Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Saturday, July 30, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE Continues to Mislead Mainstream Media about Terrorism Storyline
With the extremely offensive Mohammad Hassan character having been removed from WWE television at the not-so-optional "request" of UPN executives, WWE has continued to mislead the mainstream media about the terrorism storyline that caused this whole controversy in the first place.

The most recent example of this comes in an article by ABC News, which once again repeats the claim by WWE spokesperson Gary Davis that there was simply no time to edit that particular episode of WWE Smackdown before it aired on July 7th. In fact, both the Torch and Observer have reported that WWE and UPN could have edited the whole segment out of the show if they really wanted to, but they didn't think the segment would be as big of a deal as it turned out to be.

Proving once again that WWE truly doesn't get it, Gary Davis also inexplicably said in the article, "There's no question in our minds it was the unfortunate timing of that segment being on July 7 that was the ultimate issue with it." So, in other words, it wouldn't have been that offensive if it hadn't aired on July 7th. WWE still doesn't understand that even if the bad timing didn't exist, this would have still come across as a tasteless angle designed to exploit terrorism in order to draw money for the company and cheap heel heat for the Hassan character.

The ABC News story also inaccurately portrays the nature of Hassan's removal from WWE television. The article portrays the situation as though the controversial sketch "convinced WWE to finally have Hassan... taken out of the game permanently by the Undertaker."

In fact, it was not WWE's decision at all, as reported by the Observer. When UPN "asked" WWE to never use the Hassan character again, WWE had no choice because UPN has the right to cancel any show that brings the network excessive negative publicity, which WWE Smackdown certainly did in this case.

WWE spokesperson Gary Davis said in the article that Hassan's removal was just WWE "tying up a storyline" and that they have "done this with other characters as well," despite the fact that this is the first time that UPN has ever "asked" WWE to never use a character again while that character is in the middle of a big push on television.

Gary Davis also said that Hassan's last appearance at the Great American Bash was a "respectful way" for WWE wrap up the character's run in WWE, which is entirely true if by "respectful" you mean "producing a commercial for a pay-per-view in which you re-play the original terrorism storyline, only you add the Muslim Call to Prayer as background audio." If that's what you mean by "respectful," then yes, they certainly did end things with Hassan respectfully.

Gary Davis also repeated the oft-used line, "The whole point of the storyline and this character was to point out the injustices Arab-Americans have suffered since 9/11."

It has seemingly become second-nature for WWE spokespeople to deceive the mainstream media, with one glaring recent example coming when Gary Davis actually told a reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Matt Hardy really hasn't re-signed with WWE, and that Hardy had merely agreed to a pair of one-time appearances. (That's what made it so strange when Hardy appeared on the following week's episode of Raw, apparently meaning that Hardy agreed to make three one-time appearances, and I suppose that this Monday's show will be Hardy's fourth "one-time appearance.")

Hulk Hogan Makes Unintentionally Hilarious Appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live
The award for best unintentional comedy of the year has to go to Hulk Hogan's appearance on the Friday night episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. I say this not so much for Hogan's segment on the show, but for the following segment in which the person being interviewed was Jerry Ferrera from the HBO series, Entourage.

After Hogan's segment was over and Ferrera's segment began, it didn't take long to realize that Hogan was going through intense misery to have to sit there on the couch for eight minutes while someone other than Hulk Hogan was the center of attention. Whenever he was shown on camera during the Jerry Ferrera interview, Hogan was nervously glancing around, making pained facial expressions, and even playing with his finger-nails. Pure comedy gold.

During Hogan's interview with Kimmel, the highlight had to be Hogan saying that his WWE Hall of Fame induction segment was only slotted to last ten minutes, but that plan got thrown for a loop when the audience gave him a standing ovation for 20 minutes before he could even start talking.

He also said that he has shown Brooke Hogan some things in terms of how to defend herself, and Nick Hogan is a good boxer, so they're all good fighters in the Hogan family and they could kick the Osbournes' asses. (Linda, Brooke, and Nick Hogan were in the front row of the audience.)

Hogan said that Brooke's date on the first episode of Hogan Knows Best was a "supervised field trip" with not only the GPS system in the car, but also two of his friends lurking nearby, whom Hogan referred to as, "Jimmy Hart and Nasty Boy Brian Knobbs."

When asked how long he is going to continue wrestling, Hogan said that he will be 52 years old by the time SummerSlam takes place, and 52 years old is too old to be wrestling, which I suspect Hogan is saying as part of an attempt to get more money out of WWE for a potential match at the September PPV.

He also said that the match against Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam is a dream match for wrestling fans because Hogan is like the old generation while Michaels is, as Hogan put it, "the guy who tried to pick up the ball and carry it after me, and that didn't work out so well for him, but you know, he tried his best and there has always been that jealousy factor from him."

Jimmy Kimmel said at one point, "Wow, I would never guess that you're 52 years old. You're still so huge!" Kimmel jokingly added, "You must be on steroids!" Hogan said, "No, but I used to be," to which Jimmy replied, "But you're off of them now?" and Hogan said, "Oh, I'm WAY off of them!"

Kimmel then jokingly said, "You know what, I need to get on steroids," to which Hogan jokingly said "Go for it!" and gave a big thumbs-up to the camera. Hogan then laughed and said, "No, no, no, you're taking me down the wrong road with that one, brother." In my mind, painful flashbacks ensued of Hogan's infamous steroid denials on The Arsenio Hall Show years ago.

Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time for Hogan to repeat his usual fairy-tale that Andre the Giant weighed over 700 pounds when he body-slammed him at WrestleMania 3, and that Andre died shortly after the match. This is a line that Hogan appears to feel obligated to squeeze into every mainstream interview he ever does, and the absence of any reference to it in this interview has surely caused a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum...


Thursday, July 28, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Unleashed Debuts with Solid Ratings on Spike TV
The premiere episode of "UFC Unleashed" drew an overall rating of 1.6 on Spike TV this past Monday night at 11:05 PM. That number compares favorably to the 1.4 rating that was drawn by the first episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" on Spike TV back on January 17 of this year.

The 1.6 rating falls just short of the 1.7 rating that The Ultimate Fighter averaged over the course of its first season, but is a higher-than-expected number given the fact that there was very little advertising ahead of time for the premiere of "UFC Unleashed." The vast majority of the promotional machine on Spike TV is going towards promoting the UFC's three-hour live special, which is scheduled for August 6th at 9:00 PM Eastern Time.

Starting in early October when WWE programming leaves Spike TV and heads back to USA Network, Saturday nights on Spike TV will consist of UFC Unleashed at 8:00 PM Eastern Time, The Ultimate Fighter at 9:00 PM Eastern Time, another episode of UFC Unleashed at 10:00 PM Eastern Time, and the pro wrestling show "TNA Impact" at 11:00 PM Eastern Time.

Meanwhile, The Ultimate Fighter Season One is listed on Amazon.com as a five-DVD set with a release date of November 1, 2005. Amazon.com has it listed for $28, although it may cost as much as $40 at some retailers.

Tito Ortiz Cries out for Attention
In other MMA-related news, former UFC fighter Tito Ortiz recently made some posts on the Underground Forum about Ultimate Fighter light-heavyweight winner Forrest Griffin, saying that he would beat Griffin easily. This would appear to be a desperate cry for attention from Ortiz. The UFC is not going to meet his intentionally ridiculous financial demands, and neither is anyone else. As that reality sinks in, these kinds of outbursts will probably become more frequent.

As for Forrest Griffin, it's all conjecture about who he would or wouldn't beat in a UFC match (and there's no doubt Griffin would be the underdog if he fought Ortiz). However, the undeniable fact of the matter is that Forrest Griffin has higher name awareness among the general public than Tito Ortiz, or even Royce Gracie.

The Ultimate Fighter, in its Monday night airings and weekend re-airings each week, was viewed by millions of people each week. There is a big difference between millions of viewers every week and "100,000 is considered a huge audience," which was the case with the UFC before The Ultimate Fighter came along.

I would imagine that fighters like Ortiz (and old-school fighters like Royce Gracie) might feel threatened by this fact, but it doesn't change the fact that more people saw The Ultimate Fighter than all of Ortiz' fights combined, or all of Gracie's fights combined. That's just the reality of the situation, for better or for worse.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE Great American Bash Review
Score (out of 10): 3.0
Best Match: Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio
Worst Match: Batista vs. John Bradshaw Layfield

Michael Cole and Tazz are correct that the Great American Bash has a great tradition... unfortunately, that tradition now appears to be having the worst PPV event of the year. Last year's Great American Bash with Paul Bearer being buried alive in cement was the worst PPV of 2004 in a year that had plenty of stinkers, and this year's Great American Bash was easily the worst PPV of 2005 so far.

All of the talk about Road Warrior Hawk in the tag team title match was sickening exploitation, proving that victims of terrorism aren't the only dead people that WWE will attempt to exploit for profit. Giving the tag titles to Animal and Heidenreich was incredibly stupid on so many levels, even if they do lose the belts back to M-N-M at SummerSlam. The tag team division had been showing signs of life for the first time in years thanks to M-N-M.

Seeing Road Warrior Animal back in the ring is nice nostalgia, but so is seeing Hulk Hogan back in the ring... and you don't see them booking Hulk Hogan to beat Batista clean for the World Title. Batista is to the singles division what M-N-M is to the tag team division, which is what makes the tag title change so ridiculous.

Booker T had the same basic match that he has been having for years, and even Chris Benoit couldn't get a good match out of the uninspired Orlando Jordan. It's not too hard to figure out why Jordan is uninspired to the poitn of phoning in his performances, given that he has been buried for the past five months even while being US champion.

Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero had the one and only good match on the PPV, but it wasn't a great match and it had a cop-out finish after it was hinted so strongly that Mysterio's secret would finally be revealed. It seemed excessive and wasteful to have Mysterio's son right outside the ring if this wasn't the night when the secret was going to be revealed.

Undertaker kept his streak alive of horrible PPV matches, and Vince McMahon sure did teach all of those critics a lesson by having the terrorists (excuse me, "sympathizers") back in Hassan's corner.

Does anyone else find it ironic that when WWE has angry stockholders, advertisers, viewers, and network executives to appease, they say in a ridiculously pretentious official statement that the men wearing black ski masks were not even Arabic, and that it's very stereotypical for people to falsely jump to that conclusion. Then when there's a PPV to sell and they put together a video recap of the Undertaker-Hassan feud, they not only replay the simulated terrorist attack, but they dub in the Muslim Call to Prayer as background music. It would be difficult for the management team at any company, even if they tried really hard, to have less class, taste, and human decency than WWE management.

Newsflash from the main event for anyone who didn't already realize it: Batista can't work unless he has someone to carry him, and neither can JBL. I am so sick and tired of hearing about John Cena's in-ring limitations, while no one seems to call out Batista and JBL for the same things. Even with all of his weaknesses, Cena is a better worker than Batista or JBL any day of the week. Whoever put the match together failed to do their job properly when they decided to give Batista and JBL twenty minutes to fill; and then Batista and JBL failed to do their job properly when they put on an absolute stinker of a match within those 20 minutes.

The combined age of Batista and JBL is just over 75, but they looked like a couple of fifty-year-olds in there plodding through a basic formula match with enough rest-holds to make the Ultimate Warrior proud.

The disqualification finish in the main event is the same kind of bulls--t cop-out finish that I believe helped contribue to the collapse of WWE PPV buy-rates in 2004. That is just not acceptable for a PPV main event finish anymore. What makes it worse is that it's not like WWE isn't aware of how unacceptable finishes like that are to their viewing audience for a PPV main event... they are fully aware of it, and they choose to piss on their audience anyway.

Anyone who bought the Great American Bash had to suspend their disbelief that they weren't just wasting 35 dollars to get three hours of filler, as WWE put on a PPV four weeks before SummerSlam. WWE put a giant spotlight on that fact, instead of masking it with good booking and good wrestling. A lot of people are going to feel like they wasted 35 dollars, and a lot of them (particularly those who aren't hardcore pro wrestling fans) are not going to be too keen on shelling out another 35 bucks for SummerSlam four weeks from now.

If any actual WWE investors were watching, this show would have given them plenty of fodder for Linda McMahon to hang up on during the next quarterly investors' conference call.


Sunday, July 24, 2005
During a segment this week on the MSNBC show "The Situation with Tucker Carlson," the discussion turned to the topic of an 11-year-old girl in Fresno, California who was arrested for throwing a large rock at a boy's head. Tucker Carlson argued that the girl was being treated too harshly, and repeatedly said things like, "She's eleven years old!" and "What kind of damage could an eleven-year-old possibly do?"

While I agree with what Tucker Carlson said about this particular case with the girl in Fresno, I have to say that Carlson is livng in La-La Land if he really believes that it's just not possible for an eleven-year-old to be violent, or to commit a serious crime. That was the larger point that Carlson seemed to be trying to make in the discussion, and that's a dangerously naive world-view to have.

In fact, people who are under 18 years old do commit violent crimes and sometimes murder, and they often get away with it just because they're under 18.

Many gangs in the United States go out of their way use juvenile gang members to carry out violent crimes or murders, specifically because they know that a juvenile offender will get a relative slap on the wrist compared to an 18-year-old who commits the same exact crime with the same exact intent.

Maybe you'll remember the case of Lionel Tate, who beat a six-year-old little girl to death in 1999 when he was just 12 years old... only to be released from prison because he was a minor and therefore he couldn't have possibly known what he was doing.

If there's anyone reading this who is thinking, "No one who is that young could possibly do something malicious like that," then you should read this post that I made on Ivan's Blog a couple of months ago:

Convicted murderer Lionel Tate, who viciously stomped and beat a six-year-old girl to death in 1999, is back in prison after allegedly pulling a gun on a pizza delivery man and threatening to shoot if the delivery man didn't hand over the pizza boxes. Tate is also alleged to have assaulted a 13-year-old boy shortly before the armed robbery took place. As you may already be thinking, the biggest question in a case like this is: "Why on earth would a convicted murderer be out on the street in the first place?"

The sick, but true answer is that if you're under 18 years old here in the United States and also in much of the world, you can get away with just about anything. If you want to brutally beat a little girl until she dies from a wide variety of internal injuries, the message that the justice system has sent is: Go right ahead! If you're tried and found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, "human rights activists" ranging from the ACLU to the United Nations to even the Vatican will cry about how you shouldn't be punished, and how surely nobody under 18 is conscious of or responsible for what they're doing. Never mind about the rights of the six-year-old girl who Tate beat to death; what's important in the eyes of these activists are the rights of the murderer. Eventually, you'll be set free and you will have gotten away with murder.

That's what happened to convicted murderer Lionel Tate after serving three years (three years!) for the murder of Tiffany Eunick, and he has now been arrested for the second time since being let go from prison. Prior to being arrested for armed robbery this week, Tate had also been arrested in late 2004 for carrying a knife late at night on the streets of his neighborhood after he had gotten into an argument with someone, which was a weapons-related violation of his probation that still didn't result in a prison sentence. Now Tate has been charged with armed robbery, as well as assaulting a 13-year-old boy.

Tate is now 18 years old and legally an adult. If Tate had committed armed robbery and assault a few months ago when he was still 17, there would be people crying right now that he's a "victim," and that he should not have to face any kind of significant punishment for armed robbery or any other crime that he commits.

Even now, bleeding-heart fools like Katherine Federle of the "Justice for Children Project" (that's apparently justice for children who commit murder, not children who are murdered) are wailing about "saving Lionel" and "rescuing Lionel." In fact, Federle took it a step further and said that the only reason Tate can't be "rescued" now is because the justice system was too hard on him previously (you know, for making him serve three years in prison instead of no prison time for murdering Tiffany Eunick). I'm all for counseling and psychological treatment in cases like this, but only in the context of the murderer still being behind bars--- not out on the street where he or she could do who-knows-what to anyone at any time.

It's not known what defense Tate's lawyers will use this time around, but it probably won't be, "Pro wrestling made me do it!" Despite the fact that it was only the position of Tate's lawyers for a few months, and it never amounted to anything other than a desperate defense tactic in court, and it was later acknowledged as a fabricated claim, to this day many in the mainstream media still use the term "the pro wrestling murder" whenever Lionel Tate's name is in the news.

You see, the first ridiculously flimsy defense offered by Tate's lawyers after he murdered six-year-old Tiffany Eunick was that he was just imitating pro wrestling. They even wanted to turn the case into a full-fledged circus by calling Hulk Hogan and The Rock to testify (about what, who knows?). After that didn't pass the muster in court, the "pro wrestling defense" was retracted, but not before the murder was forever branded by the media as "the pro wrestling murder."

World Wrestling Entertainment would later sue the fraudulent Parents Television Council (PTC) for, among other things, using the Lionel Tate case as the centerpiece of its anti-WWE campaign, even after Tate's new lawyers admitted that the "pro wrestling defense" had been a fabrication, according to a public apology issued by the PTC. (Click here to read the PTC's full "retraction" statement.)

The second ridiculously flimsy defense offered by Tate's lawyers, and the one that they ultimately stuck with, was that he leaped from a staircase and accidentally landed on Tiffany Eunick, causing her to hit her head, but he didn't mean to hurt her. That defense had no validity and was proven in court to be false by the fact that an autopsy showed Eunick didn't just have head injuries (a fractured skull and a severely swollen brain, to be exact)... she also had a punctured lung, severely bruised kidneys, a broken rib, internal bleeding, cuts and deep bruises all over her body, and a liver area that was beaten so extensively that a piece of her liver had actually become detached during the beating.

Forensic experts testified that Tate may have had to beat on Eunick for over fifteen continuous minutes in order to produce the huge variety and severity of injuries that she suffered. After the jury convicted Tate of first-degree murder, the judge ruled during the trial's sentencing phase that the murder of Tiffany Eunick was particularly "cold, callous, and indescribably cruel."

Tate was sentenced to life in prison, but later set free and put on ten years of probation when it was ruled that because he was under 18 years old, he "couldn't understand" the gravity of the charges against him during his trial. Keep in mind, this is not someone who is mentally handicapped or has a learning disorder or anything like that, nor have his lawyers ever tried to claim anything of the sort... he simply "couldn't understand" the gravity of the charges because he was under 18 years old.

We live in a world now where gangs regularly go out of their way to use juvenile gang members when there's a murder that the gang wants to be carried out, because they know full well that the worst-case scenario is that the under-age murderer might have to go away for a few years. Is that a surprise to anyone, given the example set by cases like the brutal beating death of Tiffany Eunick? If you can get away with maliciously beating a little girl to death just because you're under 18, what can't you get away with?

According to the terms of his probation, which he has now violated for a second time, Lionel Tate is technically supposed to be returned to his former status as someone who is serving a life sentence in prison. That's what should happen according to the rules of his probation and the rules of common sense, but I can't honestly say I expect that to happen. After all, Tate's case is now in the hands of the same system that failed to serve justice for the murder of Tiffany Eunick in the first place.


