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March 31, 2003 Observer Newsletter: Death of Hiromichi “Kodo” Fuyuk, more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 March 31, 2003


Hiromichi “Kodo” Fuyuki, a controversial and tragic figure in Japanese wrestling, passed away from cancer on 3/19 at the age of 42, just a few days after putting together and shooting the angle for what would have been just about the biggest match of his career.

Cancer overcame the president of the World Entertainment Wrestling promotion at 6:50 p.m. that night at Yokohama City Hospital. Within wrestling, word of his impending death had gotten around as wrestlers Kintaro Kanemura, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, Chocoball Mukai and Shinsuke Same were at the hospital every night. Shinya Hashimoto, Mitsuharu Misawa, Genichiro Tenryu, Yoshinari Ogawa, Hayabusa, Rumi Kazama and Shinobu Kandori were also among the wrestlers who came to see him on the last three days of his life.

Just before his death, his wife, Kaoru Fuyuki, called reporters at Tokyo Sports and told them he wasn’t going to last the night, and said he wanted them to shoot newspaper photos of him with his wife.

Fuyuki found out in April of 2002 that he had cancer of the large intestine, and a retirement show was put together on 4/14 by Misawa, just before he underwent a seven hour operation in an attempt to remove the cancer. But the cancer had already started spreading, and in November, he was told that it had spread to his liver and he only had a year to live. He had arranged at that time a prospective match with Hashimoto on 5/5 in the parking lot of the old Kawasaki Baseball Stadium for his farewell (the show will take place with Kintaro Kanemura wrestling in place of Fuyuki). The cancer spread to his bowels, and at the end of February, he was hospitalized because he was unable to eat solid food. Against doctors’ advice, he shot himself up with pain killers on 3/11, so he could go to the Zero-One show at Korakuen Hall and shoot an angle with Hashimoto for the match. But it was clear the match was never going to take place, as he underwent emergency surgery on 3/14 and lapsed into a coma four days later.

Fuyuki was very controversial for his booking style, where he’d advertise stipulations and then never deliver, including numerous fake retirement matches, to the point many were suspicious last year that the cancer was just another angle. The belief that Misawa would never be party to such an angle was probably the only reason people in the wrestling community believed he was really ill.

Wrestling had been part of Fuyuki’s entire adult life, as he started training with the old International Wrestling Enterprises promotion in May of 1979, right after his high school graduation. That promotion folded in 1981, but he was brought in by Giant Baba and worked for All Japan. Baba sent him all over the world to gain experience. Fuyuki’s hero at the time was Riki Choshu, so he worked in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Texas as Riki Fuyuki, before returning to Japan in December 1985 and given the name Samson Fuyuki.

His first major push was as part of a midcard tag team called The Footloose, after the movie theme, with Toshiaki Kawada. They were mult-time All-Asian tag champs, best known for their feud with Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas, which put all four on the map as among the best workers of that era.

As a protege of Tenryu, he quit All Japan to join Super World Sports in 1990, and went on with Tenryu to WAR, before working for many independent groups, most notably FMW, and changing his name to Kodo Fuyuki.

He ended up as booker of FMW, and many blame his entertainment style of booking for the destruction of that company, and the eventual suicide of its owner, Shoichi Arai, who was left millions in debt. Arai’s death came after the paralysis of the company’s biggest star, Hayabusa, when he slipped while executing a quebrada (Chris Jericho lionsault) on a live PPV event and landing on his head.

After that promotion closed, Fuyuki promoted shows with many of the former FMW wrestlers under the WEW banner. Numerous promotions honored him before their matches this past week, including New Japan on 3/21 at Tokyo Yoyogi Gym, NOAH on 3/21 at Korakuen Hall, IWA on 3/21 at Differ Ariake and All Japan on 3/22 at Korakuen Hall.

Approximately 800 people attended his wake on 3/22 in Yokohama, with his entrance music playing in the background. The place was filled with yellow flowers, since Fuyuki always wore yellow in the ring. All the wrestlers from NOAH attended, as did Tenryu, Hayabusa, Motoko Baba, Kawada, Masahiro Chono, Gedo and Jado, with the ceremony ending with Kanemura and the WEW wrestlers doing the old “Team No Respect” dance to “Keep Em Separated” by The Offspring.

Misawa spoke at his funeral the next morning, with Hashimoto and Masato Tanaka standing with his family, his wife and two daughters. There were about 1,650 onlookers, more than half of whom were wrestling fans.

We will have a more lengthy article on Fuyuki in next week’s issue.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed on 3/25 that the death of Curt Hennig was due to acute cocaine intoxication.

Dr. Jacqueline Lee, an Assistant Medical Examiner, who performed the autopsy, was quick to note this was not a cocaine overdose. It was her belief that the cocaine Hennig had ingested that showed up in the toxicology reports caused the heart to beat faster while at the same time constricting the blood vessels, basically causing the heart to work against itself and overload, causing his death. There is potential for even a small amount of cocaine to cause the problems that killed Hennig.

Hennig passed away at the age of 44 on 2/10 while in his hotel room at the Homestead Suites Hotel in Brandon, FL. He was in town to wrestle that night for a show in Tampa promoted by Jimmy Hart.

There has been a police investigation into Hennig’s death centering on the belief that the scene of the crime was tampered with before police were called, as well as based on attempting to find who supplied the cocaine for his death. Hennig had arrived in Tampa the night before.

Hennig is the fourth major star over the past decade whose death was attributed in some form to cocaine. Bruce Moyan (Mad Dog Buzz Sawyer), a former amateur star who quickly rose the ranks of pro wrestling before drugs curtailed his career early, died at 32 of a cocaine overdose at his home in Sacramento. Brian Pillman’s 1997 death at the age of 35 listed long-term cocaine usage as a contributing cause of death, due to the damage found to his heart, a death very similar, as it took place in a hotel room in Bloomington, MN just hours before a live WWE PPV show in St. Louis. Pillman had wrestled in St. Paul the previous night. Cocaine was also listed as a contributing cause of the death of Eddie Gilbert in 1995 at the age of 33, in his hotel room in San Juan. During the 80s, Charles Wolfe (Gino Hernandez) passed away with such a huge amount of cocaine in his system that people in wrestling have speculated foul play for years. It is also believed that cocaine was responsible for the death of Steve Romero (Jay Youngblood), while on a wrestling tour of Australia.

It became a sad irony that both best friends from childhood, Hennig and Rick Rood, along with another good friend and tag team partner, Bobby Duncum Jr., all passed away from drug use

From most accounts, cocaine usage in pro wrestling was far more prevalent in the 80s, as it was throughout society. The WWF’s earliest drug tests, implemented in 1987, were only for cocaine and there were frequent suspensions in those days of major stars. The tests were implemented after rivals Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik, in the middle of their feud, were caught together by police on the Jersey Turnpike with drugs in their car, causing both to be fired, although both were rehired later. The company continued to test for cocaine through 1996, when the company was both losing money and falling behind in the ratings. The tests were dropped more due to the competitive edge WCW wrestlers were getting through usage of steroids (which WWF began enforcing some positive results from in 1992 after the much publicized trial of Dr. George Zahorian and indictment of Vince McMahon on steroid charges). WCW was featuring older top stars who were larger and more muscular than the younger wrestlers in WWF, to the point McMahon actually challenged WCW to adhere to their own drug testing policy in a message on Raw that was released to the media. WCW had a drug testing policy, although many top stars from the period noted that they were never tested, even ones with a prior history of drug problems. Quietly, WWF dropped almost all drug testing at that point, although they have let several wrestlers go in recent years, including Scott Hall, Eddy Guerrero, Brian Lawler and Brian James (Road Dogg) over drug or alcohol related issues. Pillman, who was tested for drugs about a month before his death, was singled out for testing due to his erratic behavior at the time and having wrecked several rental cars. The test did not reveal problems with cocaine, which clears the system rapidly.

When Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar meet at Wrestlemania on 3/30 at Safeco Field in Seattle, it will be the highest profile pro wrestling match of NCAA champions in pro wrestling history.

The list of Division I college All-Americans who have gone onto some fame in either pro wrestling, or more recently, MMA, is far longer than most realize. While most long-time fans are aware of people like Verne Gagne, Jack Brisco, Dick Hutton and Danny Hodge, and more recently Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, they are hardly the only big names on the pro side that were legitimate amateur stars first.

Starting with Earl McCready, who won the first three ever NCAA tournaments in the heavyweight division from 1928-1930, numerous world champion and Hall of Fame caliber wrestlers placed in the NCAA tournament. McCready, Leroy McGuirk, Gagne, Hodge and Brisco are both NCAA champions and pro wrestling Hall of Famers, and depending on many factors, Kurt Angle has a strong shot at joining them. McCready and Hodge, along with Angle, are also members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for amateur wrestlers. Others, like Bill Miller (former AWA champion and one of the legendary masked men in history as Dr. X and Mr. M), Tim Woods (briefly AWA champ and a Georgia legend), Steve Williams (Triple Crown champion) and Gorilla Monsoon are all people who placed highly at nationals and would be considered very close to the cutoff for the Hall of Fame.

When it comes to top amateurs, in most cases, they are hit and miss. Either they got the hang of pro wrestling, and became major stars working in territories where promotions respected that, or they didn’t get the hang of it, didn’t like the idea of losing to people who couldn’t wrestle, and didn’t last long.

There are also many others who, this being wrestling, have claimed All-American status that never actually were at the Division I level. Bob Backlund was always billed as Division I champion while in the WWF as its champion, but was actually Division II champion in 1971, and went on to the Division I nationals that year, where he didn’t place. Rick Steiner was always billed as an All-American at Michigan, where he wrestled heavyweight, but never placed at nationals. Steiner does have an All-American claim in that he placed fourth in 1980 at 177 pounds in the junior college nationals for Grand Rapids JC. Charlie Haas really did wrestle at Seton Hall University, but was never a Division I All-American, unlike Shelton Benjamin, who placed twice. Haas was an Academic All-American, so technically they aren’t creating something completely out of nothing. The late Robbie Dicks, who was in the WWF developmental program in recent years, always claimed to have been an All-American wrestler at Fresno State University, but that was also a bogus claim. But like Olympic credentials, there are so many others who have claimed credentials that actually never earned them.

In the 30s, college mat stars McCready, McGuirk, Ralph “Ruffy” Silverstein, Wayne Martin and Cliff Gustafson went on to success in pro wrestling.

McGuirk ranks with Hodge as the greatest junior heavyweight in the pre-Tiger Mask high flier era. McGuirk won an NCAA title while being blind in one eye from a childhood accident. He first won the world light heavyweight title in 1934, and held it on and off for five years. He moved to the junior heavyweight division, winning the title in 1939. He held it for 11 straight years, until his career ended after being blinded in a 1950 auto accident. Silverstein was a major star in the Midwest, and held an AWA version of the world heavyweight title twice in the early 50s out of Chicago. Martin was probably the first pro wrestling legend in West Texas, from the late 30s and through 1950, preceding Dory Funk Sr. Martin, a top junior heavyweight contender for McGuirk for most of his career, set the stage for fans seeing pro wrestling as something for legitimately tough people, regardless of size, which stayed part of the Amarillo wrestling tradition for as long as there was a territory. Gustafson was a two-time National Wrestling Association champion in the Midwest in the 40s, and retired as champion in 1949.

Van Bebber and Mehringer has short stints in pro wrestling. Van Bebber, a three-time NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist in 1932, wrestled less than one year. Mehringer, who also won an Olympic gold medal and was considered one of the greatest athletes in the world, as he was also a pro football star, did some pro wrestling, but didn’t like it. Bobby Pearce, another NCAA champion who won a gold medal in the 1932 Olympics at 126 pounds, wrestled professionally for five years, but was far too small for any major pro success.

In the early 40s, the only top collegiate wrestler to go pro was Leonard “Butch” Levy, the 1941 heavyweight champ, who played a few years in the NFL and went on to pro wrestling through the 50s. He was under consideration for the world title, suggested by Wally Karbo, but he didn’t want to travel, and mainly worked in Minnesota. Due to World War II, there was no tournament from1943-45. After the war a lot of top amateurs went pro, coinciding with a major popularity boom of wrestling with its exposure on network television.

George Bollas, the 1946 heavyweight champion, became a huge star overseas, particularly in Europe as the 400-pound masked Zebra Kid. Joe Scarpello, a two-time champion, had a long career but was never a huge success due to being a junior heavyweight in an era when that wasn’t a big deal, always in the shadow of Verne Gagne. Dick Hutton, who came one point from becoming the first man to go four years unbeaten and win four heavyweight titles, wrestled professionally through the early 60s, and held the NWA world heavyweight title from 1957, when he was Lou Thesz’ hand-picked successor, through 1959, but was the weakest drawing champion in the history of the belt. Gagne was one of the biggest stars in the history of the industry, as a superstar for 32 years and one of the longest reigning champions in history, and later a successful promoter. Interestingly, two other amateur stars from that era, Ray Gunkel and Bob Geigel, ended up as solid stars, and later promoters. Gunkel, who was the most popular wrestler in Georgia from the late 50s on-and-off through his death in 1972, was equally popular as a promoter. He passed away of a heart attack after a match with Ox Baker. In fact, in the 1947 NCAA tournament, the top three heavyweights were Hutton, Gunkel and Gagne, all of whom became major pro stars, a threesome that has never been repeated. Geigel, who wasn’t as popular a promoter as Gunkel, became a top regional star in Kansas City, and took over the territory in the early 70s from Gust Karras, and later served a few terms as president of the NWA.

