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Make The Grade: #9 – Viva La Raza

I’m not even really sure what I should say here. Or what I want to say.

I guess I?ve been one of the fortunate people who haven’t had anyone close to them die. Well, almost anyone. A few years ago in college, the chair of our theatre department passed away. He had been sick for about a month before that, but his death was still somewhat of a shock to all of us. I worked in the theatre office every day, and every day I would converse with him about various things. He wasn’t a family member, he wasn’t a close friend, but he was still the closest person I ever knew that had died. It was very somber around the department for a while thereafter. I went to his memorial service, and almost cried, but didn’t, as others gave speeches and reflected on his life. A few months went by, and life slowly went back to normal.

I never thought the death of a professional wrestler that I?ve never met, only seen in person a couple times, could affect me more than the death of a person that I saw every day for over a year. And yet here I am, writing about Eddie Guerrero, what he meant to me, and what last night?s RAW meant to me.

I got back into wrestling at the very end of 1997. I watched both WCW and the WWF, and I certainly remember Eddy Guerrero. I remember hating him as a mark. I don’t remember many specifics, but I do know that I was enthralled with his work with Chavo. I also know that he was a very different wrestler then. His growth over the years as a performer was an awesome thing to witness. His jump to the WWF was huge, and really set the stage for Guerrero as he grew out of the cruiserweight division and into the main event. Or, at least he tried to. I remember when Eddie was released. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, as there were so many other wrestlers to watch, and Eddie hadn’t made my list of ?favorites? yet. And this is where the story gets good. He cleans up, he comes back, and he picks up right where he left off. He wrestles consistently as one of the top wrestlers in the company, he entertains the crowd with his promos the way only few in the company can do. He became bigger and better than I ever would have thought he could become.

He became a real-life babyface. Someone that you want to do well whether they’re playing a face or a heel on TV. His troubled times were well documented, as was his hard work to overcome those troubled times. His story was one of inspiration, of hope, and you were just happy watching him do what he loves, and being able to live life. It?s been mentioned enough to be clich? at this point, but I will forever remember Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit at Wrestlemania XX, standing in the ring together, both as champions, embracing, crying, celebrating their trip to the top together. It?s just one of those feelgood moments you rarely get to see. After everything Eddie had been through, he had reached the top, he had won at Wrestlemania, and was champion with his close friend Chris Benoit.

It?s hard to think about those times, and think that now, there will be no more Eddie Guerrero feelgood moments. Never again will he hit someone with a chair while the ref isn’t looking, only to also fall down in order to confuse the ref and get away with a chairshot. Or watching him in a tag match as he leaves his corner only to be reprimanded by the ref about how he needs to be in his corner holding the tag rope, at which time Eddie calmly holds up the tag rope he just previously untied. Or the smirk that always accompanied any classic Eddie Guerrero moment. His heart, his dedication to this business was always so apparent when you watched him on TV. He was one of those people that was loved by all fans.

Despite everything I?ve said about Eddie, when I first learned of his death, I was sad, somber, in shock, but nothing more. I don’t always express my emotions the way that I should. Things that should upset me do to a certain extent, but my emotions run deep when it comes to the pain and suffering of others. RAW last night was basically two hours dedicated to Eddie Guerrero, and it featured everyone who carried that pain and suffering with them. I can’t even remember the last time I seriously cried about something. I cried last night, for the entire first segment of the show, and several times later when watching interviews from Batista, Chris Benoit, Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and everyone else who contributed. My crying was almost to the point of being uncontrollable sobs. Uncontrollable sobs. I don’t know that I?ve ever associated myself with that phrase. But last night, I was almost there. The pain on everyone?s faces on television, along with the realization that a good person died, a member of the WWE family was gone, that none of us would ever be graced with Eddie Guerrero?s presence again was just too much.

