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The Pro-Wrestling Torch Newsletter #888

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WWE announces drug testing policy to begin soon

Vince McMahon announces steroids, prescription pills, more on list



By Wade Keller, Torch editor


Vince McMahon is taking steps to rid WWE of drug abuse. If his words are taken at face value, he will be utilizing every technology available to eliminate steroids use, recreational drug use (such as cocaine and perhaps marijuana), and abuse of prescription pills.


The death of Eddie Guerrero last week, a result of drug and alcohol abuse either recently, from the past, or a combination of both, prompted McMahon's actions. MSNBC, Fox News, and the New York Post's Phil Mushnick were among the major media outlets drawing attention to the alarming string of deaths among wrestlers under the age of 40 over the past ten years.


McMahon told the wrestlers in Sheffield, England before this week's Raw that before rumors began leaking, he wanted them to hear it from him - WWE was reinstituting drug testing. Fourteen years ago this week, in the midst of a barrage of mainstream media scrutiny, when WWE was fresh off of a marketing campaign in the 1980s where kids were the primary target demographic, McMahon instituted drug testing.


A few years later, fueled by a "Not Guilty" verdict in Vince McMahon's steroid trial, he quietly stopped testing. WWE claimed officially that there was no longer a drug problem, so testing was no longer necessary. In reality, testing was expensive and WCW didn't test, which in theory gave WCW a competitive advantage since it was able to feature more muscular wrestlers. WCW's lack of a drug testing policy also appealed to wrestlers who wanted to smoke pot or take steroids without fear of being fined or suspended.


McMahon's decision to implement a new drug testing policy is neither expected nor surprising. It simply was one option for McMahon to take. He could have also held firm and not admitted there was a problem. He could have claimed that Guerrero's death was a result of abusing his body years ago, before he got to WWE, and that WWE was largely a healthy, clean organization. But with the attention mainstream sports has received from major institutions ranging from Congress to the New York Times, McMahon wisely chose not to fight the tide.


At this point, the details of the policy have not been worked out. McMahon said he is open to suggestions and input from wrestlers as the formal policy is drafted in coming weeks. He did specify that the testing will be done by an independent firm so that it has credibility. He said all full time wrestlers will be subjected to testing and there will be no exceptions.


He said that even if wrestlers have a prescription for a certain drug, they'll be tested for abnormal levels of drugs in their systems. He said they would test for steroids and other illegal performance enhancing drugs, which means what happened a dozen years ago will happen again - many wrestlers will shrink in size over the course of the next year.


Because some steroids remain in the body and are detectable for up to a year, it's expected that all wrestlers will be tested once early on to detect a baseline against which their future levels will be judged. If they have abnormally high levels of testosterone in their system, that level will be expected to drop to normal over the course of the next year. The last time WWE tested for steroids, wrestlers weened themselves off of steorids gradually over the course of the year rather than get off them completely at first, both because it made their muscular dropoff less obvious (and embarassing) and because it's considered safer and less jarring to the body.


McMahon opened the floor to questions from the roster. After silence at first, Kurt Angle asked the first question. He wondered if someone were taking a prescription pill, if how much they were taking could be also be detected. McMahon said yes, that testers could tell not only how much was taken, but when it was taken. McMahon was also asked if the tests would be random, and he said yes. McMahon added that there would be no excuses, no "Yeah, Vince, but..." type responses accepted no matter what your stature in the company.


McMahon said that he would be the second person to find out the results of the tests; the wrestler would be the first. He said documentation for test results would be provided as proof of the results. An unidentified wrestler thanked McMahon for telling them about the policy personally. McMahon concluded, "We have two productive days ahead of us, so let's get to work."


Why would McMahon take this somewhat drastic step? Although it did seem he was dragged kicking and screaming into administering drug testing in the early-'90s, once he did decide to do it, he took pride in bragging that he had the "most stringent drug testing in all of sports and entertainment." He doesn't do things like this half way. If history is any indication, he will take pride in boasting that WWE has more stringent independenting testing than Major League Baseball, Hollywood, the NFL, or even the Olympics, even if it's not completely true.


He may also have felt there was potential for a media backlash explosion. Phil Mushnick, the most outspoken critic of WWE in the press, wrote a scathing article, filled with the usual hyperbole that undercuts his points. He wrote:


(I)t's hard to keep a body count on pro wrestlers, under the age of 40, who have died sudden, steroid-aided deaths in the last 20-25 years. Vince McMahon does not contract the Elias Sports Bureau to keep track. But that industry-wide number must be closing in on 100. Not a single active MLB player is known to have died a steroid-related death. But imagine if there had been one. Or two. Imagine if a massively muscled outfielder with the Tigers or Cubs was found dead in his hotel room today. That's page one, the lead story of every newscast. But as pro wrestlers drop dead - four, five, six a year - they hardly make a sound. Pro wrestlers, a fraction of the number of MLB's talent pool, regularly drop dead; few seem to notice and fewer seem to care. And that's just the way that McMahon & Co. want it...


It works like this: The wrestlers know that their bosses want over-the-top muscle. They know that there's an implied, industry-wide directive to be on or to get on the juice. They know that they have to be on the road many weeks at a time, without any medical coverage or sick days. Miss a show due to illness or injury and you miss a payday. Often, one or two misses and you're fired. So the cycle begins. Steroids to get and keep the job, barbiturates to kill the pain and get some sleep, stimulants to get through the next gig. That's why pro wrestlers are found dead in their hotel rooms. Guerrero was only 5-8, but with muscles that pushed the limits of natural physiology. And he was a pro drug abuser every bit as much as he was a pro wrestler - the two, in the Vince McMahon Era, rarely stand alone.


Last week McMahon exploited Guerrero's death to make ratings hay with his NBC-TV partners, first on McMahon's hideously desensitizing USA Network show (USA is now owned by NBC) and then through a speak-no-evil memorial on MSNBC...


