WWF's TV hype machine in Ottawa tonight
By TIM BAINES -- Ottawa Sun
Part soap opera, part athletic circus, the World Wrestling Federation has become much more than a slamming sideshow.
Names like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Chris Jericho and The Undertaker are now neatly packaged as sports entertainers, with the emphasis on entertainment.
It's all about marketing ... and the world will watch tonight as the WWF rolls its monsters-of-the-mat cash cow into the Corel Centre for its weekly Monday night RAW TV extravaganza, shown live on TSN.
Wrestling's landscape has changed hugely in recent years. An acerbic tongue and the ability to deliver lines of bathroom humour have become just as important as bulging biceps and big boobs.
And that's good for business, according to former WWF commissioner William Regal.
"Hopefully wrestling won't go back to the way it was," said Regal, the 6-foot-2, 245-lb. native of Blackpool, England, who in the WWF's storyline helped roguish Alliance leader Austin regain the championship a week ago, striking Angle over the head with the title belt.
"It used to be a bunch of big guys throwing clotheslines. It's strange. I was watching some tapes from the '70s, and it may have been good for the time, but no one would stand for that (type of wrestling) now."
And since wrestling's thinly veiled secret -- that match results are predetermined -- is no longer spoken about in whispers, there has oddly been more of a legitimacy attached to this gypsy-like gang of beauties and beasts.
"I'm very glad that pretense was dropped," said the 33-year-old Regal. "I'd hate to go back to that bunch of phony stuff.
'IT'S NOT REAL'
"It's like going to a movie, it's not real. But we do our best to make it an A-quality movie.
"You either get wrestling ... or you don't. Some people think wrestlers all have bald heads and painted faces."
And, like movie stars, wrestlers evolve into characters. Regal's current in-ring persona dictates he incur the wrath of fans, a dramatic change of roles from what he enjoyed as the comedic commissioner, a job now occupied by Mick Foley.
"The commissioner's role was great, but I wanted to get away from that before people got sick of the comedy," said Regal.
The bottom line is Regal missed the physical aspect. He likes bumping around the ring in the midst of chaos and shenanigans.
"I've been wrestling since I was 15," he said. "I started wrestling in the fairgrounds in Blackpool. It was the greatest job in the world. I never thought about being rich and famous. All I wanted to do was wrestle.
"I'm probably in the best shape of my life. I was glad to get back into this."
Look for Regal to play a prominent role tonight. He'll be joined by the usual cast of high-flyers, brawlers, talkers and eye candy.
AUSTIN LEADS ALLIANCE
In the current storyline, Austin is walking a tightrope as leader of The Alliance, a group of wrestlers thrown together from the ashes of the bankrupt ECW and WCW, a rival group purchased by WWF owner and visionary Vince McMahon. Rob Van Dam's popularity within The Alliance has steamed Austin, likely leading to a feud between the dynamic duo.
The Rock is the current WCW champion, with a feud developing against Canadian Chris Jericho.
With a pay-per-view, No Mercy, Sunday, the WWF should pull out all the stops tonight in front of an expected crowd in excess of 15,000.
The last time RAW appeared in Ottawa was four years ago, one night after the infamous Bret Hart incident at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in Montreal. Hart, a Canadian icon and WWF champ at the time, had signed a deal to defect to WCW and was, in the storyline, supposed to bow out gracefully. He was double-crossed by McMahon and left the organization seething, throwing a pall of sorts over the next night's action in Ottawa.
That was then, this is now.
What you see isn't always what you get.
Remember, these guys and gals are role-playing. So while Regal gets high, mighty and haughty, he's actually a quiet bloke.
"I consider myself a gentleman," he said. "But there must be something in me that I find it easy to switch into that character (when I get into the ring)."
And it's those characters we'll cheer and jeer tonight.