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March 26, 2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: The imminent collapse of WCW

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN1083-9593 March 26, 2001

Nothing is forever.


"In early January, we told you about an agreement that we had reached to sell WCW and its related assets. At that time, we said that we would apprise you of any changes to the way WCW operates. Effective Tuesday, March 27, WCW programming will begin a period of hiatus. During this hiatus, WCW will review its programming plans and determine the course of future WCW-branded entertainment events. On Wednesday, March 28, please plan to attend an all-staff meeting at 10 a.m. at the Power Plant, at which we will share with you further information regarding WCW plans. In the meantime, I hope that you will maintain the level of professionalism that distinguishes our organization, particularly as we prepare for the upcoming Panama City, Florida event. Thank you." -- Brad Siegel, in a memo to the staff on the morning of 3/16


Even to the end, they couldn't be completely honest to their own employees. There is no hiatus, and by the end of the day, TBS Inc. publicly announced it would no longer air wrestling on its stations after a 29-year run.

This clears the way for an expected purchase of what is left of the company, the name and trademarks owned by the company and the videotape library by the WWF, plus however they negotiate contracts of wrestlers, which is expected to go down within two weeks. The combination of the purchase and the end of wrestling on the Turner networks, may mark the biggest news story in the modern era of wrestling. If not the biggest, it ends the challenging story for first place, as the final end of the wrestling war started when Vince McMahon raided Hulk Hogan, David Shults, Roddy Piper and Gene Okerlund from Verne Gagne and Jim Crockett in December of 1983, signalling the start of the wrestling war, which he appeared to have won many times, but it was never final until now.

There were many things that had become clear as World Championship Wrestling was spiralling downward over the past two years. It was going to be sold, as AOL, which was buying Time Warner, didn't want to keep money losing divisions. And the new buyers, whomever they would be, would have a lot of trouble because the momentum was disastrously bad, the product had been bad for years with a terrible stigma among wrestling fans, and the money losses were huge, something only a billion dollar company could carry for any length of time.

The odds, quite frankly, were, no matter who bought it, unless it was the WWF, that one year from now, it would be in rough shape. Fusient would have had to have been able to rebuild its popularity and make it more attractive for a turnover to another media conglomerate. But for the business, it was the best option, because it's better for everyone, fans, wrestlers, and anyone else to have at least some semblance of competition to keep everyone on their game. I would say honest, but that's not the case. Because of the economic climate, plans of rebuilding it and going into an IPO, like McMahon made a big killing with, which was the serious plan at one point for Fusient, aren't feasible at this time. But nobody was expecting the finality to be so soon.

In his first major act as CEO of Turner Broadcasting, Jamie Kellner, who has always disliked pro wrestling, made the decision to cancel all pro wrestling programming. In doing so, it nearly ended negotiations that had been rocky, with Fusient Media Ventura, to purchase the company, a sale that was prematurely announced in January by Fusient President Brian Bedol, WCW President Brad Siegel and Eric Bischoff, so as to make it public literally hours before the official consummation of the AOL/Time Warner merger.

Finalizing the deal between the two sides had many rocky points, in particular, the second round of due diligence, when the January books were examined by Fusient, found the company in a far worse financial state than Fusient had been led to believe from the original projections made by Time Warner. In addition, it scared away some of the original investment money, both of which caused Fusient in recent weeks to back away from the original $70-75 million purchase price and make an offer of $48.7 million for the company, which was close to finalization, although there were stumbling blocks, before Kellner made the decision. Just one year ago, when SFX was interested in buying WCW, the negotiations fell apart quickly when Time Warner was asking for $600 million for the money losing company, which in around a one year period during 1999 went from being enormously profitable and clearly the No. 1 pro wrestling company in the world to a huge money loser. The final deal, to WWF, is likely to be for a figure less than half of what Fusient had offered just days earlier because so much of the company value had been erased without the Turner television behind it.

Even as late as mid-week, there were signs the sale to Fusient was close to being finalized, for $5.7 million down and $2.15 million per year in payments over 20 years. Everyone was proceeding as if this was the case, with plans of building up new talent after a shutdown at the end of the month, which likely would have led to a re-opening sometime over the summer, and searching for locations in Las Vegas to be permanent homes for both Nitro and Thunder (which, perhaps unknown to Fusient, a decision had already been made to cancel more than a month earlier as reported here as a probability). The contract included provisions for Time Warner to maintain a minority interest in the company as well as a multi-year agreement where the Turner networks would continue to carry WCW programming. After the decision made by Kellner, who believed pro wrestling not to be upscale enough programming for what he wanted TBS and TNT to become, the original deal was dead. Stuart Snyder of the World Wrestling Federation had been back involved in negotiations to buy the company in recent weeks. The company was on the verge of being sold to Vince McMahon late last year, but a clause in its television contract with Viacom, guaranteeing that company's stations exclusivity on WWF programming, and Viacom not approving of McMahon producing programming for rival cable stations and the Turner Networks wanting to keep wrestling programming due to the better than average ratings, killed the deal and put Fusient back into the game.

Kellner, who took over to run all the Turner networks less than two weeks earlier in a restructuring of the television division which saw many of the long-time high ranking executives working for Ted Turner being phased out with Turner's loss of power in the merger, made the call to cancel all WCW programming effective with Nitro on 3/26 in Panama City, FL. TBS will begin showing movies in the old Thunder time slot on 3/28, and TNT will show movies starting 4/2 in the Nitro time slot.

While wrestling still drew above average ratings on Mondays for TNT and average ratings on Wednesday for TBS, because of the negative stigma of pro wrestling with the advertising community, it was unable to generate the revenue for the station that similarly rated and even lower rated other programming could. The negative stigma pro wrestling faces in television is largely something that has plagued the business on a grand scale from the beginning of time, partially worsened in recent years even with higher ratings because of the perception the programming is more violent and sexually oriented than in the past and has cause many of the blue chip advertisers to walk away from the product. Even WWF, with huge cable ratings, can't generate the advertising income that lower rated programming can generate.

Where things stand at press time is this. Time Warner is going to sell the company, within days, maybe two weeks at the most, almost assuredly to the WWF. It appears that Fusient officially backed out of the deal for good on 3/20 a desperation attempt to finalize a solid television deal on FOX after two days of meetings in time, which, without television, made it economically imprudent to put together a strong enough bid. FOX has negotiated with Bischoff on-and-off for more than one year, but has never finalized a deal.

What WWF would do if it purchases the company has not been decided. When WWF was negotiating last year, its plans seemed to have been to run the company as a separate entity on the Turner stations, rebuild it for several months to a year, and finally build up to a promotion vs. promotion feud, which no doubt WWF would win, which would in effect, then kill the brand name in the long run and WWF would absorb it. WWF key personnel are all terribly overworked because of the emotional drain of the XFL failure and the hard WWF schedule, including McMahon himself, and those close to the situation believe adding another new product that would require time to turn things around would be difficult. There is a common sense belief that if WWF were to drop the XFL and devote that energy to WCW, it would make sense in the long run because McMahon's expertise is the wrestling business and it is far more likely he could turn that brand into a profitable one, and far sooner. But last year, that was with two national prime time cable shows on strong networks, although another of the hold-ups in the McMahon purchase was TBS wanted to keep both shows at that time, and McMahon only wanted to produce one show, and move Nitro away from Monday to remove the competition with Raw, artificially adding a half-point or more to Raw's rating and making it look like it is rebounding to the television community. TBS at the time was reluctant at that time to give up either of the shows because of its history as a strong prime time draw. To keep WCW as a separate entity and build to a storyline rivalry with WWF, they would first have to get Viacom to clear one or two prime time outlets, most likely on a Tuesday or Wednesday. With their success on TNN, that may not be all that difficult to do.

There is also the chance that McMahon would pick and choose who he wants for a minor invasion angle, which would leave the majority of the wrestlers, announcers and office personnel out of work.

Bischoff had planned that if the sale fell through, that his people would start their own company in some form, believing many of the top names either wouldn't work for McMahon, or McMahon wouldn't want.

Although not highly publicized, some of the decision regarding Turner programming was made even before Kellner took over. Plans had been made more than one year ago to try and distinguish TNT from TBS and give the stations specific personalities. At first, the idea was that Nitro would move to Monday nights on TBS. Those who have international deals with WCW were told over the past few weeks that effective in late April, there would only be one weekly show available. It was to be announced that TNT would drop wrestling, a deadline that was being moved to the end of April when the changes in station philosophy were to begin, and that one show, likely named Nitro, would have aired on TBS, until Kellner made the call.

The wrestling programming in prime time greatly lessened in value as TBS picked up rerun rights to "Seinfeld" and "Friends" starting in the fall and will acquire the rights to "The Drew Carrey Show" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" the following year. It is believed the newer shows will also spell the death knell for reruns of the "The Andy Griffith Show," a TBS institution for more than two decades that was long one of the most popular shows on the station.

Also behind the scenes, Hulk Hogan had sent feelers, although he's done this every time his contract was about to expire, about returning to the WWF. For a new company wanting to start up, the key names because they would mean something to television executives, are probably Hogan and Bill Goldberg. Hogan is a free agent and this may give him some leverage in cutting a deal with McMahon, in that Fusient could theoretically open up later on their own using older talent that are either friends with Bischoff or that McMahon, for whatever reason, wouldn't want, if a FOX deal or another strong enough television deal would open up down the road, but would need name value stars and unfortunately to many, at that point Hogan becomes valuable. Whether this will mean McMahon will try and snag Hogan for Wrestlemania is unknown and was considered unlikely but not impossible as of the weekend. Goldberg has several years left on his no-cut contract, which would be transferred to the WWF upon a sale depending upon the nature of the terms of the sale.

Exactly how the contracts will be handled is unclear. For McMahon to pick up many of the deals themselves, it would upset the pay scale of his WWF wrestlers because of larger guarantees and also maximum number of dates per year in some of the WCW deals, in many cases for people who at this point have nowhere near the drawing power of the wrestlers he is already using on top. It is possible that a deal would be worked out where Time Warner would continue to pay part of the big contracts as part of getting out of wrestling and making the deal happen. All but about a dozen of the wrestlers have 90-day cycles, so the contracts of those wrestlers would likely be phased out. The wrestlers without the cycles, who are generally the bigger names, will have to in some form be paid in full if they don't quit, either by WWF or Time Warner, depending how the deal goes down.

There were more questions than answers among the talent. None of the wrestlers were told anything at the TV tapings on 3/19 about their future or the future of the company or even that the television show had been canceled, only that they had to come to work on 3/26. On television, it was said 3/26 would be the final show of the season, with no explanation what that meant, or acknowledgement of the media reports that the station was dropping wrestling. The wrestlers were actually never even told of that, and having been subject to so many worked angles by Bischoff, many, like the ECW wrestlers who failed to see the obvious even when it was reported, sadly deluded themselves into believing Bischoff was doing a work and that everything was fine.

TBS spokesman Jim Weiss dissed the programming the originally built the station, saying to Wrestlingobserver.com that "

we've decided professional wrestling in its current incarnation just isn't appropriate for the high-scale, upscale brand that we have built on TNT and TBS Superstation. We're no longer interested in carrying the product."

USA Network, which until September, had been the other network in many ways built by the popularity of pro wrestling dating back to 1983, recently dissed the idea of the current pro wrestling scene in a quote by Barry Diller categorizing wrestling fans as an "audience of 12 to 19-year-old pimply-faced, mean spirits males came, watched, and went on to whatever god-awful other pursuits (after the show ended)."

Jerry Jarrett had also put forth a proposal to TBS with investors attempting to purchase the company, but that was at best a dark horse if both the WWF and Fusient deals couldn't be completed, and Jarrett's group pulled out upon the TV cancellation. Bert Prentice claimed on Joe Pedicino's "Pro Wrestling This Week" radio show on Fox Sports Radio on 3/18 that a major announcement by Jarrett should be coming very soon about a new national company, but others close to Jarrett have told people not to make that much out of this.

Some think the Turner decision to can wrestling was ill-timed because it is well-known that it doesn't take long for a strong wrestling product, if it can be rebuilt, to turn ratings around nowadays, as evidenced by the rise of WWF from the level where Diller nearly canceled it not that many years ago, and the fall of WCW in recent years. In addition, with an impending baseball lock-out and Braves programming being a summer staple on TBS, as well as a likely Screen Actors Guild strike, wrestling could provide valuable first run programming. The feeling is both of those would only be temporary. Wrestling was Turner's baby, and many TBS executives in the early 90s when the company was losing $6 million per year and ratings were declining, wanted to fold the company, but Turner, knowing the cyclical nature of the industry, refused to even consdier it. However, this time, he no longer had the power to save it.

Ted Turner started WTCG, a UHF station in Atlanta, in 1972, and the late Ann Gunkel, the very pretty wife of Ray Gunkel, at the top the area's top babyface star and part-owner of Georgia Championship Wrestling, was able to put together a deal with Turner to move the wrestling show to the station in its prime 6 p.m. Saturday night time slot, where it became the stations' first show to draw any kind of an audience. The show moved to two hours later that year after Ray Gunkel died and Ann started her own promotion, beginning a legendary area wrestling war which saw both companies tape television on Saturday mornings for one hour in the same studio on Techwood Drive. Jim Barnett, who remained employed by World Championship Wrestling to this day (although not consistently from that period), became the driving force behind NWA Georgia Championship Wrestling, which after the split, hired Gordon Solie from Florida as the lead announcer, and after buying out Gunkel when she threw in the towel, had a rare two hour wrestling show during a time period when most companies had one hour shows. The show, taped every Saturday morning from the small studio after wrestlers flew into Atlanta for Friday night shows at either the Atlanta City Auditorium or the famed Omni, drew huge local ratings during a hot period with stars like Mr. Wrestling I & II, Bill Watts, Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr., Thunderbolt Patterson, Gene & Ole Anderson, The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) and Stan Hansen among others.

As wrestling gained in popularity, the Sunday "Best of Georgia Championship Wrestling" was added. That studio became the national symbol of cable wrestling years later when, in 1976, Turner put WTCG on the satellite and it became the first SuperStation. By the late 70s, Georgia Championship Wrestling was available in many markets nationwide and became the first show in the history of cable to regularly top one million homes.

The peak of Georgia Championship Wrestling, Inc. on a national basis was in 1981, shortly after it was renamed World Championship Wrestling as the name of the television program. For the year, it drew a 6.4 average rating on Saturday nights and numbers very close to that on Sundays, making it the most watched show on cable television, during a period when Roddy Piper served as Solie's co-host, in the heyday of wrestlers like Tommy Rich, Ric Flair, Tony Atlas, Ole Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, The Fabulous Freebirds, Ted DiBiase and Wahoo McDaniel. The promotion, like all wrestling, went through peaks and valleys through the 80s with TBS battling USA as the most popular home for pro wrestling on cable. During this period, Alan Rogowski (Ole Anderson) took over as the man running the promotion in a coup which left Barnett out, although he still had stock. The company struggled over the next few years, particularly at the weekly Georgia cities when Rogowski booked most of the big stars for tours outside the territory.

In 1984, after the popularity of the show saw the promotion expand outside of Georgia to promoting in many new markets off cable, most notably Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia, many of the stockholders including Barnett and Jack and Jerry Brisco as well as the regional promoters, disenchanted with the company's downhill slide, sold a controlling interest to Vince McMahon for $750,000, who promptly closed the company down and put WWF programming in the valuable time slots, thereby eliminating any serious threat for national competition during a pivotal historical period. During that year, he took great strides in making the WWF the name brand nationally, picking off much of the top talent from the smaller regional groups who didn't have the money to compete, as it had for several months all the strong national cable outlets locked up along with the best syndication network and mainstream publicity the likes of which wrestling hadn't received since the 50s.

However, the ratings dropped on the station, to the chagrin of Ted Turner, who never got along with McMahon, who had reneged on the contract of producing a separate program for the station taped weekly at the studios in Atlanta. When the switch was made, thousands of fans bombarded TBS with complaints about the new product airing in the traditional time slot, and in particular, about the loss of the popular Solie from the show. Instead, McMahon sent in tapes from his syndicated tapings. Turner almost immediately gave Rogowski an early morning time slot for a new company he formed called Championship Wrestling from Georgia, using Solie as his host. As he got more fed up with McMahon, Turner made a verbal deal with Bill Watts, whose Mid South Wrestling was one of the strongest remaining regional outfits by this point in early 1985, and generally considered the best when it came to television. In a slap in the face to McMahon, Turner gave Watts a one hour Sunday night time slot, which aired the Watts' syndicated show, and by the second week, Watts' show outrated both of McMahon's shows. Turner and Watts had agreed to a deal where Turner would buy into Watts' company, and they would expand to become the second national promotion and take on McMahon. However, before the deal was finalized and Turner was about to kick McMahon off the station and give Watts the prime slots, Jim Crockett, Turner and McMahon reached an agreement where Crockett paid McMahon $1 million for the time slots, McMahon left, Turner canceled his deal with Watts, and Crockett attempted to go national based on his new penetration.

