You know professional wrestling is in dire straits when City Weekly honcho and rasslin’ aficionado John Saltas couldn’t care less about what’s going on anymore.
“I don’t watch the WWF very much,” Saltas said from his penthouse hot tub in the City Weekly office tower, referring to the grappling monopoly of the World Wrestling Federation. “The characters seem too cartoonish for my liking. Plus, my kids are getting enough crotch-shots, finger-flips and the A-word in daycare already, and pushing it on them at night is just plain overkill.” After he asked who I was again and instructed me to mix him up another VO and water, he added, “I’ve got to admit, though, as a live show, the WWF is pretty good.”
Be that as it may, he was unaware of the WWF ad that’s been running in this very newspaper for a couple of weeks now, the one proclaiming that you can “be a part of history! Be at the first live SmackDown ever!” That’s right: The Thursday-night UPN show that’s typically pre-taped on Tuesdays is celebrating 100 episodes by treating Salt Lake City (Aug. 16, E Center) to the kind of live-on-TV event that hasn’t graced Zion since the days of Saltas’ dearly-departed World Championship Wrestling—get those “Burt’s Tiki 3:16” signs ready for the crowd-pan shots.
Those “days” were as recent as Memorial Day 2000, when one of the last WCW Monday Nitros beamed out live from the E Center via TNT. Things have kinda changed since then: TNT and TBS dropped the long-running WCW from their skeds earlier this year just as Time Warner was in the process of selling it, thereby softening it up for Vince McMahon and the WWF to swoop in and buy it cheap. WWF programming had been killing the WCW in the ratings anyway, and the other barely-mainstream competition, Paul Heyman’s influential Extreme Championship Wrestling, conveniently went out of business two weeks after the deal went down. Aside from the subsequent multimillion-dollar reaming from his failed XFL “football” franchise, McMahon’s own showrunners couldn’t have scripted the corporate drama any better.
What they’re up to now is anyone’s guess. Talks of re-launching the WCW as a separate programming entity from the WWF have pretty much dried up, and now it’s being forced into WWF shows every week. But since the only recognizable name involved in WCW anymore is Karl Malone bud Diamond Dallas Page (no Hulk Hogan, no Sting, no Goldberg, nada), it doesn’t amount to much more than a logo, albeit one “owned” by Vince’s son Shane McMahon, who wants to take dad “down.”
Then, a couple of SmackDowns ago, the WCW’s “invasion” was upstaged by the “surprise” return of the ECW-major company players like Taz, Tommy Dreamer, the Dudley Boys, Raven, Rhyno, Rob Van Dam and more, intact. Sure, most have been working for the WWF anyway, and the rest just want a piece of the ECW bankruptcy money they’re still owed (in the previously incognito Van Dam’s case, over $150,000), but it was a beautiful sight, no matter how obviously staged it was. The Philadephia-based ECW was always known as a tough, hard-working, no-budget visionary company from which the WWF swiped nearly all of its talent, “hardcore” attitude and concepts over the years. The crowd certainly knew this, giving the crew a bigger “pop” (rassle-speak for “audience reaction”) than the largely anonymous WCW group has ever gotten. (OK, except for überleggy WCW eye-candy holdover Stacy “Ms. Hancock” Kiebler, a bombshell who could get a turgid rise out of the corpse of Owen Hart—and don’t think they’re not working on that storyline for future pay-per-view.)
“Ownership” of the ECW was given to the other McMahon kid, Stephanie, setting everything up for a (you guessed it) pay-per-view McMahon-against-McMahons event called Invasion, which went down last Sunday. Did Stone Cold Steve Austin lead the threatened WWF to victory against the WCW-ECW? Has the course of professional wrestling been changed forever by this war within the company? It doesn’t matter—it’s all theater, and everything is owned by Vince McMahon, remember?
Knowing full well there are no real surprises to be had at a wrestling show anymore, the only match that anyone actually cared about was a “bra and panties tag-team match” between the WWF’s Lita and Trish Stratus and the WCW’s Kiebler and Torrie Wilson. Putting a real-deal athlete like Lita—who’s supposedly being groomed to take over the soon-to-be-booted Chyna’s top-grrl spot in the WWF—in a cheesy T&A match is kind of an insult, but where else is she going to go? Women of Wrestling? Unless Vince buys that troubled franchise too, WOW is ready to go tits-up in financial distress, which leaves only the WWF, again.
And no one thought the old WCW plotline gimmick of the New World Order would ever make a comeback.