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2004: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

By THE PWINSIDER.COM STAFF on 2005-01-03 09:00:00

NOVEMBER

They not only cleaned out the house, they went for the attic, basement and garage too. On November 1st, WWE.com reported that Billy Gunn and A Train has been released by the company. Later that day, Test was added to the story.

Billy Gunn had been with WWE for over a decade, winning the Tag Team Championship ten times, as well as the Intercontinental Title, the Hardcore Title (twice) and was the 1999 King Of The Ring winner. He was part of DeGeneration X during the height of the "Attitude" era, but was never able to break out on his own. He later received a great deal of national press for the hoax gay wedding with tag team partner Chuck Palumbo. He recently was the taking time to deal with "personal problems" following an incident where he passed out in an airport.

A-Train was originally brought in under the moniker Prince Albert, the personal body piercer for Darren Drosdov. Other than a short Intercontinental Title reign, A-Train was primarily used in tag teams, most notably with Test and The Big Show. He was traded from the Smackdown brand to the Raw brand right after Wrestlemania XX, then was promptly ignored. He only wrestled one match on Raw, a loss to Chris Jericho, and one match on Heat, a loss to Val Venis, since the trade.

Test, who has enjoyed a number of on-again, off-again pushes during his WWE run, probably achieved his greatest fame for "almost" marrying Stephanie McMahon during the start of the on-screen Stephanie-Triple H relationship. A number of face and heel turns did little to help him rise above the mid-card ranks. He had neck fusion surgery this past July, and was expected to sit on the sidelines for a full year. WWE has now released him, four months into his recovery. Test was released while he was still out rehabbing his neck after having extensive surgery in June. He is still looking at least six more months of rehab on the neck but was still let go by WWE. Releasing someone while they were rehabbing a work related injury is something that they rarely did in the past. Martin received the news via a phone call from John Laurinaitis, who told him that it was not his decision but that of Vince McMahon. When asked why he was being let go, Laurinaitis told him that for what he was being paid, WWE could sign six developmental talents and it was purely a financial decision. When Test asked Laurinaitis what he was supposed to do for the next six months when he was not able to work, a source close to the situation told me that he was told by Laurinaitis, “I had hoped that you saved some money” or words to that effect. Laurinaitis then told Test to give WWE a call when he’s healthy again about maybe coming back to work, which he reportedly said “no thanks” to. 

On November 3rd, WWE announced on their website that they had released Chuck Palumbo, Nidia and Gail Kim.

Nidia was one of two winners (Maven was the other) from the inaugural season of Tough Enough in 2001. After spending time in Ohio Valley Wrestling, she was given the role of being Jamie Noble's girlfriend, portraying a redneck character on Smackdown. Last year, following Wrestlemania, she was traded to the Raw brand, with the idea that she would eventually become a serious challenger for the Women's Title. However, her ring skills never showed as much development as other women on the roster, and she was soon relegated to a supporting role on the Women's roster.

Gail Kim was given an immediate push in June of 2003, winning the Women's Title in a battle royal. However, a broken collarbone sidelined her in November of that year. She returned to the ring four months later, then spent more time on the sidelines this past summer after injuring her leg. Since her initial push, she has mostly worked as the sidekick to other heels like Molly Holly and Trish Stratus (including this past Monday on Raw).

Chuck Palumbo, a product of the WCW Powerplant, was one of the "magic 24" performers who were under contract to WCW when WWE purchased the company, and had their contracts picked up by WWE. Palumbo had his highest profile role as part of a gay tag team with Billy Gunn, even garnering mainstream press coverage for their "gay wedding" (which turned into a swerve that many media outlets and gay rights organizations fell for). He was then put with Nunzio and Johnny Stamboli as part of the FBI, but following Wrestlemania, he was traded to the Raw brand. He became a frequent performer on Sunday Night Heat, and actually had a very good match with Chris Benoit this past week.

On November 4th, WWE.com has added Johnny Stamboli, Rodney Mack and Jazz to the story on Gail Kim, Chuck Palumbo and Nidia being released. That evening, a new story was posted, revealing that Rico had also been released by the company.

