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2004: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

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

MARCH

Considering the amount he drinks, all the profits might have gone right down his throat. The Rochester, New York based High Falls Brewing Co. was developing a beer with Steve Austin. WWE had copyrighted several names for alcoholic beverages including "Stone Cold Beer". "We’re not approaching it as a gimmick beer, we’re approaching it as a legitimate brand," said John Sohigian, a WWE vice president of partnership marketing to The Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.  Austin and Vince McMahon toured the High Falls brewery the previous November. Austin had been involved with the development process of the beer as well, visiting in February to taste potential beer products. Sohigian told the paper that if consumers do not like the beer or its not a good venture, "Austin would abandon the project."  As it turned out, the beer project never made it out the gate.

You'd think Rosey would be the one carrying them. Hurricane Helms ran into issues while crossing the border from the United States into Canada. Helms had a bottle of fat burner pills which contained Ephedra, which was banned in that country over a year ago. The Canadian contraband was taken away and caused him to have a massive delay getting into the country. Helms was dumbfounded by the actions since he had purchased the fat burner at a Wal-Mart in the United States, but was reprimanded and informed he would be subject to search each time he entered Canada for the next seven years. Now imagine how many times he'd have to go to Canada in the next seven years while working for WWE and you get an idea of what a pain in the butt it would be. Helms did research and was able to get the ruling overturned. For some reason, an article on the incident on WWE.com was later pulled after only a day.

Think Baseball will put a wrestler in their Hall Of Fame to return the favor? It was announced that Pete Rose, whose lifetime ban from baseball has kept sportswriters from voting him into that sport's Hall Of Fame, would be the first inductee into the "celebrity wing" of the WWE Hall Of Fame, which was being resurrected after laying dormant for eight years.  Wrestling inductees to the Hall would be Jesse Ventura, Sgt. Slaughter, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Bobby Heenan, Superstar Billy Graham, Harley Race, and posthumous inductions for Big John Studd and Junkyard Dog. 

It's good to be the king.  WWE sent out a press release announcing they would be paying a dividend to all WWE stockholders of $0.04 on April 9th. Obviously the ones who benefit the most from this are the McMahon family as they own the majority stock, with Vince McMahon making two million dollars off the dividend.

However, some numbers are not as pleasant.  The WWE corporate website reported that the early number for the No Way Out PPV was 250,000 buys. That was down from the ~450,000 that the February show did last year and the ~550,000 that the event did two years earlier.  

Just reading this can be exhausting. A Smackdown tour of South Africa kicked off a brutal month for the workers of that brand. They started on their  tour on the weekend of 2/21 with the regular house shows. After taping Smackdown on 2/24, they took off for South Africa, where they had shows through Sunday 2/29. From there, they flew to Savannah, GA yesterday to prepare for the Smackdown taping. They headed home the next day, and had a weekend off to recuperate. Then, after taping Smackdown in Atlantic City, NJ on 3/9, they will get a few days off before needing to be in New York that for WrestleMania weekend. After the weekend in NYC, they have to go to Manchester, NH on Monday for a house show, then on to Boston on Tuesday to tape Smackdown. Then home for some R and R? No way! After taping Smackdown, they will board a plane and head to the UK, for a tour that starts on Thursday in Newcastle, England and continues on through 3/21 in Scotland. Then 3/22 is a travel day to Grand Rapids, MI to film Smackdown. You would think after that brutal scheduled they would get the following weekend off, but they don’t. It’s off to Tampa, FL for a house show on 3/28, then on to Louisville, KY on 3/29 for another before heading to Columbus, OH to tape Smackdown. That isn’t exactly a loop of towns that are close together. Through all of this, they are expected to eat right, work out and stay tanned so that they look good for the events.

I guess some just didn't see the value of "rump shaking" on a wrestling show.  The TNA Cage Dancing Girls were removed from dancing on the February 25th PPV.  

