Friday, 31 December 2004

The Two Sheds Review Archives - 2004

It's Rumble Time Again!

It's that time of year again, folks, when thirty of the (supposedly) top wrestlers in the wrestling business compete in one of the toughest (supposedly) matches in the history of the game, the Royal Rumble.


The Rumble is probably my second favourite pay-per-view of the year, behind Wrestlemania. As many of you probably know, I've been watching the WWE since 1989, and the Rumble match itself always held a special place in my heart, probably because unlike most other gimmick matches, it only comes around once a year, and it isn't done to death.

The first Rumble I saw back in 1990 featured a moment that will remain as one of my favourites in WWE history, and I'm not including the moment where the Warlord entered and was promptly dispatched from the ring seconds later. I'm talking about that moment.

This match featured the first ever in-ring encounter between World Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion the Ultimate Warrior, the two most popular wrestlers in the company at the time. I must admit that I marked out with the best of them at seeing these two wrestling giants in the ring together. It was a moment that many fans will cherish for years to come, and the start of the journey that led to one of the biggest matches ever at Wrestlemania VI.
 
Many of today's so-called smart fans will probably criticise me for being such a big fan of this story line, but back then, long before the dawn of the Internet, this was like a dream come true. For the Hulkster, it was indeed the ultimate challenge. Hogan went on to win the Rumble that year, but back then, winning the Rumble didn't really mean that much.

Of course, there have been other memorable moments in Rumble history. Who can forget Ric Flair's sixty-minute plus performance to win the vacant title two years later? Drawing number three, this was Flair's defining moment in his WWE career. In an era of steroid-filled monsters, Flair outlasted them all, and claimed the one World title he hadn't won. The sad thing here was that at the time everyone's dream match was Flair v Hogan. This would have been a perfect way to start promoting the match on television, but because Hogan wanted to wind down his schedule at the time, this dream match was never featured on pay-per-view. It would have been a perfect main event for Wrestlemania VIII.

During the early years, one of the things that drew me to the Rumble match was the chance to see heels pounding the hell out of other heels, and the same with the faces. At that moment in time the WWE were very reluctant promote heel v heel or face v face matches. This changed with the introduction of the so-called "Attitude" era, the era of the beer-swilling anti-hero, where the line between hero and villain became blurred a little.

The Rumble still remained compelling viewing however, mainly because that after a few years, winning the match actually meant something, with the stipulation that the winner would be granted a title shot at Wrestlemania two months later adding a little sparkle to the proceedings. But one setback to this meant that it became obvious that only a select few had a real chance of going over. The era of the underdog in the Rumble came to an end.

This stipulation however has led to some dire matches at the following Wrestlemania. Yokozuna v Bret Hart at Wrestlemania IX will never be remembered as a classic, but at least the powers-that-be stuck to their guns that year, and they more than made up for it the following year, booking Bret and Lex Luger as joint winners, so that both of them would be competing in high-profile matches at Wrestlemania X.

A few years later, the WWE would use the Hart/Luger ending again, when in 2000, The Rock won the belt, only for the Big Show to contest decision, insisting that he was the last man in. The big lump would later prove his point, lose a number one contenders match, but still go on to main event at Wrestlemania. This wasn't exactly the most memorable of years for me.

Apart from the Rumble match itself, there have also been some great under card matches. The 1991 match pitting World Champion the Ultimate Warrior against Iraqi-sympathiser Sgt. Slaughter, held at the height of the first Gulf War, may have infuriated many fans, but take away the Iraqi angle, and you've got booking at it's finest. You've got Randy Savage, who has been feuding with the Warrior over the title for months, trying to get one last title shot, with the Warrior refusing his request. Savage and his manager Sensational Sherri then do everything they can to interfere in the Warrior's match with Slaughter, costing him the title and setting up the thrilling retirement match at Wrestlemania VII.

Then we have the classic I Quit match between Mankind and The Rock. Mrs. Foley's baby boy was riding the crest of a wave going into this bout. His feud with The Rock, and his title victory made for compelling viewing at the time. Of course, this match will be remembered for the number of chair shots Foley took, for the way it was portrayed in Beyond The Mat, and for Foley's comments about The Rock's actions (or non-actions) after the match in his first biography.

In recent years we've seen some puzzling booking. A couple of years ago we saw a heel v heel encounter as champion Kurt Angle defended the title against fellow villain Triple H. This was during Angle's first title reign, and the original plan was for Angle to face Chris Jericho, a singles match that had never been seen on pay-per-view before. While this would have been a boon to many fans, a match between to of the companies up and coming stars, Triple H apparently threw a hissy fit and convinced the powers-that-be to change the plans. Jericho was thrown to one side as Triple H was put into the title match. Triple H dominated the match, making Angle looking very weak and very lucky to come out of the match with a victory. This did nothing for Angle's career, but a great deal for Triple H's ego.

Just one year ago, with the brand extension in full effect, we saw the good and the bad with the two title matches. Scott Steiner and Triple H literally stunk up the building with their awful World title encounter. One comment I read at the time summed it all up for me - both guys were built like tanks, and both guys moved like tanks. Then, moments after that debacle, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit put on an excellent match, the sort of match that will probably win countless Match of the Year awards in the next few weeks. Both men received a standing ovation for their efforts that night, and it was something that was really needed.

But looking forward to this year's event, I must admit my heart missed a beat when it seemed like we Brits wouldn't be getting a look in. It seemed odd that Sky, in their infinite wisdom, were going to turn their back on one of their most popular shows, but thank heavens for Sentanta Sports. We Brits, having been loyal supporters of the McMahon family since Sky first transmitted their shows in 1989, deserved nothing less.

Since the brand extension, the Rumble match has regained some of it's lustre, as we'll once again have a chance to see wrestlers competing against wrestlers they don't normally go up against. Seeing the Raw and Smackdown guys beating the crap out of each other just once a year is worth waiting for.

As far as the under card goes, it looks like it will be dominated by the two title matches. This year sees Triple H defending his newly-won title against his old buddy Shawn Michaels. Okay, this is nothing new for pay-per-view. It makes you wonder just who will win, considering Triple H has proven somewhat reluctant to put other guys, apart from his close friends, or guys who are past it, over in the past. Add in the last man standing stipulation, and you have a mystery on your hands. Of course, you also have to wonder how a match between a part-timer and a man so injury prone will pan out.

Then we have Hardcore Holly against Brock Lesnar for the WWE title. This story line has been quite a while in the making. While it's obvious to many just who is going to win, the fact that this match is going ahead shows one of two things - that the Smackdown brand could be lacking in main event talent, and that the company is showing loyalty to a long-time employee. I was never a fan of Thurmann Plugg. Hardcore Holly is another matter entirely. This match won't be a mat classic. Given the story line there will probably be a great deal of blood spilt. I'm just glad that someone "new" is getting airtime in a main event match.

So with the Rumble just a few weeks away, yours truly is looking forward to a WWE show for the first time since....well....Wrestlemania last year. Thank heavens for Sentanta Sports. Let's hope Sky and the WWE can sort out their acts in the future.

 The Life & Times Of Steven Richards

When one thinks back to the glory days of Extreme Championship Wrestling, one also thinks of the many great stars that graced Paul Heyman's renegade company - Raven, Rhyno, Tazz, the Sandman, the Dudleys, and many more. But one man who, more often than not, tends to get overlooked is Steven Richards.

For most of his time in ECW, Richards served many in the role of sidekick, often being teamed with the likes of Raven, or the Blue Meanie in the legendary Blue World Order, one of the best wrestling parodies of the nineties. But the fact that he was very often another guy's stool pigeon meant he never really had the chance to shine.

It was pretty much the same when he first arrived in the WWE a few years back. After a brief stint in WCW, and a knee injury that nearly ended his career, Richards turned up in McMahon land, and looked totally lost. For most of the time, he would be seen in the background when other things happened, or, as he did in ECW, he would parody other stars, as well as reuniting with the Blue Meanie. But the fact that he was hardly being used was a great shame.

Around the same time, the WWE were having trouble with the Parents Television Council. The PTC were giving the television censors a hard time because of the WWE's programme content. They claimed the so-called Attitude era was harming America's youth, and the WWE's portrayal of certain characters was doing a great deal of damage to those companies who purchased advertising segments during the WWE's television shows.

Although the WWE would later go on to win the impending court case against the PTC, it didn't stop the creative team from coming up with their own answer to the PTC - the Right To Censor - or RTC. However, if this new heel faction was ever going to succeed, it needed a spokesman, someone who was competent on the microphone, who could get the RTC's message across clearly and strongly. That man was Steven Richards.

With a short hair cut and dressed in a white shirt and black tie, Richards' new character went on a verbal rampage against the WWE, criticising everything from programme content to the wrestler's themselves. The RTC faction promised a great deal, and could have been a great deal better - if the wrestlers chosen for the faction had themselves been better.

Bull Buchanan had previously served in another faction - the Truth Commission, which had bombed and was discarded when the mighty Kurrgen became a freak and formed the Oddities. A brief stint as the Big Boss Man's sidekick also did nothing for him, mainly because of the fans dislike for the Boss Man. Buchanan soon swapped the Boss Man's flack jacket for the RTC's shirt and tie, but it still did nothing for him.

Charles Wright had finally succeeded in the WWE has the Godfather, the federation's fun-loving, good-time guy. Having largely failed as the voodoo-loving Papa Shango, and as Kama Mustafa, the ultimate fighting machine who later joined Farooq's Nation of Domination, Wright struck gold as the WWE's fun-loving, good-time guy, coming down to the ring in garishly coloured outfits and accompanied by an ever growing collection of lovely ladies. At a time when the WWE used sex to sell their product, the Godfather character fitted in perfectly at the time. However, when the RTC was formed, he became one of their first targets, and it wasn't long before he was swapping his garish garments for the RTC's shirt and tie, and changing his name to the Goodfather.

At the height of the Attitude era, Shawn Morley had been tearing up a storm with his Val Venis porn-star character. Like the Godfather, the character was perfect for the times. He was a former Intercontinental Champion who had enjoyed a tremendous amount of success with high-profile feuds against Goldust and Taka Michinoku's Kai-En-Tai faction. However, after a while, the character had become a little stale, and for story line purposes, he was the perfect target for Richards' brand of brainwashing.

Ivory was at the time the best women's wrestler in the company. Having held the women's title on a number of occasions, the RTC needed a woman who would rebel against the type of female athlete the WWE were trying to portray - emphasising T&A over in-ring wrestling skill. Ivory swapped her somewhat skimpy ring outfits for a white blouse and long-skirt, and as someone who was also competent on the microphone, she was the perfect foil for Richards.

The RTC concept promised much. In Richards they had the perfect spokesman, a man who knew his ring craft well, and when it was called for, could play the cowardly, managerial type, the likes of which hadn't been seen in the WWE since the heyday of Bobby Heenan or Jimmy Hart. However, the inclusion of Buchanan and the Goodfather probably hurt the group's chances of ever making it big.

Despite showing some flashes of brilliance at times, Buchanan was never going to get over with the fans, while the Goodfather was, in the opinion of many, a step backwards for Wright's career. Fans wanted to see him dancing to the ring and having a good time. They didn't want him preaching to them about abstinence.

When Buchanan and the Goodfather captured the tag-team championship from the Hardy Boys, many fans scratched their heads. As a team, the Hardys were far superior, and at the time, there were a number of other teams who would have made better tag-team champions. Yet the creative bods insisted on giving the belts to a team that were falling flat on their faces.

Although the RTC enjoyed fleeting moments of success in short feuds and altercations with the Rock and Billy Gunn, it is events outside the ring that possibly killed the idea. It was Jerry Lawler's idea that his then-wife, Stacy "The Cat" Carter, be placed with the group. At the time Carter was well-known for taking the majority of her clothes off, and was the fist women ever to show her "puppies" on live WWE pay-per-view. Having Carter virtually kidnapped and forced into the group would have made for good television, but at the same time, Carter was becoming a pain in the backside backstage, and Vince McMahon had no choice but to release Carter from her contract. Showing a great deal of loyalty to his wife, Lawler walked as well. It wasn't long before the RTC curled up it's tootsies.

The Right To Censor concept probably failed because of the choice of it's members. Richards was a more than capable leader of the group. He was perfect for the role. However, Buchanan and the Goodfather were never anything more than lower mid-card talent, who were never going to get over in this gimmick. Val Venis could have gone onto greater things, but like the Goodfather, the fans wanted to see the old Val, and not this version of the Big Valbowski.

At the time, there were a great number of other wrestlers who would have been better as members of the RTC. This faction had great promise, and at a time when the WWE was taking a great deal of heat over it's product content, if more high-profile names had been added to the group, then it's entirely possible that an RTC member could have actually become a top contender for the WWE title. This would have done far more the group as a whole.

But it was never meant to be. After the Cartler/Lawler situation, the RTC never recovered. The group was disbanded, and it's members went separate ways. The promising WWE career of Steven Richards was once again at a standstill.

With the demise of the Right To Censor faction, Steven Richards was lost in the shuffle. With nothing to help the fans take notice of him, Steven returned to full-time action, but was relegated to the weekend shows. He hardly made an appearance on Raw or Smackdown.

Then something happened that could have helped his career. When the WWE purchased WCW, their original plan was to set up their former rival as a separate entity. When they couldn't get a television contract for them, WCW stars began to turn up on WWE programming, and the feud that wrestling fans had been craving for years was finally on.