Part two will be on Friday. The close of the Eddie Guerrero saga in WWE. It will be just as hard to watch this Friday as it was to watch last night. At the same time, there?s something uplifting about the shows. It?s just like Vince McMahon said, tonight is a tribute to Eddie Guerrero. It?s a sad, sad time to be a wrestling fan, and the loss of Eddie Guerrero is something that has literally affected millions of people. It?s also a time to reflect, reflect on everything great that we choose to remember about Eddie Guerrero. It?s one final thank you to Eddie for his years of hard work, for overcoming the odds and coming out on top, and for being one of the best damn entertainers this industry has ever seen.

I will miss you Eddie, but I also want to thank you for everything you?ve ever done for me as a wrestling fan, and as a person.

Thanks for reading.

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Make The Grade: #8 – A Whole New Beginning (Part 2)

Make The Grade #8 ? A Whole New Beginning

The second half of the draft picked up right where the first half left off, and gave us more surprises, and another champion moved from one show to the other. If you haven’t read the first part of this column, I encourage you to do that here. We’ll now take a look at the final six picks for this year?s WWE lottery draft.

Name: Carlito

Pick: RAW?s #3 Pick

Career Highlights: Current Intercontinental Champion, US Champion

What this means for RAW: Carlito certainly knows how to debut on a show. Following his debut on Smackdown, Carlito walked out with the US Championship. Now, following a trade to RAW, Carlito walked out as the Intercontinental Champion. He certainly has the ability to get over with the fans, thanks to his exception mic skills, which was really the only thing that kept him afloat when he was injured on Smackdown. The interesting thing with Carlito, however, is that he?s not one of those guys that will benefit tremendously from being on a live show as opposed to someone like John Cena, for example. Carlito is young, and not great in the ring, but he has solid fundamentals, and works hard, and has a lot of potential. It?s tempting to compare him to John Cena when Cena first broke out on Smackdown. Hopefully Carlito?s inring skills improve a bit more than Cena?s have.

The problem with Carlito going to RAW, as is the case with virtually all the other draft picks, is that RAW is the more established show, with bigger names, and less room to move up the card. He has already been established as a solid midcarder, but advancing anywhere near the main event scene is something that isn’t really a possibility at this point. The potential is there with Carlito, but considering how saturated the main event market already is, this pick won’t end up being as significant as the first two.

What this means for Smackdown: No offense to Carlito, but the biggest loss to come from this pick is probably that of Carlito?s Cabana. The Cabana was the standard ‘talk show? segment on Smackdown, going up against Chris Jericho?s Highlight Reel on RAW. Now with both shows on RAW, Smackdown loses a potentially valuable segment each week. Carlito?s presence on Smackdown was a welcome one, with his character becoming a breath of fresh air and something different than what had been on Smackdown prior to his debut. However, Carlito?s injury significantly lessened the impact he probably would have made on the show had he remained healthy the entire time. As it stands, once Carlito came back from his injury, he didn’t have a whole lot to do. He picked up Matt Morgan as a sidekick to replace the defunct Jesus, but didn’t have a solid direction to head in. The US Title wasn’t an option, being in the hands of fellow heel Orlando Jordan. Therefore, Smackdown really didn’t feel the sting of losing Carlito when they did because he wasn’t a valuable commodity at the time, unlike the value of prior draft picks Angle and Cena. It?s not to say that Smackdown won’t miss the potential matchups someone like Carlito could have provided, but if there was ever a time to put Carlito on the other show, this was that time.

Name: Muhammad Hassan

Pick: Smackdown?s #3 pick

Career Highlights: None to date.

What this means for Smackdown: Muhammad Hassan is an interesting pick, to say the least, for Smackdown. He has been given a gimmick with the idea of creating massive amounts of heat. So far, he has been put in matches with some pretty big names, like Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit. And, so far, he has failed to impress the fans during his matches. On the mic, his promos are solid, to the point, and make a lot of sense. That is when he is at his best. In the ring, however, he hasn’t been able to be as good as many people were probably expecting him to be. In actuality, his sidekick, Daivari, is much better in the ring, but doesn’t get the push Hassan does because of his size. I still think there?s potential for Hassan to turn into something useful, and I think that with some more time his work in the ring can improve and he can learn how to put together a good match. However, there certainly isn’t that same level of expectation like there was when he debuted on RAW. In the end, Smackdown could benefit greatly from this pickup, but it?s far from being a sure thing, and right now, it looks like picking up Hassan and Daivari may not result in as much of an impact as one might like to see.