Friday, July 22, 2005
Video Games--- What is fanatical Florida-based activist Jack Thompson angry about now? It's The Sims 2, which completely blurs out nudity whenever one of the Sims takes a bath, changes clothes, etc. But what happens if you download a hacked, unauthorized patch (which violates the game's End-User License Agreement) and manage to disable the blur? The blur is removed to reveal... ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

The Sims are just like Ken, Barbie, or Clay Aiken under there... no genitals, no nothing (not even nipples). In the initial letter that he sent to dozens of mainstream media outlets, Thompson did not acknowledge the fact that the un-blurred Sims are simply devoid of anything underneath the blur. In fact, he actually listed various private parts and falsely claimed that depictions of these private areas were part of the game and could be unlocked with a code. Thompson has since acknowledged that there is nothing to be seen under the blurring effect even if it is disabled, according to interviews that he has done with GameSpot and NextGen.

Nonetheless, Thompson still refers to the blur-disabling in The Sims 2 as "the video game industry's dirty little secret," and something that will cause "much delight to pedophiles around the globe." Thompson said that Electronic Arts is "working... to put porn into the hands of kids" and that EA "absolutely loves it."

Thompson wants the game's rating to be changed from "T for Teen" to "Adults Only," which is the same as classifying a game as hardcore pornography. In addition, Thompson is calling on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and the federal government to force EA to recall all copies of The Sims 2 worldwide. (Strangely, Thompson did not call on the Mattel corporation to recall all of the Ken and Barbie dolls that have ever been sold.)

You've really out-done yourself this time, Mr. Thompson. Your impersonation of Senator Joe McCarthy is second to none.

(On a related note, click here to see an e-mail exchange in which a gamer tries to be nice to Jack Thompson and actually agrees with the vast majority of his arguments, only to have Thompson completely dismiss the e-mailer as worthless and stupid, simply because he plays video games.)

PlayStation 3 News
In other news game-related news, Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi revealed at the "PlayStation Meeting 2005" in Japan that only 450 development kits have been shipped to PlayStation 3 game developers worldwide. That is a surprisingly small number given the fact that the system is tentatively scheduled to be released worldwide in the spring of 2006. I would say that a summer of 2006 launch seems a lot more likely unless game developers are going to get an insanely huge amount of work done in a fairly short period of time.

Also, regarding the expected hefty price-tag of the PlayStation 3 due to all of its multimedia functions, Kutaragi said, "I'm aware that with all these technologies, the PS3 can't be offered at a price that's targeted towards households. I think everyone can still buy it if they wanted to... I'm not going to reveal its price today. I'm going to only say that it will be expensive."

Sony also announced that they have now shipped a grand total of 91 million PlayStation 2 systems worldwide since the console was first released in Japan on March 4, 2000. Of those 91 million systems, approximately 37 million were shipped in North America; 33 million were shipped in Japan and the rest of Asia; and 21 million were shipped in Europe.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- World Wrestling Entertainment's response to the huge backlash over its recent terrorism storyline (which I wrote about here and here) has been predictably pathetic.

(Breaking News Update from the Pro Wrestling Torch web site on Thursday, July 21 at 3:14 PM: "UPN has told WWE it doesn't want the Muhammad Hassan character to be part of the program from this point forward. WWE creative is working on the situation, and the plan right now is to have Undertaker kill him off on Sunday at the pay-per-view. The backlash by sponsors or local UPN affiliates must have been quite strong after the terrorist-themed angle on the July 7 Smackdown.")

Never short on hypocritical hyperbole, WWE's official press release on the matter tried to make it seem as though the people who were offended by the storyline were somehow at fault for having stereotypical beliefs about Arabs, which led these viewers (and networks, and advertisers, and executives...) to mis-interpret a totally non-terrorism-related storyline as something that was terrorism-related. That's an ironic stance to take, given that in my opinion WWE has done more to play into and profit from stereotypical beliefs about Arabs than any other entertainment entity in North America.

A Closer Look at Some of WWE's Questionable Storylines
On the other hand, maybe WWE is right (note the sarcasm). Maybe we're just not fully understanding what the company presented on WWE Smackdown on July 7th, which certainly appeared to be a simulated terrorist attack that aired on the same day that a real terrorist attack killed dozens of people in London. How stupid are we, to think that WWE would actually attempt to exploit terrorism for profit? That's just silly because WWE would never do that.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of things that WWE has done that may just be grossly misunderstood. For example, top babyface (or "good guy") Stone Cold Steve Austin recently said on WWE Raw, "I see sand people!" while looking at Arab-American characters Hassan and Daivari, in a line that was scripted by WWE management and intended to draw cheers from the crowd as if it were a witty insult. While on the surface it might appear to be yet another callous racial slur on WWE television, maybe it was actually meant to be an intriguing glimpse into the effect that racial slurs have had on various societies over the centuries, and how today's racial slurs can still be hurtful and damaging.

Then there's Chavo Guerrero's current gimmick, in which he has denounced his Hispanic heritage and decided to become a white person named "Kerwin White." This new "Kerwin White" character said in an interview that his Hispanic fans probably didn't have enough money to buy a computer to visit his web page, and said he wanted to "thank Real America, which is White America!" before concluding with the line, "Remember, if it's not white, it's not right!" (I wish I were making that up, but that is actually the gimmick that a well-respected Mexican-American wrestler with lots of tenure has been saddled with.) That certainly seems like WWE trying to profit from racism, but perhaps it's really a deep philosophical evaluation of the history of relations between Mexico and the United States and of the many deep cultural differences between the two countries.

How about the Mexicools gimmick? You know, the one where three talented Mexican wrestlers come out to the ring on a big lawn-mower and are saddled with the gimmick that they're tired of mowing the white man's yard and are going to lead a Mexican revolt. Maybe that's actually meant to be a nuanced look at the changing state of labor relations in the United States, and the huge gap between the average salary in Mexico and the average salary in the United States.

Remember when Heidenreich anally raped WWE play-by-play announcer Michael Cole last year on an episode of WWE Smackdown? (Again, I wish I were making that up.) Looking back on it now, I think WWE really intended for that seemingly tasteless segment to serve as an in-depth psychological look at the reasons behind violent crime in the 21st century.

I also think that when Vince McMahon promoted his own daughter Stephanie as a "slut character" when she first turned heel on WWE television (and fans of all ages were encouraged to chant "slut" at her), it was actually meant to be a sophisticated examination of the modern role of feminism and a woman's right to be as outgoing as she wants to be without having it held against her.

And who could ever forget the time that Triple H climbed into a casket on WWE Raw and had simulated sex with a dead body? Turns out that wasn't just a disgusting attempt at Shock TV. On the contrary, it was meant to be a captivating look at the role of death in different civilizations, and how different people perceive death (and life after death) in different ways.

So I guess if you really think about it, WWE's motives for various offensive storylines have always been pure and have definitely not been sleazy in any way... and if you don't understand that, then I guess you're just not as smart as WWE thinks you should be.

More Mainstream Media Backlash
Okay, enough with the sarcasm. In all seriousness, the mainstream media backlash in response to WWE's terrorism storyline has continued, with articles on the scandal appearing in the New York Times, Advertising Age, and ESPN's web site, in addition to the pro wrestling media.

While previous mainstream media backlash to the terrorism storyline has been damaging to WWE, the article in Advertising Age is particularly damaging because it reaches so many of the advertisers that provide WWE with revenue. At the same time, the New York Times article is particularly damaging because it drastically increases the chances of the controversy being covered in local newspapers all across the country, and I'd imagine that people in England who hear about the WWE terrorism storyline probably aren't thrilled with it, either.

The hope within WWE was actually that all of the mainstream media backlash would create a buzz for the Smackdown product and that the following week's Smackdown would draw a higher rating as a result of the controversy. And no, I'm not just pulling that assertion out of my ass, it was actually reported by the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer, who wrote, "There were those internally [in WWE] expecting that the controversy from the week would lead to a substantial ratings increase." Instead, much to WWE's dismay, the July 14th episode of Smackdown drew roughly the same rating as the controversial July 7th episode.

Also, to reiterate previous reports on Ivan's Blog and elsewhere that WWE and UPN could have changed the July 7th episode of Smackdown and completely removed the terrorist storyline if they really felt it was necessary to do so, the Pro Wrestling Torch reported in its latest newsletter, "Rather than edit the program - a logistical headache to be sure, but possible nonetheless - UPN and WWE decided to air it without changes."

WWE Produces Segment with Hassan Responding to Backlash in Character
Believe it or not, WWE actually had the Mohammad Hassan character (who led the simulated terrorist attack on Smackdown that started this whole controversy) respond to the mainstream media backlash in full character, as he mentioned specific, real-life terrorist attacks and eventually said that Arabs get blamed for everything, so we might as well blame Arabs for property damage caused by Hurricane Dennis. The powers-that-be in WWE, through the scripted words of Hassan, also tried to turn this into a "free speech" issue by having Hassan complain about his First Amendment rights being violated.

WWE put Hassan's response up as the lead item on its (advertising-revenue-generating) web site. As the Pro Wrestling Torch's James Guttman wrote in regards to this particular decision by WWE:

"Now WWE is capitalizing on the bad press they got, and that makes it exploitation... and a blatant attempt to ride the public outrage to the bank. No more coincidence. Now it's on purpose. Every time I think they can't make it worse, they do."

Mike Johnson of PWInsider also spoke out against the "Hassan responds to the media" segment. Excerpts from the article on PWInsider:

"It's completely surreal to watch a worked pro wrestling character responding to a legitimate media article. Beyond that, though, no matter what the reasoning is internally by WWE, it's absolutely completely disgusting to see the company, in any way, shape, or form use references to legitimate past terrorist acts as exposition for 'Hassan's response.' It's deplorable in any case, but especially horrible not even a week removed from the recent London bombing. What's next? Sending Hassan and Daivari to Ground Zero in New York to respond to the Variety article? Or Hassan using footage of WWE visiting New York City firehouses and 'editing it' to suit his storyline means?