Based around Flair, Rhodes and new attractions like The Road Warriors, Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, Rock & Roll Express, Magnum T.A., Nikita Koloff and the rest of the Four Horseman, Crockett's company flourished from taking over in 1985 and successfully expanding into numerous markets around the country including Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia, through a strong 1986. Business slowed in 1987 through Rhodes' repeated screw-job endings at house shows and going too long with the same performers on top to where it got stale. The frequent turning of the same talent, to keep things fresh, burned out the audience, and the botched up aftermath of the purchase of Watts' territory, but not allowing any of his stars that could have freshened up the top of the card, into the main event mix, messed up a golden opportunity to alleviate the problems. After botching the UWF angle, Rhodes, as booker made another huge strategic mistake. At the time, the company was built around the world heavyweight title as its cornerstone, and in Flair, they had a champion with charisma who was easily the top performer in the business, with a night-by-night workrate perhaps unsurpassed in the history of wrestling. As a way to build Starrcade 1987, planned as the company's first PPV event, he had Ron Garvin, an uncharismatic solid performer, win the title from Flair two months earlier, to build up Flair's regaining it on PPV. However, the Garvin reign was a total flop. Garvin, reasonably popular as a high mid-card performer, who had the ability to have classicly brutal matches with Flair, was rejected by the public as champion and booed. Hard as it would be to believe today, ratings after the title switch dropped 25 percent, from the 3.5 level to a 2.8 level. After McMahon outmaneuvered Crockett's first attempts to get that Starrcade on PPV by creating the Survivor Series and putting it on the same night and forcing cable operators to choose one or the other, and McMahon, coming off the Hogan vs. Andre Wrestlemania, had a strong established track record on PPV, meaning Crockett didn't have the cash flow to pay the large contracts he gave to the wrestlers to keep them from jumping. He was counting on big PPV revenue from that show and without it, his business was in trouble. In 1988, after a second PPV attempt was a total disaster, the famous Bunkhouse Stampede from the Nassau Coliseum, which McMahon thwarted to an extent putting the Royal Rumble live on the USA Network where it drew what is still the all-time record rating for that network for wrestling (8.2), the hole was dug even deeper. With Jim Crockett Promotions on the verge of bankruptcy, Turner Broadcasting, wanting to keep wrestling on the network, purchased the company for approximately $9 million.

World Championship Wrestling, Inc., formed in November of 1988, had its own stormy history. Based largely around internal infighting and hiring non-wrestling people to head its business, it was a money loser from the start, with frequent booker and management changes. Jim Herd was the first disaster, although he gave fans an incredible 1989, the best year in company history for main event match quality with Ric Flair's matches with Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk and the emergence of Sting as a superstar with his programs with Flair and Great Muta.

But ultimately he was unable to make the company a go, and made his biggest mistake in the summer of 1991, when, after a showdown with Flair, who refused to drop the title to Lex Luger or Barry Windham unless he was to receive a contract extension, which Herd wouldn't agree to because he was convinced the "aging" Flair was the problem in WCW's inability to compete and that they needed to go with Luger and Sting, he fired Flair. Flair jumped to the WWF for two years, a horrible period in company history best known for nightly "We Want Flair" chants and arena crowds usually in the 1,000 to 1,500 range. After a showdown with Jack Petrik, who wanted to bring Rhodes back as booker, which Herd was against, Petrik didn't back his long-time friend and Herd was gone, replaced by lawyer Kip Frye, a nice man who also knew nothing about wrestling. After Frye signed what at the time were considered absurdly high contracts in the $225,000 per year range to the likes of manager Paul E. Dangerously and mid-card wrestler who everyone thought had huge potential in Brian Pillman, Bill Shaw and Bob Dhue, who had taken over running the company after Petrik was gone, the decision was made they had to have a wrestling person run the company as opposed to a non-wrestling person, and hired Bill Watts to slash costs.

Watts, a brilliant wrestling mind in the 80s, had not watched the product since selling his company to Crockett six years earlier and was sadly out of touch. His inability to listen regarding industry changes and clashes with much of the talent, combined with his inability to produce the ratings magic he did the previous decade, put him in constant hot water. After making some remarks in an interview where he claimed as an entrepreneur and independent businessman, if he owns a company or establishment and he didn't want to serve or hire people of an ethnic group, he shouldn't be forced to do so. They were not racial remarks per se, in that he said he wouldn't do it, but felt if he wanted to, he should have that right. But that viewpoint was an embarrassment for the Turner company, based in Atlanta with so many minority employees, particularly when the remarks were sent by reporter Mark Madden to baseball legend Hank Aaron, after baseball had just removed Reds owner Marge Schott from power for remarks that were equally controversial and Turner was strongly behind the decision. This caused an uproar in the company and led to Watts quitting under duress. In one of Watts' major acts, he made the decision to air tapes of Flair's best matches from 1989 on the Sunday show for several weeks, causing a huge increase in ratings, which allowed him to convince upper management to make a strong offer to bring Flair back when McMahon, true to his word to Flair when signing him two years earlier and planning on making him a mid-carder as he felt his main event run was over, let him out of his contract.

After a brief period under Sharon Sidello, where nothing happened and the company fell to its lowest levels, averaging less than $10,000 per house show and with TBS ratings falling to record lows, the company created a position of Executive Producer, who would handle television. "B" team announcer Eric Bischoff, spearheaded by a resume with a strong recommendation from Jason Hervey, shockingly leap-frogged more experience wrestling people like Tony Schiavone and Keith Mitchell to get the slot in 1994. By this point, the entire industry was in a terrible slump, with the WWF business collapsing in 1992 in the wake of steroid and sex scandals, and the pressure forced McMahon to steroid test, which wound up with most of his biggest attractions for various reasons disappearing leaving him having to create new stars, which, without the aid of steroids, didn't have the look fans expected. An attempt to push Lex Luger, who McMahon signed during the Frye reign while he held the WCW title, whose favorable genetics allowed him to have that look and somehow still pass steroid tests, and later huge Diesel (Kevin Nash) were both box office failures as fans instead rallied behind Bret Hart. While Hart and Shawn Michaels were the core of a new style of main events, actually good matches as opposed to the stuff that built the WWF in the 80s, the business still struggled.

Bischoff's big moves was to spend money to make money. Others, like Herd, had the same philosophy, frequently negotiating with WWF's top talent, but Petrik wouldn't allow him to make big money offers, and the meetings turned into an embarrassment with Herd offering, say Randy Savage or Roddy Piper, less than what they were making to jump to a smaller company. Herd even had the idea of doing the television live, but it was turned down. Bischoff's confidence, some say arrogance, allowed him to put together deals his predecessors couldn't. Hulk Hogan, who quit the WWF one year earlier and was working for New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as doing a television show, was his first acquisition, for a contract believed to have been ridiculous at the time, promising him 25% of the PPV revenue for every show he appeared. At the time, Bischoff was considered a fool for making the deal, but in hindsight, it was the beginning of what put the company on the map. His second big move was acquiring Randy Savage, who McMahon was using as an announcer and rarely in the ring, believing he was long past his prime. The two, along with Flair, started company fortunes turning around as buy rates for Hogan's PPV events against Flair, Savage and Vader were far beyond what WCW had been able to do for years. Bischoff in the summer of 1995 announced a one hour live Nitro every week, which at the time made him the laughing stock of the industry, daring to challenge Raw, pro wrestling's flagship show, head-up.

Nitro, the signing of Kevin Nash & Scott Hall, and the creation of the NWO led WCW to its glory period. There are both realities and myths of this period.

The myth is that the NWO turned around the TV ratings. Surely, they led to the 83-week win streak, but Nitro debuted on September 4, 1995 at the Mall of America in Minnesota, going unopposed (Raw was pre-empted for the U.S. Open) and drew a 2.9 rating. On the very head-to-head show, Nitro won by a 2.5 to 2.2 margin, which shows just how much the TV popularity of wrestling grew in a short time. In comparing television ratings for WWF and WCW throughout the 90s, the fact is, WCW drew almost identical ratings in 1992, significantly stronger ratings in 1993, the same year they couldn't draw flies at the box office, and 1994, well before there was a such thing as Nitro. Nobody knows this because, until the Monday Night wars begin in late 1995, nobody cared about ratings because ratings didn't correlate to revenue, and making money was, and still is, the real name of business.

Even though it was the low period for the company, particularly 1994 and 1995, at the gate, WWF was easily outdrawing WCW during the same period, although Hogan was the king of PPV and Hogan's big shows were outdrawing most of the WWF shows. By 1996-97, WCW dominated ratings and PPV, but WWF was still just as strong on live events, because they sent all their stars on the road, while WCW's wrestlers were taught to believe house shows didn't matter, and a star should only have to work Nitro and PPV. When the wrestlers appearing didn't care, fans quickly figured out they don't need to care either. Then when the wrestlers on TV come across like they don't care, the TV audience figures it out as well.

In late 1995 and early 1996, both sides were dueling equally in the Monday night ratings, which became the most real fight most wrestling fans were ever aware of in following the game, for a few months. As a company, WCW was clearly gaining momentum as it had its eyes opened and was scouring the world signing up the best undiscovered talent, and stealing concepts that Paul Heyman both created in ECW, or took from other companies abroad. Bischoff made the next big move, to increase Nitro from one hour to two, which coincided with the debut of Hall & Nash, and WCW started winning by a sizable margin every week. Hogan's heel turn as a time when it appeared his career was over as people were expressedly tired of his act, suggested by Bischoff, saw the company catch on fire, and they did several monster buy rates, including through usage of basketball superstar Dennis Rodman, in particular a tag match with Karl Malone which was the media peak of the WCW empire.

Without question, the greatest angle for business came in 1997, when WCW spent much of the year keeping Sting in the rafters and he never wrestled, and didn't even appear on every Nitro, as the mystery crow gimmick, to lead to a title match at Starrcade with Hulk Hogan. The show ended up drawing a 1.9 buy rate, about 640,000 buys, which included an appearance by Bret Hart, at the time the hottest wrestler in the business stemming from the Montreal match. WCW was so far ahead, it had all the talent, the war seemed over. In comparison, Wrestlemania that year, headlined by Undertaker vs. Sid Vicious and Hart vs. Steve Austin in their now legendary I Quit match, drew 237,000 buys. That was also the beginning of the other end of the faustian bargain.

Bischoff was wrestlers in a certain mode. There were megastars, like Hogan and Sting, Hall and Nash, Savage and maybe Hart, although Hart quickly fell victim to major political sabotage because his stardom coming in threatened Hogan's. He always saw Flair as a regional draw. Bill Goldberg snuck up. And DDP was kept strong as Bischoff's friend. But so many wrestlers he saw as valuable, and paid them well, but they became frustrated with the lack of upward mobility. From 1994 through 1997, with WCW having to rebuild, what was good for Hogan, Hall and Nash, was good for the company. But when it came time to add new people to the mix, the self-serving benefits and team benefits were different, and it became a self-serving company catering around its few stars, who could get away with anything, do no wrong, and with the exception of Goldberg and Page, kept the new stars from being developed. The stars, with guaranteed contracts making money the likes of which was never seen in the industry, politically made sure nobody would threaten their position. It became a horribly destructive game. Looking back, Hogan drew most of the big buy rates. Hall and Nash were stars, but on their own, they may have been cool and for a period the NWO made them megastars, but Hogan knew how to keep them in their place as well. Sting was so hot that the Starrcade match was a disaster. Hogan pinned Sting. For some reason, it was supposed to be a fast count, except the count wasn't fast. A few rematches were screw-jobs, and by February, Sting had already cooled off and become a mere mortal.

By this point, McMahon caught fire with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who incredibly, after suffering a near career ending injury, caught fire while doing skits every week and never wrestling, just as Sting did but in an entirely different way. McMahon, for years portrayed as just a television announcer, became a huge heel himself in the wake of the famous match in Montreal, which may have been the turning point of wrestling in so many different ways, but at the time only drew 250,000 buys on pay-per-view for the WWF's biggest match of the year. Austin vs. McMahon became a TV ratings bonanza, and with one hot angle, the entire landscape had changed. It didn't hurt that the success of Nitro had gone to everyone's head as they partied through Monday nights like the kids who were super athletes and never had to train they had so much talent, and all of a sudden, they rose to a level of competition where athletes almost as talented were hungry and training, and they couldn't compete. The business peaked in 1998. Even with WCW showing all the signs of an impending decline, it made $55 million in profit, making it the most successful year for a pro wrestling company in history. Goldberg became a monster. Hogan even put Goldberg over perfectly, then politically maneuvered the world title into the semi-main events, behind his feud. The Goldberg phenomenon cooled off because after beating Hogan, there were no new world's and Hogan never worked a program with him that would have drawn huge money on PPV, because the only result was to continue putting him over. The Rodman/Malone angle made the brand WCW the name brand in the industry, even though WWF was dueling evenly in ratings and in fact, starting to take the lead, but both companies were suddenly drowning themselves in money like wrestling had never created by virtue of the real wrestling war.

WCW in 1998 averaged 8,029 fans per house show, a figure that no wrestling company in history, even New Japan at its peak, had ever approached before that year. However, WWF, riding the Austin wave, jumped from averaging 5,826 per show to 10,006. Still, early in the year, WCW had a run of 23 consecutive house show sellouts. Nitro for the year averaged a 4.47 rating, slightly beating Raw at 4.40, but Raw was winning consistently by the end of the year. In 1998, WCW averaged an 0.93 buy rate for the year. Two years later, it was 0.17.

What happened? The answers would take a book to cover, but it's a book anyone thinking about promoting pro wrestling should study, from cover to cover. The lessons are obvious. Fooling people with no regard to how it will make money is only done by fools. Swerving the boys makes no money, thereby see the previous point. Insulting the audience directly is bad business. The audience knows it's all a work, but they don't want to be told, and they don't want to watch things that rub it in their face. For example, in the fantasy world of wrestling, even though it's ridiculous, it's okay for Sid Vicious to beat Tank Abbott, even though in real life that couldn't happen. It's not okay for David Arquette to do the same thing. With some exceptions, nearly every huge house in wrestling was drawn in some form with a quest to grab the world title belt. Making the belt seem silly or pointless kills your best chance to draw a big house. Saying this today can be attributed to learning from the past and hindsight being 20/20. The tragedy is, all of these things were said, almost endlessly, in 1997 and 1998, when the company was on top, but mortgaging its future, and everyone was so full of the idea that this ride will never end, that they didn't realize just how fast they were headed for a crash.

After the Malone & Page vs. Rodman & Hogan match drew 550,000 buys, but Rodman slept through an embarrassment of a match, Bischoff did something fans really didn't want and a mistake which was repeated many times and was among the things that killed the company. Hardcore fans didn't like Malone and Rodman, but they were huge powerful men and sports superstars who didn't ruin the fantasy of pro wrestling. Rodman wasn't built like a wrestler, although Malone was built as well as most of the wrestlers, and both were taller and agile men. In the old days, it was usually good box office to get a sports star into the ring. The promoters used to call it giving credibility to the sport.

Jay Leno, however, was just as famous, maybe more so than Rodman or Malone, but he was a talk show host. Hogan selling for Leno garnered a ton of publicity, but drew a disappointing buy rate and hurt the notion that a main event wrestler needs, that he's a tough guy who could kick ass of anyone in the general public. It wasn't what fans wanted to see. The return of Jim Hellwig as the Warrior was an even bigger disaster, drawing a very disappointing buy rate and being an even worse match that the Leno match or the Rodman match, or for that matter, almost any match in memory. Hogan, feeling the heat, did a worked retirement. Bischoff, whose "working the boys" notion led to so much heat so often and a total lack of trust (ironically, it was the same "working the boys" that led to the many of the wrestlers convincing themselves that wrestling being off the station as was announced this week was simply a Bischoff inspired work), did one of its biggest works ever. Nash, who was popular among the wrestlers because he would speak up against Hogan, secretly cut a deal with Hogan. Nash would get the book and Hogan would "quit in protest," making Nash a hero to the boys of ridding Hogan's ego from the company and they'd listen to what he'd say. In the deal, Nash got to end the Goldberg streak at Starrcade, and unfortunately, Goldberg was never the same again. Hogan got to come back at the Georgia Dome a week later, and do the one finger push, and get the belt back. Nash would beat Goldberg and then not have to do a real job. Hogan would have the belt and the gang who made the boom would be back together, and Flair, standing for the tradition of the belt would chase Hogan.

You could write a book at what killed WCW. The mistakes made at the peak. Goldberg doing that job. The one finger push. The frequent Flair heel turns, which always killed ratings, no matter how good Flair was at putting people over while working heel style. Remember that period in the mental hospital? Is that what the audience, where Flair had become the biggest draw after the rest of the superstars burned themselves out, wanted? Screwing every chance Bret Hart had to be a super babyface, both from his debut, to the release of "Wrestling with Shadows" (ignored by the promotion and he was kept off television for fear he'd be cheered) and even turning him heel within a few months of his comeback after his brother's death. Terrible main events from older guys who wouldn't give up their spot and wanted the style kept easy on top, which kept the younger wrestlers out of the pack. Remember those Nitros where they didn't have any wrestling for the first hour? Remember the Nitro where Flair was beaten up in the field, finally showed up at the end of the show, and unlike Stone Cold, simply got beaten up again? Remember every show in Virginia and the Carolinas, where the object seemed to be do make Flair and Anderson look like they weren't stars, and remember the dwindling crowds with every return visit? Finally, with the company in a free-fall, Bischoff was dumped as leader in favor of Bill Busch, and Nash as booker for the savior, the man who made the WWF what it was, Vince Russo.

There is little question the company, while having very bad momentum from the Nash era, was salvageable at this point. They still had the talent. It wasn't over and wasn't used correctly, but it was deep and could be rebuilt. PPV was already falling scarily fast with the series of weak main events and bad finishes, but the belief that every match had to have a run-in and screw-job and storylines were thrown out with numbing frequency killed the house shows and sped the decline of buy rates under Russo. The weekly retirement stipulation that wasn't adhered, and shows filled with stipulations that meant nothing, led to killing of stipulations. The turns with such frequency that nobody cared about the characters led to all of the characters flattening out.

By arranging one dangerous skit after another, resulting in key injuries to Jeff Jarrett and Bill Goldberg at the same time, and champ Bret Hart nearly getting into a car crash speeding out of the Goldberg scene on ice, he was faced with a PPV with the top stars on the shelf and no champ. He wanted to put the title on Tank Abbott. Even Bill Busch saw that was too much, and Russo was dumped. Largely due to the drop in PPV and house show revenue, the company ended up losing $15 million, its worst year in its history, following up its best year in the history of any company in history. That's how quickly things turn around.