What this means for RAW: Watching RAW, there was never the feeling that Hassan fit in well. He cut his promos, he wrestled his matches, but something just seemed out of place. There didn’t seem to be anywhere for him to go on a long term basis. He made his rounds, wrestling all the regulars, but not really finding any quality feuds to involve himself in. A lot of that may have had to do with the fact that with all the stars on RAW, he maybe went unnoticed, due to his lack of high profile feuds. Losing Hassan really doesn’t mean a whole lot for RAW. He?s a relatively new wrestler who hasn’t stepped in and made a lasting impression. Having him move off the show won’t affect any long-term RAW plans, and if anything, frees up a midcard heel spot for someone like Carlito. Pretty minor loss for RAW that doesn’t mean much in the long run.

Name: Big Show

Pick: RAW?s #4 pick

Career Highlights: 2-time WWE Champion, United States Champion, 2-time World Tag Team Champion

What this means for Smackdown: The Big Show?s career is filled with many ups and downs, to be honest. He?s been at the top, getting two championship reigns, and also has been at the bottom, floundering around, jobbing to people left and right. After a very successful couple of years on Smackdown, Big Show was definitely running out of things to do. One of the main problems with someone like the Big Show is that while they can be effective, someone that size can generally only go about playing a character one way. The Big Show has feuded with virtually every midcard to main event person on the Smackdown roster, and aside from an impending return by Brock Lesnar, there aren’t a whole lot of interesting matchups for Show. Smackdown will be losing its resident ?big man?, although the Undertaker is still available in a limited capacity. Ideally, with the loss of the Big Show, Smackdown probably could have benefited from gaining someone like Kane, as having a big guy to put over others who are getting a push is a proven method. Losing the Big Show certainly won’t be a huge loss, as there wasn’t much going for him character-wise, and the list of opponents and feuds for him was quite short.

What this means for RAW: As was mentioned earlier, RAW already has Kane as far as big men goes, so picking up someone like the Big Show isn’t necessarily that important. There are certainly a lot of areas where Show can be effective, though. Big Show works better as a heel, but with all the heels on RAW right now, there isn’t a lot of room for him on that side. However, there are some aspiring heels on RAW that could definitely benefit from some sort of feud with Show. If Chris Masters were ever to improve in the ring, he could really get over with a successful feud with Show. Same thing for someone like Rob Conway, or even Rene Dupree for that matter. One of the big problems with RAW right now is that there is a lot of main event talent, which is in turn causing the midcard to really suffer. Aside from Shelton Benjamin and Carlito, there aren’t a whole lot of set in stone midcarders. Putting people over the Big Show could go a long way in getting in more established midcarders, but with the large amount of main event talent, it may not work out as well as it should. Ideally, that should be the Big Show?s role. There?s no room for him in the main event, there really aren’t any titles that would fit him right now. In the long run, Big Show definitely runs the risk of being completely forgot about, as has been shown in his first couple of weeks on the show, and this isn’t really a pick that RAW is expecting any kind of impact from.

Name: Christian

Pick: Smackdown?s #4 pick

Career Highlights: 3-time Intercontinental Champion, European Champion, Light Heavyweight Champion, 9-time World Tag Team Champion,

What this means for Smackdown: In short, picking up Christian is going to have great ramifications for the show in the long run. Christian has been with the company for about seven years now, and has really been one of those guys that started at the bottom and has made a name for himself. His reputation as a tag team wrestler is well-known, and he has since been able to climb the ladder and cement himself as an upper midcard wrestler. Lately, he?s been testing the main event waters, getting involved with both John Cena and Batista over the past month or so. While a title run is certainly not in the works right now for Christian, he definitely has an opportunity on Smackdown to make a name for himself in the main event. His ring work does leave something to be desired, and he?s yet to really have a great singles match.

