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   Sat, December 13, 2003



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TJ Ain't Bob Hope


They may not get to lay the 'smackdown' on Saddam but WWE's Thursday-night grappling crew will be doing the next best thing. The Smackdown gang is headed to Iraq to visit American troops and tape footage for a WWE Christmas special.

The festive event will feature Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon joining John Cena, Torrie Wilson, Eddie Guerrero and the rest of the Smackdown roster.

The wrestling stars will deliver USO care packages and holiday greetings from home to the soldiers -- but that's where the Christmas spirit ends. They'll then ditch the Santa hats in favour of an evening of bone-crunching, chair-throwing, body-slamming action. In a press release, McMahon described it as "the most unusual, entertaining live event ever produced for the holidays."

In 1991, the then-WWF took a lot of heat for allegedly exploiting the Gulf War in storylines. This time around, it's doing the right thing.

Like the classy tribute show they ran after the 9/11 tragedy, the company is handling the situation tastefully, by taking the focus off the storylines, mixing in segments profiling the soldiers and simply presenting a fun night of wrestling.

In fact, the plans have turned into a public relations goldmine for WWE, with media outlets and newswires across North America picking up on the story and giving the show lots of free press.

For security reasons, details are sketchy on when exactly the taping will take place, although it's possible the wrestlers already made the secret stop in the war-torn region during last week's Australian tour.

Canadians can catch the special Christmas Day at 5 and 9 p.m. on The Score.

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ROCKY SEQUEL: Finally, The Rock has come back to Wrestlemania.

The People's Champ confirmed this week he'll wrestle at the big event at Madison Square Garden in March, dispelling rumours his movie schedule would prevent him from taking part.

Rocky will return to the ring in January for the Royal Rumble, then head back to Hollywood to shoot Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, in which he'll play John Travolta's gay singing bodyguard.

He'll then arrive back in the WWE in March to build towards 'Mania and perform at the big show, before going on the road in April to promote his new movie Walking Tall, and do preproduction work on a live action version of Spy Hunter.

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BELT eBAYED: Denver Broncos running back Clinton Portis posed wearing a replica WCW championship belt during the game with Kansas City Sunday but he could have done one better by logging onto the Internet and bidding for the real thing.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who was the last man to hold the WCW Television championship, put the actual title belt up for auction on eBay.

The belt, which Duggan 'won' after he found it in a trash can during one of WCW's weaker storylines, sold for $7,080 US.

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AUSSIE COOLS: He survived a hefty sentence in a maximum security Australian prison but the WWE's gruelling tour schedule proved to be too much for poor Nathan Jones.

The Aussie superstar apparently called it quits in the middle of the Smackdown brand's tour of his homeland this week, walking out of the house show in Perth and vowing his WWE career is over. According to multiple reports, several wrestlers tried to talk him out of the decision but his mind was made up.

Jones, who has struggled with the company's wrestling style and schedule since his debut, was playing a bodyguard character for Paul Heyman on Smackdown, alongside Tough Enough graduate Matt Morgan.

- - -

'DUST IN THE WIND: Dustin Runnels, a.k.a. Goldust, will find himself in the free-agent pool when his WWE contract expires in January. WWE announced the surprise decision to not renew his deal in an article on its website last week.

Goldust is a perennial fan favourite, providing many of Raw's weekly highlights.

Runnels is expected to sign with the Zero-One promotion in Japan.