June 28, 2003
By TJ MADIGAN
At an investors conference last month, Linda McMahon promised a new initiative to breathe some life into the WWE\'s rapidly declining house-show business. Most people (myself included) wrote this off as a typical WWE media conference response -- sounds good, gets investors off its back, no intention of actually following through with it.
So, imagine the raised eyebrows when it turned out wrestling bosses really did have an ace up their sleeves and Calgary was going to be the first city to receive the new and improved WWE house-show experience.
Of course, it\'s not going to be a total day-and-night difference. In fact, when the Up Close and Uncensored tour touches down in the \'Dome Aug. 2, a lot of what you\'re going to see will be familiar.
The big difference here is the announcement there\'ll be a special guest appearance from the most controversial individual who could ever set foot in a wrestling ring in this city. Cue the \'you screwed Bret\' chants -- Vince McMahon is coming to town.
Actually, to be more accurate, it\'s going to be \"Mr.\" McMahon -- Vince\'s bad-guy persona -- who will be paying us a visit but that doesn\'t make it any less of a big deal.
As a general rule, Vinnie Mac does not make house- show appearances, in or out of character. He has a multibillion dollar empire to run and, as one of the most hands-on executives in the world, he reportedly goes days at a time without sleep.
With a schedule like his, it\'s a miracle he even makes it to TV each week. Flying into Calgary for a house-show shot is a sure sign Vince is willing to personally go the extra mile (2,036 miles, to be exact) to raise the profile of his untelevised events.
You see, the key reason house-show business has dropped so steadily has been the blatant lack of big-name talent. Fans can generally look past the low-rent set-up and the absence of title changes but they can\'t ignore a lineup loaded with grapplers who are Heat and Velocity regulars.
Take a look at the marquee names on WWE television over the past few months: The McMahons. Goldberg. Steve Austin. The Rock. Hulk Hogan (um, sorry, I mean Mr. America). Shawn Michaels. Ric Flair. The Undertaker. Triple H. Mick Foley. Kevin Nash.
These are the real stars of Raw and Smackdown yet not one of them works a full house-show schedule and many of them don\'t do untelevised events at all.
It\'s a smart way to protect the brand-name wrestlers from injury risks but, at the same time, fans just don\'t see Booker T, Rob Van Dam and the Big Show at the same level as the Hulkster or the Rattlesnake.
Luckily, though, it seems the WWE finally got the message because the Aug. 2 Calgary show looks set to be a near-pay-per-view quality card. Bear in mind, this line-up can (and probably will) change a million times up until the day of the big show but, at press time, here\'s the latest version:
Brock Lesnar will defend the WWE title against Kurt Angle. Chris Benoit takes on Rhyno in an \'I Quit\' match. Eddie Guerrero and Tajiri will defend the tag straps in a three-way dance against the Basham Brothers and the Best Damn Tag Team, Period (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin). Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio should steal the show, battling for the cruiserweight belt. Ultimo Dragon goes up against Jamie Noble. Sable, Nidia and Dawn Marie will take it all off (well, most of it anyway) in a three-diva bikini contest. The FBI will challenge Rikishi and Bradshaw to some kind of stinkface-based gimmick match and the card will be rounded out with Billy Gunn vs. Sean O\'Haire and Bill DeMott vs. John Cena.
Vince McMahon and Zach Gowan were originally scheduled to go face to face in a special Piper\'s Pit segment but this is all up in the air now since Rowdy Roddy Piper was fired Thursday in light of the negative comments he made about the WWE on a HBO special.
Tickets for Up Close and Uncensored -- ranging from $20 to $50 -- hit Ticketmaster at 9:30 a.m. this morning.