BY JASON CLEVETT AND JON WALDMAN
2004 was a year that certainly had its share of big news stories. Fortunately, unlike 2003, the year was not marked by tragedy. There were scandals, controversial angles, plummeting buyrates and a shocking number of talents leaving the WWE. At the same time, there were positives — the success and survival of promotions when it seemed they didn’t have a chance, some excellent DVD releases, the return of a hardcore legend, and the number one story, a tale of triumph. Now, SLAM!Wrestling takes a look at the year that was with the Top 10 news stories of 2004.
10. Wrestlers take on other projects
Not satisfied with their in-ring jobs, several WWE stars took time to pursue other ventures.
While The Rock remains the king of the wrestling box office, Triple H took some time away from the squared circle to be a part of Blade: Trinity. There is now talk that The Game is being scouted for other movie roles.
Not satisfied with seeing Hollywood work on its stars, WWE started up its own movie division. Currently, John Cena and Kane are both in the movie-making game.
Speaking of Cena, the self-professed Doctor of Thuganomics was also busy in the recoding studio, working on his rap album, which should hit streets in early 2005. Also on the music scene, Chris Jericho continued to push his band, Fozzy. The group has put on several post-Raw shows and is also working on a new disc.
Wrestlers also took their time to make guest appearances on television shows this year. Most notably, Trish Stratus filmed a spot on Royal Canadian Air Farce’s New Year’s Eve special. The Canadian Diva also spent some comedic time at Second City.
While these wrestlers were performing, others were writing. This year alone saw books by Ric Flair, Jimmy Hart, Mick Foley, Triple H and Edge hit store shelves.
9. “Sports Entertainment” rules
For all that WWE did right this year in their storylines, they did equally as much that was just plain wrong.
While not every storyline will get over as well as Eddie Guererro’s victory over his personal demons and gaining Heavyweight gold or Randy Orton’s successful face turn, there are those that are pretty much doomed to failure.
No, we’re not talking about the angles that just didn’t pan out like Hurricane’s oft-teased heel turn or the Billy Kidman/Paul London split; we’re talking about the cream of the crap here — angles that you knew going in were going to fall flat.
In talking about these TV features, we could go on ad nauseum about the utter failure the Diva Challenge, but let’s put that aside for now; after all, there was some good that came out of the Diva search, wasn’t there? I mean look at all the useful roles that the contestants are now filling such as timekeepers and make-up artists.
No, let’s focus instead on something a little more morally wrong. This year alone, WWE had a man buried alive (Paul Bearer), another man blatantly attempt infidelity (Kenzo Suzuki), an implied rape (Kane and Lita) and a miscarriage/baby killing gimmick (Gene Snitsky). Kinda makes you look back at 2002, where a man gave in to his necrophilia desires (Triple H), which all seems pretty tame now.
To top it off, WWE stepped into very dangerous territory with the Eugene and Muhammad Hassan gimmicks, with controversy surrounding the use of handicapped and racially-motivated wrestlers. While Eugene was able to become somewhat of a success, it could have been much, much worse, while we won’t know the full effects of the Hassan gimmick for some time.
8. Mick Foley makes a comeback to WWE and Indies
Mick Foley has been all over the place in 2004. The biggest news was his return to the ring as a competitor for the first time since his retirement in 2000. His lengthy program with Randy Orton saw him enter the Royal Rumble, wrestle in a tag match on RAW, compete at Wrestlemania 20 with The Rock against Orton, Batista and Ric Flair and culminated in a violent streetfight with Orton at Backlash. Since that match he has made a number of appearances at indy and charity shows and in September brought his “Ring of Hardcore” to Ring of Honor. This is truly a case of giving back to the business as wrestlers are quick to approach Foley for comments and advice, and you certainly can’t go wrong learning from him.
7. TNA continues to survive
It has been an eventful year for Total Nonstop Action.
The company secured a Friday afternoon slot on Fox Sportsnet for their IMPACT shows, taped at Universal Studios that have received okay ratings. They ended their weekly pay per view concept in September and are now focusing on a traditional monthly show. The company is also the first big company to use a six-sided ring, which has added to the uniqueness of the product. The future is up in the air for the company as rumours persist about unhappy talent and the security of Panda Energy’s backing. TNA has had many high points and low points and their share of controversy. Still, it is an alternative to WWE and many are hoping for its continued survival for the sake of the wrestling business.
6. The past is the future
WWE began to truly take advantage of their vast video library this year. Releases on Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, The WWE Hall of Fame, The Monday Night Wars and ECW were big sellers. The Ric Flair Collection, and Mick Foley Greatest Hits and Misses, which were released in the U.S. in 2003 and in Canada in 2004 were also popular.
Now that WWE owns footage from ECW, AWA and WCW they can create more comprehensive career packages. The popularity of these releases make it obvious that even with fans tuning out the current product, there is a market for long-time fans who want to re-live their favourite moments. The new WWE 24/7 project caters to this as well and has many fans salivating in anticipation for the service to hit their area. WWE has a goldmine, as no matter how many fans are turned off by the current product, they are still buying DVDs which will ensure another steady stream of income.
5. WWE buyrates and attendance plummets
There were a lot of empty seats at WWE events in 2004. For example, Calgary and Edmonton, two long-time wrestling hotbeds who hosted a PPV (Backlash in Edmonton) and a RAW taping (Calgary the next night) drew less than 2,000 people for their September Smackdown! house show events. This has been the case throughout North America, in some cases shows have been cancelled due to low ticket sales.
