PWI UPDATE: OLDER ARCHIVES

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 30, 2006)
IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 26, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 23, 2006)
CHAMPION MISTERIO UPSET WINNER AT JUDGMENT DAY (May 21, 2006)
IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 19, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 16, 2006)
IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 11, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 9, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 2, 2006)
CENA, RVD SHINE AT WWE BACKLASH (April 30, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 25, 2006)
IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (April 20, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 18, 2006)
IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (April 14, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 11, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 4, 2006)
MISTERIO, CENA MAKE HISTORY AT WM22 (April 3, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 28, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 21, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 14, 2006)
CHRISTIAN TITLE DEFENSE HIGHLIGHTED BY STEVE BORDEN, SCOTT STEINER RUN-INS (March 13, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 7, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 28, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 21, 2006)
WWE NO WAY OUT PAY-PER-VIEW (February 19, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 14, 2006)
CHRISTIAN REIGNS AT AGAINST ALL ODDS (February 13, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 7, 2006)
THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (January 31, 2006)
WWE ROYAL RUMBLE RECAP
HOW SMACKDOWN CAN BENEFIT FROM BATISTA’S INJURY
EDDIE GUERRERO: 1967–2005
“HULK HOGAN vs. STEVE AUSTIN? NO THANKS !”
“D-VON, GET THE ATTORNEYS!”
FOLEY PICKS WWE OVER TNA; IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LEGACY
SUMMERSLAM FALLOUT: WHO REALLY WON AND LOST
NEW ROH CHAMP: ANOTHER WWE-BOUND STAR
BRET, VINCE SHAKE HANDS, MAKE DEAL
TWO LEGENDS RETURNING TO WWE FOLD?
TNA TO SPIKE TV, LESNAR BACK TO WWE
TALENT DRAFT SHAKES UP WWE

NEWEST ARCHIVES

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 30, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S., signaling the unofficial start of summer. This is, in my opinion, the best time to be a wrestling fan. Basically, the time between WrestleMania and SummerSlam is arguably the finest WWE programming you will be treated to all year. With the rebirth of ECW, as well as the brand draft (which, according to my sources, is still on), WWE programming promises to be much more interesting. Or, at the very least different, which isn’t bad.

So, here’s to you, Sgt. Slaughter, and you too, G.I. Bro. I’ll miss you most of all, Tugboat; sure, I’m not entirely certain your gimmick was that of a naval seaman, but those skin-tight skivvies and sailor hat could only mean that you were an obese serviceman … right?

All kidding aside, it is important to recognize the selflessness of those who have served, and died, for the freedom of our country. I have nothing but the utmost respect for all who have courageously defended this nation; they are truly the fabric of what makes America great.

Fire up the grill, grab another cold beverage, plop the kids in front of the mosquito zapper, and enjoy “The Turn,” or as some call it, “Freedom Readin.”

* * *

General Malaise
Every so often, WWE announces on its Web site that Raw will be doing something new to start the program. For the past few days the company has teased that Mr. McMahon would be finally appointing a new general manager of Raw at the top of the program. Naturally—nay, foolishly—I was intrigued.

Mind you, I would be tuning in to Raw regardless of any gimmicky starts; heck, that’s what the good folks at PWI pay me millions to do. And, like a toddler on the night before his birthday, I got plenty excited at the possibilities. Who would it be? Dusty Rhodes? Steve Austin … again? What about Stephanie McMahon, an unfortunate victim of a drive-by immaculate conception (hey, if they don’t want us addressing it, don’t put her on television). See, the possibilities were … well, limited, but still, it could’ve been good, right?

So you can imagine my disappointment when Vinnie Mac dodged the situation once again, this time appointing the wonderfully boring Jonathan Coachman as his “executive assistant.” Now, by comparison, I’d rather watch “The Coach” than Mr. McMahon. However, that doesn’t mean he deserves to be thrust into the main storyline of the main WWE program. I recall a time many, many years ago when the top rulebreakers of the company were—get this—wrestlers. Not executives or announcers, but actual wrestlers.

Oh, by the way, the total time it took to get to this “announcement”: nine minutes. Ridiculous.

* * *

The Only Man Who Can Stop Kane Is …
In his pursuit to own every title that he should not be chasing, former tag champ Kane squared off with Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin in a well-paced bout that saw both men dominate the flow at points. Benjamin’s high intensity style was somewhat stymied by Kane, who menacingly stalked the champion throughout the contest, disrupting any offense the champion was able to muster.

Naturally, as soon as it appeared that Kane would turn the corner on his confusing, and relatively underwhelming, championship match, it was time for yet another head-scratching moment brought to you by the good folks at WWE. A “fake Kane” made his way down to the ring dressed in the monster’s traditional attire and chokeslammed “new Kane” straight to “fake Hell,” I believe. (I’ll have to check up on that.)

No doubt this is leading to an unmasking at some point that should explain the situation as well as bring a new feud to the forefront. This could be the start of something very entertaining, but only if next week Dr. Isaac Yankem attacks Kane. Hell, WWE could just keep going deeper into the past until it’s “zygote Kane” against “new Kane.” You heard it here first!

* * *

Where Has She Been All My Life?
Beth Phoenix looked great in her Raw in-ring debut; she’s a very solid competitor with a technically sound and bruising style. Based on one match, she has solidified herself as, at least, the third best wrestler in the women’s division. So, why has she been stuck in Los Kentuckos for so long? With so many mediocre Divas stepping into the squared circle over the past year, it seems odd that we hadn’t seen Beth sooner.

Speaking of mediocre Divas, Candice Michelle should never be allowed near a wrestling ring again, period. The “aspiring dramatic actress” (her words, not mine) has two schlocky commercials to her name and now she’s hitting people with brutal elbowdrops. She brings absolutely nothing to professional wrestling. I don’t mean to sound cruel, but c’mon, she’s awful.

Also, why hasn’t anyone asked Beth what her beef is with Mickie? J.R. and King alluded to some heat between the newcomer and the champion. If they think people are tuning in to see how this plays out while the announce team teases it for weeks, WWE is even further away from the pulse of the fans than I initially thought.

* * *

So Much For Unemployment
Following their dismissal from Smackdown, Johnny Nitro and the stunning Melina made their debut on Raw as the surprise opponent for Raw World champion John Cena. And while no one thought that Nitro had a shot against Cena, essentially this was a showcase match for those fans who may not get UPN where they live … or have never heard of Smackdown. It’s okay—WWE barely remembers when it’s on either.

Nitro could end up being a very nice addition to the Intercontinental title picture if given the chance. Hopefully, WWE won’t plop him into the dreadful tag “division” (I use that term lightly) merely because of his past tag success. Despite losing in what was basically a glorified squash, Nitro should have a nice future with the Monday-night brand.

RVD made his way to ringside before the match after taking exception to The King’s take on ECW and its fans. “Mr. Money-In-The-Bank” pulled up a chair at the announce table and jawed with Lawler under the guise of scouting Cena prior to their title match at One Night Stand.

Interestingly enough, the circular back-and-forth bickering between Lawler and RVD took away from the match itself and surely allowed the challenger no time to scout his opponent. For RVD, who I’m sure is an avid reader of this column, I’ve compiled a breakdown of Cena’s match. Here goes: bodyslam, punch, “Five-Knuckle Shuffle,” STFU, boos.

You’re welcome.

* * *

Were Podiums Really Necessary?
I actually scoured my massive brain for two people—other than Paul Heyman and Mick Foley—in WWE that I would rather see go head-to-head in an in-ring debate, and I could think of none.

Expecting little more than a glorified, 10-minute promo for the upcoming pay-per-view, I must admit that I was delightfully incorrect. Leave it to ECW to add a little bit of intrigue to WWE. Foley and Heyman took turns trading verbal shots at each other, with the hardcore legend claiming that the evil genius resented his success in WWE. Heyman, somewhat taken back, assured Foley that he didn’t resent the man’s success, but rather was disappointed with what he became—basically a gimmicky, comic-relief with a sock puppet, which naturally riled up the former World champion.

While that was all well and good, it was far from the best part of the segment. Heyman announced his two draft picks from the Raw and Smackdown brand to be Rob Van Dam and, shockingly, WWE’s go-to guy, Kurt Angle, who then made his way to the ring and decimated Foley. Angle will be joining ECW as part of a “new vision” for the hardcore brand. Apparently, whenever WWE needs to give a brand credibility, Angle is the man (recall, that’s why he was moved to Smackdown in the first place).

Rest assured, my fellow delinquents—Heyman insisted that ECW would still have all the obvious drug references and violence toward women that made it a household name for wholesome family entertainment.

* * *

Heading In Opposite Directions
There comes a point where a wrestler goes from having potential to simply being a repeat main-eventer with no real shot at taking home the gold. Edge is creeping dangerously down that spectrum, as the 21-day former Raw World champion hasn’t done much along the lines of winning since his hardcore match victory over Mick Foley at WrestleMania 22. Despite remaining in the title picture, Edge has yet to show glimpses of the conniving opportunist that took the strap away from Cena at New Year’s Revolution.

Moving in the other direction, The Big Show went from jobbing to Kane to being considered for the number-one contender’s spot? Huh … how about that. I still dig Show, as he’s one of the most charismatic superstars in WWE today. He’s very watchable for a big man—most of the time—and someone who is easy to support. He’s probably not world championship material at this point in his career, but he’s definitely in the right spot now as a possible contender for the Raw World title.

Edge won what was an otherwise uneventful match last night, and reclaimed the spot of number-one contender. The Big Show will likely wander off into comedy wrestling obscurity as Edge bides the time until his next high-profile ass-kicking at the hands of John Cena/Triple-H/RVD.

* * *

Trips/Squad
Trips was ordered to take on Kenny in a “Spirt Jack Match” (get it?! It’s like lumberjack, only with Spirit, instead! Brilliant! Ugh) where all of the remaining members of the Squad were posted around the ring to keep the former World champ in the ring. To make matters worse, Trips’ only friend—his trusty sledgehammer—was taken from him by Vinnie Mac.

Regardless of the odds, Trips dominated most of the match, as he obviously has more talent in one surgically repaired quad than the entire Squad, and only with double the ego to boot! The Squad broke out every dirty move in the book, including crotching “The Cerebral Assassin” on the ringpost and working over his knees while the ref was distracted.

In the end, however, it was Triple-H pulling out the surprising victory after nailing Kenny with a pedigree. Among the myriad questions this brought up to mind, the first was: Why was Hunter able to beat the Squad, whereas HBK was absolutely destroyed by them just one week ago? The interference was arguably similar, although The Squad was able to swarm HBK whereas they just took turns on Trips. Even still, “The Game” looked to be superhuman at points in this match, whereas HBK was portrayed as a courageous yet broken veteran.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Triple-H is indeed a god of sorts, I’m willing to look past my initial confusion. However, the second confusing moment of the main event actually made me angry the more I thought about it. Following the match, Vinnie Mac made his way to the top of the ramp and gleefully offered Trips a spot in the “kiss my ass” club, prompting fans around the world to mutter in unison, “Huh?”

See, what makes this so vexing is that the moronic “club” segment is usually reserved for down-on-their-luck people who are trying to get their job back and have no choice but to grovel at the posterior of Vince McMahon. Now, there’s been no mention of Trips losing his cushy gig, nor has there been any talk of him needing to beg for forgiveness (for nailing Shane with the hammer) on a weekly basis—so, what gives?

Basically, this reeks of Vinnie Mac desperately clinging to as much face time as he can possibly steal on Raw. Sure, he’s part of the major storyline—I get it—but now the storyline is starting to take that sharp turn to Makenosenseville. I have no doubt that this angle is going to get ugly before it gets better. What I’m even surer of is that Vince should keep his pasty ass—and pointless gimmicks—out of the spotlight.

IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 26, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

TNA, for the first time in my memory, opened last night’s edition of Impact with a disclaimer. The warning, and I’m paraphrasing, was along the lines of “this program will deal with themes of an adult nature.” This made absolutely no sense to me in hindsight for two reasons:

First, as much as TNA wants to portray itself as “family friendly entertainment,” it’s not—plain and simple. The promotion allows some discretion to its wrestlers along the lines of what type of adult-language it uses during promos. And, although the talent uses such language sparingly, it does use it. When was the last time you heard the Rev. Camden on 7th Heaven call someone a “son of a bitch”? If you ever saw the show, you correctly answered “never.”

Second, why bother putting a disclaimer on a program that airs at 11 p.m. on a weeknight? In addition to being far tamer than its competition, TNA airs during a time slot where those children for whom the program may be considered too racy, should be long asleep. Aside from Kevin Nash’s less-than-subtle genital reference, and Kip James’ homage to Brother Devon, there really wasn’t much that should make the show disclaimer-worthy.

So, basically, to my good friends at TNA—please, knock it off with the disclaimers until you actually have something to disclaim.

* * *

Kevin Nash Injury Watch: Week 2
The show kicked off with a four-way X division match won by TNA’s prodigal son, Senshi, who was revealed to be the man formerly known as Low-Ki. Of course, anyone who follows wrestling knew that Senshi is better known by his former moniker, yet I applaud TNA for acknowledging that fact rather than pretending he was a new, unknown commodity. That would be like painting a tattoo on a guy’s face, putting his hair in braids, and pretending he was an uncontrollable Islander from parts unknown … but I digress.

The action was fast and crisp, as all of the competitors were allowed to showcase their talent. The match set up what promised to be an up-tempo broadcast.

Enter the “Show-killa.”

Kevin Nash—looking less “Big Sexy” and more like a creepy uncle who hugs your girlfriend a little too long at the family gatherings—came to the ring and powerbombed Jay Lethal following the match. Resident parasite Alex Shelley videotaped the squash, as Nash rolled out his new catchphrase, “Size Matters,” referring—hopefully—to his towering stature over the X division wrestlers.
Nash has mentioned—as part of his current angle—that his TNA contract ends in October, meaning that he has roughly six months left to wreak havoc on the X division, as well as the ocular organs of wrestling fans everywhere. Hopefully, this is just a case of TNA squeezing the last out of an undeserved contract to a man nearly a decade past his prime. Shelley would be wise to distance himself from Nash, as this is shaping up to be a no-win situation.

Injury update: None to report, although it is believed that Mr. Nash nicked himself while shaving.

* * *

Wrestlers-turned-announcers-turned punch line, Konnan and LAX refused to wrestle because of the U.S. stance on immigration reform issues. Not only is this angle over-the-head of most wrestling fans, it’s tremendously boring to those of us that get it.

* * *

It’s Time To Start Seeing Different Partners
Much like peanut butter and tuna fish, A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels are pretty good apart, but together, umm … well … they’re not so good.

The combination of the X division legends seems, on paper, like a great idea, but, if living near a city that calls both Allen Iverson and Chris Webber its own, I can safely say that sometimes two superstars just don’t work well together in the long run. And, yes, while they have been losing their matches due mostly to outside interference (as did this match to The Diamonds in the Rough), my primary concern is that their styles are far too similar, and their vision shortsighted, for this duo to succeed.

At this point in both of their careers, each is better suited for singles competition. Both are tremendously talented. Tag team wrestling, however, requires a different mindset than singles competition. I just don’t see the drive and desire in Styles and Daniels to truly progress together as a team. My thoughts are such because it appears that this team is not in it for the long run. At any point this duo can—and likely will—go their separate ways and once again become instant contenders to whatever title they are chasing. Tag team wrestling just doesn’t seem as if it is the great passion for either man at this stage of their wrestling lives.

Conversely, Diamonds In The Rough—TNA’s forgotten tag team—are one of the most solid tandems in the promotion. I’m not saying they are title contenders right now—far from it, actually. But still, they are definitely worthy of a second look.

* * *

For the past two weeks, Christy Hemme has been featured in little more than pre-taped segments leading into commercials informing fans of almost exactly what the prior segment just previewed, and yet she still brings more to TNA programming than any of her fellow Playboy Playmates do for the company up north. Hemme proves that it is possible to be interesting in a limited role, even after everyone’s seen you nekkid. Candice Michelle should be taking notes, when she’s not busy touting how she longs to be taken seriously as an actress.

* * *

Brown Out
My first reaction to seeing the triumphant return of Monty Brown cut short by a very surprising loss to Ron Killings in a “King Of The Mountain” qualifying match was one of utter disbelief. Here was the former number-one contender to the NWA World title, who, following a very impressive match with champion Christian Cage, was sidelined with a knee injury that required surgery. Naturally, it seemed that once he was ready to enter a six-sided ring, Brown would once again return to the top of the contender list and get a second chance at the strap. I mean, isn’t the old adage in sports that an injury doesn’t cost a player his spot in the starting lineup?

Understanding that professional wrestling does things a little different than mainstream sports, Brown not immediately reclaiming the number one contender's spot is not altogether shocking. But, to not even have him in the “King Of The Mountain” match is more than a bit perplexing. It’s always nice to see TNA push other talent—such as Killings—but Brown’s exclusion may do more harm to his position in the promotion’s roster than first thought.

Brown looked strong in his return to active competition, but a loss is still a loss, and this one was costly. “The Alpha Male” has dropped from number one to, at best, the number-five contender spot.

* * *

Did Hunter Write That?
Among the many things DeGeneration X did well, there was nothing more the rogue faction did betterthan winning titles and insulting foes. Whether it was spoofing the Nation of Domination or staving off the advances of a midget Bret Hart, the members of DX were experts at exploiting the personality quirks of their opponents.

Unfortunately, last night’s shot at Team 3D by The James Gang was ill-timed, dreadfully long, and flat out unfunny. The first sight of “Team 3D” immediately made me chuckle, as did the team’s insistence on being the “second best tag team” in wrestling history. The duo then went through its repertoire of trite catchphrases and overblown facial expressions that, again, wasn’t half-bad. Yet, the duo persisted and lost the fans shortly thereafter. The Impact Zone was as quiet as if Jeff Jarrett was … well … doing anything.

Basically, the segment was entertaining, but only in very small doses. While The James Gang are probably some of the promotion’s best mike workers, TNA has to make sure that segments like this are a rarity. If done correctly, spoof segments are the stuff of legends; however, if not, they can stop a show’s momentum as quick as, well, Kevin Nash.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 23, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Last night, as I was watching the Smackdown brand’s Judgment Day pay-per-view, it occurred to me that WWE truly has pioneered “sports entertainment,” although I wasn’t sure how until now. See, WWE’s brand of wrestling isn’t “sports entertainment,” but rather sports and entertainment. The Smackdown brand covers the “sport” part of it, with minimal storyline fodder and mindless backstage segments; Monday nights are reserved purely for entertainment, with as little actual wrestling as possible. That being the case, the campus of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas seems to be the perfect place for last night’s taping of Raw.

So, sit back, relax, cage up your white tigers, and enjoy “The Turn,” bringing you the best in pro wrestling journaltainment since January 2006.

Heyman Is God
Raw opened with Mick Foley attempting to not only revive the dormant hardcore championship, but then present said title to Edge, his newest protégé and, in my opinion, male crush. As Foley and Edge’s uncomfortable love fest progressed with each man praising the other’s accomplishments, and reluctant to accept the title, it seemed like someone needed to step in and breakup the situation, and fast.

And as the music hit, and the trench coat-clad figure, looking less and less like Silent Bob each time I see him, stepped through the curtain and onto the top of the ramp, all was well with the hardcore world. Paul Heyman would make everything okay … and he did just that.

For the few moments that we were treated to “Paul E.’s” twisted views, I nearly forgot that I was watching a commercial for ECW. Even after Tommy Dreamer and Terry Funk were brought out to dismantle Foley and Edge, I found myself excited for what the ECW product could be. Sure, “complete creative control” doesn’t exist in WWE unless your last name is McMahon, but with an ounce of Heyman’s input, ECW could be the most watchable brand within months.

* * *

Now That’s Extremely Impressive
It may just be me, but I could probably watch RVD and Shelton Benjamin square off each week, regardless of the stakes, and happily look forward to what the following week would entail; the two are that damn good together.

WWE fans that were fortunate enough to catch Smackdown’s Judgment Day pay-per-view the night before were spoiled by this crazy, hand-to-hand combatty-thing known as “wrestling.” So, to see that WWE followed that up with a tad of this “wrestling” on Raw was a refreshing change of pace to, oh, I dunno, Snitsky worshipping Goldust’s feet or The Spirit Squad doing … well, anything at all.

Oh … what … both? … crap.

Creativity lapse aside, the RVD/Benjamin angle (which will be ending shortly) has been very entertaining as well as beneficial to both men. RVD is now a bona fide contender for the Raw World title, and Benjamin has solidified himself as the top I-C man on the brand in addition to finally finding a rulebreaking persona that works for him. Gone are the days of the pseudo-angry, thug-lite Benjamin (remember when Tim Duncan tried to be tough—yeah, kinda like that, except in spandex). His newer, pompous jerk persona is a much better fit.

* * *

ZZ Top … really? They’re in Vegas and the best they could scrape up was ZZ Top? What, was Whitesnake working a double at the Golden Nugget’s salad bar?

* * *

Now You Tell Shane You’re Sorry
For those of you who may have missed it, Triple-H did apologize to Vince McMahon for clobbering Shane O Mac in the skull with a sledgehammer, which drew the immediate ire of one Shawn Michaels. Michaels confronted Trips backstage and, among other things, called him a “sellout” for not only apologizing to McMahon, but also for agreeing to consummate the pact by this week pummeling HBK with the hammer following his match with the god-awful Spirit Squad.

Naturally, things did not go as planned and Hunter ended up destroying the Squad well after they had laid waste to “The Showstopper.” All signs are pointing to an inevitable—albeit brief—reunion of DeGeneration X, which got me wondering: Ccould a reunited Triple-H/HBK pairing be the greatest team in the history of the sport, let alone WWE? Much like The Four Horsemen of old, both men would be joining up at a point in their careers where they are approaching legendary status. Neither man really needs the other to boost his standing in the company, and both will undoubtedly go down as greats of this generation.

In short, this could be the start of the most powerful in-ring union since the Horsemen, Hogan and Savage, or even the Bossman and Akeem. All right, scratch that last one, but still, assuming it happens, this should be very fun, and possibly historic, while it lasts.

Pardon me while I take off my fancy editor’s cap and just enjoy the moment.

* * *

The Bushnell Telescope “Saw It Coming From A Mile Away Award” Goes To …
Following his victory against Chris Masters, John Cena’s obligatory celebration was rudely interrupted by Rob Van Dam, who made his way to the ring to challenge the Raw World champ to a title match at ECW’s One Night Stand pay-per-view. RVD will cash in his “Money-In-The-Bank” title shot in front of a pro-ECW crowd, only to lose in a stunning upset.

In future news: Local Vanilla Ice impersonator John Cena was beaten to death by close to 4,000 “hardcore” wrestling fans who shelled out $200 a seat. His T-shirt sales have skyrocketed, and Rey Misterio Jr. has already added the “Five Knuckle Shuffle” to his moveset.

* * *

See No Movie
As Kane’s mask yelled at him from the TitanTron, I was compelled to look into all of the rosy figures that Jerry Lawler was so eloquently throwing at us regarding See No Evil’s opening weekend. Since “day one” I said that once See No Evil came out I would admit if my initial assessment—that it was going to be absolute garbage—was wrong. Here are the facts, draw your own conclusions:

SNE made a reported $4.581-million in domestic box office sales, and cost $8-million to make. It showed on 1,257 screens, averaging $3,644 per screen for the weekend.

•It was the highest grossing horror film for the weekend of May 19-21, ahead of An American Haunting, which was released two weeks earlier (May 5), and actually showed on eight more screens (1,265) to average $1,169 per screen.

•The biggest stat WWE.com and Raw pushed was that SNE, “had the third highest per-theater revenue average of any movie this weekend, behind only The Da Vinci Code and Over The Hedge.”

This is technically true, but misleading. SNE finished sixth overall in terms of domestic gross over the weekend. Of the top six films, SNE aired on 1,200 fewer screens than the next closest film. So, while it is true that SNE averaged the most per screen, it aired on fewer screens and against films that had previously been released, meaning their best earning days were behind them. Against the other two movies that opened the same weekend—Da Vinci and HedgeSNE didn’t even come close (nearly a $6,000 differential).

Basically, it beat up on films that had been out for a while and showed on fewer screens to beef up opening weekend numbers. Had it showed on 2,000 screens—which all other films in the top seven did, at a minimum—it likely wouldn’t have placed higher than fifth in per screen average.

I will admit, it did better than I thought it would, but still not as fantastic as WWE would have you believe.

And now you’re informed.

* * *

The “Also Rans” Of The Night
—Women’s champion Mickie James retained the title in a match with Torrie Wilson that saw Trish Stratus announce after the contest that Beth Phoenix was officially part of WWE and can now attack Mickie “legally.” For those of you wondering, WWE’s “legally” (attacking someone from behind and/or using a chair to incapacitate him) still is not applicable to your typical office setting.

—Viscera proposed to Lilian Garcia, rehashing a storyline that many fans—even those of us who watched it live—had long forgotten. Fortunately, my new favorite manager, Armando Alejandro Estrada, brought out “Samoa Joe Version 2” to pummel “Big Vis.” Gotta hand it to WWE—they sure know how to time a bathroom break.

—Carlito Caribbean Cool was teaching Maria how to help him cheat at cards when the duo came across a very dapper Snitsky who was anxiously waiting for a showgirl he met through a personal ad that ends up being the spawn of Dusty Rhodes’ loins in drag. I—and apparently WWE Creative—got nothing.

CHAMPION MISTERIO UPSET WINNER AT JUDGMENT DAY
(U.S. Airways Center Phoenix, AZ, May 21, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

M-N-M vs. Paul London & Brian Kendrick
Even as the challengers took beating after beating, victory seemed all but a foregone conclusion. London and Kendrick entered Sunday night’s match riding the greatest hot streak of their career as a team; on the other side, M-N-M was a team in turmoil. Finger-pointing and a six-match (both tag and singles) losing streak to London and Kendrick had taken its toll on the Smackdown World tag team champs, leaving them more vulnerable than ever to defeat.

Still, the match was very entertaining. It’s nice to watch a tag match between two solid tag teams with no gimmicky stipulations or movies to promote; just the classic “good vs. bad” tag team title match. True, I still don’t get London and Kendrick’s angle, and, yes, they are a tad nutty for my liking, but they’re both tremendous in the ring, and worthy champions.

The majority of the battle saw both teams dictate the flow of the match, as well as land high-impact maneuvers. The finish came during a flurry of action that saw London sit through a pin attempt, into a bridge, and cover Joey Mercury for the three-count, giving the challengers the straps.

However, the fireworks had yet to come.

The M-N-M era officially came to an end following the loss, as Melina and Nitro turned against Mercury, the man they believed was responsible for the loss.

Chris Benoit vs. Finlay
On paper, the obvious advantage went to Benoit, as he is not only the best technical wrestler in the game today, but also can resort to the fisticuffs whenever necessary. Finlay’s pretty much a pure brawler at this point in his career. At least that’s what I thought prior to the match.

The pudgier of the former WCWers held his own, as most of the match was dominated by traditional mat wrestling. Sure, it doesn’t sell T-shirts, but for a wrestling enthusiast, this was the match of the night. There were no “Five Knuckle Shuffles,” not much of a “West Coast Pop”—just brutal, nasty wrestling.

As the match progressed, it became obvious that both men know each other very well. Each was able to anticipate the other’s moves and exploit his weaknesses. The back and forth flow came to an abrupt halt when Benoit slapped on his “Crippler Crossface.” to which Finlay almost immediately tapped out.

An interesting note: At one point, play-by-play man Michael Cole tried to make up for the fans’ silence by saying something to the effect that the punches and chops were so vicious that you could hear them throughout the arena. Not entirely true, but God bless him for trying. Yes, the two men brutally beat on one another. However, the fans really weren’t into the match for the most part, which is a shame.

Melina vs. Jillian Hall
You know, ever since Boogeyman bit that thing off Jillian’s face, she’s actually pretty attractive. Of course, I’m being sarcastic, as it was obvious that regardless of what WWE Creative had glued to Jillian’s head, she would still be a very attractive woman. What wasn’t obvious was just how adept she was in the ring. Jillian and Melina put on a very solid match, given their individual ring prowess and experience.

Jillian appeared to be the better trained of the two, as she was able to mix in some actual wrestling moves with the usual grabbing and clawing. On the other hand, Melina’s repertoire consisted almost exclusively of screaming, pulling hair, and standing on Jillian’s head. Jillian was able to secure the victory via pinfall, although it appeared that Melina had her hand on the bottom rope.

Still, this was a nice women’s match with two ladies who looked very comfortable in the ring with each other. My first instinct was to wonder why WWE would do another Diva search when it’s currently wasting these two competitors on the Friday night program?

Oh … wait … gratuitous partial nudity … that’s why. My bad.

Gregory Helms vs. Super Crazy
Cruiserweight champion Helms looked solid in his first pay-per-view action since severely breaking his nose in March. Also, Super Crazy looked fantastic for most of the match, despite being a mustache shy of being identical to Jack Black’s character in the upcoming film Nacho Libre.

The challenger appeared to have the upper hand at key points in the match, as well as much more enthusiasm than the champion. Perhaps nothing evidenced this more than Super Crazy’s excellent suicide dive over ref Nick Patrick and the top rope onto a stunned Helms on the arena floor.

Naturally, the newly rulrebreaking Helms would stop at nothing to retain the title and, unfortunately, the match ended controversially. Helms got the victory, covering the challenger with his feet on the middle ropes for leverage.

Despite an awful ending, this was still a very good match. Without a doubt, the Smackdown brand is the closest thing WWE has to TNA’s X division—basically, great cruiserweight and tag wrestling with a nice storyline backer. It’s apparent that in WWE, Smackdown is the “sports,” whereas Raw is the “entertainment.”

Just a friendly word of advice to WWE fans who attend shows: An “ECW” chant broke out a few times during this match and, as someone who lives in a city where “E-A-G-L-E-S” chants break out at everything from other sporting events to funerals and weddings, I can tell you this is going to get real annoying, real quick. So knock it off, unless you’re subject to an ECW in-ring promo, or at an ECW event.

Mark Henry vs. Kurt Angle
Henry’s plan of attack was to focus on the injured ribs of Angle, and “The World’s Strongest Man” did just that, and quite effectively. Angle was able to counter most of Henry’s onslaught, but the powerlifter’s raw strength was just too much for the injured superstar to handle. At one point, Angle slipped out of what appeared to be a powerslam and slapped on the anklelock, but Henry reversed it, flipping his opponent through the ropes to the arena floor. A strange sequence of events led to Henry winning the match by countout after throwing Angle into the ringpost and hitting him with a big splash, further injuring his ribs.

After the match, Angle took out Henry with a barrage of steel chair shots, followed by a grapevined anklelock. Finally, the Olympic champion nailed Henry with the “Angle Slam” onto the table (which did not break), followed by yet another chair shot. Henry fell forward through the table, which finally broke.

Henry, who re-upped with WWE recently despite a less-than-stellar 10 years with the company, stepped through the ropes as the menacing favorite after cracking Angle’s ribs last month.

I must admit I’ve come around on Henry. Sure, he’s still the greatest liability not named “Khali,” but he’s a great rulebreaker who has become adept at turning bad heat into fodder for his storyline. If Henry could only wrestle just a fraction—oh, and I’m talking in like “Gillberg
fractions”—he could actually be a reliable competitor.

On the other side of the ring there was Kurt Angle, arguably the best wrestler in the world, broken neck and all. The man could carry a match with everything from a corpse to … well … Mark Henry.

Bobby Lashley vs. Booker T
Booker T entered the finals of the King of the Ring tournament the underdog in everyone’s mind but his own. His opponent, Bobby Lashley, is a multidimensional Bill Goldberg. From a storyline perspective, he is the result of WWE failing with both Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. Fortunately, Creative has learned from those mistakes, and Lashley has not been rushed in his development. Last night’s match was undoubtedly the biggest of Lashley’s young WWE career and, unfortunately, it didn’t end well for the superstar.

Lashley looked phenomenal. The youngster was very commanding in his ring presence and played to the crowd perfectly. Of course, Booker’s no slouch himself. The contest had the interesting backdrop of one man nearing the end of his illustrious career, and the other on the cusp of superstardom.

The ending was nothing tremendously sexy, as Booker won the tournament after Finlay interfered and hit Lashley with his shillelagh, allowing Booker to gain the pinfall. Sadly, it seems like Booker hasn’t won a match on his own since WCW. Still, the “Five-Time WCW Champion” is one of the all-time greats, and is likely nearing the end of his legendary career. Lashley has plenty of time to become great, but last night was Booker’s time to shine.

The Undertaker vs. The Great Khali
The Great Khali, or, as I like to call him “Giant Gonzales 2006,” mixes a steady combination of chops and kicks, with kicks and even more chops. The Undertaker, much like Angle, can make anyone look good, but he had his work cut out for him last night.

There was no real wrestling by Khali as he is most comfortable lumbering around the ring, pausing only for the occasional chop, punch, or clothesline.