Jazz made her WWF debut in 2001 at the Survivor Series, and soon won the Women's Title, defending it for over three months, including defeating Trish Stratus and Lita at Wrestlemania X-8. However, her momentum was halted in May of 2002 when she underwent surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament. She returned in January of 2003, and was paired briefly with Teddy Long. She enjoyed a second title reign from April to June of 2003. Over the last year she mostly worked as a supporting player in tag matches as the focus shifted to Molly Holly, Trish Stratus, and Victoria.

Johnny Stamboli was picked up by WWE when WCW was purchased in March 2001. However, instead of putting him right on television, Stamboli went to work in Les Thatcher's HWA, then a developmental territory for WWE. He finally made his WWE television debut in June of 2002, and mostly worked undercard matches and occasional Heat bouts. He was a part of the dying Hardcore Division, holding the belt three times in July of 2002 before it was put to rest the following August. Stamboli was given new life as part of the FBI with Nunzio and Chuck Palumbo in 2003, and was a regular part of Velocity over the last year.

Rodney Mack, the real life husband of Jazz, who worked in ECW as Redd Dogg, never seemed to get off the ground in WWE. He was introduced in January of 2003, helping John Cena against former partner Bull Buchanan, but that storyline was forgotten after two weeks. He was then paired with Teddy Long the following month, taking over the role of a black wrestler who was being "held back" by management, a role D'Lo Brown had been playing before his departure from the company. The storyline continued, on and off, for five months, (Mack was also partnered with Chris Nowinski during this time) but never went anywhere and was dropped as well. Since then, it has been occasional Heat matches and battle royal appearances when it came to Mack and WWE television.

Rico, the former police officer (and American Gladiators contestant) was a product of Ohio Valley Wrestling, spending almost three years there before being brought onto Smackdown in March of 2002 as the "stylist" of Billy & Chuck. Mostly performing managerial duties, he would also wrestle six-man tags and occasional singles matches. After the wedding fiasco in September of 2002, Rico switched to Raw, scoring the biggest singles win of his career, a clean pin over Ric Flair on the September 16, 2002 edition of the show. He was then paired up with 3 Minute Warning, again in a managerial role for several months, before being repackaged in a gimmick very similar to 80's worker Exotic Adrian Street. He was paired with Miss Jackie Gayda, and were traded to the Smackdown brand after Wrestlemania. A storyline was done where Rico and Charlie Haas became "Odd Couple" partners, and won the WWE Tag Team Championship. Rico suffered a hamstring injury during their title loss to the Dudley Boyz, but returned to action a short time later.

Almost all of the other talent were released for financial reasons. Billy Gunn and A-Train made in the area of $200,000 a year and that ended up costing them their jobs. In Gunn’s case, there were also outside elements from his personal life that factored into him being let go, but the decision was largely financial. In the case of A Train, sources have told me that there were no other factors at all other than money. This has many of the workers in the locker room on edge, for obvious reasons.

More reasons for wrestlers to like Johnny Ace.  At a wrestlers' meeting, John  Laurinaitis told the wrestlers that their cut of the money from the previous month’s highly successful European tour won’t be paid to them for at least another month, and probably longer, due to the amount of time that it takes to get the money from the European venues. Since it was the best check that the guys would have seen in a while, they had hoped to get it sooner rather than later, but they won’t. Laurinaitis then offered any wrestler who needed it a “cash advance” against future earnings. It’s fair to say that a lot of the workers find it incredible that they are television stars and yet aren’t paid like it. But, the general feeling is that the offer was made more in a way to keep people from complaining about money than it was as a way of actually helping the talent. 

Most people would consider this a sign to pull back.  WWE will probably just add five more shows to milk the remaining fans of a few more bucks. In numbers released by WWE, the 10/3 No Mercy PPV did about 190,000 buys while Taboo Tuesday did about 170,000 buys. These are the first two shows in company history to do less than 225,000 buys and say a lot about the state of WWE’s business. While WWE will still make money from the shows, it’s becoming pretty clear that there is a saturation point for WWE events and they have probably found it. From a pure dollars and cents point of view, even though they did fewer buys per show this month than they have done for recent single-brand shows, they did more overall buys and even after the costs of doing the extra show are factored in, they still made more money than they would have if they had done only one PPV this month. The WWE brand though, took a hit in the eyes of the PPV industry, and the company learned that the loyalty of their fans to buy whatever they throw out there has its limits. Obviously, the drop in buys for this month’s two events shows that 225,000 buys is not the bottom core audience that will “buy all the shows”. They now know that figure is much lower. The poor showing probably devalued the WWE brand in the eyes of the PPV industry. Whereas they may have been viewed as a Walmart product before, now they may be seen as “dollar store” fare. But, in the end they did make more money with two shows than they would have with one.

