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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

Smackdown gets dose of reality
By T.J. MADIGAN -- Calgary Sun
 Paul Heyman had barely walked backstage at Tuesday's Smackdown tapings and already the word was spreading. Wrestling journalists began getting calls before the tapings were even finished and the internet was buzzing two whole days before the show would air on television.

 Midway through the Smackdown card, Heyman stormed to the ring and cut a blistering shoot-style promo, one of the most passionate and believable interviews the WWF has seen in years, unashamedly bashing the direction of the company and verbally demolishing Vince McMahon.

 Why did it make such an impact? Well firstly, McMahon is generally opposed to allowing shoot comments in the context of storylines, so the insider nature of the angle was a total shock. Most importantly though, the emotion and anger seemed real. Then again, maybe it was. Heyman accused Vince of stealing the hardcore wrestling style developed by ECW, claiming it as the WWF's new attitude, and riding it to massive mainstream success. He accused Vince of exploiting Hulk Hogan, of destroying Bret Hart's career and of ruining Shawn Michaels. He criticized Vince for monopolizing a respected business after his father's death and turning it into a circus. He talked of Vince flaunting his extra-marital affairs in Playboy. And he slated Vince's desire to completely convert wrestling into sports entertainment.

 This isn't a fictitious background created by a scriptwriting team. This is the truth. And it's truth that Paul Heyman probably wanted to vocalize for a long time. It may be part of a storyline but the concept is very much reality-based.

 With six months of Invasion coming to a head at tomorrow night's Survivor Series, it might just have stirred enough last-minute intrigue to make the show a success.

 Heyman's comments were preceded by a similar monologue on Monday's live Raw by Mick Foley. The former Mankind has been very vocal in the press regarding his frustration with the WWF's direction since Wrestlemania. On Raw, in a scathing five-minute speech, he tore apart McMahon, put over his storyline archrival and voiced his disgust at the shoddy booking destroying the legacy of historic championships.

 Again, Foley's words were his own -- not the work of the WWF writers. In fact, the promo was complete ad lib, with the exception of a comment about X-Pac, which was scripted by WWF writer Brian Gewertz, who has legit backstage heat with Sean Waltman.

 Foley has always acknowledged that the best angles are those based on real-life emotions. On Monday, he looked comfortable in his commissioner role for the first time in months. The reason? It emerged yesterday that Raw was probably his last WWF appearance. Ever. After months of behind-the-scenes disputes, the Hardcore Legend has opted to amicably leave the company.

 The promos by both Foley and Heyman have hit the right buttons with the audience. They've created a fresh curiosity. A sense of 'what's gonna happen next?' that's been absent from the WWF for a long time.

 The WWF's full-scale attempt to turn business around will begin tomorrow night. They're planning a major swerve after the final bell of the main event, which has been allocated a rare full-hour slot on the show. The next few weeks are also pivotal. Triple H is returning. The McMahons seem to be going. The re-signing of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash is virtually guaranteed.

 Comic-book plotlines are out and shoot-style crash TV is in.

 The biggest news broke yesterday, literally hours before our deadline, when we got word that the WWF is in serious hush-hush negotiations to bring in Ric Flair as early as next week. Money was said to be the only remaining issue, as they'll have to buy out Flair's big-money deal with Time-Warner.

 There's a massive angle planned for Monday's Raw (in Flair's hometown of Charlotte) and a surprise appearance by the Nature Boy would be the icing on the cake. Raw Is Bore just became must-see television.

 It looks like the WWF is at last willing to try new ideas in order to turn the company around, though they really can't afford to make another false start. The fans are watching again, Vince. The next 72 hours will see if you're able to take the ball and run with it this time.

 Calgary fans can catch the Survivor Series at 6 p.m. tomorrow on pay-per-view or on the big screen at Famous Players theatres.


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