Kevin Sullivan was a disaster, plagued by a combination of injuries, talent that wanted to see him fail, and putting together boring television, things got incredibly bad in a hurry. But he was doomed from the start, as his hiring caused the exit of the later to be named Radicals to the WWF, taking away the workrate heart and future of the company, following Chris Jericho's departure because Bischoff never could see him as a top guy. The high flying smaller guys, giving WCW its trademark strong undercards making the shows worthwhile even with poor main events, had been killed in the booking. The younger guys were going to the WWF. WWF created new stars. WCW looked aged, and built around Hogan, now as a babyface again, like a cartoon.

Bischoff and Russo were back, quickly making the decision to shock everyone and gain mainstream pub with David Arquette as world champion, leading to setting an all-time record low rating and all-time record low buy rate. Then they came up with the Goldberg turn. That was even more of a disaster than the similar ill-fated Sting turn less than one year earlier. The two conspired, with Hogan, to work the boys on another Hogan angle, but they ended up working each other, leaving Russo on his own, Hogan suing Russo, Bischoff walking about to wait until Russo failed, and Russo promoting himself as the top heel and eventually making himself the world champion, who never lost the title. With ratings falling to record lows, repeated concussions took him out of the game as company losses were projected to hit $80 million, although budget cuts late in the year kept them at closer to $60 million.

The losses were too much for TBS, which wanted out. The damage done in that period, this time, may have been irreversible. The company, which months earlier was put on the market for $600 million, was now being offered for less than $80 million, and just a few months later, the final sale price will probably be closer to $20 million. Nothing is forever. Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan headlined a PPV in early 1999 and drew a 1.2 buy rate. The same two men headlined a PPV in early 2000 and drew an 0.15.

In this business, fame is fleeting, staying with a pat hand is death and the consistent creation of new talent is the life blood of the business. The lack of understanding of these basic principles results in bankruptcy. And that's the end of the story.

If ever there was a situation where people watching the same thing saw totally different things, it would be the Bob Costas interview on HBO on 3/14 with Vince McMahon on his new show "On the Record."

The 30-minute interview, approximately half on the XFL and half on the WWF, saw things get totally unpleasant, both for the host, the guest and the audience watching. It resulted in a take sides situation. Many people tried to cast one as the babyface and the other as the heel, depending upon, probably in the case of the wrestling audience, the predisposed feelings on McMahon. Clearly the non-wrestling audience would view things a lot less sympathetic to McMahon, who came across by the end of the interview, like a guy transforming into ones very eyes from a very confident sports promoter into the almost crazed over-the-top version of the Mr. McMahon character.

The interview about the XFL was very interesting, touching on a lot of key points and both handled themselves very well. McMahon tried to get across the league was a long-term project and a brand name that takes time to build. This is exactly the opposite of what could be said when the discussion turned to McMahon's main occupation.

Costas did a tremendous job of asking mostly the right questions, and keeping McMahon on target when he was avoiding answering them directly, particularly on the football. McMahon, to his audience and minions, did a good job of, trying to cast Costas as something he wasn't, a snooty wrestling hater and a representative of all the people who don't like wrestling, and immediately painted him as a surrogate for Phil Mushnick, the name that hits a raw nerve with his audience. There were valid criticisms of Costas. First, he was not as prepared as he should have been, which McMahon should consider himself lucky, because had he actually watched wrestling, he may have made McMahon look even worse, but even if that wasn't possible, it would have resulted in a more compelling interview. He was more prepared than the vast majority of mainstream reporters who do wrestling, but not at the level one expects of Costas, and he wasn't in the league of Michael Landsberg of TSN who has done the best televised interviews with McMahon. But just in basic preparation, he needed to watch at least a full television show or two and have a little more than surface knowledge of some of the more spectacular things that go on and the knowledge he had from his years as a casual fan. Second, Costas shouldn't have brought up the Lionel Tate murder case, which we'll get into later.

The show, which drew a 3.0 rating, up from the usual 2.3 level the show does (Bob Knight also guested on the show and Costas was far easier on him, although he did ask him the important questions as well), turned into a major topic on sports talk shows around the country the next day. In this area, which is the XFL's strongest market, the strong consensus was that McMahon was a raving lunatic and that Costas was a super babyface. In New York, the reaction was different. Most of the reaction by wrestling fans in polls we've seen was negative to McMahon, but not overwhelmingly. It did seem the logic used by those defending McMahon demeanor, as opposed to his points, was desperate at best, because the defense of McMahon's were largely attacks at Costas for not being as hard on Knight or for the aforementioned points, which don't exactly disgrace an otherwise strong performance. There is the natural attempt when a situation is tense to transform things into the simple babyface/heel mode and trivialized the basic facts of every issue talked about, and quite frankly, McMahon's demeanor worked to do that by the end of the show as it negated his strong performance in the first half and his valid points in the second.

Costas opened bringing up the XFL ratings. McMahon said he was pretty sure about the continuation of the league and would hope it would stay on NBC next season. He termed the first year brand building and his defense of the ratings were that the XFL wasn't typical programming and it would take time. He was hoping for a long run on NBC and said that he takes a long-range approach to business. He admitted disappointment in the ratings. He admitted making mistakes but felt it wasn't too late, and pushed the calibre of play, saying it was bad at first but now it's great. That has been his main focus over the past week, the problem is, saying so doesn't make it so. The play is more cohesive than at the beginning of the season, as it should be, but they lucked into having some very close games that went down to the last play early. The second NBC game couldn't have been scripted any better, by far the most exciting game all season with a double overtime finish. But the one constant of all these games that were exciting is that the rating on every station dropped significantly in all but one case every single week. If, after the expected first week drop, the league settled down, and started re-growth, that would be one thing, and Costas didn't seem aware enough about the rating so McMahon was at one point able to buffalo him that they were doing well with Men 18-34 and Costas didn't know better. The strongest NBC demo in most weeks has been Men 50-54.

Costas brought up how the level of play could be that much better since they are all the same players as in the early weeks. McMahon blamed the early games on not enough training time. Hopefully, if there is a next season, we'll find out if McMahon is true to his words by whether or not he schedules a few weeks of pre-season games or else his statements that he recognized the mistake will hold little water.

McMahon claimed the NFL would like to steal the opening scramble if they could. I expect if the NFL is on the ball, they'll steal every good idea McMahon comes up with and ignore every bad idea. This is a great prime time laboratory for the NFL to see lots of different ideas, most, but not all, of which have flopped. Just like the old ABA developed the three-point shot which is now a constant at almost every level of basketball. As for the scramble, if the NFL introduces it instead of a coin toss, McMahon is right. If they don't, he's wrong, because they can steal the idea if it is believed to be a good one. He said the live game experience is great and pointed to an average of 27,000 per game. The crowds are probably no better in the early stages in most markets then USFL crowds were, the last football league that challenged the NFL and suffered a similar fate, dying after a few years. To get that 27,000, you have to use announced attendances and local newspaper reports, particularly in Chicago and Los Angeles, indicate announced crowds are heavily exaggerated. He said the play was the best anywhere except the NFL. Most football experts have labeled play at lower level Division I calibre and few football fans believe it compares in speed or play or execution with the top level college games. He said the NFL has been around 75 years and that their average attendance was better than a lot of AFL teams in the early years. That's probably true, as the AFL struggled for five or six seasons before catching on and merging with the NFL, which only happened after starting a bidding war for marquee quarterback and top college talent, something McMahon has always stated his league would avoid doing. The NFL did also take years to catch on and decades to become the institution in our culture it now is. As McMahon continued on his line about how foolish it would be for anyone to think they could build the XFL brand in one year, Costas never noted that it was McMahon's company that promised advertisers a 10.5 to 11.0 cum rating the first season. It was Dick Ebersol who promised NBC strong young male demos and a great lead in for Saturday Night Live this season. Instead, in four consecutive weeks they had four of the six lowest rated shows in the history of prime time major network television including devastating all existing records on 3/17, and these weren't low rated 30-minute shows as part of a night, these were the entire Saturday night block for four successive weeks at record low levels.

McMahon didn't disagree with Costas statement, which was the Mushnick analysis after game one as to why it wasn't going to be a television success, saying there wasn't enough emphasis on the football to satisfy football fans, and there wasn't enough WWF antics to satisfy wrestling fans. McMahon said the research showed the WWF want WWF (ie don't want XFL) and football fans want football. He said the media was somewhat unfair to the league. A valid point, but the company's antics over the past week are only going to make things worse, with this show being the most obvious example even though McMahon as football exec handled himself well. Costas brought up that McMahon didn't risk any prestige by doing the league, NBC had lost prestige with the league. McMahon agreed but again blamed the media for that, forgetting it was the fans, not the media, responsible for the record low ratings and the loss of prestige from that standard aside from any questions of loss of prestige in the taste department. NBC itself was responsible for the loss of taste prestige by being partners to a league based on how it advertised itself both before the season started and the recent desperation ads once the ratings tanked. McMahon said he didn't know how much heat NBC would be able to take but then said he didn't think the XFL has hurt NBC in the prestige department. Costas said XFL was low-rent, and then noted the pre-game show was one of the most mindless things he had ever seen.

The fascinating exchange was reminiscent of McMahon's Larry King interview with Bruno Sammartino in 1992 when Sammartino brought up Murray Hodgson and Mel Phillips. Hodgson, who in hindsight appears to have been a con man who after being fired from his announcing gig claimed it was due to rebuffing a homosexual advance, gained media attention coming on the heels of what appears to have been a legitimate similar story from Tom Cole, who was fired right after he claimed, and in hindsight nine years later his credibility on that issue is very strong, he rebuffed a homosexual advanced from the late Terry Joyal, then a WWF Vice President (a claim that was immediately settled out of court by McMahon, unlike the claim of Hodgson, and Joyal, better known as Terry Garvin, never worked for the WWF again). Sammartino called Hodgson the World Bodybuilding Federation announcer, McMahon stated knowingly that Hodgson had never worked for the WBF, as to publicly make Sammartino seem to most of the viewing audience like he was clueless. Actually Hodgson was the announcer for the first WBF contest. When Sammartino brought up Mel Phillips, McMahon, using the same tactic, claimed that Phillips didn't even work for the WWF (he had actually not only been a ring announcer for years including on television tapings and major arena events, but in one of his athletic commission license forms, actually listed his home address as the WWF offices) to make Sammartino again look bad.

"We don't have a pre-game show," McMahon responded, technically true, since it was cancelled after only a few weeks. "We've never had a pre-game show. That's part of our problem." Totally untrue. Costas asked, then what was the show and McMahon said a few NBC O&O's put a show together "which we had nothing to do with." Costas said the show made the league seem low rent. McMahon responded, "Quite frankly, I didn't see any of those." Whether McMahon saw it or not, the show came from WWF New York, and McMahon himself was a guest on the show, and the hosts, Opie & Anthony's first remark to McMahon upon interviewing him was, "We always knew one day we'd be working for you."

McMahon then claimed it was people like him, entrepreneurs, that make the country go round and round, said the XFL was a viable business and predicted that the ratings would bounce back. He said they'll need promotions to get people to sample it again and they are going to concentrate their efforts on getting the media to give the league more coverage. McMahon then tried to paint Costas as an elitist because of his criticism of the league and his negative comments. McMahon, by his promise to advertisers, created a level of ratings expectation, and when not meeting it, or even coming close, it was his projections not being met which resulted in the failing image of the league as a viable TV vehicle early on and the recent record lows after that point speak for themselves.

Costas brought up the salacious material in the game. McMahon noted nothing in the game itself is salacious, which is true regarding on the field, but not the broadcast with the pro wrestling angles or cheerleader skits. The advertising certainly is, which are all part of the product. Costas asked with the failing ratings would they make it more salacious. McMahon acted indignant, which after last week's promotion of the league (a clip of a salacious TV ad for last week's game was shown as well as the hype for "Bruno" going into the locker room), is hardly something he should have been indignant about. But he did say, "We just did that" in a tone that indicated but never said it was something they would never do again, and then defended it saying it was a spoof making fun of the bad ratings. Costas, had he been more prepared, could have noted even that trick didn't work as the NBC number barely moved and the weekend as a whole was down another 10%

Costas asked McMahon if ratings dropped further, would he fix games? McMahon got mad again, basically saying you can't fix football because the guy has to catch the ball. He said, "What a ridiculous statement" and Costas quickly responded, "It's a question, not a statement." How a guy who made his living as a wrestling promoter can feel a statement about fixing games is ridiculous, when much of the New York business world going into the season believed McMahon would be a huge success because he would script the games, is beyond me. But McMahon, and those who defended him saying the question was unfair, don't even understand the basic distinction between the terms fixed and worked. The idea you can't work team sports is ridiculous, or even that sports can't be marketed when worked as Roller Derby in its glory days and the Harlem Globetrotters even today are proof, but working entertainment like pro wrestling or the Globies, is entirely different from fixing outcomes, which has been done at many points in all sports, usually by getting to two or three key players on a team to screw up in key situations, and point shaving scandals in college sports are a well documented part of basketball history. The NFL has surely had fixed games. Baseball once had a fixed World Series. Boxing regularly has fixes. My feeling was, once NBC was co-owner, there is no way games were going to be fixed or worked. But even that isn't a sure thing as ABC found out when it got in bed with Don King in the 70s for the U.S. Boxing championships fiasco.

Costas pointed out if they are going to do football, there is so much football out there, pointing to college, NFL Europe, Canadian football, that the only way the league can make it is to be different, and asked how it would be. McMahon responded they had the best football other than the NFL.

McMahon did say he picked the wrong announcers and that WWF announcers are not the right announcers for football. Costas noted that many top announcers in the country were reluctant go work XFL games because of the stigma attached to the league. McMahon admitted he was going to have to search to find announcing talent. Neither brought up that when they were looking for announcers, one of the things McMahon wanted were announcers with little or no experience at doing football because he wanted the announcers to do football like wrestling. Why else would you hire Jesse Ventura and have him to wrestling angles on the air?

Then the show got out of control when Costas showed a clip from the 3/5 Raw of the angle where McMahon got Stratus to disrobe and point blank asked McMahon how he could defend it. McMahon tried to defend the clip by saying it was shown out of context and blamed Mushnick for Costas showing it. He said it was part of a storyline in a soap opera and claimed his character would get his at the end. That analogy is as flawed as if a producer of porn was on the show, a porn scene was shown, and the producer's defense was that when the movie ends, the girl ends up getting her revenge.

Costas brought up crotch grabbing, pointing to the crotch and "suck it" chants, noting 11-and-12 year old (and actually much younger) boys would imitate it. McMahon went out of control at this point, screaming at Costas, "Don't raise your voice to me!" even though Costas had not raised his voice. McMahon then raised his own voice telling Costas, "You don't watch," and compared him to Mushnick "who doesn't watch either (actually not true as Mushnick if you read his columns this past week had clearly watched both Raw and Smackdown). Costas then came back and said, "These things don't happen?" McMahon got madder, pointed his finger almost threatening like, appearing that his blood pressure was increasing rapidly, and nearly screamed, "Shut your mouth and let me answer the question!" McMahon claimed they hadn't done crotch grabbing in over a year (not true, there have been women grabbing mens crotches far more recently than that), hadn't done "suck it" in a year and a half (not quite that long, but it hasn't been used of late) and technically wasn't dishonest (as many claimed he was), as he never specifically mentioned pointing to the crotch, which was done repeatedly on Raw two days earlier. Costas when he was done said, "But you did it."

McMahon went off on the Sopranos, which airs before Costas on Wednesday, and Sex and the City, saying he liked the shows, and noting Sopranos has far more vulgar language than WWF and Sex and the City has orgasms, something WWF doesn't do on TV. Costas brought up the difference between HBO, a subscription channel you have to pay for, and basic cable or over-the-air television. Costas didn't bring up why that point was irrelevant, which is the number of children watching those shows and the Toys R Us action figures of the characters from Sopranos, despite being among the favorite TV shows nowadays, that don't exist. McMahon said, "If you don't like it, turn it off." If Costas had been prepared, he could have come back with, 1.1 million of your fans turned it off right after the skit with Trish Stratus leading to your lowest rated Raw of the year, your affiliates in England and Canada refused to air the segment, and clips of the segment didn't even air on Smackdown as happens with virtually every major angle shot on Raw. Raw was also followed three days later with the lowest rated Smackdown of the year, although one couldn't directly point out that angle as a main cause but the Thursday competition was actually easier than usual that week.

McMahon claimed that more families watch Smackdown together than any other show, which, if anything, only made him look worse, because he was acknowledging he knew he was producing family entertainment and didn't care. He then claimed they edit shows differently, such as not being allowed to say "ass" in the first hour of Smackdown. I'm still trying to figure out why they edit anything different on any show. If it's okay, nothing should be edited. If it's not okay, then why should it air in the first place? The time slot argument is bogus. If there was a significant decrease in children watching the later hour shows, the time slot argument would hold water, but as we've pointed out, in reality that just isn't the case. It makes an easy scapegoat point for people who don't look at numbers and who is actually watching when.

McMahon then talked about his fans not being elitists like Costas, who quickly pointed out that McMahon knew full well he had been a wrestling fan for most of his life. Costas, in fact, was the first major sports announcer to do radio play-by-play of WWF wrestling and also hosted an NBC special on pro wrestling which at the time was heavily criticized for going too easy on the subject. He had even agreed to appear at Wrestlemania VII, but pulled out because he disagreed with the company's exploitation of the Persian Gulf War in the main event angle, and lost his interest in pro wrestling around that time. But as late as last year, he did the prologue for a very positive television special on St. Louis wrestling and Sam Muchnick, which Costas was a fan of, that was good enough to win a regional Emmy Award. He said he enjoyed the humor and the soap opera but didn't enjoy the vulgarity and said you didn't need it in wrestling. McMahon went off on a rampage saying if people wanted to see the wrestling you liked, that would be the wrestling I'd give them. Funny thing is, matches like Rock vs. Kurt Angle and Eddy Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit along with characters like Edge & Christian probably closely approximate the wrestling Costas would like, and everyone knows McMahon can profitably market that as his base product. Barely anyone missed the crotch chop when it was gone. The Stratus angle could have been avoided and likely would have led to higher, not lower ratings for that week's programming. When Smackdown was toned down, the ratings increased. While Raw numbers did decline with a more toned down product, buy rates increased over the same period and overall revenue grew greatly after the product was toned down, although that's a double edged sword because the company also had huge revenue growth when it first went as raunchy as it could possibly be.