’Taker spent the entire match selling all of Khali’s “moves” (ie. chops and grunts), making the giant appear to be invulnerable, and a miracle of modern sports. Shockingly, ’Taker lost cleanly following a running kick to the head.

The Great Khali is terrifying, and not for the reasons WWE Creative would have you believe. Wrestling is an art form, a science. The phrase ring technician—which is thrown around way too often—is used for a reason. Wrestlers are trained tacticians, the best of which can win a match by wearing down and overtaking an opponent when he’s at his weakest. Men like Khali, while physically amazing, should not be in a ring until they are ready to dance the dance with men such as The Undertaker. Size does not equal talent in this business. Last night’s victory for Khali just reinforces WWE’s deserved criticism of pushing big men without any discernable talent to the moon.

Rey Misterio Jr. vs. John Bradshaw Layfield
To say that JBL controlled the pace of the match would be an understatement, as the self-proclaimed “American Hero” appeared to decimate the champion. Yet, as with every Rey Misterio match, it seemed like he could shock the world and pull off a victory in a split second.

JBL did his usual routine of taunting minorities as well as Eddie Guerrero—you know, real classy stuff. The challenger appeared to have the match wrapped up many times over, as he pummeled Misterio from ramp to ringpost. However, JBL’s pride and arrogance forced him to take the Smackdown World champion less seriously than he should have, and eventually cost him the title.

During one of the few times Misterio was able to muster offense, the champion hit his patented 619 on a stunned JBL. He then tried to leap from top rope onto the challenger, but the crafty U.S. champ pushed the referee in front of the leaping Misterio, knocking out referee Nick Patrick. Alternate referee Charles Robinson came down to the ring only to be knocked out by JBL after not making the three-count.

The match ended quickly thereafter, as JBL had a steel chair kicked into his head, which allowed Misterio to hit yet another 619, this time followed by Guerrero’s trademark frogsplash. Misterio made the cover to retain the title. The house went crazy as the underdog champion once again defied the odds to retain.

Rey Misterio is, and will remain, one of the most entertaining and electrifying wrestlers to ever step into a ring. However, the feel-good moment of WrestleMania 22 is now going into month two. It was cute, but now it’s time to let the big boys play with the big gold belt. Not that JBL would’ve been a better champion, but think about this: Misterio has held a world title longer than the more charismatic Edge, who reigned over the top brand on the flagship program for only three weeks.

IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 19, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Another week of Impact with potentially great (yes, I said “great”) storyline potential that is ruined by the wonder that is the Internet. TNA continues to run angles that, even with the slightest modicum of surprise should rival—nay surpass—most of the stuff WWE does. However, taking Impact for what it is, last night’s show was still very good, as TNA builds feuds heading into its Slamiversary pay-per-view in June.

* * *

Kings Of The Mountain
Apparently every heavyweight on the TNA roster feels he has a claim to being a serious contender to the NWA World championship. Last night, champion Christian Cage called out the four men he would face in the “King Of The Mountain” match at next month’s Slamiversary pay-per-view.

As quickly as you could say “did they really trot out Buff Bagwell last week?” the Impact Zone was filled with eager competitors. The list read as follows: Monty Brown (returning to TNA television following knee surgery), Rhino, Abyss, Ron Killings, Raven, Jeff Jarrett, Scott Steiner, and, in the rafters, the man known as Sting. It was then announced that qualifying matches would take place between the competitors to determine the four men that would go on to challenge for the World title at Slamiversary.

This is really quite a clever, albeit unoriginal, move. It ensures that for at least the next few weeks (four to be exact) the fans will be treated to some interesting, main-event worthy matches. Also, the pairings will not be announced until before each match, which makes for some interesting television.

Unless of course you have discovered the Internet, in which case you already knew that Rhino was getting the axe in round one (see below).

Ooops … should’ve been a “spoiler alert” there.

* * *

Laptop Trick #1
Much like the creation of the potato chip, I discovered this use for my laptop completely by accident. Try this at home: Next time Jeff Jarrett and/or Scott Steiner insist on speaking, try placing your laptop to your left hand side. They generally keep Gail Kim on their left, or the right of your television screen.

If done correctly, you can actually cut Jarrett and Steiner out and stare at the lovely Miss Kim for the duration of their ridiculously longwinded, amazingly pointless promos. Enjoy!

* * *

Just What Is A “Booty Daddy”?
Samoa Joe and Scott Steiner faced off once again prior to Joe’s match against Chase Stevens of The Naturals. And it got me thinking, head-to-head, one-on-one, mano-a-freakishly large mano, who would win?

My decision: In a straight-up wrestling match, I will take Joe anytime, any day, anywhere, hands-down. In a crazy-bastard contest, I’ll go with “Big Poppa Pump.”

Eh? Am I right or what? He’s nuts, right? Did you see the way he snapped on Don West last night? Cuckoo! Who’s with me?! No one?

Please don’t kill me, Mr. Steiner.

* * *

Say It Ain’t So, Ko
I came across a picture of Konnan the other day as I was scouring the vast PWI photo archives and, I must say, at one point in his career the guy was jacked! He looked really tough and very impressive.

I only say this because when I see Konnan as part of the first faction ever created solely for “Spanish announce team” purposes, a little piece of my childhood dies. It’s time for Konnan to step away from the game and pull a Taz, as I’m pretty sure there aren’t many more elderly men to challenge.

* * *

A Lil’ Bit O’ Homerism
Detroit, Michigan’s own Chris Sabin—arguably riding the biggest hot streak of any X division wrestler from the mainland—finished off Windsor, Ontario’s Petey Williams to secure the World X Cup for the good, ol’ U-S of A. This is the second consecutive X Cup for the United States contingent (2004, 2006—there was no tournament in 2005).

This only goes to show that the United States—and specifically the great city of Detroit—produces the best pound-for-pound professional wrestlers in the entire world. But, unfortunately, the jubilation was short-lived, as “Big Sexy-Daddy-Cool-Diesel-Vegas” Kevin Nash attacked Sabin and destroyed the championship trophy.

Nash looked surprisingly svelte in his return to the Impact Zone. Still, I’m going to open the floor to guesses as to which body part he injures first. I’ll go double if you can tell me how he does it or a timeframe for when we should expect it. I’ll start:

Biceps or triceps … lacing his boots … by Memorial Day

* * *

It’s good to see “The Franchise” Shane Douglas make his return, albeit a brief one, to the Impact Zone. He’s had it rough as of late and I for one am glad to see he’s been able to deal with his demons and hopefully make a return to TNA television.

* * *

Good Call, Bad Call
—During a backstage segment, Team 3D cut a promo on how being extreme seems to be a big thing lately. As if they were speaking directly to Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer, the former ECWers seemed to put everyone’s concerns of a hardcore revival as eloquently as possible. Brother Ray, speaking for the team, indicated that maybe “it” should just stay “dead and buried.” The segment was very impressive and only goes to show why Team 3D remains, without a doubt, one of the best pairings in the sport’s history.
Judgment: Good Call

—Spike TV’s new on-screen logo is eerily reminiscent of TBS’ during their days in the “wrasslin business.” WCW guys … the South … actual wrestling … the similarities are already too much.
Judgment: Bad Call

—By my count, a commercial for WWE Films’ See No Evil (starring a surprisingly feisty Isaac Yankem, DDS, and a bunch of visually appealing “teenage” actors) ran five times during Impact last night. Not a bad move by WWE to buy up airtime during the competitor’s show, but what’s the point? Those who were going to see it probably made the decision prior to last night. It’s like writing questions in a letter.
Judgment: Push

* * *

“King Of The Mountain” Qualifier Standings
“The Monster” Abyss defeated Rhino with the help of outside interference from Scott D’Amore. The KOTM match, at this very early stage, looks as such:

Christian Cage (C)
Abyss

There are still three qualifying matches remaining to determine the final competitors. Check back here each week for the updated list of participants, as well as—once we have a few more—the odds (as determined by a team of wrestling analysts) of winning for each.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 16, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

It must be May sweeps, as even WWE is going with the classic “cliffhanger” angles commonly used on network television programs. Who exactly is Trish’s new friend Beth, and how did Mickie James screw her over? Did Triple-H mean something when he told HBK he wanted to “see this coming” prior to missing Shawn with a sledgehammer shot to the head, connecting instead with Shane McMahon? How much longer will be subject to the likes of Umaga and Eugene?

All that, and ECW, on the next Raw. Well, probably not the next one … get a comfy seat, these angles could last a while; that may not be a terrible thing.

* * *

Now, I’m Impressed
It’s funny, Vince was right. For once, the chairman was actually dead-on regarding one of his alleged “upgrades.” For those of you who missed it, Raw was slated to start with yet another World championship match between Triple-H and John Cena. Mr. McMahon made his way to the ring and announced that the match that would be a five-man “Texas Tornado Championship Match” with both the Intercontinental and Raw World title on the line. Throw in RVD, Shelton Benjamin and Chris Masters and the fans were actually treated to a fantastic start to Raw.

The pace of action was excellent as, for the most part, the contenders to the respective titles squared off with each other. All five competitors would battle each other eventually, however the focus on the match was definitely to further the existing feuds.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the start of the match that it was set up specifically to screw Triple-H out of his fiftieth title shot in the past month or so. That prophecy held true as Shelton Benjamin regained the IC title, covering RVD a split second sooner than Hunter was able to fall down on Cena. Naturally, the referee made the count for Benjamin, and was duly pedigreed for his efforts.

Even still, the match was extremely entertaining and definitely a great way to advance a potential McMahon family feud-DeGeneration X reunion. Well done, by everyone involved—great wrestling and a great storyline tie-in … is this Thursday night?

* * *

With all due respect to WWE Creative, and I mean this in the nicest possible way … seriously, I do … but I’m certain that Beth Phoenix could kick the crap out of 60 percent of the Raw roster, male or female (that translates to roughly 90 percent of the current Smackdown roster). She’s like a very attractive Chyna and—I must say—I’m intrigued.

* * *

What The Funk?
The ECW teaser reached week number three, as hardcore legends Mick Foley and Terry Funk met in the ring with Funk demanding his protégé explain why he turned against Tommy Dreamer and sided with Edge on last week’s Raw.

For the most part, it was a classic promo between the two, with Funk referring to Foley as a “son.” Foley questioned why Funk didn’t show up for Foley’s retirement ceremony on Raw three years earlier, alleging that he was a no-show because of the money. Fast forward about three minutes and Funk—pulling his best George Costanza retort—called
Foley’s wife a “whore” leading to bedlam. Foley was joined by Edge and the two dismantled Funk in front of a heavily partisan Texas crowd.

This will no doubt lead to a match at ECW’s One Night Stand II in June, with Edge being one of the first acknowledged crossover WWE stars to compete on the ECW pay-per-view. He’s not a bad choice as he’s evil enough to get over with the fans, and talented enough to work a solid match. However, ECW fans beware … this could very likely be the start of the WWE contingent at ONS II.

* * *

Anatomy Of A Feud
I thought it would be fun to continue on with recent examinations of, at least in my opinion, the worst angles on Raw in an effort to chart their progress or, at the very least, provide us all with a blueprint of how to bore the boots of 15,000 Texans in one arena.

Striker vs. Eugene vs. Carlito
Fresh off the heels of a very entertaining three-way feud between Edge, Triple-H, and John Cena, WWE felt it was necessary to try the formula again with these three superstars.

That’s a shame.

Carlito was apparently unavailable for last night’s Raw as the most entertaining member of this trio was relegated to a sexually suggestive backstage interview/T-shirt advertisement with the beautifully dim Maria Kanelis. On the plus side, Eugene pretended to be an airplane and wore an oversized foam cowboy hat … now that’s creative!

Spirit Squad vs. Snitsky & Goldust
The Spirit Squad retained the Raw World tag team titles by defeating a team that rose through the ranks and clawed their way into the “number one contender’s” slot, only to see their hopes dashed in an instant. Fortunately for Snitsky and Goldust the walk to the back of the line is not long as they are the second of two tag teams on the Raw roster.

This will go down in WWE history as the first time that losing a match actually was beneficial to a competitor’s a spot in a title hunt. Oh … wait … allow me to amend that. The first time someone not named “Hunter,” “Hearst,” and/or “Helmsley” lost and thus maintained their status. My bad.

Umaga vs. Chris “God I Hope My Folks Are Taping This” Wellman
The best thing about Umaga’s current place in WWE: Being treated to a fun, old-fashioned rulebreaking manager like Armando Alejandro Estrada.

The worst thing about Umaga’s current place in WWE: Umaga’s current place in WWE.

Also, it looks like the moniker “Samoan Bulldozer” will show up on a T-shirt in a city near you any day now. Still, as far as island machinery goes, I’ll take a “Samoan Submission Machine” any day of the week.

* * *

Apparently Shane’s The Only One Who Didn’t See It Coming
Shawn Michaels took on the cheerleader formerly-known-as Kenny Doane in a grudge match with Shane McMahon as the special guest referee and a sledgehammer wielding Triple-H in the Squad member’s corner. Everything was set for an HBK bloodletting of epic proportions.

It was an interesting night for Trips to have the shakes.

The back-and-forth action eventually turned in favor of Kenny thanks to ample assistance from the “referee.” Shane had used his belt to choke HBK to the point of unconsciousness, and held up the battered superstar to give Trips a huge target with his hammer. Although everyone who had ever seen a minute of professional wrestling in the past knew that HBK would duck, allowing Trips to nail Shane with the hammer I can honestly say I sat there anticipating the worst. Still, HBK ducked, Shane was leveled, and Trips walked to the back as a terrified Vince—who rushed to the ring—cradled his son in his arms. Predictable, but awesome nonetheless.

* * *

Corrections: Two things were brought to my attention after last week’s “Turn” was posted.

First, I made a mistake in quoting Homer Simpson as delivering a classic line that was in fact uttered by Principal Skinner. My deepest apologies to my fellow Simpsons fans; I will make certain in the future to run any quips regarding anything outside of wrestling through our crack team of fact checkers.

Second, the “Turn” can count a celebrity among its fans. The above error was pointed out to me by Connecticut-renowned DJ Allan Lamberti of 95.9 “The Fox” FM—“Fairfield County's ONLY Classic Rock Station with 50 Minutes of Classic Rock Every Hour.”

First it’s a classic-rock station in the “Constitution State,” next it will be the world! Or maybe Rhode Island … that seems a bit more manageable.

IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (May 11, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

The folks at Impact are at the top of their games—in my opinion—when they are building storylines and backing it up with solid wrestling. Sure, that seems like the equation for any promotion to follow if it intends on building an audience. However, it’s far easier said than done. Last night, Impact masterfully pulled off both tasks, as well as made the world’s worst-kept secret appear—well—very entertaining.

* * *

Tables, Ladders, and Egos
It’s nice to see that The James Gang finally returned to actually wrestling rather than basking in the shadow of a 66-year-old “Bullet” Bob Armstrong. Two of the greatest tag teams in the history of the sport will meet this Sunday at Sacrifice when The James Gang, sans geriatrics, takes on Team 3D, which is conspicuously missing Brother Runt already. The winning team will be crowned number one contenders to the NWA World tag team championship.

Both teams showcased the aspect of their games that truly made them stars—their ability to cut a helluva promo. The majority of the verbal jousting was done by B.G. James and Brother Ray and mixed the perfect amount of pre-match buildup with just a hint of “Wow, he actually said what we were thinking!”

While the contest likely will not end up being considered a Match of the Year candidate, it will showcase four wrestlers who helped shape what tag team wrestling is in today’s industry. Individually, none of them is particularly compelling; as teammates they are all legends.

Sure, I say all this now, and the match will end with interference by the “Bullet,” who will challenge Runt to a duel, or arm-wrestling contest, or something that will bring the show to a grinding halt.

* * *

World X Cup Update
Here are the most recent standings following Team USA captain Chris Sabin’s (perhaps the most underrated wrestler in TNA) pinfall victory over Team Mexico’s Puma last night on Impact:

Team USA: 5 points
Team Mexico: 2 points
Team Canada: 0 points
Team Japan: 0 points

The finals of the World X Cup Tournament will take place this Sunday night during Sacrifice, as Round 2 will conclude with a match between Petey Williams (CAN) and Jushin Liger (JPN). The final round will be an “International Gauntlet Match” with the winner (the man who gains the final pinfall or submission) gaining 5 points for his team, and the runner-up scoring an additional 2 for his group.

And, yes, just as I figured out how the tournament is scored, the damn thing is over. This is a great idea and features some of the world’s top cruiserweight talent, but it felt rushed and confusing.

* * *

It’s amazing: Each time I see a commercial for See No Evil during Impact’s time slot, I also go into a psychotic rage … or is it an epileptic seizure? Either way, not good. The commercial aired, at least here in the Philadelphia market, four times over the course of an hour-long program.

It’s an interesting business strategy. I assume WWE bought the airtime to entice TNA’s fan base to shell out roughly seven dollars for 84 minutes of crap (that’s 12 cents per each crap-filled minute, for you math types out there). However, I thought WWE’s company line was that TNA really had no audience? Interesting.

* * *

Be Him Ever So Humble
Kevin Nash, for me at least, falls into the Shane McMahon category; I really want to dislike him knowing what I know, but he still entertains me every time I see him. This time Nash did something so subtle that it may have been lost on some fans. To you fans who missed it, don’t worry, I’m here to explain it to you. It’s why I get paid the big buck to do what I do.

As Nash proceeded to dress down TNA’s X division—going as far as to promise that he’ll “destroy what gave TNA its identity”—one could only assume that his feelings were not entirely rooted in his angle. Nash has historically been critical of smaller, X division-type wrestlers, which has allegedly been the cause of tension between him and many top stars of today. This was what ran through my mind as I watched Nash’s “worked” interview, and, naturally, I got angry.

I was angry because Nash had apparently gone from being the smooth-talking, quick-witted Outsider to what appeared to be a bitter, injury-prone curmudgeon. Imagine Triple-H in about 15 years after an angrier and oilier young punk that taken WWE by storm. Yeah, that kind of bitter.

Just when I was ready to write Nash off as a victim of his own success, he hit us with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark to interviewer Alex Shelley. Shelley was telling Nash what the unofficial motto of the X division was, and mentioned that he didn’t create it. Nash, in mid-sentence, stopped himself and said that Shelley should always take credit for things, even if he didn’t create them. Nash also referred to the ambiguous chart, drawn in blue marker, that proved how big a draw he was in his heyday. It was classic-Nash, and for a minute I forgot all the bad things I had ever heard about him. Then he mentioned he would be returning at Sacrifice on Sunday. I’ll get back to you after that.

* * *

I will openly admit that I am, and have been for sometime, a fan of Christian Cage. I think he’s a smart wrestler who can be tremendously entertaining when he’s handed a microphone.

However, I just find it funny that last night, while Abyss was absolutely decimating Chase Stevens, the NWA World champion waited until “The Monster” was good-and-done with the young grappler before attacking his enemy. Shouldn’t the champ make the save in a situation like that?

* * *

Joe’s Gonna Kill Youse
Sting announced to the world that at Sacrifice he will be partnering with Samoa Joe in a tag team matchup against Jeff Jarrett and Scott Steiner. This is obviously a great choice for The Stinger, as his previous options would’ve failed miserably. In the time it would’ve taken to remove the foot of Buff Bagwell from the backside of Rick Steiner for nearly crippling him, TNA management could have found Sting a new partner, or figured out why whatever tracking device is planted in Lex Luger screwed up the PPV satellite feed. Just a huge mess all around.

Stinger really sold his introduction of Joe as his partner, playing up the angle that it was just some no-name former bouncer. Despite knowing for nearly a month (thank you, Internet) that it was Joe, I still found myself drawn to the segment like the naïve, wide-eyed fan I am and always will be.

The selection of Joe is not only exciting, but very interesting as well. This may be the start of a turn for Joe as an official fan favorite, rather than the cult icon he’s become. Conversely, I wouldn’t put it past “The Samoan Submission Machine” to turn against his partner, thus starting an angle between the two. The possibilities are endless, with the only certainty being that both Jeff Jarrett and Scott Steiner will say something completely out-of-date and confusing.

* * *

A Disappointing Threesome Is Possible
The main event of the evening scared me beyond words, but I shall try my best to articulate my concerns.

Last night’s match pitting AMW and Bobby Roode against A.J. Style, Chris Daniels, and Rhino was fairly innocuous on all accounts, as there’s really nothing to fight for outside of pride in this mini-feud. The match ended when Jackie Gayda threw coffee in the face of Chris Harris, allowing Rhino to hit the gore and cover for him the pin. Perhaps it was the blasé nature of the pairings in the contest that is the basis for my concern.

What kind of a message does it send out to fans when Daniels, Styles, and Rhino are teamed to face AMW and Roode in a six-man tag match? While multiple-man tag contests are nothing new for TNA, last night’s main event sent a cold chill down my spine. Maybe it’s me, but I’m slowly getting the impression that TNA is unsure of what to do with Styles, Daniels, and Rhino, and if that’s true, it’s not good.

Now, of course, it’s possible that this is just a temporary thing that will lead to something more interesting in the future. In fact, given their track record, I’m willing to give TNA the benefit of the doubt. However, if this trio continues to wrestle in random, meaningless matches past this weekend’s pay-per-view, my concern is likely to resurface.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 9, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been doing more griping about the quality of Raw than praising it in recent weeks. For some, there’s really no other way to describe the “product” Vinnie Mac and Co. puts out on a weekly basis.

I do try to point out the good done by WWE when, and if, I see it. Watching nearly every minute of every hour of every week of WWE programming—including Web programming—does take its toll on a guy. Additionally, I try not to take out awful storyline decisions on the wrestlers—most of them have little to no voice when it comes to the direction of their angles; for those who do have that power, I point that out as well.

Basically, I try to call things as I see them when it comes to Raw. The program that is unofficially the flagship of the professional wrestling promotion should set the standard by which all other companies follow. Bashing WWE purely for the purpose of bashing WWE, well, that’s just too trendy for my liking. Plus, I won’t waste your time here dissecting the easy stuff. Hence the Eugene-Striker angle generally will take up a line of on-line print. If it’s crap, you don’t need me to throw witticisms around to point it out to you. Unlike WWE Creative, I believe fans are smarter than that.

Okay, that last part may have been a tad below the belt.

The purpose of my mini-diatribe here is twofold. First, I feel it’s important to be upfront with you, my fellow fans. It’s easy to insult some of the garbage that WWE puts out there; yet it’s a far more challenging a task to find the good in things. I won’t force it either way. My second purpose is to make it clear how high I set the bar for WWE programming. The company has to do a helluva lot to impress me.

Last night it nearly cleared the bar without really trying.

* * *

In Good Hands
When Rob Van Dam is either forced to, or just drops, the Intercontinental title prior to his first WWE world title reign (yeah, I’ll say it), he will be leaving Raw’s coveted second title in great hands. Last night’s fatal four-way match between RVD, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, and Chris Masters showed just how promising the WWE Intercontinental title picture is.

Each of the three challengers seems very capable of singlehandedly carrying the Intercontinental strap. All right, maybe not so much Masters, but he’s getting there, and working with the likes of Haas and Benjamin will only make him better.

The match itself was quite entertaining. The champion retained the strap after hitting a tremendous springboard from the top rope onto Masters, who had Haas cinched in his “Masterlock” finisher.

If Creative proceeds wisely with the current batch of talent, the Intercontinental division could end up becoming the closest thing to a WWE X division, only with bigger names. Who am I kidding? Chavo Guerrero will have the title in a month.

* * *

sub·tle (adj.)
1. So slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive: a subtle smile.
2. Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.
3. Not the teasing of heat between Triple-H and Vince, RVD and John Cena: The teasers of future storylines was not subtle.

* * *

Oops … The “Big Hair” Guy Is Carlito
There are only two possible explanations that I can think of to explain Carlito’s involvement in the dreadful Eugene-Matt Striker storyline. Try these on:

a) WWE is so confident of Carlito’s skill and future standing with the company that he was added to carry what would otherwise be a truly painful feud to watch, or

b) WWE Creative confused Chris Masters and Carlito. You’ll have to forgive them, as apparently they’re not big on the whole “wrestling” thing.

* * *

The best angle of the past month: Joey Styles’ fantastic promo leading to the return of the legendary (yes, it actually works in his case) Jim Ross. That, my friends, is what we in the writing industry call a “win-win” situation.

* * *

Avoid The Red Light District
I’m not sure whether it was the slow natural gas leak in my apartment, but I could’ve sworn I saw a fairly entertaining match between The Big Show and Kane. Wait … that can’t be right. Still, I swear I saw a few seconds of mat wrestling as well as a hammerlock or two. No … that can’t be.

What I do recall seeing is the ridiculous “is-it-happening-here-or-in-his-head” red lighting that seems to mysteriously appear, spinning Kane off into a world of insanity and violence. Kane proceeded to get angry and decimate Show with a series of chair shots. Eh, works for me at this point.

* * *

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Nuttier
Apparently, the stalker has become the stalkee, as someone from Mickie James’ past attacked the women’s champion following her victory over Maria Kanelis, a most worthy, partially nude challenger.

Who is this mysterious figure from Mickie’s past, of which we know very little? Paraphrasing the words of the immortal Homer Simpson, let’s call her “Beth P.”—no, that’s too obvious—how about “B. Phoenix”? Whatever she’s known as, the addition of this mysterious blonde means that the women’s division may not be dead yet.

* * *

Is Andy Reid Booking?
Oh, Dear God … and I mean the real God, not Shawn Michaels’ tag team partner … I get it now. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed it took me as long as it did. Jeers to me and my usually reliable brain. Let me clue you in as to why I’m disappointed in myself:

Large, Samoan wrestler runs roughshod over lesser opponents with a combination of bonecrushing fisticuffs and the occasional wrestling move. No one can seem to stop him as he relentlessly cuts through a path of competitors. Familiar?

Much like the Philadelphia Eagles philosophy on wide receiving, WWE apparently believes that its system is so good that it can plug anyone in to fill a role many believe is necessary to success. Here, Jamaga (Jamal + Umaga = funny) will be playing the role of Samoa Joe.

You know, I’m not entirely sure, but I think that WWE referring to Umaga as “The Samoan Bulldozer” is a direct slap in not only the face of TNA, but also of those of us who rely on being witty to pay our student loans. Weak … very, very weak.

* * *

Now THAT’S … Confusing
What was once a pointless feud between Edge and Mick Foley became very poignant last night. Mick Foley, the hardcore legend, apparently turned against the fans that cheered him ever so loudly and will revert to his rulebreaking ways. Now, I say “apparently” because the fans in the arena were just as confused as I was at home.

The hardcore match between Foley and Edge turned into a three-way contest when Tommy Dreamer—pushing the new ECW brand to death—was introduced. The confusion came when—really, without any explanation—Foley turned against Dreamer, much to the fans’ confusion.

No offense to Tommy Dreamer; in fact, I like the guy. However, if WWE was going to turn Foley rulebreaker, why not do it against someone the fans can both recognize and sympathize with? My guess: It’s a ploy. Foley is ECW and he’ll play up the fact that he’s trying to fight off the insurgent brand, prior to siding with it.

* * *

You’ve heard it here nearly every week since the group first appeared on Raw. Yet the unheeded pleas and warnings of fans everywhere fell on deaf ears as The Spirit Squad officially crossed into the realm of “bad heat” last night. Good luck recovering from that angle, fellas. And bravo, WWE—usually it takes twice as long to severely damage that many careers.

 

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (May 2, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

For the first time in quite a while, WWE dedicated nearly the entire two hours of Raw to promoting, and building the storylines of, its mid-card talent. While few would actually tune in to watch two hours of The Spirit Squad take on Eugene each week, last night was a nice change of pace to the current direction of WWE’s flagship program. Come with me, won’t you, for a brief glimpse into the bizarro WWE.

* * *

Promote These Men
In order to spend more time relaxing—and shamelessly groping a woman (Candice) two years younger than his daughter—after his hard fought victory over HBK and “God,” Mr. McMahon appointed The Spirit Squad as general managers for the evening. The Squad had complete control over making matches and constructing angles for the evening.

During their two hours as WWE executives, The Spirit Squad:
—Sparked Joey Styles abrupt depature (more on that later)

—Pummeled three jobbers (Snitsky, Goldust, Eugene) in a six-man tag team match

—Got the ambiguously gay Rob Conway decimated by Oscar-nominee* Kane

—Competed for the WWE championship, while inadvertently igniting a potential reunion of WWE’s greatest stable

I’d say that’s a heck of an evening and, sadly, the best booking WWE has seen in quite some time. Thank you, Spirit Squad … now go away.

*Editor’s note: Kane was never nominated for an Oscar as his movie will likely suck. Also, the opinions expressed by me do accurately reflect that of our editorial staff, although not of the magazines. Wrap your minds around that one.

* * *

And Now For Something Completely Different
Tired of the same, old regurgitated storylines? Sure, we all are. Here’s a few of the new, mid-card feuds WWE is currently building for future angles. No, they’re not Flair-Steamboat, but at least they’re different.

Matt Striker vs. Eugene: Matt Striker may end up regretting when he called out Eugene this past Sunday night at Backlash. On Sunday Striker got a booger in the mouth for his troubles; Monday Eugene was beaten with a dictionary. This will likely pan out to be the classic goofball-straightman angle and, better yet, short.

Shelton Benjamin vs. Charlie Haas: The names of the competitors alone should send a tingle up the spine of pure wrestling enthusiasts. Throw in the duo’s history together, and we’ve got a downright excellent feud in the making. I’m loving Haas back in a WWE ring and Benjamin is becoming—dare I say it—a believable rulebreaker. Should be a good one.

Mickie James vs. Maria Kanelis: This began with Maria’s controversial pinfall—with the assistance of an injured Trish Stratus—over Mickie earlier in the evening during the Divas’ cheerleader match. Mickie retaliated by attacking Maria during her “Kiss Cam” segment. Sure, this shouldn’t be much from a wrestling standpoint, but a little eye-candy now and then isn’t exactly a bad thing.

* * *

With All That Sizzle, Who Needs The Steak?
Sure, I could make any number of “meathead” jokes here, but, believe it or not, I come to praise Chris Masters, not to bury him. I still refuse to hammer “The Masterpiece” for his lack of ring prowess, primarily because I want the kid to succeed. He’s got all the tools—you know, aside from wrestling ability—to become a huge star in this industry.

Suddenly, prior to the start of his tag team bout last night involving RVD, Carlito, and Benjamin, I realized that Masters has already succeeded well beyond expectations. The 23-year- old superstar reached the pinnacle of the sport the second he stepped between the ropes and into a WWE ring. Masters is a regular part of WWE programming, he’s competed at WrestleMania, and had a world title shot in the Elimination Chamber at New Year’s Revolution—and he’s done all this relying on a chiseled physique … and a full-nelson.

Masters may never become a great wrestler—hell, he may never become a good wrestler—but the kid is already a success regardless. Depending on which school of thought you come from, he’s either an entertaining overachiever, or all that’s wrong with WWE. I’ll choose the former … for now.

* * *

He Shoots, He Scores … BIG
Recent speculation regarding a possible resurrection of the ECW brand appears to have some validity to it. While it has yet to be officially announced by WWE, all signs are pointing toward the most popular of all hardcore promotions making a triumphant return to the wrestling landscape.

Last night, during his interview segment, Edge confronted hardcore legend—and former ECWer—Mick Foley. Naturally, the discussion revolved around the world’s current socio-political climate, as well as the oil crisis and the Bush administration’s handling of it. Wait … crap … I flipped over to MSNBC. Ahhh-k … here we go. Actually, Edge and Foley built up a hardcore WrestleMania rematch to be held on Raw next week, during a segment wrought with plenty of ECW references.

However, the ECW moment of the evening came later when the voice of the promotion—and former PWI intern—Joey Styles lost “it.” I’m not exactly sure what “it” is, and, gauging his tirade, neither was Joey.

The embittered announcer was essentially thrust in to a no-win situation when he was brought in to replace the legendary Jim Ross at Raw’s announce table. Styles’ impeccable knack for calling wrestling matches was wasted in the storyline-based WWE. With rumors circulating of Styles’ growing disdain for his place in the company, last night’s humiliation at the hands of both The Spirit Squad (wanting him to dress as a cheerleader next week to atone for a lack of “spirit”) and Jerry Lawler (goading him into a physical altercation) proved to be the final straw.

After leaving the ring area, Styles returned to the top of the entrance ramp soon thereafter and began a classic, ECW-esque, Joey Styles “shoot” on the state of the company. Nothing was sacred, as Styles attacked some of the company’s ridiculous storylines, as well as the chairman himself. Styles tore into the notion of “sports entertainment” being more important than “professional wrestling” before insulting the fans and announcing his resignation from WWE.

Basically, for one beautiful three-minute span, Styles was the voice of every disgruntled fan.