Under threat of Congress, MLB last week introduced a stronger drug policy. That made big news - while another pro wrestler dropped dead. And they continue to drop dead, ever so softly, so as to scarcely make a sound. Just the way McMahon likes it.


Perhaps most damning to McMahon, though, was Mushnick's reference to Lowell Weicker, a former governor and senator from WWE's home state, Connecticut, who serves as a member of WWE's Board of Directors. Wrote Mushnick: "We don't know what Weicker is paid for his presence, but given that he has to look past the perversity of McMahon's TV product and that he has to look around the scores of dead young men produced by the industry, he works cheap."


McMahon has found out that the rules for him are different as a public corporation compared to a private business. Perhaps pressure was put on him by members of the Board of Directors (including Weicker) and stock holders in general to make a definitive move quickly.


Or perhaps McMahon genuinely was blindsided by Guerrero's death. Perhaps he had been insulated from anything but good news lately and believed his locker room was clean. Perhaps he asked some tough questions and got some straight answers and decided, for the good of the company and the health of his roster, to take a step now to prevent future deaths. Shedding tears when a wrestler dies is touching, but by then it's too late.





By Wade Keller, Torch editor


1. Batista out of Survivor Series with injury


Batista severely injured the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back during a dark match against Randy Orton at the Nov. 8 Smackdown taping in Indianapolis, Ind. The muscle is one of the largest muscles in the human body and works with the chest to assist with shoulder and arm movements. The muscle is not easily repaired considering its size and use in nearly every regular body movement such as rotating the shoulders, stretching, or extending the arms out or upwards. The injury is a very common sports injury because of the constant wear and tear applied through repetitive athletic movements. Although the injury may have simply been a fluke accident, The latest word is that Batista will opt for rehabilitation rather than surgery. It's riskier since it may not solve the issue completely, but he can return in several weeks, rather than a minimum of three months were he to have surgery instead. Batista was chokeslammed through a car windshield in an angle on Raw this week. It's expected he will drop the World Hvt. Title to Randy Orton in a scheduled title defense on Smackdown this week, then take time off to rehabi his injury.


2. WWE announces steroid testing online


Within minutes of informing a locker room filled with wrestlers that WWE would be testiing all full-time wrestlers for drug abuse, the news was posted online at WWE.com. In an effort to be the first to break news that will inevitably get out to the independent press eventually, WWE.com helps WWE control the initial message. In this instance, WWE also aired the locker room meeting McMahon held when he told the crew of his plans.


3. WWE openly reports Eugene suspension


Nick "Eugene" Dinsmore was suspended by WWE after passing out after overdosing on Somas in a hotel lobby last week. In the midst of a European tour, just days after the death of Eddie Guerrero, Dinsmore was hospitalized and subsequently suspended for the public incident. WWE reported on its website that Dinsmore overdozed on somas and had agreed to check himself in to a treatment facility.


4. Michaels book, Bret DVD released


Although neither is centered entirely around the 1997 Survivor Series Swerve, both Shawn Michaels (via his autobiography) and Bret Hart (via his WWE-produced DVD) give competing versions of the infamous finish to their 1997 PPV match. [both will be reviewed in an upcoming Torch Newsletter.]


5. Guerrrero death subject of media reports


MSNBC, Fox News, and the New York Post each covered Eddie Guerrero's death this past week, which may have prompted WWE to institute drug testing again.







Eddie Guerrero's funeral took place Thursday, Nov. 17 in Phoenix. WWE wrestlers present included the following: Chavo Guerrero Jr., Chris Benoit, Shane Helms, Steve Austin, JBL, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Lita, Doug Basham, Torrie Wilson. Members of management included Vince and Linda McMahon, Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, John Laurenaitis, Kevin Dunn, Bruce Prichard, Dean Malenko, and Michael Hayes. Other notable names included Chris Jericho, Konnan, C.M. Punk, Gail Kim, Tom Prichard, Jamie Noble, Charlie Haas, Jackie Gayda, Mark Jindrak, Christian, Billy Graham, and Sting. Of course, Eddie's family was present. Jim Ross sent a speech to be read and chose Tom Prichard to read it. Steve Austin was there, but he didn't mingle much with current WWE wrestlers or management.




When Christian negotiated with Vince McMahon regarding a contract renewal, a key source says the deal broke down over airline seating. When Christian asked for an upgrade in his travel accomodations to the equivalent of business class, McMahon refused. Christian cited that he had been in WWE eight years and seniority should give him such status. McMahon said that if he gave a "mid-carder" a seat upgrade, no matter what their tenure, it would set a bad precedent. Christian saw that as confirmation, says the source, that he was doomed to be a mid-carder for years to come since it was clear that's how McMahon saw him. When he transfered from Raw to Smackdown, he felt he might get a main event push. Crowd reactions definitely were encouraging at the time. Instead of feuding with Batista for the World Title, he found himself back in a mid-card position. With a mid-card position comes mid-card pay, which isn't anything special these days in WWE. He has told friends that he was offered comperable money to his previous contract, not a lowball offer, but with the "mid-card" status tatooed on his forehead, he wasn't likely to make as much above that downside guarantee as he had in previous years, so staying in WWE meant a cut in pay in real terms.




Rita Cosby, host of "Live and Direct" on MSNBC, interviewed Vince McMahon, Chavo Guerrero, and JBL on Nov. 16 regarding Eddie Guerrero's death. The two-part segment, which lasted roughly 25 minutes, began with a video package highlighting Eddie's life and in-ring accomplishments. Cosby read a message from Vickie Guerrero and then interviewed McMahon.


"This is a family atmosphere and Eddie was a bit of a patriarch to many of the wrestlers," Vince McMahon said. "It's always tough to endure because he was beloved by so many fans all over the world."


Chavo Guerrero and JBL, who was in studio with Cosby, were brought in to discuss Eddie's life. Cosby asked Chavo how he felt finding Eddie in his hotel room. "It was like not real," Chavo said. "There were so many things that were happening that I couldn't be shocked." When asked about growing up a Guerrero and having to live up to the family legacy, Chavo said: "It was a blessing and detrimental - we had a lot of doors opened for us because we were Guerreros, but once we stepped through that door, we had to be the best. It was tough, but it was great also."