That being said, Christian?s really been improving the past year or two, and this move to Smackdown shows that management really has a lot of faith in him. He?s been put on a show that has nothing but room in the upper tier for wrestlers who are able to make a name for themselves, and Christian could very well be one of those people. If the United States title is brought back into the picture and given some importance, Christian could certainly get some good feuds out of the title, being a 3-time IC title on RAW. In the meantime, there is certainly potential with a return feud with Booker T, Christ Benoit, and maybe even a feud with Rey Mysterio somewhere down the line. All in all, Christian?s presence and charisma will definitely give Smackdown a boost, and there?s a lot of potential for where he can go on the card in the long run.

What this means for RAW: As was mentioned earlier, part of the problem with RAW right now is that there is a severe lack of midcard talent. Losing Christian will only add to that problem, as he was quite possibly the strongest midcard wrestler on the show. A 3-time IC champion, his feuds with the likes of Chris Jericho and Shelton Benjamin have really done a lot to make the midcard of RAW an enjoyment to watch on PPV. Christian has been a staple on RAW for a while, so the change of scenery will be nice for the show, but overall the loss of Christian will probably be a bigger deal than the show might let on. Few people can promo like Christian, and he?s one of those guys that you can count on to work hard and get over with the fans. Definitely a big pickup for Smackdown and a significant loss for RAW.

Name: Rob Van Dam

Pick: RAW?s #5 pick

Career Highlights: 5-time Intercontinental Champion, 2-time World Tag Team Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion, 4-time Hardcore Champion

What this means for RAW: Chances are the idea of moving Van Dam to RAW does not include a main event push or a championship run. There just isn’t room, and Van Dam hasn’t been viewed as a main event threat since his involvement in the first Elimination Chamber match in 2002. Instead, this could be another opportunity for Van Dam to make an impression as a midcarder. Van Dam received a huge pop upon his appearance on RAW, and he brings a reputation and credibility to the midcard scene on RAW. Like the Big Show, and Carlito, the midcard is the best place for RVD. Hopefully, RVD won’t get put back in his former position on RAW, which was that of a tag team partner with Kane in a poor and floundering tag division. The tag division is even worse, so another reign in a team would not be an effective use for Van Dam. However, as has been exhibited in the past, Van Dam is not always used to his potential, but perhaps this move means more of an emphasis on his place on the show given the reaction he got at ECW?s One Night Stand. This isn’t a huge pick for RAW, but could turn out well for them depending on how Van Dam is used.

What this means for Smackdown: Having RVD drafted was a large surprise to most people. Van Dam has spent a lot of time on the injured list lately, and aside from his appearance at ECW?s One Night Stand, hasn’t been on TV in months. It?s no surprise that despite Van Dam?s ability to get over with the fans, his character is constantly limited to that of basically a stoner who doesn’t say much more than five words at a time. His matches are usually short, which for Van Dam translates to formulaic. Despite being a 5-time Intercontinental Champion, he has actually been pushed down the card the past couple of years. Over the past year or year and a half, Van Dam has basically been used only as a tag team wrestler, teaming up with people like Kane on RAW and Rey Mysterio on Smackdown.

Van Dam has always been one of those guys that go against the rule of pushing who the fans want to see. He?s always very, very over, and while his matches aren’t spectacular, he?s certainly someone that could be put on the upper half of the card. However, for Smackdown, losing Van Dam won’t be that big of a deal. It?s along the lines of the Orton transaction; he?s injured, been off TV for a while, won’t really be missed, and now has the opportunity for a fresh start on a different show.

Name: Batista

Pick: Smackdown?s #5 pick

Career Highlights: Current World Heavyweight Champion, 2-time World Tag Team Champion

What this means for Smackdown: Well, in short, Batista on Smackdown gives Smackdown back a major title. It seemed for a few weeks that Smackdown was going to be forced to create a title, a situation that would have meant certain death for the main event scene of the show. Instead, Batista swooped in at the last second and made quite a debut. Batista certainly brings a lot to the table. Over the past nine months, Batista has gone from stable lackey to main event talent. HHH all but made him with their huge feud that led to Batista winning the World Title in the main event at Wrestlemania. Batista?s size and presence has really legitimized him, and his charisma and power are really some of the deciding factors that got him over as much as he is with the fans.

