There used to be a saying in the wrestling business that a true star could always "talk people into the building."
You didn't necessarily have to have the skill set of a Lou Thesz or the showmanship of a Gorgeous George (although those qualities certainly didn't hurt). But you did have to possess the ability to connect emotionally with your audience and give them a reason to part with their hard-earned cash.
That's exactly what Roddy Piper did last week on Raw when the battled-scarred veteran delivered one of the most impassioned promos to hit the wrestling airwaves in a long time. This wasn't one of Rowdy Roddy's rambling, sometimes incoherent interviews of recent years. This was vintage Piper, long regarded as one of the best stick men in the business, making Chris Jericho a bigger heel with every word that came out of his mouth.
At age 54, Piper didn't need to put himself over or try to steal any thunder from Jericho, who has become one of the most effective heels in the wrestling business over the past year. His interview put the spotlight squarely on Jericho and his Wrestlemania-bound program with actor Mickey Rourke.
It's the kind of stuff that draws fans into the storyline and, more importantly, gives them a reason to care about what happens in the ring. It's also what made Piper such a valuable commodity in the business for more than a quarter of a century.
"It was one of Piper's very best promos in his newer, kinder persona the past decade," said wrestling historian and photographer Mike Lano. "Very passionate, and more shoot than work in terms of everything he said about needing to respect both the business itself and the legends like himself who paved the way for a Chris Jericho to portray his current, cocky, know-it-all self. Piper gave a very heartfelt, unique promo on Raw that we've not heard from him before."
Lano, who has known Piper since his early ring days in Los Angeles during the mid-'70s, says the promo was pure Piper.
"That was as pure Rodney Toombs as it gets ... the truth that some actually need to hear (certainly not the real Chris Irvine) in the biz - delivered with magic and eloquence by the great orator himself."
Piper, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in late 2006, now only infrequently appears on shows in the well-deserved role of "legend." But he proved last week that he can still work the magic and make people believe just like he did during the glory days of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling and countless other territories throughout the country, as well as the World Wrestling Federation's national expansion in the mid-'80s.
- Give credit to WWE for a marked improvement in character and storyline development in recent months. One puzzling aspect, however, is how they have struggled with an otherwise can't-miss angle with Randy Orton. He's the hottest heel in the business in spite of having Shane McMahon, a 39-year-old non-wrestler, pounding him from pillar to post on recent shows, including No Way Out and the following night on Raw. Orton didn't lose either match, but he needed help from Legacy cohorts Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes. That's no way to portray your top moneymaking heel.
And I'm still trying to figure out why the company recently explained Orton's rash of violent behavior by declaring the self-proclaimed "Legend Killer" had the behavioral disorder IED (intermittent explosive disorder). It's also interesting to note that a number of medical sources link the disorder to steroids as IED can be exacerbated by steroid use based on chemical changes in the individual's brain. Orton, not surprisingly, has ties to past steroid use.
Orton, nevertheless, has earned his way to the top of the WWE food chain. He very well could be the most compelling character in the company, and his in-ring ability improves each week. Hopefully the creative team won't make the same mistake twice by turning him babyface. At least not anytime soon.
- WWE officials are ecstatic over Raw's 4.1 rating for Monday night's show where nearly six million viewers tuned in. The number was the highest since December 2007.
- Steve Austin, who will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April, was being considered for a main-event match at Wrestlemania, most likely against Orton, but that possibility now seems remote in light of last weekend's title changes at No Way Out.
Now officially on "the road to Wrestlemania," the top bouts appear to be Orton vs. Triple H, with the current WWE world champ defending the title and the honor of the McMahon family (wife Stephanie, brother-in-law Shane and father-in-law Vince); John Cena vs. Edge for the WWE heavyweight title; and "Mr. Wrestlemania" Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker with Taker's Mania streak on the line.
Mickey Rourke, who appears to be the sentimental favorite going into tonight's Academy Awards show, is scheduled to be this year's guest celebrity in an angle with Chris Jericho.
Hulk Hogan said Friday on the Bubba The Love Sponge show that it was unlikely he would appear at Wrestlemania 25. The Hulkster said a recent conversation with Vince McMahon failed to produce a mutually acceptable scenario.
Rumors of a possible Hogan vs. Chris Jericho or Hogan vs. John Cena match had been floated in recent weeks. The 55-year-old Hogan has tried to drum up support for a Wrestlemania appearance the past three years without results. Hogan could conceivably be brought in for this year's 25th anniversary show if Rourke decides not to step into the ring.
- Comments continue to come in from the wrestling community regarding "The Wrestler."
Charlie Thesz, widow of legendary six-time NWA world champion Lou Thesz, was among those disappointed with the movie.
"I respect the independent film industry and working within a budget, but more research would have been a good investment," she said last week. "I didn't consider it a statement on the lower end of professional wrestling, as much as on the lower end of humanity. However, if wrestling was the chosen venue, why not have the professionalism in the film industry to honestly represent the wrestling industry? I am not denying the seediness of pro wrestling at its lowest level. I guess it is how my doctor friends feel about medical shows ... we are a little too smart for our own enjoyment."