Footage aired from the recent feud between JBL and Eddie Guerrero. JBL said he was enemies with Guerrero inside the ring, but he had a strong relationship with Eddie outside of the ring. Cosby pointed out the shiner JBL had on his eye following his match against Chavo at the Smackdown taping Sunday night. Chavo and JBL joked that Chavo won the match since JBL took the worst blow.


"Eddie and I had a tremendous relationship," JBL said regarding his experiences with Eddie. "Eddie and his wife were part of my wedding and Eddie touched a lot of lives - not just in the ring, but outside of the ring. He influenced hundreds and hundreds of people." Regarding his upcoming speech at Eddie's funeral on Wednesday in Arizona, JBL said: "To be able to justify his life in any form, I'm not going to be able to do it. I'll try to at least explain to his wife Vickie that he influenced hundreds of lives."


Cosby asked McMahon what WWE planned to do in memory of Eddie's passing following Monday's edition of Raw. "We have a Friday Night Smackdown where we're going to do something similar to what we did last night," McMahon said. "With someone like Eddie, who was so passionate about his craft and this business, there isn't enough you can do to recognize Eddie." Eddie connected with the fans because...his whole style was different than everyone else; everything about Eddie was unique."


Cosby asked Chavo how Eddie's family was holding up in wake of Eddie's death. "We're all trying to rally together for his wife and kids," Chavo said. Vickie wwas in denial after receiving word of Eddie's death until she received a call from John Laurenaitis to confirm the news. Chavo said the entire family is "very up and down" and Vickie is very emotional.


Chavo closed the segment by describing Eddie as the big brother he never had. "Eddie always looked out for me; he always had my back," Chavo said. "Now, I don't have anyone like that in my life and it's going to be a huge adjustment for me. When we were tag team partners together, I knew we could go up against anyone in the world because he had my back."




Bret Hart doesn't plan on returning to a WWE ring - either for an interview or in a talent role. "I try not to be a slave to hotels and suitcases anymore," Hart told WWE.com's Byte This show on Nov. 16. "I think about it (returning to WWE) sometimes, but I want to be remembered for being a great wrestler, not a great referee or commissioner or anything like that... It's kind of wishful thinking and kind of a scary thought for me." Hart plugged his new DVD and talked about what went into production, especially working with Vince McMahon. "When I talked to Vince, we took it in a different direction rather than focusing on the negative side of my career. I had a great career," Hart said. "All I can say is that we have a good dialogue right now and he bent over backwards to see that I was satisfied with it and that it held up." Hart discussed many of the stories contained on the DVD, including why he wore sunglasses because he didn't want people to see the nervousness in his eyes when he first began cutting promos in front of a WWE camera. Hart also praised Jim Neidhart for making him a star in the Hart Foundation tag team.


Regarding his work with Steve Austin, including their epic WrestleMania 13 match, Hart said: "Steve and I had a great history together... and had respect for each other and we worked hard to make our storylines believable and incredible." Hart, who lamented the kick from Bill Goldberg at Starrcade '99 extensively in the DVD, discussed the events that led to his concussion and subsequent stroke. "Sometimes when you watch the footage it looks like he kicked the top part of my head," Hart said. "I'm living proof of the severity of what concussions can cause... it was the worst injury I had to deal with." Hart closed by saying he wouldn't be anything without the fans. He is proud of his DVD and hopes they are as proud as he is of his work. [Michael KopStick]




-Batista's lats may have been strained at Taboo Tuesday when he attempted a spinebuster on Vader and Vader failed to give him proper lift on the move.


-Chris Masters has a great rep for being fan-friendly outside of arenas and at hotels.


-Stephanie McMahon wasn't at the Eddie Guerrero Tribute tapings in Minneapolis, Minn. because she couldn't fly after having nasal surgery earlier this month. Her tribute to Guerrero that aired on Raw was filmed in Stamford, Conn.


-Nobody is happied with Joey Styles being added to the Raw broadcast team than Coach. He has said outright that he does want to be a play-by-play announcer and never has. He would prefer to be a character and not have the pressure of hard-selling PPVs and calling matches, which is not his forte.


-Kurt Angle, sources say, is pushing Vince McMahon as much as he can to give him a run with the WWE Title. He is arguing that there is more money in John Cena chasing him for the title leading to a WrestleMania title match than Angle chasing Cena. So far, there is no indication it's influencing McMahon, who wants Cena to have a strong lengthy run as champ to get him over as a long-term champ. With Daivari being added as special ref at Survivor Series, though, perhaps Angle will get his wish.


-Steve Austin remains on the outs with Vince McMahon for the time being. All indications are WWE isn't banking on Austin vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania, but they will make a final push to try to talk Austin into it early next year.


-The WWE-produced movie, "See No evil" sttarring Kane is scheduled for a release date nationally of May 19, 2006. WWE has been playing the movie trailer at TV tapings recently. Kane actually agreed to extend his WWE deal for less of a downside in exchange for the chance to star in the movie, thinking it would get his foot in the door in Hollywood and elevate his reputation as a star, but the movie has been late in getting distributed, prompting some second thoughts on the wisdom of the decision.


-Paul Heyman's WWE contract expires at the end of the year, and there is no concete buzz from either OVW or WWE regarding whether he'll be offered an extension. His current WWE deal is around $250,000 base, and that seems high for someone whose main or only job is writing OVW television. However, if they lowball Heyman, he might opt out and potentially join TNA as a manager or booker. Although WWE may not respect Heyman's booking enough to include him in the writing of Raw or Smackdown, they might fear it enough to pay him above scale to keep him out of TNA's hands.