With the loss of John Cena, Smackdown really needed a #1 babyface on the roster. Batista had filled that role on RAW, and now has the opportunity to fill it on Smackdown, as well. There has been concern that Batista?s?attractiveness as champion was because of his opponent, HHH, so these first few months will be a real test to see if Batista can move on to new opponents and feuds and still maintain his momentum. With talks of Brock Lesnar rejoining WWE, and Smackdown being the logical brand to come back to, a Lesnar/Batista feud is probably the top money feud for Batista right now. As two men who debuted around the same time, and are both compared due to their similar size, and have both been champion as well as main-evented Wrestlemania, WWE is undoubtedly eager to make this feud something special, as long as Batista can remain on top until then. This was easily the biggest pick for Smackdown, and will lead to a big change as far as the appearance of the main event on Smackdown.

What this means for RAW: While the addition of John Cena to the roster helps, there is no doubt that losing Batista is a significant loss for RAW. He was their champion, and has been in the main event of every RAW PPV this year. HHH made sure to build up Batista huge, only to have him leave to go to Smackdown. I think RAW will recover, with Cena taking over as the top babyface, but as has been apparent, the whole tempo of the show has changed drastically. Losing a champion and a main event wrestler like Batista will have a lot of ramifications, but RAW will be able to handle it given the large amount of talent already on the show.

Trades, Trades, Trades: I felt obligated to briefly discuss the ramifications of the 11-person trade between RAW and Smackdown.

What this means for RAW: Mark Jindrak, Kenzo Suzuki, and Hiroko were all released following the trade but before debuting on RAW, so there really isn’t anything to discuss regarding them. Rene Dupree is an interesting case, because he was actually a former member of RAW, and an original member of La Resistance. He?s never been a great worker in the ring, but his gimmick is the source of a lot of heat, so with a push he could result in a decent midcarder. The other new member to RAW is Danny Basham. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of expectations for Danny Basham. Doug was always considered the better worker of the two, and there hasn’t been any reason to think that Danny will make any kind of impact on RAW, although it?s certainly a possibility. Chavo Guerrero seems to be the winner on the Smackdown side, as he?s received a brand new gimmick, dropped his Latino heritage, and changed his name to Kerwin White. There doesn’t seem to be a definite future for White, but Chavo looks to be in line for some kind of a push, and could be an effective addition to the midcard scene.

What this means for Smackdown: William Regal is an established wrestler that has made a name for himself both in WCW and WWE. He?s been pushed as a legitimate midcard wrestler before, but since a severe injury he suffered, his return has been very lethargic. There?s certainly a lot of opportunity for Regal in the midcard if Smackdown chooses to go that way. Candice was apparently a Diva Search contestant, but unless she becomes someone?s valet, don’t expect to see her anywhere except in a random diva shot backstage. Sylvan Grenier looks to be the replacement for Rene Dupree. His time in La Resistance hasn’t amounted to much on RAW, so don’t expect to see Grenier moving up the card at all. Simon Dean and Steven Richards actually appear to have a purpose on Smackdown. Richards and Dean (now Nova) joined together with the Blue Meanie to reform the Blue World Order in an attempt to go after JBL. The angle has started out in a very entertaining fashion, and while these three probably won’t see a lot of long-term success, the near future seems to point to some interesting matchups with JBL and Orlando Jordan.

