 days with all of your old running buddies.

RAW’s On Tonight!
Tonight is the night, the war starts up again. With TNA coming to Monday night live for the first time and bringing Hulk Hogan with them, WWE and Vince McMahon responded in kind. Tonight is the improbable return of Bret “Hit Man” Hart to a WWE ring to kick off a short-term stay with the company. Plus Kofi Kingston will battle Randy Orton to blow off their feud and DeGeneration X will defend their Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships against Chris Jericho and The Big Show in Jeri-Show’s last rematch.

On Last Week’s Episode…
Eison covers a very fun SmackDown featuring the always compelling free TV gimmick of Beat the Clock.

Eison covers Superstars, the last WWE show of the decade, and a main event that features Carlito and Chris Masters…not the most auspicious way to end the year and the decade.

Marshall, Innarelli and Wheeler cover a pretty inconsequential episode of RAW.

How They Rated
SmackDown! (12.18.09) –

Superstars (12.24.09) – .7

A.M. RAW (12.27.09) –

RAW (12.28.09) – 3.6

ECW (12.29.09) –

This is Boring, What Else is There to Read?
Ditch gets in on the decade in review goodness by looking back at 2002 and 2003.

Wheeler does a fantastic job highlighting the past decade of WWF/E.

Scott Keith is all over the place with timely reposts of Bret Hart’s 2006 DVD and Wrestling With Shadows.

A Pulse Wrestlingroundtable discussing what to expect in tonight’s battle.

Follow me on Twitter here.

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

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