WWE was looking to play off of all the media scorn, and since UPN didn't want it on their network, WWE used their own website as the medium. Vince McMahon has always had a history of going after those he feels have wronged WWE and this is no different. However, I sincerely doubt that Hassan would be cutting that promo if it was Stamford, Connecticut that had been bombed. The incident would have been completely raw and personal to WWE management.

I hope that WWE's brain-trust realizes that as a publicly-traded international company, which they love to tout themselves as to the media, there are a multitude of WWE fans out there that have been personally affected by the events of the past several years. None of them want to be reminded of those horrible events while they are watching professional wrestling to be 'entertained,' because those events remain raw and personal to them. I guess nothing should surprise me when it comes to professional wrestling, and this didn't, but it doesn't make the situation any less saddening."

Keller and Mitchell Weigh In on the WWE Terrorism Storyline
I previously went into great detail on this blog with my own thoughts on the WWE terrorism storyline, as well as the thoughts of several people who cover pro wrestling regularly in order to give you a sense of how the pro wrestling media is reacting to this scandal.

In the past week, two of the most respected people in the pro wrestling media, Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell of the Pro Wrestling Torch, weighed in with their extended thoughts on the WWE terrorism storyline.

The week after the terrorism storyline aired, a condescending disclaimer aired at the beginning of the July 14th Smackdown broadcast on UPN that said, "In light of recent world events, sensitivities have arisen regarding an ongoing storyline."

In response to the disclaimer message, Wade Keller mockingly wrote in his review of that episode of Smackdown:

"The show opened with an advisory stating that due to world events, 'sensitivities have risen' so viewer discretion was advised. How about this instead: 'Due to world events which we're trying to exploit, but in a tongue-in-cheek way only, since you know, simulating beheadings, suicide bombing themes, martyrs, and such are obviously tongue-in-cheek, and it wasn't our fault the bombers chose the morning of last week's show which we couldn't change... well, we could have [changed it], but chose not to, because any publicity is good publicity, and you people really need to lighten up, it's just wrestling... viewers who are total PC freaks and p-----s may want to not watch.'"

Wade Keller's extended thoughts on the July 7th terrorism storyline are available at PWTorch.com, but here's an excerpt from what he wrote:

"I am against what they aired on Smackdown, even if the London bombings had not taken place. There is a difference between playing off of stereotypes and exploiting a war currently being fought. The simulation of Undertaker being 'beheaded' isn't entertaining, it's disturbing and tasteless, especially when the context was clearly inspired by terrorist tapes of beheadings.

A lot of people defend wrestling by pointing out that other forms of entertainment tackle controversial real-life issues. There is a difference, in part because WWE doesn't make even the slightest attempt to be nuanced and sophisticated in how it exploits current events, especially sensitive issues such as a war on terror. WWE plays to the lowest common denominator and presents gross over-simplifications of complicated issues. And as is the case with the Hassan/Daivari gimmick, they're entirely disingenuous about it.

WWE spokesman Gary Davis should be called out by the media for saying that 'we all feel bad about the timing of the segment.' If feeling bad means not editing the show even though they could have, featuring a clip of the most controversial aspects of the angle on WWE.com Thursday night through Friday morning, and airing extended clips of it on WWE Velocity two days later, then I'd hate to see what they would have done with it if they were proud of it. Vince seems more intent than ever on being defiant whenever he feels he's having to conform to a sense of restraint or decency."

Mitchell Explores Vince McMahon's Possible Motives for the Storyline
Offering fascinating insight into what might have gone into Vince McMahon's decision to green-light such a tasteless segment in the first place, Bruce Mitchell wrote an in-depth column called "Lions in the Winter," which is one of the best articles that I've read all year in any form of journalism. While you'll find a few excerpts from the article below, the full article is several thousand words long, and the excerpts below only scratch the surface.

In the column, Mitchell details how a series of political machinations behind the scenes in recent months by Hulk Hogan (with whom Vince McMahon has had a love-hate relationship for many years) may have gotten under Vince's skin:

"Vince McMahon may well be the most powerful man in the entire business, but Hulk Hogan had once again beaten him at his own game.... For Vince McMahon, while Hogan may be beating him like a gong, there's plenty of other wrestling people to mess with. And he's been in a mood to mess with them, particularly since WWE stockholders dared question why he wasn't buying back stock and why so much money was left in the bank drawing two-and-a-half percent interest. Like any good bully, McMahon knows if you can't get to the people who really piss you off, find some weaklings you can [get to]."

Mitchell then wrote extensively about McMahon releasing over 15 wrestlers in a single 24-hour period (including a female wrestler who was five months' pregnant and was reportedly told very specifically by both Vince and Stephanie McMahon that she would not be released due to getting pregnant)... and hiring and humiliating a former ECW wrestler... and planning a female nipple slip on live television without notifying Spike TV ahead of time. ("Here's a hint: If you see an agent or referee with a towel, those nipples are no accident," Mitchell wrote.)

As Mitchell continued to write about the timeline of Vince McMahon seemingly blowing off a lot of steam, here's an excerpt of what Mitchell wrote about McMahon's role in the terrorism storyline:

"Then at the Smackdown tapings, Vince McMahon finally booked Muhammad Hassan, the 'Arab Terrorist,' the way he wanted to all along... Who cares if this kind of storyline hadn't drawn money in over twenty years, or if low-brow entertainment stopped exploiting jingoism like this after the Vietnam War because, guess what, it doesn't work? The important thing was, Vince McMahon got his way.

Then tragic reality gave the angle a boost that even McMahon couldn't provide. Eighteen hours before Smackdown was to be aired on UPN, terrorists bombed the London subways and murdered dozens of people... McMahon and WWE could have stood with everyone who has fought against these murders, including the U.S. troops that WWE so publicly claims to support. McMahon and UPN could have done the decent thing and pulled the angle off the air, respecting the grief and not exploiting the anger. Instead, again, McMahon did what he wanted.

McMahon and WWE got a bitter lesson for their trouble, if they cared to listen. For a few days, they got away with it. That may have seemed like good news, but it wasn't. It really meant advertisers and media had such little respect for their product that it took four days for them to even take notice of what WWE had done. They expected WWE to act like crass, unfeeling assholes. They had seen it before. It wasn't even a story... until the day came this week that it was."


Monday, July 18, 2005
Video Games--- I had the opportunity to interview a lot of executives and developers in the video game industry during the time in which I ran Master Gamer as an active web site, and my interviews with Oddworld Inhabitants president and co-founder Lorne Lanning were among most newsworthy of any interview that I conducted.

Though informal rumblings of Oddworld Inhabitants' displeasure with the PlayStation 2 were widespread at the time, it was in the following interview that Lorne Lanning first expressed his displeasure with the PlayStation 2 as a platform on which to create video games. At the time that this interview was conducted in January 2001, the PlayStation 2 had recently been released in North America, while the launch of the Xbox wasn't scheduled to take place until late 2001.

In this interview, Lanning was the first of what would eventually become a long list of developers who had problems with the PlayStation 2 and chose to speak about those problems in a public setting. Prior to Lanning's comments, the development community mostly grumbled amongst themselves, and always remained "politically correct" in public interviews to avoid upsetting Sony.

In retrospect, the final question of the interview, and in particular Lanning's answer to that question, would prove to be prophetic years later in ways that nobody could have imagined at the time.

Lanning's comments about Nintendo only wanting to be "a toy company" and not a top contender in the video game console business would also prove to be quite prophetic. That was considered by many to be a blasphemous statement in 2001, and is now just an accepted fact of the video game industry in 2005.

Lanning still maintained in the interview that the Oddworld's first "next-generation" game, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, was going to be released for the PlayStation 2 in June of 2001. However, there were strong hints that Oddworld Inhabitants as a company was considering the prospect of leaving the PlayStation 2 behind and eventually focusing on the Xbox instead.

One week after this interview was published, I wrote an editorial on Master Gamer (also re-published below) in response to the massive outpouring of emotions from the video game community about what Lanning said in the interview. Little did I know at the time of the editorial's publication that at some point in the week between the interview being published and the follow-up editorial being published, Lorne Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants made the decision to completely abandon the PlayStation 2.

Oddworld's decision was announced two days after the publication of the editorial that you'll find below. Munch's Oddysee was turned into an Xbox game, and would ultimately be released as a critically-acclaimed Xbox launch game in November of 2001.

Interview with Oddworld Inhabitants
Originally Published in January 2001 on Master Gamer

Ivan Trembow: Since the last time I interviewed you about a year ago, what have been the biggest accomplishments in the development of Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee?

Lorne Lanning: It would probably have to be the AI system that we've developed. It's very exciting and extremely powerful. We've been aiming for a convincing sense of life for our characters and simulations. It's taken a lot of planning and problem-solving, but we've got it up and running and it's awesome.

Ivan: What have been the biggest pitfalls in Munch's development from a game design standpoint?

Lorne: The actual game design was well established on this project a long time ago. The thing that's been difficult is getting all the tools written for the game designers to use. Game design is often at the mercy of programming because the designers can't fully lay-out or build scenarios unless the game mechanics have already been programmed. And of course, the game mechanics are never fully programmed until near the end of the project. This is always a challenging reality of game design that we have to deal with.

Ivan: Is Munch's June 2001 release date pretty much set in stone, or is that a tentative release date?

Lorne: That is the delivery date for the PlayStation 2 version.

Ivan: It's been no secret that Oddworld Inhabitants has encountered a multitude of shortcomings in the PlayStation 2's hardware. What specifically have been the problems, and how have you been able to work past them?

