Tag Archives: Hulk Hogan

When WWE were nearly thrown off UK TV

Oh the summer of 2005 how I love you! Most remembered at the time for England beating Australia in arguably the greatest Ashes series in history the summer also had another famous UK victory against the odds when underdogs London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics over hot favourites Paris (and only delivered the best Olympics ever). Chelsea fans and Labour supporters will have bittersweet memories of that summer. Tony Blair’s Labour easily won its third General Election in a row – in stark contrast to the mess that party is now in outside London. While Chelsea won their first English League title in 50 years back in the days when the Premier League Champions played at Stamford Bridge instead of visiting on the last day of the season as Leicester will on Sunday!

Of course there was tragedy too. The day after London won the Olympic bid there were the terrorist attacks on the city (known as the 7/7 bombings). The British General Election of 2010 (page 19) claims that the bombings “marked, symbolically at leat, an abrupt end to the optimism of much of the Blair era”. While I don’t agree with that – Blair had shot his bolt with the UK electorate two years earlier – there is no doubt that the first terrorist attack on the UK by Al Qaeda had a serious effect on the country. On a less serious note it got World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) into such trouble they nearly got kicked off of UK TV and are still on probation till this day. How on earth could a UK national tragedy get WWE into trouble not just in the UK but in the US – so much so one of their wrestlers had to be booted out of the company for good at the age of just 23? Answer – a cocktail of arrogance, bad luck and like most sports organisations being out of touch with the real world.

The background is this. On 13 December 2004 WWE debuted a  new wrestler. He was an “Arab American”* Muhammad Hassan. The gimmick of Hassan and his manager Kosrow Daivari was that they were Arab Americans who had got on well with their fellow Americans until 9/11 but that after 9/11 their fellow Americans turned on them, discriminated against them and blamed them for the 9/11 attacks just because they were Arab Americans. They made some logical points that however were too intelligent for most American wrestling fans and therefore Hassan and Daivari became hated heels (wrestling jargon for bad guys). Hassan was placed into feuds with Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin (who said to Hassan and Daivari “I see sand people”- not WWE Creative’s finest hour) while suffering no pin fall defeats.

Then for some reason he was traded from RAW to Smackdown – a mistake in my opinion as Smackdown was on a broadcast (the US equivalent of terrestrial) channel United Paramount Network (UPN) which meant the audience for Hassan and Daivari  was potentially bigger than on RAW (a cable show) and the bigger audience something controversial gets the more people there are who could get offended. WWE had to be careful. They weren’t.

As soon as he got to Smackdown Hassan got into a feud with the Undertaker and a match between the two was arranged for the July Great American Bash pay per view. That same night (July 4 2005) Smackdown General Manager Theodore R Long made a match between the Undertaker and Daivari for that night’s show. Undertaker won easily – and then it all went pear shaped. Outside the ring Hassan kneeled down as if he was praying to Allah – and five men in masks, black tops and combat trousers ran to the ring and beat up the Undertaker. After that Hassan came into the ring and performed his finishing move on the Undertaker while the five masked men knelt down. The masked men then lifted Daivari up and carried him out of the ring a la a martyr’s funeral. What makes this more sinister is what  Hassan had said to Daivari pre match “You will be a sacrifice. But a sacrifice for a greater good”. It at least could be implied that this was acting out a terrorist attack and was rather sinister.

Note the date. July 4th. But Smackdown was not (and still is not) shown live. In those days Smackdown was shown on Thursdays in the US and that week’s Smackdown was broadcast on July 7th. Yes the day of the London bombings. Ah you say the Hassan “terrorist” angle would be edited out. Er no. It was shown in North America in full – with a “crawler” warning at the bottom of the screen. WWE claimed that it could not be edited out in time. They really should have asked UPN to delay the programme for a day in order to give them time to edit the angle out. Predictably – to everyone except WWE that is – there was an outcry and even the New York Post, TV Guide and Variety got involved. UPN panicked and told the WWE that Hassan would not be allowed to appear on their network again. So he was banned from Smackdown and Spike TV – the network that broadcast RAW – did not want him back on their show either. So he had to be beaten by the Undertaker at the pay per view and “killed off” with a last ride onto concrete. He was never seen again on WWE TV**.