-WWE.com features a Power Ranking now of the top 25 wrestlers in the company. Eddie Guerrero is ranked no. 1 on the latest list, ahead of John Cena, Batista, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle, and Rey Mysterio. Triple H is ranked no. 15, a notch below Chris Masters. Matt Hardy is ranked no. 10, two spots ahead of Shawn Michaels.


-Nunzio captured the Cruiserweight Title from Juventud in Rome, Italy on Nov. 15, the first night of the European tour.


-Because Roddy Piper broke his hand, his match against Bob Orton slated for Survivor Series was cancelled. They could have had a "cast match."


-WWE has been unable to reach Jake Roberts to have him promote his DVD, so the publicity for the DVD has been reduced in general.


-The wrestler whom Jerry Jarrett brought to WWE headquarters last month is now working in WWE's Deep South developmental territory.


-Mr. Kennedy beat Val Venis in the dark match opener at the Nov. 13 Raw/Smackdown tapings in Minneapolis, Minn.


-Smackdown ratings have been up the last two weeks, drawing a 2.7 on Nov. 11 and 3.0 on Nov. 18 (for the Eddie Guerrero tribute), both the best to-date ratings for the show since shifting to Fridays.


-House show notes: Roddy Piper hosted Piper's Pit at the Nov. 20 Smackdown show in Helsinki, Finland... Batista was not able to work the Nov. 20 Smackdown house show in Helsinki, Finland and appeared in a segment with Simon Dean instead. Batista gave Dean a spinebuster... There was a moment of silence in remembrance of Eddie Guerrero before the beginning of the Nov. 15, 16, 17, and 19 Raw shows and Nov. 20 Smackdown show... At the Nov. 17 show in Manchester, England, Lillian Garcia announced that Raw and Smackdown will be taped in London, England on Apr. 24 and 25, 2006...

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Guest EastCoastJ




At TNA's Genesis PPV last Sunday, Christian delivered his first promo in TNA and hit on several key points regarding his departure from WWE to TNA. Instead of taking the approach many previous wrestlers - such as Rhino - have taken, Christian pointed out that he came to TNA because he desired the opportunity to wrestle again, not because he ran out of options in WWE. TNA has run into the mistake of having wrestlers overtly or subtly complain about WWE as a sign that the wrestler desired to remain in WWE, but could not because there wasn't an opportunity. Christian's promo was different as it sent the positive initial message to skeptical fans of TNA's product.


-TNA has signed Sabu and Abyss to a rematch from their No DQ match at Sunday's Genesis PPV at the December 11 "Turning Point" PPV in a barbed wire match. The match is being billed as TNA's first ever barbed wire match.




New Japan pro wrestling has agreed to sell a majority interest in the promotion to video game company Yuke's. The Japanese company acquired approximately 51 perrcent of stock or 27,800 shares and the transaction was authorized by NJPW president Simon Inoki. Shares of Yuke's stock in Japan's Nikkei market rose significantly on Monday - when the deal was announced in Japan - before settling at a 52-week high of 945 Yen (approximately $7.96) per share on Thursday. According to the company website, Yuke's has annual sales of 2.6 Billion Yen (approximately $22.0 Million) and the market responded favorably to the news of the sale because of optimism for Yuke's to make use of New Japan assets. Speculation has begun that NJPW will be split up into segments for Yuke's to sell the acquired assets and earn a return on the investment. Simon Inoki currently has no controlling interest in the company, but his position as NJPW President is still intact for now. NJPW will be holding its annual shareholders meeting in spring 2006 to discuss the future of the company and any subsequent changes to company structure.


The sale of NJPW to Yuke's is intriguing from an American professional wrestling fan's standpoint. Currently, NJPW is bound to a trade agreement with NWA to use TNA's contracted wrestlers such as A.J. Styles and Christopher Daniels on future tours. However, WWE wrestlers may become part of future NJPW tours and shows in the near future as well. The new majority holding interest, Yuke's, has worked exclusively with WWE in the past on video games and Japanese tours. Yuke's has just finished working with WWE on the new "Smackdown vs. Raw 2006" video game titles and the company was a key sponsor for WWE's most recent tour of Japan in July. Especially with WWE Talent Relations VP John Laurenaitis fond of working in Japan, it would be conceivable to see WWE place wrestlers on a New Japan tour or Tokyo Dome show alongside TNA wrestlers through the partnership with Yuke's. Such dream matches as A.J. Styles vs. Chris Benoit could become reality across the globe and away from a WWE or TNA ring.




-Without outright denying a popular rumor of Jeff Jarrett replacing him as the head of TNA's booking committee, Scott D'Amore sarcastically told the Wrestling Epicenter radio show, "If you hear it on the Internet, it must be true." TNA management has been happy at times with D'Amore's performance as the head booker on a staff also consisting of Mike Tenay, Jeremy Borash, and others. However, D'Amore's recent return to on-air storylines as Team Canada's manager has opened him up to criticism of splitting his efforts between booking shows and trying to get Team Canada over.


-TNA officials have talked with Bret Hart about making appearances for the company. Bret has been open to talks, but said last week on Byte This he wants to remembered as a wrestler, not a referee or commissioner.





Ohio Valley - 11/5

By James Caldwell and Eric Hall




LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY. -- Following last week's much-anticipated OVW Title match between OVW Champion Johnny Jeter and his former tag partner, Matt Cappotelli, the feud intensified as a brawl broke out in the parking lot at the end of the show. As Cappotelli hopped in his car to find Jeter in the parking lot, James and Chad Toland cut Cappotelli off and confronted him. Mr. Kennedy jumped out of the Toland's car and announced himself, which was enough of a distraction for Jeter to attack Cappotelli. This led to a pullapart brawl in the parking lot with Jeter screaming, "I'm better than you" to close the show.


Earlier in the show, Matt Cappotelli was searching for Johnny Jeter backstage, only to find Rene Dupree. Dupree told Cappotelli to make love to Jeter's girlfriend as payback to Jeter. Cappotelli sarcastically declined Dupree's advice then nailed Dupree over the head with a chair.




(1) The Boogeyman beat Robert Fury in a squash match.


