April 5, 2003
Forget me not
By TJ MADIGAN
The pro-wrestling calendar runs from one Wrestlemania to the next, which means the grappling new year is upon us.
The bulk of last season\'s storylines finally came to an end in Safeco Field last Sunday, which means the WWE is starting to plant the seeds for the next 12 months of twists and turns.
The game-plan for the immediate future seems to be centred heavily around nostalgia acts.
Sable made a shock appearance on Smackdown this week, setting the ball rolling on the latest influx of has-beens who want another shot in the limelight.
Rowdy Roddy Piper will be a semi-regular, too, reviving his Piper\'s Pit interview segment each Thursday.
Kevin Nash is next in line to return but he\'ll be joining the Raw roster next Monday under his Diesel gimmick. Nash will be dyeing his hair jet black and donning the Big Daddy Cool threads he wore in 1995 when he first shot to fame as Shawn Michaels\' bodyguard.
There will be several new faces showing up, too, possibly including UFC mainstay Tito Ortiz. Arguably one of the best mixed martial arts competitors of all time, Ortiz recently spoke with WWE honchos about the possibility of jumping ship to the pre-determined grappling game.
Homegrown talent will play a big part in the 2003 WWE landscape, with Brock Lesnar being lined up for the top slot on the roster and Team Angle set to dominate the tag team ranks. John Cena is about to get a monster push, too, challenging for the world championship at Backlash on April 27.
As it stands, the semi-main for Backlash will be Michaels, Booker T and Diesel going up against Ric Flair, Triple H and Chris Jericho.
Goldberg vs. The Rock will headline the card.
The biggest obstacle for the WWE\'s new direction is the plague of injuries that is knocking storylines out of sync before they even get started.
The company is tackling the problem head-on with a renewed attempt to ease up on the high-impact style, asking wrestlers to limit the number of risky bumps and focus on match psychology instead.
Many moves that jolt the neck and spine have already been put on the banned list -- Hurricane Helms\' vertebreaker is the most recent example -- unless the wrestler gets permission from management to use the spot.
Sadly, the changes may be coming too late for some of the workers who the WWE was hoping to build this season around.
It\'s now widely accepted Stone Cold Steve Austin is probably on his final run as an active wrestler. The Rattlesnake\'s dismissal on Raw was more than just a storyline excuse to switch him to the Smackdown roster. Austin\'s neck condition is said to be far more severe than most people think.
Kurt Angle was also believed to be nearing the end of his ring years but a Pittsburgh-based physician has produced a supposed miracle cure that could allow Angle to skip his scheduled career-threatening operation. A doctor claims he can scope off the damaged areas of Angle\'s vertebrae instead of fusing the discs, leaving him with long-term discomfort but full mobility.
If the surgery is successful, the Olympic hero could be back in the ring in as little as six weeks.
Despite Angle\'s gutsy decision to go ahead with his Wrestlemania match, insiders were more concerned with Lesnar after the final bell. For anyone who missed it, the bout was supposed to end with Lesnar hitting a spectacular shooting star press on Angle. Lesnar had successfully performed the move many times in his OVW days but when the time came to pull it off on the biggest show of all time, the Next Big Thing came crashing down hard on his face and neck. It\'s a miracle Lesnar could even stand up after the botched bump but he and Angle improvised an F-5 finish for the 1-2-3. A groggy Lesnar was later diagnosed with a concussion and spent much of the night under observation in a Seattle hospital but he\'s been cleared to return to the ring next week.