Costas then asked if the content of the show incites incivility, coarseness and violence in society. McMahon admitted it probably does, but no more than anything else, and denied it increased violence. He then asked McMahon if he regrets it and McMahon again brought up Sopranos and Sex and the City and said his programming may be a small part of the problem but no bigger than many other things. That was probably McMahon's strongest point, probably a very fair appraisal, and unfortunately the rage had hurt his credibility by this point.

Costas that brought up the Lionel Tate case. Costas never should have brought this case up because there are simply too many questions involved and nothing that reasonably links it to pro wrestling. There are stronger cases (an accidental death in Dallas where one child clotheslined his sister who hit her head on landing and told the police he was imitating Steve Austin) and this was a brutal outright murder and not kids playing doing wrestling moves and accidentally hurting a playmate. McMahon yelled at Costas for not knowing his facts, and McMahon was correct, but his histrionics at this point and head movement made him look like Chief Jay Strongbow in the 70s to make himself a caricature and come off badly when he was right. McMahon noted the child was convicted when it appeared Costas thought the trial was still going on. "If you had done the slightest bit of research" McMahon started saying, telling him he would know that wrestling had nothing to do with the case. Costas, showing he did at least some research, but in fact, not enough, knew the judge had thrown wrestling out as a legal defense as he pointed out, which has nothing to do whether the child was inspired by wrestling as much as if he was, that is no defense against murder. As is well documented, the judge in fact did believe wrestling had nothing to do with it, but did so, because he believed there was no form of wrestling which someone stomps repeatedly on someone half their size while lying on the ground. Had Costas done his research, he would have known that aspect when McMahon denied it could have possibly been wrestling related. Some jurors rejection of wrestling being part of the trial, and jurors after the fact said so, was because the judge refused to allow any evidence that would indicate that into the case to begin with. McMahon then made the laughable statement that you can't fool and judge or a jury. So had Costas done research, he'd have realized McMahon's claim of the judge rejecting. not necessarily the wrestling defense, but that wrestling could have been an influential cause, was because the judge clearly knew nothing about pro wrestling. Any statements the jury made was because the judge wouldn't allow the evidence in. Having said that, the evidence Tate was mimicking wrestling in administering the beating should have had nothing to do with the trial in the first place, as it didn't, and just because he may have used the "stomping a mudhole" wrestling maneuver, doesn't mean it wasn't an act of sheer violence having nothing whatsoever to do with being inspired by pro wrestling. It was an attempt at a defense when there was no defense, and while any violent maneuver can possibly be said to be caused by pro wrestling because any maneuver that physically damages someone without (and many cases with) weapons is done in pro wrestling, that also doesn't necessarily make it wrestling inspired, which is why Costas should have never should have brought it up. One can't say definitely he wasn't imitating something he saw on wrestling either, but there isn't the evidence that he did to use it as any kind of a point.

McMahon then said they were a soap opera, and never use guns (not true, although guns have only been used two or three times in five years), knives (again not true, but again they are rarely used including the oft-mentioned castration spoof), no portrayal of murder (only repeated portrayal of attempted murder), no rape (there were several clear insinuations of rape including a purported drug-induced rape of McMahon's daughter and a purported gang bang scene of a college co-ed) and they never even use household items (except in just about every hardcore match).

Costas brought up degradation and objectification of women, which McMahon denied was part of the show, but the entire Jerry Lawler character as well as many of the women characters are based on that exact premise. McMahon claimed the women did it of their own volition. While they can say no, Amy Dumas just last week in an interview said she was uncomfortable doing the shower scene angle and the lingerie segments and Trish Stratus doesn't like the fact that even though her niece isn't allowed to watch the show her aunt is a major star in, she gets taunts in school from the kids who do. Everyone knows when women in the business say no, they are quickly labeled as Sable's, Sunny's and Missy Hyatt's, and the company's look to replace them with women who don't have as much business background and maybe are more appreciative of the huge paycheck and take the money and don't complain because they know that is what is expected of women in a man's business. McMahon again justified it by saying at the end of the story, the women long strong, which both isn't true in every story (anyone still expecting B.B. to make her comeback after undressing because of the strip poker Battle Royal?) and even if it was, is not a justification.

Costas final point was bringing up safety and the Owen Hart death. McMahon stated the WWF, out of respect for Hart, would never have a wrestler do a similar stunt. He did say the bar does get raised in wrestling, as it does in all sports, and some things have also been toned down, which is both a fair and accurate statement as they have gimmicked many of the more spectacular stunts over the past year to lessen the injury risk.

Although many people saw it differently, while watching the show, even though McMahon was verbally out of control and Costas was almost amazing in staying composed and not getting into a shouting match or being lured into the personality arguments McMahon was starting that most hosts would fall into which would then cloud every point made by both sides, I never once got the impression McMahon would have really done anything physical. He did attempt to be intimidating. But if he had, he would have certainly greatly threatened his NBC relationship and at that point been a complete embarrassment to the network, not to mention his standing as owner of a public company. The show ended with McMahon being the most visibly sarcastic of any guest in the history of television in how he was saying he enjoyed being on the show.

The final major show for WCW, at least in this form, without even so much of a hint to the public that anything was amiss other than the lack of mention of a next show, was the Greed PPV on 3/18 at the Jacksonville Coliseum.

The show was very sad to watch, because not only was it good, but they finally did the things they've been needing to do for the past 18 months. The booking was good and not overdone, the matches were given time and many of them were very good as well, and there were attempts through ring entrances and finishes to elevate younger talent including Kid Romeo & Elix Skipper as a tag team, Sean O'Haire attempted to be groomed for the superstar level, Shawn Stasiak getting a bigger push as well as Shane Helms as a cruiserweight with star credibility and Jason Jett as a newcomer getting a huge push in commentary based on him being a good worker.

The biggest story backstage involved Lex Luger & Buff Bagwell, who may have greatly hurt whatever slim chances (Bagwell) and virtually no chance (Luger) of being picked up by the WWF with their reaction to being asked to put over Chuck Palumbo & Sean O'Haire. Both complained loudly about it to the point most wrestlers thought they were babies, and the way they stormed out of the building after the meeting to go to the gym made a lot of people think they weren't going to come back. The match itself was booked for 8:00 and it was supposed to be O'Haire pinning Luger with the seanton bomb clean. Instead, after doing a lengthy interview (which was on the script), they went into business for themselves and did a spot where they knocked each other out and laid down for O'Haire to do his move on both of them and pin Luger in 54 seconds. This was from the Kevin Nash school of doing a job, where if you do it quickly, nobody takes it as seriously as if you lose a hard-fought longer match. Then both oversold the effects of it for several minutes, including Bagwell trying to spoof his legitimate neck injury by not moving. Both men laid in the ring motionless while people at home were watching a video package building up the Cat vs. Kanyon match doing almost a caricature of being paralyzed, which came off to the fans live as a blatant exposure of the business, and then when the cameras were back on, Bagwell moved, teasing a re-occurrence of his famous neck injury. Most of the wrestlers and virtually all of the agents were furious.

There was another last minute change in the cruiserweight tag team tournament. Rey Misterio Jr. & Billy Kidman had been told all along they were getting the titles, including given a finish of going over on the day of the show. They got the word it was changing at the last minute and while both were very upset about it, they were professional enough to not let it effect match quality.

The show drew 5,030 fans, which was about three-quarters full, which was 3,551 paying $117,930.

Reports were that the show came off better on television than live. While the booking and attempted presentation of new talent was better, the ring work was similar to most of the recent WCW PPV shows, with strong undercard matches and it getting boring after that. Fans live were really into the first two matches, which ended up being the best two bouts on the show. Stasiak vs. Bigelow killed the crowd for several matches. There was a lot of fake crowd noise piped in to make it appear to home viewers there was some crowd reaction, and it was able to muffle the loud "boring" chants during the Guerrero Jr. vs. Helms match.

If there was a fitting end, so to speak, of the final WCW PPV event, it was seeing Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes in the ring getting by far the biggest crowd reactions of anyone on the show. Flair and Rhodes were the two top singles stars when Turner purchased the company in 1988, although who would have believed in 2001, they would oppose each other for the first time ever in a PPV match (their legendary matches, particularly in the mid-80s, came before the NWA promotion got on PPV), and Flair, who just turned 52, was still able to carry Rhodes, by far the biggest star from the regional days of Florida wrestling, now 55. Flair and Jeff Jarrett bumped for his trademark spots during his brief moments in the ring. As good as the main event came across on television, perhaps the saddest end to the show was that as the two were both bleeding and killing each other to make a match, fans were leaving in droves, paying no attention, having already seen Flair and Dusty.

1. Jason Jett (Jason Broyles) pinned Kwee Wee (Allan Funk) in 12:17. Interesting that the former E.Z. Money will be the trivia question answer as to what wrestler was on the last PPV show for both ECW and WCW. Fans started the match thinking these were two jobbers, but both worked so hard they won everyone over. Jett did the upside down rocking horse move out of Lucha Libre. After Kwee Wee missed a tope, Jett did a great DDT off the apron. Kwee Wee got heel heat. One hot but dangerous spot was setting up an apparent piledriver off the top by Jett, but on the way down Kwee Wee turned it into a huracanrana. That really hooked the fans. Bunch of near falls and reverses over the past few minutes. Jett was playing possum, laying there pretending to be hurt (as opposed to the usual pretending to be hurt) and when Wee came off the top with an elbow, he moved and delivered the crash landing for the win. ***3/4

2. Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo (Steve Romeo) because the first WCW cruiserweight tag team champions beating Rey Misterio Jr. (Oscar Gutierrez) & Billy Kidman (Peter Gruner) in 13:46. Match had big time heat as all four really looked good. Misterio Jr. and Kidman both did dives off the ramp, with Kidman landing hard with his shoulder hitting the guard rail. Misterio Jr. did the senton off the top rolling into a tope spot that Santo made famous in Mexico. Romeo did a plancha and Kidman hit a shooting star plancha which they've named the Kidmakaze. Lots of good near falls, ending with Misterio Jr. doing a quebrada into the ring, but Romeo catching him and giving him the last kiss, a version of a tombstone piledriver or a Northern lights bomb. Misterio Jr. and Kidman probably looked the best they has in a long time and Romeo showed potential to be a cruiserweight superstar down the line with his work and charisma. ****

3. Shawn Stasiak (Shawn Stepich) pinned Bam Bam Bigelow (Scott Bigelow) in 5:55. Stasiak, because he's tall with the physique and does nothing in the ring, kind of reminds me of a younger Luger. Finish saw Stacy Keibler distract the ref and Stasiak used hair spray to the eyes and hit a neckbreaker for the pin. Stasiak and Keibler did a lewd demonstration after the match in the ring. 1/2*

4. Lance Storm (Lance Evers) & Mike Awesome (Mike Alfonso) beat Konnan (Charles Ashenoff) & Hugh Morrus (Bill DeMottt) in 11:28. A lot of timing problems. Storm at one point did this high dropkick that missed noticeably on Konnan, who still sold it. At another point. Awesome delivered a piledriver but Konnan get his head out of the way much too early, although Konnan has had neck injuries in the past from similar moves. Finish saw Morrus on top for the moonsault, but Awesome recovered and grabbed him and delivered a running Awesome bomb for the pin. 1/2*

Dusty Rhodes claimed he'd be eating 40 bean burritos to get ready for his ability to pass wind on command (a trait Tony Schiavone said everyone knew Rhodes was known for, which is Dusty Rhodes trivia I'm sure not everyone was thrilled to hear) and stink out Flair later in the show.

5. Shane Helms captured the WCW cruiserweight title from Chavo Guerrero Jr. (Salvador Guerrero III) in 13:57. It was really obvious in this match they were piping in fake crowd noise. It was slow early, but build well and was a good match, although not the calibre of some of their previous matches. Both did nice planchas. Helms' version was almost a frog plancha, for lack of a better term. Helms also did one of the greatest crotch spots on the ropes in history. Finish saw Guerrero Jr. go for the vertabreaker, which is really the Gori especial bomb invented by his grandfather, but Helms reverse it and use it to set up the pin. ***

6. Sean O'Haire & Chuck Palumbo retained the WCW tag titles beating Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl) & Buff Bagwell (Marcus Bagwell) in 54 seconds. After mic work by Totally Buffed that seemed to last forever, they went into the ring, fell down, had O'Haire give both the seanton bomb and laid down for a double pin by the champions. You know the rest of the story. Great way to impress whomever is thinking of hiring you next. And to Lex, a special note, thanks to all you've done in your career, or at least the latter stages, particularly at the bitter end, with this company that through its own stupidity made you a millionaire. -*

7. Cat (Ernest Miller) pinned Chris Kanyon (Chris Klucsaritis) in 10:31. Ms. Jones was back, totally healthy. Kanyon, however, was wearing a cast on his forearm, selling that he punched Smooth so many times in the head that he injured himself. Worked out a good match, or at least as good as you're going to get with Cat. Good near fall after a high kick by Cat. Kanyon got a pin using the ropes but Billy Silverman reversed it. Cat got the feliner but Kanyon got his foot on the ropes. Kanyon used the cast for a near fall. Kanyon hit the ref and went after Jones. She kicked Cat by accident and Kanyon got a near fall. He went after Jones again, but she kicked him this time, and Cat then hit the feliner and got the pin. Kanyon attacked Cat after and threatened Jones one more time (she'd already kicked his ass once) when Smooth, moving perfectly, as I guess he's a quick healer, made the save. *3/4

8. Booker T (Booker Huffman) won the U.S. title from Rick Steiner (Rob Rechsteiner) in 7:31. They were piping in more fake crowd noise here. Boring early. Steiner is scary and obviously very tough, but that doesn't translate to the fans. Booker kicked ref Mickey Jay when Steiner moved. Rick did a released german suplex and went for the kill, but Shane Douglas came out with a cast (didn't we just see a cast in the last match?) and hit Steiner, and T did his book end (rock bottom, uranage) for the pin. 1/4*

9. Dusty (Virgil Runnels Jr.) & Dustin Rhodes (Dustin Runnels) beat Ric Flair (Richard Fliehr) & Jeff Jarrett in 9:58. Flair wrestled the match in slacks and a Hawaiian shirt. Tony Schiavone pointed out that the two had never opposed each other on PPV, and talked about their famous Starrcade matches (16 and 17 years ago) being before the company that formerly owned this company had PPV. Fans popped huge seeing Dusty in, particularly with Flair. Flair & Jarrett did their job to make Dusty look good, bumping for all his pots. He did the elbow drop on Flair but Jarrett saved. Dustin pinned Flair with one of the sloppiest looking inside cradles ever. After the match, Dusty pulled down his pants, to reveal red what could be called briefs, but not in his case, and gave Jarrett the Rikishi stink face. **1/4

10. Scott Steiner (Scott Rechsteiner) retained the WCW title beating Diamond Dallas Page (Page Falkinburg) in 14:14. Midajah was back, totally healthy. As for Steiner, his back was killing him all week but he gutted his way through the match. They were still looking for the mystery guy that attacked her and Animal. It'll probably wind up like whatever Baby Doll had in those photos of Dusty 15 years ago. Page always works hard so this was a good match. They broke crutches on each other. DDP used an elbow drop putting Steiner through a table. Used a lot of weapons. Both guys were cut from breaking things over each others' head, seemingly hardway at least at first. Steiner had a couple of small cuts and Page had a cut that dried pretty quick. Page hit the diamond cutter but Rick pulled ref Charles Robinson out of the ring. Page did a plancha on Rick. Fans were chanting for Goldberg to make the save. Particularly since Luger & Bagwell teased Goldberg's return if you were thinking like a wrestling fan the way it was brought up in the interview and how the announcers have been talking about the new owners and Goldberg and, well, it's just a TV show being canceled. Page went for a pinfall but ended up being knocked onto Robinson. Scott clocked Page with a belt shot to the head. Page bled like crazy. Puddles of blood were coming from his head but he kicked out of the pin. Steiner got a boston crab, but Page made a great rope break. Steiner got the recliner, but another rope break. Finally Steiner hit Page over and over in the back with a lead pipe and put on the recliner for the submission. He continued to beat up Page after the match. Everyone "knew" it was a set-up for Goldberg to come back. And the show ended. ***1/2

The heat between the WWF and Jerry Lawler reached an unexpected crossroads on 3/17 on WMC-TV in Memphis as WWF pulled its developmental deal from Power Pro Wrestling over their decision to use Lawler and Stacy Carter after at one point agreeing to allow it.

PPW owner Randy Hales was put in the middle of the feud, and made the decision to go with the proven ratings drawing power locally of Lawler, a decision WMC-TV management somewhat pushed for, when the WWF forced his hand.

Lawler arrived at the studio with Carter, and did a long interview, explaining, in far more detail than anyone expected, his WWF departure, including talking about how the WWF handles its meetings, talking about writing the angle with Carter and the RTC and where it was going, as well as how Jim Ross and Vince McMahon handled the Carter firing and his own quitting. Lawler ended the interview saying he still didn't know why Carter was fired. They did an angle from that with Brandon Baxter coming out saying that Lawler was stupid for giving up one of the best jobs in wrestling for Carter. Lawler, who explained things straight forward and never knocked the WWF, only saying he didn't understand why they made the decision to fire Carter, then explained he wasn't there to do a wrestling angle (actually he partially was of course) and Baxter said he wasn't doing a wrestling angle (which of course he was). Spellbinder (Harry Del Rios) then came out and said he couldn't believe Lawler would quit his job for Carter either, and the segment ended with Lawler punching Spellbinder while Carter and Baxter began fighting and a pull-apart.