(2) Chris Cage beat Nick Nemeth. Aaron "the Idol" Stevens and his valets, Sosay and Beth Phoenix, were ringside to distract Cage during the match. However, Cage focused on his opponent and won the match. Mickie James became involved in the action to follow up on her feud with Sosay and Phoenix.


(3) Ken Doane beat Bobby Lashley to retain the OVW Television Title. The finish came when Doane delivered a reverse RKO on Lashley for the win. Prior to the match, Robbie Dawber tried interviewing Lashley about the match, but he annoyed Lashley with his interview technique. Lashley clotheslined Dawber in the locker room area and said he does his talking in the ring.




C.M. Punk cut a promo on Brent Albright following their match on last week's show where Punk nearly won the match with Albright's own Crowbar submission move before Albright escaped and scored the victory. During Punk's promo, various clips from last week's match aired to illustrate his narrow loss. Punk called Albright "the second best technical wrestler in OVW," behind himself...





Malfunction at the Junction


By Bruce Mitchell, Torch columnist


When Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Kevin Dunn called the Voice Of ECW Joey Styles to call the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view and subsequent Raws, it was a particularly bitter defeat in a campaign they had been waging for many years. WWE management wanted a sea change in their product. They felt the most important trait of the number one salesmen for their product, the men who convinced their costumers to buy the product and buy into their Superstars and their storylines, was hip attractiveness.


It had, after all, worked before when an even younger Vince McMahon had taken his father's territorial promotion national. The younger McMahon had gotten rid of the old cronies with their hands out for a golden handshake, the toupeed play-by-play hacks like Kal Rudman and Dick Graham, and the ancient ring announcers like Joe McCue. The younger McMahon even went to the extreme of running off the Cigar Harries and Hatpin Maries, customers who had been reserving their seats at the wrestling show for decades, in favor of the kind of front-running phonies who look good on TV to a media always on the lookout for the next big thing.


Stephanie McMahon, who wants to leave her own imprint on the business the same way her father did, also didn't appreciate an employee who was lucky to have his high paying, high profile job. She didn't want to hear from an employee who wanted to keep it in the ring, who was stuck in the old ways, and worst of all had an unseemly passion for a sport that was, let's face it, something of an embarrassment. That this employee was proven right time and time again about his objections only made it worse. She was a pioneer for all women, and once again an old man was getting in the way.


They took it as long as they could, but they all knew this day would come. So they had been hiring young man-boys, attractive, hip Carson Daly types, only hipper than that, who liked wrestling, maybe, but hadn't been contaminated with their own, or worse, some fans' idea of what would work in their business.


They forgot something, though. Actually, Vince McMahon was probably the only one who ever knew it in the first place. The wrestling play-by-play man is the spokesman for the company and the voice of the fan. He needs to be consistently the most comfortable, most popular voice in the promotion. He's the one who's heard the most and the one who is there as the top babyfaces and heels change over the years. The McMahons and Kevin Dunn ignored their own business' history. Every successful wrestling promotion had a spokesman who lasted for years who the fans loved. All those hip young prot駩s were doomed before they started because they were hired in part for their lack of passion for the business.


It didn't have to be this way, not if WWE knew the history of their own business. A little history in the form of play-by-play announcers who were money-makers for their companies for decades:


-Lance Russell was the voice of Memphis wrestling for over five decades. His familiar "Aw c'mon" at an in studio fight and his chemistry with the King of Memphis Jerry Lawler helped make the WMC Saturday morning show a huge ratings draw. He could call the most violent angle, shepherd the greenest rookie through his first promo, then sit on a couch and kibitz with the King and his sidekick Dave Brown and viewers would settle in because, well, because it was Lance Russell. To this day local Memphis wrestling shows can draw ratings and money because of the consistency of Russell in the market.


-Gordon Solie learned the names of holds and established a style that was both colorful and stentorian. He was the key figure who gave Georgia Championship Wrestling, the first national cable wrestling hit, its coherent base. He was even better in the prime of Eddie Graham's Florida promotion. Other promoters used him in their companies because, no matter the level of talent, when wrestling fans saw Solie call the product, they took it seriously.


-Ed Whalen was, more than even the Hart family, the face of Stampede Wrestling, the local business that gave Calgary, Alberta, Canada its identity all those years. Stu Hart knew this, because (as chronicled in" Pain and Passion, the History of Stampede Wrestling" by Heath McCoy), he brought Whalen back time and time again, even after Whalen killed off some of his most money-making angles, Hart knew what Vince McMahon forgot - that viewers want that comfortable figure in their home to temper the chaos.


Now, because the McMahons and Dunn forgot one of the basic tenets in their business, they've had to choose between a man who publicly mocked them while in their employ, Joey Styles, or a man who knows their business better than they do, Jim Ross.




McNeill Library

11-26-05: Cheating Death, Stealing Life, Drawing the Line

By Pat McNeill, Torch columnist

Nov 26, 2005, 15:37



"McNeill Factor"

Headline: Cheating Death, Stealing Life, Drawing the Line

Originally published: November 26, 2005

Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #888


Cheating Death, Stealing Life: With the passing of Eddie Guerrero fresh on our minds, it's time to review the WWE-sanctioned Eddie Guerrero DVD, "Cheating Death, Stealing Life" in a new light. In the opening minutes of the documentary, it quickly becomes apparent that Eddie Guerrero, perhaps more than any professional wrestler in the history of the game, knew exactly what he was getting himself into.


By his own admission, Eddie had a very happy childhood. He grew up in the border town of El Paso, Texas, the son of Salvador "Gory" Guerrero. Gory was the local wrestling promoter and a top wrestler. Eddie's three other brothers, Hector, Mando, and Chavo were professional wrestlers as well. With a pedigree like that, Eddie learned the business quickly. According to his brothers, he could throw a good dropkick at the age of three.


