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Posts Tagged ‘Vince McMahon’

WWE still wrestling with their image

March 23rd, 2011 No comments

The XFL successfully avoided "football" fans in favor of the niche "spring outdoor entertainment" crowd.

Just another shining example of how Vince McMahon & Co. desperately want the world to believe they aren’t in the rasslin’ business. (Must be why most former longtime pro-wrestling fans no longer watch his product.)

TVWeek blogger Chuck Ross found out the hard way from WWE publicist/corporate drone Kellie Baldyga that McMahon’s organization  is a “global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.” His recent telephone conversation with Baldyga sounds like an Abbott & Costello routine.

From Ross’ March 18 post:

I hadn’t given the WWE much thought lately when we here at TVWeek received a press release the other day that we wrote up and published as follows: Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!

Comedic actor and game show host Drew Carey is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame. According to the WWE, “Carey established his place in WWE history as a surprise entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. However, Carey’s fortunes quickly turned, when the massive WWE Superstar Kane entered the ring, prompting Carey to eliminate himself from the match.”

The announcement adds, “The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony…will take place at the Philips Arena [in Atlanta] on Saturday, April 2, and the one-hour TV special will air Monday, April 4, at 8/7c on USA Network.”

Next thing I know, I’ve received an email from one Kellie Baldyga, a publicist for WWE, DEMANDING that we correct the story. She also copied our owner, Rance Crain, on the email.

What had drawn her ire was the headline. Baldyga wrote in her email, “We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.”

No doubt WWE is into more things than just wrestling, which is its bread and butter, I thought, but this can’t really be a big deal. I was busy and emailed her I’d call her the next day, which was yesterday, March 17.

First thing yesterday morning I received this email from her: “Chuck, did you mean call me today (Thursday)? I apologize but I really need the correction made sooner than later if possible…”

As regular readers to this blog may recall, for most of my career as a journalist I haven’t gotten along with most publicists. Most of them don’t like me, and I don’t have patience for many publicists.

Baldyga was beginning to bother me. First, our headline was perfectly fine and accurate. Second, what was this “demand” about changing OUR headline?

I called her and introduced myself. The conversation then basically went as follows:

Me: Your release says that Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

Kellie: No, we don’t do wrestling events. They’re entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re superstars and divas.

I’m thinking to myself, is she kidding me? Is this woman mad? The company’s official name is World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Its crown jewel is an event called WrestleMania. In the best tradition of wrestling on TV since its earliest days, they put on terrific shows (and events), with athletes who are performers and they’ve got storylines that are far more elaborate than any Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie would have ever imagined. Why would they want to run away from who they are, from what’s made them wildly successful beyond most people’s dreams?

Me: Kellie, I really don’t have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I’m not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you’d like, I’ll just remove it.

Kellie: Huh? What?

Me: Kellie, I don’t have time for this. What do you want me to do?

Kellie: Remove it.

So I did.

Kellie sent me a follow-up email saying “I hope nothing was contentious in our conversation…” She added, “I know the perception is that we are a wrestling company but we are actually much more than that–we are a global media company which is how our Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, positions us.”

Whatever. Take away wrestling from WWE and what do you basically have? I don’t think WWE is quite as diverse as global media companies such as News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom, but what do I know.

Yikes. That was a rather sad exchange. Like it or not, Vince, you’ve built that company on wrestling–not your failed forays into bodybuilding federations, pro football leagues, nutritional products and, now, movies.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this year’s Entertain-A-Mania.

UPDATE (3/24): Last night, CM Punk tweeted, “No stupid coats. No pyro. No dancers. No bells, no whistles. Never needed it. I am a wrestler.” Somebody alert Baldyga.

Black Saturday: Vince McMahon takes over World Championship Wrestling in July 1984 (Complete Episode)

February 9th, 2011 5 comments

World beater: McMahon takes over the WTBS time slot.

As a kid in the early ’80s, I was delighted to find Ted Turner’s rasslin’ on WTBS, which was beamed out of Atlanta and into my grandmother’s Memphis home via this remarkable “cable TV” technology. I was thrilled that I was now able to again follow the career of local-boy-done-good Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, who had become the hottest babyface in the country, thanks to an ever-increasing audience nationwide on Turner’s network.