It was almost an entirely new crew with the promotion, which had consisted of almost exclusively WWF developmental talent except for people like Bill Dundee, Derrick King, Bulldog Raines and Alan Steel. Because it wasn't until Friday that Hales, who had already written the television show, got the word almost all the talent was going to be pulled, he had little time to scramble things together for a show and was only able to contract local wrestlers Miles Long and Reggie B. Fine as last minute fill-ins. The Lawler angle where he'd be insulted for quitting the WWF had earlier in the week been approved by Jim Ross, and the only difference between how it went was Lawler was more descriptive about backstage creation of angles than expected and that Spellbinder replaced Bobby Eaton, who is under a WWF contract, in the angle.

After Lawler quit the WWF on 2/27, the WWF asked Hales not to put Lawler on the 3/3 show. On 3/10, it wasn't an issue because Lawler went on a vacation to Florida. During the interim, WMC-TV, concerned about falling ratings, asked Hales if he could bring Lawler back. Hales, on 3/14, talked with Bruce Prichard and noted that the station wanted Lawler on the show and told Prichard that they would agree that Lawler would have no interaction on the show with any WWF personnel. Prichard said that if Lawler was on the show, the WWF would pull the talent.

The next day, Hales spoke with Jim Ross, who not only gave approval for Hales using Lawler on the show, but even worked with Hales in formulating the angle with Eaton. At that point Hales put out publicity that Lawler would return on the show and talk about his leaving the WWF, and WMC-TV began promoting it not only on the station, but also on its newscast that night which is the highest rated newscast in Memphis and as the NBC affiliate, it almost always draws its best ratings on Thursday because it comes on after E.R. Dave Brown, who doubles as the wrestling announcer, used Lawler's return to explain on television why he was no longer on WWF television as a major news story. Even though some markets would think it hurts credibility of a newscaster to host wrestling and some would certainly point to that as self-serving news for an 11 p.m. newscast, Brown, is the most popular, and considered in nearly every local poll as the single most credible news voice in Memphis from his decades as the weatherman on the station.

At 4 p.m. on 3/16, Prichard called and said the WWF had just had a meeting and was reversing its position and Lawler couldn't appear on the show. Hales made the decision to go with Lawler instead of the WWF deal, perhaps thinking in the back of his head that Lawler would likely wind up with WCW and WCW desperately needed a training grounds and he can offer live weekly highly rated television for them to learn both the in-ring and television projection and interview aspects of the trade. Prichard suggested the WWF talent appear on the 3/17 show to give Hales a smooth transition, with PPW champ Pete Gas and TV champ Rodrageous (Rodney of Mean Street Posse) dropping their titles on TV and the rest of the talent being blown off in some fashion, and then debuting Lawler on 3/24. Hales felt with the advertising out, it would make the station look bad, and in particular Brown and the news division, to have run with the story to hype a show that was expected to do much better than usual ratings and not deliver the goods. WMC-TV, different from virtually all local television wrestling deals, pays the promotion $1,500 weekly for the live show, so Hales first loyalty has to be to the ratings and Lawler is the biggest ratings draw. Hales told WWF that the station was largely insistent upon Lawler being brought back and with his contract for the show coming due, he felt that was the decision he had to make. Hales was under a WWF deal, although his major source of income was from doing the television.

The WMC-TV ratings on 3/10 set an all-time record low with a 2.50 rating, perhaps slightly hurt by the fact that they are in the unique situation of battling head-to-head with themselves, as Memphis Championship Wrestling, with largely the same talent did an 0.54 head-top-head on the UPN affiliate. On 3/17, with Lawler's return and a lot of hype from the station, the show drew a 5.15 rating, peaking with a 6.56 quarter for Lawler's interview while MCW did an 0.96. The previous time Lawler appeared on the WMC-TV show the rating was a 5.0 while still working for the WWF, which shows his presence can't be overstated or the rating increase by termed a one-time fluke. Usually the Memphis show opens with a 4.0 quarter, and the rating increases or decreases from there largely based on whether or not they announce Lawler will appear on the show and in charting the shows over the past several months, his presence means 1.5 to 2.0 ratings points for the overall hour.

The two sides starting working together, after Lawler had pulled the developmental deal from Hales to Golden, because Ch. 30 had pulled Golden's television. The television was brought back, originally scheduled to a 1:30 a.m. time slot, but instead, Ch. 30 put it back in the traditional Memphis time slot. Even when Golden had Lawler and occasional WWF stars and Hales had almost nothing, the WMC-TV tradition kept them usually ahead in the ratings game. On 3/3, when Golden's show opened with a tape of a Lawler match for his big show in Jonesboro, AR started at a whopping 2.89 rating, almost identical to the 2.99 that the WMC-TV show started at. Once the Lawler match ended, the audience switched and to show what that means, head-to-head, the WMC-TV show did a 3.20 rating for Steve Bradley vs. Pete Gas while the Golden show did a 1.82 for HHH vs. Kurt Angle for the WWF title.

The ridiculous part of all this pettiness is the losers, as has been the case in nearly everything that has happened this year in wrestling, are the young wrestlers. The unique experience of doing live television every week, working programs and doing interviews on a strong station with a genuine audience is some of the best training a wrestler can have. Memphis could have had, with Lawler and Bobby Eaton, who ironically was living with Hales but now can't work his television anymore, some of the best models for younger wrestlers to learn from, Lawler, because he knows every shortcut in the book and understands the art of a promo to get over an angle and draw money second to none, and Eaton because he can and has done every move in the book, can explain it, and more importantly, explain how to do it at the right time to build a great athletic match.

The business woes of the XFL continued this week with the 3/17 game becoming, the lowest rated television show in the history of big four network prime time in history drawing a 1.6 rating and 3 share for the Birmingham Bolts vs. Las Vegas Outlaws, both from a combination of March Madness and a fallout of the tease from the previous week not being delivered that was doomed to kill the next week's rating. The UPN game the next night drew a 1.0 rating. Ratings for the TNN game were unavailable at press time.

While not officially announced publicly, it is now a lock that the XFL will not air on Saturday nights next season on NBC, and it is doubtful it will air on Sunday nights on UPN either. While Vince McMahon has been adamant publicly that the league will continue for a second season, others behind the scenes are more skeptical.

NBC has quietly sent word out they are looking for a way to produce inexpensive dramas for Saturday night next season and at an advertisers conference to start selling the fall season, the XFL was never mentioned, and the talk was they would either put movies in the time slot or make another attempt to re-invent Saturday night programming with shows that could keep costs down to make up for the difficulty in drawing ratings on that night.

Those behind the scenes are talking about if there is an XFL, it would be totally reworked from a marketing standpoint, probably to eliminate all traces of pro wrestling because of the negative reaction in a survey of fans who stopped watching to the pro wrestling aspects. There has been talk that they would try and get the prime weekly game moved to Saturday afternoons on NBC, although NBC has major league sporting events in that time period which would make it difficult, as well as the Winter Olympics which take place in what would be the early part of the season. There is also talk the games would stay on Saturday night, but be moved to CNBC, which would be even more of a death knell from a ratings standpoint.

McMahon lashed out this past week at Jesse Ventura in a Los Angeles Times interview by Larry Stewart, to the point that virtually every reporter in Minnesota that contacted us (it was a huge story last week) believed it was just the latest pro wrestling angle (it wasn't) designed to increase ratings (which, if it was, the results of that are no obvious but it wasn't as it was never even played up on the broadcasts or on the WWF shows where they hype attempted XFL angles).

McMahon said, "He's on thin ice

We've made mistakes and I think our biggest one was our selection of announcers. We need football announcers, not WWF announcers

Our research shows people don't like him on the XFL. He's too over the top

Hyperbole turns people off. They know when you're telling the truth." Many noted the irony of McMahon blaming the announcers for the overhyping and not being truthful when it was McMahon's decision from the start not to use any announcers with football experience because he would have to break them of habits of calling football traditionally. Much of the nature of how the presentation of the games were to be done were McMahon's directives as to how he wanted it done. Ventura was hired specifically for his pro wrestling vocal talents and hopes his celebrity status would draw ratings.

Our conjecture was that it was McMahon's attempt to get Ventura to quit. Ventura, most likely the highest paid person in the league, who turned out not to be the ratings draw they expected. Ventura never commented on McMahon's statements and was still in the booth on 3/17. Bob Raissman, a noted McMahon apologist in the New York Daily News, had already reported that if there is a second season, the decision had been made that Ventura wouldn't be a part of it.

The next to last week of competition saw Raw do a 4.61 rating (4.23 first hour; 4.96 second hour) and a 7.2 share. Nitro did a 2.14 rating (2.40 first hour; 1.88 second hour) and 3.1 share. Total audience was near record low levels of 7.4 million.

Ironically, Nitro came closer head-to-head in the first head-to-head quarter than any period in a long time, losing 3.5 (Show vs. Raven; Rock interview) to 2.4 (Bischoff interview and angle building Steiner vs. Booker). Other head-to-head numbers were 4.6 (Shane, Vince, Stephanie, HHH angle) to 1.7 (Kanyon vs. Smooth, Konnan vs. Rick Steiner), 4.6 (Hardys vs. E&C) to 1.5 (Storm & Awesome vs. Palumbo & O'Haire) and 4.2 (Tazz vs. Richards) to 1.9 (Flair-Dusty angle).

The Rock & Jericho vs. Benoit & Regal & Angle main event, which promised an Austin run-in at the end, was a huge disappointment, only hitting a 5.07 rating, the third lowest main event of the year. It was actually only the third highest rated segment of the show, trailing HHH vs. Test at 5.18 and the Ivory interview with the Chyna return at 5.11.

Smackdown on 3/15 did a 4.3 rating and 7 share. While the number was up from the previous week, I wouldn't call it a major positive being that it didn't have the blockbuster competition from Survivor which was pulling 17+ numbers in recent weeks. It finished fourth on the night, with the NCAA basketball tournament doing a 6.5 head-to-head on CBS and a first-run Friends doing a 13.9 on NBC.

Thunder on 3/14 drew a 1.8 rating.

For the weekend shows on 3/17-18, Live Wire did a 1.1, Superstars did an 0.9 and Heat was up to a 2.2.

Complete XFL ratings for the weekend of 3/10-11 saw the NBC game do a 2.41 rating and 4 share (we had reported 2.6 and 5 last week which were the preliminary numbers available at press time), the UPN game did a 1.06 rating (1.22 realistic rating) and 2 share, and the TNN game did a 0.60 national rating (0.76 cable rating) and a 1 share, or basically putting with all the hype, a rating lower than all but a few episodes of ECW. This left the week with a cum national rating of 4.07.

The 3/13 Galavision Lucha Libre block drew a 1.1 Hispanic rating, although it did a 2.1 among Males 18-34.


Traditional Observer PPV poll results based on phone calls, fax messages and e-mails to the Observer as of Tuesday, 3/20.

WCW GREED: Thumbs up 55 (64.0%), Thumbs down 19 (22.1%), In the middle 12 (14.0%). BEST MATCH POLL: Rey Misterio Jr. & Billy Kidman vs. Elix Skipper & Kid Romeo 67, Jason Jett vs. Kwee Wee 17. WORST MATCH POLL: Shawn Stasiak vs. Bam Bam Bigelow 24, Konnan & Hugh Morrus vs. Lance Storm & Mike Awesome 15, Sean O'Haire & Chuck Palumbo vs. Lex Luger & Buff Bagwell 11, Rick Steiner vs. Booker T 10

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3/14 Higashi Hiroshima (New Japan - 2,000): Shinya Makabe b Katsushi Takemura, Osamu Kido b El Samurai, Minoru Tanaka & Negro Casas & Kendo Ka Shin b Wataru Inoue & Katsuyori Shibata & Jushin Liger, Yutaka Yoshie b Hiro Saito, Don Frye & Robbie Rage b Brian Johnston & Black Cat, Tatsutoshi Goto & Michiyoshi Ohara & Scott Norton b Shiro Koshinaka & Takashi Iizuka & Osamu Nishimura, Scott Hall & Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan b Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Kensuke Sasaki

3/15 Kyoto (New Japan - 5,500): Katsuyori Shibata b Wataru Inoue, Osamu Nishimura b Katsushi Takemura, Minoru Tanaka & Kendo Ka Shin b Negro Casas & El Samurai, Michiyoshi Ohara & Tatsutoshi Goto & Hiro Saito b Black Cat & Brian Johnston & Osamu Kido, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan b Jushin Liger & Takashi Iizuka, Manabu Nakanishi & Yutaka Yoshie & Yuji Nagata b Shiro Koshinaka & Shinya Makabe & Riki Choshu, Kensuke Sasaki b Robbie Rage, Don Frye & Keiji Muto b Scott Hall & Scott Norton

3/16 Tottori (New Japan - 2,700): Black Cat b Katsushi Takemura, Shinya Makabe b Wataru Inoue, Kendo Ka Shin b Katsuyori Shibata, Jushin Liger & El Samurai b Negro Casas & Minoru Tanaka, Scott Hall & Michiyoshi Ohara & Tatsutoshi Goto b Osamu Nishimura & Takashi Iizuka & Osamu Kido, Don Frye & Robbie Rage b Shiro Koshinaka & Yuji Nagata, Brian Johnston & Yutaka Yoshie & Manabu Nakanishi & Kensuke Sasaki b Hiro Saito & Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Scott Norton

3/16 Mexico City Arena Mexico (EMLL TV taping): Cicloncito Ramirez & Bracito de Oro b Fire & Pierrothtito, Tigre Blanco & Mascara Magica b Dr. X & Halcon Negro, Olimpico & Mr. Niebla & Safari b Fuerza Guerrera & El Signo & Blue Panther, Mexican National lightweight title: Ricky Marvin b Virus, El Satanico & Shocker & Black Warrior b Tarzan Boy & Ultimo Guerrero & Cien Caras, Rayo de Jalisco Jr. & Villano III & Perro Aguayo b Scorpio Jr. & Emilio Charles Jr. & Bestia Salvaje

3/16 Tijuana (Promociones Mora): Tucan & Ruby Gardenia b Angel de Tijuana & Star Boy, Kato Kung Lee & Tony Rivera & Principe Arandu b El Hijo del Diablo & Zumbido & Depredador, Atlantis & Super Parka & Rey Misterio Jr. b Rey Misterio Sr. & Dr. Wagner Jr. & Halloween, Damian b Sabu, Ladder match: Nicho b El Hijo del Santo

3/17 Toronto (WWF - 15,313): Lt hwt title: Crash Holly b Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit b Perry Saturn, Kurt Angle b Billy Gunn, Womens title: Ivory b Molly Holly, Tag titles: Hardys won three-way over X-Pac & Justin Credible and Goodfather & Bull Buchanan, European title: Test b Val Venis, Edge & Christian b Dudleys, IC title: Chris Jericho b Eddy Guerrero, Steve Austin & Undertaker & Kane b HHH & Big Show & William Regal

3/17 Nagoya (New Japan - 9,000 sellout): Katsuyori Shibata b Wataru Inoue, Shinya Makabe & Kendo Ka Shin b El Samurai & Negro Casas, Michiyoshi Ohara & Hiro Saito b Yutaka Yoshie & Shiro Koshinaka, Takashi Iizuka & Brian Johnston b Osamu Nishimura & Osamu Kido, Minoru Tanaka b Jushin Liger, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi b Tatsutoshi Goto & Scott Hall, Non-title: Don Frye & Keiji Muto b Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan, IWGP hwt title: Scott Norton b Kensuke Sasaki to win title

3/17 Yokohama Arena (K-1 - 16,800 sellout): Cyril Abidi b Great Kusatsu Jr., Graube Feitosa b Tsuyoshi Nakasako, Jurgen Kurt b Stefan Leko, Ray Sefo b Michael McDonald, Nicholas Pettas b Peter Varga, Mirko Crocop b Peter Aerts, Mike Bernardo NC Jerome LeBanner

3/18 Montreal (WWF - 12,351): Lt hwt title: Crash Holly b Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit b Perry Saturn, Three-way for tag titles: Hardys won over X-Pac & Justin Credible and Goodfather & Bull Buchanan, IC title: Chris Jericho b Eddy Guerrero, European title: Test b Val Venis, Edge & Christian b Dudleys, Kurt Angle b Billy Gunn, Steve Austin & Undertaker & Kane b HHH & Big Show & William Regal

3/18 Amagasaki (New Japan - 5,200): Wataru Inoue b Katsushi Takemura, Negro Casas & Kendo Ka Shin & Minoru Tanaka b Katsuyori Shibata & El Samurai & Jushin Liger, Osamu Kido & Osamu Nishimura b Hiro Saito & Michiyoshi Ohara, Keiji Muto b Brian Johnston, Riki Choshu & Yutaka Yoshie b Shinya Makabe & Shiro Koshinaka, Satoshi Kojima & Tatsutoshi Goto b Takashi Iizuka & Kensuke Sasaki, Don Frye b Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Scott Hall & Scott Norton b Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata

3/18 Tokyo Differ Ariake (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 1,800 sellout): Daisuke Ikeda b Takashi Suguira, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Haruka Eigen b Rusher Kimura & Mitsuo Momota, Pitbull & Masashi Aoyagi b Makoto Hashi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Too Cold Scorpio & Vader b Jun Izumida & Akira Taue, Satoru Asako & Yoshihiro Takayama & Takao Omori b Takuma Sano & Masao Inoue & Tamon Honda, Mitsuharu Misawa b Akitoshi Saito, Jun Akiyama & Takeshi Morishima & Kentaro Shiga b Naomichi Marufuji & Yoshinari Ogawa & Takeshi Rikio