WWE aired portions of this documentary on Smackdown. One segment saw Eddie discuss how, at the age of nine, he and his six year old nephew, Chavo Jr., would wrestle in the ring during intermission of the weekly El Paso shows. Gory Guerrero built a wrestling ring and a weight lifting bench in the family's backyard, which Eddie proudly showed off when visiting his mother's house. Eddie talked about how a couple of Eddie's neighborhood friends were trained in the backyard ring. What Eddie forgot to mention is that one of those friends, Art Flores, grew up to be a professional wrestler, and that Eddie and Chavo helped get Flores a job in WCW as Eddie's (unnamed) bodyguard in the short-lived Latino World Order.


Another one of Eddie's childhood friends, Hector Rincon, is interviewed on the disc. Rincon observes that he enjoyed wrestling, but was able to set it aside. However, Rincon didn't think Eddie had that option. Guerrero admitted that he always put pressure on himself to live up to the family legacy. Eddie wanted the documentary viewers to understand that he was in wrestling because it was what he loved, not because his family forced it upon him. Eddie turned pro at the age of sixteen, and began wrestling in Mexico.


While Eddie knew and understood the business inside and out, his wife did not. Vickie Guerrero met Eddie on a blind date and fell for him instantly. Eddie's family approved of Vickie. Vickie received a hard lesson in the wrestling mentality when a dying Gory Guerrero told his son that no matter what happened, he wanted Eddie and Vickie's wedding to go on as scheduled. The wedding took place the day after Gory's funeral in El Paso. After all, the show must go on. Vickie soon learned another harsh reality, as Eddie went on the road for days and weeks at a time, while Vickie stayed in Mexico City and cared for their newborn daughter.


Eddie's career in Mexico took off in the late 1980's. The documentary ignores the Los Gringos Locos pairing with Art Barr and goes straight to a discussion of Eddie's first trip to Japan. Eddie stated here that he never expected to find regular work in the United States, because he knew the national promotions here were focused on size and muscle mass. Eddie quickly found a home in New Japan as the masked Black Tiger, and met Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko for the first time. By 1995, the trio found some extra work in North America as part of Extreme Championship Wrestling. After showing footage of the final Guerrero vs. Malenko match at ECW Arena (and the postmatch celebration), Guerrero, Malenko, and Benoit jumped to WCW at the start of the Monday Night Wars.


Eddie enjoyed a run in WCW as a midcarder, holding the Cruiserweight Title and the United States Title. He then talked about his match with Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997, one of his favorites, and one of the bonus matches on the DVD. The highlights of the footage make this look like the equal of any X Division match in TNA in 2005. Eddie then tried to explain how he became addicted. Wrestling was such a rush that when the lights came off, it left him with an empty feeling. He turned to alcohol, pills and "experimented with other stuff". On New Year's Day 1999, the "other stuff" was GHB. He was driving at 130 miles per hour when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. He suffered a fractured hip socket, a punctured liver and nearly died of internal injuries.


From here, Guerrero's timeline of events was a little spotty, but we'll try to flesh it out a bit. Guerrero returned to the ring on the June 11th, 1999 edition of Nitro, much quicker than he should have. He was in intense pain, and went right back to the pain pills. Eddie overdosed once in October 1999, and then again on Christmas Day. His family was furious with him. But a month later, in January 2000, Guerrero joined Benoit, Malenko, and Perry Saturn in jumping to WWF, and managed to remain functional despite his painkiller habit.


After Eddie had short runs with the European and Intercontinental titles, his friends began noticing his out of the ring problems. Benoit, Malenko and Saturn went to talent relations head Jim Ross in May 2001 and told Ross that Eddie needed to be taken off the road. Ross agreed and Eddie was forced to enter rehab. While in rehab, Vickie asked Eddie for a divorce. Eddie remained sober for a couple of months, but woke up in jail on November 10, 2001 after being arrested for DUI in Tampa. According to Guerrero, that was the moment where everything finally sunk in, and he realized he could never drink again.


The final thirteen minutes of the documentary is where we get the happy ending. Eddie was immediately released by WWE, but was rehired four months later after an impressive series of matches in Ring of Honor, IWA Mid-South, and elsewhere. He began dating his wife again, moving back in with his family in January 2003 after renewing their vows. Eddie had a daughter out of wedlock with another woman while separated from Vickie, but the Guerreros won custody of the child and welcomed her into the family.


As Eddie's personal life came together, so did his in-ring career. He captured the WWE Heavyweight Title on February 15, 2004 at No Way Out in San Francisco, a match featured on the DVD. The match is notable not only for Eddie's performance, but for an outstanding job by heel champion Brock Lesnar, in Lesnar's last great match before departing WWE. The postmatch celebration, with Guerrero practically diving into the crowd with the belt and then embracing his mother at ringside, stands in stark contrast to the passionless celebrations at WrestleMania 21 when Batista and John Cena each won their first World Title.


The video closes with Eddie's wish that his story can be a positive influence for people who need help with addiction. I hope so too, but it will be a long time before any wrestling fan can watch Eddie's story without experiencing a lump in his or her throat.


Someone Up There Gets It: There was a lot of talk last week by the McMahons about another family, the WWE family. Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon and some WWE performers talked about how important the WWE "family" was to Eddie Guerrero. Mister McMahon said on Smackdown, "Eddie thought of everybody as family." But there was a dissenting opinion. Shane McMahon, husband, father, and newly gray at the temples, checked in with his own interpretation:


"There are very few families that have the privilege of being generation after generation in this business. The Hart Family. The Ortons. The Briscoes. The Jarretts. I'm leaving many, many out. One of the most special families were the Guerreros, and the most special was Eddie. Eddie was such a wonderful man, and God, he loved what he did. This is all... this business is all that Eddie ever wanted to do. He wanted to wrestle. He wanted to perform, and God, did he do that. He lit up the crowds every single night. Every night, whether he was hurt or not. Eddie was the consummate professional. He was the consummate pro. But more important than that, he opened his heart because he loved it so much. He loved the fans. He loved being there.