With savvy promoter Jim Barnett and his stars like Mr. Wrestling II, the Freebirds, Austin Idol, Dusty Rhodes, Masked Superstar, Magnificent Muraco, Roddy Piper, Ivan Koloff and Stan Hansen, the Georgia Championship Wrestling office had become one of the hottest promotions in the country.

Through WTBS, I finally got to see NWA World champ Ric Flair style and profile, though unfortunately at the time, he was locked in a heated feud with Bad, Bad Leroy Brown–an angle that started over the Nature Boy’s inability to beat the would-be Jim Croce character in an arm-wrestling match. (But with his Walter Cronkite-like delivery, announcer Gordon Solie made it all seem logical.)

The first sign of national prominence for the Georgia promotion was following an angle in which Wrestling II was cheated out of a golden opportunity to defeat NWA kingpin Harley Race for the 10 pounds of gold in 1980. Fans were encouraged to participate in a letter-writing campaign, which led to II being awarded the Champion of Champions Cup (pissing off Race and several members of the NWA board in the process). In addition to receiving thousands of cards and letters from Georgia and throughout the South, there also was a ton of correspondence from fans in Ohio, Michigan, Maryland and West Virginia.

As WTBS and Georgia Championship Wrestling began penetrating more and more cable markets located in traditional NWA strongholds, a few of the more observant Alliance promoters began to get nervous–fears that were compounded when Barnett began to extend his house shows into towns like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Wheeling, WV. GCW had an amazing run in 1981, including three NWA World title changes in Georgia within a period of a little over three months (Race to Rich and back to Race in April and then to Dusty in June). NWA promoters like Crockett were smart enough to realize the advantages of such exposure, sending his stars to make frequent appearances in Atlanta, most notably a young Flair, who would benefit when it came time for the NWA board to name a new World champion. Others, like Fritz Von Erich, couldn’t see the big picture and reportedly made it difficult whenever sons Kevin and David were contacted about coming in to appear on WTBS.

By fall 1983, to shed its Southern image, GCW had evolved into World Championship Wrestling, while its state titles were renamed “National” championships. The new WCW had a stranglehold over TV wrestling.

World Championship material: Ric Flair shined on GCW and, later, WCW.

Domination of the wrestling industry seemed destined for the NWA’s hands as WCW extended its house-show business north to Detroit (The Sheik Ed Farhat’s longtime territory, which was on its last legs) and in traditional WWF markets like Baltimore. Terry Funk saw the writing on the dressing-room wall when Amarillo fans kept asking to see WCW stars like Rich instead of the local talent; he and Dory Jr. sold their promotion while it was still profitable, realizing that it was inevitable that whoever secured national television would rule the business and kill the territories.

Of course, nothing lasts in the wrestling biz: WCW booker/minority stock owner Ole disliked Barnett and accused him of stealing from the company in an effort to oust him, a power struggle Anderson would win. With Barnett forced out heading into 1984, WCW was a mess, a combination of bad booking, poor management and stale stars, most notably, Rich, who had started to go downhill fast because of his lifestyle.

The emergence of the the Road Warriors pumped some life into the promotion, but there were inherent limitations in booking two inexperienced muscleheads whose gimmick was to eat up long-established stars like the Brisco Brothers and Mr. Wrestling I and II. Ole clearly demonstrated that he was in over his head booking a suddenly national promotion, pulling stunts like Brett and Buzz Sawyer defeating the Warriors for the National tag titles in several cities throughout the week…and then Hawk and Animal showing up on TV the following Saturday with the straps and no mention of a title change or reversed decision.

Even though by ’84–long after its heyday of ’79-’82–Atlanta TV came off like a watered-down version of Memphis wrestling,  the WCW show still gave a geek-boy like me something to look forward to on late Saturday afternoons as the Memphis crew was heading from the WMC-TV Studios to Nashville for a card that night.