This was a slightly big story, don't you think? Brock Lesnar informed WWE management on March 9th that his last date for the foreseeable future would be at WrestleMania. Brock Lesnar stood up in front of the Smackdown crew at the pre-show talent meeting and announced that he was leaving WWE after WrestleMania to pursue a career in the National Football League. Lesnar, who had recently signed a 7-year deal with the WWE, told Vince McMahon of his decision at a Smackdown taping. This situation started coming to a head when Lesnar, who has become burnt out by WWE’s travel schedule (and reportedly also by his recent push down the card from main event status) for some time, was then sent to work on the big South Africa tour but was “only” put into matches with Hardcore Holly instead of higher profile bouts. He met with Vince McMahon at Smackdown and voiced his concerns and informed him at that time that he was going to leave WWE.

Lesnar, has also reportedly been upset that he was going to have to put over the Undertaker’s Dead Man character after Mania, and be in a feud with a guy who, by the nature of his character, doesn’t sell for his opponent. This all led up to his announcement. From what our sources have told us, Lesnar informed everyone at the meeting that he was miserable in the business. He said that it was not any reflection on the business per se, but he just couldn't find happiness in the industry any more. He publicly thanked Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Gerry Brisco "for finding me in college," and thanked Big Show and Paul Heyman for all their help with his career. He told the crew he wouldn't be back and he was said to be very emotional and wished everyone well.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from the people in the company. Some felt that it opened up opportunities for the talent. Others, who had been critical of Brock’s “elitist” behavior of late and felt that he hadn’t earned his stripes, let alone deserved to be upset about not being pushed as a main-eventer, said that now they can understand that he may have been that way because he was unhappy. It was also said that Brock told the wrestlers that the business had taken its toll on him and that he wanted to be able to walk when he is forty. That struck a lot of people as odd since he’s only been in a few years and is only 26.

WWE had a special meeting to discuss what to do with the Lesnar-Goldberg Wrestlemania match. Obviously, with both men leaving after WrestleMania, it put them in something of a quandary as to how to book the bout.

Not exactly the person you'd want to make angry. An incident took place at the talent meeting before the March 2nd Smackdown show. Neither Vince McMahon nor Jim Ross, who are usually at the meetings, attended this one, leaving John "Ace" Laurinaitis to run the meeting. He reportedly mentioned, in a chastising sort of way, an incident on the first flight of the previous week’s long and brutal South Africa trip. It happened on the WWE charter from Kansas City to Atlanta, which was the flight right after Smackdown was taped on February 24. The Smackdown crew then flew from Atlanta to South Africa. At the meeting on 3/2, Laurinaitis started off by "getting tough" on the Smackdown crew, even though it was common knowledge to everyone there that the problem in question was just Bradshaw putting away a few cold ones on the flight and getting boisterous. As Laurinaitis continued the speech, The Big Show spoke up and challenged him. Big Show reportedly asked how the company can expect the talent to sit through a session in which the man who is second in command for talent relations doesn't even thank the talent for the brutal tour, and instead chastises them for something that wasn’t really a big deal. Show felt that if the office didn't like a talent’s behavior, they should place direct blame on that person instead of disrespecting everyone's contributions. In the eyes of some, they felt that there was some favoritism shown here since it was Bradshaw, who is tight with the office, that was the person in question and not named.

Later in the meeting there was another incident in which Kurt Angle started to speak up, but when Laurinaitis started looking at Kurt, Angle reportedly backed down and started saying how he wishes everyone was more professional. The situation with Bradshaw getting boisterous on the charter actually began in the airport. Since it was a charter flight, the wrestlers didn't have to go through the main security checkpoints. Instead, they were checked by hand, with a metal detecting wand, which is an FAA regulation. On the whole, the workers didn't like this arduous and somewhat invasive process. The three most vocal detractors were said to be Ron Simmons, Dave Hebner and Bradshaw. Once on the plane, even though an open bar was not part of what WWE paid for, some of the wrestlers, including Bradshaw, reportedly asked for drinks and were served, which made the situation worse. Part of the problem was that as the situation worsened, the company management members on the plane (Dave Hebner, Dean Malenko and Fit Finlay) didn't properly address it, and that led to the meeting that Ace had with the talent..