Where WWE was incredibly lucky was that in the UK Smackdown was not on TV until Friday which gave Sky time to edit the angle out. But WWE made another blunder. They posted the footage on their website – including the UK. Even although the internet was not as prominent in 2005 as it is now enough UK fans saw it for it to be known what had happened and in the words of Ian Hamilton (in “Wrestling’s Sinking Ship : What Happens to an Industry Without Competition” page 172) “were up in arms”. Why on earth they put it on the internet is a mystery. They must have known UK fans used the internet in 2005 – unless they were so ignorant they thought we didn’t!

Still at least the UK press hadn’t got hold of the incident so all WWE had to do was not make any more mistakes and let the affair die down. But they could not even do that right. Once UPN had banned Hassan they really should have pulled him out of the pay per view match with the Undertaker and found a substitute (Randy Orton would have been the obvious replacement or bring in a wrestler from RAW like Kurt Angle). But instead they kept Hassan in the match. Incredibly they showed the beat down on the Undertaker in the promo for the match. Even more incredibly Hassan was carried to the ring by the same five masked guys who had beaten the Undertaker up. And even more incredibly it was shown live on Sky Sports in the UK!***

Now the shit did hit the fan. Sky got reprimanded by Ofcom (for the benefit of anyone reading this who is not from the UK Ofcom is our TV regulator – our Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equivalent). Sky understandably were furious. Especially as the WWE had been running some awful angles at the time – Hot Lesbian Action, Katie Vick, WWE owner Vince McMahon fighting his own daughter on pay per view and a one legged wrestler – Zach Gowen – being pushed down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair (Sky cut that out too). Sky in effect put the WWE on a “suspended sentence” saying if the WWE did anything else offensive their UK TV contract would be terminated. Frankly the WWE had done so many offensive angles in the previous three years they were lucky to keep their contract.

This whole mess was an example of sporting arrogance at its worst. As Dave Meltzer put it on his website “they (the WWE) live in a bubble in Connecticut where there is nothing but wrestling and the real world doesn’t exist”. Substitute Zurich for Connecticut and soccer for wrestling and Meltzer could have been writing about FIFA. How they did not know after the London bombings that that angle would offend is a mystery.

I think the Hassan affair (along with the Chris Benoit murder/suicide and Linda McMahon’s (Vince’s wife) US senate bids) led to the current PG WWE era that wrestling fans consider safe. But you can’t blame the WWE for playing safe. Remember if they do anything offensive they could blow a lucrative UK TV contract.  They think ” better safe than sorry “. And that is the price the WWE are paying for taking a totally unnecessary risk back in July 2005….

*Ironically the man who played Hassan – Mark Copani – is not Arab American at all. With that name it is no surprise that he is Italian American.

**Copani was sent down to the WWE development league to alter his gimmick but he was released on September 21 2005 probably because he would always be associated with the Hassan character. He then retired from wrestling aged 23 an innocent victim of the whole sordid mess. Ironically he was heading for a major push and was going to win the World Heavyweight Championship at August’s SummerSlam pay per view had the affair not happened.

***That was when I first saw the incident (I did not have the internet at the time). I was horrified. If I had known WWE would show that I would not have taped the event. I suspected – and still do – that if a US city had been bombed on July 7th that angle would have never seen the light of day. To my mind it showed arrogant contempt for the UK. I know people who have never watched WWE again and one friend of mine wanted whoever wrote the angle sacked and McMahon hung. Whether anyone other than poor Copani was sacked I don’t know.

Fifteen years ago today a war ended

Today is a big day in the history of American wrestling. Fifteen years ago the last ever episode of the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) show Monday Nitro took place. Since September 1995 that show had competed head to head with World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) Monday Night Raw in what became known as the “Monday Night Wars”. The war ended when the WWF purchased their rival.