If it does return full-time, there is little doubt that many will shun the ECW product primarily because WWE’s fingerprints will be all over it. Others—myself included—look forward to a possible rebirth of ECW, regardless of who signs the paychecks. No doubt Styles’ diatribe was more work than shoot, however I’m certain that the “spirit” of it was not too far from what the man actually believed.

For now, Joey Styles my new favorite person in the entire world … ever. Okay, maybe that’s overstating it just a bit, but he’s definitely in the top 10,000.

CENA, RVD SHINE AT WWE BACKLASH (Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY, April 30, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Chris Masters vs. Carlito Caribbean Cool
Jerry Lawler pointed out that this may have been the most important match on the Backlash card, and in some way he may be right. Sure, he overstated it just a bit, but any match between two of the Raw brand’s top young stars is sure to have implications for the future, especially when one is teetering on the edge of becoming unwatchable.

I’m not going to hammer Chris Masters, as so many of my peers have taken to doing. Yes, he’s not the most fluid or technically sound wrestler in the industry today. And, no, he doesn’t seem to be getting better, but he’s young, tremendously strong, and has the fans hating him at every stop. Unfortunately, it’s that last element that is the problem.

Masters’ loss at Backlash only goes to make the wildly popular Carlito even more so, and push Masters further down the Raw roster. While it may be a good thing for Masters to not be as high profile as his former tag team partner, it’s never a positive to lose at a pay-per-view. Masters can’t afford to fall too much further, or else he’ll be headlining Heat by the fall—assuming WWE doesn’t kill it off by then and bring back WCW.

Ric Flair vs. Umaga
Ever see Of Mice And Men … what about Old Yeller? If not, let’s just say that both have endings that—well—would have even the most grizzled of wrestling fans teary-eyed.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still a huge Ric Flair mark. Well aware that the 16-time world champion is more novelty than legitimate title contender means very little to me. But last night at Backlash it occurred to me that the “Nature Boy’s” time has not only passed, it may have been over for quite some time.

As the referee’s hand came down for the three-count, thus giving Umaga the victory, fans of the “Nature Boy” everywhere likely shared the same reaction I did. And, man, it was sad. Arguably the greatest world champion in the history of the sport is being used to put over preliminary talent, a job traditionally reserved for greats like Barry Horowitz or The Brooklyn Brawler.

It’s time for the “Nature Boy” to hang up the gaudy robes and strut off into the sunset. Of course, he should be a part of wrestling—WWE or otherwise—until he chooses not to be, but not as an active competitor.

It’s time to take Old Yeller behind the shed … and make him general manager, again.

Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James
Mickie James retained the women’s championship, defeating Trish Stratus at Backlash last night via disqualification. And for the first time—possibly ever—I found myself longing for the technical wizardry of a pillow-fight.

Chair shot? Nah. Outside interference? Not this time. No, last night at Backlash, Mickie dropped the match to Trish by simply not breaking a chokehold after a five-count. Trish apparently suffered a separated shoulder following an ugly fall from the ringpost to the floor below. Rather than take advantage of Trish’s injury—as she did at WrestleMania 22—Mickie choked the former champion until the ref called for the bell.

Raw’s most bizarre angle took a turn for the downright boring, and, unfortunately, it set the women’s division back about three years.

Rob Van Dam vs. Shelton Benjamin
For fans of gimmicky promos and a limited repertoire of moves, this was your chance to catch up on past editions of “The Tuesday Morning Turn,” finish working on that WrestleMania VI diorama you’ve been working on, or maybe just flex in front of your hallway mirror.

For the rest of us, this was by far the match of the evening. Arguably the company’s two best pure athletes, RVD and Benjamin put on a match that almost made me forget that I paid $34.95 to watch Vince McMahon dodge special effects (more on that later).

Benjamin was confident and strong throughout, dictating the flow of most of the match. RVD never seemed to get his bearings, as Benjamin was able to land one huge-impact move after another. Unfortunately for the Intercontinental champion, he ran into a wrestler on the hottest streak of anyone in WWE.

The ending of the match really detracted from how entertaining it truly was. Taking advantage of a situation that saw the referee temporarily injured, RVD kicked his briefcase into Benjamin’s face, allowing him to nail the five-star frog splash and capture the Intercontinental title. Regardless of the hurried finish, the match showcased why both of these wrestlers are considered two of Raw’s finest and are worthy of a bigger portion of WWE programming.

Kane vs. The Big Show
True to form, WWE followed up a very entertaining, technically entertaining match with—what else—two behemoths with roughly a half-dozen actual wrestling moves between the two of them.

As if the action wasn’t bad enough—and trust me it was—just when it appeared it may become an actual match, WWE once again hit us with the steel chair that is cross-promotion. Picture this: The arena falls under a strange red hue and the sounds—that apparently are within Kane’s head—are played over the sound system.

The Big Show and the referee proceeded as if nothing was However, announcers Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler the red light and voices. As if it wasn’t confusing—and pointless—enough, Kane writhed around on the mat, struggling with either the torment in his mind, or the realization of the awful, awful angle he’d gotten himself into. Mercifully, Show took a steel chair and put Kane out of his misery.

It’s come to the point where Kane should really just tattoo “May 19” on his back a la every “GoldenPalace.com” shill in boxing.

Wow … that was awful. The voices in my head say, “This sucks.”

Shawn Michaels & God vs. Vince & Shane McMahon
The unofficial “Passion Of The Showstoppa” was not the technical masterpiece one may have expected. In an interesting piece of strategy, God failed to show up for the match, leaving HBK to ward off the attacks of both Mr. McMahon as well as the product of his loins. Sensing that God was not willing to participate in the match—as well as taunting a spotlight that was meant to represent the omnipresent One—Mr. McMahon declared the match to be a no-holds-barred contest.

Filled with ridiculous bumps and a copious amount of blood, the match was overall not that great, while still remaining tremendously entertaining. HBK and Shane carried most of the match after Vince was driven from the top of the ramp on to a very well-placed pile of foam padding. The chairman performed admirably, yet deferred to his younger, more entertaining spawn.

The contest had its share of highspots, most notably, Vince’s leap from the stage. The finish came shortly after HBK lined up both Vince and Shane on tables and retrieved the same huge ladder from which he leapt at ’Mania. Instead of landing on the supine McMahons, HBK dove from the ladder to the arena floor and onto The Spirit Squad, which was attempting to intervene on their boss’ behalf. The World tag team champions quickly took advantage of the five-on-one mismatch and threw HBK through a table, allowing Vince to gain the easy pinfall victory, and pull yet another fast one on God.

It’s officially time for this angle to end, or at least take a drastic turn. Shane is often visibly disturbed with his father’s “God Complex,” so it may be possible for him to break ranks and disagree with the messiah of “McMahonism.” Or maybe—just maybe—all of HBK’s DX taunting as of late has a higher purpose. Could WWE be headed for a reunion of the greatest stable in its history? If that were the case, Vince could challenge HBK and any number of deities, so long as we get that familiar DX theme music and brilliant promos.

Another interesting note, unrelated to the action, was Jim Ross’ completely unexpected use of an expletive as the match ended. Apparently, WWE’s lax policy on profanity didn’t suit Good Ol’ J.R., who let slip with a vehement—umm—reference to bovine defecation. One must wonder, however, what would cause a seasoned announcer such as Ross to make such an egregious error. My guess: It wasn’t a mistake. J.R. chose a relatively tame expletive to test the waters and see how the viewers react.

Race To The Bottom
Eugene made his triumphant return to his homeland of Kentucky. WWE’s most “special” superstar took time out of updating his resume and questioning his career choices to interrupt a promo being cut by Matt Striker. After being dared by Striker to spell out his name on the blackboard, Eugene wrote that WWE’s resident teacher “loves poop.” For an encore, Eugene picked a booger and feigned eating it, before stuffing it in Striker’s mouth.

For those keeping score at home, and in the spirit of next week’s Kentucky Derby: “Eugene’s Booger” pulls slightly ahead of “Vince Taunting God,” with “Exploiting Eddie’s Death” pulling up the rear.

John Cena vs. Edge vs. Triple-H
Without a doubt, this was the match of the night. And while I abhor throwing around wrestling clichés such as that, this contest truly earned the title. In an evening of lackluster performances that seemed to advance storylines to the point of utter stupidity, this three-way contest for the WWE title salvaged what can be considered an unremarkable pay-per-view at best.

Unfortunately, the match ended up being mostly a series of one-on-one confrontations with the odd man being incapacitated in some manner, and thrown to the arena floor. However, when all three competitors worked together, the energy was amazing and the bumps were substantial.

What made the main event so entertaining was the fact that it was nearly impossible to determine, based on the action alone, who would emerge victorious. The flow was balanced and all competitors were able to shine at given spots throughout. Triple-H took the worst beating of the trio. He was busted open after going head-first into the ringpost. Edge was the aggressor for the majority of the match, and was able to land the spear with ease throughout.

Yet, it was the champion who had, perhaps, the best match of the three. Sure, Cena was able to sit through an attempted pedigree from “The Game” and score a surprising victory, but that really was only part of it. Cena was aggressive and smart at the same time—failed “Five-Knuckle Shuffle” not withstanding. The champion did not get himself into situations that were entirely outside of his control. He was calm for the most part, and you could tell he was leaving enough in the tank to finish off the match. It was his skillful ring work more so than retaining the WWE that earned Cena respect from most of the fans in the Rupp Arena.

Regardless of the finish, and Cena’s legitimate success as a champion, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before Triple-H regains the strap. Sounding like a broken record? Well, yeah, of course it is. Maybe it’s because every time “The Cerebral Assassin” steps into a WWE ring, he’s the odds-on favorite to win, regardless of standing. And, for once, fans shouldn’t take issue with the boss’ son-in-law being the face of the promotion. Triple-H has shown countless times that he’s willing to do what’s best for the company. Further, his matches since returning to the main- event picture have been nothing short of excellent. The fans are behind “The Game” more than at any other time in his solo (no DX, no Evolution) career. It is time for Hunter to once again be crowned champion.

The Voice Of A New Generation?
The rumors have apparently proved to be accurate. Information circulated during the hours leading up to Backlash that the event would mark the official return of Jim Ross as the full-time announcer of the Raw brand. While it’s no coincidence that WWE announced earlier in the week that it was reviving the ECW brand where Joey Styles—the current Raw announcer—made his bones, there was no definite announcement that he would be taking the reigns of the company’s third active brand.

Assuming that will be the case—really, who else could possibly do an ECW match justice—it should be interesting to see what kind of effect Styles’ abbreviated time behind the Raw announce table has on his motivation to continue within the company. Here’s hoping Styles’ gets a nice, huge chip on his shoulder. ECW is going to need everyone at their hardcore finest if WWE is to be successful in resurrecting the brand.

I suppose this officially ends WWE’s attempt to be “younger and edgier,” leading rational-minded folk to wonder why Good Ol’ J.R. was “fired” in the first place.

Questions, concerns, maniacal rants? E-mail Frank at pwi_ingiosi@yahoo.com and get it off your chest.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 25, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

When PWI’s world-renowned publisher, Stu Saks, mentioned that it might be possible for me to hop on the company jet and follow WWE on its tour of Europe, I was speechless. I’d never been to Europe and what better way to experience its rich culture and history than on the company dime. The plan was to leave last Tuesday morning and meet up with the tour as it made its way through Milan, Italy. Eventually, I’d make my way north, just in time for a taping of Raw in “jolly old” England.

Things were certainly looking up for yours truly.

Following work last Monday, I went through my usual routine of dinner and compiling my report on the latest edition of Raw. Afterward, I packed my bags and thought of the excitement that awaited me on my journey. I was as giddy as a child anticipating the excitement of Christmas morning. I think I got all of two hours of sleep that night. The next morning, I made my way to scenic Blue Bell, Pennsylvania—the home base of PWI. During the usually mindless drive I had a brainstorm. Why don’t I just stay in Europe? Yeah … I could start over. Maybe become PWI’s “official overseas correspondent.”

This was brilliant! I was sold. I Immediately called my girlfriend and broke up with her. I had no time for American women. No. I was headed to the land of exotic milk maids and leggy supermodels. Next, I cancelled all my credit cards and stopped at an ATM to empty my bank accounts. A jet-setting playboy like me will need some start-up cash when I land. Finally, I called the student loan collection center and told them, sadly, that I had passed away suddenly after subduing a rabid tiger. No time for debts, plus I don’t think they would accept Euros anyway.

As I pulled into a parking spot at the office, I had yet another “great” idea. I sold my car. Yep, to the first wealthy person that walked by the building. Luckily, as I mentioned, we’re in Blue Bell, so your average pedestrian carries roughly $3,000 on his person at any given time. Fortunately, that was the exact sale price I was asking. My plan was taking shape. My pockets filled with money, I confidently strode into the office—the first few steps toward my new life.

It was at this point Stu mentioned that there is no company jet.

Enjoy “The Turn: Euro Edition.”

* * *

I See Boring People
See No Evil is opening in movie theaters across the United States on May 19, and even those (myself included) who aren’t necessarily looking forward to the film’s release know this because it has become fodder for a WWE storyline. And while using weekly television programming to promote side projects is nothing new for WWE, this situation is somewhat insulting to the fans.

My primary complaint with WWE programming as of late is that it seems to be lacking creativity. While others take issue with the potentially offensive programming, I take greater issue with the lack of intelligent programming. Yes, I said “intelligent.” Hell, at this point I’d take “mildly clever.” It takes very little effort to repackage Kane’s “troubled past” and turn him heel once again. We know this because it’s been done too many times to count. Why not take it a new direction this time? Why not have wrestlers congratulating Kane, and really looking forward to the release, and then have Kane go nuts because he can’t handle being appreciated and accepted? Go ahead, “Creative,” you keep that one, free from me to youse (that’s Philly-speak for “you all”).

The point is, as fans we should be outraged not at stupid storylines like God wrestling the McMahons, but rather the fact that the goliath that is WWE marketing needs to take up time that should be devoted to wrestling to promote the company’s other projects. Yet, if it’s extremely necessary, there are ways of using the film’s release to coincide with rather than provide the basis for storylines. Instead, WWE “Creative” takes the easy route and pencils Kane in to replicate his character from the film, fresh with references to its May 19 release date. That’s truly offensive.

* * *

Also of note from last night’s show:

•One week before their three-way match at Backlash, WWE champion John Cena, Edge, and Triple-H teamed up to take on Raw tag team champions Spirit Squad in a handicap match.

•The WWE Divas held a bikini contest, which was apparently won by Candice. Her prize was the right to make out with Jonathan Coachman. Fortunately, she was rescued by Viscera.

•Trish, dressed as a “hot Mickie James,” beat up the actual Mickie James dressed up as an awkward-looking Mickie James. And now you’re just as confused as the U.K. was during this segment.

Hey, if WWE isn’t going to put any thought into those angles, I won’t give it any ink. Pretty simple, really.

* * *

I Wish I Knew How To Quit You
You know, I get sick to my stomach every time I admit this. Seriously. You know that feeling you get when you’re about halfway through a burger from your favorite fast food place … and you bite down on something crunchy. Yeah, that kind of nausea. What can drive a man—who once ate a rare tropical fish straight from the tank for $25—into the depths of gut-wrenching queasiness? Two words: Shane McMahon.

I know I’m supposed to hate him. He’s the pompous, spoiled son of a multimillionaire who uses his pop’s company as his personal playground. He is not a professional wrestler by trade, yet seems to always pop up a few times a year and take on WWE’s finest talent. By all accounts, I should view Shane as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with WWE.

But, man, he puts on an entertaining match. Maybe I hate him for that, but I have an even worse feeling that it’s respect.

* * *

Fifty-seven-year-old Ric Flair will return from eye surgery to face the not-so-nimble, 348-pound giant Umaga at Backlash. The 16-time former world champion will step into the squared circle against a man nearly half his age, and over 100 pounds heavier than him. In a related story, my 50-year-old father mowed the lawn and took a nap.

* * *

Anyone For A Six-Way?
WWE took a page out of TNA’s book when it threw together a six-man tag team match showcasing as many of its top stars as it could, given the time restrictions of its show. Sure, Raw is two hours, but with all the promos and flashbacks and advertising, who’s got time for wrasslin? Anger aside, the six competitors in this match—RVD, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Matt Striker, Chris Masters, and Carlito Caribbean Cool—show what kind of upside WWE could have in the future.

Sure, RVD is closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, but he can still carry “the whole damn show” if need be. Benjamin and Haas are on the cusp of being considered seasoned vets, and both are so technically sound that they almost make it look easy. Striker, Carlito, and Masters should be three legitimate main-eventers within the next five to seven years.

This match should have been given more time to develop and allow the competitors to actually wrestle. But that probably would’ve taken time away from Vince’s promo about his “omnipotent semen,” and who wants that?

IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (April 20, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

It’s really unfair, sometimes. The best things in life always seem to go by so quickly that you never really get a chance to enjoy them. Maybe that’s what makes those things so special. Okay, so this might be overstating things a bit, yet with each passing week, it becomes even clearer just how important it will be to TNA’s long-term success for the promotion to acquire a second hour of programming.

Some will argue that having only an hour of programming is a good thing; less of a chance for TNA to get stale or overexposed. Further, many—myself included—have also argued that TNA must take its time and grow as a promotion before expanding too quickly. While I stick by my earlier assessment, I now firmly believe that the first leap the promotion takes should be pushing Spike TV into expanding its current timeslot to include a second hour. TNA would still be able provide the same quality of storyline, as well as showcase the majority of its roster.

Have I Seen This Before?
I want to like Abyss. I really, really do. I still can’t shake the similarities to a gaggle of WWE created gimmicks, most notably Mankind, Kane, and an early-day Undertaker. Just look at it objectively for a moment: Abyss is a maniacal, leather mask-clad monster who will listen only to his equally demented caretaker. Not convinced? Fine. Take into consideration that he doesn’t talk and that his caretaker acts as his mouthpiece. Still not convinced? Well … hmm … oh, for God’s sake, HE LOOKS LIKE MANKIND! C’mon!
Abyss needs to cut his own path as a wrestler and create an identity he can call his own.

On the other hand, I’m still loving Christian Cage as NWA champion, but he needs to get back to what works for him. What endeared him to the fans, both northern and now southern, was his cockiness. It was his blissful misinterpretation of his importance. Sure, those qualities aren’t necessarily those of an NWA champion, but he needs to cut down on the tough-guy gimmick because that’s not what made him “Captain Charisma.” He’s going to make a great heel again, someday.

* * *

It’s amazing. Maybe I should call NASA or something. Every time Jeff Jarrett appears on my television screen the life is sucked right out of my living room! Can’t imagine what it’s like in the Impact Zone.

* * *

TNA Trivia
The “Lethal Lockdown” match at the pay-per-view this Sunday should be extremely entertaining. Sting leads a team consisting of Rhino, Ron Killings, and A.J. Styles against Jeff Jarrett’s “Army” of Scott Steiner, America’s Most Wanted, and himself.

Of these eight men, all have held NWA championship gold at some point in their career. Name the one who has held said gold for the longest consecutive amount of time.

To see the answer … well … look it up. Okay, fine, scroll to the bottom.

* * *

What Does He Put On His Work Visa?
TNA relies a little too heavily on multi-wrestler tag matches. This is obviously a byproduct of a zealous company with only 60 minutes to sell its product to the public. However, last night’s match was definitely worthy of the air time. Acting as much of a de facto X division match as it was a preview for Sunday’s Lockdown pay-per-view, Team Canada defeated Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Sonjay Dutt, and Jay Lethal in an eight-man tag match.

On an unrelated note, can anyone tell me exactly what A-1 does for Team Canada? Petey Williams is “The Captain,” Eric Young is the comedic relief, and Bobby Roode is the “Canadian Enforcer.” Hell, go to TNA’s Web site and read
A-1’s bio
. Go ahead … I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Basically TNA has no clue what A-1 does either. Apparently, he’s “poised to attack the heavyweight division” and “spends many hours in the gym chiseling his solid physique.” That’s it? He works out and is “poised to attack”? That’ll sell T-shirts. I’m sure there’s more to A-1 than just potential and squat thrusts. However, he’s being overshadowed by the rest of Team Canada. Might be time for the monster from Niagara Falls (the Canuck side) to venture out on his own and cause actual damage.

* * *

Okay, Now I Get It
All right, I admit when I’m wrong … most of the time. Last week, here, in the middle of this very column, I questioned why TNA would bring in Matt “Don’t Call Me Spike Dudley” Hyson to rejoin his former running mates now known as Team 3D. It just didn’t make sense—until you see all of the members of 3D together. Brother Ray and Brother Devon never really looked comfortable in TNA. Sure, they’ve enjoyed some moderate success, but they never really looked at peace in their new home.

Maybe Brother Runt (they have to work on that name) will provide the balance necessary for the team to finally break through and win the NWA tag team title. If not, rest assured Matt Hyson will be thrown through something cool, so we have that going for us.

* * *

Trivia Answer:
Jeff Jarrett: 11 months, 13 days, NWA heavyweight title: June 2, 2004-May 15, 2005 (third title run)

Scott Steiner: 6 months, 18 days, NWA tag team title: Nov. 1, 1989-May 19, 1990 (first title run)

Sting: 6 months, 3 days, NWA heavyweight title: July 7, 1990-January 11, 1991
(first title run)

A.J. Styles: 4 months, 11 days, NWA heavyweight title: June 11, 2003-October 22, 2003 (first title run)

Ron Killings: 3 months, 13 days, NWA heavyweight title: August 7, 2002- November 11, 2002 (first title run)

America’s Most Wanted: 5 months, 30 days, NWA tag team title: October 22, 2005-present (seventh title run)

Rhino: 11 days, NWA heavyweight title: October 23, 2005-November 3, 2005 (first title run)

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 18, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Illness can make a man do strange things. Think about it; when the mercury in your thermometer reaches triple digits, you become very willing to speak with the inanimate objects around you. I had a 30-minute conversation yesterday with a lampshade over the finer points of submission holds that would impress even the most fervent of wrestling connoisseurs.

Yet, Raw waits for no man, hence I drugged myself up with as much as my prescriptions would allow and sat down in front of the tube for two hours of pure wrestling bliss. I’m at least 78 percent certain that what I saw was not the result of feverish hallucinations, although that may have helped.

Jesus Saves … HBK
I’m starting to believe.

Yes, now that religion has taken center stage as part of the major storyline on WWE’s flagship program, count me in as a “believer.” Even as Mr. McMahon continues to wage a one-man crusade against all deities not hailing from Stamford, Connecticut, I still believe. Yes, I believe that the fans are officially mired in the midst of one of those rare angles that has no end.

Not since the waning days of WCW have fans been treated to something so pointless as the McMahon vs. God (in the form of HBK) storyline. Any promotion in touch with its fan base would have ended things following the McMahon-Michaels match at WrestleMania 22. What at first appeared to be a ridiculous waste of time actually ended up being quite entertaining and thus a logical ending point for their feud.

Emphasis on logical.

The problem seems to be, a la Saturday Night Live’s dark years, that WWE Creative cannot construct an ending. Oh, it’s true. Either that, or maybe they’re not allowed to end this until the lord of Stamford give them the go-ahead. Either way, last night’s segments between HBK and McMahon were contrived, boring, and outright cheesy. For those of you who wisely took your bathroom break during this segment, here’s a recap: When McMahon attempted to enter the ring with a steel chair to finish off HBK following his match with Umaga, he was stopped by explosions (i.e. “bolts of lightning”) as well as a ring of fire, seemingly from nowhere. Obviously, God took a few minutes off from maintaining order in the universe to smite a wrestling promoter in the middle of Missouri.

There’s a huge difference between suspending disbelief and insulting the fans’ intelligence, and it seems like we stepped into the latter category a long time ago with this angle.

* * *

Are They Even Trying?
The excruciating manner in which Kane is dealing with the release of his feature film debut in See No Evil is not unlike my own. The mere fact that WWE Creative is coinciding Kane’s storyline with the release of the film is ridiculous. Kane was creepy before “May 19” and will continue to be creepy thereafter. The difference is millions of people will see him act that way each week on Raw compared to the dozens of extended family members who will actually pay to see See No Evil.

* * *

Does anyone else recognize that the more face-time Chavo Guerrero Jr. gets, the further his credibility goes down the toilet? Not only that, but the angle’s just stale at this point. Let’s hope Chavo disappears for a while. Maybe he could go get his “real estate license or something.” His talents in developing younger wrestlers are too valuable for him to give up the sport altogether.

* * *

Three-Headed Monster
The Triple-H-John Cena-Edge three-way match later this month at Backlash will anchor what appears to be an intriguing card. Plus, the buildup to their match has become more interesting each week.

Sure, last night ended pretty much the way I said it would last week, with Edge emerging victorious and relatively unscathed. But the predictability of the past three weeks may be a good thing, as now it’s actually difficult to decide who will win the strap at the pay-per-view. Triple-H is the obvious favorite anytime he steps between the ropes for a championship match; Edge’s brief title reign brought in impressive ratings numbers which equates to increased advertising dollars; however, John Cena appears to be gaining credibility as champion, and seemingly winning over some of the fans that despised him.

My money’s on Cena. Yes, I know it’s insane to think that Trips will drop two title matches in a row since returning to the limelight. But I just have a feeling about the champ this time around. Call it a hunch.

* * *

How good is it to see Charlie Haas back in a WWE ring? While former tag partner Shelton Benjamin may disagree, Haas’ victory last night was nowhere near the fluke the Intercontinental champ would have you believe. Haas is legit, and his time away has only made him better.

* * *

Enough Already
I’ve come back to my senses, and not a moment too soon. A few weeks ago I wrote that maybe, just maybe, The Spirit Squad was a good thing.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

See, gone are the days where a wrestler can enter WWE with an awful gimmick and later be generally accepted by the fans. Also gone are the ridiculously short memories of the fans that WWF/E relied on for years. Publications such as PWI as well as innumerable amount of message boards on the Internet make it virtually impossible to slip a repackaged wrestler past an increasingly intelligent fan base.

That being the case, how exactly are the promising young wrestlers that make up the Squad going to live down this idiotic gimmick once WWE Creative feels it’s time for him to be taken seriously? Odds are, they won’t be able to.

Unfortunately, it will likely only be one or two of the members who will be able to lead successful careers with WWE. This modern-day “Mean Street Posse” has way too much talent to be wasted like this. The time is fast approaching for the Squad to do one final cheer and go their separate ways.

* * *

Just when the women’s “division” (two legit wrestlers does not a division make) finally begins to look respectable, we get the Mickie-Trish segment from last night. It was clever at first when Trish decided to reverse the roles and stalk Mickie. However, it wasn’t so great the first time that reliving it now is something any fan wants.

IMPACT IMPLICATIONS (April 14, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

The jury is still out on whether TNA’s foray into weeknight programming will be positive for the promotion. However, the beginning of last night’s premiere was either the best piece of marketing a promotion has come up with in a long time … or the worst.

Although I’m not a fan of UFC programming, I figured I’d give it a shot last night, mostly out of anticipation for Impact. With one eye on the laptop and the other glancing over to the television, I noticed something odd.

10:47 p.m.: Mike Tenay and Don West appear on my screen, loudly touting TNA’s move to Thursday nights and its pending start. Suddenly, the very ominous theme music of Samoa Joe starts up, and the menacing former X champion makes his way to the top of the entrance ramp.

Huh?

10:48 p.m.: As Joe begins to make his way down the ramp, the show cuts abruptly to a commercial, and then back to UFC.

Wait … did they just screw up?

11:00 p.m.: We join an X championship match in progress, as Joe runs his boot into the skull of Christopher Daniels, who is already bloodied and draped over the steel barricade outside of the ring.

What in the blue hell? Did they just jump into the middle of an X championship match?

Yes … yes they did. In an apparent effort to make the transition from UFC programming to Impact as smooth as possible, TNA advertised 13 minutes prior to its start that it—a taped program—was beginning at 10:47 while we all watched the end of UFC. This was followed up with no introduction or theme music. It was as if TNA was trying to just slip it past the viewer that they had gone from watching UFC to Impact. Subtract two sides of the ring, add bigger behemoths, and BAM, we’re none the wiser?

Time will tell if Impact is truly worthy of being considered an “alternative” to WWE, but gimmicks like the one employed last night will not help their cause.

* * *

We join this analysis already in progress …
… with his head already busted wide open. Daniels was able to mount an impressive comeback, running purely off adrenaline. But it was obvious that this was Joe’s night to shine, and nothing would prevent him from recapturing the X title. The “Samoan Submission Machine” captured his second X title following a huge modified muscle-buster from the top rope.

This is certainly an interesting direction for Samoa Joe. Following his X title loss (yet he remains “undefeated”?) at Destination X, it seemed all but definite that the big man was headed for an NWA title push in the near future. Further, his announced match at lockdown with Sabu gave further credence to that theory. While a second X championship reign doesn’t exactly rule that out, it does make it less likely that Joe will be going after NWA gold anytime soon, which is a shame.

* * *

Storyline Building: 101
Recent reports have stated that TNA is looking to focus its television programming around well-developed storylines and solid matches, rather than frantically trying to give everybody on the roster air time. Last night, there were only three matches, and I’m fine with that. I’ll take quality over quantity anytime.

The surprisingly entertaining match between Team Canada and Team 3D ended rather predictably, when Team Canada hit the ring and attacked the former Dudleys, their opponents at the Lockdown pay-per-view later this month. While it could’ve just ended with Team Canada getting the best of Brothers Ray and Devon, from the crowd came a familiar face. The surprise debut of the Matt “WWE probably owns the name Spike Dudley” Hyson beautifully set up what should be a brutal and entertaining match at the pay-per-view. It appears that the rumors were true, and the man formerly known as “Spike” will be part of TNA after all. While Hyson really doesn’t bring much to a promotion already jam-packed with quick, undersized talent, his name recognition alone should spark interest (and possibly PPV buy rates) in this modern-day Dudley reunion.

Oh, also, if anyone knows why wrestlers feel compelled to break out the tightest, most 1980s-ish acid-washed jeans anytime someone says “streetfight,” please e-mail me at pwi_ingiosi@yahoo.com. Seriously, the last time I felt that uncomfortable, I was watching the volleyball scene in Top Gun. Awww, c’mon … you know the part.

* * *

“Showtime” 2006
Sting’s return to in-ring competition on network television was, in a word, impressive. The 46-year old legend took on Eric Young in a slow-paced match, befitting a man attempting to shake off five years of ring rust. However, Sting looked good in his Impact wrestling debut. At one point, the former WCW champion launched himself over the top rope and onto a waiting Young and cohort Alex Shelley on the floor.

The match ended cleanly, with Sting getting the pinfall victory after nailing Young with the “Scorpion Death Drop.” And despite the obligatory melee with Jeff Jarrett and his “Army” that followed, the ending of Impact was surprisingly effective. Rhino, A.J. Styles, and Ron Killings rushed to the ring to rescue Sting, and thus were announced as his teammates at Lockdown. It was a nice way to end Impact’s maiden voyage on Thursday nights.

* * *

Questions, concerns, maniacal rants? Feel free to email Frank at pwi_ingiosi@yahoo.com and get it off your chest.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 11, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Raw returned true to form last night as the fallout from WrestleMania 22 quickly turned to buildup for Backlash. This may have been the most entertaining Raw in quite some time. Angles took slightly different turns, and potentially interesting matches were created with only two programs remaining until the pay-per-view. In short, Backlash looks to be the official conclusion to many of the pre-’Mania angles, and last night’s Raw somehow made that seem like a shame. On second thought …

No Stranger To A Three-Way
Last night was Edge’s turn to take on two opponents, as Triple-H and WWE champ John Cena teamed up in a handicap match against the “Rated R Superstar,” who was accompanied to the ring by the “Diva Formerly Known As Lita.” Seriously, what happened? She was really attractive at one point, but now she kind of has this post-op, back-alley, “it’s okay to make out with her but I’m not sure if she’s a guy” look. But I digress.

The match was not worthy of Tuesday water cooler time. Cena and Hunter got the win over Edge, with the WWE champion clearing house following the contest.

Let’s see—last week Hunter went over, taking out Edge and Cena. Last night, Cena returned the favor, taking out Hunter and Edge. I didn’t major in statistics or probabilities in college, but I’m going to call it here and say that at 11:05 EDT, April 17, 2006, Edge will be the last man standing.

I know, it’s impressive, isn’t it? This stuff just comes to me.

* * *

God Bless Him For Trying
Without the tutelage of his mama, Shelton Benjamin has undergone something of a metamorphosis. Yes, the current Intercontinental champion has gone “thug.” Well, as “thug” as Shelton Benjamin can be. Newsflash to WWE Creative: What works for some does not work for all. The Rock—fine. John Cena—you bet. Hey, I’ll throw in Too Cool for that rugged, Kevin Federline-feel. However, a wrestler turning “thug” works in only the rarest of circumstances. And while I’m well aware that not recycling a gimmick makes the job a tad more difficult, it’s probably worth it in the long run.