Wrapping up: Well, ten picks and one big trade later, and the 2005 lottery draft has come to an end. We saw both shows? champions switch brands, and a variety of main event and midcard talent find new feuds and storylines. Both sides picked up some solid superstars, and while Smackdown will have a lot of change to deal with, WWE did a nice job of compensation for the loss of Angle and Cena. The draft definitely served its purpose, and shook up the foundation of both shows. It will be interesting to see where each show is following Wrestlemania next year when it will be time to shake things up again. Either way, the draft lottery has once again shown itself to be an effective method of adding interest to both shows. That will do it for this year?s analysis of the lottery draft; assuming there?s one in 2006, I’ll be back next year to bring you another full draft analysis.

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About this column: I?ve always been fascinated with the brand extension, and with the drafts, the trades, the roster jumping, etc. After having the brand extension for over three years, it?s really exciting to see someone show up on the other show, filled with a new and different purpose, and fresh new opponents and storylines waiting for them. In a time when WWE does a lot of things that don’t really interest me, this is the kind of stuff that makes me continue to watch. This is the fun stuff that I like to tune in for, where I can let my imagination run wild and wonder who?s going to go next. As always, thanks for reading.

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Make The Grade: #6 – No One Is Tough Enough Anymore May10

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Make The Grade: #6 – No One Is Tough Enough Anymore

#6 – No One Is Tough Enough Anymore

From the looks of the bio page on WWE.com, one would probably never know that there have been, in fact, seven Tough Enough winners, five that are still with the company in some form or fashion. There are also a number of other contestants that didn’t win, but are still either on WWE television or on developmental deals. When the show first started out, it was given a very popular reaction, so much so that Maven, the first Tough Enough winner to appear on television on a regular basis, was given the gimmick of being one of the Tough Enough winners. The gimmick actually put him over quite well with the crowd, as they had watched him every week for four months, so he was already established in their minds, unlike most debuting wrestlers. This popularity followed Maven for a long time. However, with the addition of more Tough Enough series, and more winners being given spots on the roster, it seems that being a Tough Enough winner has lost its appeal. The idea of being Tough Enough is no longer and idea that is promoted by WWE. One has to wonder, is it really a good idea to kill off the only good thing these young aspiring wrestlers had going for them?

The original Tough Enough debuted in 2001, promising one young man and woman a chance to become a WWE wrestler. Maven and Nidia won contracts, and Maven debuted on TV a short time later, making a notable appearance in the 2002 Royal Rumble in which he eliminated the Undertaker, resulting in an ass kicking of a lifetime. Maven rode the TE wave, and it seemed like the wave was composed of an unlimited pool of potential. Maven?s counterpart, Nidia, didn’t fare quite as well. After spending a lot of time in OVW trying to hone some of her skills in the ring, she finally debuted in 2002 as a manager for newcomer Jamie Noble. Nidia wasn’t looked at as a former Tough Enough winner like Maven was. She had her own character, her own gimmick, and actually didn’t debut until after the second season of TE had been shown. Instead of getting the opportunity to become a WWE superstar, Nidia floated around as a valet for Noble. The two eventually split, and Nidia moved over to RAW where she actually participated in some wrestling matches before being released as WWE downsized and virtually eliminated its women?s division in late 2004/early 2005. Maven has fared somewhat better, although a string of injuries caused him to miss a lot of time from 2002-2004, and has caused his development as a wrestler and a character to become somewhat stunted. Maven is currently a heel for the first time in his young career, and seems to really be finding his niche now that he?s been able to stay healthy. While his success in TE isn’t really brought up now that he is a heel, he?s still known to the public as the ?Tough Enough? guy, and fits the persona he?s made for himself.