The only problem being that at it's inception, the plan fell flat on it's face. Various things meant that the fans just weren't what McMahon-brand WCW. Hardly anyone took WCW seriously. There were no standout stars. Those invading the WWE were nothing more than WCW mid-carders. How could they be taken seriously against the top-guns of the WWE, men McMahon had made superstars out of?

Vince McMahon soon realised this. With a massive WWE v WCW pay-per-view planned, he needed something big. Many of WCW's big guns, such as Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Sting and Scott Steiner were sitting at home collecting their big, fat, Time Warner paycheques. Attempts to sign Bill Goldberg and Eric Bischoff failed miserably. Bischoff knew that at the time McMahon would do nothing but make him a laughing stock. It was a short-term, quick-fix solution, and neither Bischoff or Goldberg wanted anything to do with it.

There was just one thing that McMahon could do. Bring back ECW.

On one magical edition of Raw just a couple of weeks before the Invasion pay-per-view, it happened. During a tag-team match pitting Chris Jericho & Kane against Lance Storm and Mike Awesome, WCW's mid-carders came down to interfere. They were soon followed by a group of WWE superstars. The crowd went wild as the likes of Tazz, Raven, the Dudleys and Rhyno kicked the asses of their counterparts. Then it happened. Jericho and Kane were then attacked by their comrades. Storm and Awesome soon joined in the assault, and to everyone's surprise, Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam came sprinting in through the crowd, as a smiling Paul Heyman got up from his commentary position, got into the ring, and announced that the Invasion had just got a little extreme. ECW had returned.

That night Vince and Shane, who was the "owner" of WCW, came up with a plan to get rid of their mutual enemies. As five WWE and five WCW stars prepared for a massive twenty man tag, it soon became apparent that Vince was getting screwed. Heyman led his ECW troops through the crowd, and joined with their WCW counterparts to attack the WWE stars. The Alliance had been formed. With Stephanie McMahon unveiled as the new owner of ECW, ECW's former top stars gave the ailing Invasion a much needed boost.

Steven Richards was nowhere to be seen. The man who had made his name as a sidekick to many in the heyday of ECW was absent. However, because the fans were enthralled by the new angle the Invasion offered them, hardly anyone noticed that Richards wasn't around.

Richards eventually joined the Alliance, but his initial momentum didn't last long, again because of circumstances outside the ring. In the first few months of the Invasion, Kane and the Undertaker had been moved to the tag-team division, where they held both the WWE and WCW tag-team titles. Having seen off the challenge of Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon, the Undertaker persuaded Vince McMahon to hire his old friends, Bryan Adams and Brian Clark, who had achieved a great deal of success as the Kronik tag-team in the last couple of years of WCW. Clark and Adams began their WWE career by attacking the Undertaker and Kane, and it was revealed that Steven Richards had orchestrated the attack, and he began to act as their manager.

But at the big pay-per-view match, everything fell apart. The match between the Brothers of Destruction and Kronik literally fell apart at the seams. It was panned by everyone, especially the powers-that-be. Unhappy with the dead weight he had literally been talked into hiring, McMahon put forward the idea that both Adams and Clark should relocate to Ohio Valley Wrestling, the WWE's training ground. The big men balked at the idea, because in their minds, they didn't need any extra training. Adams was in his fourth stint as a McMahon employee. He was a former tag-team champion. Clark had achieved a degree of success as Adam Bomb almost ten years previously. It wasn't long before Kronik left the company, leaving Richards without a ship to steer.

Richards remained as part of the Alliance, but he had nothing to do. When the Alliance lost the war with the WWE the following November, Richards' career wasn't going anywhere.

Then along came Victoria.

Victoria had last been seen working in the WWE as one of the Godfather's ho's. Her most prominent role had been during the break-up of Eddie Guerrero and Chyna. Victoria was cited as one of the women Eddie had cheated with in the shower. Realising that she had great promise, the WWE sent her down to Ohio for training under the watchful eye of Jim Cornette and Danny Advise. As the Queen Victoria, she went down a storm before being called up to the big leagues and being called back to the big leagues, and put into a high-profile feud with WWE Women's Champion Trash Starts.

But the psycho-queen that Victoria had become needed someone to play off. Once again, Richards was called upon to play the sidekick, and putting behind the previous characters he had played, Richards became the perfect foil for Victoria, adopting aspects of her personality as the WWE gave the fans a women's feud that was well conceived and well written.

While adopting this role, Richards began to wrestle more and more, although he was still mainly competing on the weekend show circuit. Finally putting the knee and neck injuries behind him, injuries that almost finished his career, Richards won rave reviews for his matches.

With the brand extension that split the WWE into two different companies, the Raw brand was given the Sunday Night Heat show. At first the show seemed rudderless, without a captain to give the orders, but after a while, as Raw gained it's own General Manager, Richards given the role as Heat General Manager, as Sunday Night Heat became Stevie Night Heat.

With Victoria now acting as his sidekick, Richards seemed in his element. The microphone skills he had shown in ECW and as the leader of the RTC were now being shown again. Richards was earning the plaudits from the fans, and finally getting the recognition he deserved, even though he wasn't a part of the major shows.

But as with many things before, the WWE canned an angle that was proving to be successful. Richards was gaining something of a cult following on Heat, but the angle was soon dropped.

Recently, Richards was put up against Test in a series or matches that played out over Heat and Raw. With Victoria by his side, cheering him on, Richards showed what he was capable of in this entertaining series, which culminated in a win for Richards on Raw. However, with Victoria making another run at the women's title, it's unclear exactly what the WWE plans for the future of Steven Richards.

Richards certainly has the skills, both in the ring and on the microphone, to at least get as high as Intercontinental title level. But as with many wrestlers these days, while many fans agree that Richards certainly has what it takes to achieve success in the WWE, it's not up to the fans, it's up to the powers-that-be in the WWE. They often see things that we mere mortals sometimes miss.

 Farewell Wrestle-Zone

Today is truly a sad day as far as the Internet wrestling community goes, as it was just a few moments ago that I learned that one of the biggest wrestling websites in Europe is closing it's doors, perhaps for good.

Wrestle-Zone (www.wrestle-zone.co.uk) is perhaps one of the best websites this column has appeared on. In it's prime, the site was getting over 400,000 hits a week. With a great team of writers who provided news and commentary from around the world, the site's owner, Gary Graham, established a site that ranked alongside Smash Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Daily, 1 Wrestling, and many, many more.

But as with many other things in life, all good things must come to an end. Although I am sad to see Wrestle-Zone close it's doors, it's good to see that Gary will be going on to other things. His Wrestle Zone Wrestling (WZW) promotion is gaining a strong following in the north-east of England, getting some good media coverage, and is attracting well-known stars such as Jonny Storm, Alex Shane, the U.K. Pitbulls, Iceman, James Tighe, and the legendary Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Things are looking great for this promotion as they embark on their "Breakout" tour. For more details on these events, you can log onto their website at www.wzwuk.com.

So as Wrestle-Zone closes it's doors, I'd just like to say a big thank you to Gary for giving me the chance to air my views on the wrestling world on his great website, and to wish him and his ever-growing promotion all the best for the future. Maybe I'll get the chance to see the WZW product in person sometime soon. (If I can't Gary, please feel free to post me a couple of videos to review, hint hint!)
 

The Natural Born Thrillaz

In the dying days of World Championship Wrestling, they were being touted as the next big superstars of professional wrestling, graduates (for the most part), of the WCW Power Plant training facility in Atlanta. The Natural Born Thrillaz were a group of young, hungry, up-and-coming stars who had the world at their feet. Unfortunately, this world came crashing down around them as WCW's high-spending in years gone by finally caught up with them. As they were being pushed to the moon and back, Vince McMahon snapped up his rival in exchange for the proverbial bag of peanuts.

But it didn't look that bad for this group of athletes. As well as buying the WCW brand name and it's vast video back catalogue, McMahon acquired the contracts of more than twenty wrestlers as well. However, even though they were relatively successful in WCW, this didn't mean that this success would transplant itself to the WWF, especially given the fact that the WWF creative team seemed intent on slaughtering anything to do with their former rivals.

So now, three years on, just what has happened to this group?

Until he arrived in WCW, Shawn Stasiak was famous for three things in the wrestling business - being the son of former WWF World Champion Stan "The Man" Stasiak, being Kurt Angle's first pay-per-view opponent, and being fired by the WWF for covertly recording conversations he had with other wrestlers.

When he arrived in WCW, he quickly earned a televised victory over Curt Hennig. After this, Stasiak labelled himself "The Perfect One", and shortly afterwards, he was teamed with a graduate of the Power Plant, the man mountain that is Chuck Palumbo. Given the nickname "The Event", Palumbo and Stasiak became known as "The Perfect Event", and soon became tag-team champions. However, although Palumbo showed he had the makings of a good wrestler, he was hardly capturing the imagination of the crowd.

Around the same time, another rookie tag-team came onto the scene. Mark Jindrak and Sean O'Haire had the looks and the talent. Although they were green around the gills at first, they showed some good moves, and reminded quite a few fans of the Hardy Boys, although they were a bit bigger than their WWF counterparts. However, although Jindrak and O'Haire received some good support from the fans to begin with, the WCW writers decided it was in their best interest to turn them heel.

Then came Mike Sanders. A man of cruiserweight proportions, Sanders wasn't cut out of the high-flying mould, but he did have two things going for him, two things that the wrestlers I've just mentioned didn't have - charisma, and the ability to work a crowd. It wasn't long before Sanders won the cruiserweight title, and in addition, he was also made WCW Commissioner, feuding with Earnest "The Cat" Miller. But then again, this was at a time when it seemed like everyone in the company had had a short stint as commissioner. But still, Sanders excelled in the role.

And so the Natural Born Thrillaz were born, and while they were pushed by the writers, announcers such as Tony Schivane and Mike Tenay told us how these men were the future of sports entertainment, the next generation of wrestling superstars.

But they still needed something extra, and they soon got it in wily old veteran Kevin Nash. As the NBT took their first steps on television, Nash could be seen in an advisory role, telling the young guns just what they should do and how they should go about it. As Nash's time in the ring decreased steadily, his time as unofficial father figure to this team grew and grew. But as with most things in wrestling, this relationship didn't last long as the pupils soon turned on the teacher. Nash was being outnumbered, so he turned to his old friend Diamond Dallas Page for help. The "cut-price Outsiders", as Mark Madden called them, soon won the tag-team titles from Jindrak & O'Haire. Nash & Page didn't hold the belts for long though, as the NBT regrouped, putting together the two power men of the team, Palumbo & O'Haire together. The two youngsters soon brought the gold back into the NBT camp.

While this was going on, Sanders continued to feud with Miller. As even more changes behind the scenes meant that many storylines were dropped without being truly explained, Sanders lost the commissionership to Miller.

As with many factions, the Natural Born Thrillaz soon went their separate ways. Palumbo & O'Haire would go on to feud with Jindrak & Stasiak, before Stasiak went on to form a short and unexplained relationship with Stacey Keibler.

But then, it happened. WCW went under, and many of the NBT jumped ship to the WWF.

Palumbo & O'Haire had the distinction of being the last "true" WCW Tag-Team Champions, as they held the belts as the company officially closed it's doors. However, this didn't seem to mean much to anyone in Titan Towers. Palumbo & O'Haire were two of the first WCW wrestlers to appear on WWF television during the Invasion angle, but on their first appearance, they were literally slaughtered by every WWF mid-carder as they came through the crowd and jumped into the ring. They didn't stand a chance.

As the WCW/ECW Alliance was born, Palumbo & O'Haire were scheduled to face the WWF Tag-Team Champions, the APA of Farooq and Bradshaw. Although the ensuing pay-per-view match at Invasion was good, commentators Jim Ross and Michael Cole seemed to spend the majority of the match telling us all how young and inexperienced Palumbo & O'Haire were, and how they didn't really deserve to be in the ring with the likes of the APA. It was as if Ross and Cole were doing all they could to kill off their WWF careers before they even began.

But the commentators had a helping hand from within the ring just a short time later, as the Brothers of Destruction, Kane & The Undertaker, made Palumbo & O'Haire look even worse than Ross and Cole ever could. The two WWF veterans literally gave them nothing as they took the WCW titles from them. Now without a championship, Palumbo & O'Haire faded into the Alliance background as the titles they once wore with pride were now being traded around like candy between more established tag-teams. In fact, Palumbo faded so far into the background that he was "fired" by the Alliance.

Meanwhile, Stasiak and Jindrak also had their part to play in the Alliance's war with the WWF, although hardly anyone remembers just what Jindrak did during this time. He was nothing more than a bit part player, often appearing on the weekend shows, never making it to the big stage on a Monday or Thursday night. It wasn't long before Jindrak was being sent down to Ohio for tuning up. At least Stasiak was making it to the big shows, even though he was being portrayed as a bumbling fool. Stasiak seemed intent on pleasing Alliance leader Steve Austin more than anything else, but all he succeeded in doing was making himself look like an idiot, and in the ring, nobody cared what he did.

At least these four were part of the angle. As far as Sanders was concerned, the WWF knew he had the skills in the ring and on the microphone to get over with the crowd, but rather than let him do his piece, he ended up down in Ohio as well.