Benjamin has shown that he can be an effective and believable heel. His time partnering with Charlie Haas as part of Team Angle proves that he could be tremendously entertaining and sneaky at the same time. If we’re going to be subject to repackaged personas, why not revisit that? It worked once. Or, what about making Shelton the ignorant, oblivious heel that believes his clear edge in athleticism is what makes him a champion? There seems to be so much that could be done with this tremendously gifted athlete.

Either way, the “Fresh Prince Of Orangeburg, SC” gimmick has to stop. Benjamin seems as comfortable playing the tough-guy role as Joey Styles does calling ridiculous storylines.

* * *

Speaking of Styles, Raw’s lead announcer referred to Mickie as a “dead ringer” for the former women’s champion, Trish Stratus. With all due respect to the new women’s champion, on her best day—and if everyone else in the world simultaneously gazed into an eclipse—she could not be considered a “dead ringer” for Trish Stratus.

To further push the glaring inaccuracy, throughout her match with Maria, the announcers “mistakenly” referred to Mickie as “Trish” multiple times. The real Trish then came out dressed as Mickie, and it appears the mind-games have taken a turn for the pointless.

Hey, at least Mickie dyed her hair. I suppose it’s refreshing to see WWE Creative go that extra mile to insult our intelligence this time.

* * *

Taking the WWE SAT
1. Kane snapped and turned against The Big Show because:
A) He fears the reaction fans will have to his portrayal of a monster in his forthcoming feature film debut See No Evil
B) He’s a tortured soul, afraid that his on-screen persona will revive memories of his horrific childhood
C) He just saw an advance screening of the most predictable film this side of Disney

2. “Chris Masters” is to “good on the mike” as:
A) “Randy Orton” is to “sensitive to women’s issues”
B) “The Spirit Squad” is to “a refreshing idea”
C) “The McMahons” are to “not over-exposed”
D) All of the above

* * *

BlasphemeMania I
As the world approaches Easter, the holiest of days to Christians, let’s recap the score of what I’ve titled “BlasphemeMania I”:

The “King Of Kings” Triple-H: Relatively few references to himself as such, although in an effort to sell more T-shirts, others have taken to calling Hunter by that horrific moniker.

Vinnie Mac’s one man crusade: The chairman desecrates a church, including creating his own “commandments,” forcing Shane to read from a gospel referring to Pop’s “grapefruits,” and all this after he filled his mouth with holy water (directly from the font) and sprayed it in the air while doing his best Triple-H impression.

What’s worse, from a secular fan perspective, the segment went on way too long. Couldn’t he had just made paper airplanes from pages of the Bible and been done with it?

Regardless, this round goes to Vinne Mac. Well-played, chairman, well-played. Tune in next week where Triple-H will turn his bottled water into wine while Vinnie Mac attempts to heal the sick.

Questions, comments, maniacal rants? Feel free to contact Frank at pwi_ingiosi@yahoo.com

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (April 4, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

WrestleMania 22 has come and gone and by most accounts it was a success. To the loyal follower of WWE, WrestleMania weekend does not officially end until Raw the following Monday. While, I’m well aware that Smackdown tapes a night later, seriously, does anyone care at this point? If WWE isn’t going to give the forgotten son its due, why should we? I digress.

The Raw following any pay-per-view is always the best it will be for the coming weeks. Loose ends must be tied up and new battles are to be waged. It’s as if the fans are treated to a two-hour extension of the PPV. That’s what makes the Raw that followed WrestleMania 22 so disturbing.

To put it plainly, there just wasn’t enough meat. Or, more frighteningly, if it was indeed a showcase of what is to come of the program over the next few months, maybe the Smackdown roster should be salivating, because Raw certainly dropped the ball last night.

They Got Gold, Yes They Do
I’m sick to my stomach. Literally. I can feel my stomach turn as I prepare to write the next sentence. All right, I’ll try my best to keep down my well-balanced breakfast. Here goes: I’m glad The Spirit Squad won the tag team title.

Ugh. There! I’ve said it! I’m glad the worst gimmick in the world has had new life breathed into it in the form of tag team gold. “For the love of God, why?” you might ask. My rationale is simple, although a bit of a stretch. See, I’m now certain that if it were generally acceptable, WWE would completely eliminate tag team competition from its programming.

Oh, it’s true. Think about it. Come back with me two days. Remember the opening match at ’Mania? Allow me to refresh. It was Kane and The Big Show defending the straps against Carlito and Chris Masters. An uninspired match all around was basically used, thanks to hindsight, to foreshadow the feud between Masters and Carlito. Foolishly, I believed the titles would actually change hands at the event, but apparently more money can be made off of a Masters-Carlito feud than a successful tag team. Consider this as well: The Smackdown tag team champions, M-N-M, weren’t even used during ’Mania.

So, yes, I will be the first to stand up and admit that I am happy WWE put the straps on young guys who are genuinely excited (at least I think) to have them. Once the Squad is mercifully broken up, there may be two, possibly three, tag team specialists in the group that bodes well for the future of the struggling division.

* * *

Seriously … Chavo … it’s really getting shameless and uncomfortable at this point. Oh, and a bit of advice to “The Fresh Prince Of Orangeburg South Carolina” Shelton Benjamin: Sunglasses don’t make you a badass.

* * *

That’s Not Cool
Last night Carlito finally realized what everyone else has known for months—Chris Masters is dead weight.

Okay, that may be a bit harsh, but think about it. Both men are primed for the big time, with the hopes of WWE placed firmly on their shoulders. And, of the two, Masters is by far the more prototypical WWE superstar. So why is it that the fans, by and large, can’t stand him?

Is Masters the victim of the “John Cena Theory,” that a good-looking, well-built wrestler will never be accepted by resentful male fans? In a word, no. I’d like to give the fans a little more credit than that.

My thought is that Masters has not gotten over with the fans at large primarily because he’s a one-trick pony. His whole gimmick just reeks of new-wave nostalgia. He’s build like Paul Orndorff, with the mike skills of Paul Roma, and he uses a full-nelson, for heaven’s sake, as his finisher.

Chris Masters is the Volkswagen Beetle of professional wrestling.

I really want Masters to succeed; I see a ton of potential in the guy. However, it appears that in his budding feud with Carlito, he will be perceived as the bad guy, which can only push him further down the depth charts. He’s teetering right now on the verge of receiving “bad heat”—or, for clarification purposes, “Jeff Jarrett style heat.” That’s when the fans begin to dislike the man, not the gimmick, and that could destroy the career of a very promising young superstar.

* * *

Kamala + Meng + Jimmy Snuka (1975) – talent = Jamal

* * *

And You Thought The “King Of Kings” Thing Was Blasphemous
Vince McMahon has called out God so often over the past few weeks that we can only imagine it’s leading to a WrestleMania 23 matchup between the chairman and the Almighty.

While I’ll spare you the “I wonder what God’s finisher is” diatribe (it’s death, okay, God’s finisher is death), I will question the basis for this angle. And, get this, my best educated guess is that Vinnie Mac is taking his cues from you.

Yes, you, sitting there in your school’s library reading my drivel while you should be learning something relatively important like fractions or the such. The buzz on the Internet amongst those who fancy themselves to be “in the know” when it comes to the industry is that Vince has “lost it.” And, in all honesty, if you’ve watched WWE programming for, say, the last decade, it’s easy to see why taking shots at the McMahons is the first thing people do (for the record, it’s at least the second or third thing for me).

Some of the angles portrayed on WWE programming have been, in a word, terrible. And, as Vince McMahon takes most of the credit (and blame) for approving angles, it only seems fair to drop this one in his lap as well.

However, I think this current feud—V.K.M. vs. Jesus H. Christ—is a shot at the fans who believe that Vince has lost it. Hey, it’s either that or WWE is now taking their cues for storylines from the Internet, and if that’s the case I can be reached at London Publishing, P.O. Box …

* * *

Word is the Triple-H, John Cena, Edge “handicap match” (essentially a three-way dance) last night may not be part of a permanent program, which is a shame. The three play off each other perfectly and are wildly entertaining together.

Oh, also, if Cena needed any reason to finally ditch that idiotic five-knuckle shuffle, let’s hope that pedigree did the trick.

MISTERIO, CENA MAKE HISTORY AT WM22 (April 3, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

The WWE world championship landscapes changed drastically within the span of an hour in Chicago, Illinois, at WrestleMania 22. In a historic turn of events, one man fulfilled a lifelong dream, while the other may have solidified his place among wrestling’s elite.

Rey Misterio Jr. entered the All-State Arena under the least favorable of circumstances. The diminutive superstar had shockingly won, and lost, a guaranteed shot at Kurt Angle and the WWE World championship. The always-emotional Misteiro allowed his legendary bravado to get the best of him, when in the course of defending the honor of fallen comrade Eddie Guerrero he lost his guaranteed title shot to Randy Orton at No Way Out in February. Misterio was later added to the Smackdown main event at ’Mania by general manager Teddy Long, and instantly became the fans’ favorite to win the match.

On the Raw side, John Cena had been locked in a nasty war of words with former 10-time world champion Triple-H, his ’Mania opponent. The “Cerebral Assassin” immediately began dissecting the WWE champion’s psyche, questioning everything from Cena’s ability to his heart. Despite regaining the WWE title from Edge at the Royal Rumble in January, Cena entered ’Mania as a huge underdog.

The stage was set for a historic night of wrestling, and WWE did not disappoint. Along with the main events, some of the high points of the evening were:

“Money-In-The-Bank” Ladder Match

A match containing this many competitors, not to mention a stipulation that involves climbing 15 feet to grab a dangling briefcase, could generally go one of two ways: It could either be a parade of botched spots and sloppy wrestling, or it could be a tremendously entertaining contest with all competitors expanding on their individual repertoires as they push for victory. Fortunately, in this case, we were treated to the latter. In a match filled with high spots and wrought with potential danger the most daring competitor of the grouping, Rob Van Dam, walked away with the briefcase containing an open-ended contract guaranteeing him a world title shot. This was an excellent match that truly set the tone for the remainder of the pay-per-view.

Edge vs. Mick Foley

When “hardcore legend” Mick Foley is involved, two things are certain: First, there will be very little actual wrestling. Second, he will do something that will remind the fans why a man with so little pure wrestling ability is one of the legends of the sport. Former WWE champion Edge fought admirably in an environment to which he was not accustomed. However, Foley is a master of hardcore wrestling, which meant Edge’s only shot at surviving the match would be to step outside of his comfort zone and enter a realm of darkness he never had before. Doing just that, a broken and beaten Edge speared Foley off of the ring apron and through a flaming table, covering him in the process to secure the win.

Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James

Although women’s wrestling in the modern-day WWE oftentimes leaves much to be desired, this match will go down undoubtedly as one of the greatest WrestleMania title matches, let alone women’s championship match, in the history of the event. From the start, James appeared very relaxed and sure of herself, whereas Stratus was uncharacteristically intense. James essentially dictated the flow of the match, while Stratus was only able to mount the occasional burst of offense. A back and forth battle ensued with James eventually winning over the fans. The perfect combination of mind games and talent allowed James to pull off the upset and walk away from Chicago as the new women’s champion.

Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon

Fans everywhere assumed, and rightfully so, that Shawn Michaels would once again be forced to carry yet another match against an opponent who should not be competing in a 2006 wrestling ring (that means you, too, Mr. Hogan). However, few expected this contest to be as entertaining as it was, and launch the “Heartbreak Kid” into a level beyond icon status. After withstanding outside interference from both Shane McMahon and The Spirit Squad, Michaels proceeded in dismantling his employer, taking the chairman to a world of hurt no other superstar had before. Michaels was intent on destroying McMahon, with victory seemingly the last thing on his mind. The “Showstopper” channeled his long suppressed dark side and found a way to inflict punishment on McMahon that few thought the born-again Christian was capable of. Michaels’ ended the slaughter with the sweetest of “sweet chin music.”

Rey Misterio vs. Randy Orton vs. Kurt Angle

With the WWE title on the line, these three masters of ring technology met in a thrilling contest. Despite his overwhelming status as an underdog, Misterio seemed poised to do something amazing. Following an armdrag that sent champion Angle to the outside, Misterio capitalized on a dazed Orton, rolling up his hated rival to secure the win, and his first world championship. Even if he doesn’t hold the title long, Misterio’s record as the smallest world champion in WWE history isn’t likely to be broken anytime soon.

John Cena vs. Triple-H

The second half of the main event saw John Cena, the most embittered, divisive champion WWE has had since Bret Hart’s “I Hate America” days, further his legacy as a fighting champion. With a fan base growing increasingly frustrated with Cena’s “Thuganomics” routine, the crowd heavily favored Triple-H, despite his reviled status. In defeating “The Game,” via submission no less, Cena proved that he can wrestle with the big boys. Naturally, the champion will still have those fans that detest him for whatever reason they feel valid. However, he likely won over a few more supporters with this tremendously impressive win.

Bringing Up The Rear

As good a WrestleMania as it was not every match lived up to its hype. The World tag team title match between did absolutely nothing to further the prestige of the championship, nor the competitors in the match. The challengers, Carlito and Chris Masters, essentially collapsed as a team, and left the future of the division in doubt …

The U.S. title match featuring Chris Benoit and John Bradshaw Layfield, as well as the “Casket Match” between The Undertaker and Mark Henry, were both uninspired messes. Layfield is a shell of the perfect evil WWE champion he was just one year ago, and Mark Henry should not be allowed into next year’s ’Mania without purchasing a ticket … The Boogeyman made his WrestleMania debut against Booker T and wife Sharmell in which, perhaps inadvertently, was the comic match of the evening. Booker T, a main-eventer at WrestleMania XIX, has fallen so far out of the WWE world title picture that he may actually be below former partner (and retired wrestler) Stevie Ray at this point … Finally, WWE fulfilled its gratuitous “bra-and-panty quota” by offering a Playboy pillow fight between Candice and Torrie Wilson. Both women appeared in the men’s magazine at different times in their career, leading to this pointless display, placating the 13-year-old in all of us.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 28, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Alas, my fellow fans, we have come to the end of our journey. After weeks of build-up and what feels like months of speculation, we arrive at the final Raw before the “Granddaddy Of Them All.”

Yes, in five short days we experience wrestling New Year.

Sure, TNA’s had a nice run, and independent wrestling seems to get closer and closer to becoming an actual alternative to the “Big Two.” But in reality, WrestleMania is the unofficial end point to all things “last year.” Soon, apple-spitting will be passé; Edge and Lita will likely go their separate, penicillin-fueled ways; and John Cena will finally let the boos get to him.

Now, I’m sure many of you will ask, “But Frank, in your infinite wisdom you failed to realize that many of the feuds from ’Mania are just beginning. There will be two, sometimes three, pay-per-views following ’Mania that will revolve around the angles that start there. Why Frank? Why do you lead us astray? WHY?”

Well, first relax and take a deep breath … better? Now, allow me to take you by the hand and together, WWE Creative and I will usher you into a new year of wrestling. A year full of promise and no doubt wrought with potential controversy. There will be good times and, if recent history is any indicator, there will be bad times. However, as loyal fans, it is we that will determine the level of success the sport we love will experience the remainder of 2006.

Only one week separates us from the unknown. So, come with me now as we prepare to enter the Wrestling Year 22 A.V.S., or “After Vince Sr.”

* * *

He’s Making Trump Look Humble
By my accounting, the last five episodes of Raw have begun with either a video recap of Mr. McMahon’s involvement in his current storyline or an actual live segment with the chairman himself. Oh, in case you forgot, he’s not actually a wrestler.

* * *

The Most Electrifying Giant In Sports Entertainment
In accordance with the bylaws of professional wrestling, and in order to fulfill the mandatory “tag team champion face time” quota, most of the first half hour of Raw was devoted to Kane and The Big Show and their pending title defense against Carlito Caribbean Cool and Chris Masters at ’Mania, and you will get no complaints here. Without a doubt, The Big Show is one of the most watchable and entertaining men in WWE.

Now before you call out of your shift at Comic Universe, ask your mom for a ride to Blue Bell, PA, to slap me upside the head, go back and check the tape from last night. The angle played out as such: Show came to the rescue of his tag team partner, who was locked in a room backstage, with a forklift … yes, an actual forklift … moved in front of the door. After Show cleared out the backstage area, he shoved the forklift from the door to free his partner. Naturally, it was at this point that Kane walked up behind his winded partner and told him he had escaped through another door, which allowed him to escape. A winded Show then asked, “Why did I just push a forklift?” The look on his face as well as the delivery was, in a word, perfect.

* * *

A Nice Change Of Pace
To change things up a bit prior to WrestleMania 22, WWE went with an actual “match” pitting two “wrestlers,” Shawn Michaels and Triple-H, against each other with, get this, nearly no interference. In all seriousness, this was an excellent pre-’Mania match, delivered by two of the best competitors of this generation. Yes, you read that right. Less than a week before both men are slated to compete in huge matches at WrestleMania 22, the former founding fathers of Degeneration X put on a showcase of hardnosed, old-fashioned sports entertainment (very little “wrestling” was involved, so that dreaded alternative phrase will have to do).

The match began as a brawl and quickly progressed to a battle of signature moves, with Hunter looking to punish HBK in the hopes that he’d be softened up for his match with his father-in … umm, er … I meant the “father of sports entertainment,” Mr. McMahon. I could honestly watch Triple-H and HBK go head-to-head hundreds of times and, I feel as if I have. However, there’s really not much bad to say about this match. Naturally, Mr. McMahon interfered and nearly cost HBK the contest and, not surprisingly, John Cena made the save and traded shots with Trips, his opponent at ’Mania. All in all, it was a safe choice, showcasing a couple of legends that know each other very well.

* * *

All Talk
Let’s assume these guys were saving it all up for Sunday, and that’s why they didn’t compete last night. Here’s a brief recap:

Mick Foley vs. Edge:
I think we’re seeing a fourth face of Mick Foley that is a beautiful mixture of Mankind and Cactus Jack. Mercifully, Dude Love is nowhere to be found. This match is really beginning to look like something special. Hell, even if it’s not, you know Foley will do something partially debilitating, making you almost not regret paying $49.95 to watch grown men fight in their bathing suits for four hours.

“Money-In-The-Bank” ladder match participants:
Ric Flair started off what appeared to be a classic “Nature Boy” promo, complete with partial geriatric stripping, an inordinate amount of perspiration, and insane rambling. CLASSIC! Midway through his diatribe, Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin strode confidently to the ring. Something was different about Shelton this time. The champ came off as tough. No, not like “tough-tough,” more like “Will Smith-tough.” You know, “PG-13 tough.”

Benjamin stumbled through his “threats,” and before long he and Flair were trading punches. The third Raw entrant into the match, Rob Van Dam, made his way down to the ring to take out Benjamin. Naturally, the “Dirtiest Player In The Game” repaid RVD by jabbing him in the eye with his thumb. Is it sad that I’m giddy for this match on Sunday? Probably, but so what?

* * *

The Fossil Watch “Time Filler” Of The Night:
The Spirit Squad defeated Val Venis, Viscera, and “I’m Kind Of Like Jim Duggan Without The 2 X 4” Eugene, and then proceeded to do a “cheer” insulting John Cena. And, no, you can’t have those three minutes of your life back.

* * *

T-N-A Goes To Omaha
During a hotly contested women’s match, pitting the best and most scantily clad competitors the division has to offer in a knock-down-drag-out battle, I went to the fridge to get an adult beverage and then checked my e-mail … and missed pretty much nothing.

For recap purposes: Trish and Torrie defeated Victoria and Candice. Torrie and Candice went at each other, building up their Playboy pillow-fight match at ’Mania. I feel a tad blasphemous calling it a “match,” but hey they’re pretty, so I’ll play along.

* * *

And The Punch Line Is …
My grandfather is a 78-year old Italian man who worked outdoors his entire life, and yet somehow he’s not as tan as a 60-year-old Irish chap from Connecticut. Go figure.

Not surprisingly, the “Chairman vs. Champion” match pitting Vinnie Mac against John Cena ended with a McMahon DQ followed by Hunter tuning up the champ with his trusty sledgehammer. In an interesting pre-match stipulation, Vince required that both Trips and HBK, who were each in the corner of their respective ally, be handcuffed to the ring ropes. Hmmm … Triple-H was chained to a post by a McMahon. Even I’m too good to touch that one.

 

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 21, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Like an insomniac scanning the airwaves for some desperately needed sleep-inducing, late-night broadcasting, we are yet again subject to another two-hour infomercial for how great WrestleMania 22 will be. It’s to the point where I believe if we order ’Mania on pay-per-view right now, we’ll get a something “space-age” or water resistant as a throw-in. I swear I hear Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” in my head non-stop.

Coming off the heels of a surprisingly disappointing Saturday Night’s Main Event, WWE was in a position to either reinvigorate an increasingly frustrated fan base, or simply sleepwalk through another glorified commercial. Unfortunately, for the fans, it was the latter.

So, hold off on the Nyquil for a few hours, rub the crust from your bloodshot eyes and together we’ll sleepwalk one night closer to what may be the most highly promoted and potentially anticlimatic pay-per-view in the company’s recent history.

* * *

Vinnie-Mac: Now Available In Thrilling 1-D
I hate to say it, but right now Mr. McMahon is teetering on the edge of “Jeff Jarrett territory.” You know, the bad guy that thrusts himself into far too much of the storyline to the point that it becomes less about disliking the on-screen persona than resenting the man himself. It’s generally known as “bad heat.”

Mr. McMahon, in small, sporadic doses, is a great heel. There may not be a more pretentious, self-righteous man to have ever graced televised professional wrestling. He cares about no interests other than his own, and just when you think he’s changed, he reminds you he’s a “self-made multimillionaire.” Were there a lesson plan on how to run a wrestling promotion, Mr. McMahon, to some extent, would be your textbook heel.

Unfortunately, most fans are smart enough to realize there is a critical flaw in the Mr. McMahon character. Specifically, he is tremendously one-dimensional. There is very little development to a man who takes up, at least in recent weeks, one-sixth of your Monday night television viewing. Vinnie-Mac has become, for all intents and purposes, a one-trick pony. Whether he’s oiled up on a magazine cover, having a grown man “kiss his ass,” or feuding with a champion many years his junior, Vince’s story has been the same since he became a regular part of WWE programming nearly 10 years ago.

Allow me to suggest that, if we must consume our WWE required weekly dose of vitamin McM, why not make Shane the face of management? His reaction was priceless as Vince signed him up for yet another match on Raw, plus he’s charismatic and relatively serviceable in the ring. Or, and I know this is crazy, but why not use those 20 or so minutes to push actual wrestling talent? Tag teams? An extra match or two? I know that may be the last thing on the chairman’s mind, but it may be worth looking into.

* * *

Is it a good thing when your federation’s babyface champion draws more heat than two McMahons? I didn’t think so either.

* * *

Addition Through Subtraction
The future World tag team champions—you read it here first … all right, second … okay, at least ninth—Chris Masters and Carlito Caribbean Cool, split up for the evening and took on their ’Mania opponents, Kane and The Big Show, in singles competition. The first match, Carlito vs. Kane, pitted the more athletic members of each team against each other, and was quite entertaining. Carlito landed some nice spots on the “Big Red Machine,” while Kane countered with his relentless brutality and well-placed skill moves.

The second match saw The Big Show (who just seems like a cool guy, bless his poor, misused heart) against Paul Roma Jr., a.k.a. Chris Masters. As Show made his way to ringside, I got the sinking feeling that we weren’t going to be treated to a variety of wear-down holds or classic technical wrestling. Call it a hunch. My assumptions proved to be true as Masters clobbered Show with an solid chair shot a mere three minutes into the match. While my first inclination was disappointment, I quickly realized that roughly 180 seconds was more than enough time for each man to run through his repertoire of moves. So, really, nothing lost, nothing gained.

* * *

Not Enough Of A Good Thing
Raw’s entrants into the “Money-In-The-Bank” ladder match squared off in a pre-’Mania title bout, previewing one-half of that showdown on April 2. Despite some missed spots and being buried in the mid-card, this was the most entertaining match of the night. Shelton Benjamin’s athleticism combined with Ric Flair’s showmanship and RVD’s technical brilliance made for a very fun match.

What’s so perplexing is that this is the type of match the fans want to see leading up to ’Mania, and yet it was the only one of its kind all evening. This was the type of match that piques fans’ interest and, perhaps, tickles their PPV buying bone. One can only imagine what it will be like when these three combatants square off not only against each other, but three Smackdown superstars as well. I have said it in past weeks, and I’ll say it now, the “Money-In-The-Bank” ladder match will steal the show April 2 in Chicago. IF, and that’s a huge if, it doesn’t, I will be the first in line to admit my mistake.

* * *

I dig crazy Mickie. Something about that “boil your rabbit” look in her eye that just reminds me of roughly every date I had in high school. Eh, could just be me.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 14, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

WWE: The Gold Standard Of Professional Wrestling
For Steve Austin, a couple of middle-fingers were sufficient to get his point across to the WWE higher-ups. A tad less subtle but just as effective, Triple-H would raise the bar with his blatantly suggestive crotch chops. Each maneuver was effective in its own way of dealing with a boss (Mr. McMahon) whose sole mission in life was to make his employees’ life pure hell.

And then, there’s Shawn Michaels … the former bad boy turned born-again Christian.

Tormented by the McMahon family over the past few weeks, “The Heartbreak Kid” had endured more grief than any one employee ever should. He’d been drugged, leveled with a steel chair, and forced to kiss his boss’ backside … literally. So, really, should it come as any shock that when given the opportunity to douse Vinnie-Mac and spray Shane with a cup full of urine, HBK didn’t think twice?

While many will argue that a new low was reached by WWE Creative (and I’m using the term “creative” loosely) when Shawn Michaels showered his boss with a cup of urine, there was actually a more tasteless move made by The Fed during the segment, most notably, the manner in which it urinated on its own drug testing policy.

Be it intentional or not, WWE went a long way to destroy any shred of credibility it built when it announced its “Wellness Policy” following the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero. Why should anyone take it seriously now that it’s become part of a storyline? It’s all in the name of “entertainment,” right? At this point, Major League Baseball’s policy looks more legit than WWE’s … and that speaks volumes.

* * *

A recent poll shows that males 18-49 pretty much don’t care about cross promotion. Apologies to Cowboy Troy and Bowflex.

* * *

Countdown To Motown
With WWE’s triumphant return to broadcast, primetime television a mere five days away, last night’s episode of Raw was little more than a preview for both Saturday Night’s Main Event as well as WrestleMania 22. Here’s what you need to know:

John Cena and Triple-H signed the contract for their ’Mania title match. Why was Coach overseeing it? Remember when Jack Tunney was dusted off for such occasions. Cena and Hunter will team up Saturday night to face a team consisting of the WrestleMania main-eventers from the Smackdown brand: Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, and Rey Misterio Jr. Any chance this match ends cleanly?

“The Cutting Edge” returns at SNME, with Mick Foley as the guest. Let me just take a stab at it: Edge says something sexually suggestive, Foley gets the cheap pop, and Lita distracts the viewers with her synthetics. And there’s your bathroom break.

Torrie Wilson’s a good girl, with a nasty headache. Torrie Wilson completed her face turn last night by attacking Victoria during her match with Trish Stratus for the women’s championship. While the referee was distracted by Candice Michelle on the outside, Torrie sprinted to the ring and hit Victoria with her nose-job finisher. Trish followed up with her chick kick and made the cover for the win. Following the match, the fans are treated to Maria working her ample pectorals on the new Bowflex Ultimate Extreme 2 (hey, if I shill for them, maybe they’ll send me free stuff, eh?). Trish asked her if she had seen Torrie, leaving the viewers to assume she’s looking to thank her. To Trish’s (and every drama coach’s) horror, Torrie appears to be laid out in her dressing room. The “mystery” attacker apparently left their “calling card”—a copy of Candice Michelle’s Playboy magazine. Call me old fashioned, but when I was growing up, passing out with a Playboy on your chest was a whooole different “calling card.”

Some three-way intrigue. Intercontinental champion Shelton Benjamin met Rob Van Dam in a title match with ’Mania implications as both men will be competing in the “Money-In-The-Bank” ladder match in Chicago on April 2. Add the fact that Ric Flair unintentionally cost RVD the match, and we’ve got some bona fide heat between all three men heading into both ’Mania and SNME. Well done, WWE.

Smackdown’s Randy Orton makes his usual “surprise appearance.” Hey, I love a surprise attack as much as any red-blooded American male, but does it seem like it’s always Randy Orton who’s showing up on Raw to do the attacking? Does he miss it that much or is he in need of a hobby on Monday nights? Orton took out Cena as he and Hunter faced off prior to the end of the show.

* * *

Jim Ross will be calling the HBK/Shane-O-Mac match at SNME. It will be awesome to see the wrestling’s all-time greatest play-by-play announcer return to his rightful spot, even if it’s only for one match.

 

CHRISTIAN TITLE DEFENSE HIGHLIGHTED BY STEVE BORDEN,
SCOTT STEINER RUN-INS (March 13, 2006)

By Mike Rickard II

1. Alex Shelley pinned Jay Lethal
2. Lance Hoyt defeated “Maverick” Matt
3. Team Canada (Bobby Roode & Eric Young) pinned The Naturals.
4. The James Gang beat The Latin American Exchange by pinfall.
5. Chris Sabin won a four-way International X Showcase Match by pinning Puma.
6. Jeff Jarrett, Abyss, & America’s Most Wanted defeated Rhino, Ron Killings, & Team 3D by pinfall.
7. Christopher Daniels won the X division title in a three-way Ultimate X match against Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles.
8. NWA heavyweight champion Christian Cage pinned Monty Brown.

During the pre-game show, Jeff Jarrett and his cronies appear in the ring to make a statement. Jarrett tells the fans he’s been in the business for 20 years and he knows how to read a person’s face. According to “The King Of the Mountain,” Steve Borden isn’t going to show up. Just to be safe, though, Jarrett brings in “Showtime” Eric Young and Alex Shelley, instructing them to search for Borden and videotape him on the off chance that he’s at the Impact Zone. Jarrett promises that he has someone waiting for Borden if he shows up.

A black and white film airs, foreshadowing the return of Sting. Someone’s been watching Fritz Lang’s M and Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, but they obviously weren’t paying close attention because this looked like something out of a junior high school film class.

1. Alex Shelley vs. Jay Lethal
The two youngest members of the TNA roster squared off in a match that combined the high-flying action of the X division with the ground attack you usually see in the UFC. There were several points where either man could have won, but Shelley triumphed after he hit the acid drop on Lethal, and scored the pinfall.
WINNER: Alex Shelley by pinfall

Analysis: Going into this match, Lethal was compiling an impressive resume of in-ring success, while most of Shelley’s accolades had been outside the ring using the paparazzi cam. Shelley is back to his winning ways in the ring, gaining an impressive victory over Lethal. However, judging from Lethal’s performance, he’ll be in the winner’s circle soon as well.

2. “Maverick” Matt (with Traci) vs. Lance Hoyt
Lance Hoyt had a score to settle after Bentley turned against him during an episode of TNA Explosion. Hoyt powered his way to an early advantage, forcing Matt’s valet, Traci, to enter the ring to try to distract him. While Traci failed to distract Hoyt, she gave Matt enough of a breather to recover and take the offense. Matt used mat wrestling holds to ground Hoyt, but the angry Texan’s size and power overwhelmed the “Maverick.” During the match, Eric Young and Alex Shelley dropped flyers from the rafters as part of their search for Sting. Traci found herself preoccupied with the flyers, which destracted Bentley. Hoyt blasted Bentley with a big boot while he was reading a flyer and quickly pinned him.
WINNER: Lance Hoyt by pinfall

Analysis: Hoyt’s record on PPVs has been uneven, but his thirst for revenge against his former friend obviously gave him the edge to pull out a win (along with some unexpected help from Young and Shelley). Nevertheless, Hoyt looked sluggish in this match and he needs to improve his overall game if he wants to continue to climb up the rankings.

Backstage, Jeremy Borash is interviewing Team 3D, Rhino, and Ron Killings about their upcoming match against Jeff Jarrett, America’s Most Wanted, and Abyss. All four men promise that tonight’s match is going to be a war. All four men have scores to settle with their opponents, and judging by the intensity in their eyes, they’re going to deliver.

3. Team Canada (with Coach D’Amore) vs. The Naturals
During the match, announcer Don West suggests that The Naturals go after Eric Young, speculating that Young may be more focused on finding Sting than winning the match. However, the opposite was true, as Young seemed much sharper than usual. Team Canada isolated Chase Stevens for most of the match, but they were unable to finish him off. The Canadians stole the victory, though, after Young broke the hockey stick over Douglas’ head. This allowed Bobby Roode to get the easy 1-2-3.
WINNERS: Team Canada by pinfall.

Analysis: The Naturals are lightning fast with incredible double-team moves, yet they are constantly falling prey to rulebreaking tactics, as was the case in tonight’s match. The problem may be that The Naturals are trying so hard to steer clear of their former heel style that they are forgetting some of the fundamental rules of tag team wrestling. Specifically, sometimes you have to bend the rules to win.