In the end, the general feeling was that the wrestlers gained a lot of respect for Big Show and probably lost some for Angle. A number of wrestlers supported Big Show for his standing up to management and telling them to put the blame where it belongs. Big Show had, according to some, begun to think of himself as a locker room leader. He stood up and was making a point about something on March 9th in the meeting when Ron Simmons basically told him to sit down and shut up and said he was sick of hearing him preach. The two briefly faced off and had to be separated.

Sometimes the fans are better than the show. The WWE Wrestlemania XX press conference on March 11th at Planet Hollywood in New York City, essentially saw the wrestlers cut promos from a podium, but the big story of the day was the fans in attendance, with three interesting moments created by them.  First, when Vince McMahon began talking about the brand extension, the fans booed him. The second incident was when Paul Heyman came out, and a loud 'ECW' chant began.  In fact, it was so loud that the proceedings virtually stopped.  Triple H made a comment saying "This is Wrestlemania, not a bingo parlor", while Heyman grinned. Heyman later told Triple H that he grew up in New York watching the greats defend what is now the WWE Title at Madison Square Garden, not the title belt that Triple H holds now. The third incident was when Brock Lesnar came out, with the fans chanting and yelling at Brock about why he is leaving the company.  No mention was made of it by Brock, Vince, or anyone else on the panel, but Brock was glaring at the portions of the crowd where the chants and yells were coming from.

Can't we all get along, Part 3. Sable and Torrie Wilson were involved in a backstage screaming match at a Smackdown taping that went on for at least a half hour. The two women were heard yelling at each other backstage by anyone who walked by their room and it eventually spilled over into Jim Ross’ office with both JR and production guy Dominick trying to break it up. It all started at some Playboy party that the women attended the previous weekend. The word going around was that the argument was largely due to "Wilson pulling her usual stuff" according to one source. The source was quick to point out that Wilson has been creating friction with some of the other divas on the roster in recent weeks, including getting a singles match on a house show changed to a tag team teddy bout.

Damn! Ron Simmons, aka Faarooq of the APA, was released by WWE only two days after filming a vignette on Smackdown where his character was "fired" from the brand.  According to sources, WWE reportedly felt Simmons had a personal problem that he needed to attend to.  WWE said they would support Simmons if he took steps to deal with his problem.  Simmons allegedly disagreed with WWE about whether he had a problem or not, and he was released from the company.

A celebration, not only for them, but fans of great wrestling.  At the close of Wrestlemania XX, WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero and new World Heavyweight Champion hugged and soaked in the cheers of the crowd, Benoit's wife Nancy, his two children, and his father came to the ring and celebrated with Benoit. As the group left, Benoit was given a standing ovation from the fans at Madison Square Garden. 

Another year, another Wrestlemania, another success.  WWE announced that Wrestlemania XX grossed more than $2.4 million in ticket sales, making it the highest grossing WWE event ever at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This event almost doubled the previous top grossing event for WWE at the Garden, which was the Survivor Series on November 17, 2002, with a ticket gross of $1.25 million.

Well, it was worth a try. On March 4, Bret Hart had the ruling in his case to claim workman's compensation benefits in Washington DC go against him. Hart tried to assert that he worked in DC, where his career ended in December of 1999 at the end of a Bill Goldberg kick to his head, because the show took place there and also because his matches were shown and his merchandise was sold in town. Because the injury was disabling, Hart sought workers' compensation benefits under district law. WCW opposed his claim, saying that Hart was covered by Georgia law (where his contract was written). It was ruled that Hart did not work in the city.

Yeah, you really thought Triple H was going to stay on Smackdown?. WWE held a "draft lottery" on the March 22nd edition of Raw, with the idea of balancing out the talent discrepancy in the rosters of their two brands. 

Here were the final picks from the initial lottery:

Smackdown: 

1. Rene Dupree
2. Mark Jindrak
3. Triple H
4. Rob Van Dam
5. Theodore R. Long
6. Spike Dudley

Raw: 

1. Shelton Benjamin
2. Nidia
3. Rhyno
4. Yoshihiro Tajiri
5. Edge
6. Paul Heyman

Then after the initial draft, Triple H was traded back to Raw in exchange for The Dudley Boyz and Booker T being sent to Smackdown. A-Train and Chuck Palumbo were sent to Raw as well. In exchange, Rico and Miss Jackie were traded to Smackdown.