This is called bracing yourself for impact. WWE posted the following on their website prior to Raw: New Arab-American characters to make debut on Monday Night RAW. According to article on parents.wwe.com posted earlier today, WWE is introducing two new Arab-American characters on Monday Night RAW. Muhammad Hassan and Khosrow Daivari are U.S. citizens who have grown up in America. They love their country. However, they now face a new and different kind of relationship with their fellow U.S. citizens as a result of being Arab-American in a United States still struggling with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. RAW will explore the challenges Hassan and Daivari face as Hassan tries to make his mark as a new WWE Superstar under the guidance of Daivari as his manager.

Here's the kicker. Khosrow Daivari was not actually speaking Arabic during his promos on Raw. It was actually Farci. Sam sent along a transcript of what he had actually said: "Hello, my name is Khosrow Daivari and this is my friend, Mohammed Hassan. We have lived here since childhood. We went to school together, we ate together, and we used to watch television together. But after September 11, you look at us like we are animals. You look at us like we are (missed the word). I am telling you right now, this man and I are good people and we will show you when we come to work for WWE. Thank you."

Think Vince is regretting violating their original agreement now? The World Wildlife Fund filed a lawsuit against WWE, again. The Fund, which doesn't even use the WWF initials anymore, claimed that WWE was still "violating a legally binding agreement over the use of our initials" causing damage by creating confusion over the organizations. Because, as we all know, so many people confuse conservation organizations with professional wrestling. 

If WCW had stayed in business, there's a chance they all would have won the belt at some point. At the opener of the NBA season on TNT, the World Champion Detroit Pistons were given their championship rings. When they came out for the ceremony, they were all wearing replica WWE World Heavyweight Championship Title belts, which were given to them by star Rasheed Wallace. According to the Detroit Free Press, Wallace got them from WWE. The story added that, “The 25 belts Wallace passed out aren't finished. He said he would get a globe put in the middle, with half representing a basketball and the other half the world to symbolize world champions.” 

It's not just wrestlers who are let go by WWE. Smackdown brand Creative team member Dan Madigan was let go personally by Stephanie McMahon. The main reason he was released was that his ideas just weren’t what WWE was looking for. He was into and came up with a lot of the over-the-top stuff like Booker T’s Mama Sangria, Mordecai, Hirohito, etc. His departure left the Smackdown creative team at two, Paul Heyman and Dave Lagana. 

One more release for good measure. World Wrestling Entertainment released Demond Thompson, who appeared briefly several times in different on-air roles. Thompson originally appeared as Bruce the Butler in several APA sketches and later as Lamont, the butler for Ernest Miller, during vignettes used to introduce Miller as an in-ring performer for WWE. Thompson had been signed to a WWE developmental deal in November 2003. He had been working in OVW under the ring name Morris prior to being let go.

Not cool at all. Carlito Caribbean Cool was injured during a match with Bob Holly in Ft. Myers, Florida. All the trainers and Sgt. Slaughter came out to check on him after he took a bad fall out of the ring. He had to be helped to the back and lost the match via countout. After the show, he was seen walking out of the arena with his left arm in a sling. He separated his shoulder, killing his push, and putting him on the shelf to this day. 

Too tough for an Olympic hero? Kurt Angle was less than happy backstage at Smackdown after almost being forced to tap out to Tough Enough contestant Daniel Puder's keylock when the two sparred in the ring on Smackdown. Downright ticked off would probably be the best way to describe his mood. The unscripted nature of the contest was the main reason that Angle was made to look so bad since Puder just reacted to the situation and could have forced Angle to submit had the referees not thought quickly and counted a pin that wasn’t there on Puder. While there are some workers in the locker room who haven't exactly been fans of Angle's politics backstage of late, the general feeling was that the company is putting the workers in bad situations by having them in "shoot" scenarios. For the record, the idea to put Kurt Angle in “shoot” situations on Smackdown last week came from Raw writer Brian Gewirtz. 