The next batch of Tough Enough winners turned out to be the exact opposite of Maven in terms of success stories. The first problem arose in the actual selections of the winners. Pretty much everyone expected a man and a woman to get a contract, as there were two men and two women finalists, similar to last year. Instead, the contracts went to the two women, Jackie and Linda. The swerve by WWE certainly wasn’t taken well by fans, but the main issue with this decision revolves around the fact that WWE doesn’t put a whole lot of stock into female wrestlers. Having a male wrestler win, then move up the ranks, ala Maven, is a logical course of action. With a female wrestler, there are really only a few different career steps she can take: valet, jobber, or champion. There is no climbing up the ladder due to the small size of the division at the time, even though that was when the division was flourishing. WWE fans just don’t care as much about women?s wrestling as they do about men?s wrestling, and as such, having two women win the Tough Enough competition really causes them to lose interest. So, with that in mind, Linda and Jackie headed down to OVW after a couple of incredibly lackluster appearances wrestling on TV. There they stayed, for a long, long time. So long that the third edition of TE came and went without them reappearing on TV. Eventually, Jackie made it back on TV as Rico?s valet and, aside from participating in one of the worst matches in the history of RAW, hasn’t done a single noteworthy thing aside from showing us her nipple briefly. Once again, she reappeared on TV immersed in a gimmick, distanced from the Tough Enough competition that she came from. Similarly, Linda Miles reappeared in a completely different form, as the valet for the Bashams, an S&M type tag team on Smackdown. She bulked up, dressed in leather, carried a whip, and called herself Shaniqua. Linda, too, did nothing of note except cut one of the worst promos ever while discussing her new breast implants. Apparently she had a bit of an attitude problem, was sent back down to OVW and has since been released. Jackie has now been reduced to frolicking with the group of generic divas that plague Smackdown, with absolutely no connection to her Tough Enough roots.

The results of season three are still forming before our eyes, a year and a half after the actual show took place. WWE learned from their previous mistake and awarded to men as the winners of the competition, John and Matt. Matt had distanced himself from the rest of the pack as the guy with the most talent, the most potential, and the best team player. John showed an enormous amount of ability, although also showing himself to be a bit cocky during the show. Either way, the two won the competition and were given contracts. After showing up on TV to get caned by Tommy Dreamer, and briefly wrestling in a bar room brawl on PPV, the two headed down to OVW to get trained. Once again, WWE spent a long time training them in OVW. So long, in fact, that Matt still hasn’t shown up on TV. He?s rumored to be close to ready and his tag team, the Thrillseekers, have been featured in OVW with the Heartthrobs and MNM, two tag teams that just recently debuted. So while Matt continues to wait patiently for his chance, John made a brief appearance in 2004 as Johnny Nitro, Eric Bischoff?s right hand man. Nitro was not an active wrestler during his stint and was limited mostly to backstage segments, although he did participate in a few matches while on RAW. His tenure was short, and after getting on Bischoff?s bad side, he was put into a match where if he lost, he was fired. He lost, and headed back down to OVW. While on TV, he was never referred to as a TE winner because, once again, his new gimmick was put in place to overshadow his former accomplishments and make the fans forget. Now, John is back. He?s dropped the Johnny, put blonde streaks in his hair, got a tan, found himself a tag team partner, and is back on TV as Nitro, one half of the tag team MNM. Again, completely gone is the gimmick of Johnny Nitro, assistant to Bischoff. Even further gone is John, TE winner. He?s got something completely different going for him, and when Matt debuts, he no doubt will follow a similar path.

Along the way, other Tough Enough contestants have made their way onto WWE television. Christopher Nowinski, a finalist on the first TE, was eventually signed to a WWE contract, as his heelish persona on TE led to a natural heel in the ring and on the mic. At the time his TE accomplishments were noted, but it was more his tendencies as an asshole that were mentioned rather than his success on the show. Unfortunately, Nowinski suffered a concussion, and due to all the post-concussion issues he?s been having, may never wrestle again. Josh Matthews, also from the first TE, has found a job in WWE. He is a backstage announcer and play-by-play guy for Velocity. His TE accomplishments are almost never mentioned, and he has simply become part of the announcing team, dropping the subject of Tough Enough altogether. Another wrestler was signed to a deal based on his limited performance during the second season before going home. Matt Morgan suffered a knee injury, and had to leave the competition prematurely, much to the disappointment of all. WWE was impressed by his size, and signed him to a developmental deal. Morgan first debuted in 2003 as a part of Team Lesnar, along with Nathan Jones, the Big Show, and Brock Lesnar. His ability in the ring was unspectacular, and once Team Lesnar disbanded and Nathan Jones quit the company, Matt Morgan had nowhere to go and was sent back down to OVW. Morgan is back on Smackdown, and as if to completely wipe away any memory of his previous tenure in WWE, he has died his hair black and grown a goatee, and has developed some kind of stutter. Another gimmick, another Tough Enough memory deleted from our minds.