From the start, this sounded cool. WWE put together a website to promote the "WWE 24/7" Video On Demand service they were creating. The site included photos and logos, and pushed the tape libraries of WCW, ECW, AWA, SMW and Jim Crockett Promotions, as well as their own. The idea was to provide a video on demand service that would feature matches from all of those promotions, making full use of the mammoth tape library WWE has assembled.

You know, they never would have done this to Bret Hart. Some people in WWE's Canadian office in Toronto were upset with the decision to change Chris Benoit’s hometown to Atlanta, Georgia, just one month before Backlash in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The marketing materials being used to promote Backlash were based on the idea of the "local boy coming home to a hero’s welcome" and they feel Benoit being announced as hailing from Atlanta could have hurt his reaction at the show.  

When it is good news, they make sure you know about it.   WWE announced that the March 22nd edition of Raw did the best rating for the show since April of 2002, drawing a 4.5 rating for the episode featuring the draft lottery between Raw and Smackdown. 

Not the first headache she would give Stone Cold. Steve Austin was involved on March 25th in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Tess Broussard, 37, according to San Antonio, Texas station KSAT channel 12. The basic story being reported was that police were called to Austin's home in the Dominion, an upscale residential area in San Antonio. According to the police report, Broussard claimed the pair, who had been together for about a year but are in the process of separating were talking when Austin "became irritable." Broussard claimed she was pushed down and "landed on her hands and knees." She told officers at the scene she "feared bodily injury." Broussard also told officers she had pictures taken for evidence, and planned on pursuing charges against Austin. Austin was not arrested, and in fact went to a scheduled autograph signing in New Jersey the following weekend.

Some things you wish would go away, but just comeback to haunt you. World Wrestling Entertainment and wrestlers Ric Flair, Scott Hall, and Dustin Runnels were sued by flight attendants over sexual harassment charges that allegedly took place during the infamous "plane ride from hell." The incidents allegedly took place on a May 5, 2002 SportsJet flight from Europe to the United States after a WWE PPV in the United Kingdom. Sportsjet is owned by Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes and provides chartered flights for rock stars, celebrities, and sports teams. According to an article in the March 30th Arizona Republic, the lawsuit, which was filed on March 29th, alleged that Flair flashed himself to a female flight attendant. The suit alleged that other WWE wrestlers allegedly groped attendants while Hall and Runnels (who were named as defendants along with Flair and WWE) allegedly made sexual comments and advances to the attendants. The "Plane Ride From Hell" as it was later known within the business featured a number of WWE stars getting out of hand including a scuffle between the late Curt Hennig and Brock Lesnar and incidents with Hall and Runnels, among others. Hall and Hennig were released a short time after the flight.  

TheSmokingGun.com posted seven pages of the sexual harassment lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for negligence, negligent supervision, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment.  According to the filing, Flair is alleged to have forced more than one attendant to "touch his crotch" and to have "forcibly detained and restrained" another "while he sexually assaulted her." The nature of the "assault" is not discussed. Scott Hall is alleged to have grabbed at an attendant and asked her for oral sex, among other crude comments.  Dustin Runnels is alleged to have grabbed the rear of one of the flight attendants, asked about whether her breasts were real, and made other sexually tinged comments. According to the report, unnamed wrestlers also grabbed the attendants and "gave them needles to dispose of." The filing blames WWE for allowing the wrestlers to be given alcoholic beverages on the flight, noting that they were aware of issues with Scott Hall and "other incidents" in the past as well. Interesting to note is that the filing believes that due to public statements, that Ric Flair maintains ownership in both the Raw brand and WWE. Obviously, Flair's ownership was completely a storyline plot, nothing more. 

Ric Flair's attorney, Mickey Aberman, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "I'm pretty certain that there is a very different version of this story from the ones the plaintiffs are telling". In a UK chat, Ric Flair stated, "I don't even know what they're talking about, none of that happened. I really don't have a comment as there is no truth there. And the claims have been made two years later. If it was bad then, why didn't something happen then?"