With all due respect, that are a lot of younger puppies in the pound now. Debra Williams, the former Mrs. Steve Austin, was backstage at the Raw taping in Austin, Texas. The word going around the back was that she was looking to see if there was any chance that she could come back to WWE. According to one source, Williams has had some facial surgery but was still said to look "hot." Unfortunately, the same source noted that Williams' attitude was, "worse than even before when she was with Austin."

Now, if he can come up with a ringname as cool as "Venus Flytrap", he might have potential. WWE has hired a new Managing Editor for the WWE creative team in Tom Chehak. A writer/director/producer who has worked mostly on television projects including Pamela Anderson's VIP, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Alien Nation and WKRP in Cincinnati. Stephanie McMahon was said to consider Chehak her new "right hand man" in the company.

Yeah, it really was done as a welcoming gesture. WWE was at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL taping their Royal Rumble commercial when they got a surprise group of visitors as TNA's Jeremy Borash, David Sahadi and some other unidentified company employees stopped by the taping. According to reports, they were seen talking to Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho. Vince McMahon was said to be far less than happy by them showing up. Also, Val Venis and Rhyno were also hanging out with the Team Canada guys at the post Impact bar. Those guys all broke into the business together. 

TNA released a tongue-in-cheek press release on the interaction, writing "TNA staff was elated that the WWE was coming to their home. While filming vignettes that day for TNA’s upcoming pay-per-view, “Turning Point”, TNA Superstars 3 Live Kru, Traci, Abyss and “The Franchise” Shane Douglas decided to offer some hospitality and welcome WWE to their home. Carrying cookies and balloons, they approached the WWE talent during a break in their shooting. However, the congenial welcome was met with ungracious resistance. The WWE talent immediately withdrew to their studio, where they remained sequestered behind closed doors."  TNA would show footage of the visit, complete with blurred out faces of WWE employees (including Rey Mysterio) on their Turning Point Pay-per-view. 

Not exactly the kind of showdown you would expect.  Hulk Hogan arrived at the TNA Victory Road PPV with Brian Knobbs of the Nasty Boys. Panda Energy's Bob Carter actually sent out the invitation for Hulk Hogan to attend the Victory Road PPV so Hogan could check out the product himself and see if he would like to get involved with the company. Hogan watched most of the show from the gorilla position with TNA's Dixie Carter. Randy Savage came to the PPV with Bryan Adams (last seen in Kronik in WCW) who was the tour manager of Savage's rap CD tour. Hulk Hogan was said to have been very friendly with the boys backstage at the TNA PPV, while Randy Savage sequestered himself from everyone.

Hogan did speak with Randy Savage while they were both backstage, and one person who saw them talking described it as "awkward." Another person who saw Hulk Hogan's meeting with Randy Savage said that Hogan tried to smooth things over and Savage responded with a comment blowing him off. Two days later, with Savage scheduled to appear on Impact! and set up the "Turning Point" PPV main event (penciled in as Savage, AJ Styles & Monty Brown vs. Jeff Jarrett, Kevin Nash & Scott Hall), Savage called up TNA officials this afternoon and pulled out of all future appearances. According to one source who was backstage at the Impact! taping, Savage claimed to TNA officials that the company had an "unsafe working environment", stemming from his backstage run-in with Hulk Hogan at the PPV Sunday night. According to the source, when Savage blew off Hogan backstage during their brief conversation at Victory Road, Hogan then offered to step outside with Savage and settle their differences, just as Savage had challenged him to do publicly on several occasions. Hogan then offered for their issues to be left in the past. Savage ignored the comments and walked away.