Thomas Simpson, a professor at the University of South Carolina-Union and a College of Charleston alumnus who helped found the North Carolina-based OMEGA wrestling promotion, credits Rourke with a wonderful performance and thought "The Wrestler" was "an extremely well-made film."
"However, it is as realistic as Aranofski's 'Pi,'" added Simpson, referring to a 1998 psychological thriller directed by "The Wrestler" filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. "Early in the film, when the caricature promoter stiffs Randy 'The Ram' and he just sits there and takes it, that's a fantasy. If you want to see a 'legend' or a 'name' get angry, short their pay. I've been witness to some ugly incidents over the years (none due to my own actions). I found it hard to believe Randy was sleeping in his van. Someone like him would have a mark around who would put him up. Showing him on the gas was also a joke; indy guys his age don't have the means to do it. That movie is just pure melodramatic hooey."
- The proposed sitcom starring TNA star Mick Foley has been derailed, and producer Richard O'Sullivan is none too happy.
The South Carolina-born writer, producer and director is fuming over the fact that Foley backed out of the "Have A Nice Day" project. The comedy was built around Foley's true-life personality. He was to have played himself - a former pro wrestler and best-selling author who was pursuing an acting career. Producers had hoped to roll by this spring.
O'Sullivan says Foley had helped initiate the Lost Colony Entertainment project in 2008 with longtime friend Gail Bleckman of New York-based Amdram Productions. O'Sullivan came aboard as a writer and producer shortly thereafter and scripted the show's pilot episode.
"Mick has said over and over that he was disappointed with the whole show-pitching process because he had shows rejected so many times. And I related to that, and empathized with him. But what I can't relate to is his passive-aggressive BS attitude.
"If Jim Belushi wants a show, his agent or his production company set up meetings, they go in to talk to packagers, get other name talent attached, talk to financiers, then they go sit down with networks and they push to get a show. Mick didn't want to do that. He wanted something hand-delivered to him like (agent) Barry Bloom hand-delivers him his wrestling contracts."
O'Sullivan says that's not how the non-wrestling show-biz world works.
"Nobody hand-delivers anything to anybody in TV or film. Marshall Herskovitz is the president of the Producers Guild of America, and he had to launch a show on the Internet because he couldn't get network distribution. Martin Scorsese has had trouble getting projects launched. Robert Rodriquez has had major projects yanked out from under him at big studios. (Steven) Spielberg has even had to battle tooth-and-nail to wrestle Dreamworks back and get it positioned with the right deal.
"But guys like that keep going. They keep busting their (behinds). They never sit back and say 'Barry, bring me this.' Mick, though, has grown accustomed to having deals brought to him by Barry Bloom on a silver platter. And for the past 15 years, he's had two companies waiting in the wings to vie for his services. He bounced from WCW to WWE then to TNA. He always had that deal waiting for him like the morning paper and yeah, good for him, he broke his body for two decades in wrestling and he deserves to have those deals ... in wrestling. But what he doesn't deserve is the right to (take advantage of) other people on a whim."
O'Sullivan says Foley cited time constraints, specifically his TNA wrestling schedule and family commitments, as reasons for backing out of the project. He also questions whether Foley was really committed.
Foley himself expressed some reservation about the project during an interview several months ago. "You have to sell these concepts to the networks," Foley said in October. "Best I can tell that hasn't happened. I might be so tied up with TNA that I might not have time to make a decent attempt at network television."
O'Sullivan says the sitcom would have given both Foley and TNA major exposure.
"I'm terribly sorry that Hollywood isn't just sitting there waiting for Mick Foley to climb out of the ring and hobble over for a big guaranteed check and a start date. His name means very little outside of wrestling. It did 10 years ago but those days are long gone. His name meant a little when he was WWE and it means a little at Spike, but that network isn't throwing money into production."
O'Sullivan says one thing the show had going for it was "the Mickey Rourke buzz" as a result of the commercial success of "The Wrestler."
"It had a shot of being sold because studios and networks are taking a look at wrestling-related content now. But even that has a shelf life. The window isn't going to stay open for long. Hollywood-at-large isn't 'the Barry Bloom vacuum.' It's a whole other animal. And if he wanted it, he would've worked for it. And if he didn't want it, he had no right to string along a bunch of other people, then yank the carpet out from under them."
O'Sullivan says it wasn't the first time Foley had backed out of a similar project. The wrestler, he notes, last year returned to WWE without informing his partners in the sitcom and didn't call anyone until four days after he appeared on WWE television. O'Sullivan says he blew it off at the time as just being "wrestling."
"They don't play by the same rules as the rest of society."
Several months later, says O'Sullivan, Foley approached another one of the show's producers and indicated that he was unhappy with the WWE work environment and was interested in coming back to the sitcom. O'Sullivan says at the time they were talking to several "name actors" about replacing Foley on the show.