Just as the Invasion was coming to an end, Palumbo announced that he had formed a new team with "Mr. Ass" himself, Billy Gunn. You could hear the apathy coming from the fans at the WWF's New York restaurant when they made this announcement. Despite all of their attempts in the past, Billy Gunn was still treated like someone with the plague by the fans. However, in the past, the WWF had had some success when two no-hopers had been paired together, and if this team was going to work, they needed some drastic changes to their personalities. Although in the case of Palumbo, he needed a personality.

And in came Rico, fresh from a stint in Ohio, the mutton-chopped one came in as Billy & Chuck's style guru. It wasn't long before the three of them were camping it up, big time. Yep, previously heterosexual studs, Billy Gunn & Chuck Palumbo, were now living it up in a style Adrian Street and the Travesty Man would have been proud of. This just went to show that a great deal of wrestling fans had very short memories, because during the memorable Billy v Bart Gunn feud, didn't Billy's real-life wife actually appear in the ring after an accident or something?

But that didn't matter. With their bleached-blonde hair and new theme tune, and with Rico strutting around the ring in his leopard-skin print suit, Billy & Chuck were getting noticed, and getting a great deal of heat from the fans. They soon became tag-team champions, but at the time, this didn't actually mean that much. It wasn't long before the brand extension made the team the exclusive property of Smackdown. All the division of talent did was decimate the tag-team division, which meant that even though they were that tag-team kings of Thursday night television, they didn't really have any decent competition. Indeed, their first contenders were put-together team of Rikishi and their own stylist Rico.

Despite the fact that the brief feud with Rico almost lead to the splitting up of the team, the relationship between Billy & Chuck remained strong, so strong in fact that what happened next earned them a great deal of mainstream publicity. You know what I'm talking about. Billy & Chuck were getting married.

The press the WWE received for this was enormous. When they announced that a gay wedding would be taking place on Smackdown, it made news all over the world. However, when the big day came, it proved to be something of a letdown. Yet Billy & Chuck almost went through with it, before they announced that the whole event was nothing more than a publicity stunt. It was then that the bigger plan was revealed, as then newly appointed Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff revealed that he was the minister conducting the service. As he ripped off his latex mask, Rico revealed his true colours as Three Minute Warning, Rosey & Jamal, stormed to the ring and kicked the crap out of everyone they could get their hands on, even Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon. This set up an inter-promotional pay-per-view match, but by this time, hardly anyone gave a rat's ass about Billy & Chuck anymore. The WWE gained a
great deal of negative publicity for not actually going through with the gay marriage angle.

This was the writing on the wall as far as the Billy & Chuck team were concerned. They never really recovered from the situation. After the then tag-team champions, Lance Storm & Christian, defected to Raw, the WWE announced a short time later that Smackdown would be getting their own tag-team championship. Billy & Chuck were entered into the tournament, but surprisingly, went out in the early rounds. When they finally had the chance to get some competition, the chance was taken away from them.

As Billy Gunn went down with another shoulder injury, Palumbo again faded into the background a little, before being put with another stable. A short time earlier, James Maritato, the artist formerly known as Little Guido and now known as Nunzio, formed a new version of the Full Blooded Italians faction, along with Palumbo & Johnny "The Bull" Stamboli. The faction has enjoyed moderate success over the past few months, their most notable act being their short feud with the Undertaker. But despite their members having put on some good matches in the past few months, the creative team doesn't seem to know how to handle them at the moment. A run with the tag-team belts would have helped Palumbo & Stamboli, because they certainly show more charisma, and are certainly more over with the fans than the current champions, the Basham Brothers.

As far as Sean O'Haire goes, one is left scratching his head. After the Invasion angle finished, O'Haire relocated to Ohio before he was brought back to the Smackdown brand last year. A series of viginettes introduced us to O'Haire's latest character, a sort of devil's advocate who preeched a certain set of rules to those who would listen. When he began to appear in backstage segments, he began to coerse unsuspecting victims, getting them to do things that they wouldn't normally do, his most memorable act was getting Brian "Spanky" Kendrick to "streak" in front of a live crowd. This angle and character promised much, but for some unexplained reason, O'Haire was placed with the returning Roddy Piper. As the Rowdy One came back with his Piper's Pit interview segment, O'Haire became nothing more than Piper's lackey, standing around in the background as Piper showed that he certainly wasn't the man he was ten or fifteen years ago. When Piper left, O'Haire's airtime decreased even more, which made people wonder why the WWE had spent all of that time promoting him when they hadn't done a thing with him since.

But at least this Sean faired a lot better than the other Shawn. On the Raw brand, Stasiak was still treated to a tremendous amount of apathy from the fans. Now claiming to be a resident of "Planet Stasiak", he showed that while he still had some glimmering of talent, nobody gave a damn, and it wasn't long before he was shown the door once again. This time, tape recordings had nothing to do with his dismissal.

As for O'Haire's first tag-team partner, Mark Jindrak is now plying his trade on the Raw brand, teaming with Garrison Cade, having spent a great deal of time in Ohio. However, although the team shows promise, it needs a gimmick, something to make the fans really take notice of them, something more than just attacking Evolution in the locker room. There was a rumour a few weeks ago that Jindrak & Cade would reveal that they were in fact gay. It made one think back to the heady days of Billy & Chuck. It also made you wonder if the writers would ever learn from their past mistakes. Jindrak & Cade need something more than just cheap shock tactics to get over with the fans. If they don't find something soon they'll be confined to weekend television for years to come.

The man who could have gone far, at least to Intercontinental title level, was never given a chance. Despite the fact that Vince McMahon himself was known to have been an admirer of his skills in WCW, Mike Sanders never got close to a slot in the WWE. There were rumours that he would be given a job as an announcer, but reports came out that for some reason Paul Heyman had taken a disliking to Sanders, and had persuaded McMahon not to give Sanders his chance. This is a great shame. If he hadn't been given the chance to shine as a wrestler of an announcer, he have gotten a shot as an old-fashioned manager, the likes of which we haven't seen since the heyday of Jimmy Hart & Bobby Heenan. As a trained wrestler he would have been able to take some degree of physical punishment. But then
again, he was never given his chance.

These men were touted as the future of wrestling by a company that was, at one time, regarded as the best wrestling promotion in the world. The simple fact is that when WCW died, the chances they would have had probably died with it. What would have happened if WCW hadn't closed down, if they had been able to get a decent, strong creative team who would have been more than willing to give these "Natural Born Thrillaz" a chance? One of them could have been WCW World, or at least United States Champion by now. The WWE creative team may have looked at them in a different way had they achieved a great deal of success in Atlanta.

Image Is Everything

It's a well known fact that in all parts of the world, image is everything, whether you are an actor, musician, politician, or a wrestler, and when one thinks of image, one thinks of Tammy Sytch.

After a stint in ECW, Tammy Sytch came to international prominence when she jumped ship, along with her boyfriend, Chris Candido, to the WWF in the mid-nineties. There, they were christened Sunny and Skip, the Body Donnas.

This gimmick didn't exactly set the world afire, at first. Although Candido was more than competent in the ring, his feud with perennial jobber Barry Horrowitz, and subsequent teaming with Dr. Tom Prichard as his "twin brother from another mother" didn't take him to the top of the tower, as it were. Instead, as time went by, more and more attention was paid to his manager at ringside.

Although her character was very annoying at first, nobody could argue that Sunny was a beautiful woman. Add to that her natural enthusiasm, charisma, and a love for the wrestling business she had nurtured since she was a child, and the WWF had a star in the making.

As three tag teams, the Body Donnas, the Godwins, and the Smoking Gunns, vied for the tag-team championship, Sunny vied for the affections of whoever held the title. When the Donnas lost the belts to the Godwins, she became their manager. When the Godwins lost the belts to the Gunns, she dumped the hillbillies and took up with the cowboys. She stayed by their side until Billy and Bart split up and feuded.

After a sting as Farooq's manager bombed drastically, Sunny didn't have much to do. So what did the WWF do with her? They marketed her most valuable asset - her looks. Long before the term "WWF Diva" was ever coined, Sunny truly became the first Diva of the so-called "Attitude" era. She could be seen everywhere, posing in the various WWF magazines wearing very little, taking part in bikini contests at WWF events, and refereeing midget matches on WWF television.

As another "Diva", Sable, came along, the WWF began to really push the envelope as far as adult entertainment was concerned. Sunny was fast becoming a favourite with the crowd, and it's rumoured that when Playboy first came calling to the WWF, Vince McMahon offered Sunny the chance to pose for old Uncle Hugh. Sunny turned the offer down.

But then, just as the Divas were about to storm the castle, Sunny left the WWF, apparently on bad terms. Some say that she really was becoming a Diva as far as her backstage attitude was concerned. But this wasn't her only problem.

With the Sunny character now behind her, Tammy returned to ECW, and later joined WCW for a while, once again teaming up with her boyfriend Chris Candido. However, Sunny's tenure in Atlanta didn't last that long. During a broadcast of Nitro, Tammy was apparently found unconscious in one of the locker rooms, with some suspicious looking pills found not that far away. It wasn't long before Tammy was given her marching orders. Candido wasn't long for the company either.

As the team plied their trade on the independent circuit, rumours of her persistent drug use continued to do the rounds. People began to compare photos taken during her WWF stint with more up-to-date photos, and it was obvious that the substance abuse was having a drastic effect on her appearance.

Around this time, Tammy teamed up with another well-known wrestling valet/maneger, Missy Hyatt. Missy had made her name in WCW about ten years previously, but, save for a stint in ECW, she hadn't really done much of note. Until Wrestling Vixxens came along.

With sex playing a more active part in the wrestling industry, and with various WWF Divas posing naked for Playboy, Tammy and Missy opened up an adults-only website which featured both of them posing in various states of undress, both together and in solo sets. Along with several other valets who made a living on the indy circuit, the website managed to get a great number of wrestling fans to hand over their credit card details in exchange for seeing these wrestling babes as naked as when they entered the world.

The problem was that both Tammy and Missy were no longer as attractive as they used to be. Looking at Missy made you see the effects of one face lift too many, and because of her past problems with drugs, Tammy's looks were no longer what they used to be.

The site ran for a couple of years, but a few months ago, the girls announced that the site was closing down.

A few weeks ago, I chanced upon a few photos of Tammy from a recent SSCW show. If you're reading this on one of the many sites I write for, chances are you're probably looking at one of those pictures right now. If you are, I want you to take a look at her, and then, if you've been following her career in pictures over the past couple of years or so, compare them to those pictures. You'll notice something immediately, something that Tammy hasn't been seen doing for quite a while. She's smiling.

When I first saw this photo, I also read many of the comments that accompanied them on various fan forums. It's a well documented fact that Tammy has had problems with drugs over the past few years, and that these substances have had an effect on her appearance. She has taken a right pasting during that time because of it. Yet there are a great deal of people who seem to forget that addiction is really just an illness, a different kind of illness, but an illness nonetheless.

Take another look at that photo. Look at the smile on the woman's face. Sure, she may not exactly be the lithe figure she was when she appeared on Monday Night Raw in a pink swimsuit telling us that viewer discretion is advised, but she looks happy. And surely, that's the most important thing in life. And surely, if someone is happy in life, it doesn't really matter what they look like.
 

The Triple Threat

This Sunday, the 29th, will be just two weeks away from the biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania 20. Wrestlemania has always been my favourite show of the year. Long-time readers of my column will know this. It's the show that, way back in 1989, kick-started my love affair with the wrestling business again. The rest, as they say, is history.

And while I'm looking forward to the WWE title match between Kurt Angle and champion Eddie Guerrero, I'm not really looking forward to the other big title match.

When Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble almost two months ago, I cheered. I've been a Benoit-mark for years, ever since I first saw him competing for WCW. His match against Dean Malenko at Road Wild a few years back is a perfect example of excellent technical wrestling.

At last, I thought. The WWE are finally going to elevate Angle. When he jumped ship to Raw, and announced that he wanted to face Triple H for his title, I cheered even more. Triple H and Benoit have had rip-roaring contests in the past, and at a time when the champ has seemingly obliterated every other wrestler on the Raw roster, it seemed that the addition of Benoit to the mix would liven things up a little. But then, the creative team had other plans.

Wrestlemania is special. It should be headlined by one-on-one encounters for the big prize. After Smackdown headlined last year's show, it was obvious that Raw should be given the chance to shine this year. Benoit v Triple H would have been the perfect way to headline the granddaddy of them all. But then the creative bods had to go and change things, turning this potential match of the year candidate into a triple threat match.

I've got nothing against Shawn Michaels. The guy is a great wrestler, a legend. He's done it all. But am I the only one who thinks that the addition of Shawn Michaels to the World title match is harming it a great deal?

Firstly, it's harming Benoit. It's like the creatives are slapping Benoit in the face and telling him that he doesn't deserve to be alone in the same ring with the great champion that is Triple H, and that he doesn't deserve to be in the ring alone with the champion on the biggest show of the year.

Secondly, it's harming the show itself. With the exception of Wrestlemania I and Wrestlemania 2000, the main title(s) have been defended on each show, in one-on-one matches. Wrestlemania I was different because it was all about the glitz and glamour, the setting up of the tradition. And, of course, Wrestlemania 2000 must be rated as the worst Wrestlemania ever. The main event pitting champion Triple H against the Rock, Big Show & Mick Foley was one of the worst in recorded history. Mind you, the only singles match on the show was a match pitting Terri Runnels against The Kat, and enough said about that the better.