3/19 Albany, NY (WWF Raw is War/Metal Jakked tapings - 11,951 sellout): Taka Michinoku b Chris Chetti, Bo Dupp b Scott Vick, Acolytes b Dave Danger & J.P. Black, Haku b Jeff Starr, Billy Gunn b Gary Stenstrum, Lo Ki b Essa Rios, Three-way for hardcore title: Raven won title over Big Show and Kane, Tag titles: Edge & Christian b Dudleys to win titles, Tazz b Steven Richards-DQ, HHH NC Test, X-Pac & Justin Credible b Steve Blackman & Grandmaster Sexay, Tag titles: Dudleys b Edge & Christian to win titles, William Regal & Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle b Rock & Chris Jericho

3/19 Gainesville, FL (WCW Nitro/Thunder tapings - 2,824/1,434 paid): Adam Windsor b Bret Cameron Dail, Jason Jett b Disqo, Cruiserweight title: Shane Helms b Billy Kidman, Bam Bam Bigelow b Shawn Stasiak, Chris Kanyon b M.I. Smooth, Rick Steiner b Konnan-DQ, Non-title: Mike Awesome & Lance Storm b Sean O'Haire & Chuck Palumbo, Disorderly Conduct b Shinn Twins, Jung Dragons b A.J. Styles & Air Paris, Jett b Kid Kash, Cat & Smooth b Kanyon & Road Warrior Animal, Hugh Morrus b Rick Steiner, Kidman & Rey Misterio Jr. & Helms b Kid Romero & Elix Skipper & Chavo Guerrero Jr., Chuck Palumbo b Mike Awesome, Jeff Jarrett & Scott Steiner b Dustin Rhodes

3/20 Providence, RI (WWF Smackdown/Heat tapings): Bo Dupp b Scott Vick, Chris Chetti b Nova, Hardys b Kaientai, Test b Haku, Perry Saturn b Crash Holly, Hardcore title: Raven won over Chris Jericho and William Regal, X-Pac & Justin Credible & Albert b Grandmaster Sexay & Steve Blackman & K-Kwik, HHH & Big Show b Kane, Dudleys & Spike Dudley b Edge & Christian & Rhino-DQ, Rock b Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit

3/20 Tokyo Yoyogi Gym (New Japan - 3,000): Negro Casas b Katsuyori Shibata, Jushin Liger & El Samurai b Minoru Tanaka & Kendo Ka Shin, Manabu Nakanishi & Yutaka Yoshie b Scott Hall & Scott Norton, Osamu Kido & Shiro Koshinaka & Brian Johnston b Hiro Saito & Tatsutoshi Goto & Michiyoshi Ohara, Kensuke Sasaki b Osamu Nishimura, Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka b Don Frye & Keiji Muto, IWGP tag titles: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima b Riki Choshu & Shinya Makabe

3/20 Kisarazu (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 1,800): Rusher Kimura & Mitsuo Momota b Haruka Eigen & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, Akitoshi Saito & Naomichi Marufuji b Makoto Hashi & Masashi Aoyagi, Naoki Sano & Yoshinari Ogawa b Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Kentaro Shiga, Pit Bull & Too Cold Scorpio & Vader b Takashi Suguira & Masao Inoue & Tamon Honda, Akira Taue & Jun Izumida b Takeshi Morishima & Jun Akiyama, Satoru Asako & Yoshihiro Takayama & Takao Omori b Takeshi Rikio & Daisuke Ikeda & Mitsuharu Misawa


Special thanks to: Cool Ry, David Romero, Phil Jones, Paul Bradbrook, Robert Bihari, Beau Hajavitch, Joe Seannoa, Wes Jones, John White, Devon Cutting, Julian Shabazz, Jeff Marek, Dan Lovransky, Alex Marvez, Bryan Alvarez, Larry Stevenson, Alexander LeGrand, Jeff Amdur, Timothy Rowe, Dave Republic, Larry Goodman, Craig Allen, Trent Walters, Brian Thompson, Eddie Goldman, Jason Allgood, Kirk Sheppard, Keith Rainville, Kevin Currah, Luke Craig, Samir Nurmohamed, Jason Peters, Dan Billings, Joe Chandler, Matt Duffield, Marcus Watkins, Andy Patrizio, Josh Berbue, Anthony Gancarski, Zach Arnold, Eric Loy, Rich Palladino, Salvatore Forgiuela, Jeff Bukantz, Gene Restaino, Manuel Gonzalez, Al Tyson, Joe Colosi, Ryan Clark, Lee Hendricks, Scott Shapiro, Stewart Dougall, Gene Restaino, Rod Sicilaino, Joe Silva, Trent Van Drisse, Ryan McFarland, Fred Cook, Peter Macy

MEXICO: With two weeks to go before the PPV, it was big babyface night on 3/16 at Arena Mexico, which probably means next week will be big time heat on the heels. The tecnicos won every match. Main event was Perro Aguayo & Rayo de Jalisco Jr. & Villano III over Scorpio Jr. & Emilio Charles Jr. & Bestia Salvaje ending when Aguayo used the double foot stomp off the top rope and Salvaje did a stretcher job. The Dinamitas hit the ring but Aguayo cleaned house on them as well. Ricky Marvin retained the Mexican lightweight title over Virus in a match which didn't get over as well as expected with the crowd. Mostly on the mat and it was only a one fall title match instead of the traditional best-of-three. They once again did the PPV match of Olimpico & Mr. Niebla & Safari vs. Fuerza Guerrera & El Signo & Blue Panther, said to be the show stealer once again, with Olimpico's team going over. The only way this makes sense is as a set-up for Fuerza's team defending the old Mexican national trios titles, as was hinted last week. The last show before the PPV on 3/23 is headlined by Aguayo & Casas & Wagner Jr. vs. Charles & Scorpio Jr. & Santo in a parejas increibles match

At the 3/16 show in Tijuana, Sabu wasn't over a lick in his match with Damian, which Damian won. There's also an interesting deal in that Rey Misterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera seem not to be getting the reaction you'd expect because of the American taint where the fans can see that they are Americanized in style whereas other former WCW guys like Nicho, Halloween and Damian aren't and pull out all the stops because they don't have an American gig or are waiting to get theirs back. Nicho beat Santo in the ladder match which sets up one of the biggest matches of the year in Mexico in the same building on 4/6 with Santo's mask against Nicho's hair

Old Emilio Charles Jr. beat Much older Ringo Mendoza on 3/18 at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City to win the CMLL middleweight title. Nozawa won the CMLL welterweight title from Arkangel but not sure when or where, other than he was to make his first defense on 3/20 at Arena Coliseo against Pantera.

PUERTO RICO: Both sides in the wrestling war are gearing up for some of their biggest shows in a long time on the first weekend of April. IWA's tour is called Juicio Fina! (Final Justice) and will feature Val Venis, Taka Michinoku, Kane, Terry Funk and a big surprise is the return of Steve Strong (Former Stampede Wrestler Strangler Steve DiSalvo who retired years ago, but was a big draw for the WWC 12 years ago) as well as doing a three-way undercard feud for the IWA jr. title with Super Crazy defending against Essa Rios and Michinoku

WWC is attempting to bring in Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes as a headline match. When WWC was hot in the 80s, Flair and Rhodes appeared on big shows all the time so both are well known. They are also looking at using Konnan (to work with Ray Gonzalez), Jeff Jarrett and Dustin Rhodes

IWA drew its biggest crowd in its history without involvement and help from the WWF on 3/10 in Carolina with 2,700 fans for a show headlined by TNT & Huracan Castillo Jr. as Los Boricuas beating Chicky Starr & Victor the Bodyguard in a Caribbean strap match with Dutch Mantel handcuffed to Jose Estrada and Ricky Banderas beat Miguel Perez. The big draw continues to be TNT & Castillo attempting to get Perez and his famous father Jose Miguel Perez Sr. to join them and re-form Los Boricuas. Victor Almonte, the promoter of the Dominican Wrestling Association was there to work on exchanges of talent. They came back on 3/17 in Bayamon with 2,488 fans, but again Perez refused to join the Boricuas and said he was mad at TNT and Castillo from continually interfering in his matches, plus Ricky Banderas kept the IWA title over Shane in the main event

WWC's big show of last week drew 900 in Morovis, PR with Carly Colon beat El Nene in a cage match. They had two title changes as Eddie Colon regained the jr. title from Damian Steel and Paul LeDuc won the Puerto Rican title from Invader I in a Coal Miners Glove match when Rico Suave distracted Invader

Chris Romero has been brought in to help with the WWC booking.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: Kenta Kobashi had the fourth operation on his right knee on 3/13. Actually it's his fifth, because he had the one last year, but it's the fourth since 1/22. There is talk now that he may need yet one more operation. They are still talking about him coming back and wrestling again, although not for a very long time, but I don't see how he can expect to do so without almost guaranteeing being in a wheelchair by his mid-40s and it's just not worth it. I hope every young wrestler studies his career because there are limits what amount of punishment the body can take, and quite frankly, the body only has so many four star matches in them as all the Japanese superstars of the early 90s have shown. I know as fans we want to see everyone give everything they have when we pay for a ticket or watch television, but the reality is you've got to pick and choose your four-star matches, unless you are very lucky like Ric Flair, or you'll end up like this

Line-up for the first NTV show, a one-hour special that they are hopeful of delivering big numbers for on 4/6, besides the Jun Akiyama vs. Takao Omori match in the GHC tournament, are Vader vs. Takuma Sano (squash win), Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Too Cold Scorpio & Pitbull #1 (don't tell me they're using Gary Wolfe?), Akira Taue vs. Takeshi Morishima and Daisuke Ikeda & Takeshi Rikio vs. Satoru Asako & Yoshihiro Takayama.

The tournament opened on 3/18 in Differ Ariake with Misawa pinning Akitoshi Saito in his first round match.

NEW JAPAN: Scott Norton won the IWGP heavyweight title on 3/17 in Nagoya before a sellout of 9,000 fans. Not sure what the number is but the consecutive Nagoya sellout streak was considered by some in jeopardy because New Japan's house show business has cooled and Sasaki vs. Norton was a weak main event. They did an angle where Team 2000 "injured" Sasaki's left knee at the house show the night before in Tottori and Norton captured the title with a jumping clothesline in 11:49 after working the left knee much of the match. Norton had all of Team 2000 including Scott Hall at ringside for the match. On the surface, this sounds ludicrous because Norton's time has clearly passed for a position like this, but he may be a transitional champion since they'll probably put the Manabu Nakanishi against Norton (or Don Frye if they make that match a title match at the Osaka Dome) on the 5/5 Fukuoka Dome show. For the past year plus, they have been grooming Nakanishi for the spot, which also isn't good news even though Nakanishi has improved. The other big angle on the show saw the return of Hiroshi Hase to New Japan after several years as the new member of Muto's group with Frye, Jinsei Shinzaki and Taiyo Kea. Muto & Frye won a non-title match over Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan in 20:04 when Frye gained a tap out over Kojima with a leglock. All of Team 2000 then attacked Frye & Muto until Hase ran in for the save. Muto had announced a few days earlier that he would be adding a fifth member to his team in Nagoya. Muto then announced he was re-naming the group BATT, for Bad Ass Translate Trading, which is something that I think we would need help translating. Also on the show, Minoru Tanaka scored a clean win over Jushin Liger via submission in 16:01 in what was said to have been a super match

The Nakanishi vs. Nagata match at the Osaka Dome for the No. 1 contendership is expected to officially change to Hashimoto vs. Nakanishi. They ran an angle on the 3/20 show at the Tokyo Yoyogi Gym which drew only 3,000 fans. They've run Tokyo far too often in the past few weeks, but even so, they've done schedules like this numerous times in the past and packed all the Tokyo shows. The fact they couldn't pack the 3,800-seat building was even more disappointing since they were hinting in the newspapers they would shoot some angles and that Inoki would be there live. More than any of the matches, the highlight of the show was Inoki's appearance. He brought out Tadao Yasuda, who has been training at Inoki's Los Angeles camp, to build up his 3/25 Pride match against Masaaki Satake. He then brought out Hashimoto and said he wanted Hashimoto to face anyone from New Japan. Nakanishi came out and they did some mic work and Tatsumi Fujinami basically okayed the match. Then he brought out Kazuyuki Fujita and Kensuke Sasaki, with Sasaki saying he was sorry he dropped the IWGP title and that the match with Fujita would have to be non-title. In a stunning admission at the show, Inoki said it's been terribly disappointing to him that the popularity of pro wrestling in Japan has declined so much and said that Fujinami and Choshu had a meeting with him the previous day for ideas to turn things around and I said he gave them a bitter pill to swallow about how things are being done. The line-up itself was somewhat weak, and that didn't help the crowd either, with Tenzan & Kojima retaining the IWGP tag titles in the main event beating Choshu & Shinya Makabe in 9:37 when Kojima pinned Makabe after a lariat. Nobody took Makabe seriously in the main event title challenge position. Also Iizuka & Nagata beat Muto & Frye in 16:36 when Nagata surprisingly pinned Frye clean with a back suplex, which is weird with Frye challenging IWGP champ Norton at the Osaka Dome. They also shot an angle underneath, as after Liger & El Samurai beat Minoru Tanaka & Kendo Ka Shin with Liger pinning Ka Shin, Kazunari Murakami (who faces Liger at the Osaka Dome) attacked Liger and tore up his mask

Things are even more ambitious as after the 4/9 Osaka Dome and 5/5 Fukuoka Dome, they are running 7/20 at the Sapporo Dome. That may explain holding back so many big matches such as Choshu vs. Hashimoto or something big with Ogawa

Hall did his first job on the 3/15 show in Kyoto before 5,500 fans in a tag team with Norton against Don Frye & Keiji Muto to Muto's Frankensteiner in 13:42

Hall & Norton beat former IWGP tag champs Nakanishi & Nagata when Norton pinned Nakanishi with a power bomb to headline the 3/18 show in Amagasaki. Also on the show, Frye pinned Tenzan clean in a grudge match

Hall did really well overall on the tour. He was straight the entire tour. All the Japanese wrestlers enjoyed working with him and felt he freshened up what is a stale product. They want to put Chono & Hall together as a tag team. Hall will be back for one week during the April tour

Norton has been training of late with Regal. He went to Regal to learn more wrestling when he found out he was going to be given a big push to the top

After the current tour ends this week, they'll be off until Osaka Dome, then re-start with a tour from 4/19 to 5/5, mainly in the Kyushu Area

They are doing a gimmick where they are looking for the first time to train a large Mongolian to be a pro wrestler. There are two Mongolians who are now big stars in sumo, although sumo is a big sport there

2/24 show did a 1.9 rating.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Ryuji Yamakawa was seriously injured on 3/18 in Fukuoka suffering severe brain hemorrhaging after a messed up choke slam from Wife Beater. He was supposed to take a choke slam through a table over the top rope outside the ring, but missed the table in hit his head on the concrete floor. The match was part of a tournament to crown the first BJW champion, which Kamikaze won beating Wifebeater in the finals.

HERE AND THERE: David Webber, 32, who wrestled under the name Dave Vicious, and was a headliner with the Eastern Wrestling Alliance in Maine and Green Mountain Wrestling in Vermont, passed away in 3/16 of an apparent heart attack in his driveway. He took his ring name because of his physical resemblance to Sid Vicious. In high school he was a fat guy who was not at all athletic, but he became huge and muscular. He worked as a lobsterman for his family's business and had just gotten engaged

The London Daily Mirror ran a lengthy article on Tom "Dynamite Kid" Billington, 42, who this past week went through his second divorce leaving him alone and destitute

Brian James (Road Dogg) did a lengthy interview with Jeff Kohl for Live Audio Wrestling this past week talking about the problems that led to his losing his job with the WWF. James said that his drug addiction problems are no secret and he's got good and bad days and it's a constant battle. He said he got messed up before a match and did the match anyway, which was filmed for Heat, and he knew he was messed up. He tried to apologize to Vince McMahon, who told him he was busy, so he went to Bruce Prichard and told him he was going through a pretty bitter divorce. The next day Ross and Prichard told him he was being suspended and should go home and get his life in order. A few weeks later he was officially released and he hasn't spoken to anyone since. He said it wasn't a bitter thing but he hasn't talked with anyone. He said he can't feel sour toward them because they made him a star. He said he didn't think the release was justified although credited WWF for paying for his rehab twice in the past and giving him another chance. He did seem mad that they told him to get his life in order temporarily, then him getting the papers and the phone call from Ross saying they no longer have any use for the Road Dogg character. He noted he's still going through a bitter divorce and hasn't seen his kids in two months. He said he doesn't blame Vince and he holds himself responsible because he knows he's not supposed to endanger other people's health (by performing impaired). He said the only people he's spoken with since he was fired were Sean Waltman a few times and Dennis Knight. He's doing indies. He spoke with Johnny Ace and talked about the possibility of working for WCW at some point when he cleaned himself up, although that world has changed.