But Eddie's legacy, his greatest legacy, is not left in the ring. The thing he loved the most, more than anything, despite his relationships on the road and his family on the road, was his own family.


He loved his wife Vickie, and he loved his daughters, and that's what he fought for. That's what he fought for every single night. He loved you. That's what Eddie would really want to get home the most. This is talking specifically to you, Vickie, and his daughters. He loved you. He did everything for you. We will all miss him very much, and the chants of "Eddie, Eddie" will live in our hearts forever."


Vince McMahon's words on Smackdown, recorded the day of Eddie's death, were clearly heartfelt, and this is not to cast aspersions on the authenticity of his feelings. But for Vincent K. McMahon, business and family are one. His wife and children have been tied up in the business ever since Vince took over from his father. Shane McMahon understands that there is a line. A line between what's best for the people you love, and what's best for the family business. It is a line that bodes well for the family business if Shane ever assumes a more active role in the company.

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DVD Review: ROH Night of the Grudges (#888)


Nov 26, 2005, 15:38



On Topic with Jason Powell

Headline: DVD Review: ROH Night of the Grudges

Originally Published November 26, 2005

Torch Newsletter #888


When a company advertises a home video release entitled "Night of the Grudges II" (8-20-05)), most purchasers rightfully assume that they're going to get more of a brawling, ECW-style product than Ring of Honor normally delivers. The show actually opened with a match that was probably designed to set such a tone. However, it felt like I'd watched Dunn & Marcos wrestle The Carnage Crew countless times before, so the opening match felt very ordinary.


Both teams worked hard and Carnage Crew seemed up for a good hardcore match, but Dunn and Marcos spent too much time playing to the crowd and doing their schtick, making it impossible for me suspend disbelief and buy into the storyline tension and emotion of the feud between these two teams. Sadly, this was a common theme throughout the show, which was taped in Morristown, New Jersey on August 20.


It was also hard to believe that the fans in attendance were also buying into the grudge match theme. The ROH fans were passionate as usual, but they seemed more eager to give the polite applause for basic exchanges between wrestlers than they did to really let their guard down and get into the theme of the show. This was never more evident than during the Jay Lethal vs. Ricky Reyes match. At one point, Reyes told the crowd, "F--- you, New Jersey. This place stinks like ass."


Granted, that line was nothing more than a heel wrestler seeking cheap heat. In most cases, wrestling fans would have some fun with the heel by playing into his comments. In this case, you could have heard crickets chirping because the fans were apparently too consumed with waiting to applaud another series of basic exchanges between the wrestlers. Don't get me wrong, the ROH fans know good wrestling when they see it, and this match delivered at times even though it also lacked that grudge match feel. But frankly it gets old listening to the fans applaud for the basic lockups. It's as if they have to let the wrestlers, DVD viewers, and everyone around them know that they are smart enough to appreciate basic fundamental wrestling. Good for you guys, I guess.


The match that came closest to capturing the true spirit of a grudge match was Colt Cabana vs. Nigel McGuinness. By the way, WWE should really let William Regal do his thing as a singles wrestler so that they can sign McGuinness to team with Paul Birchall. Nigel and Colt had a verbal exchange prior to the match to set up the gimmick match rules. Cabana was allowed to pick the gimmick just before the match, so he brought a soccer ball to the ring with him and was sporting, as McGuinness put it, "a ridiculous football jersey." In the best moment of the night as far as the live crowd goes, Nigel was serenaded with "soccer" chants from fans who were eager to remind him that football goes by a different name in America.


Cabana did a great job of working the live crowd as he explained that he had picked a "Soccer Riot Match." He attacked McGuinness while holding the mic. Each time he hit Nigel, Colt led the crowd in chanting that the move he had just performed was "legal." In fact, Cabana spent too much time playing to them because it felt like he was more interested in getting laughs than he was with setting a grudge match tone. I realize that Cabana is a playful character, but it would be nice if he could shown the fans something different given the nature of the match and the theme of the show.


The two wrestlers brawled through the building, which was the first and only time during the evening that DVD viewers could actually see that there were more than a few rows of ringside fans in attendance. For whatever reason, the hard camera was buried somewhere in the crowded half of the building and focussed on the half that appeared to be closed off with a black curtain behind a few rows of fans. Worse yet, those few rows of fans were split down the middle of the hard camera view, which looked horrible on television. I can only hope that there is a reason that ROH officials chose to focus on this side of the building, because it would have looked so much better to show the side that was actually filled with fans in bleacher seats behind hockey boards.


Even as the brawl continued through the crowd, Colt kept playing to the audience over the mic. It felt like the old time he wasn't trying to be funny was when he was selling Nigel's offense. Eventually, both wrestlers took iron shots for nearfalls and the crowd was really into the match. In fairness to Cabana, the live crowd loved everything he did even if it didn't come off as well on DVD. The oddest thing about this match was that despite both wrestlers being struck with iron shots to the head, neither wrestler bladed.


Given the nature of the match, the theme of the show, and the hardcore iron shots, blading seemed like it would have been the natural thing to do. It also felt odd knowing that the ROH fans are sticklers for good workrate, yet they couldn't have cared less that two wrestlers were struck with an object and didn't bleed, thus eliminating any sense of realism from the match. Perhaps neither wrestler wanted to blade. I have no problem with that, but then they should stick to performing moves and stunts that would logically seem to require blood.


Despite it's flaws, this match was the highlight of the show and came closest to capturing the spirit that was advertised. Well, at least it did until the post-match angle that resulted in both men shaking hands and hugging one another in a sign of respect. The fans gleefully appreciatively cheered the gesture while this viewer was left questioning why two men who had just struck one another with irons and chairshots were suddenly ready to bury the hatchet and embrace in a warm fuzzy moment. There's a place for shaking hands and honor, but it just didn't feel right following the only match of the night that came close to living up to the grudge match advertising.