The 50s brought such names as Bill Miller, Danny Hodge, Tim Woodin, Adnan Kaisy and Robert Marella, every one of whom became a long lasting star, all appearing as headliners throughout the 60s and the early 70s. Miller was one of the legendary tough guys of the era. He was one of the biggest and strongest men of his era, and later studied submissions as he was best friends with Karl Gotch. He was a star from day one, coming out of college as a national sports name, starring on the Ohio State football team, placing at nationals in wrestling, and also doing well in the weight events in track. Combining that with his size, at 6-4 and nearly 300 pounds (which allowed him to be billed at a monstrous 6-7 and 320 in his masked days), he was a main eventer and world title contender from day one, holding several versions of the title in Ohio and the Midwest. His rise to main events was quicker than either Angle or Lesnar, as he defeated Silverstein on August 15, 1951 for the AWA title in Chicago, just weeks after his pro debut, coming off his fame from college athletics. He remained a headliner for the next two decades, until slowly backing away from wrestling to concentrate on working at a veterinarian. Miller was probably the biggest drawing masked star up to that point in history as Dr. X in Omaha in the early 60s, still the biggest consistent drawing card ever in that city. A headliner everywhere, including Japan, where he feuded with Rikidozan and later held the IWE’s title, both as himself and Mr. M, he also held the AWA title on more than one occasion in the 60s. He became a veterinarian, and limited his wrestling by the 70s, and passed away in 1987.

Hodge, without question the greatest amateur of his era and a man of unheard of physical power due to being born with double tendons, was a legend among all wrestlers of his era, both amateur and pro, for his strength. He is still one of only two wrestlers ever to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was also a national golden gloves champion in boxing, and once fought for the light heavyweight title in boxing. After getting out of boxing, he went into pro wrestling in 1960, and was immediately being made world junior heavyweight champion, the only title in those days recognized across federation boundaries. He defended it regularly in both the NWA and AWA and was considered the only true jr. heavyweight champ in wrestling during most of his career. He held the title for most of the rest of his career, which largely ended, as champion, after breaking his neck in a 1976 auto accident. In January of 2000, Hodge was named one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century ever to come from Oklahoma in Sports Illustrated.

Woodin, who passed away in November at the age of 68, became the first superstar babyface masked man as Mr. Wrestling. Kaisy was a huge star overseas, particularly in Iraq, and had some success domestically, although never a superstar. He is probably more famous for being WWF champion Sgt. Slaughter’s manager and billed as a close friend of Saddam Hussein, when WWF was exploiting the Gulf War in 1991. Marella became Gorilla Monsoon, a major star in the 60s and 70s who became part owner of Vince McMahon Sr.’s Capital Wrestling Corporation. He later sold Vince Jr. his stock in the company in 1982. Monsoon remained with the company and became a much loved figure internally, working the front office and announcing, as well as being figurehead president, until his death in 1999. From that decade, the only major amateur star that went into pro wrestling and didn’t become a big name was two-time NCAA champion at 157-pounds, Dick Beattie, probably because of his size as much as anything.

For whatever reason, the stigma about amateur wrestlers going pro picked up around 1960 and very few made the jaunt. Some, like Jim Raschke (Baron Von Raschke) and Bob Roop did well in international competition, but weren’t Division I All-Americans. Only three from the entire decade went pro, Dale Lewis, Jack Brisco and Allan Keller. Lewis, who competed in two Olympic games and won two NCAA heavyweight titles, was a solid pro star, but never had the charisma to be a superstar, even though he was a good talker as well. He was also pushed right away, capturing the AWA tag title with Pat Kennedy (Bobby Graham) just seven months after winning his second NCAA title. Brisco, who wasn’t a good talker, was, along with Bruno Sammartino and Andre the Giant, the biggest star in wrestling world wide from 1973 through 1975 as NWA world champion. His chase of champion Dory Funk Jr. from 1970 through 1973 is considered by many as the single greatest title chase program in history. He was an excellent worker for his time, and considered by almost any standards an all-time great. He remained a major star until his retirement in 1984, and was a pivotal person historically as one of the major stockholders in Georgia Championship Wrestling that sold their stock to Vince McMahon Jr. in 1984, giving McMahon two shows weekly on TBS and a virtual monopoly on all the good national time slots during the year wrestling got so much mainstream attention, leaving the NWA in the dust in that regard. Keller, who wrestled as Larry Lane, mainly in Amarillo, was an uncharismatic but good worker who was a territorial star, but never a superstar. Brisco beat Keller in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 1965, and the two played off that match to do several pro rematches. It was interesting, because most of the amateur stars from 1945 through Brisco were successes as pros, but there was a belief in pro wrestling that shooters made terrible workers nonetheless. But in the 70s, that axiom proved largely to be the case.

The amateurs who went pro from the 70s for the most part had no success. Greg Wojciechowski wrestled as the Great Wojo, and while respected as a great shooter, he was not a good pro. He continued to wrestle amateur until well into his 30s, so he started late. He mainly wrestled for Dick the Bruiser in Indiana, and a little in Japan for Atsushi Onita. His biggest claim to fame came in 1984, when Bruiser bought TV commercial time on the local WWF TV show and had Wojo issue a challenge to Hulk Hogan. Naturally, this was never accepted. Jim Shields, who placed third to Wojciechowski in 1971, wrestled briefly for Leroy McGuirk. Chris Taylor, a 6-6, 420-pound national celebrity, who took a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics, came into pro wrestling with more fanfare than just about any wrestler of the past three decades. He was given a four-year $100,000 per year contract by Gagne, which was heavily covered by all sports outlets of the time because he and Dan Gable had become household names in the Olympics. In those days, only the biggest mainstream sports superstars made six figures and it would have made him, before his first match, one of the five biggest money earners in pro wrestling. He debuted in Omaha in 1973 to national press, but the show only drew 1,200 fans, roughly what Joe Dusek was averaging, and from the first day, it was clear his celebrity wasn’t going to translate into pro wrestling drawing power. One of his earliest pro matches, a Chicago match with Mad Dog Vachon in 1973 followed by a two-ring Battle Royal (where, since it was a sports show, he and Ken Patera were put over in), was even carried on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But he was a flop as a pro, even though most of the major promoters did try to use him as an attraction due to his notoriety, and retired in 1977 when his contract expired. Ironically, his most frequent early squash opponent was another rookie named Ric Flair. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 29, in 1979, a few years later from complications from his size, as he was well over the 500-pound mark. Jimmy Jackson was a three-time NCAA heavyweight champion and a member of the 1976 Olympic team, but his tenure in pro wrestling was so short for McGuirk that few even remember it. Laurent Soucie, Evan Johnson and Brad Rheingans were recruited off the 1980 Olympic team, after it was boycotted, by Gagne, as the three new Olympians for the AWA. Soucie, who beat Rheingans for third place at 190's in 1975 after Rheingans had won the Division II nationals, lasted a few years and wrestled all over North America, but never got out of prelims. Johnson lasted only a few months, never liking pro wrestling. Rheingans was a freshman at North Dakota State in 1972 when Backlund was a senior. Rheingans was a far better amateur than Backlund, and when he came into pro wrestling, Backlund was one of the biggest names in North American wrestling. He got a push from the start, but couldn’t do a promo and lacked charisma. He was groomed for the AWA title from the start, but the promo had become a tougher opponent than any of his amateur foes. He has phenomenal power, but didn’t look like it, and was put over in his first program against 420-pound Jerry Blackwell, who was the company’s top heel at the time, with Rheingans suplexing Blackwell all over the ring. But he couldn’t draw, as his few title chases against Nick Bockwinkel and Rick Martel weren’t successful, and Gagne gave up on him except asa trainer. He ended up making long lasting connections with New Japan Pro Wrestling where he wrestled as a mid-level foreigner until knee problems ended his career, and trained several current major stars including Vader, Brock Lesnar and Don Frye. Edcar Thomas, a teammate of Steve Williams at the University of Oklahoma, only lasted a few months for Bill Watts in Mid South Wrestling before giving it up.

With the advent of UFC in 1993, more 80s stars tried some form of wrestling for pay, with different levels of success than wrestlers from any other period in history, even though history will probably credit Kurt Angle, who came later, for an influx of amateur stars going pro. Williams, the first four-time All-American to go pro since Hutton, was a major star for most of his career and at one point one of the ten best wrestlers in the world while working for All Japan. Dan Severn became a huge name star, but more for his success in the early days of UFC. Kenny Monday and Mark Schultz, both Olympic gold medalists, briefly tried MMA, as did silver medalist Townsend Saunders and two-time NCAA champion Royce Alger. Emmanuel Yarbrough was the victim of one of UFC’s most famous matches ever, when, at 6-7 and 620 pounds, he was hammered in quick fashion by 190-pound Keith Hackney on September 9, 1994 in 1:59. Yarbrough did a few more fights, including a win over pro wrestler Tatsuo Nakano, and dabbled in pro wrestling for Otto Wanz in Europe, but his lack of mobility and stamina doomed him. Kevin Jackson (who beat Alger in the 1992 Olympic trials and went on to win a gold medal), Tom Erikson and Mike Van Arsdale had more success in UFC. Jackson, now retired, was considered unbeatable and the top star of Extreme Fighting. When that group went under, UFC signed him up immediately and groomed him to be UFC’s first under-200 pound champion. However, the big name brought in to lose to him, Frank Shamrock, shocked him with an armbar in 14 seconds on December 21, 1997 in Tokyo. Jackson fought for a while and was clamoring for a rematch, but when offered a job as a full-time wrestling coach for the Olympic team, he was told they didn’t approve of UFC and to get the job, he would have to retire. Van Arsdale and Erikson are still active, while Mark Coleman became a superstar in both MMA and pro wrestling in Japan. Gary Albright was also a pro wrestling star in Japan, most known for some sellouts at Budokan Hall where he traded the UWFI World title with Nobuhiko Takada, as well as some major matches with All Japan after UWFI folded. He passed away from a heart attack suffered while doing a wrestling match in Hazelton, PA on January 7, 2000 at the age of 36. Darryl Peterson was trained in New Japan after a successful college career, and later became Maxx Payne in WCW as Mick Foley’s tag team partner for some memorable matches with the Nasty Boys, and Man Mountain Rock, a journeyman pro whose stint as a heavy metal guitarist in WWF in the mid-90s came at the low point of the company during a period most have tried to put out of their minds. He’s now retired from wrestling, and in the music industry. By far, the biggest pro wrestler to come from that world in the late 80s was Scott Steiner, who was a major star for most of his 17-year career.

Virtually all the 90s All-Americans are still active in the game today. The only exceptions would be Joey Gilbert and Sean Bormet, who were not successful in UFC. Gilbert, who was better known in submission wrestling than MMA, had an 0-2-1 MMA record, with his most high profile match being a loss to B.J. Penn on May 4, 2001 in UFC. Bormet’s only notable MMA match was on September 15, 1997, when he faced a young Vanderlei Silva in Brazil, and was knocked out by a kick in just 1:16, and never fought again.

Currently, the following are still active competitors that were legitimate Division I All-Americans:

*Steve Williams - Williams was legitimately a four-time All-American heavyweight at the University of Oklahoma, where he was already known as Dr. Death (it was a nickname dating back to high school). Williams placed as high as second in the 1982 tournament, losing in the finals to Bruce Baumgartner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is generally considered the best heavyweight wrestler in U.S. history. Williams also was the only man ever to pin Dan Severn in college, in the third place match at the 1981 tournament. Williams was a major pro wrestling star almost his entire career, first in the U.S., mainly working for Mid South Wrestling, and later as a top of the card regular for All Japan Pro Wrestling where he participated in some of the most memorable matches of the past 15 years. His career at this point is up in the air with the cutbacks in All Japan.

*Dan Severn - A two-time All-American, Severn was one of those hard luck stories in amateur wrestling as a guy who was right near the top, but missed being at the top. That probably drove him to say active, as he won his last AAU national championship at 220 pounds at the age of 36, after he had already started his pro wrestling career and was a regular for UWFI including once headlining a major show against Nobuhiko Takada. Severn actually had one of the longest reigns as NWA world champion as a pro, but it was a somewhat meaningless title outside of Japan for the period he held it. Severn gained far more fame as a pioneer in the UFC, being one of its earliest stars including winning the 1995 Ultimate Ultimate tournament in Denver and on May 17, 1996 won the UFC superfight (precursor to the current heavyweight title) title from Ken Shamrock in a famous terrible match in Detroit. He dropped the title to another college wrestling star, Mark Coleman, on February 7, 1997 in Birmingham. He is still active, just shy of his 45th birthday, as both a pro wrestler and MMA fighter.

*Mike Van Arsdale - A three-time All-American in 1985, 1986 and NCAA champion in 1988, as well as being a former Olympic team member, Van Arsdale was thought to have potential to be a UFC champion. He debuted in 1998, and quickly won an eight-man heavyweight tournament in Brazil. He beat four straight BJJ specialists by tap out that year before running into Vanderlei Silva on August 23, 1998 in Rio de Janeiro. He retired from the sport after that match and spent a few years as an Olympic team coach. Now 37, he returned on November 23, 2002 with a win over Australia’s top fighter, Chris Haseman, via ref stoppage, in Las Vegas. He’s fighting unbeaten Rich Franklin on UFC’s 4/25 show.