MMA: Ken Shamrock aggravated his neck injury which dates back to high school in training and is out of the Pride show on 3/25. Shamrock suffered a broken neck as a high school wrestler and suffered a second neck injury after being kicked by Curtis Hughes at the end of his WWF run in 1999. It is expected that another Lions Den fighter, Tra Telligman, will have the unpleasant duty of having to face Igor Vovchanchyn with only two weeks notice. Shamrock is suffering from bilateral upper extremity pain and cervical radiculopathy

The Pride show on PPV will air on Viewers Choice Canada on 4/13. It debuts on DirecTV on 4/6 and Bell Express Vu on 4/13. All systems will have numerous replays. The complete line-up is Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Vanderlei Silva, which is one hell of an intriguing match that there is considerable debate over who will win and on paper looks exciting; Vovchanchyn vs. Telligman, Mark Coleman vs. Allan Goes (on paper this sounds like a boring fight with Coleman just holding Goes down and avoiding getting submitted), Renzo Gracie vs. Dan Henderson (which will probably be a hell of a match between two talented and gutsy fighters); Heath Herring (who has a ton of potential to be a top star) vs. Denis Sobolev (a Russian who little is known about), Guy Mezger vs. Egan Inoue (on paper Mezger should keep it upright and would like be able to outbox Inoue if it stays standing and should be able to beat him on the ground as well although Inoue is not a pushover), Vitor Belfort vs. Bobby Southworth (who has a 2-0 record, but he may be in for a very tough night, although not a very long night) and Masaaki Satake vs. Tadao Yasuda (whether work or shoot, Satake on paper figures to be far too skillful standing for a huge man with little experience in this game)

For whatever this is worth, Antonio Inoki announced in Japan that WCW is folding and that they want to bring Bill Goldberg in for Pride. He also said they wanted to bring Tokimitsu Ishizawa (Kendo Ka Shin) back (like they haven't killed his career already) and predicted that Silva would beat Sakuraba

While nothing new is official on the 5/4 UFC show from Atlantic City, these new matches have been talked about on internet sites and contracts for each of these matches have been sent out, even though the only ones signed are Randy Couture vs. Pedro Rizzo and Kevin Randleman vs. Chuck Liddell. Three other matches are Pat Miletich defending the lightweight title against Carlos Newton and Matt Serra (Renzo Gracie's top student) vs. Shonie Carter. Mark Kerr vs. Pete Williams was out on the internet but it looks like Kerr won't be doing the show because he's training for Abu Dhabi, which is pure submissions. They are looking for a big name opponent for Williams

K-1 ran 3/17 at the Yokohama Arena drawing a sellout 16,800 with a double main of Mike Bernardo vs. Jerome LeBanner and Mirko Crocop Filipovic vs. Peter Aerts. Bernardo-LeBanner came off almost like pro wrestling with the type of finish, that if it happens frequently, will kill their business. Bernardo hit LeBanner after the bell and knocked him silly. LeBanner's corner then threw in the towel because he couldn't continue. At first it was ruled Bernardo won by TKO because of the towel being thrown in, but later the result was changed to no contest. Filipovic beat Aerts via decision.

WCW: The very strange next to last episode of Nitro on 3/12 from Gainesville, FL opened with them playing taps, not for the company, but for DDP, who was claimed to be the latest victim of Scott Steiner. Can't believe they'd do it because it was a spoof in a sense of all the real deaths they've listed at the beginning of the show over the years. Steiner and Flair came out, with Dusty and Dustin on the screen. Steiner challenged Dustin to a match, but Booker T came out to challenge Stenier. Bagwell & Animal blamed Luger for being the mystery attacker. Jett pinned Disqo with the crash landing, although he barely got Disqo up for the move. Fans didn't care at first, but Jett, doing the Scotty 2 Hotty wild eyes before doing moves and a whole lot of spots he learned watching Satoru Sayama tapes (including the spinning drop toe hold that I haven't seen in nearly 20 years) got over great with the crowd, particularly after doing the old Liger springboard flip back elbow. They tried to push that Jett was a rookie while Disqo had ten years experience. I seem to remember Jett back in Smoky Mountain Wrestling and in wrestling years, that was a lifetime ago. Helms pinned Kidman with the vertabreaker. They did nothing wrong but the crowd wouldn't react. Chavo, Romeo & Skipper all attacked Helms and Kidman and Misterio Jr. made the save. Stacy came out to some cheers. She complained that the crowd insulted her by not cheering her more to get heel heat. You know what? They cheered her a lot more. Funniest thing I've seen in a long time. It's even funnier watching her "sell" for Stasiak being a stud as they have zero chemistry together. It was like when WWF tried to make Billy Gunn and Chyna a couple when Gunn seemed embarrassed to even look at her. Bigelow came out for a rematch. "What an ovation for Bigelow" Schiavone screamed as an embarrassingly little reaction was heard. Place was dead. Bigelow won with the greetings right in the middle. Was that strange? It ended up building for a match next week where if Bigelow wins again, Stasiak has to get a tatoo. Bischoff did an interview via phone. Actually this was taped earlier in the day. This was so weird. Basically he hinted he was working to buy the company but had hit a roadblock. Everyone expected him to go out there and say, "hey, this whole thing about the show being canceled is a work." That doesn't explain why he was there other than to announce they want to bring back all the ex-champions for a big Nitro next week and will have all the titles at stake for what they are calling the final show of "the season" as opposed to the final show on the Turner network. Schiavone did make a few references to 29 years on the show but they never talked about the finality. It must have been so unbelievably weird for the 98% of the audience watching who has no idea about what was going on with the sale since pro wrestling has never before had "a season." He ordered Flair to kiss Dusty's ass later in the show. Never made clear what power he had to do it since Flair is CEO on TV. At this point, storylines that add up really don't matter anyway. He announced the Night of Champions as the final Nitro next week which will be Scott Steiner vs. Booker T title vs. title, Helms vs. Chavo cruiserweight title, Palumbo & O'Haire defending the tag titles against Awesome & Storm and Romeo & Skipper defending the jr. tag titles against Misterio Jr. & Kidman. The Steiner match is questionable at press time as he's scheduled for an MRI this week for what may be a pinched nerve, causing his leg to go numb, and he may not be able to wrestle. They had a desk for a contract signing of Steiner vs. Booker, but it ended up with Flair taking bumps for Booker and Steiner hitting Booker in the knee with the pipe and destroying about 20 security guys until Booker finally made the comeback, got the pipe, but Flair pulled Steiner to safety. Flair was backstage saying, "I'm not kissing anybody's ass anymore." Somehow I found that one funny. Now they were blaming Rick Steiner for doing the attacking since earlier in the show Luger was left laying. Kanyon beat Smooth. Smooth showed really good ability for a man so large but after that huge angle, zero heat for the match. Smooth was wearing a singlet way too big on him, and considering how big he is, who the hell did they make it for? Animal interfered giving Smooth a DDT and Kanyon got the pin. Cat saved to build up a tag match nobody would ever want to see. Dusty said he was going to eat 33 more burritos and said in Texas they call it Stink Facey. Texas? Well, I guess when Rikishi is in Texas. A very strange match saw Rick Steiner kill Konnan dead. He was potatoing him, stiffing him. It was like Konnan violated his sister or something. It had to be the five longest minutes of Konnan's life and one of the worst matches in the history of Nitro because Steiner was totally unprofessional. After a while, Konnan was doing everything he could to survive and not get killed, which meant he avoided every bit of contact possible once he realized he was getting potatoed, making the match look even worse. Konnan likely suffered a concussion as he was knocked out at two different points in the match. I don't know who he pissed off, or if Steiner just figured since the company is done he could just have fun being a bully with impunity. Douglas ran in and hit Steiner with his cast for the DQ. Konnan went to pin Steiner and looked pissed at the ref for not counting. Steiner then beat up Konnan again, although this made sense to set up Morrus making the save. The finish looked on TV to be a double-cross, but that wasn't the case. The original finish was Konnan getting the pin when Douglas used the cast. Steiner refused to do the job so it was switched to approximately what happened, although Douglas' run-in was late, missing a cue because he was in the stands and didn't see it, and Steiner just pounded on Konnan until Douglas showed up for the finish. Bagwell & Animal confronted Steiner. Awesome & Storm beat Palumbo & O'Haire in a non-title match to set up the title match when Awesome pinned Palumbo with the Awesome bomb. Palumbo looked good early. Then O'Haire and Awesome were in together and it was awful. The announcers were doing their best to get O'Haire over. Bad in the middle, but a good finishing sequence. The main event on the show, believe it or not, was Flair kissing a donkey with the writing "Dusty's ass" on it. They beat up Dustin. Dusty made the save. They beat him up. Dustin saved. Flair & Jarrett had their faces rubbed into the donkey and kissed it as the show ended

Notes from the final Thunder. Jung Dragons beat Paris & Styles in a match with some messed up spots and excellent spots when Hayashi pinned Styles. Dustin and Flair were arguing on a promo. Crowd live was making fun of them, setting up the handicap match main event. Jett pinned Kash in a very good match. Crowd was really into it again by the latter stages because of the work, or mainly the high spots. Cat & Smooth beat Kanyon & Animal in a horrible match when Smooth pinned Kanyon after Cat tripped him from the outside. Morrus pinned Rick Steiner. Steiner destroyed him the entire match until Douglas came out and hit him with a cast to set up the pin. Bad. Misterio Jr. & Kidman & Helms beat Guerrero Jr. & Romeo & Skipper. Said to be the best match of either Nitro or Thunder. Crowd was really into the match which was surprising considering how late it was and how much bad stuff had been out there. Kidman pinned Romeo with the kid crusher. The guys seemed emotional at the end, I guess with the recognition that they may have no stage to perform these kind of matches on in the near future. Palumbo pinned Awesome with Storm and O'Haire both getting involved. Dead crowd for this one. Main saw Jarrett & Scott Steiner over Dustin including Midajah interference and Steiner using the pipe. Crowd didn't react to much in this match either until the post-match run-in by Booker to set up the final show of the company

Palumbo may have suffered a pinched nerve in one of the two matches as one of his arms was pretty well useless after the show

There were two backstage skirmishes the last two weeks. Last week, Palumbo tried to stand up to Rick Steiner and went to try and take him down. It was a bad idea and he paid for it, being twisted into a pretzel. This week, O'Haire and Jett got into it backstage and O'Haire choked him out in 30 seconds

The Thunder match with Misterio Jr. & Kidman vs. Moore & Karagias was probably the best WCW TV match in a long time. Aside from a few of the main events, WWF TV never has matches this good. Too bad they don't know how to put guys over based on matches like this. The show went downhill after that and the Jett match.

Ace got over with a lot of the wrestlers with an exchange with Luger. The way we heard the exchange is that Luger was complaining about doing so many jobs for everyone. He compared himself with a Ferrari and said that if you keep hitting a Ferrari with a sledge hammer, pretty soon it's worthless. Ace's reaction was something to the effect of, acting like he had no idea what that meant. The fact Luger is still doing jobs got a lot of the wrestlers' respect because in similar situations, bookers acquiesced to the older guys when they complained about putting the younger guys over. The problem of course is how Luger puts people over in that for the most part nobody gets over beating him, but for the wrestlers themselves, they see it as a sign of something when the highly paid guys are losing to the younger less well paid guys

Viewers Choice Canada was furious as nobody from WCW ever let them know that they had canceled the 4/15 PPV date, even though it was cancelled weeks ago

Jett was wearing an orange costume with wings on it (you know, jet wings) but some of the guys talked him out of going to the ring wearing it

Add Ron & Don Harris as well as Mark Jindrak to the list of guys who have been let go

Reports are that David Flair was showing a lot of improvement in his recent NWA Wildside appearances

The next to last show on 3/19 in Gainesville, FL drew 2,824 fans which was 1,434 paying $40,920 which shows just how cold the product is with college kids.

WWF: It appears the working idea to come out of Mania is HHH as a babyface top contender challenging heel Austin, aligned with Vince as a way to get him over as a heel, although the crowd reaction this week may have thrown that idea for a loop. This means HHH has to come out of the Taker match as a face. Perhaps they'll involve Kane and Show in the angle so they can all turn on HHH. It would seem Vince would help Austin beat Rock. Anyway, as they say in wrestling is final until it actually happens. I guess the debate is at what point it becomes "known" that Vince and Austin are together to screw the Rock, if they go in that direction because Rock was booed both nights at TV this week when confronting Austin. Because the show is scheduled for 3:45 instead of the usual 2:45, there will likely be about ten matches, lots more skits than usual as well as longer interviews and probably a post-game show, although nothing is finalized. There is some advertising out that lists it as a three-hour show with a one-hour post-game show but I can't believe they'll do an hour again because that was way too long last year. Vince vs. Shane in a street fight seems to be the old Linda rising from the wheelchair finish, and perhaps doing something to Trish and have Foley return to screw Vince. The rest of the show seems to be Angle vs. Benoit, Taker vs. HHH, Raven vs. Show vs. Kane in a three-way for the hardcore title, Jericho vs. Regal for the IC title, Dudleys vs. E&C vs. Hardys in a tables, ladders and chairs match for the tag titles, Test vs. Guerrero for the European title, Ivory vs. Chyna for the womens title, probably Crash vs. Malenko for the lightheavyweight title and Tazz vs. Richards

Raw on 3/19 in Albany. Show vs. Raven for the hardcore belt ended up in a three-way when Kane came out. Kane clotheslined Show off the top but Raven jumped on Show for the pin to take the title. Rock did an interview challenging Austin. The gimmick was Austin's plane was late, and somehow he didn't arrive in the building until after the main event was over. Shane did an interview, bringing up Ted Turner and Bob Costas as people who his did kicked ass on, and challenged dad to a match. It didn't get anywhere near the pop you'd expect. Stephanie, who has lost a ton of weight, came out and tried to get Shane not to do it. Vince & Trish came out. Vince signed the contract and was going crazy wanting to fight Shane. But instead HHH destroyed Shane in the ring and Vince yelled at him to pedigree him. Vince said that he would never forgive Linda for giving birth to Shane. Backstage, HHH continued to beat on Shane until they threw him in the limo, Vince hit the limo with a chair (supposed to be Shane's head) and they drove him off. E&C beat Hardys to win the tag titles when Rhino debuted on TV, under that name, and speared Jeff allowing Edge to get the pin. Lita did this great flying huracanrana on Christian to interfere first. The size illusion appeared as the monster in ECW, and he was wearing an ECW t-shirt which makes me think they are planning something with ECW, and Heyman called him the last ECW champion, looked so much smaller in WWF, shorter than even Christian. As Sexton Hardcastle (Edge), Christian Cage and Rhino Richards, these three worked Canadian indies a few years back as "Thug Life." They told Rhino to go to the hotel. Regal with the cops gave Undertaker a restraining order to stay away from Stephanie. Taker threatened Regal for calling the cops on him. Tazz beat Richards via DQ very quickly when Venis interfered. Rock came out and cleaned house on everyone including Tazz and did an interview challenging Austin. Dudleys finally arrived at the airport. The gimmick was E&C canceled their reservations and then took their scheduled title match early. HHH NC Test when Undertaker came out to hit the ring. Show was involved as well. Kane then came out and knocked out Show with a chair and chased Stephanie away. With Stephanie gone, Taker could attack HHH. Taker teased forever getting at HHH with a chair but Show came out and allowed HHH to run to safety. Test then came in to attack Taker but he got choke slammed. They went backstage and Kane had this blow-up doll or light mannequin dressed like Stephanie and threatened to throw it off a ledge unless Regal okayed Taker vs. HHH and Kane vs. Show for Mania. Really cheesy hearing Stephanie voice with this doll that didn't move being shown. Swear that was right out of WCW. X-Pac & Credible beat Albert & Sexay when Albert used the Albert bomb on GMS and Credible pinned him. Jericho peed in Regal's tea. Regal drank it and felt it was rather tart. Ivory did an interview with a life-sized Chyna cardboard cut-out. The interview went way too long before finally Ivory attacked the cut-out, which sold a lot better than Chyna ever said, including giving it a camel clutch and tearing its head off. The real Chyna, who doing all the promo work for the book hasn't been doing whatever she used to do as well as tanning. I'm surprised they had her on TV in a skimpy top looking like a big girl with giant implants as opposed to a giant buffed tanned girl with huge implants. Anyway, she DDT'd Ivory and signed a release. They did a great XFL video. Too bad it's beyond dead. Dudleys won the tag titles from E&C when Spike Dudley showed up and did a dropkick of a chair into Christian's face and the acid drop, while they did a 3-D on Edge for the pin. Main event was yet another really good main event with Regal & Benoit & Angle over Rock & Jericho in 7:52. Jericho took a tremendous beating from all three until making the hot tag. At one point, Benoit had the crossface on Rock and then Angle put on the ankle lock. They teased tension in a pre-match interview with Benoit and Angle but did nothing with it during the match. Final saw Regal hit Jericho with a belt shot for the pin. Heels continued the three-on-two until everyone knew Austin was going to make the save. Rock hit Regal with the belt and cleaned house on Benoit before giving Austin the rock bottom. Fans pretty much booed Rock for doing so, which was not the desired reaction

Smackdown tapings for 3/20 in Providence. Every report we got from this show was strongly negative. Crowd live hated that in the first hour of Smackdown, there were only two matches, one of which took place mainly backstage. Way too many video packages for XFL and WM. Lots of boos and bullshit chants during the Austin-Rock promo. Raven wrestled Jericho for the hardcore title which ended up in Regal's office and they tore up the office. Regal threw coffee in Jericho's face and Raven hit Jericho with a pan and pinned him. Regal was so mad about the office being messed up that he added Raven to the Show vs. Kane match. X-Pac & Credible & Albert beat Blackman & K-Kwik & GMS when K-Kwik did the job. The police arrested Taker for violating the restraining order but Stephanie hasn't decided if she wants to press charges so they keep Taker in the dressing room. Rock and Austin did a 23 minute interview with Ross which apparently was a disaster live as fans couldn't wait for it to end. Austin said Debra's health is Rock's responsibility and Rock said he didn't want her as his manager and if something happens, it's not his fault. HHH & Show beat Kane when Show pined Kane after a choke slam. Taker beat up all the police holding him and ran out of the dressing room for the save. When he finally gets to the ring, HHH and Show pound him since he's still handcuffed. HHH hits both of them with chairs as police hold Undertaker down. The police, who HHH reveals aren't really police, handcuff Kane and HHH grabs a sledge hammer and hits Undertaker. All three Dudleys beat E & C & Rhino via DQ when Edge hits Buh Buh with a chair. After the match, Rhino speared Spike through a table. RTC did an interview and Tazz attacked Richards, but the RTC bets him down and Acolytes save. Rock beat Benoit & Angle in the main event. Benoit had Rock in the crossface but Angle turned on Benoit and put Rock's lege on the ropes. Angle then tags in but Rock pinned him clean with the rock bottom. Benoit attacked Rock, but Rock put him in the sharpshooter and Angle just walked off and left him, laughing at him. Vince tells Rock to break and Vince punched the ref, but Rock let go to give Vince a rock bottom. Angle then came back and put Rock in the ankle lock while Austin laughed about it. After the show went off the air, Austin stunned Angle and then stunned Rock