The story of the Monday Night Wars is actually the story of one of the most spectacular rises and falls in a short period of time ever. They have been other spectacular rises and falls in a short space of time. For example in 1960 Northampton Town were in Division Four, in 1965 they made it to Division One and by 1969 they were in Division Four again! In politics in the 1970 UK General Election the Scottish National Party (SNP) elected 1 MP and won 11.4% of the Scottish vote. By the October 1974 election they were up to 11 MPs and 30.4% of the Scottish vote…and in 1979 they were down to 2 MPs and 17.3%  of the Scottish vote. But at least Northampton Town and the SNP still exist. WCW do not which makes this rise and fall quite the most  spectacular.

In 1993 WCW lost $10 million. They were very much the number two promotion to the WWF and had never turned a profit since billionaire Ted Turner bought it (when it was called Jim Crockett Promotions. It was renamed WCW in 1991). In fact in early 1995 WCW President Eric Bischoff had a dollar bet with Harvey Anderson that he could get WCW into profit. He did. Then in 1995 Turner and Bischoff created Nitro to go head to head with Raw. A year later Nitro began a run of 84 consecutive victories over Raw in the ratings, and for the first time since Vince McMahon took over WWF in 1982 and took it global his promotion was the number two in America. In 1998 WCW made a profit of $50 million (remember in 1995 people thought WCW could not make any profit). And as quickly as WCW rose..it fell. By 1999 Raw was beating Nitro in the ratings again and WCW lost $15 million. By 2000 they were losing $62 million. By 2001 they were such a toxic brand that the CEO of the TV Network they were on wanted them off the channel meaning no one but WWF would buy a wrestling company with no TV contracts. How on earth did WCW rise and fall so quickly?

The rise was due to Turner having the courage to go head to head with McMahon on Monday nights and also giving Bischoff the money to get Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from the WWF. Bischoff deserves credit for portraying Hall and Nash as invaders from WWF and with Hogan forming the New World Order (NWO). He also deserves credit for promoting the Cruiserweight Division with exciting high flying wrestlers. But WCW were lucky too. The WWF was stale and stuck in a rut (some would say WWE* is in the same position today) and like the Australian cricket authorities when facing Kerry Packer in 1977 were totally unprepared for head to head competition which they didn’t expect anyway. In 1996 and 1997 it looked like WWF might even go under.

So how did it turn round? In any competition there is what the winners did right and what the losers did wrong.  There was an example here of a “butterfly effect” where small events lead to big consequences. The small event here was Bischoff asking Madusa to throw her WWF Women’s Championship into the trash can on live TV. Seemed a harmless little publicity stunt at the time. But two years later when another WWF Champion Bret Hart left for WCW (with McMahon’s blessing) McMahon could hardly risk Bischoff trashing another of his belts. So when Hart refused to lose to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1997 McMahon screwed him out of the title (the infamous Montreal Screwjob). This in turn made McMahon hated and he was clever enough to turn it to his advantage making himself the main heel in the WWF and to him having an infamous rivalry with his most popular star Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Austin- McMahon rivalry helped along by Mike Tyson appearing at WrestleMania XIV, was the main (but not the only) thing the WWF did right.

As for WCW incredibly they made the same mistake WWF had made in the early 1990s. They went stale. They relied on the same stars. They never produced a home grown star in that era except for Bill Goldberg. They had other fresh talent – Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio – who became stars but with WWF since WCW wouldn’t push them. The first three left in frustration while Mysterio went to WWE in 2002 after WCW collapsed. Another mistake WCW made was to give wrestlers like Hulk Hogan creative control which meant Hogan could refuse to do anything he did not want to do. The equivalent of a footballer insisting they are picked for every game and just as ridiculous.

And once WWF went ahead in the war, WCW panicked spending prodigious amounts of money on people that were not needed. For example $1 million on a non wrestling rapper Master P,  $1 million on a basketball player Dennis Rodman and $150,000 a year paid to Randy Savage’s brother Lanny Poffo – who never wrestled a match for WCW.