*Mark Coleman - A two-time All-American and 1988 NCAA champion at 190 pounds, Coleman has been a huge success in MMA, as well as a surprising success in pro wrestling. Coleman’s post college credentials are varied, including placing seventh in the 1992 Olympics, UFC heavyweight champion and 2000 Pride Grand Prix champion (winning the toughest tournament in MMA history). Coleman seems to have moved to pro wrestling regularly, and while he’s only done a handful of matches, his progress has been tremendous. There was an angle shot this past week that seemed to set up a future challenge for Yuji Nagata and the IWGP title.

*Scott Steiner - As Scott Rechsteiner, he placed sixth in the 1986 NCAA tournament at 190 pounds. With his brother, who wrestled as Rick Steiner, they were one of the top tag teams of all-time, particularly in the early 90s with success in WCW, WWF and New Japan. He was an incredibly agile 235-pounder early in his career, inventor of the Frankensteiner, a more difficult version of a Mexican huracanrana, that was amazing due to his size. He later packed on a ridiculous among of muscle, weighing from 265 to 285 pounds, lost most of his mobility, yet became a far bigger singles star as a Superstar Graham remake. He was a headliner and world champion in the dying days of the WCW promotion. Injuries destroyed his chances in WWE this year, although fans took to him in a huge way until seeing him wrestle.

*Tom Erikson - Still active as a fighter, as opposed to a pro wrestler, Erikson was knocked out by Mike Bernardo in an exciting K-1 match in Japan last year. Erikson was a victim of circumstances in MMA. As a 295-pound wrestler with amazing quickness, it’s well known within that business that few could stay with him. But because his style is so wrestling oriented and he doesn’t have a marketable look, he didn’t get booked all that much. He only lost one match, to Heath Herring, under MMA rules, but the top stars for the most part all avoided him. He’s closing in on 40 now, so his best days are behind him.

*Randy Couture - The only two-time UFC heavyweight champion, Couture, now 39, was a former Olympic team member who is on the comeback trail after losing his title to Josh Barnett last year, only to have Barnett test positive for steroids. He was then upset by Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant title, but returns also on the 4/25 UFC show. Couture has never done a worked match in his career.

*Kurt Angle - Little needs to be said about the only man in history to win an NCAA title, an world amateur title, an Olympic gold medal, and the major pro wrestling world title. Angle is the answer to a unique trivia question because he’s the only man in history to have been both the greatest amateur wrestler in the world at his weight, as well as the greatest pro wrestler in the world inside the ring, a position he’s been the consensus pick at for the past two years. His career is in jeopardy pending surgery in a few weeks, after his Wrestlemania match. As noted last week, going into major matches injured is nothing new to him. He blew out his knee just days before the 1991 NCAA tournament, where he placed second. He suffered a broken neck during the U.S. nationals in 1996, and came back the next day to win the championship, ten weeks later won the Olympic trials and less than five months later won the gold medal. This is hardly the first time he’s been told to retire due to neck problems, or told he wouldn’t be able to fulfill a goal he’d been working toward because of an injury, and ignored medical advice.

*Kevin Randleman - Randleman’s collegiate credentials are identical to Angle’s, two NCAA championships and one second place finish. Unlike Angle, he lost his focus, and never pursued wrestling farther, even though he had Olympic potential. He was retired from competition when Mark Coleman, who coached him in college, called him literally off the streets to help him train for UFC. Coleman booked him into a show in Brazil, in which he blew out the competition. He’s fought ever since, including a short reign as UFC heavyweight champion, but never developed the all-around skills to dominate as well as his athletic ability should have allowed him. Randleman lost important matches over the last year to Chuck Liddell in UFC and Quinton Jackson in Pride, each with a title shot on the line. His future looks to be pro wrestling where he is, athletically, even more of a natural than Angle, having just started his career as Coleman’s tag team partner in Japan.

*Sylvester Terkay - At 6-7 and 320 pounds, Terkay, who lost to Angle, would have been a pro wrestling washout except for something that had nothing to do with his wrestling ability. He was almost a dead ringer for Bruiser Brody. WWE tried to do something with him, but he never caught on with gimmicks like The Collector and Sly Scraper in OVW, before being let go. He ended up in Zero-One, given the name Predator, and given the Bruiser Brody ring entrance, swinging a chain to “The Immigrant Song.” It was one of the most famous ring entrances in wrestling history, and the nostalgia for Brody, who was the biggest foreign star in Japan in 1988 when he was murdered in Puerto Rico, immediately made Predator a star in Japan. He’s still lacking inside the ring. Like the famous 1949 heavyweight final where Verne Gagne beat Dick Hutton in overtime, Hutton’s only career loss which kept Hutton from becoming the first-ever four-time NCAA champion and first man to go four years unbeaten (allowing Cael Sanderson to become a wrestling legend this past year by becoming the first four-season unbeaten wrestler), Terkay will have his own famous match. In the 1992 heavyweight finals, Terkay, who weighed 275, and Angle, who weighed 199, both unbeaten, squared off. They were tied 1-1 with 18 seconds left, when Angle took him down and won the title. Terkay came back to win the title in 1993, being a three-time All-American. Unlike Angle, Terkay never really liked amateur wrestling, and never pursued it after college. He was living in Los Angeles trying to be an actor, when he was scouted by Rick Bassman, who got him his WWF developmental deal.

*Mark Kerr - The 1992 NCAA champion at Syracuse, Kerr was considered unbeatable in MMA competition early in his career and the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. He won the NCAA title, beating Couture in the finals. He was the favorite in the 2000 Pride Grand Prix, but his career was derailed by drug problems and lost to Kazuyuki Fujita. His life that year was documented in the highly-praised HBO movie, “The Smashing Machine” and a second movie on his life and attempts to recover from those problems is currently being done. Kerr has done a few pro wrestling matches in Japan. People thought with his speaking ability, look and natural athletic ability, he was destined for superstardom. But they never saw him wrestle as a pro. He was as bad as they came, and after signing a lucrative contract with Zero-One for $40,000 per match, they stopped using him after a few matches, even before he was to put Shinya Hashimoto over in a climactic singles match.

*Matt Hughes - A two-time All-American, many consider Hughes pound-for-pound one of the top fighters in the world. The current UFC welterweight champion has a 28-3 record, and looked tremendous this past year in particular, in totally overpowering top rated opponents like Hayato Sakurai and Carlos Newton, and headlines the 4/25 UFC show in Miami in a title defense against Sean Sherk.

*Danny Faqir - While most All-American in pro wrestling come in with great fanfare, the credentials of New Japan’s Dan Devine are almost totally unknown. After placing 7th in the 1997 tournament at 190 pounds, Faqir ended up in the Power Plant, wrestling on occasion with WCW at house shows under the name Dan Factor, but never getting a push because he wasn’t tall enough, because he certainly had the physique they were looking for. Faqir was also a training partner with Don Frye, which led to him getting a regular job with New Japan.

*Shelton Benjamin - The two-time All-American heavyweight at the University of Minnesota, Benjamin was without a doubt the fastest heavyweight in the history of college wrestling. While in Junior College in 1996, he became the only man in history to win a national heavyweight wrestling championship and win a national 100-meter dash championship in track in the same year. Although a pro wrestling fan all his life and from childhood wanting to be a pro wrestler, growing up in South Carolina idolizing Ric Flair, Benjamin, even with his credentials, would have likely never gotten a shot at pro wrestling except for one coincidence. After graduating college, he stayed at Minnesota as an assistant coach. The team’s next heavyweight was Brock Lesnar. When Lesnar placed second in the 1999 NCAA tournament, word got out about his physique, like an American Kareline. WWF, New Japan and WCW were all interested in Lesnar, who never watched pro wrestling as a kid. Partially as a favor to Lesnar, when WWF signed him shortly after he won the 2000 NCAA title, they allowed him to bring along his friend and the two were made a tag team in OVW. Benjamin, because of his athletic ability, was immediately compared with Angle. Lesnar’s progress was a lot more questioned.

*Brock Lesnar - Angle’s opponent in the highest profile match of NCAA champions in pro wrestling history. One would have thought a battle like this would have taken place in the 1960s in the AWA (where Verne Gagne wrestled Danny Hodge on many occasions) or the 1970s in Florida (where Jack Brisco wrestled Dale Lewis several times). But of all places, it’s taking place for the WWE title, often spoofed as the wrestling world title where athletic credibility was never an issue, at of all places, Wrestlemania. Lesnar was rushed out of developmental, despite the belief by his coaches that he wasn’t ready, simply because of timing. WWE felt they needed to create a new superstar in rapid order. The prototype of a new superstar at that time was Bill Goldberg, and WWE had a Goldberg sized guy with uncanny quickness and real wrestling ability. He was given the monster push, and didn’t quite hit at first. But instead of quitting, they want with him until 8/25, SummerSlam at the Nassau Coliseum, where he beat The Rock clean in the middle and became, at 25, the youngest world champion in the history of the organization. The belt was taken from him to set up his babyface turn, and set him up for winning the Royal Rumble and reclaiming the belt at Mania. That is still just about a sure thing to happen, but in the past two weeks, the aura of the match has taken on different proportions due to Angle’s injury.

A complete list at what pro wrestlers have done what in Division I national competition.


1928 - Earl McCready, Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight)

1929 - Jack Van Bebber, Oklahoma A&M (1st, 155); Earl McCready, Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight)

1930 - Jack Van Bebber, Oklahoma A&M (1st, 165); Earl McCready, Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight)

1931 - Robert Pearce (Bobby Pearce), Oklahoma A&M (1st, 126); Leroy McGuirk, Oklahoma A&M (1st, 155); Jack Van Bebber, Oklahoma A&M (1st, 165)

1932 - Robert Pearce (Bobby Pearce), Oklahoma A&M (2nd, 123); Ralph Silverstein (Ruffy Silverstein), Navy (2nd, 158); Leroy McGuirk, Oklahoma A&M (2nd, 174); Pete Mehringer, Kansas (2nd, heavyweight)

1934 - Wayne Martin, Oklahoma (1st, 135)

1935 - Wayne Martin, Oklahoma (1st, 145); Ralph Silverstein (Ruffy Silverstein), Illinois (1st, 175)

1936 - Wayne Martin, Oklahoma (1st, 134)

1937 - Cliff Gustafson, Minnesota (3rd, heavyweight)

1938 - Cliff Gustafson, Minnesota (2nd, heavyweight)

1941 - Leonard Levy (Butch Levy), Minnesota, (1st, heavyweight)

1946 - George Bollas (Zebra Kid), Ohio State, (1st, heavyweight)

1947 - Joe Scarpello, Iowa (1st, 175); Richard Hutton (Dick Hutton), Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight); Ray Gunkel, Purdue (2nd, heavyweight); Verne Gagne, Minnesota (3rd, heavyweight)

1948 - Joe Scarpello, Iowa (2nd, 174); Verne Gagne, Minnesota (1st, 191); Bob Geigel, Iowa (3rd, 191); Richard Hutton (Dick Hutton), Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight)

1949 - Joe Scarpello, Iowa (2nd, 175); Verne Gagne, Minnesota (1st, heavyweight); Richard Hutton (Dick Hutton), Oklahoma A&M (2nd, heavyweight)

1950 - Joe Scarpello, Iowa (1st, 175); Richard Hutton (Dick Hutton), Oklahoma A&M (1st, heavyweight)

1951 - Bill Miller, Ohio State (4th, heavyweight)

1955 - Dan Hodge, Oklahoma (1st, 177)

1956 - Dan Hodge, Oklahoma (1st, 177)

1957 - Dan Hodge, Oklahoma (1st, 177)

1958 - Dick Beattie, Oklahoma State (1st, 157); Tim Woodin (Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods), Michigan State (2nd 177); Adnan Kaisy, (Sheik Adnan El-Kaissie/Billy White Wolf) Oklahoma State (4th, 191)

1959 - Dick Beattie, Oklahoma State (1st, 157); Tim Woodin (Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods), (2nd, 191); Adnan Kaisy (Sheik Adnan El-Kaissie/Billy White Wolf), Oklahoma State (4th, 191); Bob Marella (Gorilla Monsoon), Ithaca (2nd, heavyweight)

1960 - Dale Lewis, Oklahoma (1st, heavyweight)

1961 - Dale Lewis, Oklahoma (1st, heavyweight)

1964 - Jack Brisco, Oklahoma State (2nd, 191)

1965 - Jack Brisco, Oklahoma State (1st, 191); Allan Keller (Larry Lane), Colorado State (4th, 191)

1970 - Greg Wojciechowski (Great Wojo), Toledo (2nd, heavyweight)

1971 - Greg Wojciechowski (Great Wojo), Toledo (1st, heavyweight); Jim Shields, Oklahoma State (3rd, heavyweight)

1972 - Chris Taylor, Iowa State (1st, heavyweight); Greg Wojciechowski (Great Wojo), Toledo (2nd, heavyweight)

1973 - Chris Taylor, Iowa State (1st, heavyweight)

1975 - Laurent Soucie, Wisconsin (3rd, 190); Brad Rheingans, North Dakota State (4th, 190)

1976 - Evan Johnson, Minnesota (1st, 190); Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State (1st, heavyweight)

1977 - Evan Johnson, Minnesota (2nd, 190); Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State (1st, heavyweight)

1978 - Jimmy Jackson, Oklahoma State (1st, heavyweight)

1979 - Edcar Thomas, Oklahoma (6th, 190); Steve Williams, Oklahoma (6th, heavyweight)