Lorne: Well, the more ambitious you're trying to be and the higher your standards are with a game, the more potholes you're going to find in the system. When we found these potholes in the PS2, some of them caused design changes because the system wasn't delivering what we thought it could. Other problems were solvable, but we had to invest time and money in areas that completely surprised us. All of the surprise costs or diversions ultimately came out of the game's budget. Some of these were projected and expected because it's a new system, and others were more debatable. As a developer, I'd rather be putting money into the game rather than hardware quirks.

Ivan: Would do you think might have been Sony's rationale behind such technical choices as only giving the system four megabytes of video RAM?

Lorne: I have no idea. If the hardware designers [at Sony] had asked good game developers, "What kind of system would you like to have?" it's hard to believe that we'd still be looking at the same configuration of hardware.

Ivan: Has it ever popped into your mind while struggling with the PS2's hardware that you could abandon the PS2 for the seemingly greener pastures of the Xbox?

Lorne: Yes, but who's going to pay the bills while waiting for the Xbox?

Ivan: Regardless of your long-term PS2 plans, do you plan on making games for the Xbox at some point?

Lorne: The Xbox looks extremely exciting and it's our desire to take full advantage of it.

Ivan: Are you aiming to give [the gameplay in] Munch's Oddysee a higher or lower level of difficulty than Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, or will it be about the same in terms of difficulty?

Lorne: In the past, our games have been more difficult than we would have liked them to be. With Munch's Oddysee, we're striving for a balance that increases the immersion and fun factor while reducing the frustration factor. The menu screen will have multiple difficulty levels, and the controls have been simplified greatly while giving the player more abilities at the same time. The characters move around more smoothly and feel more intuitive to control. We've spent a lot of time insuring that Munch's Oddysee doesn't let you get caught in conditions that leave you stranded or stuck just because you don't have the twitch ability for some particular challenge. If you encounter something that seems too difficult, there are always going to be ways around it, ways to avoid it, or alternative solutions.

Ivan: You told me in our last interview that The Hand of Odd would probably be released six to nine months after Munch's Oddysee. Has development on The Hand of Odd stopped or at least slowed down so that you can focus on finishing Munch, or are you still working on both games simultaneously?

Lorne: Both games have the same core of technology. Munch is the title that proves this technology, and Hand of Odd is the title that will take it further into the multi-player zone. The problem is that the infrastructure for online console games has yet to reveal itself with solid clarity, so until it does, we're going to be focusing on Munch's Oddysee and Munch's Exoddus much more than The Hand of Odd. As soon as we have a solid online model for a particular console system that works for us, then we'll be putting efforts right back into Hand of Odd.

Ivan: The last time we talked, you spoke as if The Hand of Odd was a definite PlayStation 2 game. Is there now a possibility that it will be released for other systems instead?

Lorne: Yes. Hand of Odd will be released, but what system it will be on is currently undecided.

Ivan: I remember hearing a couple of years ago that Oddworld was working on a full-length feature film set in the Oddworld universe, but I haven't heard anything on it since. Is it still in the works?

Lorne: We have been and continue to be in talks discussing the Oddworld movie, but nothing has officially started yet. We're not in a big hurry. We have serious ambitions when it comes to what Oddworld should be when it's on the big screen.

Ivan: Do you find that it's a delicate balance to release info on Munch to keep the press interested while still saving surprises for gamers to experience on their own? What do you think is the best way to maintain that balance?

Lorne: The balance is in not giving it all away. With a deep, rich, and new type of game like Munch's Oddysee, it's a lot better to surprise gamers when they actually play it, even if you told them a lot about the game leading up to its release.

Ivan: Shortly before the Nintendo GameCube was announced, you told Hyper Magazine, "Nintendo has made it clear that they are a toy company only and have no interest in being a true media entertainment company." What specifically makes you have these opinions about Nintendo?

Lorne: Well, when you're a hardware manufacturer and you keep on hinting at unique, hybrid storage devices for your new system, I wonder where your interests are coming from. One example is that developers shouldn't be negotiating how much memory their game can have in it like developers did in the SNES era and still do with the N64, only to be blind-sided by games like Star Fox and Zelda 64 that have special technology packed into the cartridge. This is technology embedded into the cartridge that third-party developers aren't given access to. This type of business model has served Nintendo well in giving some of its own games advantages over third-party games that are competing in the same marketplace. One company shouldn't be able to one-up the delivery system for its products, while other companies are forced to adhere to a status quo standard. This isn't the business model of an entertainment company, this is the model of a consumer electronics or toy company. No real entertainment medium is dictated by a hardware company that much. Think about it. That's like Panavision telling a major film studio to cut out certain parts of a
movie. It's like Kodak making the rules as to what can be shot on their film.

Ivan: How has Oddworld been affected by Infogrames' buy-out of GT Interactive?

Lorne: Very little. Our relationship with GT was good, and our relationship with Infogrames is good.

Ivan: Most games that combine multiple genres are decent in all genres and great in none. With all the talk of genre-merging in Munch's Oddysee and Hand of Odd, do you think that's a risky move to make? How have you managed to juggle the strengths and weaknesses of combining multiple genres into one game?

Lorne: Basically, all of that comes down to creative design and smart implementation. I don't feel that this has been a risky move for us from a design standpoint. If the chemistry of the genre-merging is done well, then each genre is distilled to simple essences and the overall experience is heightened. This has been a risky move for us from a financial standpoint, though, because it takes a lot more work and money to pull off this type of challenge.

Ivan: Will Oddworld be one of the initial pioneers in online console gaming, or will you wait several years until it's firmly established before jumping into the fray?

Lorne: We have been designing for online console gaming for some time now and are extremely confident that we have feasible and awesome content, but we're not going to rush into releasing our first online console game. We'll watch and when the time is right, we'll hit the market full force. We will release pioneering games, but we don't want to be one of those premature pioneers who end up with arrows in their backs.

Ivan: What are your thoughts on the Dreamcast? Do you think that it realistically has a chance over the long run?

Lorne: It's hard to imagine that it's going to hold up against the new consoles that are coming out in the next year.

Ivan: Is there any chance that Oddworld Inhabitants will ever make a Dreamcast game?

Lorne: It could happen, but it's highly unlikely that we would develop it internally. Our own sweat and blood is focused on more powerful systems that will handle more ambitious games.

Ivan: You have said in the past that Peter Molyneux is the person you admire most in the gaming industry because of his work on Black & White. Who are the next few people on the list after Peter Molyneux?

Lorne: [Shigeru] Miyamoto wears the crown to date for console games, but not for games that I really enjoy playing personally. Being a 35-year-old male and not caring about rescuing princess Zelda, I would have to say the crew at Blizzard. They build consistently solid games that are always fun and challenging. I also think that Ensemble Studios is a force to watch in the coming years. Richard Garriott also gets big kudos for Ultima Online. Even though stronger online games have come along since then, Ultima Online broke the online mold.

Ivan: You have also said in the past that Black & White is "dabbling with several concepts similar to Munch." What in particular do you see as concepts that the two games share?

Lorne: I think it's the elements of being in a persistent universe that focuses on a few central characters. These characters are shaped by the gamer in many ways, which in turn influences the behavior of the greater majority of the population on the landscape. Also, both games take into account the moral behavior of the gamer and allow the gamer to watch their moral decisions manifest in different responses from the game world. These kinds of ideas are going to help define the games of the future.

Ivan: On the surface, it seems that the power of the next-generation systems allows developers to focus on more creative details rather than technical details because the hardware is so powerful that there aren't as many limits. But would it also be accurate to say that because any half-decent company will be able to pump out a game with awesome graphics, they won't feel a need to focus on gameplay as much? Or that companies will have to spend so much time dealing with all of the PS2's technical problems that they won't have enough time to focus on gameplay?

Lorne: If you're dealing with a system like the PS2 where a lot of infrastructure code needs to be written, then you're right. It will be a while before you start getting to the really cool, creative stuff. But with a system like the Xbox that uses DirectX, you will get to the creative stuff much sooner. Unfortunately, I think we're going to see a lot of disappointing games that suffer from the pressure of needing to be released before they've been able to pull themselves together. This next generation of consoles is going to reveal much bigger gaps between developers who can handle the pressure and those who just can't cut it.

Oddworld Editorial
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published in January 2001 on Master Gamer

In the week since the publication of my newest interview with Oddworld Inhabitants, the outpouring of reader response has been immense. These letters range from "I agree with every last word that Lorne Lanning said" to "Lorne Lanning has no idea what he's talking about" and everything in between. Overall, there have been more letters disagreeing with Lanning than there have been agreeing with him. In this feature, I will provide my own personal take on what Lanning said, focusing on his controversial comments about the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

If you're one of the PlayStation 2 fans who wrote to me expressing disgust with Lanning's statements, I do understand where you're coming from, but I also hope that you understand where Lanning is coming from. He said in the interview that he doesn't expect any development environment to be perfect, and that there are always problems with any system.

However, the PlayStation 2's problems go above and beyond what is to be expected from a new system. Simply put, it's a hard-to-work-with mess that makes writing good code the equivalent of (to steal a line from Jerry Seinfeld) plowing a farmer's field with a couple of pool cues. It's not just Lorne Lanning who has that opinion, it's a large percentage of the third-party development community.

The difference between Lanning and the rest is that Lanning has the guts to stand up and say on the record, "It's a pain in the ass" while not using those exact words. Meanwhile, the rest of the development community grumbles quietly and bickers amongst themselves. Personally, I think it takes a lot more guts for a developer to stand up and let his voice be heard than it does to be politically correct and keep his mouth shut to avoid upsetting Sony.