So while Angle v Guerrero promises much, even considering Kurt's long-standing injury worries, the other main event seems something of a letdown. However, with the WWE's penchant for rehashing old storylines, and it's desire to once again push Michaels into the main-event picture, couldn't we have had something of a repeat from Wrestlemania X?

If you're old enough to do this, cast your minds back to Madison Square Garden in 1994. Two months before, Bret Hart & Lex Luger had been declared joint winners of the Royal Rumble. As the winner of the match would be getting a title shot against champion Yokozuna at the big one, there was a great deal of speculation about who should get the title shot. Some said that Luger & Hart should have a number one contender's match before Wrestlemania, but then-president Jack Tunney announced that there would be two title matches at the Garden. A random drawing would determine who would be the first man to face Yoko for the title, with the loser having to face an opponent as well, so he would not have an unfair disadvantage.

So after Bret faced his brother Owen in a losing battle in the opening match of the show, Yoko faced Luger, as the psuedo-sumo star defeated the All-American boy with a little help from special referee Curt Hennig. Then, to finish off the show, Yoko lost the belt to Hart in a contest which was far superior to their battle in Vegas a year previously.

Going off on a tangent a little here, but ages ago I heard a story that Luger was originally booked to take the title from Yoko in the first bout. However, Luger's big mouth proved to be his downfall, as he blabbed about how he was going to win the title in a bar somewhere a few weeks before the show. The bigwigs got wind of this story and subsequently changed their plans. But that's another story for another time.

But back to the present day, instead of putting on a triple threat match for the World title, couldn't the same scenario have been played out for Wrestlemania 20?

Think about it - Shawn Michaels hijacks the contract signing between Triple H & Benoit, and puts his John Hancock on the dotted line. Not knowing what to do, Raw GM Eric Bischoff decides that both Michaels and Benoit should get a title shot at Wrestlemania, but in separate matches. A coin-toss could be held the Raw before Wrestlemania to determine who gets the first title shot and who has to compete in a warm-up match.

And who would be the warm-up opponent? Rumour has it that the Nature Boy, Ric Flair, is once again considering retirement. Wouldn't a Flair/Benoit or Flair/Michaels match be a perfect way of opening the show? Although this is going off on a tangent once again, at the time of writing there are no plans to use Flair in a wrestling capacity at Wrestlemania. If Flair is calling it a day, surely someone of his stature deserves one last big match? Flair and Benoit had one hell of a match on Raw a few weeks back, and I still have fond memories of Flair's match with Michaels a while ago. Hell, I still have fond memories of Flair's match with Michaels from a few years ago.

So while I'm looking forward to this triple threat match, I still have this nagging feeling that this just ain't right.
 

Wrestlemania XX Preview

Well, we're just a few days away from the granddaddy of them all. Wrestlemania XX emanates from Madison Square Garden this coming Sunday, and with the various web sites I write for asking for my opinions on what's going to happen, I thought that I might as well jump on board, as it were. So here goes.....

World Tag-Team Championship
ROB VAN DAM & BOOKER T (c) V MARK JINDRAK & GARRISON CADE V LA RESISTANCE V THE DUDLEY BOYS
Well, at least it looks as if RVD is getting a major spot on the main card this year, and while it's nice that the Jindrak/Cade team is getting the chance to shine on the major stage, it seems to me that the creative bods may decide to go where it's been before and stick the belts back on the Dudleys. If this is the case, then this is a mistake. The Dudleys have become very stale as of late. Granted, they are legends, but how much more can they really accomplish?

As for La Resistance, although this gimmick is relatively new, it really has run it's course, especially given the fact that one of them really isn't French! (Hope I didn't spoil this for you!)

Anyways, would love to see Booker & RVD retain the belts, but my head tells me the Duds will come out on top.
 
THE ROCK 'N' SOCK CONNECTION V EVOLUTION
This handicap match promises much. It gives us the return of the hard-core legend himself, Mick Foley, and the return of the People's Champion, The Rock, going up against two of Raw's up-and-coming stars in Batista and Randy Orton, and the legendary Nature Boy himself.

It will be interesting to see how this one pans out. It's obvious that the Rock is now more of an actor than a wrestler, and that Foley will never make a full-time return to active competition. So will they be put over the up-and-comers. This may be the match where Ric Flair does what he's best at these days. Flair will take the pin. From whom it does not matter.

CHRISTIAN V CHRIS JERICHO
This could be the sleeper on the card. After years of languishing in lower-mid-card obscurity, Christian has the chance to show what he can do against one of the company's top wrestlers. Jericho has certainly been one to watch over the past year or so. Whether it be as a heel or face, he has certainly entertained the crowd. This match promises much between two evenly matched wrestlers, and could steal the show. To be honest I don't really care who wins this one. I just hope it delivers some good action.

VICTORIA V MOLLY HOLLY
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Victoria the wrestler. She is certainly one of the top female stars in America at the moment. And Molly Holly isn't far behind.

This match probably won't earn the plaudits that the rest of the card will, but it will certainly be entertaining. If you're looking for good, solid, female wrestling action that doesn't involve anyone getting their tops ripped off or being dipped in a giant gravy bowl, then this could be the one for you. Victoria is my pick for this one.

CRUISER WEIGHT OPEN
At the time of writing I have absolutely no idea what the rules of this match will be, but at least some of the top stars of the Smackdown brand will be able to showcase their talents on the big stage. With Chavo Guerrero defending the belt against the likes of Rey Mysterio, Jamie Knoble, Tajiri, Ultimo Dragon and more, this will certainly be a contest for fans of high-flying wrestling. It's just a shame that some of Smackdown's lesser lights (i.e. Paul London) didn't make it to this match. But hopefully London's time will come. Who will win? Would love to see Mysterio regain the gold, but Chavo will probably retain.

U.S. Championship
THE BIG SHOW V JOHN CENA
Cena is another of those guys who has been on a roll as of late. With the need to create new superstars, Cena has certainly taken the ball with this one as he provides the Big Show with one of the few credible challenges he has faced since he won the title.

As for the big guy, while his work has improved a little, it would be nice to see Cena defeat him for the belt. He hasn't really done anything to either elevate himself or the title during his reign. The fans are impressed by some of his moves, but it seems like they don't really give a hoot about him. If the title was on a wrestler like Cena though, well, that would be a different case entirely.

Playboy Evening Gown Match
STACEY KIEBLER & MISS JACKIE V TORRIE WILSON & SABLE
This match will definitely steal the show, as we see an exhibition of technical skill the likes of which will make Benoit v Angle look like a lame backyard match.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm being sarcastic. While I admit to being a hot-blooded male, to be completely honest with you, I'm not really looking forward to this. Maybe it's just the old school fan in me, but I'd rather see a wrestling match on a wrestling card than something like this. Does this match really belong on this card? Well, even though we've seen Trish Stratus v Jazz on television and pay-per-view many times before, I would have enjoyed seeing that sort of match than this sort of match. Who will win? Who cares!

WWE Championship
EDDIE GUERRERO (c) V KURT ANGLE
Woah baby! I said earlier that while Christian v Jericho could steal the show, this one has show-stealer written all over it. In Eddie Guerrero you have possibly the most over wrestler the WWE has seen in years. Nobody expected him to walk away with the WWE title, yet he did. The powers-that-be, it seems, finally realised that they could have another champion under six foot in height.

Angle & Guerrero are the two best wrestlers on the Smackdown brand at the moment, and the only thing that could hamper this kind of contest could be Angle's well documented injury problems. However, Angle has earned a reputation as a team player, and I'm sure that both guys will give their all in this bout. Head says Angle will win, but heart hopes that Guerrero retains the belt.

THE UNDERTAKER V KANE
The dead man cometh. Although these two have clashed on numerous occasions before, the two men coming into this match are entirely different characters. Kane is now the ultimate psycho, bereft of mask and on a path of destruction the likes of which hasn't been seen since his entry into the company nearly seven years ago. As for the Undertaker, as he enters his fourteenth year of active competition in the world's biggest wrestling company, he's going back to his roots, back to the gimmick that brought him world-wide acclaim and fame. The dead man will certainly get a more than favourable welcome at MSG, but will he get the win. Something tells me this will end in a draw, and we won't see the last of this confrontation.

World Heavyweight Championship
TRIPLE H (c) V SHAWN MICHAELS V CHRIS BENOIT
Long-time devotees of the Two Sheds Review will remember that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I was disappointed with this turn of events, of how I would have preferred a straight singles match between Triple H and Benoit rather than a triple threat match with Shawn Michaels thrown into the mix, and how Wrestlemania main events should be singles matches, citing the disappointing fatal four way at Wrestlemania 2000.

But I must admit that the build-up in the story line for this match has been top-notch, well thought out, well planned, and well executed by all concerned. But it still leaves me a little disappointing. I could go on all night about this, but I'm sure that you have got far better things to do than to listen to me rabbit on about this.

So who will win? Well, along with the rest of the Internet, I'd love to see Benoit win. He is certainly one of the best wrestlers on the Raw brand at the moment. But if he did win, does he have what it takes to carry the company? Many of the so-called experts say no. So, while my heart will go with Benoit, my head will go with Triple H. If this happens, this will annoy the hell out of the smart marks, but then again, if Triple H is getting this sort of response, then he is playing his role as a heel champion to perfection.

BROCK LESNAR V GOLDBERG
Special Referee - Steve Austin
This match will certainly prove interesting, mainly because of the news that has appeared over the past few days. While it's a known fact that this will be Goldberg's last appearance for the WWE, hardly anyone was expecting the news that Lesnar was also going to leave. But then again, there is the thinking that perhaps the whole Lesnar situation is nothing more than a work on the part of Vince McMahon.

Hopefully this will have no bearing on the match itself. If you're expecting a clinical, scientific type of match, then don't look here. What you're going to get is a war, a knockdown, drawn-out type of affair between two powerhouses. Lesnar v Goldberg was perhaps one of the last few dream matches. It had many fans salivating at the prospect when it was announced that Goldberg had signed with the WWE a year ago. Now, with both men apparently leaving the company, this could prove to be an apt swan song for both men. Who will win? Well, that's uncertain at the moment. What is certain is that the crowd will certainly go crazy when these two monsters step into the ring.

Well, that's it for my own, personal preview of Wrestlemania XX. At this moment in time I have no idea if I'll be watching the show live. Even though I suffer from insomnia, I don't think I'll be able to stay up until five in the morning to watch this.

The Demise Of Total Wrestling

The international wrestling scene was dealt a tremendous blow this week with the announcement that Total Wrestling magazine was closing it's doors.

To say that this was a surprise to many would be an understatement. In just under two years, Total Wrestling magazine had gained one hell of a reputation on the wrestling scene.

Based in Britain and first published in 2002, Total Wrestling was the replacement for the defunct World of Wrestling and Power of Wrestling magazines. With the legendary Bill Apter as senior editor, and boasting such writing talent as Vince Russo, Mile Altamura and Jon Farrer, Total Wrestling was greeted with great fanfare at a time when more and more wrestling fans relied on the Internet as a valid news source.

As time went on, the magazine gained a loyal readership, with many of the writers penning some of the best articles you could read outside of the web. Bill Apter's many contacts within the industry allowed him and his staff the opportunity to interview some of the biggest names in the business.

Total Wrestling also did something that no other wrestling magazine in Britain had done recently, and that was giving the ever-growing British wrestling scene the kind of coverage it had been crying out for for years. With the likes of WAW, FWA, Hammerlock, All-Star and many more having gained exposure in Total Wrestling's pages, British wrestling looked to the magazine to help take it to that all important next level.

Their coverage of the international scene was also second to none. While other magazines concentrated on the WWE and the larger American independents, Total Wrestling gave us coverage from all over the world, including Mexico, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Things looked like they were going to get better and better for the magazine, especially with the news that one of Britain's most popular wrestling writers, Mo Chatra, was leaving Powerslam to join the Total Wrestling staff. Many of Chatra's long-time readers were excited by the news, and wished him the best of luck.

With the April 2004 issue having just been published, it came as a complete surprise when on March 31st, the news broke that the magazine was closing down. At first many people thought that this was something of an early April Fool's joke, but this wasn't the case.

One can't help but feel sorry for Bill Apter and his staff. I've had quite a bit of contact with Bill through my PR work for WAW over the past year or so, and like many others in the business, I found Bill to be quite respectful to what I do. He always treated me with respect, especially when we discussed the possibility of writing some articles for the magazine. Sadly, ill health and personal problems meant that I couldn't complete those pieces, but I always hoped that someday soon I would be submitting work to Total Wrestling on a semi-regular basis.

There will probably be many rumours circulating about why Total Wrestling has closed down. Some have said it was because of financial problems, while others have said that perhaps the days of the wrestling magazine are now behind us, saying that something that reports news that is two months old doesn't belong in the age of the Internet.

In my opinion there will always be room for magazines like Total Wrestling, publications who don't try to bore us with smart mark like views. Any magazine under the leadership of Bill Apter will always be worth reading, and I'm sure that the great man will soon be back on his feet, reporting on a industry he has loved for most of his life.
 


What's In A Name?

What's in a name? Well, if you're trying to forge a career in the wrestling industry, a name is one of the most important things you can have.