If someone threw a beer at your kid, you'd want to kick his ass too. There was an incident at a Smackdown house show in Tampa, Florida involving Eddie Guerrero and a disrespectful fan.  Reports from several fans in attendance were that at the conclusion of the main event, Eddie Guerrero brought his daughters into the ring and danced with them. A fan threw a beverage into the ring, nearly hitting one of them.  Eddie made a comment about the lack of class the fan had displayed, but resumed his post-match celebration with his daughters, while security and police went after the fan.  Guerrero went to the back with his daughters, then returned to ringside alone, where he had a verbal altercation with the fan. 

A source who was close to the situation provided details as to what happened.  The fan threw what essentially was a full beer into the ring, just missing Eddie's daughters.  Eddie got on the mic and spoke of the lack of class the man had, then brought his daughters to the back.  The crowd pretty much pointed out the offender, so the police could grab him.  The offender apologized as soon as they grabbed him, and the Sheriffs told him they would not arrest him for drunken disorderly behavior if he apologized.  Eddie came back out with Dean Malenko, and the police brought the guy down to the guardrail for the apology.  Eddie Guerrero was NOT coming back out to take a piece out of him or anything physical.  Eddie told the offender that he had no class, and the guy, instead of apologizing, threw his hat at Guerrero and yelled "F*** you" at him. Eddie jumped over the rail and approached the person, but the police and a few of the fans that had stuck around were between them.  Eddie didn't attack the guy, but just yelled at him.  As the two were yelling, a fan decided to blindside the drunken offender and slug him.

The guy who threw the beer was arrested for disorderly behavior.  The fan that hit him was also put into cuffs, but the police escorted him to his car and let him go.  Fans were cheering for him for slugging the person who had been so disrespectful to Guerrero.  To Eddie Guerrero's credit, he never attacked the offender, although I don't think anyone would have blamed him if he had.  

Come on, let's get this project back on track. WWE was reportedly in the planning stages for a DVD project called "The Bret Hart Collection", which was to be similar to the "Ultimate Ric Flair Collection" that was released last year and turned out to be one of the best selling WWE DVD releases to date. However, talk of the project soon died down, and it seemed to be shelved (again). 

Yeah, nothing to accomplish ... except trying to break Ric Flair's record for title reigns. In an interview with Muscle & Fitness magazine, Triple H said that although he has nothing more to accomplish in wrestling he just enjoys performing and wants to do it as long as he can. When asked what his role was behind the scenes he says that "talent is always asked opinions, and we have the ability to speak up. Because I have done that, and because I've proven I'm good at it, I'm asked a lot."  He also admitted that his torn quad will never be 100% healed.

Give credit where credit is due. There was a lot of talk among the wrestlers at Raw about the booking of the main event match where Triple H lost clean to Shelton Benjamin. The locker room was buzzing early that afternoon, as everyone knew what the finish would be since it was common knowledge backstage, but there was a lot of curiosity as to how it would all play out and unfold when the bout actually happened. It’s safe to say that Triple H sent a strong message to his peers by allowing Shelton to have the clean pin. 

Rest In Peace. Hercules Hernandez (real name Raymond Fernandez) passed away from what is believed to have been a heart attack in his Tampa, Florida home. Fernandez would have turned 46 on March 7th. Fernandez was best known as "The Mighty" Hercules Hernandez in the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s as a member of Bobby Heenan's stable. His major singles feud was with Billy Jack Haynes in 1987 over who had the better full nelson. The feud featured his career highlight, a double countout against Haynes at Wrestlemania III. Fernandez was turned babyface in a feud against Ted DiBiase after an angle where he rejected being sold to DiBiase as "his slave." He later teamed with Paul Roma as the Power and Glory tag team. After leaving the WWF in the early 1990s, he had a run in New Japan Pro Wrestling as Hercules Hernandez teaming with Scott Norton as the Jurassic Powers. He also worked briefly in WCW as the masked Super Invader managed by Harley Race during 1992's Bill Watts regime. Prior to his WWF run, Fernandez had worked for a number of territories including World Class, Mid-South, and Central States Wrestling. Fernandez has been retired for years, but did work an independent date in Queens, New York in 2001 for Gladiator Championship Wrestling.

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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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