Another thing to keep in mind that is that Oddworld Inhabitants is a relatively small developer that doesn't have $500 million to throw around whenever there's a technical problem. Lanning said in the interview that Oddworld is taking a big financial risk just to be developing a game as ambitious as Munch's Oddysee in the first place. Combine that with Sony's poorly-put-together PS2 development kits, and I can understand Lanning's frustration.

Still, I have to question the logic behind Oddworld's decision to not "give into temptation" and abandon the PS2 altogether. The Xbox is going to give developers much better results for a lot less money (and time), especially in the case of a smaller developer like Oddworld. Lanning's argument against this was, "Who's going to pay the bills until the Xbox arrives?" That would have been a very valid argument if Munch's Oddysee had been ready as a PlayStation 2 launch game, and we would be talking about a delay of a full year.

But Munch's PS2 release date is June 2001, which is just 3-6 months before the release of the Xbox. You mean to tell me that with a game like Munch's Oddysee that has a three-year development cycle, an extra 3-6 months is going to kill the project? I don't believe that to be true, but if it is true, then Munch's publisher (Infogrames) needs to re-think its entire strategy for the video game industry.

Overall, I disagree with most of the inflammatory statements I have received from readers about Lorne Lanning, but I do agree that Oddworld should cut its PS2 losses and move on to the Xbox.

Note: Two days after this editorial was originally published, Oddworld Inhabitants announced that it was abandoning the PlayStation 2 in order to focus exclusively on Xbox development.


Friday, July 15, 2005
Pro Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts--- Lesnar Reconciles with WWE, Likely Ending the Possibility of an MMA Career

Brock Lesnar is believed to have re-signed with WWE, causing both sides to drop their lawsuits against each other.

Brock Lesnar had sued WWE to get out of the six-year no-compete clause that he signed when he left WWE and unsuccessfully tried out for the NFL in 2004. Lesnar expressed in his lawsuit a desire to either wrestle for other pro wrestling promotions, or compete in mixed martial arts, which he would not be able to do until June 30, 2010 under the terms of his WWE no-compete clause. WWE had counter-sued Lesnar for supposedly breaching his contract by appearing in January 2005 as a member of the audience at a pro wrestling event in Tokyo, Japan.

This news comes approximately two weeks after Lesnar basically threw in the towel verbally in a newspaper interview, saying that he just wanted to go back to work in WWE and was willing to drop his lawsuit.

Lesnar has not been paid any of his WWE salary since March 2004, and in addition to that, WWE had cut Lesnar off from all back-pay merchandising revenue when they claimed he breached his contract in January 2005. Combine that with the fact that he had no other income, had very little money saved, owed a six-figure amount to the IRS in back taxes, and had to pay lawyers to fight WWE in court, and WWE knew it was just a matter of time until Lesnar ran out of money. To top it all off, when Lesnar finally did run out of money recently, his fiance Rena Mero (formerly known as Sable in WWE) left him.

WWE had a story up on its web site claiming that Lesnar was meeting with WWE management to "negotiate a potential return." That is false. In fact, Lesnar has negotiated with WWE throughout the past two weeks, and the meeting last week is believed to have simply been the place where the final paperwork was signed. This is simply another example of WWE taking a real-life situation (ie, negotiations with Lesnar) and trying to turn it into a storyline. Rather than just announcing on WWE.com that they have signed Brock Lesnar, WWE is going to get a few days or weeks' worth of huge web site traffic in order to make the announcement slowly over a period of time.

Partially as a result of Lesnar re-signing with WWE, and partially as a result of the fact that their new TV deal with USA Network is nowhere near as lucrative as their Spike TV deal, WWE is undergoing massive lay-offs to cut expenses, even as the company continues to make over $30 million per quarter in net profit. In addition to lay-offs among front office staff, WWE recently laid off 18 wrestlers. When Lesnar does return to WWE, he will likely face a large amount of resentment from the locker room, not only due to the circumstances under which he left WWE last year, but also because his salary will be viewed as a contributing factor to so many wrestlers being released.

As for how successful or unsuccessful Lesnar would have been in mixed martial arts, it's likely that we will never know. He could have been a force to be reckoned with, given his amateur wrestling credentials, but he still would have needed extensive training in stand-up striking and Jiu-Jitsu.

As it stands right now, unless the rigors of being on the road with WWE prove to be too much for him (as was the case in 2004), it looks like Brock Lesnar will be spending his forseeable future as a pro wrestler.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE Terrorism Storyline Prompts Huge Backlash from Viewers and the Media

Following WWE's tasteless and shameful terrorism storyline on last week's episode of Smackdown (which I wrote about in great detail here), the backlash has been massive from WWE viewers and the mainstream media.

New York Post/Fox News Article
First came a news story that was published in the New York Post newspaper, in addition to being published the New York Post and Fox News Channel web sites (full story available here). The highlights of that article have got to be WWE's Kevin Dunn saying that WWE "tries to be sensitive in everything" they portray, which is a hilarious statement given the not-the-least-bit-subtle racial overtones of many different WWE storylines, as detailed in my previous post on this subject.

However, the gold medal for most ridiculous quote goes to Kevin Dunn in the same article for saying that the terrorism storyline was meant to be taken "tongue-in-cheek," which makes sense because, you know, terrorism is so side-splittingly hilarious.

Daily Variety Article
The TV trade publication Daily Variety covered the WWE terrorism storyline, both in the Variety print publication and on the Variety web site (full story available here). The Drudge Report web site also linked to the Variety article, causing it to get picked up by many other news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune newspaper and web site.

In the Variety article, WWE and UPN repeat their claim that they "were unable to alter the episode, due to the tight timeframe between the show's taping earlier in the week and its Thursday night timeslot." However, based on what the insider pro wrestling media reported at the time, that is false.

Here's what the Pro Wrestling Torch reported at the time about this very subject: "A number of people have written asking if it was WWE's or UPN's decision to air Smackdown as it was taped on Monday without any edits. The only indication we've received so far is that it was a mutual decision based on time crunch and a conclusion that it was air-able with the warning scroll. Of course, there are circumstances where the show could be edited on short notice, even if it meant the final product wasn't timed as well as usual, but this wasn't deemed a situation worthy of such an effort."

So, WWE and/or UPN could have edited or removed the segment if they felt it was necessary to do so after the terrorist attacks in London, which took place approximately 16 hours before Smackdown went on the air in the East Coast of the United States.

TV Guide and Media Life Articles
The WWE terrorism storyline is currently the lead story on TVGuide.com. The main headline at the moment on the site is a picture of Mohammad Hassan with the headline, "Breaking News: UPN comes under fire for terror-like Smackdown stunt." The highlight of the story is this (sarcastic) line: "Meanwhile, WWE spokesman Gary Davis is urging viewers to tune in this Thursday to see how the plot 'gets straightened out.' If you don't, then the terrorists will have won."

The WWE terrorism storyline also got a write-up in Media Life Magazine, which you can see at the bottom of this page. The highlight of that article has to be the apparent WWE response to Media Life's request for further comment, as the article concludes, "The WWE says it's an entertainment business and that its plot shouldn't be taken seriously."

Discussion about WWE Terrorism Storyline on MSNBC Primetime Television
The WWE terrorism storyline was also discussed on the Tuesday, July 12th episode of "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" on MSNBC, which airs in primetime from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The segment about WWE was hyped at the beginning of the show and took place during the "Outsider" segment of the show.

In the "Outsider" segment, host Tucker Carlson discusses different issues with someone from outside the world of cable news, namely ESPN radio show host and HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman. The "Outsider" segments often end with Carlson and Kellerman continuing to disagree about an issue or mocking the other's position on an issue, which is what made it uncommon in this case when they both agreed at the end of the segment.

Here is a transcript of the segment that is not 100% word-for-word, but is fairly accurate and is based on watching the segment and notes that I took during the segment.

(beginning of transcript)

Tucker Carlson introduces the segment: "The UPN network is on the ropes for broadcasting a WWE Smackdown wrestling show in which a wrestler was the victim of a simulated terrorist attack. The program aired on Thursday, the same day as the London bombings. A group of masked men choked out the Undertaker character while another Arab wrestler knelt in prayer. The scene was edited out of the UK edition of Smackdown. UPN said it couldn't change the episode in time for the US version, and instead they ran a parental discretion advisory message across the screen. "

(discussion about the topic begins as video clips of the segment air on the screen)

Tucker Carlson: Now... professional wrestling has always had villains. In the 50's, Nazis were villains in wrestling, and during the Cold War you had the Russian villains. The villains in the modern world are radical Islamic extremists...

Max Kellerman: Yeah, this is very, very serious. I am very serious about this. Anything that trivializes terrorism... listen, in the 50's, World War II had already been decided. The Nazis were no longer a threat. You know, Nikolai Volkoff wrestling during the Gorbachev era of the Cold War, Gorbachev was a guy who could talk reasonably with Ronald Reagan. This is not the same thing. These terrorists are the equivalent of Nazis during World War II. They should be hunted down, and brought to justice, and in most cases killed. They should not be trivialized by the WWE, or anything that turns them into caricatures. I mean, these are not enemies from the last 20 or 30 years. This is much more serious [than previous wrestling villains].

Tucker Carlson: Actually, I think you make a good point. But I think what also happened is that UPN must have gotten a lot of complaints from Muslin civil rights groups saying it was insensitive...

Max Kellerman: ... Well, my objection is not from being a Muslim or along the lines of racial stereotyping, because they were clearly shown to be terrorists [on Smackdown]. But I mean, they simulated a beheading? Not only was this segment in very poor taste, but again, anything that makes a caricature out of this issue or trivializes it... this is a completely serious issue. There is no room for it to be trivialized like this in any way.