Monty Brown tells Jeremy Borash that he’s going to get respect by taking it and that he’s no “flavor of the month,” like Cage. Rather, he’s the “flavor of the millennium.” Larry Zbyszko shows up in his capacity as TNA championship committee member and promises Brown that he’ll have a level playing field during his title match against Cage. Zbyszko goes to shake Brown’s hand, but Brown slaps it away, letting Zbyszko know that he doesn’t need anyone’s help tonight because he is going to level the playing field with “The Pounce.”

4. The Latin American Exchange vs. The James Gang & Bob Armstrong
Before the match began, Konnan lashed out at the James Gang and the fans, telling them that he hates them all. B.G. James told Konnan that he pissed off the tribal leader and that “blood runs thicker than mud.” The LAX took advantage of B.G. James’ rage and triple-teamed him throughout much of the match. The LAX got overconfident, allowing B.G. to reach Kip James. The match ended when Bob Armstrong kicked a chair into Homicide, making him easy pickings for Kip James.
WINNER: The James Gang by pinfall.

Analysis: “Bullet” Bob Armstrong wisely picked his spots so he could utilize his many years of experience without falling prey to those same accumulated years. Armstrong fared very well against the dangerous LAX, but now that he can claim revenge, he’s be wise to step away from the ring.

Continuing their search for Borden, Shelley and Young lead Borash through the back halls of the Impact Zone until they reach a restroom where they believe Sting is taking care of business. As he holds a baseball bat high, Young calls out Sting, only to see A.J. Styles come out of the stall. Styles can’t believe what he’s seeing and tells Young that Sting isn’t here. As he leaves, Styles warns Shelley that his camera work is going to get him hurt.

5. Petey Williams vs. Puma vs. Sonjay Dutt vs. Chris Sabin: International X Showcase Match
This match showcased four of the top international stars from the X division. All four wrestlers seemed ready for this four-way encounter, taking care not to burn themselves out early on. The action in and out of the ring was incredible, prompting a well-deserved “THIS IS AWESOME!” chant from the Impact Zone faithful. After 15 spectacular minutes, Chris Sabin landed the cradle shock on New Japan star Puma, getting the win.
WINNER: Chris Sabin by pinfall.

Backstage, Jeremy Borash is interviewing Jeff Jarrett, America’s Most Wanted, and Abyss (accompanied by his manager “Father” James Mitchell). Mitchell explains that in a war, it is sometimes necessary to unleash a weapon of mass destruction and that is what he is going to do tonight. Jarrett takes over, making it clear that tonight is the night he runs Sting out of TNA. When Young and Shelley report in that they haven’t found Sting, Jarrett orders them to end their search. If Sting wants Jarrett, he is going to have to come and find him.

6. Jeff Jarrett (with Gail Kim and Jackie Gayda), America’s Most Wanted, & Abyss (with “Father” James Mitchell) vs. Rhino, Ron Killings, & Team 3D: Eight-Man War
The match quickly spilled outside where all eight men unleashed their fury upon one another. There were several close calls throughout the match, as Rhino gored Jarrett, and Team 3D delivered the 3D on Abyss. The referee had trouble keeping order in this match and the constant bickering between Jackie Gayda and Gail Kim didn’t help things. During one such distraction, AMW went to handcuff Ron Killings to the ring rope, but Killings cuffed Harris to the ropes instead. Killings attempted to axe kick Jeff Jarrett, but Harris made the save. Jarrett used the stroke on Killings to steal the win.
WINNER: Jeff Jarrett, Americas Most Wanted, & Abyss by pinfall.

Analysis: Solid brawl with all of the action you’d expect to get when you pit two teams that hate each other in one ring.

Inside the ring, Jeff Jarrett gives Steve Borden a 10-count to come out to the ring. Jarrett counts to 10 and lies down in the middle of the ring. Borden is nowhere to be found by the end of the 10-count and Jarrett declares that Sting is a quitter. Before leaving the ring, Jarrett tells the fans that he’s coming for the winner of the Brown/Cage match.

7. Christopher Daniels vs. A.J. Styles vs. Samoa Joe: Ultimate X championship match
Styles and Daniels adopted an early strategy of one man going for the title belt while the other battled Samoa Joe. When this strategy failed, they double-teamed Joe, and then went after each other. Styles and Daniels tried to keep Joe out of the match, but his amazing recuperative skills allowed him to recover while they were battling each other. Joe made one attempt to navigate the cables to the X belt, but he slipped and fell to the mat. Styles tried to climb the cables to reach the belt, but Joe knocked him off with a chair shot. After seeing what Joe’s strategy was, Daniels climbed the cables and kept himself out of Joe’s reach until he reached the belt and secured it. After the match, Daniels and Styles shook hands while Joe had a temper tantrum.
WINNER: Christopher Daniels is the new X champion.

Analysis: An excellent match with Daniels getting his first Ultimate X victory over Styles. Where Samoa Joe goes from here should be interesting. Will he try to regain the X division title, or does the “Samoan Submission Machine” set his sights on the NWA heavyweight title?

NWA heavyweight champion Christian Cage jokes that Jeremy Borash looks like he’s getting fashion tips from Ryan Seacrest. The champion confirms the rumors that he isn’t at 100 percent thanks to the rib injury he sustained on Impact at the hands of Monty Brown. Cage promises to make sure that Brown’s world title record matches his Super Bowl record—winless.

8. Monty Brown vs. Christian Cage: NWA heavyweight title match
Brown relied on his tremendous strength to punish Cage’s injured ribs. Cage’s craftiness saved his title when he stopped Brown’s pounce finisher and countered with the unprettier on Brown to retain the title. After the match, Jarrett came out and challenged Cage to a title match. He told Cage that he had won the Eight-Man War, proved that Sting was a quitter, and now he was going to get the NWA title back. Jarrett jumped into the ring and attacked Cage. Brown came back into the ring and joined Jarrett in attacking Cage. Rhino came out, followed by Abyss. Soon, America’s Most Wanted and Team Canada were in the ring, beating up on Cage and Rhino. Jarrett and his army of heels then began taking turns whipping Cage with a belt as he was handcuffed to a ring rope. Fortunately for Cage, Steve Borden ran out to make the save, clearing the ring of all of the heels and eventually putting Jarrett in the scorpion deathlock. Fans knew the inevitable was about to happen; the appearance of the man on Jarrett’s speed dial was about to take place. The man turned out to be Scott Steiner. Steiner attacked Borden and the heels returned to the ring where they took turns beating down Borden. A “GOLDBERG!” chant filled the Impact Zone as the fans shouted in vain for the former WCW star to save the Stinger. Steiner placed Sting in the Steiner recliner and Jarrett ended Sting’s punishment by breaking a guitar over his head.

Analysis: This was possibly Monty Brown’s most technically sound match during his entire time with TNA. The “Alpha Male” almost literally stalked Cage as if he actually were his prey. Landing one huge, high-impact maneuver after another, Brown seemed willing to take one punch if it meant he could respond with two. The challenger methodically took apart the champion to the point where even Cage’s offensive outbursts would be shortened by his injury. Cage’s resiliency allowed him to, amazingly, withstand both Brown’s “Alpha bomb” as well as a modified F-5. The champion showed the type of determination he had exhibited when he took the strap from Jeff Jarrett at last month’s Against All Odds pay-per-view.

In the end, Cage’s first NWA heavyweight title defense will not be remembered as one of the all-time great matches in wrestling history. However, its impact is both far-reaching and important, as it likely established Cage as a viable NWA champion, and Brown as a bona fide championship contender for years to come.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (March 7, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

ALL VINCE’S CHILDREN
Pregnancy … drugs … temptation … fisticuffs. Yes, at this point, the McMahon-Michaels feud is a long-lost twin away from becoming more soap opera than wrestling angle.

This week, a very pregnant Stephanie McMahon made yet another triumphant return to WWE television, drugging Michaels prior to his match with her brother Shane. Naturally, Shane won the match when the effects of the drug became too much for HBK to handle. Immediately after, Vince took advantage of the disoriented Michaels and took the opportunity to make the quick pin.

Now, I can dig a good heel angle as much as the next guy, but the McMahon-Michaels situation is frustrating, to say the least. One week, it’s quite entertaining; the next, it’s boring and predictable. Sure, I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted Steph getting involved at this point, but really, what did it do to progress the angle? Is she going to be an integral part of the events leading up to ’Mania?

What would the mysterious, unnamed father of her child think? I mean, a child with the pedigree of a McMahon must be protected at all costs. Steph isn’t carrying just any old degenerate in her billion-dollar belly. No, that’s a blue blood, through and through. That child could be a king some day … hell, maybe the king of kings!

* * *

MONEY-IN-THE-BANK
The Smackdown/Raw “Money-In-The-Bank” match at WrestleMania 22 will be the best of the night. Write it down, in ink. The latest line from the home office in Blue Bell, PA, is:
Anyone from Smackdown: 3 to 1
Rob Van Dam: 5 to 1
Shelton Benjamin: 10 to 1
Ric Flair: 25 to 1

* * *

ANTICIPATING THE ENCORE
I’m getting the distinct impression that Mick Foley is not only going to shine at WrestleMania 22, but that we could be in store for a surprisingly entertaining match between he and Edge. Both are very impressive in their own right. Foley is the master of the insane bump and a hardcore legend. Edge, on his best day, is one of the most innovative wrestlers on the WWE brand, if not the entire sport.

Initially, it’s easy to be skeptical about this gimmick match (as I was). Another Foley hardcore match may seem like a waste of time. We’ve seen this guy, on WWE programming alone, fall from the top of cage through a table, be tombstone piledriven onto thumbtacks, and swallow and basically sneeze out his own tooth. How does one top that? I can’t begin to imagine, but one has to assume that Mick would not come out a cushy retirement nestled away on Long Island to put on a mediocre match. Keep an eye on this one; we could see something amazing.

Oh, get this. That “live sex” lady … she wrestles. I had no clue.

* * *

THEY’RE GOING TO GIVE HIM A COMPLEX
The Spirit Squad toyed with poor Eugene as they played “keep-away” with an air horn he wanted to see. Wow—I just flashed back to high school … and, trust me, I wasn’t one of the cheerleaders.

* * *

DIVAS UPDATE
It appears that Torrie Wilson is on the outs with the rest of “Vince’s Devils” (the name that was given to and hardly ever used to describe her, Candice, and Victoria). Probably good for Torrie’s career as Chloe the dog has become more interesting than her as of late.

Trish and Mickie James are on a “break.” But how will Trish feel when she sees Mickie stalking someone else, hmm? The first time is always the toughest.

* * *

WRESTLEMANIA RE-REWIND
Inspired by last night’s “WrestleMania Rewind” matches, I figured I’d take a moment to reflect on my ’Mania experience. See, I was at WrestleMania XV, where a brash, degenerate named Triple-H defeated the mysterious, inhuman Kane in what was, arguably, the worst match of the night (my apologies to Bart Gunn and Butterbean … yes, you read that correctly).

My seat was in the second-to-last row of the building, so close to the ceiling that I was actually looking down on the championship banners. I was decked out in a brand new Degeneration X jersey, two giant “Austin 3:16” fingers, and foam replicas of both the I-C and WWF titles (all were adult beverage-inspired impulse buys). I patiently waited for Trips to come down, tell us all to “suck it,” and then proceed to pummel Chyna’s boyfriend into oblivion. Well, not only did Chyna turn against Kane in that awful match, but later DX was no more, as a Hunter low blow on fellow degenerate X-Pac made my jersey obsolete.

I sat there stunned. Not so much because of the heel turn, but rather how I would explain to my folks the ridiculous amount of money I had charged on the “emergency credit card.”

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 28, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Money-In-The-Bank: Odds
The first three qualifiers for the recently announced “money-in-the-bank” ladder match for WrestleMania 22, were determined last night. We’re looking at Dono-shelton Benjamin, the 57-year old “Nature Boy,” and “Mr. Monday-night-but-only-if-Hunter-is off,” RVD. While I’m sure the field will expand over the next few weeks, here are the odds, for those of you who wager on professional wrestling. In that case, you may have a problem … seriously, dude … you should probably talk to someone about that. Here goes, anyway:


Rob Van Dam: 3 to 1
Shelton Benjamin: 7 to 1
Ric Flair: 15 to 1

* * *

Suicide (Blondz) Watch: Day 16
Just when it seemed like the Edge/Mick Foley “feud” couldn’t get more predictable it got, well, more predictable. It should come as no surprise to even the most casual of wrestling fan that Foley would not come out of semi-retirement to wrestle in the basic, run-of-the-mill, singles match at WrestleMania 22. No, the hardcore legend would undoubtedly take advantage of the biggest stage of them all, and one-up the “Rated R Superstar.” So it should come as no huge shock that the two will meet up in a hardcore match at ’Mania. It should however come as a surprise at how quickly Edge has fallen from grace.

Just two months ago Edge was at the pinnacle of his career. The seven time WWE tag team champion apparently had joined the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. All were tag specialists early in their careers only to go on to greatness and, eventually, world championship gold. The sky was the limit for the “Rated R Superstar.” He had everything you could ask for in wresting—the most prestigious championship in his federation, world-wide acclaim, and morally questionable “eye candy” on his arm. And it lasted all of 21 days. Exactly, 21 days.

Yes, it took all of three weeks for Edge to go from opportunistic (and brilliant, in my opinion) WWE champion back to “mid-carder in a random gimmick match.” Not even “live sex” could save what was already a sinking ship, a mere 24 hours after stealing the title from John Cena. In less than a month’s time Edge had gift wrapped and returned the title to Cena, and began looking for someone to blame for his misfortune.

Oddly enough, while Edge was dropping nearly as fast as he shot to the top, his former tag team partner Christian (Cage) was winning perhaps the most prestigious title in all of professional wrestling—the NWA heavyweight title. And so, the Suicide (Blondz) watch is on, as the “career midcarder” Christian is now six days shy of becoming the more successful world champion of the two.

* * *

Mark Alert
Love them, or hate them, in the back of every fan’s mind you kind of wanted to see them square off at some point. Sure, neither have a particularly huge repertoire of moves or are overwhelming fan favorites. Yet, I can’t name two wrestlers in the WWE that are better on the mic right now than Triple-H and John Cena?

While I can’t really count either of them in my “top 10” favorites all-time, both men bring the type of heat that wrestling needs. Their promo on Raw last night was perfect blend of insults and “what we’re all thinking but no one wants to say.” Cena’s a one-trick pony who’s gimmick is more suited for Seventeen Magazine than WWE, whereas crusty, old Trips hasn’t changed his persona—or promos—since the end of DX. It was a thing of beauty that rivals the old Hunter/Rock promos of yesteryear. Ahh, nostalgia.

* * *

November 11, 2005
That was the date The Big Show and Kane won the Raw World tag team title, making them the second longest tenured champions behind Trish Stratus. Last night they defended the straps against the world-class tag team, Val Venis and Viscera. Seriously, at this point there’s really no reason to have a tag team division on Raw.

* * *

Frank Ingiosi: Attorney To The Superstars
I’VE DONE IT! Yes, it’s time WWE puts me on retainer and officially makes me part of their legal staff. Finally, all of my years of legal training will serve me well. Let this be known—MR. MCMAHON IS INNOCENT!

Yes, that’s right. The chairman of WWE, who has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by an employee at the tanning salon he frequents, has an air-tight defense to any and all accusations, by my estimation. And, get this, it’s all thanks to his “Kiss My Ass Club” segment. Oh, it’s true!

See, Mr. McMahon, in his infinite creative wisdom, felt it necessary to drop trou right there—in the middle of that very ring—in an effort to have his billion-dollar derriere kissed. However, what the untrained eye may have missed was the fact that his rear (which had more “face” time last night than most cruiserweights get in a year) was PALE! He couldn’t have been harassing a tanning salon worker! His pale rump gave that away! Boy, are my folks going to be proud that I finally used that hundred-thousand dollar degree.
The defense rests.

* * *

Diva Watch: 2006
Mickie loves Trish … Trish is freaked out by Mickie. Torrie resents Candice … Candice slaps Torrie. And, you’re officially caught up with the Divas. If you’d like more info, see last week’s recap and add nothing.

 

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 21, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “sleepwalker” as “one that walks while or as if while asleep.” A fancier, Jeopardy-worthy synonym would be “somnambulism.” However, I prefer the common, blue-collar phrase “phoning- it-in.”

Why the English lesson, you may ask? I go this route because that was my immediate feeling after watching this week’s episode of Raw. There was no real substance to it—WWE Creative just phoned it in. It was a transition show, plain and simple. This broadcast essentially marked the end of the past year’s feuds and storylines and gave us a glimpse into what lies ahead for the world’s largest wrestling promotion. Sure, not all angles were dropped (the McMahon-HBK feud is still festering … sorry, “simmering”), but the major focus was on the feuds that will be. This made for a lackluster show with a predictable finish.

“IT’S NOT MY FAULT!” … Take Two
In the span of less than two months, Edge has gone from WWE champion to insulting “hardcore legend” Mick Foley in the comfort of his own living room. All indications are that this budding feud will culminate in some form at WrestleMania as the “Rated R Superstar” and perennial “victim” Edge is now blaming Foley for costing him his chance to once again become WWE champion. While it seemed clear to everyone that John Cena flat out beat Edge last week on Raw, the challenger has reached the phase in every heel’s career where it’s someone else’s fault. We all saw how well that worked for Gene Snitsky, as he’s currently shooting up the rankings … on Sunday Night Heat. And while there is virtually no chance that Edge will suffer the same fate, one thing has become clear. Since losing the WWE title, he is regressing instead of pushing forward and learning something from his brief time as top dog. Here’s hoping a sweaty gym sock down the “gullet” on April 2 wakes up the once-charismatic champion.

* * *

Under The Low Bar, Battle Royal
A diva battle royal? To start the show? Seriously, the only thing that could’ve killed the tone of the evening quicker would’ve been a chess match between Jim Duggan and Eugene. Wait … no … that wasn’t a suggestion. Don’t write that down!

* * *

Why Didn’t Donovan Think Of That?
The curious similarity between Shelton Benjamin’s current angle and the running knock against Philadelphia Eagles star Donovan McNabb may have officially ended, as Benjamin proved he would do whatever it took to win, while McNabb generally wilts under the spotlight.

By showing his willingness to bend the rules for a victory, Shelton Benjamin accomplished two things. Along with recapturing the Intercontinental championship from Ric Flair, his second, he also established himself as one of the best heels of the Raw brand. There is nothing the fans hate more than a cheater that steals victories, and titles. Add to that the fact that Shelton cannot win without the interference of his increasingly annoying mama, and you’ve got one great heel. On top of his newfound attitude, Benjamin is still a fantastic wrestler with boatloads of potential. Right now, he is exactly where he should be—at the top of the Intercontinental title picture.

* * *

I Still Don’t Get It
This was arguably the best match of the evening, as some of OVW’s finest showed why they got the call up to the “big leagues.” Now, if someone will explain to me why it was necessary to make them all male cheerleaders, I will be able to sleep a little better at night. Then I would only have to figure out why WWE Creative insists on trotting Marty Jannetty out every so often, and my life would be complete.

* * *

The Return Of The King (Of Kings)
Was it just me, or did the vignettes of each competitor in the three-way between Rob Van Dam, The Big Show, and Triple-H giving his thoughts on what headlining WrestleMania 22 would mean to him kind of give away how it would go? A focused RVD ready to go to ’Mania and capture the title that has eluded him. The Big Show, content with either main-eventing the biggest pay-per-view of them all … or just ensuring that Triple-H didn’t go. And, of course, the intensely melodramatic Triple-H, a four-time ’Mania main-eventer, speaking of what headlining the show (yet again) would mean to his legacy. Boy, if I wasn’t so sure that Triple-H was going to win ahead of time, I may have actually been choked up. The match itself wasn’t that bad. RVD looked solid and The Big Show was surprisingly impressive. However, I couldn’t shake the thought in the back of my mind that Triple-H would pull out the victory at some point using one of his five or six trusted maneuvers. And, lo and behold, that was the case, and the fans will be treated to yet another Triple-H main event at WrestleMania 22. Not missing a chance to elicit pre-pubescent squeals of approval, John Cena made his way to ringside following the match and engaged in a tense stare-down with Triple-H. All accounts point to Cena holding on to the WWE championship until then and facing “The Game” in Chicago in a match that promises to encompass more than its fair share of kneelifts and five-knuckle shuffles.

* * *

A Classy Move … Or Work?
The WWE will posthumously induct Eddie Guerrero into its Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend. We can only assume that Randy Orton will not give the introduction speech. Right?

WWE NO WAY OUT PAY-PER-VIEW (February 19, 2006)

By Mike Rickard II

1. Gregory Helms retained the cruiserweight title in a nine-man cruiserweight match
2. JBL pinned Bobby Lashley
3. Matt Hardy and Tatanka defeated WWE tag team champions M-N-M in a non-title match
4. Chris Benoit pinned Booker T to win the U.S. championship
5. Randy Orton pinned Rey Misterio Jr. to win his title shot at WrestleMania 22
6. Kurt Angle defeated The Undertaker to retain the World title

1. Nine-man cruiserweight championship match (“sudden death” rules)

Cruiserweight champion Gregory Helms vs. Scotty Too Hotty, Paul London, Brian Kendrick, Funaki, Psicosis, Super Crazy, Nunzio, and Kid Kash. Helms’ ego forced him into this match just as the previous champion Kid Kash’s ego forced him into a cruiserweight invitational at the Royal Rumble. Unlike Kash, though, Helms retained the title. This match displayed spectacular high-flying moves that gradually took their toll on everyone involved. Things looked to be going well for Kash after he delivered the dead level brainbuster on Psicosis, but a moonsault by Super Crazy ended his pinfall attempt. As all three men lay in the ring, Helms stole a pinfall, and the title, by covering Psicosis.
WINNER: GREGORY HELMS by pinfall.

Backstage, U.S. champion Booker T and his wife, Sharmelle, plead with Teddy Long to excuse him from his match against Chris Benoit because his knee is bothering him again. Booker tells Long that he’s not “a hundred percent” and that it’s not fair for the fans to see him at anything but his personal best. Both Sharmell and Booker T get on their knees and practically beg him to call the match off. Long concedes by giving Booker his choice of what to do. The champ can either defend the title or forfeit it.

Elsewhere in the arena, Smackdown’s Kristal is with Finlay. Finlay demands a match and tells Kristal that if no one is willing to take the fight to him, then he’ll bring the fight to them. Surprising her, Finlay grabs Kristal over his shoulder and carries her into the ring. Bobby Lashley rushes to Kristal’s rescue and he clears Finlay out of the ring. An opportunistic John Bradshaw Layfield then comes out and attacks Lashley.

2. John Bradshaw Layfield (with Jillian Hall) vs. Bobby Lashley
Layfield attacked Lashley while Finlay was escorted out of the ring. Things quickly spilled out of the ring with Layfield gaining the upper hand by using Hall as a human shield. Bradshaw relied on his brawling skills to keep Lashley dazed. The self-proclaimed “wrestling god” tried to wear Lashley out with a sleeperhold, but the big man powered his way out and delivered four consecutive suplexes. As Lashley closed in for the kill, Finlay threw the timekeeper into the ring, distracting both Lashley and the referee. Finlay took advantage of his self-inflicted distraction to smash his shillelagh over Lashley’s head. Layfield delivered the “clothesline from hell” to a groggy Lashley, and made the cover.
WINNER: JOHN BRADSHAW LAYFIELD by pinfall.

Analysis: Layfield may think he has his momentum back with this win, but the truth is that he owes his victory to Finlay. Despite his lack of experience, Lashley was clearly on the path to victory before Finlay’s interference cost him the match. Given his previous record and his showing tonight against Layfield, Lashley is on his way to the top of the Smackdown brand. There may be a detour involving Finlay, but if Lashley’s past performance is any indication of his future, it will be a short one.

To the fans’ surprise, Batista shows up at the ring. The former World champion announces that he’s here for three reasons. First, he wants to watch Angle take on The Undertaker. Second, he misses the Smackdown fans and the thrill of the crowd. And, finally, his torn triceps is no longer torn. Batista tells the fans they need to know that he will be back and he will reclaim his World title.

Back in the locker room, Randy Orton gets into the face of Kurt Angle and arrogantly predicts that when Batista returns from his injuiry, it will be Orton that he’ll have to face for the World championship.

3. WWE tag team champions M-N-M (Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro with Melina) vs. Matt Hardy & Tatanka: Non-title match
The WWE tag team champions entered the ring, accompanied by Melina and the paparazzi that seem to follow her everywhere. Hardy came out followed by his mystery partner, Tatanka. Despite never having teamed together, Hardy and Tatanka proved to be a strong team. However M-N-M’s experience working together, along with a vicious eye-rake by Melina on Tatanka, turned the tide in the champs’ favor. M-N-M delivered incredible punishment to Tatanka, but he fought back and made the tag to Hardy. The match ended after Tatanka landed a Samoan drop on Mercury and Hardy applied the twist of fate on Nitro. Both men were covered and the challengers got the win.
WINNERS: TATANKA & MATT HARDY by pinfall.

Analysis: Hardy and Tatanka made a surprisingly good team despite their inexperience teaming together, and radically different styles. As unlikely teams of the past—such as Adrian Adonis and Jesser Ventura and Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin—have shown, partners with different wrestling styles are sometimes just as effective (or, in some cases, more effective) than those of similar styles. In this case, Hardy’s speed and agility, complemented by Tatanka’s strength, limited M-N-M. In the past, M-N-M has had difficulty coping with hybrid teams composed of a high-flyer and a power wrestler (recall their title loss Rey Misterio Jr. and Batista). If M-N-M can’t adjust to Hardy and Tatanka’s style, they may soon be challengers instead of champions.

 4. Booker T (with Sharmell) vs. Chris Benoit: U.S. championship match
After pleading with Teddy Long to reschedule the match, Booker T next appealed to the fans to give him the night off. Smackdown GM Teddy Long came out and reiterated that Booker T had two choices—defend or forfeit the belt. Booker T told the fans that he was going to forfeit the belt and began to leave the ring. However, he changed his mind after Benoit led the audience in calling him a coward. Given both men’s hatred toward each other, it wasn’t surprising to see the match start out with brawling. With the tremendous conditioning of each, it quickly became evident they would have to wear each other down, and the match turned into a classic bout of hold vs. counter. Neither man held the upper hand for long, but as the match wore on, it was clear that the various holds were taking their toll. Benoit won the match by weakening Booker with a sharpshooter and turning it into the Crippler crossface, forcing the champion to tap out.
WINNER: CHRIS BENOIT by submission.
 
Analysis: Despite the number of times these wrestlers have faced each other, it’s always a pleasure. The fact that both men are very familiar with each other’s styles and skills makes them reach a little deeper each match to come up with the winning formula to get the victory. To the untrained eye, Booker T may seem like nothing more than a brawler with speed, but this match showed that his counter-wrestling skills are not to be underestimated.

After the match, Benoit goes to the backstage area where he is congratulated by several of his colleagues, including Rey Misterio Jr., Matt Hardy, and Chavo Guerrero Jr. Benoit tells Rey that he will be waiting to congratulate him after he defeats Randy Orton later on.

5. Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Randy Orton
Orton proved that not all dreams come true after he pinned Rey Misterio Jr. to take away his main event spot at WrestleMania 22. Rey seemed to spend most of the match on the defensive, occasionally getting in a burst of offense but largely trying to rally back from a veritable blitzkrieg delivered by “The Legend Killer.” Orton proved his pedigree by playing possum when Rey went for the 6-1-9. Just before Rey delivered his finishing move, Orton craftily ducked out of the way and pinned Misterio, grabbing onto the ropes for added leverage.
WINNER: RANDY ORTON by pinfall.

Following the match, a despondent Rey goes backstage and apologizes to Chavo Guerrero Jr. and Eddie Guerrero’s widow, Vicki. Both reassure Rey that he had nothing to be sorry about, but this didn’t seem to console Misterio as he wearily walked out of the building.

Analysis: As despicable as Orton’s comments about the late Eddie Guerrero were, you had to admire his flawless game plan. Orton wrestled at a methodical pace, never giving Rey much of a chance to counter him. Given the way that Rey left the arena, it’s obvious that he feels humiliated by his loss. Sadly, Misterio may have lost his one opportunity to main event at WrestleMania by losing his cool and allowing Orton to bait him into this match.

6. Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker: World championship match
This match was a classic battle between a master striker (Undertaker) and a master grappler (Angle). The Undertaker relied on his strength as he applied power moves, peppered with strikes to weaken the champion. Angle’s incredible conditioning allowed him to withstand ’Taker’s offense long enough to execute the classic strategy to take out a bigger opponent (i.e. taking him off of his feet). Angle then worked on The Undertaker’s knee, twisting it and slamming it against the ringpost. Kurt Angle wrestled like a pit bull, relentless in his attack upon the “Dead Man’s” appendage. The Undertaker’s legendary recuperative abilities saved him several times throughout the match, after repeated attempts by Angle to force him to submit to the anklelock. In the end, Angle’s grappling skills enabled him to come out on top. As The Undertaker applied a triangle chokehold to Angle, the Olympic champion rolled him up into a bridge and made the pin.
WINNER: KURT ANGLE by pinfall.

Analysis: No Way Out opened the door for potential matches at WrestleMania 22, including Matt Hardy and Tatanka challenging M-N-M for the tag straps, as well as Bobby Lashley looking to score revenge against Finley for blemishing his previously perfect Smackdown record. With Randy Orton now in possession of Rey Misterio Jr.’s main event shot at ’Mania, it appears that Kurt Angle will defend the World championship against “The Legend Killer.”

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 14, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

I suppose we were spoiled for those four years when Raw was on Spike TV—a channel completely devoid of dog shows.

So, while WWE’s triumphant move back to the USA Network may have seemed like a great idea, in the back of our collective minds we all sort of expected that damn dog show to throw off our Monday night at some point. What’s a fan to do?

Well, given our resources here at PWI, coupled with my years of research skills honed in the finest (or, “only”) law school in all of Delaware, I was able to determine that there is a second WWE program on the tube. Yeah, I know … shocking. It’s called Smackdown and apparently it airs every Friday night on the UPN network.

Given my new found discovery—plus the fact that Raw is preempted—this week’s “Turn” will be devoted to the forgotten son of WWE programming. The place where The Undertaker still reigns and midgets get beaten with sticks. Seriously.

Well … At Least It’s Not “Live Sex,” Eh?
Triple-H has done it and, now, so has Randy Orton. Hold the World title, you say? Yes. Headline a WrestleMania? Sure. However, the answer I was looking for was that the superstars were the first tandem to drag the name of the late Eddie Guerrero through the mud to generate heel heat. Yes, when all else fails, reach for the failsafe device that is sure to make fans actually hate you, not your character.

Orton is currently attempting to separate Royal Rumble winner Ray Misterio Jr. from his guaranteed title shot. Part of his plan—and admittedly, it’s not a bad idea—is to get into Misterio’s head and force him to make an ill-timed mistake. I take no issue with a good, old mind game every now and then. However, it’s how he’s doing it that strikes me as not only completely tasteless, but flat out unnecessary as well. Eddie Guerrero would no doubt love the fact that wrestling is going forward as usual; however, one must wonder what his loved ones are thinking every time Orton implies (or blatantly says) that he didn’t go to heaven, but rather is in hell.

(We don’t have to wonder what Mick Foley’s opinion is. Click here to read “Foley Is Blog” on the WWE Web site: http://www.wwe.com/superstars/raw/mickfoley/foleyisblog)

Whether these tactics pay off in the end remains to be seen. Orton and Misterio will meet this Sunday at “No Way Out” to determine who will head into WrestleMania 22 as the number-one contender to the World title.

* * *

Shocking Admission Of The Week:
Gregory Helms is nowhere near as entertaining as “The Hurricane.” I just kissed my credibility goodbye, didn’t I?

* * *

Old School
The prospects of a Mark Henry/Undertaker feud seemed, at first glance, awful. Let’s face facts—’Taker’s getting up there in age and Henry has all the in-ring mobility as … well … Mark Henry. Yet the match they had on Smackdown was not only impressive, it was downright amazing.

The Undertaker looked great, hitting spot after spot and manhandling Henry as if he were a sack of potatoes (which, ironically, will rank three spots higher than Henry in this year’s “PWI 500.”) And, although I’m tough on him, I have to give the former “Sexual Chocolate” his due. Mark Henry looked surprisingly agile and nearly resembled something close to what you’d expect a 10-year veteran to be. This was a truly entertaining match. Come to think of it, maybe my first impression was wrong? If these two big men can compete so masterfully, anything is possible. This could be the dawn of a new era of WWE wrestling!