The three matches that looked great on paper just so happened to be the most disappointing matches of the night. First, James Gibson was scheduled to defend the ROH Title for the first time in a three-way match against Homicide and Spanky. The match was nothing special and ended when Gibson pinned Homicide. The match was billed as an elimination match, but Spanky suffered an apparent knee injury, so the match temporarily ended w;ith Gibson declared the winner.


There was eventually an angle with Gibson, who beat up a bunch of lame tag team wrestlers and complained that he didn't want his first title defense to end that way. He issued an open challenge, but was informed that Spanky was willing to challenge him in a singles match. This was not a surprise to anyone who read the back of the DVD case, which listed a Gibson vs. Spanky singles match in addition to the three-way. Granted, most ROH fans probably read the results of these shows online or in newsletters, but it would have been nice if the company could have looked out for viewers who don't know the results of the match before they purchase the home video release.


The Gibson vs. Spanky singles match was nothing special. Spanky revealed that he had not actually injured his knee, which at the same time established that the three-way match had been overbooked for no apparent reason. The match had one of those "out of nowhere" finishes that work great sometimes, but not in this case.


Prior to the singles title match, Mick Foley interrupted Prince Nana, who doesn't serve much of a purpose as an on-air character. Watching Foley work with a mid-card manager like Nana and his stable was a huge letdown. The gist of the storyline involved Nana's female slave Jade, who is escorted to the ring wearing a collar and chain. Foley cut a predictable promo (which was completely audible on an ROH DVD!!!) in which he told Jade that she could continue to tolerate Nana's treatment or leave with him. The live crowd hilariously chanted "happy ending." Before Jade could give the crowd what they wanted, Nana's wrestlers Jimmy Rave and Alex Shelley attacked Foley. Mick eventually got his hands on Nana and left him lying with a double-arm DDT to close out the letdown segment of the night.


The show finished with a disappointing Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels encounter. The match was fought under the Pure Wrestling Title rules, which didn't do either wrestler any favors. The rope breaks and basic rules caused the match to be slow and plodding, which is a shame because I know what these two are capable of. This was not the right match or DVD anyone should show a first-time viewer of the ROH product. For that matter, even the biggest ROH fan would have to admit that this was nothing more than an ordinary show that failed to live up to what was advertised in the DVD title.




Christian's TNA Impact

By Wade Keller, Torch editor


Christian made his national cable debut on TNA Impact this past weekend. Whether Christian will have an immediately influence on ratings isn't known yet, but it's clear he's having an immediate effect on TNA's credibility. Mostly positive.


The one negative to Christian's first two promos - one on PPV and the other on Impact - was also a positive. Positive for him, negative for Rhyno and Billy Gunn. He pointed out that he isn't in TNA because he was fired or had nowhere else to go. He said he was in TNA because it's the place to be. By pointing out that he left by choice, he's also drawing attention to the fact that TNA's previous acquisitions - all of them - are there because they were either fired by WWE or not given tempting contracts offers by WWE. It does make TNA appear to be second rate, except for him of course. He had a choice.


That negative said, I believe it was wise to say it. Christian is the first wrestler to jump from WWE to TNA by choice, for the money. Dating back more than two years, I predicted this day could come for TNA, when they'd be able to offer enough money and a favorable enough schedule and push to a WWE mid-carder to lure them away. Christian is the perfect candidate. He was treated as a mid-carder by WWE, but he carries himself and perceived by fans as something more.


When Matt Hardy watches Christian's TNA ring entrances, he can't help but wonder, "What if?" Christian is being treated like a superstar (Mike Tenay's announcing made Christian appear to be on the level of Steve Austin jumping to WCW in the midst of his peak run in WWE). He gets to say what he wants. He's thrust into the World Title picture right away.


If things don't work out for Christian in TNA, there's a good chance he can return to WWE. Sure, McMahon holds grudges, but nothing Christian has said about WWE comes close to the negative comments made about Vince McMahon and WWE by Jerry Lawler, Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman, and numerous other wrestlers who once competing with WWE, only to end up working there.


Christian will main event PPVs in TNA. That may have never happened in WWE. He could end up being a long-term main eventer for TNA and remain there for years. Or he could add "PPV main eventer" to his resume when WWE attempts to reacquire him down the line. Either way, he wins. It was a risk worth taking. Christian has already been very good in the mic. His segment with Monty Brown on this weekend's show was top notch. It showed there can be a top program in TNA without Jeff Jarrett. As Tenay would say, "Amen!"


Please, though, everyone in TNA stop referring to WWE as "up north." It pegs TNA as a "Southern regional outfit," not an equal competitor. Come up with a better reference - Stamford, McWrestleville, The Other Guys, anything but the regional reference which never served WCW. Even "out East" would be better, although since they're in Florida it doesn't make much sense. Fans of WWE in Dallas or California don't think of it being "up North." It's not any more "up north" than it is "out west" or "overseas" these days. They run more often now in Australia than MSG, so maybe next time Christian should say he came from "down under."


Drug Tssting: Whatever Vince McMahon's motivation, early applause for appearing to be on course to really make a difference. I understand the skepticism that's out there. It's completely justified and understandable. This, however, is too serious for McMahon to play games. He can't say he's going to test, put a video on WWE.com of him telling wrestlers there will be no exceptions, and then do selective testing. There would be no way to hide it or rig it. For every loyal employee who never leaves the company, such as Howard Finkle and Kevin Dunn, there's a disgruntled former employee willing to tell all, such as J.J. Dillon or the Hebners. The last thing McMahon needs is someone with an axe to grind in a few weeks, months, or years, pulling out evidence that he said one thing and did another regarding drug testing, especially if wrestlers died on his watch after testing was implemented (suggesting then that legit testing might have saved them).


It will take a year, if not two, before we know for sure how honest the testing is. Wrestler will know, and wrestlers will talk. A top guy will either be suspended at an inconvenient time or he won't. If top wrestlers are known to be on drugs, but aren't being suspended, it will be a farce. Call me naive, but my guess is that this will be a new obsession for McMahon: Clean up WWE. I hope I'm right.

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