Just ask Steve Austin. When he first entered the WWF, he was given the name of The Ringmaster. Nobody gave a rat's ass, and Austin knew it. Wanting to take on a more serious character, Austin went to the creative team and asked for a new name. They gave him a huge list of names that would suit his new serious, cold, serial killer-like character. And right at the top of that list was Chilly McFreeze.

Can you imagine this - "And that's the bottom line, because Chilly McFreeze said so!" Sends a chill down your spine, doesn't it. A short time later, Austin's ex-wife Jeannie accidentally came up with the Stone Cold nickname, and the tag stuck.

But there will always be instances in the wrestling business where names are recycled, rehashed for a new audience. This kind of creativity will always be a hit and miss kind of affair.

Take Demolition for instance. Ax and Smash were one of the most dominant tag-teams in the WWF in the late eighties and early nineties, winning the tag-team titles on three occasions. But then Bill Eadie, the man behind Ax's face paint, developed health problems. Not wanting to break up the team in the middle of their re hot feud with the Hart Foundation, Brian Adams was brought in, and as Crush, became the third member of the team.

But after the team lost the tag-team titles and feuded with the Legion of Doom/Road Warriors, Ax left. The Demolition team of Smash and Crush began to flounder, and went nowhere afterwards. It just wasn't the same.

The same could be sent of the team that beat Demolition to end their last tag-team title reign, the Hart Foundation. After Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart lost the titles to the Nasty Boys at Wrestlemania VII, Hart and Neidhart went their separate ways. They reunited for one match against the Nasties, but the plan was to push the Hitman as a singles superstar.

Away from Hart, Neidhart floundered. He served a stint as a colour commentator, before losing a televised match to Ric Flair. After the match, Neidhart was attacked by the Beverley Brothers. The angle just cried out for revenge, but Neidhart couldn't do it on his own. And so Owen Hart arrived on the scene. Christened "The Rocket" because of his high-flying skills, Neidhart and the Hitman's younger brother became The New Foundation. There were obviously many comparisons to The Hart Foundation. Again, it just wasn't the same, and the team didn't last that long. Neidhart left the WWF, while Owen formed another tandem, High Energy, with Koko B. Ware.

Hit and miss is certainly a good way of describing the use of the Midnight Express name. The name was originally used for a stable in the Memphis and Alabama territories in the early eighties, before Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton formed the team that many fans are familiar with in 1983, managed by Jim Cornette. The team eventually found their way to the NWA, but Condrey left shortly afterwards, to be replaced by Stan Lane. Soon, the original
team of Condrey and Rose surfaced in the NWA, managed by Paul "E. Dangerously" Heyman, for a feud with the team of Eaton & Lane. Both incarnations of the team were successful in the NWA, winning the World and U.S. tag-titles. The team came to an end when Cornette and Lane left the NWA in the early nineties.

However, that wasn't the end of the name. In 1998, Cornette revived the name in the WWF, as the pairing of Bob Holly and Bart Gunn became known as the "new" Midnight Express. Despite winning the NWA tag titles, the gimmick didn't go over well with the fans.

Adding the word "new" to a tag-team name just doesn't seem to wash with wrestling fans. Just ask Marty Jannetty and Al Snow. In 1996, Janetty returned to the WWF for the umpteenth time, and this time with a new tag-team partner, Leif Cassidy. The team were known as The New Rockers.

The gimmick really didn't work. People believed a few years before that Janetty and his former partner Shawn Michaels really were "rockers", that they spent their time away partying all night long. The problem with this new incarnation was that Al Snow's Leif Cassidy character was just too goofy. Claiming that he was a fan of the likes of seventies teen heart throb David Cassidy doesn't go too well with a "rocking" kind of image, and the fans knew this.

After the team split up, Cassidy took on a more serious nature, but would soon find a far better gimmick by adopting a mannequin's head as his manager.

What a lot of people realise is that The New Rockers nearly came about a few years before, while Shawn Michaels was still a member of the team. Michaels was having one of his many disputes with the WWF, and realising that they could lose the team that applied to a teenage demographic, Vince McMahon hired the young Shane Douglas to replace Michaels on the team. Of course, Michaels settled his dispute with the WWF, and remained a part of The
Rockers team until their memorable split. Douglas remained in the WWF as a singles wrestler, but didn't really go anywhere.

The "new" word was also used to describe another tag-team that was based on a classic pairing from the 1970's. The Blackjacks team of Blackjack Mulligan and Blackjack Lanza were one of the most successful tag-teams of the period. In 1997, the name was used again by the WWF, this time for the teaming of Barry Windham, and the man who would later become known as John "Bradshaw" Layfield.

The New Blackjacks name was given to them because Windham was Mulligan's son, and Bradshaw was Lanza's nephew. But in 1997, the wrestling fans were getting smart. The sight of two men dressed in cowboy outfits and sporting moustaches that Yosemite Sam would be proud of just didn't wash with them. The New Blackjacks mainly fought in low-card matches, and were hardly successful

The word new was never used as far as the Fabulous Freebirds were concerned. The original threesome of Michael "P.S." Hayes, Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy, and Buddy Roberts were top stars wherever they competed, and they are probably best known for their legendary feud with the Von Erich family in the old World Class territory in Texas.

Hayes kept the name when he went to the NWA in the late-eighties, forming a new Freebirds tag-team with Jimmy Garvin, The team was just as successful as the previous incarnation, capturing the World and U.S. Tag titles, and even adding a third member, the masked Badstreet, for a short time.

Of course, it isn't just tag-teams that have rehashed names over the years. Some singles wrestlers have as well.

In 1996, after Scott Hall & Kevin Nash left the WWF for the big money contracts of WCW, Jim Ross announced that Razor Ramon and Diesel, the characters they portrayed in the WWF, would be making a welcome return. Many doubted this, and then WWF President Gorilla Monsoon denied that this would happen, stating publicly that Hall and Nash were under contract to another organisation, although not actually mentioning WCW by name.

So it was a great surprise to many when, after a verbal tirade against his bosses on Monday Night Raw, Ross introduced the returning Razor Ramon to an astonished world. Although it wasn't the Razor Ramon we remembered. He was a bit taller, and carried a few extra pounds. This was Razor Ramon, but it was a new guy, Rick Bogner, playing the role. A short time later, he was joined by a new Diesel, played by a pre-Kane Glen Jacobs.

The fans didn't buy it. The WWF's way of thinking was that the fans only cared for the characters, and not the men who played the characters. They were wrong. They brought into Hall and Nash playing the characters, but not Bogner and Jacobs. They saw the new Razor and Diesel as nothing more than cheap rip-offs.

Some faction names have also been used time and time again, the most notable of these being the Four Horsemen and the New World Order.

The original Horsemen team of Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Arn & Ole Anderson is considered the best of the lot, as, under the management of J.J. Dillon, they caused a great deal of havoc in the NWA in the mid-eighties. But the various comings and goings which saw the likes of Lex Luger, Barry Windham, Sting, Brian Pillman, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Steve McMichael, Curt Hennig, and various managers come and go only watered down the gimmick. By the time they were roundly trashed by the NWO, they were hardly an effective force.

The New World Order was the best thing that ever happened to WCW, yet it was rehashed so many times that by 2000, nobody cared about the final incarnation of the group that featured Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Scott Steiner and Jeff Jarrett. They had seen and done it all before.

And the WWF version of the NWO wasn't that convincing either. When Vince McMahon announced, at the beginning of 2002, that he was bringing in the NWO to kill his own creation, many thought that the original threesome of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan would go on a rampage in the WWF, causing havoc the likes of which had only been seen in WCW in 1996-97.

But the problem was that the NWO was exploding the moment they stepped foot in a WWF arena. Hogan was starting to ride a wave of nostalgia, and the fans wanted him to turn baby face as soon as possible. Hall caused problems backstage on his first night, starting an argument with the Dudleys, saying that although he admired their Dudley Death Drop finisher, he couldn't wait to kick out of it on national television. Nash proved to be very injury prone, and at times it seemed that all Nash had to do to get himself injured as to take one step forward.

Others, such as the Big Show, X-Pac, Booker T, Shawn Michaels, and even Ric Flair joined the NWO in some capacity, and the angle could have been saved, especially when Michaels announced one night on Raw that Triple H, who was then the property of Smackdown, would be joining the NWO. But that same night, Nash suffered another of his long-term injuries, tearing his quad muscle by walking across the ring. The NWO, and the entire angle with Triple H, was binned within days.

Story lines in professional wrestling are rehashed and reused time and time again, and most fans seem happy to accept this. But rehash a tag-team or faction name, and the fans just won't buy it. We may be asked to recycle our rubbish, but we can't recycle our wrestling gimmicks.
 

The Trials & Tribulations Of Rob Van Dam

When I first heard a few weeks ago that Rob Van Dam's contract with the WWE was up for renewal, a large part of me wished he wouldn't sign an extension.

I first saw Rob Van Dam wrestle during the ECW invasion of Monday Nght Raw in 1997. I was immediately impressed. Showing a great combination of skills and charisma, it was obvious that he would go far in the wrestling world. I continued to watch his career with great interest during his long ECW TV title reign, a championship run that was only ended when he broke his ankle in a match with Rhyno.

When he joined the second ECW invasion of Raw in 2001, this time teaming with the WCW faction to form The Alliance, RVD once again showed the flashes of brilliance that captured my imagination four years previously. His high-flying, hard-hitting, hard-core style made him the most popular member of the Alliance faction, even though he was meant to be a hated heel.

After an excellent bout with Jeff Hardy at the Invasion pay-per-view, in which he captured the Hard-core title, Van Dam continued to impress the fans with some great outings against the likes of Kurt Angle, both Hardys, Chris Jericho, and many, many more. However, even though he was impressing the fans with his performances, he wasn't impressing his employers. Certain moves performed with steel chairs, moves that he had performed with great regularity during his ECW days, were now causing concern with the WWF powers-that-be. Superstar after super was busted wide open, having been on the receiving end of Van Daminators and Van Terminators. Because of the concern from the boys in the back, Van Dam was asked to tone his style down a little.

After the end of the Alliance's invasion at the 2001 Survivor Series, Van Dam's push continued. Several Intercontinental title reigns followed, although his pairing with one particular opponent, William Regal, didn't make for pretty viewing, mainly because of their vastly different wrestling styles. The highlight of these title reigns were probably his series of matches with Eddie Guerrero, who returned to the company after the brand extension.

But while many fans and pundits said that Van Dam was worthy of a World title reign, one thing stood in his way - Triple H. Van Dam and Triple H were paired together in a brief feud over the World title, but it was obvious to all that Van Dam was just there to make up the numbers. With Triple H having a tight hold over the booking committee, there was no way that RVD would become World Heavyweight Champion.

Having enjoyed multiple IC title reigns, and having unified the belt with the Hard-core and European titles, and having failed to win the World title, there didn't seem much more for Van Dam to do, except to form hybrid tag-team title winning teams with Kane and Booker T. But much like his World title matches, at times he just seemed to be there to make up the numbers.

Seeming like a man with nothing left to work for, Van Dam's performances seemed to go downhill. It was as if he was wrestling like a man without a plan.; There seemed to be a certain something missing from his performances.

The reintroduced IC title meant another title reign, which seemed to elevate Van Dam's performances a little, but after an outstanding losing effort to Randy Orton, there was only one place left for RVD to go - Smackdown.

Van Dam made his way to the lesser of the WWE's brands as part of the draft lottery. Fans had been saying for months that this was the only way that RVD could put some spark back into his career, by moving him on to face different opponents. Many of us were hopeful, but in the beginning it didn't work out that way. For the first few weeks of his Smackdown tenure, Van Dam once again looked like a man who was just going through the motions.

When news broke that his WWE contract was coming to an end, Van Dam was given a run at John Cena's U.S. title, a run that also involved his former Raw comrades Rene Dupree and Booker T. At The Great American Bash, RVD put in his best performance since his IC title loss to Orton, but he still walked away empty handed.

When I first heard that Van Dam had verbally agreed to a new contract, I felt that perhaps he had made the wrong decision. Career wise, there just isn't anywhere that Rob Van Dam could go in the WWE. A reign as United States Champion would be just like his IC title reigns, and there doesn't seem to be a chance that he'd wrestle for the WWE title sometime soon.

I truly believe that Rob Van Dam would do better for himself away from the WWE. Imagine if some of the larger independents in America got their hands on him. In TNA, he would go down a storm in the X division against someone like A.J. Styles or Low Ki, and he would also get a run at Jeff Jarrett and the NWA World title.

He'd go down a storm in Ring of Honor as well. And how about Japan as well? Imagine matches between the likes of Kanemoto & Van Dam, or Nagata & Van Dam.

Rob Van Dam has chosen to stay in Vince McMahon's employ because of the security the WWE can offer him. By sticking with the WWE, by signing a new contract, he is guaranteed a safe job and financial security for at least another three years. But the question is, can he last another three years. Away from the WWE, wrestlers such as Raven and D'Lo Brown have thrived, and have earned just as much money working for the independents and overseas as they did in the WWE.

Will the creatives suddenly have a change of heart and give him a meaningful run with the WWE title? At this moment in time I can't see that happening. Which means that for another three years we may have to watch one of the world's most talented wrestlers just going through the motions.
 

A Tribute To "Bomber" Pat Roach

It's a sad fact of life that as you get older, people that you've admired since you were a child pass away, seemingly before their time.