And as often happens when a company is losing they think  “if you can’t beat them recruit them”. So WCW signed WWF’s head writer Vince Russo** thinking he would turn them around. The problem was Russo’s ideas were mainly ridiculous. In WWF that made no difference because Vince McMahon had final say so he could veto Russo’s bad ideas (like making Chyna a woman the WWF Champion). In WCW his warped mind ran amuck. He made actor David Arquette WCW Champion in 2000 probably finishing the company off for good. And he loved pole matches – Viagra on a pole, pinata on a pole, Judy Bagwell on a pole (yes a human being!) and most ridiculous of the lot a “San Francisco 49ers” match (don’t ask!)

But it wasn’t just Russo. Whoever run WCW from 1999-2000 especially seemed to be effected. A book could be written on WCW’s incompetence and has been (“The Death of WCW” by RD Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez).  It is as much a comedy book as a wrestling book but I should just mention three examples of non Russo WCW incompetence in 1999 and 2000 (there are many more).

1. Having a storyline where one of your most popular stars Ric Flair is sent to a mental hospital where he dances in his underwear meets fellow wrestler Scott Hall who is there for reasons unknown and is eventually bailed out by Arn Anderson (never knew you could get bailed out of a mental hospital).

2. Booker T and Big T have a feud over the right to use the letter T (I am NOT making this up!)

3. WCW’s resident boy band 3 Count claiming that their first (non existent!) album had gone platinum and their second would be even bigger and go gold (in the music industry a platinum album is more successful than a gold one!)

No wonder WCW ratings went down the toilet and Nitro did not best Raw in the ratings after October 26 1998. But even then they could have survived. One reason they could waste money on rappers and basketball players was they had a blank cheque due to being owned by Ted Turner. And he would never have got rid of wrestling as it was the first ratings winner for his cable TV stations TBS and TNT. But when Time Warner merged with America Online (AOL) in 2000 the party was over. Turner lost control AOL were not going to fund a company losing $62 million and WCW was put up for sale in October 2000. Even then they might have survived. Eric Bischoff wanted to buy them but new Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner announced there would be no more wrestling on TBS or TNT (similar to what Greg Dyke of ITV had done with UK wrestling in 1988). Without TV, Bischoff’s bid collapsed and McMahon bought WCW for less than $3 million. (to think the owners had turned down $ 500 million a year earlier!). The Monday Night Wars were over. McMahon had won.

But I would say it was not a good result for wrestling. WWE’s ratings have gone down the toilet in some weeks below those of the awful 1999-2000 Nitros. The WWE has gone complacent and stale. Like most monopolies it needs competition. Raw would not have reached the highs of 1998-2001 without the competition of Nitro. Do I think competition in wrestling will happen again? No. There is Total Non Stop Action (TNA) but it is as incompetently run as WCW was and when it tried to recreate the Monday Night Wars in 2010 it got annihilated. Remember WCW was subsidised by a billionaire and apart from 1995-98 lost money. I suspect the WWE will never face competition again. A cheery thought….

*WWF changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2002. When writing about the Monday Night Wars I’ve called it WWF. When writing about the period after 2002 I’ve called it WWE.

**I’ll declare an interest here. I hate Vince Russo. He is xenophobic (he said Americans don’t want to watch Mexican and Japanese wrestlers and thought even Vince McMahon could not make WCW wrestler Loch Ness a star. If he knew anything about wrestling outside the US he would know that Loch Ness – as Giant Haystacks – was a superstar in the UK) and sexist ( his idea of women wrestling was to either have them get beaten up by men or fight in evening gown matches, bra and panties matches or other sexist crap. He has to in my opinion take a large part of the blame for the contempt women’s wrestling has been held in until last year’s Divas Revolution). This guy is wrestling’s equivalent of Donald Trump and how he got a job as head booker in any wrestling organisation is a complete mystery.