Tag teams will run rampant while “bra and panty gauntlet” matches become a thing of the past. Hey! While we’re at it, why don’t we start a division comprised of both daredevil and technically sound wrestlers willing to put their bodies on the line every night in hopes of future glory? We’d have to give it a catchy name—what about X division, or something along those lines?

Nah, that would never work … now, bring on the obligatory HLA!

* * *

BREAKING NEWS: Angry Irishman Gets In Fight
Now, forgetting for a moment what a tremendous jobber Dave “Fit” Finlay was during his days of WCW mid-card mediocrity, I have to admit that I really do like him now as an angry, tough talking bruiser. In fact Finlay, at age 47, actually looks to be in better shape than he was during his 1998 reign as WCW TV champion. Plus, his humorously one-dimensional goal—to “fight”—is the perfect blend of “boring” and “ominous,” which is the hallmark of any great heel.

So, can someone explain to me why it was necessary for Finlay to pummel a group of midgets … sorry, “WWE Junior Division Superstars” … with a shillelagh? We get it—he’s mean and nasty and wants to “fight” everyone. It’s pretty clear. Leave the “Juniors” alone and let Finlay do what he does best—beat up Matt Hardy.

* * *

Cease And Desist, Matey!
Johnny Depp and Walt Disney Pictures should probably assemble their respective teams of high-powered attorneys, as it’s becoming quite obvious that Paul Birchall is committing some form of infringement.

For those of you that may not know, Birchall was informed that he was “part pirate.” Actually, I recently discovered that I’m “part cowboy” on my mother’s side, so this is not out of the realm of possibility, I suppose. But I digress.

Birchall seemed to be generating a fair amount of heel heat wrestling under the tutelage of seasoned veteran William Regal, which makes his overboard portrayal of a goofy pirate (strikingly similar to Depp’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean series) that much more puzzling. Shocking as it may seem, sometimes a wrestler can actually be a success just by being himself. Birchall seemed like one of those guys … until Friday night.

* * *

Booker T is drastically undervalued as a performer. Even when he’s not competing in the ring, he’s still vastly more entertaining than much of the WWE roster.

John Bradshaw Layfield is arguably one of the best heels WWE has had in the past 10 years and, as painful as it is to admit, very fun to watch.

Bobby Lashley will be great … someday sooner than later.

CHRISTIAN REIGNS AT AGAINST ALL ODDS (February 13, 2006)

By Mike Rickard II

TNA “AGAINST ALL ODDS” PAY-PER-VIEW: February 12, 2006

DARK MATCHES

1. Ron Killings pinned Team Canada member A1.
2. Lance Hoyt, Shark Boy, & Cassidy Riley defeated Elix Skipper, Eric Young, & Shannon Moore.

PPV MATCHES

1. The Naturals (Andy Douglas & Chase Stevens) defeated Austin Aries & Roderick Strong.
2. Jay Lethal won an X division four-way match against Alex Shelley, Petey Williams, and Matt Bentley.
3. The James Gang (B.G. James & Kip James) defeated the Latin American Exchange (Homicide & Machete).
4. America’s Most Wanted (James Harris & Chris Storm) successfully defended their NWA tag team championship against Sonjay Dutt & Chris Sabin.
5. Rhino pinned Abyss in a falls-count-anywhere match.
6. Samoa Joe won a three-way match against A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels.
7. Team 3D (Brother Ray and Brother Devon) defeated Team Canada (David Young & Bobby Roode).
8. Christian pinned Jeff Jarrett to win the NWA heavyweight championship.

Before the show starts, footage is shown of Christian Cage arriving earlier on at the Impact Zone. There is also footage of Jeff Jarrett and Gail Kim arriving at the arena and meeting with “Coach” Scott D’Amore and Eric Young of Team Canada. Coach D’Amore struggles to keep Young from mentioning Sting’s name in front of Jarrett.

1. Austin Aries & Roderick Strong vs. The Naturals (Andy Douglas & Chase Stevens)
This is a rematch from the tournament held to crown a new number-one contender for the NWA tag team championship. The Naturals’ experience together proved to be too much for Aries and Strong, and the former NWA tag team champions delivered their finishing move, the Natural Disaster, on Aries to score the pinfall victory.
WINNER: THE NATURALS by pinfall.

Backstage, Jeremy Borash is with America’s Most Wanted and Team Canada. America’s Most Wanted is ready to take on the latest challengers, Sonjay Dutt and Chris Sabin. Gail Kim shows up and “Coach” Scott D’Amore tells her that she owes him an apology since Alex Shelley has brought him blackmail material on Jackie Gayda, something Kim didn’t think Shelley could do. Larry Zbyszko shows up and he warns everyone present that any interference in the NWA championship match will result in instant termination for the guilty party.

2. Petey Williams vs. Matt Bentley (with Traci) vs. Alex Shelley vs. Jay Lethal: X division four-way match
Williams and Shelley teamed up throughout most of the match and administered a tremendous beating to Lethal. When Jackie Gayda showed up to confront Shelley, the distraction enables Lethal to catch Williams off-guard and roll him up for the victory.
WINNER: JAY LETHAL by pinfall.

After a video package airs showcasing the Rhino/Abyss feud, Jeremy Borash interviews Rhino about his falls-count-anywhere match with Abyss. Rhino tells Borash that he isn’t afraid of Abyss, because he grew up in the murder capital of the world. Larry Zbyszko shows up again and instructs Rhino to tell everyone in the locker room that there will be no outside interference. Rhino brushes Zbyszko off and tells him that Abyss is going to need an ambulance.

3. The James Gang (Kip James & B.G. James) vs. The Latin American Exchange (El Machete & Homicide, with Konnan)
After Konnan left 4 Live Kru, he made it clear that he was through with B.G. James by assaultint B.G.’s father, the legendary “Bullet” Bob Armstrong. Before the match started, Konnan introduced the newest member of the LAX—El Machete. LAX attacked The James Gang before the bell rang, yet they quickly recovered and cleared the ring. Once the match got underway, Konnan interfered whenever the opportunity to do so arose. Konnan, though, couldn’t stop B.G. James from hitting a pump handle slam on El Machete, setting up an easy pinfall. After the match, Konnan attacked B.G. James with a slapjack, but Bob Armstrong entered the ring to make the save.
WINNER: THE JAMES GANG by pinfall.

Outside of Larry Zbyszko’s office, Jeremy Borash is inquiring about the referee situation for the main event. Referee Mark “Slick” Johnson is there as well and asks Zbyszko the same question. Zbyszko tells Johnson that the information is on a “need to know” basis, and that Johnson doesn’t need to know.

4. Sonjay Dutt & Chris Sabin vs. America’s Most Wanted (Christopher Harris & James Storm): NWA tag team championship match
AMW went into the match with a definite advantage due to Sabin’s severely injured ankle. The champs capitalized on the injury by smashing Sabin’s ankle against the ringpost and putting him in various wear-down holds. Once Sabin tagged in Dutt, though, the tide changed. Unfortunately, Sabin’s ankle proved to be too much of a liability. Storm knocked him out of the match by snapping his ankle against the guardrail outside the ring. With Sabin incapacitated, AMW delivered “The Death Sentence” to Dutt for the pinfall victory. After the match ended, AMW handcuffed Dutt to the ring ropes and prepared to attack him with a steel chair. Sabin recovered and made the save.
WINNER: AMW by pinfall.

As Jeff Jarrett prepares for his title defense against Christian Cage, Jeremy Borash is on hand to interfere. Jarrett tells Borash that he doesn’t feel any pressure about the match and that if anyone should feel pressure, it should be Christian Cage, given his guarantee to win the title. Jarrett’s occasional ally, Monty Brown, shows up and seems ready to cut a promo of his own before Jarrett admonishes him. Jarrett tells Brown that he’s sick of him disrespecting him by interrupting his interviews. The champ continues by telling Brown he knows why he’s here. Jarrett assures Brown that after he defeats Cage the “Alpha Male” will be the next person to receive a title shot at the NWA title. The two shake hands and Jarrett walks off.

5. Abyss (with James Mitchell) vs. Rhino: Falls-count-anywhere match
Rhino wasted no time in attacking Abyss, knocking the big man out of the ring. The two began brawling into the crowd, with neither man gaining the upper hand for long. Various weapons were pulled from under the ring and used by both wrestlers. At one point in the match, Rhino planted a trophy between Abyss’ legs and followed up by driving a baseball bat into it. In an effort to top Rhino’s destructive efforts, Abyss used a staple gun on Rhino’s forehead not once, but twice! The carnage finally ended when Rhino gored Abyss off of the bleachers and through two tables stacked atop one another. Even Abyss could not sustain this level of punishment Rhino soon took the pin.
WINNER: RHINO by pinfall.

6. Christopher Daniels vs. A.J. Styles vs. Samoa Joe
X division three-way championship match
This amazing rivalry has played out over the three most recent PPVs. A.J. Styles wants the X division title back, Daniels is seeking revenge, and Samoa Joe seems to just enjoy hurting people. While Styles and Daniels both have scores to settle with Samoa Joe, they battle each other as fiercely as they do the champion. This match featured many close calls, but the dynamics of the three-way match are such that it’s difficult for anyone to score a pin without the third man out breaking it up. In the end, Samoa Joe was able to win the match after he knocked Daniels out of the ring, securing enough time to deliver the musclebuster to Styles and pin him. After the match, Daniels warned Joe that it’s not over.
WINNER: SAMOA JOE by pinfall.

Backstage, Jeremy Borash interviews Team 3D about their upcoming match against Team Canada. Brother Ray jokes that if “pissing people off” were an Olympic sport, then Team Canada would have a gold medal. He tells Borash that there are three guarantees in life—death, taxes, and tables.

7. Team 3D (Brother Ray & Brother Devon) vs. Team Canada (Eric Young & Bobby Roode): Fans’ selection match
This is the match the fans voted on after Team 3D asked the fans to decide whether they would fight AMW or Team Canada. Team Canada took the upper hand early on by isolating Devon from Ray. However, when Devon managed to tag in Ray, the duo slammed Young with the 3D finishing move and pinned him for the win. None too happy about their loss, Roode and Young tried to ambush Team 3D. At first, Team 3D fought them off, but when AMW showed up, Team 3D was outnumbered. AMW and Team Canada attempted to put Team 3D through the tables, but Ron “The Truth” Killings showed up and, well, turned the tables on them. Team 3D and Killings put Young through the table after Killings delivered an axe kick to Young.
WINNER: TEAM 3D by pinfall.

8. Christian Cage vs. Jeff Jarrett: NWA heavyweight championship match
Before the match started, TNA consultant Dave Hebner and TNA Championship Committee member Larry Zbyszko entered the ring. Zbyszko introduced his special referee for the match—none other than Earl Hebner. The match featured intense wrestling and counter-wrestling. The action quickly spilled to the ring apron, where Cage planted Jarrett with a DDT. Cage went for a move off the top rope, but Jarrett ducked and Christian ended up smashing his own arm on the guardrail outside the ring. Jarrett capitalized on Christian’s mistake and swung Cage head-first into the guardrail. Despite the close scrutiny of referee Hebner, Gail Kim interfered several times throughout the match. However, Hebner made it clear to both men that he was in control. At one point, Jarrett attempted to intimidate the veteran ref, only to have Hebner push him back.

Both wrestlers exhausted their repertoire of moves as they tried to gain momentum. Cage placed Jarrett in the figure-four, but Kim helped her man reach the rope for the break. Jarrett then applied the sharpshooter, leading fans to wonder if they were going to see a repeat of Montreal, with Hebner ringing for the bell before anyone had submitted. Fortunately, Hebner called the match straight down the middle.

However, the match went out of control when Hebner was accidentally struck in the ankle by Jarrett and incapacitated. Jarrett then delivered the stroke off the tope rope and went for what should have been an easy 1-2-3. Hebner, however, was still out. Cage recovered and landed the unprettier on Jarrett, but once again the referee wasn’t able to make the count. Mark “Slick” Johnson rushed to the ring to make the count, but Jarrett kicked out. After Jarrett hit Cage with a low blow, Johnson was about to disqualify him, but Jarrett hit the substitute referee with a low blow. This would actually turn out to be a huge break form Christian.

With the match completely out of control, Jarrett grabbed a chair, but Cage delivered a missile dropkick before he could use it. Jarrett appeared to be unconscious, but it didn’t matter because both referees were out of commission. Tired of Kim’s interference, Cage chased her around the ring and set her up for the unprettier. Taking advantage of the break in “official” action, Jarrett grabbed his trusty guitar and smashed it over Cage’s head. Jarrett made the cover, but it was pointless, as there still was no referee available to make the count. Kim climbed to the top rope, but Cage got to his feet, caught her as she leaped, and drove her into the mat apron. Jarrett went for another stroke, but Cage reversed it into the unprettier. His timing was perfect, as Hebner had finally recovered. Hebner made the three-count and raised the arm of the new NWA champion.

In a scene reminiscent of Bob Backlund’s WWWF title victory over Superstar Billy Graham, the fans rushed into the ring to congratulate Cage. Rhino joined them and they lifted the new champion into the air, as “Christian, Christian” chants echoed throughout the Impact Zone.
WINNER: CHRISTIAN CAGE by pinfall.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (February 7, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

2006 Match Madness:
Everyone loves a tournament. Within the last month alone I personally proposed the Smackdown brand hold a tournament for the World title vacancy created by Batista’s injury … that was summarily dismissed. And, although the crowning of Kurt Angle via a 20-man battle royal was not a bad way to go, who wouldn’t have enjoyed a tournament for the vacant belt at, say, at a live pay-per-view?

Despite my fervent letter-writing campaign (I find using the alphabet cut from magazines works best) and ’round the clock muffin baskets to WWE Creative, my suggestions went unnoticed. That is until last night. Well, technically, last week. That’s when it was announced that there would be a “Number-One Contender” tournament on Raw to determine who will meet the WWE champion at WrestleMania 22. And with that, all seemed right with the world.

Four matches and two grueling hours later, we were down to four semifinalists—The Big Show, Rob Van Dam, Chris Masters, and Triple-H. Yes, that’s right, the Triple-H. As I sat down to write this, I wondered aloud, “How did the one-time ‘Cerebral Assassin’ make it this far?” It was just one week ago that Trips was taunting the spirit of Eddie Guerrero and working the mid-card with Eddie’s nephew Chavo. Hunter’s came a long way in just seven days time, and to see him sneak through to this point of the tournament was a refreshing change of pace.

Okay, I’m being somewhat facetious. But I will give the devil his due. Triple-H won impressively over a surprisingly resilient Ric Flair. Hunter was fierce, smart, and took advantage of the “Nature Boy” with the pinpoint precision that made him a great world champion.

Come to think of it, maybe this has been all a “Game”? What if Hunter was lying low in the bushes, picking off “big game” like Chavo and Tajiri, all the while biding his time until the perfect moment when he would seize the number-one contendership and retake his thrown at ’Mania. Either that, or maybe the old lady needs him to get out of the million-dollar mobile home for a while.

* * *

Single White Diva
I hope something relatively interesting happens soon, because I’m actually getting tired of this weekly, mind-numbingly repetitive catfight between Mickie James, Ashley, and Trish. It’s actually gotten to the point where it bores me both as a wrestling fan and as a man. Did I just write that?

* * *

Mama Benjamin (January 2006—February 2006?), We Hardly Knew Ya
Oh, how the lessons of the past are wasted on those in the present. If Mama Benjamin had done her homework, she would have realized that history was working against her. The stark reality is that parents of WWE superstars become endangered species when they inject themselves into the in-ring lives of their offspring.

For those of us who may have used the Shelton Benjamin/Big Show match to rearrange our sock drawers or do our taxes, here’s the lowdown. In an effort to stymie Show’s offense, Mama Benjamin felt it necessary to grab at and scold the 7-foot monster while he was outside the ring. With a booming yell and menacing body language, The Big Show warded off her attack. Obviously distraught, Mama Benjamin grabbed her ample bosom, swooned, and fell unconscious. Last we saw, paramedics working on her announced she “had no pulse.”

This type of WWE “parent-icide” is nothing new. Take Torrie Wilson’s father, Al, for example. Smitten with former WWE diva (and current “plaintiff”) Dawn Marie, Al married the minx, much to daughter Torrie’s dismay. To make a very long, strange story short, the “passion” of their unlikely romance proved to be too much and Old Al’s septuagenarian heart could not handle the stress. Daddy’s tragic death led to Torrie taking on and defeating stepmother Dawn Marie at the 2003 Royal Rumble.

What about the late legend Eddie Guerrero and his mother? During his 2002 feud with John Bradshaw Layfield, Eddie’s mother suffered a heart attack right in the center of the ring when, similarly, the self-proclaimed “wrestling god” frightened her. Mrs. Guerrero would recover from her health scare and son Eddie would gain his revenge by ending JBL’s WWE title run.

If we can take anything from Mama Benjamin’s apparent ringside coronary, it’s that there is no place for a parent to actively participate in WWE. The smartest thing a WWE parent could do is shell out the $39.95 per month and safely support their sons/daughters from the comfort of their living room, safely nestled far from ringside. Maybe then Mama Benjamin’s pointless angle … oops, I meant “health scare” … wouldn’t be in vain.

* * *

Angle Or Nyquil Induced Hallucination: Here’s the deal: I provide you with the names and you tell me whether it was an actual angle or rather the punch-line to an odd, and sometimes cruel, joke. Good luck!

Edge & Lita … Maria … 52-year-old “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan

* * *

I Wonder What That “No-Compete” Clause Will Look Like
Last week I actually hammered Vince McMahon’s potential feud with Shawn Michaels. Just when it seemed as if it was becoming the same old stale and predictable “boss vs. superstar” angle, Vinnie-Mac throws us a curve—“mandatory retirement” for HBK.

This could be a thing of beauty when all is said and done. Rather than go the easy route of just screwing Shawn out of an important match, Vince is going to toy with the “icon” (that sounds a tad blasphemous, eh?) until he simply cannot withstand the emotional torment any longer and either leaves quietly or kicks the chairman in the mouth. I’m not necessarily a betting man, but the latter seems to be the safer call.

So where do we go from here? By all accounts, it appears that Vince will force HBK to accept his gold watch and pat on the back next week on Raw. This is usually the point where “Martha Stewart lookalike” and all around saint Linda McMahon would step in, assert that her position was something higher than Vince’s, and save the would-be unemployed superstar. However, as good ol’ J.R.’s good ol’ crotch can attest, Linda has joined the dark side and probably won’t be rushing to Michaels’ rescue anytime soon.

While I don’t anticipate that next week will end with HBK not being a part of WrestleMania, it looks like the chairman may have the four-time world champion backed into a corner out of which even he can’t fight.

* * *

Edge And Lita Reluctant To Go Hardcore
Let me paint the picture for you: WWE champion John Cena and the delightfully vapid Maria defeat Edge and plaything Lita with the winner gaining the right to choose the special referee for next week’s WWE championship match between the two superstars. Surprising to pretty much nobody, Cena pulls off the victory and chooses Mick Foley as the special guest referee, prompting fans everywhere of the hardcore legend to excitedly blurt out … “huh?”

All right, that was my reaction at least. Actually, my first thought may have been “why”? Where would Mick Foley fit into this equation? He’s certainly not a threat to compete for Cena’s WWE title and his “stick me with tacks throw me from a cage” style doesn’t exactly compliment Edge’s ring work as of late. Is Foley simply being trotted out a few weeks before ’Mania to tickle the fans’ nostalgia bone and possibly increase PPV buyrates? Mick wouldn’t allow himself to be used like that at this point in his career, would he?

Maybe the “hardcore legend” shared the sentiment of many former champions and was disgusted at the way Edge tarnished the WWE championship? However, Foley did finish off many an opponent by ramming a dirty tube sock-cloaked hand down their throats, so then again, maybe not.

Regardless of his motivation, all signs point to something of interest occurring next week on Raw. Despite his jovial nature, we all know there is a darkness lurking deep inside “Mrs. Foley’s baby boy,” and undoubtedly his demons will play some role next week.

THE TUESDAY MORNING TURN (January 31, 2006)

By Frank Ingiosi

Windy City screw job, 2006:
With the recent addition of “Shane-O-Mac” to the equation, the “Last Temptation Of HBK” has taken yet another strange turn, giving further credence to speculation that there will be a McMahon-Michaels match coming this April to an arena near you (if you happen to live in Illinois). While it seems like a foregone conclusion that this feud will reach its endpoint sometime soon, there really only remains one issue worth considering; namely, which McMahon will we see squaring off with the “Heartbreak Kid”?

With Vince reaching the big 6-0 last year and coming off surgery to repair two torn quadriceps muscles, there is no indication that he’s prepared to compete at this level again. As fluid a competitor Shawn Michaels has been during his in-ring renaissance, even he can’t be expected to carry yet another PPV match (you’re welcome, Hulkster.)

All signs are pointing toward some sort of resolution occurring on the grandest stage of them all—WrestleMania. Think about it, would Vince have it any other way? Because of the odd and, frankly, obvious path this feud is taking, there will have to be some special stipulation to the match in order to make it a halfway enticing buy. Sure, the backdrop of the Montreal screw-job with Bret Hart is intriguing, yet today’s version lacks one huge piece … Bret Hart. While Shane is arguably the most consistently entertaining McMahon, he lacks the passion, reputation, and … how do you say … “near decade of festering rage” that Hart would bring to the feud.

So, here we are. Back where we started. An angle that seems to be about five years too late and heading nowhere fast. Smart money says we’ll see either Shane vs. Shawn with Vince screwing HBK out of the match or, perish the thought, Vince vs. Shawn, with the only intrigue being whether or not Vince makes it out with all original tendons intact.

* * *

BREAKING NEWS—The Big Show and Kane actually defend the tag-team titles on Raw:
For those of you who may not be aware, “tag teams” are couplings of two wrestlers who act as a “team.” In order to get into the match, one member must physically “tag” (or touch) the hand of his teammate. The best of these “tag teams” wins the championship. Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that this catches on soon.

* * *

Van Dam, that’s impressive!
While a fourth-place finish at the Royal Rumble is generally nothing to be excited about, you have to imagine that Rob Van Dam was satisfied with where he finished. Or, perhaps more specifically, satisfied that he was able to finish the match at all. In his first action since returning from year-long rehabilitation following knee surgery, Van Dam resumed his high-impact style, refusing to shy away from any of WWE’s toughest competitors.

More importantly though is the renewed sense of focus shown by RVD. No longer the dazed, semi-conscious side act stumbling through trite catchphrases such as “Whatever” or “That’s cool,” Van Dam appears to have recaptured the drive and desire that made him a legend in ECW. This renewed confidence was evidenced through his limited in-ring performances that have so far been, by all accounts, classic “Mr. Monday Night.” Van Dam looks stronger, faster, and yes, a bit cockier than when we last saw him.

So, how did that year away from the spotlight treat RVD? For most wrestlers mired (fairly, or in this case, unfairly) in the vast wasteland that is the WWE midcard, a year out of the limelight could have spelled doom. But not for Rob Van Dam. The fans are still crazy for him and he nearly leapt into the rafters while executing his patented five-star frogsplash. Classic RVD is back and that means we could all be in for something special.

***

Angle or Punchline:
Here’s the deal: I provide you with three names and you tell me whether it was an actual angle or rather the punch-line to an odd, and sometimes cruel, joke. Good luck!

Shelton Benjamin … his Mama … Goldust

* * *

A Game everyone can play:
Did my eyes deceive me or did I just see Triple-H take on Chavo Guerrero Jr. … on Raw? Either Vince is still fulfilling his obligatory “I feel guilty about your (insert name of deceased family member here)” push or someone (I’m looking in your direction, Hunter) forgot to bring the potato salad to the McMahon Family BBQ. Either way, did we really need to see a Chavo-Trips match on Raw?

Seriously, what has happened to the “Cerebral Assassin” over the past few months? He makes his triumphant return to Raw and promptly attacks his friend and mentor Ric Flair, leading to a brutal and bloody series of matches. All right … that wasn’t so bad. Think about it, though: How does one follow up a bitter feud with a wrestling legend? Provoke The Big Show? Sure, why not. But that would come a little later. No, the former 10-time world champion took on Tajiri. Yes, that Tajiri.

The Tajiri squash was followed up by a brief encounter with former best friend Shawn Michaels during Raw’s tour of Afghanistan. Things were looking up for “The Game.”

Once back in the States, Triple-H’s feud with The Big Show really began to heat up and the possibilities were endless! Okay, “endless” may be overstating things just a bit. Let’s say the possibilities were moderately promising. However, that feud fizzled out following New Year’s Revolution. Couple that with a disappointing third-place finish in the Royal Rumble match and one could say that Hunter is mired in a good, old-fashioned slump.

And now we come to Monday, January 30, 2006—a mere two months from WrestleMania 22—and the 10-time world champion is taunting the spirit of Eddie Guerrero by yelling at the ceilings of arenas and now has his sights on the former Kerwin White.

Really this all boils down to one key question: Has a king ever reclaimed the throne by beating up a bunch of jokers?

* * *

Is it just me, or is the Mickie James-Trish Stratus situation getting really hot? WAIT …

“CREEPY” … I meant it’s getting really creepy. (Whew … close one.)

* * *

Five Knuckle Backpedal:
Now, I’ve been watching wrestling since the tender, and impressionable, age of five. Those were the days when the bad guys were bad, the good guys were good, and “Parts Unknown” seemed like the coolest neighborhood that no one could seem to find.

Yes, I lived through “Hebner-gates” One (Andre’s title win over Hulk Hogan) and Two (the Montreal Incident). I sat slack-jawed through countless Big Poppa Pump promos insulting everything from homosexuals to cattle. And yes, I even saw David Arquette—you know, “Mr. Courtney Cox”—hold the WCW World heavyweight title. And yet with all of this history engrained into my memory, something happened during the January 30 WWE championship rematch between John Cena and Edge that will rank up there with some of the great wrestling gaffes of all-time.

Edge, fresh off of dropping the WWE championship to challenger Cena at the Royal Rumble, invoked his mandatory rematch clause as the defeated champion. The stage was then set for what promised to be an intensely fought grudge match with Raw’s greatest prize on the line. It was at this point that things got strange.

A match that saw both men utilize moves from their respective arsenals that few realized either had was reaching its culmination as Cena was hoisting Edge up on his shoulders, ready to deliver his FU finishing maneuver. It was at this point that Edge’s “lady friend” Lita, title belt in hand, rushed into the ring and swung, seemingly nailing Cena. At least that’s what my eyes reported to my brain.

The referee, now fully recovered from a nasty spill he took earlier in the match, called for the bell immediately and awarded the match to Edge via disqualification. The replay would allegedly go on to show that Lita clocked Edge with the belt by accident, thus the call going against Cena. However, the reactions on the faces of both Cena and Edge pretty much spelled out the confusion that no doubt set in among viewers both at home and in the arena.

What makes this whole situation even more confusing is predicting where will this feud is headed. Now that Edge’s mandatory rematch ended in a victory by disqualification (hence, no title change) do we just close the book on the “Rated R Superstar’s” main event status and forget his shenanigans of the past few months? WWE wouldn’t leave a storyline like that just dangling out there, would it? I mean, that would be like someone coming out and trashing the U.S. troops one minute and being lauded as a “great man” the next.

More importantly, how soon will it be until Edge kicks Lita to the proverbial curb for costing him his final chance at Cena’s title? Perhaps the sexiest possibility would be that Lita’s interference at both the Royal Rumble and on Raw was part of a conspiracy involving Cena and Lita. Maybe the months of being constantly showered with Rocky Maivia-esque boos have taken their toll on the “Doctor Of Thuganomics.” Edge would be able to save face by cutting Lita loose and Cena would gain some “thug” credibility by aligning himself with her. Either way, it should be a train wreck that’s worth watching.

* * *

The Spirit Squad. Yeah, that’s a shame.

 

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE RECAP
By Mike Rickard II

QUICK RESULTS
1. Gregory Helms won the WWE Cruiserweight title.
2. Mickie James pinned Ashley.
3. The Boogeyman pinned JBL.
4. Rey Misterio Jr. won the Royal Rumble.
5. John Cena pinned Edge to win the WWE title.
6. Kurt Angle retained the World championship by pinning Mark Henry.
7. The Undertaker returned to challenge Kurt Angle for the World title.

1. Open Invitational Match For The Cruiserweight Championship: Champion Kid Kash has made it clear that he believes he is the greatest cruiserweight champion ever. As a result, he made this open challenge. Given the history of said challenges having a tendency to backfire (just ask the Honky Tonk Man how his open challenge at SummerSlam 1988 worked out); Kid Kash probably should have reconsidered. In any event, this “Texas Tornado” rules match (wrestlers do not have to tag in) saw Kid Kash defending the belt against former cruiserweight champions Funaki, Jamie Noble, Nunzio, Paul London, and Gregory Helms. The match featured the high-flying action and innovative moves that people expect from the cruiserweights. It’s clear that WWE has seen TNA’s X division and decided to give the cruiserweights a chance to show their stuff. In the end, Gregory Helms came out on top by hitting the shining wizard on Funaki and scoring the pinfall, ending a terrific match.
WINNER: GREGORY HELMS by pinfall.

In his office, Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long confers with Mr. McMahon. Vince is going to supervise the Royal Rumble lottery with the help of his “Devils”—Candice, Torrie, and Victoria. Randy Orton picks his number and seems very happy with it. Triple-H enters and lays into Orton. “The Game” calls Orton “Mr. Destiny” and mocks him for living in a fantasy world. Triple-H tells Orton that he lives in a world of reality, a world where he beat Orton for the title and a world where “The Legend Killer” doesn’t stand a chance of winning the Royal Rumble. Triple-H’s bravado is shor- lived when he sees his entry number in the Rumble, prompting Orton to chuckle. Orton mocks the “Cerebral Assassin” and tells him his reality is that he’s screwed.

Backstage, Trish Stratus prepares to referee the match between Ashley and Mickie James. As Trish’s music begins to play, Mickie tries to get a moment of her time. Mickie tells Trish she has something special to say—she loves her. Is Mickie James really in love with Trish or playing mind games? One thing fans are pretty sure of is that Mickie James is not all there.

2. Mickie James vs. Ashley (Trish Stratus Special Referee):
Mickie James has shown that she has the wrestling skills to make her a viable contender for the WWE women’s championship. Ashley is nowhere close to James in terms of technical skill, but she has plenty of heart. James starts the match off very aggressively, ramming Ashley’s stomach into the ringpost at one point. However, Ashley fights back, and several times during the match, she is almost disqualified by Trish. In the end, James’ technical ability and willingness to bend the rules proves to be too much for Ashley and James pins her with a handful of tights. Trish Stratus reluctantly makes the three-count, but it’s clear that James is the better wrestler. Hopefully, this loss will give Ashley some incentive to improve her ring skills.
WINNER: MICKIE JAMES by pinfall.

Returning backstage, Vince McMahon is comparing tattoos with his “Devils.” It’s time for The Big Show to make his Royal Rumble pick, but right now he wants to show off his tattoos. Mr. McMahon is having none of that, though. Next up is Rey Misterio Jr., who is dedicating his Royal Rumble match to Eddie Guerrero’s memory. Show thinks that’s cool, but he makes it clear to Rey that it’s every man for himself in the Rumble. After drawing his number, Rey looks up to heaven.

3. JBL (with Jillian Hall) vs. The Boogeyman: The Boogeyman came out to the ring to his unusual entrance, reminiscent of Papa Shango (not sure if that’s a good thing). The combination of The Boogeyman’s eerie red smoke and disgusting worms made both JBL and image consultant Jillian Hall uneasy. Hall was especially unnerved after The Boogeyman bit the abnormal growth off of her face during a recent episode of Smackdown. Before the match started, JBL used Jillian as a shield and abandoned her in the ring. The Boogeyman then crawled on top of the petrified Hall and deposited worms all over her body. JBL finally mustered enough courage to dive into the ring and lay into The Boogeyman. Despite sustaining offense for most of the match, JBL’s attack had virtually no effect, and The Boogeyman pinned him after delivering a pump handle slam. This match was really awful.
WINNER: BOOGEYMAN by pinfall.

The Royal Rumble lottery continues backstage. Mama Benjamin is hitting on Vince but to no avail. A disgusted Mr. McMahon warns Shelton Benjamin to straighten his mama out. Happy with his chosen entry number, Shelton tells Mr. McMahon that he will toss Shawn Michaels out of the Rumble for him.
Melina approaches Vince and tells him that she’d like his help with the adverse working conditions she is experiencing on Smackdown. Vince takes some time to ogle Melina and promises to look into it personally. In the meantime, he invites his “Devils” over to a nearby sofa where they can relax. You’ve got to admit that it’s good to be Vince McMahon.

At ringside, Lilian Garcia’s introduction of the Royal Rumble match is interrupted by the Spirit Squad. The Spirit Squad delivers a mini pep rally, but the fans seem less than indifferent to it.

4. ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
Royal Rumble Entrants (in order):

1. Triple-H

2. Rey Misterio Jr. (comes out in a low rider)
Rey and Triple-H battle. Rey was nearly eliminated early on in the match. but he managed to hang on. The fans’ chants of “Eddie, Eddie” were clearly giving Rey the adrenaline boost he needed to stay alive during this match.

3. Simon Dean entered and attacked Rey as Triple-H looked on, gathering back his strength. When Dean went to high-five Triple-H, he was instead struck by the “Cerebral Assassin,” who teamed up with Rey to eliminate Dean.
SIMON DEAN is eliminated. (1)

4. Psicosis entered but was quickly eliminated by Rey Misterio Jr.
PSICOSIS IS ELIMINATED (2). Triple-H continued his attack on Rey Misterio Jr. as the clock wound down to the next entrant.

5. Ric Flair was the next entrant. He set his sights on “The Game,” no doubt fueled by Helmsley’s recent efforts to drive him out of wrestling. Flair used every dirty trick in the book against Hunter, including eye-rakes and the testicular claw. However, the “Nature Boy” turned his attention away from Triple-H for a second and in that moment, he was back-bodydropped over the top rope.
RIC FLAIR IS ELIMINATED (3)

6. The Big Show was next and went after Triple-H. Over the years, “The Game” has made a lot of enemies and clearly, it’s coming back to haunt him. The Big Show was obviously more concerned with inflicting punishment on Triple-H than eliminating him from the Rumble. As Triple-H got pounded, it was clear that his only hope was that the next entrant would provide him some relief from Show.

7. Jonathan Coachman entered and the fans were clearly unhappy with “The Coach” being in the Rumble. “You suck” chants filled the arena as Coachman make a poor showing. “The Coach” attacked The Big Show from behind, but that just angered the giant. Show quickly disposed of Coachman.
JONATHAN COACHMAN IS ELIMINATED (4)

8. Bobby Lashley was the next entrant. This powerhouse may not be as big as the Show, but he has the brute strength to give the big man a run for his money. Lashley attacked the Show with the same intensity that’s made him a success in Smackdown. Lashley ejected The Big Show from the ring, but he wasn’t able to get him over the top rope. The Big Show was out of the ring but not out of the Rumble.

9. Kane entered the Rumble and immediately went after Lashley. Lashley’s offense proved to be his best defense as he delivered his “Dominator” finishing move to Kane, stunning “The Big Red Machine.”

10. Sylvan was next. The former model went after Lashley, but was quickly tossed over the top rope.
SYLVAN IS ELIMINATED (5)

After disposing of Sylvan, Lashley was double-teamed by The Big Show and Kane. The two behemoths gave Lashley a double choke-slam and proceeded to toss him over the top rope.
LASHLEY IS ELIMINATED (6)

At this point it became clear that Kane and The Big Show could easily be the last two men in the Rumble. The two have proven themselves as a dominant tag team, and the match is theirs for the taking. Unfortunately, the lure of the Rumble proved to be too much and the two men turned their sights upon each other. As the titans struggled near the ropes, Triple-H saw an opportunity and tossed both of them over the top.
KANE & THE BIG SHOW ARE ELIMINATED (7) & (8)

11. Carlito entered next and went after Misterio Jr. After softening Rey up, Carlito switched to Triple-H. Carlito was no doubt aware of Triple-H’s devious nature and didn’t turn his back on Hunter for long.

12. Chris Benoit was next and he took turns going after both Carlito and Triple-H. After putting Carlito in the Crippler crossface, Benoit turned his attention to Triple-H. The two former foes fought dangerously close to the edge of the ring with Benoit attempting to suplex Triple-H out and Hunter attempting to bring Benoit back into the fray. One hit from Rey or Carlito could have spelt doom for both men, but amazingly, they fight their way back into the ring.

13. Booker T was next. Booker continued his feud with Benoit by attacking the former U.S. champion. Benoit hasn’t forgotten what Booker T had put him through as of late, and he gathered a measure of revenge by quickly eliminating Booker from the Rumble.
BOOKER T IS ELIMINATED (9)

14. Joey Mercury, one-half of Smackdown tag team champs
M-N-M was next. Melina escorted Mercury to the ring before returning to the backstage area.

15. Tatanka was the first of several surprise entrants in the Rumble. The Native American superstar recently appeared on Raw looking as if the years had not been kind. However he’s now in much better shape now.

16. Johnny Nitro, the second half of the Smackdown tag team champions, was next and quickly M-N-M had the advantage. As the Rumble progressed, a battered Misterio managed to stay in despite several attempts by his opponents to eliminate him. At the same time, Triple-H and Chris Benoit fought it out in a corner.

17. Trevor Murdoch cames out next. The burly brawler was a definite underdog, but he did draw a good number.

18. Eugene returned to WWE after being absent for several months. The “special” superstar went over to shake hands with Murdoch, but his show of sportsmanship was met with punishment. Eugene was none-too-happy with Murdoch’s lack of sportsmanship and went after the surly superstar.

19. Animal was the next entrant.

20. Rob Van Dam maked his long-awaited return to WWE and Carlito was visibly upset about it. As soon as RVD’s music played, Carlito panicked and ran for his life. Good luck finding any kind of safe haven in the Royal Rumble, Carlito. RVD was clearly ready for the Rumble as he back-bodydropped Animal out of the ring.
ANIMAL IS ELIMINATED (10)

21. Orlando Jordan entered next.

22. Chavo Guerrero Jr. was up next. He immediately went to the top rope, a high-risk area during a normal match, but sheer suicide during the Royal Rumble. The ever-opportunistic Triple-H saw Guerrero’s mistake and tossed him off of the top rope, eliminating him from the Rumble.
CHAVO GUERRERO IS ELIMINATED (11)

23. Matt Hardy was next. M-N-M was playing things smartly by working as a team. The Smackdown tag team champions eliminated Tatanka before moving on to their next target.
TATANKA IS eliminated. (12)

24. Super Crazy entered next as the ring was just packed with battling superstars.

25. The “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels entered next and it was clear he meant business. HBK quickly eliminated Trevor Murdoch.
TREVOR MURDOCH IS ELIMINATED (13)

26. Chris Masters came in without his traditional pre-match posedown, showing that no one—not even “The Masterpiece”—was taking the Rumble lightly.

27. Viscera was next. The big man was at a clear advantage. Viscera’s size makes it difficult for anyone to eliminate him, and since he had drawn such a late entry number, his lack of stamina wouldn’t be a factor. Viscera went to work by eliminating Matt Hardy.
MATT HARDY IS ELIMINATED (14)

28. Shelton Benjamin entered next, escorted by Mama Benjamin. As the Rumble heated up, Chris Benoit eliminated Eugene.
EUGENE IS ELIMINATED (15)

The Royal Rumble is always full of amazing stories. This year, perhaps none was more amazing than Rey Misterio Jr.’s determination to survive, and be aggressive at the same time. Super Crazy was eliminated next by Misterio Jr.
SUPER CRAZY IS ELIMINATED (16)

29. Goldust made his way to the ring and the final surprise entrant was thus revealed.

30. Randy Orton was the final entrant in this year’s Royal Rumble. Fourteen superstars remained and at this point. Orton went on the offensive, tossing Benoit out of the ring.
CHRIS BENOIT IS ELIMINATED (17)

Teaming up as they did in the “Elimination Chamber Match” at New Year’s Revolution, Masters and Carlito toppled Viscera over the top rope.
VISCERA IS ELIMINATED (18)

Again, just as it was in the “Elimination Chamber,” an overzealous Carlito eliminated Masters at the first chance he saw. Viscera.
CHRIS MASTERS IS ELIMINATED (19)

Rob Van Dam was clearly on fire as he tossed Goldust over the top rope.
GOLDUST IS ELIMINATED (20)

Randy Orton continued his offensive onslaught by throwing Orlando Jordan out.
ORLANDO JORDAN IS ELIMINATED (21)

Shawn Michaels has been in many Royal Rumbles and his experience shone through when he managed to fight off the two-on-one attack of M-N-M. Michaels then turned the tables against the Smackdown tag team champs by eliminating both men at the same time.
JOEY MERCURY IS ELIMINATED (22)
JOHNNY NITRO IS ELIMINATED (23)

Shelton Benjamin went after HBK, but he too found the “Icon” to be too much, as Michaels eliminated him from the Rumble.
SHELTON BENJAMIN IS ELIMINATED (24)

Suddenly, Mr. McMahon’s music began playing, signaling that HBK’s recent struggles with the chairman would indeed continue. As Michaels stared down a strutting Vince McMahon, he was unaware of the presence of Shane McMahon at ringside. Distracted, Shawn found himself summarily dismissed from the Rumble by Shane-O-Mac.
SHAWN MICHAELS IS ELIMINATED (25)

An angry Michaels went back into the ring where he was attacked by Triple-H. HBK retaliated with a superkick against Hunter and chased Shane and Vince out of the ring. In the meantime, Carlito was thrown out of the ring by RVD.
CARLITO IS ELIMINATED (26)

The Rumble was down to four men—RVD, Triple-H, Rey Msterio Jr., and Randy Orton. If Orton and Triple-H could put aside their differences, the two may have been able to form an effective team against Misterio Jr. and Van Dam. But their hatred for one another proved to be too strong, and the two worked individually. Van Dam and Misterio Jr., on the other hand, teamed up well and delivered two-on-one attacks to both Triple-H and - Orton. Unfortunately, during one of those attacks, RVD was accidentally eliminated when Rey was thrown into RVD by Triple-H.
ROB VAN DAM IS ELIMINATED (27)

Once again, a babyface found himself facing two-on-one odds in the Rumble. Rey’s fighting spirit was amazing, though. When Orton and Helmsley attacked, Rey reversed it into a double-DDT, knocking both men onto the ring ropes. Rey took advantage of this window of opportunity and capitalized by delivering the 6-1-9 to both men! Misterio Jr. followed up by eliminating Triple-H from the Rumble.
TRIPLE-H IS ELIMINATED (28)

Back in the ring, Rey fought to finish Orton off and his amazing journey. Demonstrating the same will to win that carried him this far, Rey tossed Orton out of the ring.
RANDY ORTON IS ELIMINATED (29)

2006 ROYAL RUMBLE WINNER: REY MISTERIO JR.

Backstage, Mickie James thanks Trish for how she called the match. James tells Trish that it’s clear that Trish loves her. Trish is obviously uneasy with James’ continued unwanted advances and walks off with Mickie in what looks like an attempt to settle this problem before it goes any further.

In another backstage area, Rey Misterio is congratulated by Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Chavo Guererro Jr. The celebration is interrupted by WWE champion Edge, who cautions Rey to choose wisely when deciding which title to compete for at WrestleMania, else his fairytale may not have a happy ending.

5. John Cena vs. WWE champion Edge: In recent interviews, Edge has declared that he’s going to be more than a transitional champion and it was clear that he intended on leaving Miami as WWE champion. Edge started things off by using Lita as a shield against Cena (shades of “Macho Man” Randy Savage!). Edge took the fight to the challenger, delivering a brutal beating to Cena throughout the match. At one point, Edge speared Cena into the solid steel ringsteps. Cena mounted a comeback, but Edge continued to dominate him. At one point, Cena got Edge in position to deliver the FU, but Edge raked the challenger’s eyes, stopping the move from being executed. Edge continued his attack by placing Cena in a rear naked chokehold, but Cena was able to break out.

Despite taking a lot of punishment, it was obvious that Cena was biding his time for an attack. After Edge missed a spear, Cena delivered a DDT and went for the pin. Lita got up on the mat apron and distracted the referee, preventing him from making the three-count. Cena confronted Lita while Edge waited, ready to blindside him. However, Cena’s street smarts came into play and he ducked out of the way, causing Edge to strike Lita. Cena delivered the FU and pinned the stunned Edge to become WWE champion for a second time.

WINNER: JOHN CENA JOHN CENA by pinfall.

Backstage, Edge is met by Todd Grisham who asks Edge about his recent comments about not being a transitional champion. Edge is furious and shoves Grisham out of the way. When Grisham goes to interview Lita, the two are interrupted by former WWE superstar “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan who has one word for Lita, “Hooooooooo!!!!!!!!”

6. MARK HENRY (with Daivari) vs. WORLD CHAMPION KURT ANGLE (WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH): As the match began, Henry toyed with Angle by engaging him in a test of strength, which he quickly won. Angle was stymied by the “World’s Strongest Man,” as Henry used his size and strength to offset Angle’s obvious advantage in wrestling ability. However, with the referee momentarily stunned, Angle’s willingness to break the rules gave him the edge that he needed to defeat Henry. After laying Henry out with a steel chair (along with his manager, Daivari), Angle untied a turnbuckle cover, exposing the metal underneath it. Angle then used a drop toehold to make Henry hit his head on the metal. As the challenger lay dazed, Angle pinned him to retain his World championship.

After the match, The Undertaker’s music suddenly played as the lights dimmed in the arena. As Angle celebrated in the ring, ’Taker was lead to the ring by druids. Finally, in one of those amazing feats of showmanship associated with the “Dead Man,” lightning shot out of the ceiling and destroyed the wrestling ring. As Angle looked on in shock, The Undertaker made it clear that he is coming for the World championship.

HOW SMACKDOWN CAN BENEFIT FROM BATISTA’S INJURY

By Frank Ingiosi

With the pending announcement that World champion Dave Batista will likely experience an extended absence due to yet another torn triceps muscle, the landscape of Smackdown and the entire WWE will be forced to drastically change—at least for the time being. The WWE Smackdown creative team now has a choice to make: Either wallow in the fact that it has lost its most marketable superstar, or take this opportunity to reshape and, yes, possibly improve, the quality of their product.

Batista’s injury, by all accounts, could not have come at a worse time for the Smackdown brand. Still riding high from its upset victory over Team Raw at the 2005 Survivor Series, Smackdown appeared poised to mount a legitimate challenge to Raw’s quite obvious brand superiority. Moreover, despite Melina’s recent sexual harassment accusation against him, Batista still had the fan base in the palm of his hand as the leader of the Smackdown revolution. The same cannot be said of his contemporary, former WWE champion John Cena of the Raw brand. Due in large part to Batista, things were actually beginning to look promising for the WWE’s “junior circuit.”

Then, someone decided that Mark Henry, weightlifter-turned-punch line, was worthy of a push.

In suffering a tear to his oft-injured triceps muscle during a match with the perennial disappointment Henry, Batista’s immediate future as World champion had come to an abrupt and ill-timed halt. “The Animal,” who has been working through a torn latissimus dorsi muscle in his back, will likely be sidelined for an extended period, leaving Smackdown with the daunting task of finding someone to hoist the brand onto his back and carry it in Batista’s absence. But who?

Let’s face facts: As much as the WWE wants fans to believe that there is an equal separation of talent on both the Raw and Smackdown rosters, even the casual observer can see that the money is made on Monday nights. Bigger names, a choice time slot, and regular appearances from the chairman himself help to illustrate just that point. So where does the Smackdown brand go from here? My suggestion has two phases.

Are we taking notes, McMahon family?

In the long run, the loss of Batista provides a mere setback to the WWE as a whole. However, if not handled properly, it could prove to be severely damaging to the Smackdown brand. As it is obvious that Batista needs some time off to recover from his injuries, the WWE must find—or rather create—the silver lining of this bad situation to save the brand.

Phase one involves a tournament (a la WrestleMania IV) to crown a new World champion. Stock the bracket with legitimate contenders from the Smackdown roster (sorry, Nunzio) and have the winner survive three—maybe four—grueling matches, in one night.

The second phase of this plan is actually far riskier than a championship tournament because, c’mon, everyone loves a good tournament. No, this portion of the plan involves creativity, foresight, and, yes, some guts. Here goes nothing: Why not be a little inventive as to who gets a shot at, and eventually holds, the World championship?

Realistically, the loss of Batista leaves Smackdown with three viable heirs-apparent to his World title, namely JBL, Randy Orton, and The Undertaker. However, are any of those three former champions worthy to carry the strap right now? The Undertaker may not have enough left in the tank to carry the brand during Batista’s absence, and Orton is currently going through a stage where even he doubts his talent. The most likely choice then becomes JBL—does anyone really want that? Plus, who would any of these guys feud with? Each other? That would require either a: ’Taker/JBL battle of the clotheslines, an extension of the Orton/’Taker feud, or a face turn for either Orton or JBL, the brand’s two top heels. None of those are particularly appealing options.

What about—dare I suggest—elevating a mid-card talent to compete for the title? Reliable names like Chris Benoit, Booker T, or even rising star Bobby Lashley all come to mind as dark horse candidates to fill the championship vacancy. While each would require some form of repackaging before assuming the Smackdown throne, fans would certainly relish the thought of some new blood among the championship ranks.

Along the same lines, why not explore the possibility of a trade with Raw? While currently without a full-time general manager, Raw is under the control of the one man who benefits most from healthy brand competition—Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Vince may be swayed to send one of his Monday-night Superstars over to Smackdown to invigorate the reeling brand. As blasphemous as it may sound to Mr. McMahon, why not send a soon-to-be-returning, angry as hell, highly marketable Rob Van Dam to Smackdown and toss him right into the World championship mix?

In the end, the prognosis for the WWE and Smackdown in particular are vastly different, although both could be in trouble if this delicate situation is handled improperly. However, this could also be a fantastic opportunity for Smackdown to shake from the confusing and somewhat offensive rut it has been stuck in as of late. Either way, this is truly a test for Smackdown and a moment that will undoubtedly define the brand for years to come.

EDDIE GUERRERO: 1967–2005

“Consummate Performer … Awesome Human Being”

By Dan Murphy

EDDIE GUERRERO, A man whose triumph over drug and alcohol abuse inspired a TV special titled Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story, was found dead in his Minneapolis hotel room on the morning of November 13. Guerrero was 38 years old.

Guerrero arrived in Minneapolis late the previous night with nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. for a WWE “supershow,” a joint Raw and Smackdown TV taping, at which he was scheduled to face Randy Orton and Batista in the three-way main event. Many insiders expected him to win the World title in that match because Batista had suffered a torn muscle in his back and was expected to miss several months.

The cause of death had not been determined as of press time, as results of a preliminary autopsy were inconclusive. Speculation was that he suffered a heart attack and died instantly, since he was found with his toothbrush still in his hand.

“This is a huge loss,” Vince McMahon said in a press conference held hours after Guerrero’s body was found. “Eddie was a wonderful, fun-loving human being. Eddie was a consummate performer.”

Chavo Jr., who discovered Eddie’s body and tried to resuscitate him, joined McMahon in the press conference and said Eddie had been sober and drug-free for four years. Chavo, who had shared a late-night dinner with his uncle after they arrived in town, also supported the decision to continue on with that night’s supershow, saying, “Eddie would want the show to go on.”

Both the Raw and Smackdown shows taped that night were made tribute shows dedicated to Guerrero.

Guerrero was born on October 9, 1967, in Juarez, Mexico. Eddie followed in the footsteps of his father, Gory, and elder brothers, Mando, Chavo Sr., and Hector, and made his pro wrestling debut in 1987. Guerrero blended the traditional Lucha Libre style with American and Japanese influences and formed a successful tag team with El Hijo del Santo.

In 1993, Guerrero began teaming with “American Love Machine” Art Barr as Los Gringos Locos (with Louie Spicolli). The Gringos were one of the most reviled teams in Mexican wrestling history. Tragically, all three members of the team died before the age of 40.

In 1994, Guerrero debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling under a mask as Black Tiger. That year, he also appeared in ECW, in which his matches against Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit earned critical acclaim. He collected two ECW TV titles before jumping to WCW in 1995 and won the prestigious Best of the Super Juniors Tournament in Japan in 1996.

Guerrero established himself as an exciting mid-card performer in WCW and earned a reputation for putting on exciting matches against a variety of competitors. In December 1996, Guerrero beat Dallas Page to win the vacant U.S. title. He turned heel in 1997 and won a pair of cruiserweight titles. He also had one of the great feuds of his career with Rey Misterio Jr., a man who would become his top in-ring rival over the next eight years. On New Year’s Eve 1998, Eddie was involved in a serious one-car crash that nearly took his life. He missed eight months of action afterward.

In December 1999, he underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. The following month, he received his requested release from WCW and debuted with Malenko, Benoit, and Perry Saturn on Raw just six days later. The debut of The Radicals in WWE is considered one of the low points in WCW history and a major key to WWE winning the Monday night wars.

In April 2000, Guerrero won his first championship in WWE, beating Chris Jericho for the European title. Guerrero paired with his “mamacita,” Chyna, and Guerrero unleashed his “Latino Heat.” Guerrero’s comic timing and delivery, combined with his incredible in-ring work and his charisma made him one of the promotion’s most popular stars.
In September 2000, Guerrero showed his “lying, cheating, and stealing” ways, pinning Chyna in a three-way match that also involved Kurt Angle to win the Intercontinental title.

In June 2001, Guerrero’s addictions got the best of him. He was sent to rehab after being sent home from a WWE TV taping and was released from his contract four months later. Days after his release, Guerrero was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

With his personal and professional lives in tatters, Guerrero recommitted himself to conquering his personal demons and making it back to WWE. He began competing extensively on the independent circuit and abroad. After strong showings in WWA, IWA Mid-South, New Japan, and other promotions, Guerrero impressed WWE management with his dedication and genuine desire to make amends and was re-signed in March 2002. More importantly, his wife and children gave him another chance.

Upon his return to WWE, Guerrero quickly beat Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental title and them went on to form a very impressive tag team with Chavo Jr. Eddie and Chavo won the Smackdown tag title at the 2002 Survivor Series. Guerrero had a run as U.S. champion in late-2003, followed by a brief but intense feud with Chavo.

At No Way Out 2004, Guerrero scored the biggest win of his storied career, stealing a win over Brock Lesnar to win the WWE championship. At WrestleMania XX, Guerrero pinned Kurt Angle, and then celebrated in the ring beside long-time friend and new World champion Benoit as the pay-per-view went off the air. It was a very emotionally charged moment.

Unfortunately for Guerrero, he had trouble adjusting to the pressures of being WWE champion and would later publicly admit it. He lost the title to John Bradshaw Layfield at the 2004 Great American Bash.

Guerrero went on to team and subsequently feud with Misterio throughout 2004 and 2005, and emerged as a top contender to the World title again in 2005. His odd couple pairing with Batista proved to be a crowd favorite, and Guerrero seemed to be on the verge of a second run as a world champion. He died at the top of his game, and his passing has been a devastating blow to the entire wrestling community.

Even his old rival JBL got emotional during an appearance on MSNBC a day after his death, calling it “an honor to talk about my friend Eddie Guerrero.”

Wrote Jericho on his Web site: “I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years, but this one hurts the most by far … I have so many classic Eddie stories that I would love to share, but instead I’m just going to go and cry myself to sleep remembering what an awesome human being Eddie was and will always be.”

Even TNA paid tribute to him at its Genesis pay-per-view, held on the day of his death, with Konnan getting emotional before his match.

Guerrero is survived by his wife, Vickie, and three daughters, Shaul (14), Sherilyn (9), and Kaylie Marie (3), as well as his three brothers, two sisters, and his mother.

“HULK HOGAN vs. STEVE AUSTIN? NO THANKS! ”

By Will Welsh

At “WWE Homecoming” this past Monday, the immortal Hulk Hogan—with his pal “Mean” Gene Okerlund holding a microphone in front his mouth—all but called out “Stone-Cold” Steve Austin for a possible WrestleMania 22 confrontation.

The fans at the American Airlines Center in Dallas popped. Okerlund, as he’s been doing for seemingly hundreds of years, acted as if what Hogan had just said was a complete surprise. Hogan, after having thrown down the gauntlet, flexed and preened his suntanned body in ridiculous ways that only he could get away with doing. Austin, who earlier in the night had delivered stunners to four members of the McMahon family, remained in the back and refrained, for now, from commenting publicly one way or another on the possibility of the match happening.

Austin was the smart one.

Austin vs. Hogan. It has a ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s a match that many of us have talked about in one way or another for at least the past seven years. In 1999, when Austin was in the midst of his hell-raising campaign in WWE, and Hogan was still riding the crest of that huge New World Order wave in WCW, it’s possible Austin vs. Hogan would have broken every box office and buy rate record in wrestling history.

In 2002, with Hogan still fighting off the stench of WCW, and Austin battling WWE management, personal demons, and neck problems, it still could have been a match that set a lot of records.

In 2006? It might still do very well at the box office, but that doesn’t mean that it should take place.

Austin hasn’t been the same physically since he underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his neck in January 2000, which is why he went into semi-retirement following his loss to The Rock at WrestleMania XIX.

Although he might climb into the ring and deliver an occasional stunner (or four), his body isn’t what it once was. It’s weaker and slower and more susceptible to major injury than ever before. He knows it. At this point in his career, the man who once seemed incapable of delivering a bad match would be much more dependent upon his opponent to put forth a terrific effort than he’d ever like to admit.

The effects of Owen Hart’s botched piledriver, delivered at SummerSlam ’97, and all the other bumps he’s taken finally caught up to him.

Hogan, for his part, is coming off a stellar performance against Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that his match with HBK came off much better than anyone could have possibly hoped. Most observers placed it within the four-star range, which in turn raises expectations for the proposed match with Austin. Is it possible that Hogan has another great match in him?

Yes, it is—but probably not with Austin. Hogan, now 52, looked as good as he did in the ring against Michaels because Michaels, who’s wrestling as well as he ever has, created virtually all of the match’s momentum. Michaels’ speed, athleticism, and cunning hid the fact that Hogan’s mobility is more limited now than it’s ever been—and it’s not like the guy was ever known for his fast-paced matches.

Austin would have a hard time making up for Hogan’s compromised mobility because he’d be too busy trying to compensate for his own shortcomings. Remember, it’s been more than two years since he was a wrestler.

Even though neither man would ever admit it, Hogan and Austin would be looking for the other to carry the lion’s share of the match, and that would likely result in a bout that couldn’t live up to their or anyone else’s expectations.

Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin has been a dream match among fans for a very long time. I, for one, just hope when WrestleMania 22 rolls around, WWE will be smart enough to keep it exactly that: a dream match.

“D-VON, GET THE ATTORNEYS!”

By Dan Murphy

I was at an indy wrestling card over the weekend when one wrestler fired a series of loud knife-edge chops into the chest of his opponent, eliciting the standard “Whoooooo!” cries from the fans.

A guy in front of me turned around and cracked, “These guys better be careful. Vince McMahon probably has the ‘W’ word trademarked. He might have his lawyers come in and shut down the show.”

That seems to be the prevailing sentiment in and around the wrestling business ever since WWE’s legal team took such a gung-ho stance on protecting trademarks. This legal smackdown is in response to the upcoming “Hardcore Homecoming” tour, which is essentially a traveling ECW reunion.

WWE attorneys have reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Peter Polaco, informing him that he cannot use the ring name Justin Credible anymore, as it is owned by WWE. The attorneys also contacted Spike Dudley’s official Web site, forcing him to take down any photos from his WWE run and threatening to fine him $150,000 per photo if he failed to comply.

And then there’s the other former Dudleys. This is where the lawyers seem to go completely over the top. First of all, the team is forbidden to use the Dudley name. Buh Buh cannot use “Buh Buh, Bubba, Bubba Ray,” or any other variation of his WWE ring name. D-Von (real name Devon Hughes) can use Devon, but cannot use the hyphenated ring name of D-Von.

It gets worse. WWE is also claiming rights to the Dudleys’ catchphrases and costumes. That means Buh Buh and D-Von—or whatever they can legally call themselves now—can’t wear camouflage or wrestle wearing glasses. The Wrestler Formerly Known As Buh Buh can’t yell, “D-Von, get the tables!”

On top of that, WWE’s legal team is using strong-arm tactics on the venues, contacting “Hardcore Homecoming” sites and allegedly questioning them on every aspect of compliance, from State Athletic Commission and insurance issues to advertising and promotion.

It seems like an awful lot of work to stop a handful of wrestling shows featuring guys WWE seems to have no interest in using.

Which brings up the central question to this entire issue: Just why did WWE present its One Night Stand ECW pay-per-view in June?

Did McMahon and other front office personnel run that PPV in the hope that it would bomb, and thus give Vince another chance to show the world that WWE is so much better than any other would-be competition out there?

One Night Stand turned out to be a successful pay-per-view. WWE gave its fans a taste of the good, the bad, and the ugly of a little promotion with a cult following, and the fans ate it up. And it made a nice profit. But instead of doing anything to capitalize on the momentum of that card, WWE dropped the matter and barely even mentioned the show on TV. Three months have passed without so much as a peep from WWE. It’s like One Night Stand never happened.

To make matters worse, just weeks after they headlined one of the most exciting PPVs in company history, WWE released The Dudley Boyz. As Gorilla Monsoon used to say, a pat on the back is just 18 inches away from a kick in the pants.

Obviously, WWE doesn’t want to bring ECW back from the dead, and from a long-term business standpoint, it probably shouldn’t. After all, if ECW, with its famous us-against-the-world mentality, succeeded, it would prove a lot of the ECW naysayers in the company wrong. And then what would WWE do about it? If it failed, it would ruin the legacy of a truly revolutionary company. Or maybe WWE examined the buy rate of ONS and came to the conclusion that there was a curiosity factor among fans that could not be repeated a second time.

Either way, that’s WWE’s decision to make. The wrestlers who worked so hard to make ECW great—the Dudleys, The Sandman, Sabu, Shane Douglas, and many, many more—don’t have a say in the matter. What are they supposed to do while WWE sits on the trademarks it owns? Each of those wrestlers drew money for ECW, and for WWE. And WWE repays them by trying to ruin their drawing power and deprive them of their livelihood?

The “Hardcore Homecoming” tour is supposed to give a few deserving wrestlers a handful of nice paydays, and it won’t affect the WWE bottom line one iota.

One word of advice to WWE: Maybe you should call off the dogs on “Hardcore Homecoming” long enough to turn on Spike TV. There’s another competitor making waves out there, and TNA is a much bigger threat than “Hardcore Homecoming” ever was.

FOLEY PICKS WWE OVER TNA; IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LEGACY

By Will Welsh

Mick Foley doesn’t usually play it safe. It’s not in his nature.

As a wrestler, he was one of the most sadistic, violent performers in history.

As an author, he has written about sexual violence and rape, controversial topics that could get a book banned from the local school library. As a semi-retiree, he’s been an outspoken critic of Vince McMahon and WWE at times—even as he’s made it a habit to return to the promotion time and time again.

So why then, when faced with an opportunity to help an on-the-rise promotion make a big splash upon its debut on a strong cable network, would Foley choose to return to the big corporate monolith?

Foley acknowledged when announcing he had signed a new deal with WWE earlier this week that he had come very close to joining TNA instead.

No one knows exactly why Foley did what he did but Mick himself, but all of us can make our guesses.

The first thing that comes to mind is money. TNA has some to play with; WWE has vaults at its disposal. Vince McMahon could woo Foley with a financial offer from which he simply couldn’t walk away, but that seems doubtful, especially considering that Foley is on the record as saying that WWE’s financial offer wasn’t any better than TNA’s. Besides, Foley does well enough as an author that he could have signed with TNA even if WWE was offering a lot more in the way of a paycheck and not felt too ill about it.

If not about the money, then how about opportunity? TNA is a smallish promotion possibly on the verge of becoming something big. It’s a player on the playing field, but it’s still undetermined whether the other players on the field will throw it the ball very often. WWE, on the other hand, is the top promotion in the land and, indeed, the world. Its wrestlers are the most popular, its television shows are the most watched, and its pay-per-views are the most important. One appearance on either Raw or Smackdown could reach the same amount of fans as possibly six months of appearances on Impact.

Foley, though, isn’t looking for opportunity. In addition to his role as a part-time wrestler, he’s also an author and a well-regarded public speaker. He doesn’t need anything else to do. Every door is open to him. Now that he’s established, his name and a solid handshake are the only opportunity devices he needs. He’d continue to do just fine for himself even if he never appeared in WWE again. His legacy would sustain him.

Or would it?

Foley is a legend in the business. He’s respected by the wrestlers, and he’s beloved by fans. He’s one of those guys who can seemingly do no wrong, even when it’s obvious that he’s overstaying a welcome. He sacrificed his body for years upon years to attain such status, and there’s not much that he wouldn’t do to help preserve his good standing. And if he could better it? Well, sign him up.

TNA had such an offer on the table. Sure, it wasn’t explicitly spelled out in any particular terminology, but if Foley had signed with TNA, debuted in a position of authority, and wrestled an occasional match, more people probably would have found Impact on Saturday nights on Spike TV and made a habit of watching it.

Foley would have given TNA the kind of wrestler whom fans go out of their way to watch, and in turn TNA would have given Foley the opportunity to say, “Look at what I helped build.”

Is there a better way for a legend to build on his legacy? I think not. Foley, however, threw his risk-taking personality aside and landed in the safety net.

Why? What could McMahon have offered him that would have swayed him to re-sign with WWE and turn down an opportunity to become an even bigger historical figure than he already is?