Just a few weeks ago I was watching the old World of Sport shows on The Wrestling Channel one afternoon, and, with a great deal of interest, saw a few matches featuring "Bomber" Pat Roach.

I hadn't seen Pat wrestle since I got hold of an old British wrestling video about fifteen years ago, so my memories of Pat as a wrestler were somewhat cloudy. But seeing him in action, particularly in his match against Ray Steele, reminded me just how damn good he was.

A former British and European heavyweight champion, by today's standards Pat may not have been to everyone's taste. He wasn't overly flashy, he didn't have any fancy ring attire or ring entrances. He was just a good, solid, professional wrestler, one of the best of his generation.

Of course, Pat also had a successful second career as an actor. His most famous role was in Auf Widersehen, Pet, but I will always fondly remember his big screen brawls with Indiana Jones and James Bond, the only time I saw Pat compete as a heel! He also appeared in films such as A Clockwork Orange & Conan The Destroyer.

Pat continued to combine both careers, but a couple of years ago announced his retirement from professional wrestling, retiring as a champion, holding the Premier British Heavyweight title at the time of his retirement.

His involvement in the wrestling business continued after the end of his in-ring career, attending various reunions, and also serving as the commissioner for the Frontier Wrestling Alliance. Sadly, he wasn't that well received by the FWA faithful on his one and only appearance for the company.

Six months ago, Pat announced that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and he took a step back from his busy schedule. He had been due to star in the latest series of Auf Widersehen, Pet, which is currently being filmed in Thailand. When they found out he had been diagnosed with cancer, the producers of the show promised to keep his slot open for him, should he be well enough to work.

Sadly, that day never came. In the early hours of this morning, Pat lost his battle. He was 67 years old.

Pat Roach is one of the true legends of the British wrestling industry, one of the game's greats who will always be remembered with a great deal of affection. He was one of wrestling's truest gentlemen. He will be sadly missed not just by wrestling fans, but fans of film and television as well.

My deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. The thoughts of wrestling fans around the world will be with them at this most tragic of times.
  

Is Mike Tyson WWE Bound?

Well, it had to happen. After nearly twenty years as one of the most feared men in professional boxing, Mike Tyson was knocked out by Britain's own Danny Williams in the fourth round this past Friday night.

Now, a lot of you may be wondering why I'm discussing the exploits of a boxer in a wrestling column. Well, read on.

Mike Tyson is one of the most famous people in the world at the moment, and one of the most controversial. Everyone knows of his exploits in and out of the ring, but you have to admit, at one time, Tyson really was the toughest man on the planet.

But his defeat at the hands of Williams has led many to believe that at the age of 38, his boxing career is over.

So where does that leave the man? To me, Tyson seems to be one of those people who craves the attention of the public. Although he doesn't care if he gets good or bad publicity, he needs publicity. It's like a drug to him.

Also, take into consideration that he is heavily in debt, he not only needs the public's attention, he needs their hard earned money in the form of wages and gate receipts.

Which is why I believe that, with his boxing career now practically over, Tyson may seek some fresh fame and fortune either in the mixed martial arts world, or in the professional wrestling business.

Of course, Tyson has had encounters in both worlds during his career.

It was only a few months ago when Tyson appeared at ringside for a K-1 show in Japan. There, he got into a verbal slanging match with Japan's favourite big man, Bob Sapp. For the next few weeks, there was a lot of talk about a possible Sapp/Tyson bout fought under K-1 rules, but talk of this subsided.

Given the fact that Sapp's profile has fallen since his recent MMA defeats means that a possible fight between the two men now looks dead in the water. But that doesn't mean that Tyson can't seek a future in the MMA world. There are many who would welcome the chance to get in the ring with Tyson, not just in K-1, but in Pride and the UFC as well.

Then there's the wrestling world. Tyson has had a mixed relationship with wrestling. He was due to act as a special enforcer on a live WWE telecast just before Wrestlemania VI, but pulled out at the last minute after his shock defeat to Buster Douglas. But he did appear as a special enforcer at Wrestlemania a few years later for the Steve Austin/Shawn Michaels title match. This does show that Tyson is willing to work in the wrestling business.

But when he last worked for the WWE, his hands were tied. Although Vince McMahon tried everything he could to promote a match between Tyson and Austin, Tyson's ban from boxing, and all athletic competition at the time, meant that McMahon could only promote Tyson as little more than a side-show attraction.

Should Tyson receive another call from McMahon offering him work, how would they handle Tyson's career?

I think it's safe to say that although he is physically fit, Tyson would find if difficult to train as a professional wrestler, and to be completely honest with you, I can hardly see Tyson going down to Ohio Valley and learning the hard way.

This would not be the WWE way though. With a bona fide mainstream superstar working for them, the WWE would push Tyson to the moon and put him in the spotlight immediately. At a time when they need a critical boost, they would use Tyson to gain some much needed publicity.

If they undertook this plan though, in the long term, it could do more damage than good. Wrestling fans today are more clued in than they ever have been, and in the long term they wouldn't fall for a green as hell Tyson headlining pay-per-views every month.

So where next for the man who courts controversy wherever he goes? There's word of a rematch with Williams, but the door to the worlds of mixed martial arts and professional wrestling will always remain open to a man like Mike Tyson. He may no longer possess the boxing skills that turned him into a legend in his own lifetime, but to a promoter like Vince McMahon, he could become a short-term gold mine.
 

I'm A JBL Fan - And Proud Of It!

I think it was about eight or nine years ago when I saw the first big television match of a man mountain of a wrestler in the WWF. Dressed in a cowboy hat, carrying a cowbell to the ring, and accompanied by his Uncle Zebakiah, Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw put in a hell of an effort against the phenom himself, the Undertaker.

In those days, Bradshaw was just another generic big man wrestler in a company filled with over-the-top and sometimes outdated gimmicks, at a time when they were also being soundly beaten in the Monday Night Wars by a company that would cease to exist just a few years later.

Although I was impressed by his efforts against the Dead Man that day, I never thought that he would ever be championship material. Well, I thought he would enjoy a run as Intercontinental Champion, but as far as the big prize goes, that was certainly a no-no.

After that impressive television match, Bradshaw just seemed to float around the lower mid-card ranks, not really going anywhere. Around that time Barry Windham had returned to the fold as the Stalker, but it wasn't long before both of these tough Texans were paired together, with a gimmick that didn't exactly set the world alight.

The New Blackjacks, although they paid tribute to a great team from wrestling's past, didn't exactly reek of originality. Blackjacks Windham and Bradshaw worked well together, but the times were changing. The die hard fans were no longer buying into cartoon-like gimmicks.

The Blackjacks split up when Windham defected to Jim Cornette's NWA faction. However, instead of a feud between former partners, Bradshaw feuded with NWA North American Champion Jeff Jarrett. Once again the tough Texan enjoyed a good series with Jarrett, but again he came up short. Mind you, the National Wrestling Alliance invasion of the WWF was little more than a poor man's NWO.

Bradshaw, now a man without a purpose, and a gimmick, floated around, becoming little more than a glorified jobber, while forming unsuccessful tandems with the likes of Terry Funk. It wasn't until a former foe began a reign of terror that Bradshaw came to the fore again.

When the Undertaker began to recruit forces for his Ministry of Darkness faction, two of the charter members were Bradshaw and Faarooq. Ron Simmons had enjoyed a great deal of success as the leader of the Nation of Domination, but after he had been ousted by rising star the Rock as leader of the group, like Bradshaw, his career had floundered somewhat.

As the Acolytes, Faarooq and Bradshaw became the Undertaker's hired guns, doing the Dead Man's bidding. While going on to win the WWF Tag-Team Championship in the process, and even when the Undertaker's Ministry merged with the McMahon's Corporation, the Acolytes remained a vital part of the team.

But when the Corporate Ministry angle reached it's natural conclusion, many thought that Faarooq and Bradshaw's team would come to an end, after all, they could hardly remain Acolytes if they had no leader to follow.

But once again, Bradshaw's gimmick would be tweaked a little. The devil worshipping Acolytes soon became the beer drinking, card playing, ass kicking sons of bitches when the Acolytes Protection Agency was formed. They were now doing the three things they loved most, and even earning a few bucks while doing it.

At a time when anti-heroes were getting more cheers than whiter-than-white college boys, the APA fit right in. They may not have put on the best pure wrestling matches in WWF history, but the gimmick never called for that. They were ass kickers, pure and simple, and more importantly, they were over.

But in the middle of their prime, the brand extension happened, and it hit the APA hard. Despite being one of the most popular teams on the roster, Bradshaw and Faarooq were forced to go their separate ways, as Faarooq made his way to Smackdown, and Bradshaw made his way to Raw.

While keeping the APA part of his gimmick, Bradshaw returned to his roots a little by once again donning the cowboy boots, hat and cowbell. He also found his niche in the hard-core division, holding the company's ugliest title belt for a time. It was also around this time that he began to feud with the WWF version of the New World Order. As the writers tried to push him into the main event picture on Raw, two things impeded his progress - the fact that his first credible opponent was Scott Hall, and a knee injury that put him on the shelf for an extended period of time.

It was during his injury that the creatives realised that they had made a couple of mistakes during the original brand extension. Not long after the Dudleys reunited on Raw, Bradshaw reformed his APA partnership with Faarooq on Smackdown. No explanation was ever given as to Bradshaw's sudden appearance on Smackdown. He just appeared.

It was as if they had never been apart. Picking up where they left off, the APA once again spent their time drinking beer, playing poker and kicking ass. But this run didn't last as long this time.

Drawing the ire of Smackdown General Manager Paul Heyman, a match stipulation saw Faarooq fired from the company. What made matters worse for Faarooq was that his partner refused to stick up for him.

This was the opportunity that the creatives needed. In recent times, the man behind the Bradshaw character, John Layfield, had earned quite a reputation playing the stock market, so much so that he had written a book on the subject, and also worked as a financial analyst on American television.

Taking on board several aspects of his second career, Bradshaw morphed into John Bradshaw Layfield, or JBL. A Million Dollar Man for the 21st century, JBL gave up the gambling and beer drinking, instead wearing the finest clothes that money could buy, and travelling to the ring in a shiny white limousine.

While, for various reasons, Bradshaw had failed as a main event man on Raw, the gimmick changes helped JBL become a main event player on Smackdown, as he was immediately thrust into the main event and a program with WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero.

While many expected that Latino Heat would retain the title in this bloody feud, it wasn't a shock when JBL won the belt in a Texas Bull rope match, even though the manner of his win was somewhat controversial.

An so JBL became WWE Champion. Proclaiming that he was one of the greatest Americans alive today, JBL took to the title like a duck to water. He shook the hands of the fans (although he washed his mitt afterwards), proclaimed his brilliance in all areas of live, and even took on a chief of staff, in the form of Orlando Jordan, who, like JBL a few years before, had been floundering without direction, in the lower mid-card ranks.

And then, at Summerslam, his career came a full circle, as he defended this title against the Undertaker. The match may not have been as good as their first bout all those years ago, but it served it's purpose.

I think it's safe to say that as far as the Internet and the mainstream wrestling press goes, John Bradshaw Layfield will never be one of their favourite wrestlers. They will take every opportunity to criticise the man. Of course, sometimes he gives his detractors ammunition. You only have to look back to his Hitler salute in Munich, and his subsequent firing from CNBC, to see that.

But the thing is that ever since I saw that first bout with the Undertaker all those years ago, I've been a fan. I know that JBL is not the best technical wrestler in the world, but when you take a look at things, not one of his gimmicks has ever called for him to put on great technical matches. Whether it's been as a cowboy, a Blackjack, an Acolyte, or as a gambling, beer swilling, ass kicker, his character has always been a brawler.

Since Bradshaw became JBL he has become one of the most entertaining characters in the WWE. It's widely acknowledged that Smackdown is the lesser of the two brands. This may be the case, but JBL is certainly one of the most watchable aspects of that show. It's still early days as far as his championship reign is concerned, but JBL is certainly growing in the role.
 
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a fan of John Bradshaw Layfield, but I am left to wonder if perhaps a large amount of fans are little more than sheep, following the rest of the flock. Are they saying that JBL is a poor wrestler because the main magazines and websites keep telling them that he is a poor wrestler? If this is the case, then I have severely underestimated the power of the wrestling press.

It's either this, or I'm not just seeing something that everyone else seems to be missing. But whatever the case, I'm a JBL fan, and proud of it!
 

The Worst Promotion In Wrestling History?

When Sky launched their television service via the Astra satellite in 1989, not only were we given four channels from Sky themselves, but various other channels catering for a variety of tastes. Some of these channels would only last a couple of years or so, and only a handful of them made it on to the Sky Digital platform.

While Sky achieved great success with the WWF, other channels had hit-and-miss affairs with companies such as the NWA, AWA, USWA, GWF, and others.

One particular channel that experimented with wrestling was Lifestyle. During the week they aimed their programming at a female demographic, but at weekends they looked for a family audience, and as Sky's family audience was glued to WWF shows, Lifestyle had a wrestling show of their own, and in my opinion, it was the worst wrestling show I have ever seen.

Founded by David MacLaine in 1986, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, or GLOW, came to us each week from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Each week the show began with the roster dancing in the ring, in full wrestling attire, rapping along to an early eighties synth-pop backing track.