Tucker Carlson: Okay, you know what? I will concede. You've won me over. I give up. You're right about this.

(end of transcript)

WWE Tries to Take Advantage of Negative Mainstream Publicity
As I wrote in my original article on this subject, "I think WWE might actually be hoping to get some negative publicity on this from the mainstream media, with the theory being that any publicity is good publicity because it gets your brand name out there. What WWE still doesn't seem to realize is that exactly this kind of thing is what hurts them so severely in the advertising world."

Any doubt that WWE is hoping to use the terrorist storyline to garner mainstream media attention for itself was removed on Tuesday when WWE actually wrote a news story on its web site in which it re-published the New York Post and Daily Variety articles, and encouraged web site visitors to return soon to hear Mohammad Hassan's response to the backlash. I guess WWE figures, if they can get some mainstream media publicity (even if it's negative publicity) with a little terrorism storyline, what's the harm in it?

WWE Aiming for More "Worked Shoot" Nonsense with the Terrorism Storyline
The line on WWE.com that says, "Hassan has promised to respond to the negative press right here on WWE.com" serves as yet another example of WWE trying to take a real-life situation and "control" it by turning it into a worked storyline of sorts. Recent examples of this would be Brock Lesnar supposedly negotiating with WWE, the whole situation with John Bradshaw Layfield at the ECW pay-per-view, Matt Hardy's return to WWE, wrestlers who have just been laid off by WWE being interviewed on WWE.com, and the list could go on.

When WWE acknowledges the mainstream media backlash to a WWE storyline and then says, "Hassan has promised to respond to the negative press right here on WWE.com," there's a giant hole in that logic. Let me get this straight... a WWE-contracted performer who was only doing what the WWE creative team scripted him to do is going to respond? Shouldn't it be the WWE creative team responding given that they wrote the damn segment?

So now Mohammad Hassan (who is actually an Italian kid in his 20's from New York who isn't even Arab-American) is presumably going to do a "worked shoot" interview on WWE.com, and by that I mean he's presumably going to be responding to real-life media articles, but is only going to do so in his fake pro wrestling character.

The writing team at WWE seems to have become fixated on "worked shoots" in recent weeks. If WWE wants to do 50 worked shoot situations in a one-month period, more power to them. I just think they should leave the whole "exploiting terrorism" thing out of this massive WWE worked shoot bonanza.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if WWE wants to pretend that Matt Hardy doesn't really work for WWE and is just a crazed lunatic jumping over the guard-rail and attacking Edge, that's fine. But if WWE wants to pretend that Mohammad Hassan is a real person (as opposed to a completely scripted pro wrestling character) who is responding to real media stories about WWE's lack of taste, that's not fine, and it only shines a brighter spotlight on WWE's lack of taste.

UPN Lays the Hammer Down on the Terrorism Storyline, At Least for Now
The word came out on the Wrestling Observer web site on Tuesday that UPN had exercised its veto power and asked WWE not to use the Hassan character in any way at the Tuesday night Smackdown tapings in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Here is what the Observer reported on Tuesday afternoon: "UPN Nixes Angle Ahead of Time This Week... UPN sent word today [to WWE] that after all the negative media publicity stemming from last week's show, they didn't want the Mohammad Hassan character on this week's episode of Smackdown. WWE had planned a storyline change for Hassan tonight in Worcester after the storyline involving terrorists from last week backfired."

According to a report on the Observer web site from a correspondent who attended the Smackdown tapings in Worcester, the only role that Hassan had on the episode of Smackdown that will air this Thursday was for his "lawyer" to come out and announce that Hassan was taking a leave of absence from Smackdown until after his match with The Undertaker at the next pay-per-view event, which is on Sunday, July 24. If WWE sticks to that proclamation, that would mean that the earliest Hassan could appear on Smackdown again would be Thursday, July 28.

WWE Still Chooses to Film a New Hassan Segment for Possible Weekend Airing
Though Hassan won't be appearing this week on UPN's Smackdown broadcast, he may still be appearing on the weekend show "WWE Velocity," which airs on Saturday nights at 11:00 PM on Spike TV. At the tapings in Worcester, WWE filmed a segment in which the company attempted to take advantage of the negative mainstream media backlash to garner more heel heat for the Hassan character.

The Observer correspondent's report from the tapings in Worcester said, "Hassan and Daivari came out, inciting the crowd with another rant about the injustice he endures as an Arab-American... being unfairly labeled as a terrorist by people who don't know him, like Don Kaplan of the New York Post, whose article Hassan read excerpts from and threw the article on the ground... Hassan concluded by saying he was proud of his heritage and left." Again, WWE might choose to air this segment on WWE Velocity, or they might choose not to air the segment at all.

What All Wrestling Fans Should Now Be Fearing
If you have followed the pro wrestling closely, your immediate reaction to the news that UPN yanked Hassan from this week's broadcast was probably, "Oh no, I hope WWE doesn't make Hassan the champion of the Smackdown brand for ten months!"

If you think back to this time last year, there was a big controversy after WWE wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) decided on his own that a good way for him to get a strong heel reaction from fans at a WWE house show in Germany would be to goose-step around the ring and salute Adolf Hitler, which he did on the anniversary of D-Day no less.

Layfield was promptly fired by CNBC from his job as a financial analyst for the cable network, as well he should have been. How did WWE respond to JBL's actions, you ask? Did they fire him? Suspend him? Hit him with a big fine? Nope. They rewarded him by booking him to win the WWE Title.

The word in the insider pro wrestling media at the time was that Vince McMahon felt that Layfield didn't deserve to be fired from his job at CNBC, and WWE gave Layfield the WWE Title largely out of spite for all of the people who were outraged by Layfield's Hitler-saluting antics. WWE then chose to keep Layfield in his position as the WWE Champion for over ten months, during which he got ten months' worth of main-event-level PPV bonus checks and house show money.

So, if John Bradshaw Layfield can goose-step and salute in Adolf Hitler in Germany, and get fired from his CNBC job as a result, and then immediately get rewarded by WWE with a 10-month run as a main-eventer with main-eventer paychecks, it's not entirely out of the question that we're about to have a "Mohammad Hassan as World Champion Era" in WWE. It's unlikely, but stranger things have happened.


Monday, July 11, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Matt Hardy could have changed the pro wrestling industry. Instead, he now stands as a shining example of one of the worst aspects of the pro wrestling industry, namely the fact that money always seems to be able to make real-life personal problems or moral values go away with the stroke of a pen.

Summary of the Matt Hardy Situation Up To This Point
For those unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, here's a brief recap. Matt Hardy has not appeared on WWE television since the summer of 2004. He had to have surgery last summer to repair a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his knee. In March of this year, word came out through the insider pro wrestling media like the Pro Wrestling Torch and Wrestling Observer that at some point while Hardy was off the road due to injury, his long-time girlfriend Amy Dumas (Lita in WWE) started an off-camera, real-life relationship with Adam Copeland (Edge in WWE). The fling between Dumas and Copeland ironically started just after Copeland got married for the second time, to a woman named Lisa with no ties to the pro wrestling business.

The timeline of real-life events was that Dumas started cheating on Hardy in late 2004, Hardy found out about it in January of 2005, and the insider pro wrestling media became aware of it in March of 2005. Once word got out on the Internet, Hardy did not deny it and confirmed that he had broken up with Dumas because she had cheated on him. He also made other comments at the time, like calling Adam Copeland a piece of crap.

This presented several problems for WWE, namely that A) There was a WWE wrestler talking about personal, non-wrestling situations in a public setting that was not a WWE publication and B) It severely screwed up the continuity of WWE's storylines, because at the time Copeland and Dumas had never been in the same storyline together in WWE, and Dumas was actually a babyface character who was supposed to be getting cheered by fans.

Once word spread among insider fans, Dumas was bombarded at WWE events with crowd chants of "You Screwed Matt" or "Slut, Slut, Slut," essentially ruining any plans that WWE had for Dumas in a babyface role. WWE also felt that Adam Copeland was a much bigger star than Hardy, which meant that Copeland would get preferential treatment over Hardy from management.

WWE's response to the situation was morally reprehensible, yet at the same time not all that surprising, as WWE chose to fire Matt Hardy. His knee had been 100% healed and ready to go since early March of this year, but WWE never brought Hardy back to television, and then fired him in early April. It was the ultimate double punch to the gut for Matt Hardy, as within a span of a couple months he found out that his long-time girlfriend was cheating on him and then he got fired from his job.

As with all WWE releases, Hardy had a three-month no-compete clause, meaning that he could do interviews and he could schedule future independent wrestling dates for himself, but he would not be able to wrestle for any other pro wrestling promotion until early July.

WWE was shocked at the huge fan reaction to Hardy's release, as they had always perceived "insider pro wrestling fans" to be a tiny segment of their audience, and yet here were entire arenas full of people chanting things at Dumas and Copeland on WWE television, not only in the United States but also at WWE shows in Europe.

The Tough Decision that Matt Hardy Faced
At some point, the persistent crowd chants convinced WWE that there was the potential for money to be made, and so WWE made Matt Hardy a big-money offer sometime in June to have his old job back. Of course one's natural reaction would be, "Of course he's not going to go back to the company that basically fired him for being cheated on," but it's never that simple in the wrestling business.

The importance of Hardy's decision was momentous. He had already agreed to a large number of appearances on smaller independent wrestling events for the months of July and August, and he would honor those commitments whether he decided to re-sign with WWE or not. He had been in the advanced stages of negotiations with WWE's only national competitor in the United States, NWA-TNA, and was very close to signing a deal with TNA.