1980 - Dan Severn, Arizona State (2nd, 190); Steve Williams, Oklahoma (5th, heavyweight)

1981 - Mark Schultz, Oklahoma (1st, 167); Steve Williams, Oklahoma (3rd, heavyweight); Dan Severn, Arizona State (4th, heavyweight)

1982 - Kenny Monday, Oklahoma State (2nd, 150); Mark Schultz, Oklahoma (1st, 177); Steve Williams, Oklahoma (2nd, heavyweight); Gary Albright, Nebraska (7th, heavyweight)

1983 - Kenny Monday, Oklahoma State (2nd, 150); Kevin Jackson, Louisiana State (3rd, 158); Mark Schultz, Oklahoma (1st, 177)

1984 - Kenny Monday, Oklahoma State (1st, 150); Kevin Jackson, Louisiana State (3rd, 158); Gary Albright, Nebraska (2nd heavyweight)

1985 - Mike Van Arsdale, Iowa State (6th, 167); Kevin Jackson, Louisiana State (7th, 167); Darryl Peterson (Maxx Payne), Iowa State (5th, heavyweight)

1986 - Royce Alger, Iowa (5th, 158); Mike Van Arsdale, Iowa State (3rd, 167)

1986 - Mark Coleman, Miami of Ohio (4th, 190); Scott Rechsteiner (Scott Steiner), Michigan (6th, 190); Gary Albright, Nebraska (3rd, heavyweight); Tom Erikson, Oklahoma State (4th, heavyweight); Emmanuel Yarbrough, Morgan State (8th, heavyweight)

1987 - Royce Alger, Iowa (1st, 167); Kevin Jackson, Louisiana State (2nd, 167)’ Tom Erikson, Oklahoma State (3rd, heavyweight)

1988 - Mike Van Arsdale, Iowa State (1st, 167); Royce Alger, Iowa (1st, 177); Mark Coleman, Ohio State (1st, 190)

1989 - Townsend Saunders, Arizona State (2nd, 142)

1990 - Townsend Saunders, Arizona State (3rd, 150); Randy Couture, Oklahoma State (6th, 190); Kurt Angle, Clarion (1st, heavyweight)

1991 - Kevin Randleman, Ohio State (2nd, 167); Randy Couture, Oklahoma State (2nd, 190); Kurt Angle, Clarion (2nd, heavyweight); Sylvester Terkay (The Predator), North Carolina State (3rd, heavyweight)

1992 - Joey Gilbert, Michigan (6th, 134); Kevin Randleman, Ohio State (1st, 177); Mark Kerr, Syracuse (1st, 190); Randy Couture, Oklahoma State (2nd, 190); Kurt Angle, Clarion (1st, heavyweight); Sylvester Terkay (The Predator), North Carolina State (2nd, heavyweight)

1993 - Sean Bormet, Michigan (3rd, 158); Kevin Randleman, Ohio State (1st, 177); Sylvester Terkay (The Predator), North Carolina State (1st, heavyweight)

1994 - Sean Bormet, Michigan (2nd, 158)

1996 - Matt Hughes, Eastern Illinois (8th, 158)

1997 - Matt Hughes, Eastern Illinois (5th, 158); Danny Faqir (Dan Devine), Arizona State (7th, 190); Shelton Benjamin, Minnesota (5th, heavyweight)

1998 - Shelton Benjamin, Minnesota (3rd, heavyweight)

1999 - Brock Lesnar, Minnesota (2nd, heavyweight)

2000 - Brock Lesnar, Minnesota (1st heavyweight)

New Japan, on paper, looks to have put together a Tokyo Dome show on 5/2 that may do well because of the main event. There are some wild cards involved, particularly since there is a show scheduled for 5/1 in the same building as a build-up for the big show, scheduled for New Japan wrestlers not on the 5/2 show facing Team Inoki from the Los Angeles dojo.

The 5/2 line-up looks to headlined by Kenta Kobashi vs. Masahiro Chono - At press time this match wasn’t official but it was the plan. This will be the first time these two will have ever stepped into the ring against the other. Chono negotiated a deal for this match with Mitsuharu Misawa last week. From a business standpoint, this match is the show-saver, because without it, this thing won’t draw. Chono and Misawa sold out the Dome a year ago, and this is Kobashi’s highest profile interpromotional match of his career. It is not clear whether Kobashi’s GHC heavyweight title will be at stake/

The other main match is Yuji Nagata vs. Yoshihiro Takayama to unify the IWGP heavyweight and NWF heavyweight titles. This match is one year to the date of their match, in the same building, that was the 2002 Match of the Year as voted by the Japanese media. Nagata won that one, and considering he’ll break the IWGP title record for defenses before this show, it would make sense for Takayama to go over. Takayama, as NWF champion, has been the closest thing to an old-time touring major league world champion in wrestling since the death of the real NWA.

Other bouts announced were Jushin Liger & Koji Kanemoto vs. Tiger Mask & The Heat for the IWGP jr. tag titles; Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. the winner of the U-30 tournament which ends on 4/23 in Hiroshima with the winner of this match faces the winner of the Nagata-Takayama match in the first challenge for the unified title; Enson Inoue vs. Kazunari Murakami in a hell of a risk since Inoue has never done a worked singles match; Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Manabu Nakanishi, pushing the idea that this will be a shoot by announcing Nakanishi will be off the April tour to train for the match; Josh Barnett vs. Jimmy Ambriz (current King of the Cage superheavyweight champion. He’s a 600+ bench presser who won the title from WJ star Dan Bobish via a quick knockout); . However, there is no interest in a match like this because it isn’t New Japan against an outsider, but basically two outsiders. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. K-1's Jan “The Giant” Nortje; Tsuyoshi Kosaka vs. Sumiavaza Dolgolsuren, with Dolgolsuren making his pro wrestling debut; and KENGO vs. Ryoto Machida (Inoki’s latest protege).

The biggest question on this show is what is and isn’t legitimate, further changing what mainstream pro wrestling is in 2003. The involvement of KENGO indicates at least one of the matches should be a shoot, since the claim from Pancrase is they won’t allow any of their fighters to participate in a worked match. Nakamura vs. Nortje would be far more exciting as a shoot than a work, as most likely would Barnett vs. Ambriz and Inoue vs. Murakami, since Ambriz and Inoue have zero and little experience doing works. Nakanishi vs. Fujita would be far better as a work, although as far as advertising goes, New Japan is claiming it will be a Vale Tudo match and not a pro wrestling match.

“Sailor” Art Thomas, a former Navy vet, bodybuilder and strongman who took up pro wrestling late in life, but still had a 24-year career as relatively well known star, passed away on 3/20 at the age of 79.

Thomas passed away at 6 a.m. that morning from cancer, which he had only been diagnosed with a little more than a month earlier. He had entered hospice care in his home town of Madison, WI four days earlier.

Thomas was born in Arkansas on January 30, 1924, , but grew up in Sparta, WI, in an orphanage, after his mother died when he was in his early teens. He enlisted in the Navy, serving in World War II, where he first trained at wrestling.

Thomas, who lived in Madison, WI, most of his life, was in his last 20s when he and some of his weightlifting buddies toured the country with carnivals, taking on all-comers. Thomas knew his wrestling from his training in the Navy. When he wasn’t working in a carnival, he was looking for one, trying to collect the $10 to $100 purses you could earn lasting ten minutes with the carnival wrestler. In his early 30s, he started his career doing pro style for Jimmy Demetral, the local promoter in Madison, at a time when African Americans weren’t readily accepted as wrestlers in many parts of the country, and first made his name with a push in 1958 when wrestling on the TV out of Marigold Arena in Chicago. Because of his physique, he was booked all over North America.

He immediately became friends with The Crusher, Reggie Lisowski, who was one of his best friends in the business and a frequent tag team partner. The two remained friends after wrestling, since Thomas lived in Madison and Lisowski lived in Milwaukee. Both were powerful weightlifters in their day, and they liked to smoke big cigars together. Thomas, who years earlier had placed second in a few bodybuilding contests, most notably the Mr. Wisconsin contest, was a huge bodybuilder with the kind of biceps that one would only get as a genetic freak, with the split. At about 6-3 and 260 pounds, he had the most impressive physique of any star wrestler of the early 60s and one unmatched by anyone except the top bodybuilders in the world of the last pre-steroid era, in many ways similar to 80s star Tony Atlas. About the only star wrestler of the 60s known for a better physique would have been Earl Maynard and possibly Mil Mascaras, who came along in the late 60s, after Thomas was already in his mid-40s and after steroids were introduced to pro wrestling. Both were about 15 years his junior, and were a legitimate Mr. Universe winner and Mr. Mexico winner respectively. Thomas’ physique wasn’t as quite as pretty from a bodybuilding standpoint, or as cut as Maynard, Mascaras and Dorrell “Dory” Dixon. But from a wrestling standpoint, probably until Superstar Billy Graham, Roy Callendar, no one looked more impressive, because he was several inches taller and more than 40 pounds heavier than the top competition bodybuilders who came into wrestling.

“He was the most natural muscleman ever in the business,” said Bobby Heenan, who Thomas considered along with Crusher and Bobo Brazil as his best friend in wrestling. “I really loved that man.”

It should be noted that in the 50s, when he competed as a bodybuilder, an African American who placed second in a contest was usually a code as saying he deserved to win, and probably by a wide margin. There was a stigma in those days through much of AAU bodybuilding that African Americans were born with superior genetics, so they would be marked down in scorecards for them. They could place in contests, but never win them. A second place showing, which he always got, meant he was vastly superior to the competition.

He was never a good in-ring worker, and actually could do very little in the ring. His matches were largely all carbon copies, the same whether it was 1962 or 1972. The opponent would get behind him with a waist lock, and he’d grab the man’s wrists and muscle out. There was always the full nelson spot, where he’d twice break the hold that his opponent put on. His opponent would invite Thomas to put the hold on, and squirm for all he was worth, and never be able to break it, always running for the ropes. There would be other tests of strengths, some posing, and then a little bit of action. Thomas usually relied on delayed punches and the old African American standby of that era, the head-butt, usually winning with a bearhug. Much of his career, particularly at the end, he was used as the guy that the new heel would beat to get heat on, right before he’d get his run with the top babyface, usually Dick the Bruiser, since Thomas wrestled regularly for Bruiser’s Indianapolis promotion the last ten plus years of his career. Probably the most famous clip of Thomas from the 70s was after Bruiser and Sheik ended their wrestling war, Sheik came to Indianapolis and got over by throwing the fireball at Thomas.

Wrestlers liked working with him, because it was like a night off, as he was light as a feather and they didn’t have to do much but arrogantly flex, and get shown up, and then put Thomas over in tests of strength to eat up most of the match. His physique, amazingly, didn’t show any sign of aging until well into his mid-50s, kept him around the business, where he usually worked in prelims, sometimes with a push. Everyone in wrestling was shocked when they found out his age, and Heenan, who had no idea, was stunned finding out he was 21 years older than him, figuring he was just a few years older. He retired in 1981 at the age of 58 after working a prelim match in Chicago for the AWA.

Thomas wrestled all over the U.S., Canada and Japan using the Sailor gimmick, as he served unloading munitions in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, because, believe it or not, he became subconscious about getting a gut, he went to the gym and started lifting weights, something he had never done in his youth. He was a genetic freak, as he was able to eat whatever he wanted and maintain his physique. Because he looked so impressive even into his 50s (even though he was thought to be about 40 at the time), many in wrestling thought of him as one of the first wrestlers who experimented with steroids. Thomas, who had eight children and was married for 40 years before getting divorced late in life, always denied it. He said he hated that steroids were ever invented, and said he never touched the stuff, fearing the health consequences.

Thomas was one of the first black wrestlers to work in Memphis, which was a part of his career that was among his least fun experiences. Although portrayed as a babyface, he was booed and razzed by fans at first and called every racial taunt under the sun. But he was proud that he managed to turn the audience toward liking him before he left the territory. He had been warned against going to Memphis by both Bearcat Wright and Bobo Brazil, the biggest African American stars of the era, who wouldn’t work there due to the racial climate. He and Brazil ended up being best friends later in life.

Thomas mainly wrestled later in his career in Indiana for Dick the Bruiser. His career highlight was winning a version of the old WWA heavyweight title from Baron Von Raschke on February 4, 1972 in Detroit. It was a strange deal, as Bruiser’s wrestlers worked mainly in Indiana, but were running opposition to The Sheik in Detroit. Bruiser made Thomas World champion because of the large African American population in Detroit that had made Brazil such a big drawing card for the opposition. However, in the rest of the circuit, they never acknowledged the title change, and instead went with Billy Red Cloud as champion, until he lost it to Von Raschke. It didn’t work as well as anticipated, and Von Raschke beat Thomas to regain the Detroit version of the title on June 3, 1972. Thomas told friends he got a lot of heat for winning the title. For one, Thomas wasn’t considered a top wrestler and was no longer a headliner by that point. More importantly to the other guys who were full-time wrestlers, Thomas had a regular job at the time, working in Shipping and Receiving at the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison. He was only wrestling by this mainly on weekends, and even in a small circuit, a guy who was a limited worker getting the title drew heat. He rarely worked the AWA, just occasional appearances in Madison and Milwaukee because it was close to home, and Chicago because they booked the Indianapolis wrestlers there since Bruiser was part-owner of the city in the early 70s. Verne Gagne was known for rarely using African Americans. He went to other circuits later in the 70s for brief runs mainly on his vacation time.

