SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, November 26, 1999

Don't count the WWF out yet

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Vince McMahon has got to look at 1999 with mixed emotions. On the plus side, his WWF has soared higher than ever before, shattering every record for ratings, sales, buy-rates, and mainstream attention and sending wrestling into the stratosphere in terms of popularity. He even pioneered wrestling back into network television. Also, he can call himself a billionaire after his very successful public offering of the company.

It's unfortunate, then, that in the same year, it appears that he may also have lost his main star, Steve Austin, to injury. Add to that list The Undertaker and Droz, who are already out, the latter for good. In addition, his two top writers, Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, have fled to the greener, family-friendly pastures of WCW, and Bill Banks and Terry Taylor have followed suit. So did Jeff Jarrett. Even Mick Foley has announced his remaining time in the ring to be limited.

To top it all off, McMahon is deemed by many to be personally responsible for the greatest single tragedy ever to occur in wrestling, the horrible death of Owen Hart (R.I.P.).

In business, everything is about momentum, so it's bad news for the WWF that most of the good stuff happened in early 1999, with the notable exception of the death of Hart, and the bad stuff has been creeping up more recently. If we're talking about direction, McMahon is headed to a bad, bad place.

Or at least that's the perception. From the looks of things, it's almost time to pronounce a death sentence on Vince McMahon and WWFE, but that honestly could hardly be farther from the truth.

So Survivor Series sucked, as did this week's Raw -- this isn't big news. Even if you didn't want to attribute this to the transition period before new writers are hired to replace the fifty-something who seemed to have left recently, you still have to allow for some bad programming. Wrestling is live fifty-two weeks a year. It's not like this is a first or anything.

Second, you can look at all the injured or soon-to-be-retired talent, but look at all the new talent, too. The Rock is obviously capable of replacing Austin. He's clearly as over. It's been suggested that Austin, though, has more mainstream recognition than anyone else ever has or will in wrestling. He's done network television. He makes between five and ten million dollars a year, mostly on merchandise sales. He's even done a Got Milk? ad.

The Rock can be seen each and every week on network television. He claims to be making about five million dollars this year. He's flying out to film his own milk ad this weekend. Any question?

In addition to The Rock, McMahon has successfully acquired two other main event-caliber talents in Paul Wight and Chris Jericho, and still has plenty of time to build them into solid draws, just as he did to Triple H this year.

The addition of Taz should shore up any temporary weakness in the WWF roster caused by the recent departures. Heck, if Austin makes that much money here, I doubt he's really going to want to leave if he can avoid it. The WWF has announced ad nauseum that he'd remain on in some capacity, and I'm inclined to believe he would.

The main feud of 1998 and 1999 was Steve Austin versus Vince McMahon, and McMahon's not even a wrestler. The only difference is, now, neither is Austin.

There are no guarantees for the final year of the second millennium - that year being 2000 (the next millennium starts in the year 2001, whether or not you want to believe it). If McMahon doesn't get some new creative support, he may enter a funk and produce some wickedly boring television. With or without Vince Russo, he's got what it takes to be there, as well as not to be there. Meanwhile, Russo may turn WCW a hundred and eighty degrees, and it seems he already has. Whether or not that leads to success depends on any number of things.

I hate to take this approach, but really, the only thing we can do is wait and see. Just don't count the WWF out yet. In fact, you may as well discount Armageddon now, because it's shaping up to suck.

But that doesn't mean it's over. Not by a long shot.

On an entirely separate but nonetheless quick note, I did enjoy Nitro more than Raw this week. If that trend continues, week after week, the ratings will eventually shift, at least in part. And at least in my part.

Here's the mail.

Alex J.,, writes:
"Did you watch Mayhem? Great PPV, but man, Toronto SUCKS! Why are they booing Goldberg? I guess they're booing him just to say: 'Here it's WWF country, so F-YOU WCW.' When Arn Anderson was on the stretcher, some WWF marks were chanting ROCKY! ROCKY! I just hope that when WCW will come to Montreal (the french commentators said that they will in 2000), the fans will not be weird like that. The last time I went to a wrestling show was when Bret got screwed by McMahon (Hey, Montreal is a long way from Chicoutimi). Since then, I'm not really into the WWF, I'm more into WCW."

Alex, you have to realize that Bret Hart is perhaps the most over face in the history of Canadian wrestling, and anyone who works a program against him is bound to lose steam north of the border. The last time WCW was in Toronto for Nitro, Goldberg attacked Bret Hart and got his butt whooped. Maybe that's it.

As for the Rocky chants, well, his popularity transcends the WWF. But you're right, that's sure not the way to greet their guests. Not if they want them to come back more often. Can't say I blame them, though. Nor that I'm surprised. I mean, the WWF house show the day before drew more fans than the WCW pay-per-view. That says something.
[Editor's note: WCW was thrilled with the attendance in Toronto. The one end of the arena and part of one side was closed off because of TV cameras and the massive entrance.]

Raffi Shamir, from, writes:
"I really enjoy reading you columns every week. The last one, about internet fans, was great. But to continue what you wrote about the importance of actually going to a live show, you shouldn't forget that there are people that being an internet fan is the highest they can be. I'm talking about most of the international fans outside North America. I live in Jerusalem, Israel, and we don't even get regular TV broadcasts of the WWF and WCW (No one's heard of ECW here). We get Nitro in 3 months delay (They just showed Fall Brawl here this week) and it's time slot keeps changing every week. As for the WWF - we only get Metal and Superstars, and that 3-4 weeks delayed.

The last time any fed toured here was approx. 5-6 years ago when the WWF came here (And of course, I went to see the show in Jerusalem which was great). So my point is, many international fans can get their dose of wrestling and experience it only over the internet - by reading the newsboards for show results (the other choice is to wait three months for the show on TV) and reading editorials on sites like SLAM!. Another aspect is that the internet has really improved the shows. Can You imagine a "Powers that Be" angle 3-4 years ago without the internet newsboards who report about the backstage politics in the feds. And I also doubt that Mick Foley would have become a WWF champion without the internet fans voicing their appreciation to him. And do you remember when the WWF published results of taped Raw's and Smackdowns on their web site, to increase ratings? So the I think this "new era" of fans have completely changed the face of wrestling. Nowdays, as others said before, the feds aren't even trying to fool the fans into thinking what they see on TV is real. Sure, for some it's like finding out Santa isn't real, but I think all in all, it really improved the product."

You're right. Not only does the whole online wrestling scene allow international viewers to be closer to the action than they'd otherwise be able to be, but it's done a lot of good for the sport itself, for example Mick Foley and all the 'kayfabe' angles, as you say.

I'm glad we have readers from outside the traditional North American sphere who can write in and remind of things like this when I forget them. Thanks Raffi.

'Tis on that note that I must depart you. Thanks for reading, everyone, and for writing especially. Have a great week and a happy American Thanksgiving!

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