Michaels' return, there are several different ideas that have been considered but the return itself is a definite and he will almost surely be at Mania in some form. They may bring him in with little focus for Mania and shoot an angle to build for him wrestling on the 4/29 PPV. Last year, the idea was to keep Austin away from Mania and have him return at Backlash and they resulted in two straight huge buy rates. While Michaels' return won't be anywhere near what Austin's return meant, they may use the same type of psychology here

Other notes from Albany. They were confiscating signs like crazy at the show. One person called us and said in his section alone they took 19 signs. They were taking anything that would be considered anti-storyline, including several pro-WCW signs, anything negative about babyfaces (tons of negative Rock signs because he's doing a program with Austin all over the building, all of which were attempted to be confiscated but even so, many made the air) and of course the Lawler stuff. There were many "We Want Jerry" chants during the show. Rock was booed when confronting Austin, which is not the reaction expected since they started teasing the Austin turn already. Also many signs confiscated referring to wrestlers, whether face or heel, as gay or pansies. On TV, they tried to focus on signs that were negative toward Bob Costas. In Providence, there were lots of chants for refunds because of the aforementioned booking of the first hour. Fans were booing and throwing things when the Austin-Rock promo which took forever aired. Crowd chanted for Rock and Austin when they squared off, but the Austin chants totally overpowered the Rock chants. All the "Rocky sucks" signs were being confiscated again. Austin ripped off his shirt and did a Hogan posedown which was hilarious. A fan hit the ring as he was drinking beer, he grabbed the fan, threw him down and put his knee on the fans' neck until security carted him away. No chants or signs for Lawler in Providence

Chris Chetti got another try-out match, putting over Taka Michinoku. He didn't get a chance to show much, but people remarked for a guy getting a try-out, he didn't show up in very good physical shape. The next night he wrestled Nova in a match described as really bad. Scott Vick looked really good in the undercard

Everyone considers Tommy Dreamer as next to a sure thing to be headed in

Nova had a try-out scheduled for the California shows last week but missed it due to a transportation problem before finally working Providence for Smackdown night dark

. Some notes from Smackdown on 3/15. Not on the level of Raw, but they can't all be. Another solid show with a really good main event. Although it's something said every week, Regal is just a tremendous actor. His mannerisms are incredible and he's great in that overdone commissioner role. That role has been done do death that by all rights it should be stale, but it isn't with Regal. It was hilarious when he and Guerrero were doing their back-and-forth with the accents and he said, "I need an interpreter for this job." Austin did a total heel promo. If the idea is for him to go heel, which is certainly what it appears, I'm surprised they telegraphed it so much. Funny watching the police arrest Undertaker and then HHH, right in front of the police, sucker punches him while they do nothing. Also it was hilarious that on Monday they acted as if Undertaker's leg might practically be amputated with the motorcycle falling on the knee, and a few days later, he's moving around without even limping. An unintentionally funny moment was in the Jericho vs. Dudleys tables match when they did the spot where it was a near fall with the table with Jericho trying to put Buh Buh threw it but D-Von was supposed to move the table so it was a miss. He moved it, but nor far enough and Buh Buh caught the end of a table and it broke. They just kept going like nothing had happened, made an excuse that the table leg had collapsed (even though you clearly see the break in the board), brought in a new table and Jericho was put through it for the finish. What I guess was really professional was that nobody in the ring after the snafu even paused to miss a beat. Another funny thing Kane doing his hair flip as he walked under a staircase and you hear a thump on the screen because Kane hit his head on the staircase. Angle vs. Austin was yet another really hot TV main event. WWF is having a string of excellent main events on TV. Seems everyone credits Angle and HHH with being great workers but even though they are consistently in great matches, Rock and Austin seemingly don't get the credit and the former two aren't single-handedly doing these matches. Well booked and even better worked. They did the spot where Angle was knocked down on the floor and Austin was down in the ring. Rock came out and threw Angle into the ring, seemingly helping him pin Austin, but Austin kicked out. Angle hit both Austin and Rock with chairs. Finish was well done as Austin laid out Rock after Rock laid out Angle, who saved Austin from a rock bottom and took it himself, but Austin pinned Angle after stunning Rock

After the 5/5 U.K. PPV at Earl's Court in London, WWF has booked a return PPV date for 11/3 in Manchester. Due to some bad publicity stemming from police having to be called when tickets for the London event were put on sale and the best seats had already been sold to WWF Fan Club members ahead of time, for the Manchester show, there will be no special privileges regarding getting tickets and there will be a limit of eight tickets for person. The eight tickets is to prevent rampant scalping, which took place at the London event

A correction from last week. SummerSlam won't be held in San Diego as mentioned, it is still set for San Jose

There was tremendous media publicity, as we noted before, going into the 3/3 Springfield, MA house show since it was advertised as the final show of the year, with the idea that because the WWF has gotten so big, they were considering pulling out of the mid-sized market. Ed Cohen, who does the scheduling for the WWF, was at the show and did a promo in front of the fans and announced the company had signed a five-year agreement to continue playing the market, which got the expected big pop

As bad as it was for Jim Ross, who is a part of the XFL, to do the complaining act about the media's lack of coverage, it was ten times sadder to have to hear Tazz and Michael Cole, who aren't even part of the league, do the crybaby act on Smackdown. Again, unless this is a Paul Heyman brainchild to create a fake enemy in the media as a face-saving measure for the league's ratings collapse, it is ill advised because it isn't going to result in a better brand of coverage. Jim Rome fell for the bait as on his show on 3/15 he began the show responding to what J.K. McKay (VP/GM of the Los Angels Xtreme) said that Rome shouldn't talk about the league because he knew nothing about football. Rome responded saying that McKay must not know a whole lot of about football either or he would still be working in the NFL. He then said it was ridiculous the XFL is trying to blame the media for the reason it isn't succeeding. He said the reason the league isn't making it is because of the horrible quality of play (he's wrong, but that's another story). He said if people wanted to see strippers, they would go to the local club rather than watch wannabe strippers who aren't going to take it all off on television. He said he's tired of hearing McMahon and Ventura claim that they never said they were going to be better than the NFL saying they should take a trip down memory lane where both of them were strongly ripping the NFL, saying there was no excitement, and they were going to return the excitement and smash mouth element to football and the NFL had turned into a bunch of wussies. He said the only way McMahon can save any credibility is to admit this was a bad way to invest $100 million. Here is free advice for any sportswriter who has just criticism of either WWF or WCW or XFL or UFC. Examine the issues, focus on the issues. Don't respond to personal attacks because then it becomes a "feud" and at that point people take sides and far too many will rationalize their side being right rather than examine the points. If you point out the good and bad, you won't have as sizzling a speech or as hard-hitting a column, but you take yourself out of being the issue. The minute something comes across to people now, who sadly don't look past the personalities and into the actual points, as a feud, the issues themselves, if they are important, get forgotten

Speaking of XFL, one of their miscues from the beginning was not allowing their personalities to do interviews on sports talk shows. I was on with Eddie Andelman on WEEI in Chicago, who has known Vince forever (even came up with the name "King of the Ring") and even his show, like most of its kind, were never able to get XFL guests

Chyna appeared on "Off the Record," on 3/16. Didn't really say anything of note other than criticize Venus Williams for not playing her sister. Mentioned she would be doing a second Playboy shoot shortly

"Off the Record" will do three straight wrestling shows leading to Wrestlemania. The shows were taped over the weekend when the WWF crew was in Toronto. 3/29 is Hardys & Lita, which was described as an average show with Matt doing most of the talking. 3/30 is an All-Canadian panel show with Venis, Jericho, Edge and Christian, which was interesting because they buried the XFL and talked about a union. I don't know exactly what was said, because Venis is very conservative politically and anti-union, and can back his points up well in an argument. 4/1 is Angle, which I'm told was a tremendous show. The most interesting thing was Angle talking about his wife telling him that he did amateur wrestling for 20 years with all the injuries he suffered, including a broken neck several months before the Olympics where he came back on it and won the gold, and now wants to do ten years of pro wrestling and she brought up to him when it's all done, he may end up in a wheel chair and he acknowledged it as a possibility

Some Ross Report notes. Noted Bob Holly had an MRI and they are awaiting the results. Said Rikish, who had an operation for his broken eardrum on 3/13, may not make it back in time for Mania. Praised Eddy Guerrero and said that Kurt Angle was the most talented performer he's ever been around with his level of experience. I started thinking about that one, and I can't come up with anyone to dispute that. There are guys two years in who were very close in the ring but I'm not sure even naturals like Owen Hart or Jun Akiyama or Kenta Kobashi at two years in had his polish in the ring, and none had his presence, charisma or interview ability. It's so ridiculous to label someone a probable all-time great with this little time in, but barring an injury, I think it's as close to a lock as would be possible. Foley is doing a new Chef Boyardee commercial next week. David Taylor was pulled from the "Tough Enough" coaching stuff and may be put in an on-air role as someone aligned with Regal. Snow, Jackie, Tazz and Tori are handling the "Tough Enough" coaching so they'll all be off house shows for the next few months. Hinted as a face turn for Raven. Mentioned Hardys & Lita would be doing a Rolling Stone shoot. Tried to justify the dichotomy that has been criticized of WWF asking fans to bombard sportswriters and sportscasters with mail with their legal threats on Lawler when he asked to bombard the writers with e-mail and WWF with phone calls regarding his situation. Said Lawler having fans e-mail writers wasn't a good idea because the writers didn't have the power to bring him back. However, the members of the media they asked fans to write do have the power to give XFL more coverage. In other words, it's the typical attitude of when we do it, it's okay, and when it's done to us, it's a bad idea. He was clearly hurt by McMahon's statement that making him the lead announcer ahead of Matt Vasgersian was one of the XFL's biggest mistakes. To be honest, more than all the histrionics in character on the Costas show or even the knocks at Ventura trying to get him to quit, the lack of tact regarding Ross, who everyone knows was unfairly aligned because of his association with wrestling. If nothing else, McMahon, if he was really standing up for wrestling fans to the media as his defenders like to think, would, even if the right business decision would be to replace Ross because of the wrestling stigma, a decision I do understand, would at least not bury his own VP on the way out after kicking him out of his position

The Broward Country State Attorney's Office announced on 3/16 that it wouldn't press any charges against Rock's father, former wrestling star Rocky Johnson. Johnson, 56, garnered a lot of local media coverage in September because of allegations he fondled a woman without her consent at his job as an activities leader for the city of Davie. There were also allegations of theft of exercise equipment from the Pine Island Community Center that he was supervising that was recovered months later at Johnson's home. More than who his son is, what made this major news is that Davie Mayor Harry Venis helped Johnson get the job and was involved in a joint business venture with Johnson regarding starting a wrestling school. Johnson was suspended from the job in September. There were no charges pressed because there were no eye witnesses and no battery charge pressed because the victim didn't want to testify because she didn't want her identity to become public. The theft charge wasn't prosecuted because Johnson claimed he was given permission to take the "Slam Man" home and because there was conflicting evidence. Brad Weissman, an assistant state attorney in the prosecutors office said an investigation found sufficient evidence the sexual battery allegation was true as the 23-year-old alleged victim made a very credible witness and her allegation was supported by reports of other individuals she told immediately afterwards, but they wouldn't prosecute because the others corroborating her statement could only be called hearsay evidence, she didn't immediately file a complaint, and wanted her name kept out of it, which would be impossible if she pressed charges. According to the report, there were several other allegations that came out in the investigation, but none were criminal in nature, including allegedly asking a 12-year-old to play strip poker and wearing a tank tap in front of children with the word "Puta" (Spanish for prostitute) on the shirt which saw parents complain and made a comment in front of a group of children about the size of his genitalia and that he left children supervised only by a counselor-in-training while they both wrestled and boxed and several children were injured

Kane worked on 3/16 for Heartland Wrestling as part of their working agreement with Ohio Valley Wrestling for a show in Rising Sun, IN at the Grand Victoria Casino with OVW's Leviathan, going over in a match probably similar to their Louisville match. Jim Cornette at the show promised that Benoit would be working the next show, although no date was announced

Chyna was on Live Audio Wrestling on 3/17 for a taped interview (luckily for her it wasn't live as the callers likely would have been brutal since Chyna for whatever reason on shows like that is just about the most unpopular performer, partially because of her book). She said she's happy with the book, and should be happy since it's selling well. She said in hindsight she wouldn't change anything in the book, which is sure to go over well. When asked why she never mentioned anything about Survivor Series 1997 (she was supposed to do a run-in in the finish of what was one of the biggest stories in the history of the industry) or Owen Hart's death, she said the book was about her life. Good to know the traumatic death of a co-worker didn't impact her life. She said she didn't know all the details of Kat being fired but said "business is business." She emphasized she never had a relationship with her even though they did the angle together for many weeks

On this week's Memphis Championship Wrestling TV show, they pushed the arrival of Rhino, who was billed as ECW champion, and Jerry Lynn, as if they are doing an ECW vs. MCW feud in that territory with the storyline that the WWF is pushing the ECW talent ahead of the guys who have been with the company longer that are working in Memphis. However, according to the main office, they are leaning against sending Rhino and Lynn to Memphis, particularly since they just introduced Rhino on TV this week

WWF was "down" to ten of the top 20 Rec Sports videos on the latest Billboard chart. The latest Super Bowl was No. 1 and Michael Jordan to the Max was No. 2, followed by the latest Royal Rumble and a new WWF Hardcore tape and the Tony Hawk. WWF has spots 6-10 with Rock at No. 6 and there was no Austin video in the top 20. New releases were last year's UK Rebellion show at No. 8 and a new Foley video at No. 9. The heavily promoted Angle video has fallen out of the top 20. Of the non-WWF tapes in the top 20, the Juggalo Vol. 2 tape from ICP debuted at No. 11, ECW Uncensored was No. 18, The Pride Grand Prix finals was No. 19 and the FMW first tape was No. 20

Funny story is that the name that Rock will have in his starring role in "Scorpion King" is Kane

Ross did an article in the new Raw Magazine ripping on critics who berated his XFL work. You know what is funny that many have pointed out, that while Matt Vasgersian did baseball for the Brewers, on a national basis, he is best known as the voice of FX' Tough Man show, which in most ways has to be called a lot more low rent than WWF programming. Ross in particular took perhaps the single most ignorant remark written about him, the one about how can someone be the best wrestling announcer, does it mean he can read a script better than the other guy, and indicted an entire media out of it. Advice to everyone regarding "the media." Just like in all forms of everything, there are smart people, good people, total assholes, and ignoramuses. "The media" isn't against the XFL. Many members of the media are, to be sure, for whatever reason including the personality of McMahon himself and how it plays out to the non-wrestling fan. Many criticize it fairly. The PUBLIC, not the media, caused it to flop and pointing out the ratings is not wanting it to fail, or even saying it has proven thus far to be a failure is not wanting it to fail, it is just taking the data at hand and acknowledging the reality. It drew a huge rating the first week so everyone sampled it and didn't come back, thus must not have liked it enough. It may have been presented wrong and may just not have been a viable economic product for this time. Ross then talked about the "poor, insecure pathetic people of the media" to stand up or the fans of the WWF are normal, intelligent people who happen to like the WWF. Some fit into that category and some don't. I think the saddest thing was reading this and then recognizing that McMahon's remarks regarding the announcing of the XFL came out the same week

A state senator in Bridgeport, CT attacked the WWF this week to grab more headlines saying it has become "more tasteless, uncouth and dangerous by the day." Senator Alvin Penn, a Democrat and co-chair of the public safety committee in a press release on 3/16 said because of the WWF's strong appeal to young people, they should consider toning down the language, violence and portrayal of women as sex objects on its shows. "We are not looking to get rid of wrestling, but we have a responsibility to our children to look out for them and make sure that they were not delivered a lowest common demoninator product just because it sells.

XFL quote of the week that makes no sense was TV announcer Lee Reherman

on why the ratings are bad for NBC in last week's Sports Illustrated: "The young male viewer who loves us is out chasing young female viewers (on Saturday night)." Okay, Hawk, what about why the ratings on Sunday night are half that of Saturday? Saturday night isn't a great night for ratings, but why does the XFL draw about one-third of what the other three networks do on Saturday night? It isn't the night, guys

CNN's Talk Back show had a discussion on the Lionel Tate case regarding the punishment. Foley called up the show saying Attorney Jim Lewis had a chance for a plea bargain and turned it down and told Lewis, who tried to portray the beating as a result of horseplay, that Foley talked about the autopsy report and said the injuries weren't from horseplay but from a savage beating. After Foley was off the air, Lewis brought up some other cases of children deaths that have in some form, whether rightly or wrongly, been tied to wrestling

The CD fell to No. 21 for the week selling 55,771 units

Stern had two XFL cheerleaders on 3/20 who did nothing but complain about their jobs. They said they were promised to be involved in storylines but it didn't happen. They said they're paid well but their agents think being involved in the XFL is hurting their careers

At the Smackdown tapings on 3/13 in Anaheim, CA drew a sellout 12,073 paying $416,270. 3/17 house show in Toronto drew 15,313 paying $686,200 CDN. 3/18 house show in Montreal drew 12,351 paying $463,290 CDN. Raw on 3/19 in Albany, NY drew a sellout 11,951 paying $369,720. Merchandise for the week was $351,710 in U.S. dollars which was $6.80 per head. The per head is done from usual levels because of the Canadian dollar. The Canadian shows were pretty well loaded line-ups with most of the major players involved except Rock. Main was Austin & Undertaker & Kane over HHH & Show & Regal with them doing the angle that if HHH could pin Austin, he would get into the WM main event. Austin pinned HHH with a stunner and the faces all drank beer after the match while Austin stunned Show. In a bout where you would expect Dudleys to go over, they put E&C over in the tag, probably because they are locals. All the results were the same for Montreal. Only difference is for whatever reason, Austin offered Show a coke instead of a beer before giving him the post-match stunner. Both shows were reported as being really hot.