This is one release that was actually long overdue. World Wrestling Entertainment released Tough Enough 2 winner Linda Miles, who appeared on Smackdown as Shaniqua. There was talk of bringing her up to the main roster again, but Miles' actions in developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling caused WWE management to decide otherwise. WWE.com announced her departure on November 12th Miles had been sent to OVW with the idea that she would continue training to be brought back for an eventual singles role on the Raw roster. She had been hindered by her attitude for her entire WWE run, which is partially what caused her to be sent back down to developmental after working as The Basham Brothers' manager on the Smackdown brand. Her attitude did not improve in OVW, as she butted heads with Jim Cornette and often missed training sessions. The last straw for Miles was said to have been a match at an Ohio Valley Wrestling TV taping against Alexis Laree that was booked because WWE management wanted to see her progress. The match was so bad that OVW decided to edit it off their TV and instead air a replay of a Halloween costume contest instead. Miles was said to not have even cared about the criticism of the bout. The decision was made at that point to cut her, although it took some time for management to track her down to inform her of the cut.

Well, the food will certainly be better now. World Wrestling Entertainment sent out a press release on November 17th, announcing that the Hard Rock Cafe has leased the former site of WWF New York/The World from the company. The agreement removes WWE from all responsibility of the property. World Wrestling Entertainment closed down the facility in February 2003, citing a $32.9 million loss. 

If they don't care, why should we? WWE creative doesn’t even pay attention to their own TV shows now. On an edition of Smackdown, they pushed that it was Chavo Guerrero’s first match back since his injury to Billy Kidman, even though he wrestled on Velocity, against Spike Dudley, the previous week! On top of that, Chavo pinned the Cruiserweight Champion, which obviously tied into the Survivor Series match involving them. 

It's as close to a comeback as we will probably get from her. During an all-ECW edition of WWE Byte This, former ECW star Beulah McGuillicuty made her first public appearance since leaving the business in 1998. McGuillicuty came on the air briefly via telephone to talk to a fan who had correctly answered a trivia question. She said that she is doing great and thanked the fan for his support of ECW. After McGuillicuty had left the show, Paul Heyman noted that she was now married to Tommy Dreamer and at one point, turned down a $10,000 offer from ECW to return for one appearance against Dawn Marie during Dreamer's feud with Lance Storm. Heyman also noted that when she left, she was out so completely that ECW's videogame license Acclaim had to personally negotiate with her in order to include her as a legends character in the first ECW videogame, Hardcore Revolution.Heyman says that Beulah was the greatest valet in ECW history and notes that WWE writers like Dave Lagana and Ed Croskey ask about Beulah He said that they tried to make her a heel and the fans loved her – it was “Miss Elizabeth times ten.” Dreamer then asked “How come if so many former ECW fans are on the writing team, I’m not on Raw or Smackdown – what the hell?”

Smackdown gets most of the attention, but Raw went there too.  WWE Raw superstars Ric Flair, Chris Benoit, Val Venis, Trish Stratus and Lita visited military bases in the Middle East, meeting the troops and spending several days eating and sharing barracks with the troops as part of a tour organized by Armed Forces Entertainment. 

He wouldn't be back for long.  Despite the Hulk Hogan incident described above, Randy Savage returned to TNA.  Part of the agreement for his return to the company was limo service from his home to the event, as well as a private dressing room separate from the other wrestlers. Savage was also given two security guards of his choice at the events for his protection. The guards picked were Bryan Adams and Ron Harris, who were each stationed at the gorilla positions and were given walkie talkies in “case of a problem.” The word going around among the wrestlers was that they were paid $1000 each for their trouble. One TNA source said that the price that was going around is, "Way off" and also claimed that Harris was just visiting at the taping.Also, part of Savage’s agreement to return also included Jimmy Hart not being allowed anywhere near him, including the gorilla position backstage. It is believed that request was made due to Hart’s close relationship with Hulk Hogan.

Sometimes the talent working backstage is more impressive than the ones in the ring. Former NWA World champion Ricky Steamboat was backstage at the Raw taping in Buffalo, New York. The word going around the back was that Steamboat was being considered for an agent's position with the company. Steamboat had been working as a regular performer for Ring of Honor, also teaching and advising many of the ROH wrestlers on ways to improve on their work inside the ring and connecting with the audience. 