Although events like SummerSlam and Wrestlemania were sell-outs, many events haven’t done so. While the “Big Four” events of The Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania XX, Summerslam and Survivor Series still did decent buys, the single-brand pay per views have seen buys plummet below 200,000. No Mercy in October had 190,000 buys while Taboo Tuesday had 170,000 buys. These were the lowest buyrates in the history of the company.
This has prompted the company to start looking abroad where there is still a fanbase that isn’t burnt out on the product. 2004 saw RAW and Smackdown taped in the UK and big house show tours of Australia, Mexico and Japan. In 2005 Japan and the UK will have tapings.
4. Brock Lesnar “The Next Big…. Football Player?”
Can we really fault a man for wanting to follow his dream? If you’re a WWE fan, likely you’re saying yes.
The WWE community was rocked in March, when word began to leak that one of its biggest stars, Brock Lesnar, was getting set to leave the company to pursue a career in the National Football League. Immediately, fans turned on the “Next Big Thing”, booing him out of Madison Square Gardens at Wrestlemania, his last WWE bout.
After working out for several teams and garnering several positive comments from league scouts, Lesnar was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings and invited to their training camp. Lesnar was impressive, especially considering he hadn’t played organized football since high school.
Unfortunately, all that Lesnar did right in camp and in exhibition games wasn’t enough to crack the main roster or the practice squad, and soon he was released.
As 2004 ends, Lesnar is rumored to be making calls to WWE, while Antonio Inoki is hoping to have the big man work a couple shows for him in Japan. There also exists the possibility that Lesnar could play in NFL Europe to train for a hopeful NFL career.
3. Thirty-plus talents leave WWE
By hook or by crook, more than 30 wrestlers and personalities left WWE. While some like Brock Lesnar (see above) left on their own accord, most were pushed out by force.
The biggest hit took place just a few weeks ago, when 10 wrestlers got their walking papers. Among those let go were Gail Kim and Rico, who many viewers were surprised to see on the cut list.
Other cuts simply happened due to expiring contracts. While Scott Steiner may have wanted to stay on with the company, Bill Goldberg made it clear he would not re-sign with the Fed.
Possibly the most surprising departure, however, was that of Pat Patterson. Patterson, who had been Vince’s right hand man for so many years in WWE, left the Stamford-based company for what many are speculating to be political reasons associated with Triple H.
The 2004 Cut List includes: A-Train, Bill Goldberg, Billy Gunn, Bobbi Billard, Brian Christopher, Brock Lesnar, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Chuck Palumbo, Ernest Miller, Faarooq, Gail Kim, Jacqueline, Jamie Noble, Jazz, Kanyon, Kevin Nash, Linda Miles, Nidia, Nikita Fink, Pat Patterson, Rico, Rikishi, Rodney Mack, Rue DeBona, Sable, Sakoda, Scott Steiner, Sean O’Haire, Brian “Spanky” Kendrick, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Terri Runnels Test, Tom Prichard, and Zach Gowen. (with files from Lords of Pain)
2. Rob Feinstein Scandal and Ring of Honor surviving the fall out
Ring of Honor was preparing itself for its biggest show ever the night before Wrestlemania XX. Ten days earlier, the wrestling community and the promotion watched in shock as NBC news in Philadelphia and vigilante website Perverted-Justice.com caught RFVideo and Ring of Honor owner Rob Feinstein in a sting to catch alleged pedophiles. Fans and wrestlers immediately turned on Feinstein and the fallout lasted several months. Feinstein announced that he was done with ROH and RFVideo, however as a result of the scandal TNA pulled talent like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and others from the company. (They have since allowed talent like Tracy Brooks to return, Alex Shelley to continue working for the company and Styles will make a one-time appearance in February.)
Months later all documents were finalized and RFVideo and Ring of Honor split, with Feinstein taking back control of RFVideo and Cary Silken taking full ownership of ROH. The two continue to operate today as separate competing entities and Ring of Honor has flourished despite the scandal, which would cripple many companies, and the other setbacks they saw in 2004, and in the past six months have put on some of the best shows in the companies history and their fanbase continues to grow. RF Video continues to operate under Feinstein, releasing shoot interviews and other shows.
1. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero win the World Titles
It was never going to happen.
For years, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were “Too small” and “Not championship material” despite their immense talent. It all started at No Way Out in San Francisco on February 15th when Eddie Guerrero pinned Brock Lesnar to win the Smackdown brand’s WWE Championship. Guerrero’s win was especially emotional as it was a sign of triumph over his well-documented problems with drugs and alcohol.
A month later on March 14th at Wrestlemania XX in Madison Square Garden, Chris Benoit defeated RAW World Champion Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a triple-threat match. For many fans, the image of the two champions visibly crying while embracing in the ring is one that will stay with them forever.
During their title runs both men put on stellar title defenses and continue to be top names in the company. While Guerrero’s reign ended in June to Bradshaw, and Benoit lost the title at SummerSlam to Randy Orton, but the fact that both men got successful runs with the titles is truly the greatest story of the year.
Jason Clevett and Jon Waldman are the “Western Canadian Crew” of SLAM! Wrestling. While Jason lives in the Rocky Mountains of Calgary, Alberta, Jon Waldman resides in the arctic tundra known as Winnipeg.