Another secret about Thomas that few knew is that he couldn’t drive. He always rode with other wrestlers when working a circuit, and would take the greyhound when going to a new territory if going by himself. Late in his career, after working all week, he’d take the hound from Madison to Chicago, and then to Indianapolis, or St. Louis.

His racial experiences came along early in his career, and hardly limited to his tough times in Memphis. He would ride with legendary heel Danny McShain in Texas in 1962 and recalled going to a restaurant, where McShain was told that he could eat in the restaurant, but his friend would have to eat in the kitchen. McShain ate in the restaurant, and Thomas, humiliated by his friend not standing up for him, ate in the car and was furious, feeling if the roles were reversed, he would have never eaten in the restaurant. Because he grew up in an orphanage, he took his daughter on the road with him, which made things tough, because many hotels in that part of the country refused to rent a room to an African American.

He was brought by Buddy Rogers to the Northeast early in his career due to his physique. Thomas personally had mixed feelings toward Rogers, believing him to be a nice guy and giving him a break, but that Rogers was a coward as a person. However, his greatest career success as a headliner was in a program very early in his career in Chicago against Rogers, challenging for the U.S. title.

He debuted in the late 50s when he was shown in the front row of a McMahon Sr. TV taping in Washington, DC, wearing his Navy uniform and billed as having just been discharged that day. Later in the show, he did the fan out of the audience, hitting the ring to attack heel Steve Stanlee, which led to him debuting as “Sailor Art Thomas,” a ring name he kept the rest of his career.

He worked all of 1961 in the Northeast for Vince McMahon Sr. He debuted in Madison Square Garden on February 27, 1961 beating Red Grupe, who was a sub for McShain, in a prelim match. He was then put into a gimmick black tag team with Reginald “Sweet Daddy” Siki, who was about 40 years ahead of his time as a black man with bleached blond hair. The two started off beating Taro Sakura & Haru Sasaki, and then beating one of the top teams at the time, the Fabulous Kangaroos, via DQ, third from the top. They lost on July 28, 1961 to Mark Lewin & Don Curtis and on August 25, 1961 to the Kangaroos in high mid-card matches. On October 16, 1961, he worked third from the top, teaming with Bruno Sammartino to beat Lewin & Curtis via DQ. He then teamed with Siki to beat Angelo Savoldi & Great Scott. On December 11, 1961, he & Siki lost to Scott & Bob Orton Sr. and he left the territory. Thomas was often paired with Brazil and Dory Dixon, two other African American stars of that era, as a team.

He went to Texas, twice capturing the Texas heavyweight title. He first defeated The Mummy (Benny Ramirez) on June 15, 1962 in Houston, before losing to El Medico II on October 26, 1962 in Houston. His second reign came after beating his former tag partner, Siki, winning on April 26, 1963 in Houston before losing on May 5, 1963 to Bill Watts. There was legitimate bad blood between the two. Thomas and Watts started out as friends, as they both were very serious about heavy weight training. However, during a match in their feud, when Thomas left himself wide open, Watts kicked him hard in the chest and sternum. Thomas felt he took liberties with him as he gave Watts his body, and would never speak with him again. He also had a similar experience working with Larry Hennig.

During the mid-60s, where he was known in many parts of North America as “Seamen” Art Thomas, a term nobody ever joked about, he traveled extensively throughout Canada, and often traveled with a rookie from Halifax who was just starting his career, Rocky Johnson, father of The Rock. He twice held the Toronto-based International tag team titles in 1963 with John Paul Henning. He worked regularly in Maple Leaf Gardens during that period for promoter Frank Tunney, and had several main events against the area’s big star of the time, U.S. champion Johnny Valentine, although Valentine always won the matches via fluke. He once faced Giant Baba in a headline match in Toronto and was well known in Japan for a singles match with Sammartino on March 6, 1967 in Hiroshima, a battle of the American strongmen which Sammartino won with a bearhug. He later worked in Florida and the Carolinas. He feuded with Boris Malenko in Florida, and the two were such good friends at the time that Thomas frequently stayed at Malenko’s house.

While some would think that a big guy with the best physique in the business in that time that never was a huge star, that his race held him back in wrestling. But even his friends wouldn’t say that.

“I hate to say it, but he couldn’t be put on top because he couldn’t draw,” said Heenan. “He didn’t have the charisma. He didn’t have the coordination and couldn’t do much. If it wasn’t for his muscles, he wouldn’t be in the business.”

He worked as a semi-regular, mainly in the mid-cards, in St. Louis from 1974 through 1980. He was largely the token Black, mainly working when someone like Johnson or Rufus R. Jones wasn’t available, which, even in that era, was how much of wrestling was still run. Those from that era remember him as a quiet guy backstage that Sam Muchnick liked to use underneath because he caused no problems, and had no problems with the policy of doing nothing underneath to upstage the money matches. His biggest matches were on November 21, 1975, when he lost to Harley Race in a Missouri title match, and a very strange semifinal match on February 6, 1976 when he teamed with Dory Funk Jr. & Pat O’Connor to beat Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta & Dick Murdoch. It’s almost impossible to fathom how he could have fit into that match except being carried for comedy spots by Murdoch. He was already working low on the card for a few years, when given one last push, including a win over Ed Wiskoski, to build him for a February 22, 1980 match, where he was fed to King Kong Brody, in what turned out to be Thomas’ final bout in that city.

After retiring in 1981, he was given the Black History Distinguished Citizen award in Madison, WI. The Mayor of Madison on July 18, 1984 proclaimed it Sailor Art Thomas Day.

Because of his big arms, Thomas often did arm-wrestling angles. He continued to lift weights until he was in early 70s, before giving it up due to knee problems from his career in wrestling. He had also had heart problems, needing a pacemaker, in recent years.

Raw on 3/24 ended up as a bitter pill to swallow, doing a 3.44 rating (3.67 first hour; 3.28 second hour/4.64 million viewers), the lowest rating since football season ended, and on the final Raw before Wrestlemania.

While those internally are crediting the low number to the war, that belies the huge turn-off as the show was going on, which would have nothing to do with the war. As mentioned so many times, they have lost sight as to what their product is. The promised Rock concert, which would have worked years ago, is now what the audience doesn’t want as a main event. The concert with the promised Austin run-in, only drew a 3.56 quarter and 4.74 million viewers, which was an increase of 365,000 viewers from the RVD & Kane vs. Dudleys match, but still a poor showing.

Airing replays from Smackdown of the McMahon-Hogan angle and the Angle-Lesnar angle, because so many markets had preempted Smackdown due to war coverage, was a disaster with the closing quarter doing a 2.56 rating, the lowest rated quarter for a live Raw show in probably six years. Those repeat segments made the difference between the show doing a 3.54 rating and a 3.44.

There was a steady rejection throughout the show, as the highest rated quarter, with a 3.85 rating and 5.29 million viewers was Steiner vs. Christian, which gained 224,000 viewers from the previous quarter in what is usually a strong growth period. The angle where Morley gave himself the tag title and set up the Dudleys and Mania match lost 472,000 viewers during a usual growth time slot. The Booker & Goldust vs. Flair & HHH match, which featured Flair’s first match in months (although not hyped as such), lost 239,000 viewers in a usual quarter that averages solid gains. The Jericho interview with Michaels added 79,000 viewers as the only bright spot late in the show. A Rock interview with Bischoff lost 271,000 viewers and the RVD & Kane vs. Dudleys match lost 17,000 viewers. The big loss was the replays of the Hogan-Vince angle and the Angle-Lesnar angle, which lost 1,217,000 viewers, or 26% of the audience.

Smackdown on 3/20 drew a 2.73 rating, which would rank as tying the second lowest rating in the history of the show. The record low was a 2.0 set on 7/4,which was due to the day and not the show. There have been other 2.7s on Thanksgiving, and once last summer when they were bottoming out. This rating was because the show was pre-empted in so many markets for War coverage. The realistic rating for the show, which factors out the preemptions, was a 3.64, which is low for the show, but above last week. Total viewers were 4.37 million.

We also don’t have the market-by-markets because of all the confusion regarding ratings, and the fact that nobody is taking the number seriously, nor should they.

As far as segment-by-segment, the show had strong growth for the FBI vs. Los Guerreros & Rikishi match (+480,000 new viewers), but that’s because Friends ended as the show in most weeks has strong growth in that time slot. The Mysterio vs. Noble match added another 160,000 viewers, while the angle with the Angle brothers and Lesnar pretty much held steady, as those segments drew the show’s peak rating with a 2.9. Moore vs. Kendrick lost 320,000 viewers and Benoit vs. Benjamin lost another 160,000, before a pick-up of around 300,000 for the McMahon-Hogan angle. Still, even in the final slot position, that angle did a lower rating, with a 2.8, than the Angle Brothers and Lesnar angle and the Noble-Mysterio match.

Velocity on 3/22 drew a 0.67 rating and Confidential with the Wrestlemania hype show did a 0.65, although it maintained its audience from start-to-finish unlike recent shows that have been nearly half the audience tune out. The heavily pushed Third Degree special with Austin, Hogan and HHH and all the video packages on 3/23 also did a 0.7 rating, which had to be a major disappointment. Heat on 3/23 did a 1.1 rating.

Galavision Lucha Libre on 3/15 drew a 1.44 Galavision rating among Hispanic households and on 3/16 drew a 0.91, all for previously aired material.



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3/19 Nashville (NWA TNA - 1,000): Ron & Don Harris b Brian Bump & Danny B. Goode, Sonny Siaki b Kevin Northcutt, Chris Harris & James Storm b Dynamic Duo, David Young b Paul Vault, NWA tag titles: Low Ki & Elix Skipper b Brian Lee & Slash-DQ, Konnan & Juventud Guerrera b Jerry Lynn & Jason Cross, Jim Duggan & Moondog Spot b Glen Gilbertti & Mike Sanders, Kid Kash won three-way to retain X title over Trinity and Amazing Red, Jeff Jarrett & D-Lo Brown & Dusty Rhodes b David Flair & Brian Lawler & Erik Watts, Ladder match: Raven b A.J. Styles

3/20 Kumagaya (New Japan - 1,600): Jado b Naofumi Yamamoto, Makai Club II b El Samurai, Hiro Saito & Tatsutoshi Goto b Yutaka Yoshie & Takashi Iizuka, Makai Club IV b Toru Yano, Shinya Makabe b Masahito Kakihara, Jushin Liger & Minoru Fujita & Koji Kanemoto & Gedo b AKIRA & The Heat & Stampede Kid & American Dragon, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Osamu Nishimura b Makai Club V & Ryushi Yanagisawa, Scott Norton & Rick Steiner & Dan Devine b Yuji Nagata & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Blue Wolf, Tadao Yasuda & Kazunari Murakami & Makai Club I b Masahiro Chono & Manabu Nakanishi & Michiyoshi Ohara

3/21 Tokyo Yoyogi Gym (New Japan - 4,000 sellout): Masahito Kakihara b Ryusuke Taguchi, AKIRA & The Heat & Stampede Kid & American Dragon b Koji Kanemoto & El Samurai & Gedo & Jado, Ryushi Yanagisawa b Hiroshi Tanahashi, Osaka Pro tag titles: Jushin Liger & Takehiro Murahama b Billy Ken Kid & Gamma, Tadao Yasuda & Kazunari Murakami & Makai Club I b Tatsutoshi Goto & Michiyoshi Ohara & Enson Inoue, Takashi Iizuka b Makai Club V, Hiroyoshi Tenzan b Makai Club IV, Masahiro Chono b Shinya Makabe, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Osamu Nishimura b Scott Norton & Rick Steiner & Dan Devine

3/21 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 2,100 sellout): Mitsuo Momota b Haruka Eigen, Jun Izumida & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi b Kishin Kawabata & Daisuke Ikeda, Michael Modest & Donovan Morgan b Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Sugiura, Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikio & Naomichi Marufuji b Akira Taue & Takuma Sano & Kotaro Suzuki, Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa b Bull Schmitt & Vinnie Valentino-DQ, Tamon Honda b Too Cold Scorpio, Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi b Kenta Kobashi & KENTA & Masao Inoue

3/21 Mexico City Arena Mexico (EMLL TV tapings): Alan & Chris Stone b Sangre Azteca & Valentin Mayo, Safari & Tigre Blanco & Virus b Arkangel & Dr. X & Nitro, Bestia Salvaje & Juventud Guerrera & Scorpio Jr. b Felino & Villanos III & IV, Lizmark Jr. & Negro Casas & Vampiro b Apolo Dantes & Mascara Magica & Shocker, CMLL trios titles: Black Tiger & Dr. Wagner Jr. & Universo 2000 b Black Warrior & Atlantis & Mr. Niebla to win titles, Hair vs. hair: Pierroth Jr. b Gran Markus Jr.

