March 20, 2004
WWE talent drain
By TJ Madigan - CALGARY SUN
It's the Super Bowl of sports entertainment, the World Series of wrestling, the biggest event promoted by the McMahon empire. Wrestlemania XX was a huge success -- at least from an in-ring standpoint. But instead of riding the momentum coming off the hottest grappling show of the year, there's a major sense of panic on the top floor of Titan Tower.
The WWE roster has depleted to a level that hasn't been seen since the WCW talent raids in the mid '90s. With established stars dropping like flies and a painful shortage of up-and-comers ready to take over the main-event spots, WWE bosses are faced with big boots to fill.
The Rock is gone for the rest of the year, headed to Hollywood to shoot his next big-screen venture, Be Cool, with John Travolta.
Triple H is also Hollywood-bound, preparing to take a leave of absence after his ladder match with Chris Benoit in Edmonton next month.
Brock Lesnar has confirmed he's done with wrestling completely and is working with his agent on getting an NFL tryout, possibly with the Minnesota Vikings.
Goldberg couldn't come to terms with WWE execs on a contract renewal, so he's out of the picture, too.
Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair have been working through serious injuries -- not that you'd be able to tell, based on their gutsy performances at Wrestlemania -- so both are expected to work a heavily reduced schedule while they heal up.
Kurt Angle's future is hanging in the balance too, as his nagging neck and spinal problems seem to have resurfaced.
Angle reported some numbness in his fingers earlier this week, a possible indication his multiple neck surgeries and years of physical abuse in the ring may have caught up with him.
As a precautionary measure, Angle was pulled from the Wrestlemania Revenge tour and sent for an MRI to determine how serious the problem is. He'll be out of action at least until the results are in.
The remaining key players either work a limited grappling schedule (Mick Foley, Undertaker) or don't wrestle at all (Steve Austin, Vince McMahon), which doesn't leave a lot of marquee talent to take over headlining duties.
Granted, WWE bosses have done an incredible job of turning Eddie Guerrero and Benoit into plausible world champions but neither man has the drawing power (yet) to carry the company as the top star. It's like 1992 all over again, with most of the big names vanishing in the space of a few weeks and no new headliners built up to their level for a seamless passing of the guard.
The idea of bringing back older stars such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage or Sting has been nixed but the alternative may not be a lot better for business.
On next Monday's Raw, WWE will simply hit the reset button.
After a year of building separate Raw and Smackdown identities, the angles and allegiances will be dropped in favour of a draft lottery that will start the process from scratch. I'll reserve judgment until I see how it plays out on TV but rewarding the fans' waning support by overhauling the entire product is hardly a prudent marketing move.
Raw's roster is expected to be thinned out, shifting the focus to the new generation of headliners, like Edge.
Smackdown, which is suffering from an even shallower talent pool, is expected to get an infusion of almost-there grapplers such as Rob Van Dam.
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