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Return of the ring leaders
By TJ MADIGAN -- Calgary Sun


Lots of comings and goings in the WWE this week, with Hulk Hogan\'s surprise appearance on Smackdown topping the list.

It looks like The Hulkster and Vince McMahon have finally settled their differences to serve the greater good (their pockets) and are about to launch the on-screen feud they teased before Hogan\'s departure in May.

The top of the card will be getting pretty crowded over the next few weeks, with Steve Austin and The Rock also on the way back in.

Stone Cold has already been announced for the Raw portion of next month\'s No Way Out pay-per-view in Montreal but I\'m expecting a swerve to trade him onto the Smackdown roster.

Austin has openly blamed the misdirection of Raw\'s booking for his character problems and I think he\'d be far happier working under Paul Heyman on Thursday nights. From what I hear, the Rattlesnake will be working a very limited schedule, only appearing at televised events.

As for Rocky, the hostile reaction his video received at the Raw X special was the last nail in the coffin of his babyface character. Of course, the New York crowd is notorious for playing the heel role from time to time but it\'s impossible to ignore the heat he\'s getting from fans who think Hollywood success constitutes a sellout.

The People\'s Champ is expected to be back in action within four weeks.

On the other side of the coin, Raven and Justin Credible are the latest casualties of WWE talent cuts.

Raven (Scott Levy) has been in the doghouse since he turned down the broadcast position he was being groomed for, in favour of a full-time wrestling role. His clean loss to Jeff Hardy on Raw seems to have been the WWE\'s way of lowering his value as a free agent before he was handed his marching orders late last week.

He didn\'t waste any time jumping ship to NWA TNA, attacking Jeff Jarrett after the main event on their Wednesday night pay-per-view.

As for Credible, it was simply a case of the company having no plans for him and opting to not renew his contract. Credible (Peter Polacko) has since been approached by XPW.

On the injury front, Kevin Nash was backstage at the Royal Rumble last weekend, claiming he is close to full health and weighing in under 300-lb. Nash, who has wrestled only two matches during his one-year run with the WWE, should finally be back in action at Wrestlemania.

HEART-TO-HART: Hulk Hogan\'s appearance on Off The Record made a stir over the holidays but the best is yet to come for the TSN sports discussion show.

On Feb. 11, Bret Hart will tape a one-hour sit-down with Michael Landsberg in what should be the most interesting wrestling interview in a long time.

The show will air in two parts on Feb. 11 and 12. Hart is expected to discuss everything from the Montreal screw job to his recent reconciliation with Vince McMahon.

If you can\'t wait that long for some grapplers to be grilled by Landsberg, Jerry Lawler\'s appearance on the show (taped last night in Toronto) will be shown next Tuesday. OTR will round out February with even more WWE guests, as Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff are scheduled to tape an episode prior to the Toronto Raw on Feb. 24.

THANKS A MILLION: The 2003 Royal Rumble was a big success for WWE, at least from its accountant\'s point of view.

The show was the first big sellout in months, with more than 14,000 fans packing the FleetCenter in Boston, drawing almost $1 million US in ticket sales alone.

The wrestling itself was a mixed bag and WWE management is apparently placing the credit (and blame) on the appropriate parties.

WWE suits were forced to take notice when Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle tore the house down with a sure-fire match-of-the-year candidate.

For those who missed it, the appreciative crowd recognized the stellar effort by both men and gave Benoit an emotional standing ovation, even though he lost the match.

Management also took notice, in a very different way, when Scott Steiner and Triple H stunk up the ring for 17 straight minutes.

Live crowds have been hot for Steiner since he returned but the Boston fans loudly booed when it became apparent he has a repertoire of exactly two moves.

The match was booked well considering the limitations of both grapplers but that\'s no excuse for putting the bout on television in the first place.

They\'ll wrestle again at No Way Out next month but expect a lot of distractions and a lot less ring time.

TOUGHER THAN THE REST: Tough Enough 3 wrapped up on Thursday night, with Matt and John making the final cut and earning developmental contracts with the WWE.

An Internet vote eliminated Jamie in the early going, while 0Jonah and Eric were graceful in defeat and the two winners were definitely the deserving picks (unlike previous years).

There\'s no solid plans for a fourth season of the show, so John and Matt could be the final duo to earn the Tough Enough ticket to fame.

They\'re expected to spend time honing their craft in the OVW developmental territory before being promoted to the big time.

Canadian fans can catch the Tough Enough finale on TSN before Raw on Monday night.

ROCK \'N\' ROLL \'EM: Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is in line to take the lead role in MGM studios\' remake of Walking Tall, a 1973 movie based around a sheriff who attempts to clean up crime in his home town.

MGM is hoping to begin production on the picture as early as May.