3/22 Hamamatsu (New Japan - 2,400): Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi b Blue Wolf & Naofumi Yamamoto, The Heat & American Dragon b Gedo & Jado, Hiro Saito & Tatsutoshi Goto b El Samurai & Osamu Nishimura, Jushin Liger & Koji Kanemoto b AKIRA & Stampede Kid, Hiroshi Tanahashi b Dan Devine, Yuji Nagata & Takashi Iizuka & Michiyoshi Ohara b Ryushi Yanagisawa & Makai Club IV & V, Masahiro Chono & Kengo Kimura b Makai Club I & Tadao Yasuda, Scott Norton & Rick Steiner & Shinya Makabe b Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi & Yutaka Yoshie

3/22 Odawara (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 1,400): Haruka Eigen b Mitsuo Momota, Daisuke Ikeda b Donovan Morgan, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Sugiura b Takuma Sano & Kotaro Suzuki, Tamon Honda b Vinnie Valentino, Michael Modest & Bull Schmitt & Izu b Kenta Kobashi & Masao Inoue & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa b Akira Taue & Kishin Kawabata, Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikio & Naomichi Marufuji b Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi

3/22 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan - 2,000 sellout): Masa Fuchi b Nobukazu Hirai, Ryuji Hijikata & Hideki Hosaka & George Hines b Kazuki Okubo & Tomoaki Honma & Kazushi Miyamoto, Kendo Kashin & Nobutaka Araya b Johnny Smith & Shigeo Okumura, Arashi b Kohei Sato, Gigantes b Yoji Anjo, John Tenta b The Gladiator, Keiji Muto & Kaz Hayashi b Satoshi Kojima & Jimmy Yang

3/23 Amagasaki (New Japan - 5,800): Tatsutoshi Goto & Hiro Saito b Toru Yano & Yutaka Yoshie, Rick Steiner & Dan Devine & Shinya Makabe b Makai Club I & II & Ryushi Yanagisawa, Minoru Fujita b Makai Club IV, The Heat & American Dragon & Stampede Kid b Jushin Liger & Gedo & Jado, Kengo Kimura & El Samurai b Osamu Nishimura & Masahito Kakihara, Takashi Iizuka b Makai Club V, Michiyoshi Ohara & Enson Inoue b Tadao Yasuda & Kazunari Murakami-DQ, Masahiro Chono & Manabu Nakanishi & Hiroshi Tanahashi b Yuji Nagata & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Blue Wolf, IWGP jr. title: Koji Kanemoto b AKIRA, NWF title: Yoshihiro Takayama b Scott Norton

3/23 Mito (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 2,200): Jun Izumida b Haruka Eigen, Takuma Sano b Kishin Kawabata, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Mitsuo Momota b Takashi Sugiura & Makoto Hashi, Tamon Honda b Donovan Morgan, Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito & Yoshinobu Kanemaru b Michael Modest & Bull Schmitt & Vinnie Valentino, Akira Taue & Daisuke Ikeda b Kenta Kobashi & Masao Inoue, Takeshi Morishima & Takeshi Rikio & Naomichi Marufuji b Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa & Kotaro Suzuki

3/23 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan - 1,500): Nobukazu Hirai b Taichi Ishikari, Tamon Honda & Kazushi Miyamoto & Kazuki Okubo b Yuto Aijima & Hideki Hosaka & Shigeo Okumura, Yoji Anjo & Yuki Ishikawa b Kendo Kashin & Ryuji Hijikata, George Hines b Johnny Smith, The Gladiator & Gigantes b Satoshi Kojima & Jimmy Yang, Keiji Muto & Kaz Hayashi b John Tenta & Masa Fuchi, Arashi b Nobutaka Araya

3/24 Sacramento (WWE Raw/Heat tapings - 8,000): Chad Collyer b Bobby Quance, Christopher Nowinski b Al Snow, Maven & Tommy Dreamer b Rosey & Jamal, Test b Rico, Rodney Mack b Spike Dudley, Jazz b Jacqueline, Jeff Hardy & Trish Stratus b Steven Richards & Victoria, Scott Steiner b Christian, Booker T & Goldust b Ric Flair & HHH, Rob Van Dam & Kane b Dudleys

3/25 San Jose (WWE Smackdown/Velocity tapings - 7,500): Sean O’Haire b Tommy Drake, Chris Kanyon b Chad Collyer, Sho Funaki b Jamie Noble, Bill DeMott b Apollo Khan, Johnny Stamboli b Tajiri, Matt Hardy & Shannon Moore b Rey Mysterio & Brian Kendrick, Eddy Guerrero b Charlie Haas, Torrie Wilson b Nidia, Big Show & A-Train b Chris Benoit & Rhyno-DQ, Chavo Guerrero b Shelton Benjamin, John Cena b Rikishi


Special thanks to: Alex Marvez, Bryan Alvarez, Jeff Marek, Mike Coughlin, Mike Kuzmuk, Scott Williams, Todd Martin, Dan Wahlers, Joel Nurre, Keith Lipinski, Steven Kowalczyk, Matt Cail, Jeff Gagliardo, Timothy Walker, Daniel Karlsson, Jim Lemond, Jim DeCerbo, Aaron Wilson, Jimmie Daniel, Phillip McConnell, Chad Smith, Robert Murphy, Brandon Thurston, Keith Lipinski, Neil O’Brien, Jeremy Wall, Joel Nurre, Su Won, Georgiann Makropolous, Manuel Gonzalez, Larry Goodman, Gene Huh, Gene Restaino, Rob Moore, Mark Rumsey, Paul Sosnowksi, Dean Burbage, Clancy Gilpatrick, Grant Zwarych, Wes Jones, Jody Jewers, Dominick Valenti, Kris Zellner, Tommy Noe, Michael Tearson, Phiilip Laine, Brad Stutts, Bret Querner, Chris Harrington, Thomas Simpson, Mike Lano, Scott Zenzen, Victor Martinez, John Catsiroumpas, Curtis Davis, William Gardner, Christopher Bogart, Rachel Griffith, Kyle Wolf, Mike Rodgers, Jason Keibler

MEXICO: In the major angle on the 3/21 Arena Mexico show, Atlantis & Black Warrior & Mr. Niebla lost the CMLL trios titles to Dr. Wagner Jr. & Black Tiger & Universo 2000 when Warrior turned rudo on Niebla to start a new program. Pierroth Jr. beat Gran Markus Jr. in what must have been the worst hair match of the year in the main event.

PUERTO RICO: IWA’s next big tour will be Juicio Final from 4/2 to 4/6, with a big show on 4/5 for the first time at Juan Loubriel Stadium. While not officially announced, it is believed Konnan will be jumping from WWC to IWA for the tour (WWC stopped booking him due to financial problems), and also coming in are D-Lo Brown (who worked for a long time with IWA when it was a WWF developmental territory), Rick Steiner and Scott Hall (who will be a babyface after doing a turn the last time he was in) as well as Primo Carnera. Brown and Konnan will be heels, brought in to face Ray Gonzalez (Konnan and Gonzalez both feuded and teamed up with WWC in a headline program there last year). Steiner will be a babyface and Hall will wrestle Savio Vega

WWC is trying to peak for 4/17 to 4/20 with a big show on 4/19 in Carolina headlined by Sabu defending the Universal title against Carly Colon.

WJ: This first tour turned out to be a major disaster, because Riki Choshu ended up injured, with what was first believed to be a broken jaw from one of the Tenryu matches. He worked 3/18 in the barbed wire match in Gunma, but went to the hospital after the match and was forced to cancel the rest of the tour. The preliminary reports were his jaw was swollen badly, but neither fractured nor broken, and he’s expected to be back when they open their next tour on 4/19 at Korakuen Hall, and Tenryu said he’d wrestle him in a make-up singles match on that show. This left both the big drawing cards that everyone bought tickets to see (Tenryu being the other, out with a concussion ) off the shows. On the 3/19 show in Soka and 3/20 show in Nagareyama, the third biggest draw, Atsushi Onita, also was off the show because as a member of the Diet, he had political business to take care of with the war breaking out. Fans were really upset both nights about the no-shows and there were extensive ticket refunds each night.

ALL JAPAN: A change in the cable TV deal starting in April eliminates this group from PPV. New Japan has already stopped doing PPV shows, and there is a good chance that Zero-One will stop having big shows on PPV as well. This leaves Pride as really the kings of PPV. The weekly cable show is moving from Samurai TV to Gaora. The major matches at Budokan Hall will be televised on a few week tape delay

Genichiro Tenryu returned on 3/25 after getting both a CATSCAN and MRI on his head

The Carnival tour opened on 3/22 at Korakuen Hall before a sellout of 2,000. Stan Hansen returned to Japan in his role as PWF Commissioner and read the proclamation in the traditional opening ceremony. In the first night, Gigantes (Malice) beat Yoji Anjo after a choke slam in 9:18 and John Tenta pinned The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) with a big splash in 13:10. They had an interesting main event, with normal tag partners opposing each other as Keiji Muto & Kaz Hayashi beat Satoshi Kojima & Jimmy Yang, ending when Muto used an armbar on Kojima in 21:22. Kohei Sato from Zero-One worked the show, losing to Arashi, which is a set up for Arashi challenging Zero-One’s boss Shinya Hashimoto for the Triple Crown on 4/12. The 3/23 Korakuen Hall show failed to sellout, with George Hines over Johnny Smith in 25:02 with a tombstone piledriver and Arashi pinning Nobutaka Araya in 12:34 with a suplex as the first round Carnival bouts

On 3/25 in Morioka, Muto pinned Tenta after a shining wizard and Kojima pinned Gigantes. Carnival semifinals and finals are on 3/28 in Sapporo with semis of Hines vs. Kojima and Arashi vs. Muto.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: The new tour opened on 3/21 at Korakuen Hall before a sellout of 2,100, and as he claimed, Kenta Kobashi worked the show in the main event, teaming with KENTA & Masao Inoue in losing to Jun Akiyama & Akitoshi Saito & Makoto Hashi when Saito pinned KENTA. It appears Saito will be getting the big push on the tour as Kobashi’s first challenger for the GHC heavyweight belt on 4/13 at the Ariake Coliseum. Tamon Honda faces Saito on 3/30 in Fukuoka, with the winner getting the shot at Kobashi. Honda earned the bout with Saito by pinning Too Cold Scorpio in 11:05 on the first night.

NEW JAPAN: At the show on 3/21at Yoyogi Gym in Tokyo, before a sellout of 4,000 fans, Mark Coleman issued a challenge to Yuji Nagata for the IWGP title. Nagata’s record-breaking title defense on 4/23 in Hiroshima will be against Tadao Yasuda at this point. Coleman and Nagata have wrestled twice, in a tag match at the Osaka Dome, and in a later singles match, both times with Coleman pinning him. More importantly, both matches were very good

Enson Inoue’s second pro wrestling match was 3/21 in Tokyo teaming with Tatsutoshi Goto & Michiyoshi Ohara losing to Yasuda & Kazunari Murakami & Makai Club I in just 3:38 when Yasuda pinned Goto. That show also saw Chono beat Shinya Makabe in just 2:30, and the latest grudge match with Takashi Iizuka vs. Makai V (Mitsuya Nagai) ended with Iizuka finally winning, with a choke in 3:21. Jushin Liger & Takehiro Murahama on that show retained the Osaka Pro tag titles over OPW wrestlers Billy Ken Kid & Gamma.

The tour ended on 3/23 in Amagasaki before 5,800 fans with Yoshihiro Takayama retaining the NWF title pinning Scott Norton in 15:37 with five knees to the chin (since that move ended three fights in Pride last week). I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a Norton match for that long. Nagata, who wrestled earlier in the show, was doing color and came out and the two did a stare down for their Dome match. Nagata noted that Takayama had to keep the title in his NOAH match with Takeshi Rikio on 4/13. Koji Kanemoto retained the IWGP jr. title beating AKIRA with an ankle lock in 17:52 which was said to be an excellent match. I guess to finalize the deal about how Enson Inoue in adapting, in his third match, teaming with Ohara against Yasuda & Murakami only went 1:01 before the DQ finish when Murakami hit the ref. Kantaro Hoshino came out and attacked Ohara, and then told Yasuda that he couldn’t fire him, and attacked Yasuda

I saw this Nagata vs. Nakanishi IWGP title match, which aired on the 3/15 TV show. The 60:00 was edited down to about 11:00, mostly picking up at the 52:00 mark. Crowd was into it and popping big for the near falls, and when it was over, gave the reaction like they loved the match. What aired was real good. I’d love to see an unedited version because it’s unfair to judge based on what aired

In the U-30 tournament, the round robin of the tournament ended with Yoshie winning the B block and Makabe winning the A block. Makai IV and Wolf, who tied for second in the B block, will have a playoff match, with the winner facing Makabe. Tanahashi, who placed second in the A block, faces Yoshie in the other semifinal, all on 4/18. The winners of those matches face on 4/23 in Hiroshima in the championship match. Winner, besides facing Tenzan at the Dome show, also gets into the G-1 tournament in August

New Japan officials came to Ken Shamrock in February to sing a contract, but he didn’t sign

On the 3/22 show, Kengo Kimura, who is retiring in a few weeks, was given a present as he worked in the semi-main, teaming with Chono over Yasuda & Makai Club I and got the pin on Makai I with his leg lariat.