"After scribes and producers had worked for close to a year on the show - writing and rewriting scripts, crisscrossing the country to attach talent (including, at Foley's personal request, former porn star Christy Canyon), and setting up pitches at various television outlets - Foley suddenly backed out of the project again, citing time constraints."
Although O'Sullivan now says his team "has other fish to fry," he's having a hard time accepting what happened.
"What he did to the team working on his show was far worse than what Vince McMahon did to him. Vince McMahon gave him a platform to perform on and paid him handsomely to do it. The folks working on Mick's project were working on spec, based solely on his involvement and participation and he couldn't be bothered to either honor his word or break it off before they got in too deep."
"I was a Mick Foley fan going back to his 'Cactus Jack Manson' days in the late 80's," says O'Sullivan. "I'll never disparage him for his hard work and dedication in wrestling. And deep down, he's probably not a horrible person. But he handled this situation very badly, was utterly selfish and disrespectful to people who were busting their (behinds) for him, and I don't have much respect for him at this point."
- The always-controversial Jesse "The Body" Ventura has taken on Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig.
Noting that there's little difference between WWE owner Vince McMahon, who was accused and later found not guilty of distributing steroids to wrestlers during the early '90s, and Selig, who has overseen the increasing use of steroids in baseball, Ventura called for equally harsh criticism of Selig.
"In the early '90s, the federal government came into pro wrestling and tried to put Vince McMahon in prison for steroid use of wrestlers," the former pro wrestler and Minnesota governor recently told NBC's affiliate in Denver. "My question is: They've now determined 104 baseball players failed their steroid test in 2003 - 104. They indicted Vince McMahon; why aren't they indicting Bud Selig? He's the head of baseball ... it happened on his watch."
The baseball controversy recently hit fever pitch when Alex Rodriguez admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs for three years between 2001-03. Rodriguez was one of 104 players that tested positive in a 2003 test that was supposed to be anonymous and merely for informational purposes.
"What you have here is two sets of law enforcement," Ventura told the TV station. "One set: 'Oh, pro wrestling, let's go after the head of that and put him in prison for steroid use.' And pro wrestling is not even an athletic competition. We went to court and said we're sports entertainment. Here, you have a legitimate athletic competition with 104 guys using illegal drugs - cheating - and where's the indictment of Bud Selig on this?"
"They indicted Vince McMahon. He had to beat it with his own lawyers or go to prison," Ventura said. "How come Selig isn't being treated the same way?"
Ventura, who admitted in the '90s that he used steroids while he was a pro wrestler in the '80s, said he doubts that Selig and the other MLB owners were ignorant of the apparently rampant steroid use.
"You can't tell me for one minute that Bud Selig and the owners didn't know," said Ventura. "They were profiting from it. Baseball was dead in the water until the big home run race between (Mark) McGwire and Sosa - Sammy - and that rejuvenated baseball, made all the profits so Bud Selig could make $17 million a year."
- Condolences to Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk on the loss of their mother, Dorothy Funk Culver, 89, who recently passed away in Amarillo, Texas.
- D.H. Smith (Harry Smith), son of Diana Hart and the late British Bulldog (Davey Boy Smith), and T.J. Wilson, who the elder Smith trained, are expected to join Randy Orton's Legacy group. Wilson, going by the name of Tyson Kidd, made his WWE television debut on a recent edition of ECW on Sci-Fi and was managed by real-life girlfriend and fellow Calgary native Natalya (Nattie Neidhart).
Wilson was adopted into the Hart family at the age of 10 after befriending Teddy Hart. He also lived with Harry Smith for several years. He has dated Neidhart since 2001, and the two have lived together for more than five years.
WWE released the talented Scotty Goldman (former Ring of Honor star Colt Cabana) last week in somewhat of a surprise move.
- Robert Roode has signed a five-year contract extension with TNA.
"If TNA didn't step up to the plate, I would have tried a little bit harder (with WWE)," Roode told the Petersborough Examiner in his hometown in Ontario, Canada. "I have an agent working for me as well. It was one of those things where my heart wanted to stay here. And TNA wanted me to stay there too. So they stepped up to the plate and gave me a really nice offer."
- Last week's TNA Impact show set a company record with a 1.3 rating and nearly 1.9 million viewers. The show featured an "empty arena" match between Sting and Kurt Angle. The previous record was 1.8 million viewers on Jan. 15.
- Jim Cornette's much-anticipated book on The Midnight Express is expected to be out in April.
- From the "my how time flies" department: 16-time world champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair celebrates his 60th birthday on Wednesday.
- Chris "The Masterpiece" Masters and Lodi will appear at an Old School Championship Wrestling show at 6 p.m. March 1 at Weekend's Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. Former WCW performer Lodi also will defend his Universal title against Johnny Blaze.
Adult admission is $8; kids 12 and under $5. For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800. (Credit: Mike Mooneyham)
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"Rowdy" Roddy Piper