Saturday, July 14, 1984, started off just like any other. That morning I watched  Jerry Lawler, Jimmy Hart, Austin Idol, Stagger Lee (Koko Ware using the name of the song and the infamous Junkyard Dog alter ego), Harley Davidson (the WWF’s future Hillbilly Jim), King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude and Randy Savage on Memphis TV, and arranged the rest of my day so I’d be home just in time for World Championship Wrestling. At 5:05 Central Time, my jaw caved like Bob Armstrong’s after an attack at the loaded-gloved hand of Ted DiBiase: Flair, Brad Armstrong, the Warriors, Ronnie Garvin, Pez Whatley–even Solie–were gone. I sat in amazement as longtime voice-over announcer Freddie Miller (noted for urging fans to “BE THERE!” for loaded cards at the Omni) introduced Vince Jr., who promptly promised to deliver the very best in “professional wrestling entertainment“–a sharp contrast to WCW announcer Solie, who treated wrestling as a legit sport.

In their place stood 38-year-old Vince McMahon Jr. and, over the next few weeks, a host of wrestlers who had abandoned the AWA and NWA as part of Jr.’s nationwide vision: “Mean” Gene OkerlundJesse “the Body” Ventura, Rick Steamboat, the Iron Sheik, Paul Orndorff, Roddy Piper and David Schultz. After a purchasing a majority of WCW stock from Jack and Jerry Brisco, who had become disenchanted with Anderson and the National Wrestling Allicance, General McMahon was launching a full-scale invasion on the business. (If you think I was surprised, you should have Ole’s face when he showed up at the WTBS studio to find Gorilla Monsoon, who told him of the stock sale and informed him that his services would not be needed that day.)

Wrestling, as I knew it at least, would never be the same. Prior to the WCW time-slot acquisition, Vince Jr. already had cable TV, on the USA Network, taking over the Sunday noon ET timeslot formerly reserved for Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling in 1983. USA at that time, however, was more like the less-talented kid brother of WTBS. Following his removal of power in Georgia, Barnett had become an important ally of McMahon and helped put the stock deal together with the Brisco, enabling Jr. and the WWF to rule cable TV wrestling.

McMahon, however, immediately got off on the wrong foot with WTBS, when the station’s switchboard was flooded with calls from angry viewers complaining about the switch to the Former Fed. Tensions between McMahon and Turner escalated when Vince backed out on his promise to deliver matches taped in the WTBS studio consistently (WWF did tape a few shows there) and instead largely insisted on showing the same bouts that were already airing nationwide in syndication and on the USA Network.

In response to the fans’ outcry, Turner gave Ole and Solie an early morning Saturday morning timeslot, featuring a brief NWA “merger” involving Anderson, Crockett Jr. and Memphis promoter Jerry Jarrett–a union that was doomed from the start. Turner then began airing Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling on WTBS, which soundly defeated WWF in the SuperStation ratings.

Of course, the McMahons have since claimed that WWF delivered very strong ratings in 1984–so impressive that Turner wanted to get into the rasslin’ business himself. Their version of history is that McMahon refused Turner’s offer to buy into the company, further straining the already shaky relationship between the two business moguls.

Regardless, by early 1985, Turner wanted the WWF off his station, and, eventually, Vince caved and sold the timeslot to Jim Crockett Promotions. And the war between McMahon and Crockett was on.

Even after all these years, it’s still surreal seeing Vince standing in front of the iconic World Championship Wrestling TV backdrop.

Here’s the full episode of that dark day in wrestling history.

YouTube Finds: Vince McMahon spells it out for Jeff Jarrett

August 3rd, 2010 7 comments

I have it on good authority that Vince McMahon never viewed Jeff Jarrett, the son of longtime Memphis wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett, as a main-event superstar. The elder Double J had approached McMahon in 1992 about a roster spot for Jeff, who had not only developed into a solid worker in his Tennessee-based USWA territory but had also put on considerable size with a strict regimen of training, prayers and Hulk Hogan vitamins (later known as “ICO PRO”). Jeff  had gone as far he could in his father’s territory and was hitting his stride as a performer, so McMahon’s Midas touch was the most logical next step. Those discussions spawned a working agreement between the WWF and USWA, which became a farm system for McMahon, who in return would send his established superstars to help keep Jarrett’s struggling local promotion afloat.