The roster included such less-than-memorable wrestlers, and I use the term wrestlers rather loosely, as Americana, the All-American beauty, Matilda the Hun, a man, or should that be woman, mountain of a wrestler, a Russian spy by the name of KGB, a punk tag-team called Hollywood and Vine, Mountain Fuji, another large lady, and Amy, the farmer's daughter, who was rather lacking between the ears.

So what females wrestlers of the day portrayed these roles? Well, the majority of these roles were filled by strippers and mud wrestlers from the Los Angeles area. In fact, the best of the bunch was a girl known as Tina Ferrari. Ferrari was played by Lisa Moretti, who achieved a great deal of success in WWE as Ivory. I think it's safe to say that GLOW wasn't one of the highlights of her career.

So, given the fact that nearly all the roster had minimal training, what were the matches like? Pretty damn awful. Apart from the aforementioned Tina Ferrari, most of the girls couldn't tell a wrist lock from a wrist watch.

But the matches weren't the worst thing on the show. Top of that list were the backstage skits, although when I use the word skit, don't think of the WWE's current skits.

MacLaine, as producer of the show, seemed more inspired by 1960's comedy shows such as Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. The backstage skits weren't used to further story lines, they were awful comedy segments, performed by the wrestlers, with awful jokes, even worse punch lines, and with obviously canned laughter to end the segment.

Quite what MacLaine was thinking is anybody's guess. You have to wonder just who his target audience was. It certainly wasn't the die hard wrestling fan who had been brought up on Flair and Funk classics. MacLaine was aiming his product at the sports entertainment market. The only problem was the show wasn't sporting, or very entertaining.

Having founded GLOW in 1986, MacLaine sold the promotion to the Riviera Hotel a couple of years later. The television show continued in America until 1992, when it was cancelled. I'm told that the GLOW promotion still exists today, although I was unable to find any recent information on them while researching this article.

When one thinks of women's wrestling today, we often see complaints and criticisms of the WWE's women's division. Wee see criticisms of the way the women are portrayed, and of the quality of the matches.

But when you compare the WWE women's division to GLOW, there really is no contest. Compared to GLOW, recent matches involving Trash Stratus Molly Holly, Victoria and their comrades are five star classics. It's been said that the WWE damages women's wrestling. GLOW did this nearly twenty years ago.

For me, GLOW is probably the worst promotion I have ever seen, and may well be the worst promotion in the history of professional wrestling.

I understand that GLOW videos and DVD's can actually be purchased from Amazon. If my piece here has convinced you to part with your money to see if GLOW really was that bad, then that's your choice. But while you're at it, I've got a bridge in London I'm trying to sell. Any takers?
   

The Rise & Fall Of The AWA

Last week I wrote about one of the wrestling promotions that appeared on satellite television when the Astra service was launched in 1989, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), which was broadcast on the Lifestyle channel.

Lifestyle''s sister channel on Astra was Screensport. During it's time on air the channel showed a wide variety of promotions, including the National Wrestling Alliance, Jerry Lawler's USWA, and a few others. But at the start the most prominent promotion on the channel was at one time one of the big three in America, Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association.

However, the sad thing is that as far as British wrestling fans were concerned, we saw the AWA towards the end of it\'s existence. Although it had a national television contract with ESPN, poor business practices and an ever decreasing work force meant that by 1991, the AWA was no more.

The AWA began life much how the WWF did just a few years later. In 1960, after a series of disagreements in the NWA hierarchy regarding the World title, promoter Wally Karbo, with a little help from wrestler Verne Gagne, who was actually the real power man of the team, broke away from the NWA and formed the AWA. When then-NWA World Champion Pat O'Connor refused to wrestler Gagne, Gagne was awarded the title, and was recognised as
the first AWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Nothing much of note happened with the promotion during the first twenty years. Wally Karbo, despite being one of the bookers for the AWA, was still a member of the NWA. The AWA developed a strong fan following, and Gagne defended his title against several strong challengers, until he lost the title to Nick Bockwinkel in 1975.

But in the 1980's things began to change. Whereas in the 70's many of the regional territories had worked together, to the point where various World champions met in the ring, national television contracts meant that this would become a thing of the past, and while Vince McMahon Jr purchased the WWF from his father, and slowly began to emphasis the entertainment aspects over the sports aspects of wrestling, Gagne continued to promote the AWA around good, solid, old fashioned wrestling, although Gagne held a sports entertainment golden goose that he let slip through his fingers.

Before he sold the WWF to his son, Vince McMahon Sr fired Hulk Hogan for taking a role in Rocky III. When he finished filming, Hogan went to work for the AWA. With Hogan gaining mainstream media attention after his role in Rocky III, his popularity grew, so much so that it looked like Hogan would be rewarded with an AWA title victory over Nick Bockwinkel.

But it never happened. Despite the fact that Hulk Hogan was his most popular star and biggest draw, Gagne was set in his ways, and preferred to push the veterans on his roster, rather than the up-and-comers. Gagne even put the title on himself again, even though his best years as a wrestler were far, far behind him. The title was returned to Bockwinkel when Gagne retired afterwards.

When Hogan did get his hands on the AWA World title, it was taken from him moments later. At their Super Sunday show in April 1983, Hogan pinned Bockwinkel, but during the bout Hogan had thrown the champion over the top rope, a move which was illegal. AWA President Stanley Blackburn reversed the decision immediately, and a riot broke out. This cost the AWA dearly. Less than a year later, Hogan was headlining at Madison Square Garden,
pinning the Iron Sheik for the WWF title, and signalling the birth of Hulkamania.

One of the other problems for the AWA came when Gagne insisted on pushing his son Greg to the moon and back. Greg clearly wasn\'t a main event class wrestler, and outside the ring, he clearly had no head for the wrestling business. Despite this, Gagne continued to push his son, ahead of more talented wrestlers.

As the popularity of the WWF rose, that of the AWA dropped. In an attempt to steady the ship, Gagne entered into agreements with the NWA and All-Japan, but various things led to the ending of these agreements. The AWA was worn by quite a few wrestlers during this time, including Rick Martel, Jumbo Tsrutua, Otta Wanz and Stan Hansen, before eventually making it\'s way back to Nick Bockwinkel.

After this period of instability, Gagne began to develop his younger talent, which included putting the title on Curt Hennig in 1987. However, Gagne's major problem was that Vince McMahon started to make regular talent raids, with wrestlers such as Hennig and Martel, right down to the likes of Buddy Rose, leaving Minnesota for the brighter lights of New York City.

By this time, the AWA had a national television contract with ESPN, but with his roster leaving, and his new, home-grown stars not getting over with the fans, once again Gagne sought the assistance of other promotions.

A three-way alliance was formed with Jerry Lawler's CWA promotion in Memphis, and the Von Erich's World Class promotion in Dallas. As a result, Lawler defeated Hennig for the AWA World title, and as scheduled to unify that title with Kerry Von Erich's World Class title at the AWA's first pay-per-view, Superclash III in Chicago in 1988.

Despite months of promotion, Superclash III drew a paid attendance of around a thousand, and the pay-per-view buy-rate was extremely poor.

Backstage at the show, things weren't that better. Arguments between the three promotions meant that they all wanted their wrestlers to go over. This led to the disappointing finish to the World title match. Lawler defeated Von Erich when the referee stopped the bout because of Von Erich's blood loss. Nobody was pinned, and all parties went away happy. But the happiness didn't last.

Verne Gagne apparently lied about the profit Superclash III had made. At that point World Class were depending on the money to survive. At the same time Lawler refused to defend the new Unified World title because he hadn\'t received his share of profits either.

The AWA stripped Lawler of the title, and eventually, Lawler purchased World Class and merged the promotion with his CWA to created the new USWA.

Come 1989, the AWA had no World champion, and Gagne put the belt on his most loyal wrestler, Larry Zbyszko. The self styled Living Legend won the title in a battle royale. But the crowds got smaller and smaller. Gagne tried to develop new talent, but eventually, the likes of Wayne Bloom, Mike Enos, Dallas Page, Pat Tanaka, Paul Diamond and more left for either WCW or the WWF. Gagne's plan to put the title on Sgt. Slaughter, his most popular wrestler, also fell by the wayside when he joined the WWF as well.

Step forward Eric Bischoff. Lacking both direction and wrestlers, Bischoff came up with the Team Challenge series, with three teams fighting a series of gimmick matches. But by then the attendances had fallen so low that the series was held in an empty television studio.

The AWA's last name wrestler, Zybyszko, having dropped and regained the title from Japanese star Mr. Saito, was alter stripped of the belt for refusing to defend the title on a tour of Japan. No replacement champion was crowned, and Zybyszko joined WCW. By then it was all over. Verne Gagne had no champion, no television deal, and now, no wrestling promotion. In 1991, thirty one years after the company had formed, the American Wrestling Association
ceased to be.

The AWA is fondly remembered by it\'s die hard fans. The list of wrestlers who passed through the territory looks like the roster of a Legends of Wrestling video game. Yet while researching this article, I couldn't help but compare the AWA's situation to that of WCW ten years later. As I mentioned at the beginning, it\'s sad that fans in Britain only got to see the AWA when it was on it's proverbial death bed.

Verne Gagne will be remembered as one of the greatest promoters in the history of American wrestling. But he will also be remembered as a stubborn promoter who was unwilling to change his ways in order to keep up with the competition. It was this stubbornness that led to his downfall.
 

The Rise & Fall of WCCW

In my last instalment, I chronicled the history of the American Wrestling Association, one of the wrestling promotions that was show when satellite television was first introduced in Britain in 1989. The AWA, and GLOW, were more or less up-to-date when first broadcast, but when the Lifestyle channel finished the GLOW run, they turned back the clock a few years, showing classic wrestling long before The Wrestling Channel ever did.

Think of wrestling in Texas, and you immediately think of two things, the Von Erich family, and World Class Championship Wrestling.

When the GLOW run cam to an end, Lifestyle began showing World Class shows from the early eighties. This was when the territory was still a division of the National Wrestling Alliance, and before Vince McMahon purchased Capitol Sports from his father and began his national expansion.

We saw the early days of Kerry Von Erich, the self-styled "Modern Day Warrior", as he failed in his attempt to win the NWA World title from Ric Flair. We saw a young King Kong Bundy, reigning as United States Champion, and still with a full head of hair, as well as many other greats, including the last few matches of Jose Lothario, who many of you will remember as Shawn Michaels' trainer when he won his first WWF title in 1996.

World Class was mainly built around Fritz Von Erich and his wrestling sons. It seemed many of the major story lines centred around the family in some way. This wasn't surprising, considering that the Von Erich family is probably the most famous wrestling family to come out of Texas.

The elder Von Erich became the main promoter of the territory in 1986, and like other territories before, World Class left the NWA. For a while, the territory flourished, and the list of stars who passed through Dallas reads like a who's who of wrestling - the Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude, Andre The Giant, Mil Mascaras, Chris Adams, the list is endless.

But while the territory is fondly remembered by the wrestling fans, it will forever be linked with the tragedies that befell the Von Erich family. One by one, through various tragic circumstances, four of Fritz's five sons died. Only one, Kevin, is alive today.

But those who attended the dark and dusky Dallas Sportatorium, and various other arenas in the area, will fondly remember the great matches of the time, such as Kerry Von Erich's eventual NWA title win in 1984, the legendary and often violent Von Erich/Freebird feud, Fritz's retirement bout against King Kong Bundy in 1982, Chris Adams turning on his long-time Von Erich colleagues, the vile tactics of General Skandor Akbar and Devastation,
Inc.

But with everything else that happened, Jerry Lawler's appearance, in 1988, set forth a series of events that eventually led to World Class' demise.

In 1988, the WWF was steam rolling all over the competition. Several territories had closed down after their talent left for New York. At the time World Class had an open door policy as far as talent was concerned, but it was still a surprise when AWA World Champion Jerry Lawler walked into the Sportatorium, and was challenged by World Class champion Kerry Von Erich to a title v title bout.

World Class, which was then run by Kerry & Kevin, signed a promotional deal with Verne Gagne's AWA, and Lawler's CWA. The three promotions staged a pay-per-view, Superclash III, in Chicago, headlined by the unification match between Kerry & Lawler.

However, World Class was struggling financially, and the company was strongly depending on the pay-per-view revenue in order to stay afloat. The show wasn't the success the promoters hoped it would be, and political infighting between the three promotions, which included Verne Gagne failing to part with the show revenue, and Lawler refusing to defend the new, unified title in certain territories, spelled the end, in a way, for World Class.

It was a short time later when Lawler and his business partner Jerry Jarrett purchased the World Class territory, merged it with their Memphis-based group, and formed the United States Wrestling Association. Jarrett ran the Texas side of things from 88-90, before handing over the reigns to Kevin Von Erich, who ran the show from 90-91.

Even though the days of the wrestling territories are long gone, a victim of Vince McMahon's national expansion and his war with Jim Crockett and Ted Turner, World Class Championship Wrestling will always be fondly remembered by everyone who saw the shows. Fans from all over the world flocked to the Sportatorium, a wrestling arena loved as much as Madison Square Garden in New York or the Viking Hall in Philadelphia. They
remember the classic matches, and the tragedies that surrounded one of professional wrestling's most famous families.