HERE AND THERE: Brian Cox, who wrestled in Oregon for the past 11 years as Bruiser Brian, passed away on 3/23 at the age of 32 from a heart attack. Cox, who was 6-3 and 285 pounds, had steroid use and recreational drugs usage in his past. When the current Portland Wrestling promotion opened, Cox was under consideration since he’s one of the few guys on the scene that “looks like a wrestler” (which is becoming an ugly code word these days). However, he wasn’t used because he had Ultimate Warrior cardio, as in his last match, on December 8, 2002 in Milwaukee, OR, he was still huffing and puffing 30 minutes after the conclusion of his match. Cox started wrestling for Sandy Barr in 1992 when he still ran regular shows at the Portland Sports Arena. He was a former college football player from Idaho trained by Sandy and Jesse Barr, and given the name Bruiser Brian because he resembled a young Dick the Bruiser. His biggest career match was July 27, 1994 when he teamed with Love Machine Art Barr and Eddy Guerrero, in a match where they were managed by Tonya Harding, against Konnan & Blue Panther & Perro Aguayo when Barr brought the AAA wrestlers up to Oregon. He actually gained more mainstream fame in Oregon when he was the mascot for the Portland Rage Roller Hockey team, known as Rage Man. Cox convinced the Rage owner, Bernard Small, to start a wrestling promotion with him as the top star. He was given spotlights and would get a huge babyface reaction, particularly from children. Two years later, when trying to reprise Rage Man at shows at the Aladdin Theater, which drew an adult audience, the gimmick totally fizzled. His other big match was in 1998 when he was the opponent for the pro wrestling debut of local college football star Josh Wilcox, which because of Wilcox, drew one of the best Portland crowds (nearly 800) of the decade. He also headlined in Japan for Ryuma Go’s promotion when it was affiliated with Barr’s CWUSA group, teaming with Lou Andrews against Barr & Ryuma Go in the top program. He also had a tryout with WCW, and they were interested enough, because of his size, to ask him to join the Power Plant. He decided, after being in wrestling for so many years, that he wasn’t going to start at square zero

Curtis Parker, 28, had been training with the Southern Illinois Championship Wrestling group that has been running at the South Broadway Athletic Club dating back to the 80s. He started training in July, and after his fourth workout, on 7/22, he slipped into a coma and died nine days later. The autopsy revealed his death was due to bleeding on the brain, which led to a wrongful death lawsuit against the Club. Parker had taken a piledriver in practice days earlier and complained to everyone about bad headaches and his friends were telling him to quit

Portland Wrestling is back in business with a TV taping scheduled for 3/27 at the WB studios. The station, promoter Frank Culberton and the state athletic commission reached a compromise this week. As part of the compromise, Culberton has to get a promoters license and all wrestlers appearing on the show have to be licensed. The expectation was that the bill which would deregulate pro wrestling in Oregon will pass in a few weeks. However, the state athletic commission last week ruled that they would no longer regulate pro wrestling on their own, preferring to concentrate on real sports like MMA and boxing, so they said. However, promoters will still have to be licensed and pay 6% tax on their shows to the commission, but the commission will allow them to do whatever they want. This means safety regulations like barriers to protect wrestlers from fans and visa versa, and the safety mats on the ground can be eliminated, as well as the licensing of wrestlers which require drug testing. All wrestlers who work in the ring for the next few weeks have to be licensed, which is why there may be only nine or so wrestlers actually wrestling on this week’s taping. In a few weeks, that will be a moot point. The first new show is scheduled to air on 3/29. Booker Lynn “Grappler” Denton needs major back surgery, so they are probably shooting an angle to explain that this week. The TV will be dedicated to Bruiser Brian

The Los Angeles Times feature on the ridiculous death rate in pro wrestling, plus a sidebar on Brian Pillman, is scheduled to run on 3/29

ROH ran on 3/22 in Philadelphia before 425 fans. Show lasted three hours and 40 minutes with the highlight being Samoa Joe winning the ROH title from Xavier, whose gimmick has always been that he’s not worthy to be champion. General consensus was a good show and far better than a usual indie show, but not up to the standards people now expect from ROH. Mikey Whipwreck showed up and cut a promo on his proteges, Quiet Storm, Maximos and Red, saying they weren’t having enough fun in the ring. As expected, Doug Williams regained the FWA (British promotion) title from Christopher Daniels in 19:13 of a ***3/4 match. Crowd loved this one. I think Daniels will be facing Samoa Joe soon for the ROH belt, which should be a very good match. They did another fake riot. It was a bad idea, although it made for a good visual on the home video, the first time a month ago. It was totally lame the second time. It was preposterous to even conceive of doing it a third time, so they did. Not only that, but they did it twice on the same show. Crowd hated it, chanting “F*** this” and “No more riots.” Hottest match was Styles & Red keeping the tag titles over the Briscoes in a fast-paced match with far too many moves rushed in for a normal show, but total ROH style, which is what the crowd there wants. Finish said to be out of this world, with Styles throwing Red over his head where he gave Mark a Frankensteiner off the top. But it didn’t end there, as Mark went over, he was caught in mid-air by Styles who gave him a Styles clash in a ***3/4 match. Low Ki pinned Jodie Fleisch in a spot fest with the Ki Crusher off the top rope, made more scary because both guys were unsteady on top as they were setting it up. More a stunt show but still very entertaining. Ki brought the pain to Fleisch with brutal kicks, including one to the cheek. Fleisch tried to do a springboard shooting star press into a DDT, but didn’t hit it right. Fans gave this one a long standing ovation. After all this, Raven & Colt Cabana beat C.M. Punk & Ace Steele in a match that the crowd didn’t like nearly as much. They told a story where Punk would always tag out when Raven tagged in. Raven pinned Steele and then gave him three DDT’s after the bout. Punk finally saved Steele, and then Cabana joined him, turning on Raven. Crowd had already turned on Raven earlier. Samoa Joe won the title from Xavier in the main event. Not a lot of heat for a number of reasons, including the length of the show. Poor Xavier took a beating, as Joe’s gimmick is he strikes with almost full force doing a Fedor style ground and pound on him, ending with a choke. Jack Victory was brought in for the show as a late replacement for Michael Shane, who was hospitalized due to dehydration due to a stomach virus. Shane did return to the building and superkicked Christopher Daniels just before the Samoa Joe-Xavier title change. They’re back on 4/12 with Low Ki vs. Paul London, which is the first time the two have ever met in a singles match. There is also an I quit match with Dusty Rhodes & Homicide & several of the rioters vs. C.W. Anderson & Victory and supposedly some bar room brawlers

In a follow-up to last week’s WWWF title story, Hogan was actually 30, not 28, when he won the title from Iron Sheik

Another follow-up from some months back, there was definitely talk of a Jack Brisco vs. Bruno Sammartino title vs. title match in Atlanta, which would have been in 1975, so Brisco’s story about Backlund being the replacement makes sense. Others involved in decision making during that time period have vague recollections of people trying to put it together. There was also serious talk, although I’m not certain how far it got, in late 1973, to do a Brisco vs. Pedro Morales match. There was also at least one more title vs. title match with the WWWF champ vs. NWA champ not mentioned, as there was a Harley Race vs. Bob Backlund match in early 1978 in Jacksonville. It was actually billed as the Super Bowl (the Miami match) rematch with Race vs. Graham, but Graham lost the title before the match and Backlund took his place. Also, in the Backlund-Graham title change at MSG, in fact, Backlund didn’t attack Graham’s leg. When Graham didn’t limp, Backlund never went near the leg

From Dory Funk on the 1973 incident when he was champion with the ranch accident that took place two days before he was to drop the title to Brisco in Houston. “The business is a work. The accident was real. The pickup truck accident occurred on Wednesday afternoon on the Flying Mare Ranch in Umbarger, TX owned by my father, Dory Funk Sr. We were moving cattle from the plateau down to the government lease valley below. Terry and my father were on foot and I was in the pickup truck. The herd broke toward Sierra Blanca Creek, and in the truck I pursued, watching the cattle. With my eyes on the cattle, I plunged down a six foot drop into the creek. An ambulance was called and I was pulled from the icy waters and taken to Neblett Hospital in Canyon. It was early spring, but I remember a thin coat of ice on the water. On Friday, March 2, 1973, my father received calls from Fritz Von Erich and Sam Muchnick to see if there was some way I could walk in the ring and complete the performance. I had 17 stitches in my face and a dangling right arm that I couldn’t lift from my side. All the plans of Jack Brisco, Muchnick, Eddie Graham, Von Erich, Paul Boesch and the NWA Board of Directors were upset. Nobody even bothered to ask how I was doing. In those days, there was no medical insurance available to professional wrestlers and naturally no worker’s benefits in the wrestling business. Just as the above mentioned had to be upset because it interfered with their plans to make money, I was also upset, suffering two months loss of work, medical expenses and cost our family business (the Amarillo wrestling territory) and myself lots of money, not to mention the loss of my father’s pickup truck.”

NWA TNA: Probably due to the war starting, the 3/19 show saw a smaller crowd and significantly smaller response than recent weeks, which probably translates into a significantly lower buy rate as well. Show drew about 1,000 people, after several straight full houses (place holds about 1,300). They were expecting their biggest paid gate to date, but had no paid walk up, which also can be blamed on a threat of thunderstorms although there have been fans in Nashville that have said it would be a stretch to blame the weather. The paid of 700 on 3/12 was the biggest the company had done since June. From those there live, it looked like there were well over double the amount of people in the freebie line than the paid line before the show. When they let the people with free tickets in (after all the paid people got in first), there were only 150 to 175 people in the building. DirecTV numbers have been rising although we’ve got more accurate figures from last week and more realistic estimates are they have gotten the total buys up to somewhere in the 11,000 to 13,000 total range, although nobody will know the true numbers until a year from now. They were believed to be in the 7,000 to 10,000 range for a long time. If they can average 700 paid per week, plus take in a few grand per week from international TV deals, break-even may be only about 18,000 buys. For the weeks they are on in Australia, there is a decent chance they can hit 15,000

Poll for the show was 26 thumbs up (86.7%) and 4 down (13.3%), or less than half the response of the previous week, which I attribute all to the war breaking out. As mentioned last week, it is better to get a poorer percentage of favorable responses with a larger number of responses when it comes to this group. Best match poll was Low Ki & Elix Skipper vs. Brian Lee & Slash with 25 and Worst match was Jim Duggan & Moondog Spot vs. Mike Sanders & Glen Gilbertti with 24

Main event on the show was Raven over A.J. Styles in a hardcore ladder match. They busted on each other with the garbage can lids and the like. Raven bled like crazy from the same cut he continues to bleed from dating back to the Sandman match two weeks earlier. Match ended when, after a ref bump, Gilbertti power bombed Styles over the top rope through a table. Raven, who had been put through a table by a legdrop from the top rope outside onto a tape with Raven putting ref Andrew Thomas on top of him, was able to recover first and climb up the ladder and grab the contract for the next title shot at Jarrett. Styles had been a member of the SEE group having done a big contract signing, but that seemed to have been forgotten since he was never at any of the team meetings. The other main event was Jarrett & Dusty Rhodes & D-Lo Brown over NWA Next Generation (David Flair & Erik Watts & Brian Lawler) when Jarrett pinned Flair after the stroke. They are teasing problems with Brown and Jarrett, after Gilbertti gave an excellent interview earlier in the show telling Brown that Jarrett befriended him to keep him from chasing him for the title. Brown walked out after his team won. Ron Killings then came out and hugged Jarrett, but of course, power bombed him afterwards, joining SEE

Armando Quintero, the Spanish language voice of the Dallas Cowboys, was at the show and worked with Konnan in doing two matches in Spanish just to get a feel of working together

Moondog Spot (Larry Booker), an old-time Memphis favorite dating back to Larry Latham, the tag team partner of Wayne Farris (Honky Tonk Man) in the late 70s, did a 1:56 match teaming with Duggan over Gilbertti & Sanders. Thankfully it was short, but not short enough. Booker looks to be about 375 pounds these days.

MMA: Bob Sapp, in what limited training time he’s had for the Mirko Cro Cop fight on 3/30, has dropped from his non-fighting weight of 415 pounds down to 363 as of a week before the fight, and is trying to get down lower than that. His biggest enemies in the fight in most people’s eyes are defending leg kicks, and stamina

For the 4/25 UFC show in Miami, Duane Ludwig, coming off his knockout win over Jens Pulver at the UCC show in Montreal, will face Genki Sudo in what should be a very entertaining match on paper. Ludwig and Sudo are both stand-up specialists, with each having fought in K-1 middleweight shows, although Sudo has far more submission skills. Ludwig replaces the injured Josh Thompson. Rest of the show is Matt Hughes vs. Sean Sherk for the welterweight title, Randy Couture vs. Andrei Arlovsky, Pete Spratt vs. Robbie Lawler, Mike Van Arsdale vs. unbeaten Rich Franklin, Rich Crunkilton (13-0) vs. Hermes Franca (6-0) in what was billed as the Battle of Fort Lauderdale, Mark Weir vs David Loiseau (this on paper is a good fight), Sean Alvarez vs. Wes “Cabbage” Correira and Romi Aram (a 6-0 who just vacated the King of the Cage welterweight title) vs. David Strasser.

