A new year is upon us, and just like any other walk of life, hope springs eternal in the world of wrestling. The WWE is off to a good start as far as pleasant surprises go, adding a little extra spark to the end of last night’s New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view by having Edge successfully cash in his “Money in the Bank” title shot. Imagine that — a plot twist that made sense. But as the old cliché goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and already there have been a few things developing over the last few weeks of 2005 and the start of 2006 that are rubbing me the wrong way as a WWE fan.

The first is the re-emergence of Vince McMahon as an on-camera character. True, the Chairman is never far away from the spotlight, especially on Raw, the company’s flagship show. He’s made occasional appearances to emphasize the importance of certain events, but he’s stayed more or less behind the scenes for over a year. The last month or so has seen Mr. McMahon back in a big way, and the message he’s putting across is pretty clear: it’s all about me. In a way, that’s fine, because he does get a reaction from the fans when he’s a part of the show. What’s more troublesome are the numerous things from the past that Vince just can’t seem to leave there.

Take, for instance, the “firing” of Eric Bischoff as Raw’s general manager at the beginning of December. Taken at face value, from the show’s storyline perspective, it made a lot of sense. The GM wasn’t getting it done, Raw wasn’t setting the world on fire, and McMahon, as head of the company, comes in to make a change. Simple, right? Trouble is, things are never that simple when Vince is involved. If you don’t think that the on-camera firing of Bischoff by McMahon (complete with dumping Eric into the back of a garbage truck) had at least a little to do with Vince getting yet another chance to gloat about the WWE emerging victorious in its war with WCW — never mind that the victory has been complete for years now — you’re being a little naive. And oh, by the way, the search for a replacement GM has been dragging on for weeks now and seems like another way to make sure we get more than our daily recommended dose of McMahon.

Another great example of a piece of the past best left buried turned up again a few weeks ago on Raw. Vince announced that at the end of the show on December 27, he was going to offer up his review of the new Bret Hart DVD. If you had been sitting beside me while I was watching the show, you would have heard my audible groan, because I knew what was coming next: yet another mention of the Montreal screw job at Survivor Series ’97. Shawn Michaels summed up my feelings about the WWE’s stubborn refusal to ever let us forget about that night pretty well on camera by saying that Montreal was a long time ago, and it was time to move on. McMahon fired back with something that probably echoes his true feelings on the matter by saying he doesn’t have to move on, and if you disagree with him, he’ll simply make you “move on.”

It’s not that what happened nine years ago wasn’t a compelling or historic event. I’d argue that it was one of the most interesting things that’s ever happened in my time as a wrestling fan. But we’ve been there and done that ad nauseum, and there just doesn’t seem to be anything new we can get out of it by rehashing it again. I realize part of the reason to bring it up now may be to capitalize on the seemingly repaired relationship between the WWE and Bret Hart, but again, let’s not kid ourselves. The point McMahon is trying to make is that he’s the boss, and if you’ve been watching any of his company’s product for the last decade and a half, you don’t need another round of “I screwed Bret” to remind you of that. I’m hoping the WWE finally lets this go before we get a Survivor Series ’97 10th Anniversary Spectacular next year.

Even some things that seem completely innocent on the surface are starting to smack of insincerity. December’s Raw broadcast from Afghanistan marked the third straight year that the WWE did something to honor the men and women putting their lives on the line for the U.S. Like the first two, it was well produced, made you feel good, and really seemed to boost the spirits of the troops that got to meet the wrestlers. I’m completely behind supporting the people who protect our freedom, and I have a lot of respect for the wrestlers and employees who travel all that way to make it happen.

On the surface, the shows for the troops seem like they are completely above criticism in any way. But every now and then, you get to see below the surface, and this time I got just such a look thanks to a former WWE employee who e-mailed Raw reporter Dale Plummer after he covered the show for this site. He wrote:

“Vince is not a single bit patriotic. He is media hungry, and has a marketing department that knows the overseas trips generate positive press and support among his fans. The troops are secondary. If Vince thought he could get the same result by doing shows for the chimpanzees at the Bronx Zoo, you would see his shows coming live from the Primate Zone.

“I had a meet the troops run set up in Bosnia. Vince was all for it until the USO pushed us to a troop staging area in Turkey because of risk in the war zone. Vince backed out super fast because the dateline wouldn’t register with his fans. The guy really, truly, honestly doesn’t care about the troops.”

Certainly makes you think, doesn’t it? I’m sure most people would agree when I say that any trading on support for the armed forces simply for the sake of publicity is pretty despicable. If that is indeed the case here — and I’m not saying it is — it’s something the WWE, and Vince McMahon, should let go before it boomerangs back around on them somewhere down the road.

Make that one more thing you can add to the list.