The last of the Von Erich brothers, Kevin, now lives away from the wrestling business. He still owns the rights to all the old World Class video footage, and the last I heard, he was looking to sell these rights. Many collectors would give their right arm to own this video collection. Hopefully, 21st century wrestling fans will get to see some of this classic action soon.
 

The Rise & Fall Of The USWA

For those of you who haven't been reading in the past few weeks.....

In 1988, three regional promotions formed an alliance, Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association on Minnesota, the Von Erich's World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas, and Jerry Lawler's Championship Wrestling Association in Memphis. This resulted in a pay-per-view show, the AWA's Superclash III, which was headlined by a title unification clash between AWA Champion Lawler and WCCW Champion Kerry Von Erich, which Lawler won.

But backstage, politics soon destroyed the alliance. Gagne refused to pay Lawler and the Von Erich's their share of the gate and pay-per-view revenue. This meant that Lawler refused to defend his new title in AWA territories, and the Von Erichs were depending on that money to survive.

Which led to the following - Lawler and his business partner Jerry Jarrett purchased the World Class promotion, merged it with their CWA company, and formed a new promotion - the United Stares Wrestling Association.

British wrestling fans had their chance to see USWA action around 1990/91, as their weekly show took over the Screensport Monday tea time slot that had been occupied by the AWA, which by then was on it's last legs. Along with Lawler, we got to see such stars as Terry Funk, Eric Embry, Eddie Gilbert, and young up-and-comers Jeff Jarrett, Tom Prichard and Steve Austin.

The USWA was a great alternative to the weekly dose of WWF action. Although production wise the USWA couldn't compete, as far as in-ring action goes, it certainly could compete.

The USWA had many feuds that became the stuff of legend years later. The Lawler/Gilbert feud was one of the most violent of that period, and included a segment where Gilbert tried to run down Lawler with a car, something that wasn't seen much then, but has been used quite a few times over the past five years.

Then there was the mentor/student feud between Chris Adams and Steve Austin, which also involved Adams' ex-wife and Austin's future wife Jeannie. Although Austin doesn't speak too highly of his late teacher, he does acknowledge that it was this feud that put him on the map.

And, of course, there was the natural rivalry between factions from Texas and Tennesee. As the USWA covered both territories, it was only natural they would book such a feud.

One thing I do remember from watching those shows is that I tried to make predictions about certain wrestlers. While I couldn't work out why a great work like Eric Embry had never been in either WCW of the WWF, I was spot on as far as Steve Austin and Jeff Jarrett were concerned, but I was way off the mark with "Gorgeous" Gary Young.

When the Screensport channel closed down, I must admit I hardly batted an eyelid. The USWA show had long since been replaced by the Global Wrestling Federation, a small-time operation that promised much but failed to deliver was hardly a good replacement for the solid USWA show.

I hardly thought of the USWA until a ground breaking event in November 1992. Long before Monday Night Raw was a twinkle in Vince McMahon's eye, a WWF show called Prime Time Wrestling ruled the roost on the USA Network on Monday nights. Starting out as a compilation show hosted by Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, it later became a bad comedy show with a studio audience, before changing format again to become a panel discussion show.

As the WWF approached the 1992 Survivor Series, they had a crisis on their hands. The original main event, Ric Flair and Razor Ramon versus Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior, was thrown into doubt when the Warrior walked out of the company. On an edition of Prime Time, Savage persuaded then then-retired Curt Hennig, then the "Executive Consultant" of Ric Flair, to take the Warrior's place on his team. This left a spot on the Prime Time studio panel.

A week later, that spot was taken by none other than Jerry "The King" Lawler. To say that this was a shock for wrestling fans would be an understatement. He wasn't just joining the WWF as an announcer, but as an active wrestler as well.

Lawler's deal with the WWF was very unique. In the past, wrestlers contracted to the company could only work for the WWF. Lawler's deal meant that he could still work for the USWA.

It wasn't just a one way deal though. Around the same time, WWF stars began to appear on USWA shows. Lawler even rekindled his old feud with Randy Savage, which headlined a few shows at the Mid-South Coliseum.

Things didn't really get going until the 1993 King of the Ring tournament. As a heel in the WWF, and a baby face in the USWA, Lawler continually blasted the tournament, proclaiming that whoever won would be the true king of wrestling. After Bret Hart won the tournament, defeating Bam Bam Bigelow in the final, Lawler attacked the Hitman during his coronation.

Lawler was perhaps the most hated man in the WWF, but in the USWA he was still a hero, which meant that when the inter-promotional feud began, the WWF stars were portrayed as heels in Memphis.

One of the first WWF stars to wrestle in Memphis after King of the Ring was Bret's brother Owen. Owen won the USWA title and began a vicious feud with Lawler. Meanwhile, on WWF TV, the King began to insult the entire Hart family.

Owen wasn't the only WWF star to make an impact in Memphis. None other than Vince McMahon himself appeared, via taped segments, on the USWA TV show, portraying an evil owner character long before Mr. McMahon appeared on the scene.

The King v The Hitman was the hot WWF feud of the summer, and a highly anticipated match was signed for Summerslam. After Lawler tapped out to the Sharpshooter, Hart refused to release the hold, and the referee reversed his decision, awarding Lawler the victory via disqualification.

A rematch was signed for Memphis, in the confines of a steel cage. Lawler emerged victorious again, only to be attacked by Owen and the massive Giant Gonzalez after the victory.

With the Hart/Lawler feud still generating a great amount of heat, on USWA TV McMahon challenged Lawler to put together a USWA team to compete against a WWF team in a Survivor Series match in Memphis. While McMahon chose Shawn Michaels, Doink the Clown and Koko B. Ware, Lawler chose Jeff Jarrett and Brian Christopher as his partners. The match headlined a massive show in Memphis, and saw Christopher emerge victorious, defeating the entire WWF team after both his partners had been eliminated.

In the meantime, both Randy Savage and Tatanka had ventured into Memphis to win the USWA title.

As the Survivor Series proper neared, Lawler was scheduled to lead a team of "knights" against the Hart family. However, legal problems meant that he had to pull out of the event, and his relationship with the WWF came to an end, as did the USWA-WWF war. Of course, after Lawler put his legal problems behind him, he re-signed for the WWF.

The sad thing is that while this war was one of the major angles on the USWA television show, it was never mentioned on WWF TV, which was a great shame. The USWA would go on to have a similar inter-promotional war with Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling, a feud which the USWA would go on to win as SMW went out of business.

The USWA would also go on to serve an important role in developing future superstars, including the aforementioned Austin, Jarrett and Christopher. The company also served as a developmental territory for the WWF. The Rock competed as Flex Kavana during the early days of his career, and a pre-Kane Glan Jacobs portrayed his fake Diesel character in the territory.

Sadly, by 1997 the writing was on the wall. After a change of ownership, the USWA officially went out of business in November of that year.

There is still wrestling in Memphis today, with a weekly show on a local UPN affiliate, and regular shows at the Mid-South Coliseum. But nothing can compare to those great days of the USWA.
 

The Trials And Tribulations Of The Wrestling Channel

When The Wrestling Channel was launched in March of this year, those of us who didn't spend vast amounts of money with tape traders were very optimistic. It meant that since the demise of WCW two years before, British television viewers had a viable alternative to their weekly dose of WWE programming.

But if you were to log onto TWC's forum now, you would find it full of negative comments, with many formally loyal viewers now predicting the end of the channel only seven months since it's debut.

So what has gone wrong? Why are so many people turning against the world's first ever dedicated wrestling channel?

The seeds if discontent were actually sown just a short while after it's debut. When the channel began, the broadcast hours ended at three in the morning. However, the highly flawed BARB ratings system told the channel that it had no viewers in that time slot, which meant that it was impossible to obtain advertising revenue in that slot, because like the channel, potential advertisers also relied on the flawed BARB ratings system.

So, the midnight to three slot was sold to the Bang Babes television station, a soft core porn channel that relied heavily on advertising premium rate telephone sex lines to survive.

Needless to say that TWC viewers were not happy with the change. Despite the fact that the powers that be continued to claim that the channel wasn't getting any viewers in that time slot, hundreds of fans posted comments on TWC's forum, voicing their anger.

Then, just as viewers were becoming used to the programme schedule, the schedule was changed, which again annoyed a number of viewers.

The next change to the schedule came as a result of the figures from the BARB ratings system. The figures the channel were getting told them that Mexican promotion CMLL was getting zero viewers. TWC removed CMLL from it's schedules, replacing it with NWA Wildside, and renegotiated their deal with CMLL. However, viewers were again unhappy, and once again voice their concerns on TWC's forums.

Another schedule change was in the offing when Sky Sports moved WWE Raw from Friday to Thursday nights to accommodate it's new weekly boxing show. This forced the channel to move the weekly FWA show from Thursday to Friday nights, because the FWA feared that they would lose viewers to the WWE.

Despite this upheaval, TWC was successful in some parts. The old World of Sport shows were winning over a new generation of fans with it's classic old school action. The Supercard Sunday slot was also a ratings winner, as were the Shoot Interviews and the TNA shows, despite the fact that these particular shows were six months old.

Another success came in the form of The Bagpipe Report. The world's first dedicated wrestling news show on television. Host Blake Norton took some stick for his early performances, but as the weeks passed, Blake grew into the role, and soon looked like a natural.

But the launch of a second channel, TWC Reloaded, seemed to trigger a series of events that signalled a downturn in TWC's fortunes.

Firstly came the news that the FWA series was coming to an end. Before the channel launched, the FWA had signed a deal with TWC which meant that they would be the only British promotion to air on TWC for five years. This, of course, caused a great deal of outrage among fans, who wanted to see other British promotions on the channel. The deal was later modified so that if another British promotion wanted to air on TWC, they had to go through the FWA.

But a months long gap in the FWA's event schedule meant that they ran out of new footage, which meant that a new show had to be found. Thus, U.K. Round-Up, hosted by Powerslam writer Mo Chatra, and promising to bring action from around Britain, was launched. But the show was slated from the start. Many fans criticised Chatra's wooden performance as host, while others criticised the fact that while wrestlers from other promotions were shown, they were actually show competing on an FWA show, and when other promotions shows were shown, the production quality, including the editing of the matches, was very poor. Even commentators John Atkins and Don Charles were heavily criticised.

While TWC's Reloaded channel was welcomed at first, the lack of information regarding the channel's schedule was annoying to many viewers. With the Sky Electronic Programme Guide failing to provide the information required, fans looked to TWC's website and forum for what they needed. They didn't find it.

In an effort to entertain the fans even more, TWC introduced an interactive quiz on it's channel during the daytime hours. However, the fact that the questions took up half the screen, blocking out most of the programmes, caused uproar. The situation was rectified a short time later, but this still didn't sit well with the viewers.

Then last week the news broke that TWC was dropping TNA's programming. Numerous stories began to make the rounds. Some said that TNA were trying to find another British channel, while the official TWC line was that the programming was dropped because TNA refused to provide newer shows.

Then came the news that Pro Wrestling NOAH, a favourite with loyal fans of Japanese wrestling, could also be on it's way out. Around the same time, it had also been announced that TWC had apparently been in negotiations with twenty promotions around the world, but there was never any announcements of any new deals.

Then came yet more changes to the schedules of both channels. The late night repeats returned on both channels, while Bang Babes was relegated to just a couple of hours on Reloaded. However, there was no official announcement regarding these schedule changes, and most fans found out about these changes by accident while browsing through the Sky EPG.

It's important to also note that after twenty two weeks, The Bagpipe Report came to an end. Despite a shaky start, TBR earned a loyal following, especially with it's interview segments. But give the fact that so many stories about TWC's financial problems have been reported, you have to wonder if the series came to a natural end, or if it was cancelled as a cost-cutting measure.

Before and after TWC began, programme director Sean Herbert was a regular visitor to TWC's forum, as well as the UK Fan Forum. Sean spent a great deal of time promoting and defending the channel on the forums, but he hasn't posted on TWC's forum since November.

The last time Sean was seen on the forum was around the time that the TWC Supershow was announced. Scheduled for the Coventry Skydome next March, the channel promised to bring in stars from around the world. The first names were due to be announced at the FWA's British Uprising III show on November 13th, but no announcement was forthcoming.

Sean's disappearance from the forums, as well as others in positions of power at TWC, has left Mo Chatra as the channel's official spokesman on the forum, but despite the fact that he constantly denies the rumours that websites such as Wrestling Observe and Pro Wrestling Insider are reporting, the majority of fans are finding it hard to believe what Chatra is telling them, and many of them won't be happy until Sean Herbert returns to the forums and makes an official statement regarding TWC's current situation.

When The Wrestling Channel began, I was a big supporter, and I knew my viewing habits would change, and that I would have a great alternative to WWE shows. This is why Two Sheds On TV was born, and why I was glad that Greg Lambert approached me with the idea for the column. But with the chopping and changing of the schedules, and the lack of scheduling information on TWC's website and forum, arranging my viewing habits so I can write
my weekly review is becoming quite difficult.

Many fans believe that The Wrestling Channel will only last a year, that when it comes time for their show in Coventry next March, there won't be any show, because the channel won't even exist anymore.

Deep down in my heart, I really hope that The Wrestling Channel will be around for a long time to come, that they will be able to work through their current problems and come out stronger than before. But a small part of me is starting to agree with what the fans are saying on the forums, that perhaps TWC is on it's last legs. The punter inside of me hopes this isn't the case.