Now, everyone will await the future of the newest, and probably last, Tough Enough champion, Daniel Puder. With WWE?s fourth installment of the show, gone was most everything that was familiar about the show. No more MTV and its gift at filming reality television. Gone was the tight-knit band of guys and girls who shared a house, and trained every day together. Instead, WWE took about twenty minutes out of Smackdown each week, showcased a group of men in various activities, then eliminated one each week based on fan voting. Daniel Puder won the competition in late 2004, and was featured in the Royal Rumble, where he proceeded to get his ass kicked by Hardcore Holly, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero, before getting eliminated. Puder is now in OVW, and one has to wonder what kind of form he’ll be in the next time he?s on TV. Chances are we’ll never hear ?Tough Enough? and ?Daniel Puder? in the same sentence again.

It?s interesting, that a show so revered by WWE and pushed so much in the eyes of the fans has been completely and totally abandoned. When the shows were on, it seemed like winning the Tough Enough competition was a huge deal, and being TE champion was something to really feel proud of. Now, it seems like TE was a completely different universe; as if whatever the competitors did on the show has absolutely no bearing on their lives and careers in WWE. Tough Enough was a flat out defiant laugh in the face of kayfabe, and yet the path WWE has led the winners down immediately immerses them in that very same kayfabe they broke during the show. We saw reality TV competitors become actors, and completely ignore their original incarnation on TV. Only Maven was able to be a former teacher turned pro wrestler, and evolve on his own into the character he is now. For the rest, TE was dropped from their repertoire, buried and forgotten. After showing us who they all were as people, WWE dressed them up, gave them flashy gimmicks, and expected us all to pretend that they never existed before the moment of their debut. It?s not a new practice, WWE revamps wrestlers and totally changes their gimmicks often, but how often do you see a wrestler out in the open, no gimmicks, no character, and have WWE whisk them away and try to make us forget that person ever existed? It?s a perplexing set of actions that doesn’t have a clear cut explanation. Why did WWE spend all this money and go through all these potential wrestlers just to show us, in the end, they weren’t Tough Enough? There are no more Tough Enough champions, only WWE Superstars, and no one really seems to care.

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About this column: This is a column I?ve been thinking about for a long time. The debuts of Jackie and Shaniqua (Linda) always bothered me, and I really felt WWE was handling the TE winners the wrong way. We see these people as just that, people. Normal people, trying to become wrestlers. WWE shows us that, then turns them into superstars, just like that. I don’t think that sits well with the fans, nor should it. John?s first character, ?Johnny Nitro,? wasn’t a huge stretch from himself, but his new look, as Nitro, absolutely is. I always liked Maven?s character, because it was him; the pumped up guy who?s excited because he gets to be a WWE wrestler instead of a teacher. It?s so easy to cheer for someone like that. Since then, he?s grown, and become an actual wrestler, but it was his own growth, not WWE forcing a character on him. I hope that Matt and John have the ability to succeed even with the gimmicks they have, but I will certainly miss watching Matt, the hard worker that everyone wants to succeed. As always, thanks for reading.

Mike Maloney

E-mail: m.t.maloney@alumni.tcu.edu

AIM: MichaelTMaloney

About me: Since this is my mainpage debut, I’ll take a quick second to tell everyone about myself. I?ve actually been writing in the RCC for two years now, co-hosting the ever popular PPV Review column, Rival Schools. I?ve been hanging around the Oratory for the last three years or so. I?ve been a wrestling fan for about six and a half years now, ignoring the time I watched as a child. I got sucked in by the nWo in WCW and Degeneration X in the WWF, and the rest is history. I’m glad to be writing for the Oratory, and I’m glad to have you as a reader.

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