Perhaps the opportunity to stay as big as he currently is.

In 2005, McMahon owns wrestling history and folklore. Thanks to his vast collection of tape libraries, he can put together a DVD of nearly anyone of significance in the modern age and paint that person as either a hero or a goat. Bret Hart recently agreed to participate in the creation of his DVD collection in order to protect his legacy. The result is said to be a product of which the “Hitman” will be proud—Montreal be dammed.

The Ultimate Warrior, on the other hand, shunned WWE’s efforts to make him a part of its upcoming DVD collection on his career. The result, according to reports, is a DVD that absolutely destroys whatever mythos remains of the Warrior. Even WWE production people are said to be shocked by how deeply this DVD buries the Warrior.

I have to believe Foley wants none of that—and even if McMahon never said anything to make him think that there would be an unflattering DVD release should he sign with TNA and help the company grow significantly, the possibility of such a thing could have been in the back of Foley’s mind.

McMahon’s owns the tapes of Foley’s time in ECW. He also owns the tapes of Foley’s time in WCW. And, of course, he owns the tapes of Foley’s career with WWE. In other words, McMahon owns Foley’s legacy—and it is his to do with as he pleases.

No wonder this hardcore icon suddenly went soft.

SUMMERSLAM FALLOUT: WHO REALLY WON AND LOST

By Dave Lenker

Three titles, custody of an eight-year-old boy, and a lot of pride were at stake inside the very loud and sold-out MCI Center in Washington, D.C., on August 21 as WWE presented SummerSlam. But there was one match that stood out among all the others: the first and probably only meeting between Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels.

It was the ultimate clash of styles—the aging, lumbering, mobility challenged, but still-larger-than-life superhero against one of the greatest and most versatile wrestlers of all-time, a 21-year-veteran who, even at age 40, can wrestle as if he’s 25 and not just seven years removed from major back surgery that was supposed to have ended his career.

Michaels vs. Hogan could have been dreadful. Maybe it should have been dreadful. Instead, it was something special. The rest of the card had its ups and downs—more ups than downs, fortunately. Borrowing an idea that the PWI family of magazine uses after WrestleMania each year, in this pwi-online.com exclusive, we present “SummerSlam 2005: The Real Winners And Losers.”

MATCH 1: U.S. CHAMPION ORLANDO JORDAN vs. CHRIS BENOIT

What Happened: Not much. Less than half a minute after the opening bell, Jordan was frantically tapping the mat, having already had enough of the Crippler crossface.

The Winner: Benoit captured the U.S. title via submission in 25 seconds.

The Real Winner: The U.S. title, which had been rendered practically worthless since March 1, the night Jordan won it from John Cena. Hard to believe a WWE wrestler could hold a title for almost six months and have that reign mean next to nothing. As detailed in the November 2005 issue of Inside Wrestling (on sale now), it’s hard to find a worse U.S. champ than Jordan in that championship’s storied history. Benoit will make it mean something again.

The Real Loser: Orlando Jordan. With JBL likely being bumped out of Smackdown’s main event picture soon, does he really need a chief of staff? Is there any need for a rematch here? Unless he turns babyface, Jordan could be Velocity-bound. Then again, Velocity will be no more come October. Uh-oh.

MATCH 2: EDGE vs. MATT HARDY

What Happened: We’re still trying to figure that out. What could have been the Grudge Match of the Year was a fight that gave us one cool move—Edge spearing Hardy off the ring apron—and a non-ending.

The Winner: Edge got the decision when the referee ruled that Hardy was bleeding too much to be able to continue, even though we’ve seen WWE stars continue long after bleeding a lot more than Hardy did.

The Real Winner: Could it be any more obvious than, well, Edge? The great promos he delivered leading up to this match weren’t just a bunch of empty, albeit well-constructed sentences. He did just what he said he’d do—he crushed Hardy. Did someone in Creative forget who was supposed to be the fan favorite?

The Real Loser: Besides, obviously, Hardy, how about TNA? Hardy worked hard to add submission holds to his repertoire and really hone his game while he was sitting him all those months, all in hopes of getting his chance to be a main-eventer. Was it all for naught? TNA could and probably would have made him a star. WWE has other ideas. Think he regrets re-signing yet?

MATCH 3: EDDIE GUERRERO vs. REY MISTERIO JR.

What Happened: Guerrero and Misterio had the expected exciting ladder match, which saw Eddie’s wife, Vicky, and little Dominick interfere. Not quite a classic, but a terrific 20-minute bout.

The Winner: Misterio got custody of Dominick by climbing a ladder and retrieving the custody papers hung above the ring after a disgusted Vicky Guerrero shook the ladder and sent her husband tumbling to the mat below.

The Real Winner: Possibly the World champ himself. There has been talk inside WWE of setting up a series between Batista and Guerrero. With this feud finally ending, we think, both men can move on. If we do get Eddie-Batista next, Batista should benefit immensely as a wrestler from that experience. Oh, and all of us who think logically are winners, too. The feud has been enjoyable to watch in a lot of ways, but custody of a child being put up for grabs in a wrestling match?

The Real Loser: Dominick. Sure, he got to go home with the man he has always called “Dad,” but we have to wonder if participating in such a sordid storyline is good for any eight-year-old.

MATCH 4: KURT ANGLE vs. EUGENE

What Happened: Like Angle said, the joke was over. No more clowning. He wanted his gold medal back and demanded he get respect from everyone. That was bad news for Eugene, but good news for the thousands of Angle fans at the MCI Center. Eugene got in a Rock bottom and a stunner, but little else in a one-sided four-minute match.

The Winner: Angle got Eugene to tap out to the anklelock and once again had gold around his neck.

The Real Winner: Beyond Angle, who jumped to the front of the line for shots at the WWE title the next night, we nominate Nick Dinsmore, the man behind Eugene. As special as Eugene is, the gimmick has run its course, and everyone had to know it would. With the crowd being so anti-Eugene and him losing so decisively, WWE should take the hint and repackage Dinsmore. We hope it’s in a way that better showcases his vast skills.

The Real Loser: Edge. He’s going to have to wait in line for a PPV match with Cena.

MATCH 5: THE UNDERTAKER vs. RANDY ORTON

What Happened: We got a fairly slow-paced match that didn’t quite match the quality of their WrestleMania 21 showdown but also featured interference from Orton’s dad, Bob Jr., and an exciting finish.

The Winner: As “Cowboy” Bob distracted “The Dead Man,” “Legend Killer” Randy finished UT with an RKO.

The Real Winner: The Smackdown brand. It needs all the star power and quality athletes it can get at the top of the card. Orton looks like he’s back in top form. We could see him against Batista at No Mercy in October.

The Real Loser: “Cowboy” Bob. He’s interfered in at least one too many big UT matches. He has a tombstone piledriver or two in his future.

MATCH 6: WWE CHAMPION JOHN CENA vs. CHRIS JERICHO

What Happened: Amid alternating chants of “Let’s go, Jericho!” and “Let’s go, Cena!” Cena was faced with one of the toughest matches of his career, and he responded to critics who insist he looks too soft in the ring with one of his best performances.

The Winner: Cena finally nailed an FU after just under 15 minutes of action and won by pinfall.

The Real Winner: Chris Jericho. He lost cleanly to Cena here and 24 hours later on Raw and got fired by Eric Bischoff because of it. But as he headed into a break of at least a few months, Jericho had momentum for the first time in a long time. He seemed like a very important player for the first time in a long time. We suspect fans will be clamoring for and anticipating his return soon enough. Smackdown could eventually be a winner here.

The Real Losers: Chris Masters, Rob Conway, and Carlito. Up-and-coming Raw stars like these three (and others) could gain a lot by feuding with Y2J or even just wrestling him once or twice. He has the ability, versatility, and experience to make anyone better. For now anyway, Raw offers one less valuable tool from which they can learn.

MATCH 7: WORLD CHAMPION BATISTA vs. JBL

What Happened: A no-holds-barred match was supposed to favor JBL. He didn’t count on having part of the metal ring steps brought into the ring.

The Winner: Not even a “wrestling god” was going to get up after getting Batista-bombed onto metal steps. Batista took this one by pinfall in less than 10 minutes.

The Real Winners: Randy Orton and Eddie Guerrero. JBL wasn’t actually supposed to get a rematch according to the original WWE plans. A loss this decisive should push him out of the title mix. Orton and Guerrero should get their turns.

The Real Loser: Muhammad Hassan. At one point, this World title match was supposed to be his. That plan changed slightly. Anyone seen him lately?

MATCH 8: HULK HOGAN vs. SHAWN MICHAELS

What Happened: Hogan sure didn’t look 52. He took a beating, but he lasted more than 20 minutes, got bloodied in a big way, survived a superkick, and then finally Hulked up. You know the rest of the story…

The Winner: Big boot, a little posing, legdrop, match over. Although Michaels wasn’t so complimentary one night later on Raw, he insisted on shaking the “Hulkster’s” hand afterward.

The Real Winners: Michaels and Hogan. This match had no business being so good in 2005; both deserve credit for making it so memorable. Throw Steve Austin in there, too. He’d like to wrestle Hogan at WrestleMania 22. This should give him hope that a match like that could be magic.

The Real Losers: Any of you who expected Bret Hart to get involved. One more time, folks: He’s never coming back. Enjoy the DVD in November.

NEW ROH CHAMP: ANOTHER WWE-BOUND STAR

By Dave Lenker

C.M. Punk had been the most hated man in Ring of Honor since he turned himself heel with a scathing promo directed at his fans immediately after winning the ROH title. He even threatened to take the belt with him as he embarked upon his career in WWE. But his attitude changed dramatically after losing the championship to James Gibson (Jamie Noble) in a four-way elimination match on August 12 in Dayton, Ohio.

As a result, all those fans who thought he deserved a proper sendoff but feared he wouldn’t get one got their wish after Punk wrestled his last ROH match on August 13 in Chicago Ridge, Illinois.

But that first night of ROH’s two-stop Midwest tour belonged to Gibson, even though he was the most unlikely of Punk’s three challengers to leave Dayton with the gold. In fact, his chances of winning appeared to be down to nil when he needed assistance returning to the dressing room after taking a vicious blow to the head from Punk.

While Gibson received medical attention in the back, the other two challengers, Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe, were eliminated—Daniels via Joe’s naked rear choke and then Joe via pinfall by Punk. With the crowd in an uproar, Gibson’s music hit, and, never having been eliminated, he returned to the ring covered in blood. He wasn’t able to keep Punk down with one Tiger bomb, but when Punk went for his trademark Pepsi plunge, Gibson reversed it into a second Tiger bomb and stole the pinfall. Spanky then led a contingent of ROH wrestlers to the ring to congratulate Gibson.

On the very next night, however, Spanky turned against Gibson during their match with tag champs Jimmy Jacobs and B.J. Whitmer, superkicking away a shot at the tag belts, but earning himself a spot in a three-way match with Gibson and Homicide on August 20 in Morristown, New Jersey.

Gibson is a curious choice to replace Punk as champion because he will be returning to WWE within the next few months. He assured everyone, however, that he will wrestle on every ROH show as long as he is champion.

That major development in Chicago Ridge was overshadowed by the main event, however, as Punk dropped an emotional best-of-three-falls to long-time friend Colt Cabana. As fans saluted him on his way to the ring, Punk couldn’t stop the tears from flowing, and he did take the first fall. But Cabana rallied to take the last two, although the outcome didn’t matter much.

When it was over, virtually every member of the ROH locker room and Punk’s parents were in the ring with him, and even booker Gabe Sapolsky was crying. The OVW-bound Punk took the microphone and thanked the crowd and everyone in the ROH family for all the good times. The draining night finally came to a surreal conclusion with Punk getting showered with Pepsi as many in the ring guzzled the man of the hour’s favorite soft drink from wine glasses.

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The card for TNA’s September 11 pay-per-view, Unbreakable, took shape after the Impact tapings on August 16 in Orlando. The main event will see Raven defend the NWA heavyweight title against Rhino, who earned the title shot by pinning the champ in a tag team bout at Sacrifice on August 14.

Christopher Daniels will put his X title on the line against Samoa Joe, who has become one of TNA’s top stars despite having logged only two months with the company, and A.J. Styles in a three-way match. Joe earned his title shot by beating Styles in the finals of the X Cup Tournament at Sacrifice in a match some are lauding as one of the best in TNA’s three-year history. But with Daniels interjecting himself in that match at the end and angering both men, TNA chose to throw Styles in the mix at Unbreakable, too. Styles got a measure of revenge on his long-time rival when he distracted Daniels during a non-title match with Shark Boy at the Impact tapings, allowing the finned favorite to steal an upset pinfall win.

The NWA tag team title will be on the line in a four-way at Sacrifice, with The Naturals defending against America’s Most Wanted, Team Canada, and the winners of the Chris Candido Memorial Tag Team Tournament held at the Impact tapings, Alex Shelley and Sean Waltman.

Other matches signed for the PPV are Sabu vs. Abyss in what could be a bloodbath and Chris Sabin vs. Shocker. Sabin and Shocker won two matches to advance to the finals of the Candido tourney, but Shocker turned against his partner after they lost to Shelley and Waltman.

Interesting to note was that Jeff Jarrett didn’t make a single appearance in front of a camera at the tapings. Jarrett could have earned another shot at the NWA title had he scored the pinfall for his team in the main event of Sacrifice, but to the relief of many, his partner, Rhino, got that job done first.
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This ’n’ that: The plan for the main event of WWE Unforgiven, to be held on September 18 in Oklahoma City, is to have John Cena defend the WWE title against Kurt Angle, according to radio ads that have already run in that market. Of course, that could change depending on what happens at SummerSlam … If you aren’t at home watching Velocity on Saturday nights, you might not have realized that former TNA X champion Frankie Kazarian had even signed with WWE. Well, he’s gone already. While he praised WWE, he called the situation a bad fit “personally and professionally” at this point and has parted ways with the company. Oddly enough, in a takeoff on the way WWE typically announces talent releases on wwe.com, Kazarian posted a message on his own Web site wishing WWE the best in its future endeavors … Trish Stratus made her first appearances in WWE since injuring her back at Backlash on May 1 when she was interviewed at house shows in Ontario on August 12, 13, and 14. Twice she got into confrontations with old nemesis Chris Jericho, and once she got into it with Rob Conway. Two of WWE’s most eligible bachelors, Viscera (once) and Gene Snitsky (twice), saved her. Viscera apparently forgot that the last time he met up with Stratus, she was berating him for losing to Kane at Backlash, and he was responding by splashing her with all of his 500 pounds … Chris Tolos, a big star in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s who was most famous for forming a feared and successful tag team with his brother, John, died at his home in Canada last week at the age of 75.

BRET, VINCE SHAKE HANDS, MAKE DEAL

The August 3 meeting between Vince McMahon and Bret Hart on which we reported in our last PWI update proved to be a fruitful one, as the “Hitman” agreed to work with WWE on a DVD project covering Hart’s career that will now be called The Bret Hart Story: The Best There Is, Was, And Ever Will Be.

The previous working title, Screwed: The Bret Hart Story, was likely changed at the behest of Hart, who wants it to be more of a celebration of an exceptional career than a detailed look back at what happened to him at Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal. That infamous incident will be covered in the three-disc release, which is scheduled to hit stores in November, but it won’t be the focal point of the collection.

Hart reportedly spent about seven hours doing an interview for the DVD set and also provided commentary on some of the matches that will be featured on it. Afterward, he described the experience as totally positive one and even allowed a WWE photographer to take a picture of him shaking hands with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon that was later posted on wwe.com.

It doesn’t seem likely at this point that Hart will be working with WWE in any capacity except in conjunction with the DVD release, and it remains to be seen if he will be agreeable to being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, perhaps as soon as in 2006. Meanwhile, he is continuing to work on a book about his life and career, but is doing so independent of WWE.

Hart, by the way, isn’t the only high-profile former star on whose controversial career WWE is planning to release a DVD. Also in the works is a project titled The Self Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior. If you guessed from the title that Warrior has decided he wants no parts of working with WWE on the DVD (he claims he discussed it for all of 15 minutes with McMahon once), you guessed correctly. It will be available on September 22.

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No decisions have been made regarding the future of Muhammad Hassan and Khosrow Daivari, who were last seen on Smackdown on July 7 perpetrating the attack on The Undertaker with a group of hooded sympathizers that precipitated a huge backlash against WWE because the terrorist attacks in London had just taken place. It led UPN to ban the controversial Hassan character from Smackdown entirely, and he was destroyed by The Undertaker and left in a pool of blood a few weeks later at The Great American Bash.

WWE indicated at the time that it was unlikely that Hassan would return after that match. But that doesn’t mean the man under the Hassan persona is necessarily through with the company. After all, before Hassan was Hassan, he was Mark Magnus in OVW, so he has shown some versatility.

As for Daivari, although he has looked totally overmatched in most of his WWE bouts, he can do a lot more than scream in Farsi and run interference. Before he was Khosrow, he was Shawn Daivari, a promising young cruiserweight from the Midwest who excelled in matches with the likes of future Ring of Honor champion Austin Aries and turned in a solid showing at the 2004 Super 8 Tournament.

There are many who believe it would be wrong for WWE to release Hassan and Daivari, because they were only filling the roles given to them by Creative. Nevertheless, it would be a challenge to repackage them without making reference to their former identities. Perhaps WWE will allow them to keep their ring skills sharp in the developmental system for an extended period of time in the hopes that most WWE fans will gradually forget about their old characters and thus be receptive to seeing them in new roles.

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This ’n’ that: Expect to see a little less of Chris Jericho in WWE this fall. Although he squashed rumors that his departure from the promotion was imminent by signing a short-term contract extension a few weeks ago, his commitments with Fozzy will be taking up more of his time and will force him to miss some Raws and house show swings after SummerSlam. Y2J still hopes to work out a new long-term deal with WWE soon … John Cena made quite a few fans in New York and Ohio unhappy during the first weekend in August when he didn’t appear at a series of house shows. Many had seemingly bought tickets for the shows assuming they would get to see the WWE champion, but he asked WWE for the weekend off and was granted his wish … Although Vince McMahon told fans at the SummerSlam press conference in Washington on August 9 that Triple-H and Ric Flair could return to TV whenever they wanted, sources have said that the plan right now is for the pair to be held off Raw until October 3, the night WWE’s flagship program returns to the USA Network. Neither has appeared on WWE TV since “The Game” dropped a “Hell In A Cell” match to World champion Batista at Vengeance on June 26. Both have appeared at some house shows since then, however, with Triple-H even losing cleanly to Cena a few times … Also at the SummerSlam press conference, McMahon avoided addressing the Brock Lesnar situation and never really gave an answer to a fan who asked when he might return to WWE. Batista, on the other hand, said he hoped to see Lesnar come back “home” so that the two of them could have a blockbuster match on pay-per-view … Fans in Johnson City, Tennessee, witnessed a scary moment during the main event of a Smackdown house show on August 7, as part of a light fixture fell from the ceiling and shattered on a guardrail inside Freedom Hall. Fortunately, no fans were hurt. Batista was defending the World title against JBL at the time; both managed to keep their composure and finish the match, which Batista won … “Dr. Death” Steve Williams has announced that he will be returning to the ring for the first time since having throat cancer surgery last year at WrestleReunion 2 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on August 27. He will be facing King Kahlua.

TWO LEGENDS RETURNING TO WWE FOLD? (August 4, 2005)

During a week that saw former WWE star Tatanka return to the company for one night—or perhaps more—two much bigger stars of WWE’s past traveled to WWE headquarters to discuss getting involved in some form with the promotion.

Bret Hart, who has had no involvement in anything WWE since the infamous Survivor Series scandal in Montreal in November 1997, arrived in Stamford, Connecticut, on August 3 to discuss his potential involvement in a DVD project about his career that is tentatively titled Screwed: The Bret Hart Story.

That title would seem to suggest that Vince McMahon has finally grudgingly admitted that he did, indeed, shaft the “Hitman” when he came to ringside and called for the bell while Hart, then the WWF World champion, was trapped in Shawn Michaels’ sharpshooter when it was clear that he did not submit or tap out. It grew into the most infamous double-cross and one of the biggest stories in wrestling history.

Then again, that title might be sensationalized purely in an effort to sell more copies of the DVD.

In any case, Hart is not likely to get involved in such a project unless he is allowed to tell his side of the story of what happened in Montreal. WWE has drawn his ire several times in recent years by playing off the Survivor Series screw job to advance storylines and thus, in his opinion, making light of what took place that night. If he is to in essence endorse the DVD by at the very least consenting to be interviewed for it, don’t expect him to allow WWE to revise history.

On the same day that Hart appeared in Stamford, three-time former NWA World champion Dusty Rhodes, who also had a few runs in the WWF, met with WWE brass.

Sources indicate that “The American Dream” is being considered for a role in Creative or a job as an agent. It was only a few months ago that he served as both the creative director for TNA and in the on-air role of director of authority. He was dropped as creative director when TNA President Dixie Carter opted to assemble a committee instead. He left TNA altogether soon thereafter.

“Dusty is an incredible asset both creatively and as a talent. We are exploring all possibilities of working with Dusty in the future,” Stephanie McMahon, who heads up WWE Creative, told wwe.com.

So, if Stephanie is to be believed, WWE could also be exploring an on-air role for Rhodes, who remains semi-active on the independent circuit. It’s conceivable that Hart, too, will end up appearing on WWE TV if the meetings go well and the two sides agree to work together. But he’s long been reluctant to do so.

“I haven’t allowed myself to come to terms with being the recipient of a WWE paycheck. I kind of promised myself that I would never work for them again,” he told the The Wrestler last year.

Both Hart and Rhodes could be among the inductees in the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania 22 weekend in Chicago next year if they are agreeable to participating in those festivities.

* * *

The latest on the Brock Lesnar front only serves to make the situation more confusing. While it was thought to be a foregone conclusion that the former WWE champion would sign the contract offered to him in late-July, it hasn’t been that easy. The company recently broke the news on its Web site that negotiations had broken down when Lesnar reneged on a verbal agreement to a new deal.

It is possible, of course, that the contract has, in truth, already been signed, sealed, and delivered, and that WWE simply wants his dramatic return to be a surprise. If that’s the case, he could show up as soon as at SummerSlam on August 21. If he does return, it is expected that he will rejoin the Smackdown roster.

* * *

Ohio Valley Wrestling crowned a new heavyweight champion at its TV taping on August 3. Johnny Jeter, who had recently been pursuing the OVW Southern tag team title with partner Matt Cappotelli (co-winner of Tough Enough III), defeated champion Brent Albright for the gold at the end of a wild night at the Davis Arena in Louisville, Kentucky.

Albright didn’t even know that he would be defending the title when the evening began. At the July 27 taping, Cappotelli and Jeter scored simultaneous pinfalls over M-N-M to earn a match with tag champs Chad and Tank Toland. However, the man scoring the winning pinfall in the match was also to get a shot at Albright.

Unfortunately, Cappotelli broke his fibula on July 29 when he landed awkwardly while taking a suplex. Thus it was decided that a three-way title match involving Albright, Jeter, and Cappotelli would have to be delayed six to eight weeks while Cappotelli recovered. That didn’t sit well with Jeter, who asked his Thrillseekers partner to support him as he challenged Albright alone.
And the impromptu match was on.

Albright seemed to have it won when he locked on a painful armbar. Only then, Ken Doane and Tough Enough IV champ Daniel Puder came to ringside and pulled the referee out of the ring and thus didn’t allow him to see Jeter tapping out.

Albright eventually released the hold and challenged Doane and Puder. When he turned around, Jeter hit him with a superkick and pinned him. The postmatch celebration was cut short when Jeter blasted Cappotelli with the OVW belt, officially turning heel.

* * *

This ’n’ that: For those wondering what has happened to Paul Heyman since One Night Stand, he has taken over OVW matchmaking duties on a temporary basis since WWE fired Jim Cornette. Heyman’s WWE contract expires at year’s end … It looks like the Matt Striker story is going to have a happy ending. Striker, you might recall, made international headlines when he was fired from his teaching job in New York when it was discovered that he used sick days to cover wrestling bookings. After two good showings against Kurt Angle on Raw this summer, Striker has signed a WWE developmental deal … For those who can’t get enough WWE on TV (or who just can’t get enough of Todd Grisham or Josh Matthews), some bad news: The company announced that syndicated highlight shows The Bottom Line and Afterburn are being canceled as of the end of September … Ring of Honor has announced that Mick Foley and Abyss will both be returning to the promotion soon.

 

TNA TO SPIKE TV, LESNAR BACK TO WWE (July 29, 2005)

TNA is back in the ballgame. After months of speculation about the promotion’s television future, Spike TV and TNA announced that Impact would begin airing this fall on Spike TV’s Saturday night programming lineup, dubbed “Slammin’ Saturday Night.”

“We are thrilled to be coming to Spike TV,” TNA Entertainment President Dixie Carter said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to bringing our exciting style of Total Nonstop Action and entertainment to their male viewers.”

As of press time, all indications point to the program taking over the time slot that WWE Velocity will leave behind once WWE moves its cable programming from Spike TV to the USA Network.

The deal was an absolute must-have in order for the promotion to continue into the future. More than anything else, in order to support its pay-per-view business, TNA needs national exposure. It needs to build its brand name among wrestling fans and establish itself as a legitimate competitor to WWE. This deal with Spike TV will give TNA the opportunity to establish all of that and so much more.

After more than three years of defying the odds and gutting it out, TNA finally has a chance to prosper.

Sure, a Monday night time slot opposite Raw would have been most beneficial for the company’s long-term health (fans are already in their seats watching wrestling; how hard is it to turn the channel to another wrestling program to check it out?), but it’s not like Impact is getting buried on a weak cable network in a ridiculous time slot that only diehard fans would go out of their way to find—like it was during its one-year run on Fox Sports Net. According to reports, Impact will most likely be joining a lineup that also includes Howard Stern and the UFC.

If those two shows don’t scream instant access to TNA’s valued 18- to 34-year-old demographic, what does?

* * *

After months of chest puffing by Brock Lesnar and WWE, which included a lawsuit filed by Lesnar against WWE claiming that the company was keeping him from earning a living, it looks like the former WWE champion is headed back to the promotion. In mid-July, wwe.com reported that Lesnar was meeting with Vince McMahon about a possible comeback and printed quotes from the one-time wannabe NFL defensive lineman.

“I had some maturing to do,” Lesnar told wwe.com at the time. “There comes a time in everybody’s life when you have to grow up. But professional wrestling is in my blood. I may have second-guessed it in the past, but I know it now.”

It was later reported by the company Web site that Lesnar had been offered a contract.

Lesnar’s return—would wwe.com run quotes from Lesnar if he wasn’t coming back?—could absolutely bolster WWE’s bottom line, but only if he’s ready and willing to wrestle under WWE’s terms. And he must be. Even though one of the reasons he left the first time around was the strenuous travel schedule, if he’s going to be a part of the show, he needs to wrestle just as often as everyone else on the main roster. He’s too important of an asset to be utilized otherwise.

Let’s hope that during his time off, he learned this, because the last thing WWE needs right now is for Lesnar to hurt morale in the locker rooms by coming in and immediately complaining about anything.
Lesnar has already been WWE champion three times; now it’s time for him to become something even more important—a locker room leader.

It looks as if Lesnar won’t be the only one returning to the WWE fold. Both Spanky and Jamie Noble are expected back soon as well. A creatively frustrated Spanky requested and received his release last year, while WWE made the decision on its own to release Noble. If they do, indeed, re-sign, it will be a major blow to Ring of Honor, as both had been featured (Noble as James Gibson) prominently in that promotion in recent months. Of course, reigning ROH champion C.M. Punk is already under WWE contract and will be appearing on TV very soon.
On the flip side, to the surprise of few, former women’s champion Ivory, who most recently served as co-host of The WWE Experience on Spike TV, has been released. Experience will not be picked up by the USA Network when WWE moves Raw and Sunday Night Heat to that network in October.

* * *

In news that shocked the puroresu world, Shinya Hashimoto, one of the most important figures in modern Japanese wrestling, died of a brain hemorrhage on July 11. One of the legendary Three Musketeers, along with Masahiro Chono and Keiji “Great Muta” Muto, Hashimoto rose to fame in the heavyweight ranks of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Feared for his brutal kicks and skull-crushing offense centered around DDTs and brainbusters, Hashimoto first captured the top title of New Japan—the IWGP heavyweight championship—in September 1993. His third and final IWGP title win, over Nobuhiko Takada in April 1996, drew a record-breaking crowd that still stands as one of the largest live gates in pro wrestling history.

By the late-1990s, Hashimoto was embroiled in a feud with top judokan Naoya Ogawa, and their matches, which were more like fights, culminated in a forced retirement for Hashimoto. However, rather than hang up the tights, he founded Zero-One Fighting Athlete, a promotion separate from New Japan, but a company many thought would serve simply as a new version of the NWO in puroresu. Zero-One was not merely some storyline element, and ran independently for several years before being buried in debt. The promotion folded under the weight of its financial debt at the close of 2004, later replaced by Shinjiro Otani’s similarly themed Zero-One Max.

Through the first six-plus months of 2005, Hashimoto was sidelined by shoulder surgery, trying to rehabilitate for a future return to the ring that, tragically, would never happen. Years of the hard-hitting Japanese “strong” style had taken their toll on the popular star, and the surgery became a much-delayed inevitability. The brain hemorrhage took the life of the decorated performer during his recuperation period; the 40-year-old was also a former All-Japan Triple Crown champion and a former IWGP tag team titleholder.

 

TALENT DRAFT SHAKES UP WWE

WWE took a major gamble with this year's talent draft, boldly switching its two main champions, as well as having several other main-eventers jump from Smackdown to Raw, and vice versa. As it stands, WWE champion John Cena has become the top star of the company, reigning supreme for the flagship brand, Raw, and World champion Batista is busy establishing himself with Smackdown.

WWE took a major gamble with this year's talent draft, boldly switching its two main champions, as well as having several other main-eventers jump from Smackdown to Raw, and vice versa. As it stands, WWE champion John Cena has become the top star of the company, reigning supreme for the flagship brand, Raw, and World champion Batista is busy establishing himself with Smackdown.

By the end of the draft, which took place over a four-week period, the Raw and Smackdown rosters were dramatically different. Raw gained Cena, Kurt Angle, Carlito Caribbean Cool, Rob Van Dam, and The Big Show, while Smackdown gained Chris Benoit, Muhammad Hassan (and Khosrow Daivari), Randy Orton, Christian, and Batista. And just before the trade deadline passed at midnight on June 30, WWE announced an 11-person deal between Raw and Smackdown. In that batch trade, Mark Jindrak, Rene Dupree, Danny Basham, Kenzo Suzuki (plus Hiroko), and Chavo Guerrero Jr. went to Raw, while William Regal, Candice Michelle, Steven Richards, Sylvan Grenier, and Simon Dean went to Smackdown.

Jindrak, unfortunately, never got his chance with Raw, as he was released just days after the trade was completed. And he wasn’t the only one. Spike Dudley, Akio, Maven, Shannon Moore, Billy Kidman, Kevin Fertig (Mordecai/Seven), and Gangrel also were released in cost-cutting measures. Bottom Line announcer Marc Loyd was also among the casualties of budgetary cutbacks.

Judging by the improved ratings during the talent draft, as well as the opportunities for fresh storylines and feuds, WWE insiders have become quite optimistic about the company's future. In its fiscal fourth quarter report, WWE confirmed that the official number of WrestleMania 21 buys stood at 983,000, which put it ahead of projections for WrestleMania XX at the same point last year. While the buy rates for most other pay-per-views are slightly down from 2004, WWE's financial picture seems to be stable.

There's still no word on the buy rate for Vengeance, but one has to think that a pay-per-view featuring both World champion Batista and WWE champion John Cena probably did fairly well. At that event, Batista ended Triple-H's “Hell In A Cell” winning streak and trounced “The Game” for a third straight time.

As WWE prepares for new matches as a result of the talent draft, one particular dream match—which had nothing to do with this year's draft—could happen, possibly at WrestleMania 22. Hulk Hogan has given Steve Austin several backhanded compliments as of late, praising Austin's success, but hinting that his popularity wasn't as genuine as his own. Austin responded to Hogan's snide remarks during an interview with the U.K. Sun. During an interview with the same tabloid in 2004, Austin said he wanted a match with Hogan, but this year, he made his intentions more clear.

“I'd be happy to get it on with Hulk Hogan,” said Austin. “I've heard what he's been saying—and that match is something that could definitely happen. If they can build it right, the money is right, the event is right, and if the story can be told correctly, then yeah, I will fight him.”

Added Austin: “Sometimes he's run his mouth and I don't think too much of a lot of what he's had to say, but he's a smart man and he can see that this could be a great opportunity.”

Although we never got to see the Austin-Bill Goldberg dream match, I have a feeling that Austin-Hogan could be much bigger. Let's hope this bout happens while the two icons are able to perform at an adequate level.

 

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