As with anyone in the pro wrestling business, Hardy essentially had two choices: A) Work for WWE or B) Work for everyone except WWE. Choosing to return to WWE would require Hardy to swallow his pride and agree to participate in a storyline based on his real life personal problems.

Hardy only had a limited amount of time to make his choice, as his WWE no-compete clause was set to expire in early July, and at that point he would either have to sign a contract with TNA (which would contractually allow him to work for any other pro wrestling promotion in the world other than WWE), or not sign with TNA.

How Matt Hardy Could Have Changed the Pro Wrestling Business
If Matt Hardy had chosen Option #2 and chosen to work in TNA, Ring of Honor, smaller independent promotions throughout the United States, and various big-money promotions in Japan, he could have changed the pro wrestling industry for the better in the United States.

I don't mean that Hardy's decision could have turned NWA-TNA into a viable "Big Two" promotion in the United States, because TNA's problems run a lot deeper than any talent signing will ever be able to solve.

What I mean is that Matt Hardy could have made not just a decent living, but a damn good living, by being his own boss, being a top star in TNA and ROH, being the highest-paid wrestler on the American independent scene, and improving his craft by wrestling a totally different style of match in Japanese promotions.

In 2005, if you want to be a successful pro wrestler and not work for WWE, that's how you're going to do it. AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels would probably be the biggest examples of this model, but on a much smaller scale financially than it would have been for Matt Hardy.

The way it could change the pro wrestling industry is that the next time someone like Chris Jericho had his WWE contract come up for renewal, he really would have a legitimate choice, and that choice wouldn't simply be "Work in WWE" or "Work in TNA." That choice would be, "Work in WWE and make a very good living," or, "Work everywhere other than WWE and make almost as much money, while having tons of advantages you would never have in WWE."

If he had chosen Option #2, Matt Hardy could have been the person to establish that there really is a viable alternative to working in WWE if you want to be a "big-time pro wrestler." That would have been greatly beneficial to both non-WWE wrestlers and WWE's own wrestlers, who would be given higher pay and better treatment if WWE management knew that the wrestlers had a viable alternative that they could turn to when their contracts ran out. That's how Matt Hardy's decision could have brought much-needed change to the pro wrestling industry.

Matt Hardy Makes His Decision
Tonight on WWE Raw, the wrestling world found out what Matt Hardy's decision was, as he made his first live appearance on WWE television in almost a year. I can respect Hardy's decision to accept the WWE offer because it was a higher dollar figure and also because in general you don't want to get on Vince McMahon's bad side by turning down a contract offer.

What I can't respect is the fact that Hardy is now essentially whoring himself out to WWE by participating in a fake storyline based on his real life personal problems, and is now taking orders from the very same people who fired him earlier in 2004 under the most gutless of circumstances.

While Hardy publicly called Amy Dumas a whore for cheating on him, one has to wonder who the real whore is: Dumas for cheating on Hardy in the first place in late 2004, or Hardy for getting cheated on, getting fired, and then accepting money to turn his personal life into a worked storyline.

WWE's Approach to Hardy's TV Return
With Hardy back under WWE contract, the way in which WWE chose to re-introduce him on TV was in a "worked shoot" storyline the likes of which the wrestling world hasn't seen (at least not to this extent) since the WCW storyline with the late Brian Pillman. On tonight's Raw, WWE tried to present Hardy's appearance as if it were unplanned and as if he were a non-WWE employee who jumped over the guard-railing and got involved in a match.

Of course, you would need to have an age of under six or an IQ of under 70 to believe that the Matt Hardy run-in on Raw was a "real fight," but that's apparently what WWE thinks of its audience.

As part of the scripted WWE storyline, Hardy jumped over the guard-rail and attacked Adam Copeland, aka Edge, then grabbed a microphone from the ring announcer and said the following words (which were scripted by WWE): "Adam, you bastard, I'm going to make your life miserable! And Lita, you whore, I'm going to make your life miserable, too! And the WWE can kiss my ass!" Hardy was then tackled and dragged away by officials, security guards, and even fake cops to make the storyline seem as real as possible.

At this point, WWE seems to be serious about presenting the storyline as if Matt Hardy does not work for WWE, as if he's just a crazy renegade who will constantly appear at WWE events by jumping over the guard rail, attacking his enemy, and being dragged away by security.

It's a storyline that has been done many times in pro wrestling over the years. The two main differences are that A) This one was inspired by real life events, and B) It's not the 1980's anymore, it's 2005 and nobody is going to buy for a second that Matt Hardy is really traveling to WWE Raw each week, jumping the guard rail, attacking Edge, and being shown on WWE television while supposedly "being a renegade who doesn't work for WWE." It can be thrilling from a pro wrestling standpoint (as it was tonight), even knowing that it's worked, but it's just ridiculous if WWE and Matt Hardy actually want people to believe that every appearance he makes on WWE television is a shoot.

When Did Matt Hardy Make His Decision to Return to WWE?
As wrestling fans, we know from watching Raw tonight that Monday, July 11th was the date on which it was revealed to the world that Matt Hardy had decided to accept WWE's offer to return. However, what's not known for sure is when Matt Hardy actually made the decision to return to WWE.

After looking into this a bit and talking to some people with insider knowledge of the pro wrestling industry, it appears likely that Hardy agreed to re-sign with WWE sometime in the week before the June 20th Raw in Phoenix, which would mean that any interview or web site post that Hardy has made since that time has been in 100% work mode. And yes, what I mean by "100% work mode" is basically lying to people in order to make it all the more surprising when he showed up on Raw on July 11th.

Based on the people I've talked to, here are the reasons why it appears that the week of June 13th through June 20th is when Hardy made his decision to return to WWE. For one, it was during that week that Hardy's attitude about NWA-TNA behind the scenes changed from being extremely excited about signing with TNA, to stalling on making a commitment to sign with TNA. It also just so happens that he stopped taking new independent bookings on that same week.

It also just so happens that Hardy's name was briefly mentioned on the June 20th episode of Raw in Phoenix (the one with the wedding), which was the first time in nine months that Hardy had been acknowledged on WWE Raw by anyone other than the fans with their "We Want Matt" chants. It's unlikely that WWE would have acknowledged Hardy on WWE television if there wasn't some kind of an agreement in place for him to re-sign with WWE.

Initial Concerns about Hardy's WWE Return
The first thing that most people probably noticed when they saw Matt Hardy on TV for the first time in almost a year is the fact that all of that inactivity seems to have caught up with him. As the Torch's James Guttman wrote, Hardy looked a bit more like "Fat Elvis" (referring to Elvis in his later years) in the face than he looked like Matt Hardy when we last saw him. That will probably go away over time, but it can't be good for his in-ring cardio and work-rate in the short term.

Another thing I noticed is that while he seems to have gotten a bit plump elsewhere, Matt Hardy's arms have grown immensely in size, and they now bear more of a resemblance to the muscle mass of Batista's arms than the way Hardy's arms used to look. That's not going to be good for Hardy's in-ring cardio and work-rate in the long term, and could also make him more injury-prone in the future.

One also has to remember that there's always a chance that WWE's creative team will botch Hardy's current storyline and then blame him for it, and then justify any future lack of giving Hardy a decent push by saying, "He can't draw money, look at how bad X, Y, and Z turned out." That has happened to plenty of wrestlers over the years, and Hardy is not immune to that.

However, my main concern with Matt Hardy is that even if his current on-air feud is a rip-roaring success, I'm afraid that once it's over he will go back to being in the same WWE creative hell in which he has spent most of the past several years.

There's a chance that six months from now, Hardy will be back to being lost in the shuffle, with the most vindictive writing team in any form of entertainment burying him on the undercard as payback for daring to speak out against WWE in early 2005... and he'll be stuck in a multi-year, exclusive WWE contract from which he can't escape. That should be Matt Hardy's biggest fear, and unfortunately it's a very real possibility.

Sidebar: Hardy Eliminates Any Remaining Doubt about WWE-ROH Relationship
One other thing that Matt Hardy said on WWE Raw tonight was something he said to the fans just before he was dragged away by the fake security guards: "I'll see you at ROH, Ring of Honor!" Ring of Honor is a small, critically acclaimed independent promotion with an ever-growing cult following (a sentence that could have described ECW in the mid-90's), and Hardy will be working for ROH a few times in July in order to fulfill commitments that he made after he was fired by WWE and before he agreed to re-sign with WWE.

The mention of ROH on Raw was meant to make Hardy's appearance seem all the more "shocking" and "real," and was designed by WWE management to make casual fans think, "Oh my God, he just mentioned another pro wrestling promotion by name, so this must be real!" In fact, Hardy's mention of ROH only serves to confirm in my mind that WWE and ROH have a working relationship.

Though I can't say it for a fact, I am almost certain that WWE and Ring of Honor have a "working business relationship" with each other, in much the same way that WWE and ECW did in the 90's. WWE has the same motive to work with ROH that they had to work with ECW for all those years, which is to mine the place for talent (see WWE's recent signing of Ring of Honor main-eventer CM Punk). The recent announcement that a WWE-contracted wrestler, Steven Richards, would be appearing on a Ring of Honor show made me highly suspicious that WWE and ROH were in cahoots in some way.

Now all remaining doubt has been eliminated in my mind tonight by the fact that WWE employee Matt Hardy said on WWE television, "I'll see you at Ring of Honor!" Every word that Matt Hardy said on Raw tonight was scripted by the WWE creative team, which means that the WWE creative team actually scripted Matt Hardy to mention Ring of Honor by name. Now, ask yourself: Would WWE ever script that under any circumstances if there wasn't a "working business relationship" between WWE and ROH?

I'm not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with WWE and Ring of Honor working with each other. I just think that both parties, WWE and ROH, should be a bit more open and honest about it.

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