Undoubtedly, McMahon was also very interested in the services of Jerry Lawler as part of the arrangement and quickly made him an integral part of WWE broadcasts, where the King still remains as host of RAW. McMahon also entrusted Jerry Jarrett to help run the WWF while the owner was headed to trial after the goverment concluded its investigation into allegations that McMahon had distributed steroids to several of his stars. In addition to pressure from the federal trial, Jarrett was reportedly persausive in convincing McMahon that he would be would better off continuing his focus on smaller workers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels (two performers Jerry was extremely high on) in the long run. The Tennessee promoter says today that the stressful stint in New York in the early ’90s nearly drove him to alcholism as he was drinking two bottles of wine a night–he appears to be only slightly joking.  Jarrett also laughs when admitting that it was he who unleashed on the world the Mr. McMahon heel character, which began in Memphis with his feud with Lawler. The King tried to remain a babyface in his home territory while appearing as a heel in the WWF, but it was confusing for a lot of area fans and probably hurt his credibility to an extent. To explain his nastiness to the hometown faithful, Lawler blamed his erratic behavior on his hatred of the WWF and its fans in New York City, Boston and throughout the Northeast, where they looked down on Southerners and our way of life.

 

 

While Jeff had a good look (except for that cheesy ’80s-era hair and the worst outfits of any athlete since Flo-Jo), he couldn’t cut a promo to save his life. Convinced he could make anyone a superstar, McMahon produced a series of videos attempting to get the promo-challenged former USWA star over as a country singer who actually knew how to spell his own name. (Show-off.) After months of production on the vignettes, an exasperated McMahon confided to Lawler (who in turn told me) that Jeff was the worst promo guy he’d ever worked closely with in the business, including former Federation champion Bob Backlund. (Clearly, McMahon had never worked with George Gulas.)

Despite his limitations on the mic, Jeff was capable of having a good match with almost anyone and great bouts with the likes of Razor Ramon, whom he defeated for the Intercontinental title when the belt still meant something, and Michaels, whom he dropped the belt to on PPV. It’s hard to pinpoint: Jeff was always gregarious and a pretty funny guy backstage but his personality was never effectively conveyed on camera. In that sense, Jeff was the reverse of “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, who was quiet and mild-mannered backstage but (as Memphis announcer Dave Brown recalls) “exploded through the curtain” for his promos.

After a stint in WCW, Jarrett returned to WWE without the hokey gimmick in 1997 in one of those worked shoots that were becoming increasingly prevalent (and annoying) at the time in a misguided attempt to appeal to “the Internet marks.” Although it was the strongest promo of his life, Jeff pissed off Steve Austin, who later refused to work a main-event program with him. (The two had also exchanged words years earlier in Memphis, a conversation I was privy to.)

By 1999, Jarrett was ready to make the jump back to WCW with head writer Vince Russo (a union that would not only help kill WCW but would also doom TNA). The day before Jarrett’s WWE swan song, dropping the IC title to Chyna on PPV, his contract expired. Reportedly, Jeff refused to work the show and do the honors (or perhaps dishonors in this case since the job was for Chyna) unless he received a large sum of money up front (supposedly between $250,000 and $300,000). Given the buildup for the bout and Chyna‘s big push as a wrestler (hard to fathom in hindsight), McMahon had no choice but to cave to Jeff’s demands–but he never forgot.

Jarrett went on to have four largely forgettable runs as the holder of the WCW World title, which Russo booked to change hands nearly every other week to pop WCW’s falling ratings, including a victory over actor/savvy ring veteran David Arquette.

After acquiring the dying WCW and winning the Monday Night War in 2001, McMahon evaluated Jarrett’s chances for being retained by the new ownership during the stunning Nitro/RAW simulcast…and as the title of the video implies, indirectly helped to create TNA in the process and ensure the continuation of Russo’s unlikely employment in the industry. Classic McMahon.