Ever notice how many people get hurt, accidentally and on purpose, working with Bob Holly? A Bob Holly-Rene Dupree shoot took place at a house show in Syracuse, NY. Holly creamed Dupree with a nasty chairshot and then pounded him with nasty punches. As best as we can tell, Holly was ticked at Dupree for transgressions that occurred while the two were traveling together so Holly acted on it, unprofessionally, last night. Under ordinary circumstances, Holly would probably be castigated by his fellow workers but in this one, he probably won't be since Dupree has rubbed a number of people the wrong way since he came in and debuted with a huge push, and an attitude to match it. Of course, you can always count on Bob Holly to be less than professional as well, which no matter how anyone feels about Dupree, Holly was. Supposedly, WWE fined Holly $10,000 for his actions, but many felt it was a smokescreen, since it was an excessive amount, considering what the wrestlers were currently making. 

Some people have just no sense of humor. The opening of an episode Monday Night Raw, which featured a spoof of the controversial opening to Monday Night Football, was covered by The New York Daily News. The article noted the plot of the vignette, where Shelton Benjamin and Trish Stratus performed a send up of the Terrel Owens-Nicolette Sheridan scene, and asked ABC and the National Football League for their reaction. Both entities stated, "No comment." The Monday Night Football spoof from was written by Vince McMahon.

Three more years of Puppies!  Jerry "The King" Lawler, in an interview with the local Fox Sports affiliate in Des Moines announced that he has signed a new 5-year contract with the WWE.

Even censored dirty words are still dirty, I guess. TNA Impact! was edited for content by the Fox Sports Network. A video package designed to push TNAWrestling.com's Internet poll over whether the promotion should air footage shot when TNA stars "invaded" WWE's Royal Rumble commercial shoot a few weeks back at Universal Studios, was removed by the network. Fox Sports edited off the segment due to a graphic that stated that WWE had threatened to sue TNA's "F****ing A****" because of the language involved, despite TNA having censored the words themselves.

The Dream is back in the driver's seat.  Dusty Rhodes replaced Jeff Jarrett as the official booker for TNA. Dutch Mantel and Jeremy Borash would continue on with their current creative duties as well. Dusty Rhodes, Bob Ryder, and Jerry Jarrett addressed TNA's wrestlers briefly right before the TNA Impact! taping began. Jarrett introduced Dusty as the new booker for the company. Rhodes told the wrestlers that he has a vision for the company and to be patient as he works towards making it a reality. One wrestler who was there likened it to a college coach firing up a football team. There was underlying tension in the locker room before the meeting but by the time it was over, it was a mostly positive feeling among the crew.

Rhodes later met separately with the X-Division crew and told them that he is a big fan of their work and they have been underutilized by the company. He said that as talented as they are, he doesn't know who their characters are, which means the fans don't either. Rhodes told the X-Division workers that they will be getting chances to do promos and working at connecting with the audience. He explained to them that he wants to expand their characters because without a connection to the fans, they won't be able to draw money. Rhodes put over how talented he thought they all were and that he wants them to be an important part of the show. He said that he wants to help them improve so they can help the company grow and be an important attraction for TNA. It was also announced that TNA would be going to an every other week schedule for taping Impact, doing two episodes at a time. 

Whatever could he have been referring to? Simon Dean (Mike Bucci) made his Philadelphia area debut in his new WWE character at the Raw house show. A few readers sent word that Bucci sent a few inside comments out to the crowd during his mic work, including, "I can't respect Rosey, he dresses like a superhero. I would never dress like a super hero in a million years!" and when discussing his Simon System, said, "Anyone who wants to buy the Simon System here in Philly I am only taking cash or money orders, No checks. I don't take checks anymore from anyone in Philly." Although not acknowledged on WWE TV, Bucci worked as Nova for Extreme Championship Wrestling, and was with the company during the dying days of the promotion.

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For a comprehensive look at every news story, major event, television show and Pay-per-view, Elite Members can look at the PWInsider.com Weekly Newsletter archive, which has a detailed look at EVERYTHING in professional wrestling in North America in 2004. To become an Elite Member, click here.

For Mike Johnson's extensive look at Ring Of Honor in 2004, click here.


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