WWE: The plan for the 4/27 Backlash PPV as of last word was Rock vs. Goldberg as the main event

The sale of the ECW intellectual property rights and videotapes should be finalized before you read this, as there is a 3/27 hearing scheduled for approval, although the order for it came down a few days earlier. WWE was in fact, the high bidder, as expected, and most likely, the only bidder. In the ruling, it was stated that WWE owns the entire ECW tape library and that no party, with Tod Gordon’s name listed specifically, has any claim to any of the tapes

Austin did an interview with Alex Marvez this past week. He acknowledged his injury problems are serious and that he’s winding down his in-ring career. He said that as it turns out, his contract expires in June (not September as he originally thought) but was working right now on a renewal, but much of that would be to work in a non-wrestling capacity. He defended his recent article in Raw magazine saying he meant every word of it, but that where parts of it may have come out as a work were due to the editing process. He said he named a lot more names of people he thought were problems that didn’t make the article. He said one of the reasons he left last year that never came out was the injuries, as he’s got major neck and back problems. He said his back has never been the same from when it was broken in the 2001 angle where Booker T threw him too far and he landed badly

The 6/15 PPV in Houston has officially been renamed “Badd Blood,” from “King of the Ring,” so after a ten-year history of doing that tournament every summer on PPV, it is being dropped. KOR, once considered one of the major events of the year, drew poorly last year, but that was more due to the main event, since it had been years since the tournament was pushed as that big of a deal. Part of the reason for dropping the tournament is that this will become the first All-Raw show. WWF had used “Badd Blood” as a show name, but had retired it in 1997 when the show took place on the same day as the death of Brian Pillman

The go-home Raw no 3/24 in Sacramento was a theme show that didn’t work. The idea was “The Rock Concert” and Austin being kicked out of the building, so you knew he’d come back to ruin the concert. Austin opened the show challenging Rock to come out and said he wouldn’t leave until he did. Test and Storm both came out for a supposed singles match, and Austin gave both a stunner. Bischoff came out with 12 police officers and claimed he had a court order banning Austin from the Arco Arena. As the officers kicked Austin out, Rock sang “Jailhouse Rock” to him. Stratus & Jeff Hardy beat Victoria & Richards in 2:33 when Stratus pinned Victoria with the stratusfaction, kicking off Richards to do it. Stratus was about to get the paint face when Jazz decked Stratus and Richards attacked Hardy before they could smooch. Austin was in the parking lot the rest of the show. Steiner pinned Christian in 4:16 with a fallaway slam off the middle ropes. It was okay. Morley awarded himself & Storm the tag titles, and Kane &RVD challenged. Morley set up Kane & RVD vs. Dudleys for a Mania title shot later in the show. Booker & Goldust beat HHH & Flair in 16:47. I was getting a massive headache, since Goldust announced breaking up the team a month ago. And it was Flair’s first match in months, and it was like no big deal. I used to think Flair was too old to wrestle, but not anymore. He carried the entire match, was always in the right place. Not the Flair of old, but the best worker of the ring on the show and looked better than HHH. HHH bled for Booker and put him over clean with the ax kick in a very good match. Everyone involved did the right thing for business. And speaking of that, the best part of the show was Jericho’s promo with Michaels. He showed footage of himself in Winnipeg (I think) wrestling Lance Storm, and out there dressing like Michaels and copying Michaels’ spots. He said he always wanted to be like Michaels and used to take it when people said he’d be the next Michaels that it was the ultimate compliment. Jericho promised one of the greatest matches of all-time, which is a risky thin got do. Jericho slapped Michaels and Michaels slapped him back. When this was over, this was the only match on the show I was looking forward to seeing. Two months ago I was jazzed about the line-up, but the angles they’ve done for the most part have worked in reverse, particularly Austin-Rock and Booker-HHH have made me lose interest in a match I had interest in. RVD & Kane got the title shot beating Dudleys in 5:49 when RVD pinned D-Von afer a frog splash. Rock did his concert. He was funny ripping on the fans. Only Rock could have gotten away with something like this for so long. Austin’s truck hit the ring as he followed an ambulance into the building on a swerve he set up. However, Hurricane came out as the driver. Rock made fun of him calling him Hamburglar and had him arrested. As the police took Hurricane out, Austin came from under a sheet in the bed of the truck and hit the ring. Rock was gone, but Austin got his guitar and stomped a mud hole in it

Smackdown was good for hyping Mania, but not so hot for wrestling. They are now doing a gimmick in dark matches where they announce an unknown guy (at both Raw and Smackdown it was Chad Collyer) as being from the local city so the crowd gets into the match. Seemed to work as Collyer vs. Kanyon in a dark match got a strong reaction, but being the second best match on the show will do that. Best saw Smackdown opener with Matt Hardy & Moore over Mysterio & Kendrick when Hardy pinned Kendrick after two twists of fate (second because the first one wasn’t done right and I’m betting will be edited off the show). Hardy also left Mysterio laying with two twists of fate. Crowd was super hot, and saw Hardy and Mysterio as big time players. Eddy Guerrero pinned Haas with a messed up cradle in a bad match. Nathan Jones’ TV debut match didn’t come off as advertised. That’s both a bad thing, because they are doing far too much of that, and a good thing, because a match with Palumbo was a bad idea. They announced the match, but then showed Palumbo injured, with the idea that Jones did it. Undertaker was trying to teach Jones right form wrong. Shane McMahon has the bug, and that’s probably not a good thing. He was on two videos as Vince’s trainer, and he wants to be back as a TV personality. They showed Vince hitting the weights and training with Dr. Tom. Wilson pinned Nidia in a bad match. Show & A-Train over Benoit & Rhyno via DQ. Decent match, ending when Show & A-Train were in control and Jones hit the ring and attacked both. Undertaker ended up saving Jones and they cleared the ring. Hogan got a huge ovation coming out. Funny thing was, earlier in the show, twice, once in the Desire video and the other time when they announced the new Hogan shirt, the crowd booed the mention of his name. Then he came out, and they went bonkers. Not the Inoki, Austin, Rock or old-time Hogan bonkers, but a very lengthy loud ovation. Hogan did a good promo, teasing that this might be his last match. Line of the night was Hogan saying that if he lost it would definitely be his last match because he’s a man of his word. He never promised to beat Vince, but did promise to make him bleed. Chavo pinned Benjamin with la magistral in a decent match with no heat. Angle went into Lesnar’s dressing room and wound up turning himself face. He never acknowledged his injury, but sort of did. I’m guessing maybe 10% of the crowd understood what he was saying. He said that if Mania ended being his last match, he can live with that because he’s satisfied with everything he’s accomplished in pro and amateur wrestling. He said his goal wasn’t to be careful, but to raise the bar and give the people the greatest wrestling match in history and told Lesnar he was just like him. Lesnar said if it was his last match, he could live with it as well, and talked about how much guts Angle had (for coming into the dressing room storyline wise, but he meant for doing the match). Fans cheered Angle a lot when it was over. Cena, who called out Lesnar earlier in the show, pinned Rikishi clean with his new finisher, the death valley driver. Crowd was in shock seeing him get a guy that big on his shoulders, and even more when the ref counted three. He called out Lesnar when I’m guessing the show went off the air. After the show, Lesnar did come out and give Cena an F-5 after Cena spit on him first

The MRI on Kidman revealed his neck injuries weren’t as bad as feared, however all the big bumps he’s taken are beginning to physically break him down

Nowinski was out of action with nasal surgery from the injury suffered with the spot with Edge at the Royal Rumble. A few weeks back on Raw when the Dudleys destroyed him as he cut a promo was supposed to be the TV cover spot for the injury, but they didn’t do anything serious enough to him that he could sell (although he did grab the nose trying to make the best of the situation), and Ross never called an injury that didn’t look like it could have happened from that skirmish, and he’s never been talked about since. He did work in Sacramento doing a dark match with Snow

Kevin Kelly, 36, who had been with the company for eight years as both a TV personality, as well as magazine writer and working in the talent relations office, was let go this past week. The official word is that his position, which was as a researcher for television, with much of his work being on Confidential, was eliminated in a cost cutting measure . This surprised a lot of people, and has a lot of people nervous. Kelly was taken off television as an interviewer years back after a pretty memorable role as Rock’s whipping boy “Hermie,” because the powers that be didn’t like that he had gained weight. At the 3/19 OVW tapings, they set up what will be a switch in the main event with Nick Dinsmore & Benoit teaming, joined by Johnny Jeter, against Damaja & Doug Basham & Rob Conway. TV main was Damaja & Basham vs. Dinsmore & Conway. Conway turned on Dinsmore and joined the Revolution, which no doubt will be explained next week on an interview. I’ll bet Conway is at this very moment studying tapes of Ole Anderson’s interview the morning after turning on Dusty Rhodes in the cage match in Atlanta some 22 years ago. By the way, that is still among the greatest interviews of all-time, which is why I wasn’t kidding about that. Anyway, Jim Ross was at the show. Cornette said that Jeter was under consideration for a developmental deal with WWE (and he really should get one, right now I believe he’s waiting tables at TGIF’s or Chili’s in Louisville) but has a torn MCL, which he does have, blamed on Kanyon and Johnny Spade (this was the cover since the injury, suffered weeks ago, was legit, and he’s staying out of action until 4/11. Cornette fined Spade for the attack but said he couldn’t fine Kanyon, since he’s a WWE employee. Ross came out and compared Jeter to a young Ricky Morton or Shawn Michaels and fined Kanyon $5,000. Kanyon attacked Jeter on crutches, but Jeter made a comeback. The APA reunited on TV, doing an interview on the show, with Bradshaw doing the same interview at the same moment (including knocking the same Dixie Chicks) that Duggan was doing on TNA. They ended up setting up a tag program with the APA vs. Seven & Travis Bane, which is added to the 4/11 show. Conway, after turning heel, suffered a concussion on the 3/21 spot show, and will be out for a little while, although he’s due back before 4/11

Orton was all over the St. Louis media, on TV and radio, hyping the Raw show, since he lives in the city, which probably explains one of the reasons they put him on the show

On The Score in Canada, they aired a different shot during the Hogan-McMahon Smackdown angle so you couldn’t see McMahon jabbing Hogan’s head with the pen or signing the contract with his blood

Rock’s next movie, formerly known as “Helldorado,” has been renamed “Welcome to the Jungle” and is scheduled for a 9/26 release. He starts filming “Waking Tall” on 6/26. While it’s based loosely on the 70s movie, because Rock doesn’t look like a Southern redneck, he is not playing Buford Pusser and it’s not based in the South. Instead, he’s playing a guy named Tom and it’s based in the state of Washington, where, working as a logger, he discovers all sorts of corruption

For whatever this is worth, and remember, this will changed three times in the next week, the Smackdown marriages for post-Mania are Lesnar vs. Cena for the title, Undertaker & Jones vs. Show & A-Train, Rikishi vs. Kanyon, most likely with Jackie Gayda, Mysterio vs. Hardy, Team Angle vs. Los Guerreros and O’Haire & Kendrick vs. FBI

In the ring at the house show last week in Miami, after Rock pinned Lesnar, Rock was on the mic and told Lesnar it was most likely the last match the two would ever have, and they hugged in the ring

Nash will be returning using the name Diesel. A few months back, Nash was talking about it, saying he hasn’t had any luck of late as Nash. It wouldn’t shock me to see him debut at Mania, although at press time the plan was for him to debut at the Raw on 3/31 in Seattle. There were two ways they were talking abuot going as mentioned last week, and with the Diesel name, it creases the odds he comes in as a babyface and teams with Michaels since Michaels & Diesel were tag team champions in 1994. Few of today’s audience is even aware of that, and the percentage of people who know Diesel as compared to Kevin Nash is very small. However, Diesel is a McMahon creation and Nash is a WCW creation, and playing the political game, you can see Nash making that decision. Either way, in the long run it’s exactly the same

Dean Roll (Shark Boy) looks to be

working regularly in April as a TV extra. He got over huge with the gimmick on the Pittsburgh Smackdown taping. He’s not booked for any house shows and there don’t appear to be plans to sign hi

Confidential and the Third Degree shows over the weekend were all Mania hype. They put together some nice packages on Michaels at Mania (which aired on both shows), Angle, Lesnar, a Vince promo on Hogan that was funny (where he talked about Hogan constantly changing history). Third Degree, which replays on 3/29 on TNN, featured live interviews with Austin, HHH and Hogan. There was yet another in the string of false advertising for no purpose since they billed McMahon being there, and then said twice during the show that he wouldn’t be there because he was afraid he’s attack Hogan and there would be no Mania match. On both shows it was very strongly positioned as Hogan vs. Vince as the main event, which was not the way I’d go with it, and with Hogan as the biggest star in the company right now. Hogan was brought on last on Third Degree, like he was the main star. Everyone kept being asked about Hogan vs. Vince, and nobody was asked about Rock vs. Austin or Lesnar vs. Angle. Austin wouldn’t say this match with Rock was the biggest of his career, even when prodded to say it. They kept playing the Costas clip over and over, which was funny because it only made the match seem like Old-Timers day, especially when he compared the match to watching Bob Feller pitch to Joe DiMaggio. They also aired clips of Piper building up the match. Funny how Piper went everywhere railing against Vince making wrestling perverted, and then appeared on TV the first time asked. HHH was, more than ever before, trying to be Flair, complete with copying his lines. He’s so ridiculously large in a suit that he doesn’t look human, but even being twice the size of Flair, he comes off in this role with one-third the aura. In trying to be Flair, he came off maybe worse than I’ve ever seen him, like a gorilla from the gym being put in a suit for the first time ever, made worse because his tie rolled to the side, the crowd was going nuts with the “fix your tie” and nobody buzzed him so he sat there doing the promo looking like a j-brone

WWE announced full details of its new TV deals in Germany, the main thrusts of which have already been reported. Smackdown recently started on a one-year deal on Tele5 in Germany. WWE also airs on Premiere with Raw, heat, Bottom Line, Velocity and Confidential. In Japan, Fuji will air a one-hour edited Smackdown weekly, and J-Sky Sports signed a three-year deal for Raw, two-hour Smackdown, Heat and Velocity. WWE PPV events are now aired as PPV shows in Japan through SkyperfecTV

Smackdown on 3/18 in Louisville drew 8,000. Raw on 3/24 in Sacramento drew 8,000. Smackdown on 3/25 in San Jose drew 7,500.