I received quite a bit of response regarding my review of "The Wrestler" in last week's column. Many praised the movie and felt stronger about the film than I apparently had. Some shared my sentiments, that while it was a good movie, it wasn't a great one.
There's no denying that Mickey Rourke delivered a stellar performance - one that very well could land him an Oscar next weekend. I just didn't think the movie was Oscar-worthy. And not everyone agreed with that, even though the film didn't make the cut for Best Picture.
Respected "At The Movies" critic and former Channel 5 reporter Ben Mankiewicz called "The Wrestler" the best film he saw all year, and "it's not even close," he added. Entertainment Weekly also called it the best movie of the year.
Part of my tempered appraisal of the film may have been colored by the fact that I had read what, in my estimation, was a superior version of a somewhat similar, wrestling-themed script more than a year ago.
I knew that the writer, Rick Bauer, had experience in the film and wrestling business, but I was blown away by what I read. It was so good that I couldn't put it down until several hours later after I had devoured every word.
This was well before "The Wrestler." The original script, in fact, predated "The Wrestler" by 20 years. Bauer wrote "Bobby Champion," the screenplay's working title, in 1988, got sidetracked with his broadcasting career and brought it out again two years ago at the suggestion of a filmmaker friend.
Bauer, who has 18 years broadcasting experience, including three at ESPN, has South Carolina connections.
The 44-year-old Philadelphia native is a 1986 graduate of the late Fabulous Moolah's wrestling school in Columbia where he was trained by Donna Christanello and Jimmy Kent. He started out as a referee for Moolah's promotion, and his first in-ring experience was in Walterboro.
Bauer wrestled primarily in the Northeast for the old National Wrestling Federation, worked some independents in Virginia and Maryland, promoted shows in New Jersey and taught at a wrestling school run by Heidi Lee Morgan, a Moolah grad, and her father, Les Morgan.
While the screenplay was written in its basic, original form in 1988, Bauer has re-written and refined it over the years. There are even two distinct versions of the script.
The premise of "Bobby Champion," says Bauer, is the opposite of "The Wrestler."
"Whereas Randy Robinson is down and out, Bobby is a teenager on his way up. He gets into wrestling as a means to support his wife and son, giving up a collegiate wrestling scholarship. Within three years, he's a main-eventer for a major wrestling promotion. The story takes place in the early 1980s when territories existed, and independent promotions made money.
"The twist is that Bobby unwittingly gets caught up in drug trafficking. A story had been told to me over the years about a wrestler who was smuggling drugs in and out of the territory he worked in, and used wrestling as his cover. I added this twist, because I felt it was more compelling than the original, which basically dealt with a young man trying to support his family and dealing with the pitfalls that go with the fame and fortune, such as fidelity towards his wife."
Like Rourke in "The Wrestler," Bobby Champion is a flawed individual, but one with whom it's hard not to sympathize.
"There are several themes here. For Bobby, everything he does, he does for the right reasons, but there are consequences to pay - 'no good deed goes unpunished.' There is a very strong father-son theme here as well. Bobby, being a teen father, jumps through hoops to give his son the best, much the same way his father did for him. There's a deep love between fathers and sons that seems to be missing in a lot of films today."
Bauer continues to shop the project around. Although the script has some similarities to 'The Wrestler," he hopes that film's success may create interest in his story.
"I've had many people within the wrestling industry who've read it, who have loved it, even wept as they read it. The thing now is to find a producer and director to work with me to get it to either the movie screen or cable. Attaching a 'name' or two is also a goal of mine. I've been shopping it around, but haven't had any luck, yet. I think 'The Wrestler' may open the doors for 'Bobby Champion.'"
One producer actually told him not to show any wrestling ... to save money on the budget.
That, says Bauer, would probably drive 95 percent of the audience away.
"I've gotten estimated budgets made up, and it probably can be done for $2 million-$3 million, which is pocket change by Hollywood standards. A friend of mine who is a state assemblyman in New Jersey is a former movie producer. He's always said that making the movie is the easy part. Getting the money to make it ... that's the tricky part."
- A number of fans got a big surprise when they tuned in to the ECW TV show Tuesday night and witnessed the return of Christian to WWE.
The former TNA heavyweight champ, who opted to let his contract with that company expire at the end of the year, had been expected to make his "surprise" return to either the Raw or Smackdown brand where there's much more exposure on shows with a much larger audience.
Initially penciled in as Jeff Hardy's mystery attacker, setting up a match between the two at Wrestlemania 25, plans for that scenario were scrapped when the angle was prematurely leaked. WWE Creative then delayed Christian's return, instead turning Matt Hardy heel, costing his brother the world title in his match against Edge and setting up a brother vs. brother showdown at Mania.
While Christian's presence on the ECW show will undoubtedly attract viewers to that program, the big loser in all of this seems to be Christian. Taking a chance and leaving the relative job security and easy travel schedule that TNA afforded, Christian was banking on that one last big chance at cracking the top tier at WWE.
The big money for Christian (Jay Reso), at least in the immediate future, is a program with childhood friend and former WWE partner Edge (Adam Copeland). Despite word getting out about Christian's return, a reuniting of the ex-WWE tag-team champs would have given Christian instant credibility as a major star. Edge's status has skyrocketed since his friend left the company in 2005, and it only makes sense that Christian would leave TNA only if he had been guaranteed a shot at breaking the glass ceiling.
It's possible that Vince McMahon, who more than once made the comment that he didn't see Christian as a main-event performer, wants to bring him up slowly, giving ECW a shot in the arm in the process, before putting Christian in big-money storylines.
But the fact remains that Edge went from walking into a major storyline with familiar faces and a sizable Wrestlemania payoff to a low-profile ECW television feud with Jack Swagger.
One of the beneficiaries of Christian's ECW stint, besides the struggling brand itself, will be Swagger, who is a top-tier player-in-waiting and possibly one of the best to come along at such an early stage in his career as any WWE star in recent years.
- The Von Erich family will be inducted into the 2009 WWE Hall of Fame class during Wrestlemania weekend in Houston. Kevin Von Erich (the only surviving brother) and his children will be on hand to accept the honor.
"Freebird" Michael Hayes, who serves as lead writer for Smackdown, is the likely choice to handle the induction. Hopefully Hayes and his old Freebird mates will be inducted as well. Their classic Lone Star State feud with the Von Erichs is still regarded as one of the greatest in modern wrestling history.
The Von Erichs were one of the most well-known - and tragic - families in the sport. Patriarch Fritz (Jack Adkisson) passed away in 1997 at the age of 68, but four of his sons died before him within a nine-year span (his eldest son was electrocuted as a child). David died in 1984 during a tour of Japan under suspicious circumstances, while Michael, Kerry and Chris all committed suicide in subsequent years.
The Von Erichs join a class featuring Steve Austin, Cowboy Bill Watts, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr.
The Funks also enjoyed phenomenal success during their career in the ring. Both held NWA world titles during the '60s and '70s when that belt was the most respected crown in the sport.
"I don't deserve the honor," Funk recently told amarillo.com. Funk, an Amarillo native, was a former football star at West Texas State (now West Texas A&M University).
West Texas State, by the way, was a factory for future pro wrestlers back in the 60's and '70s. The list includes The Funks, Dusty Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, Tully Blanchard, Stan Hansen, Bobby Duncum, Bruiser Brody, Blackjack Mulligan, Barry Windham, Tito Santana and Kelly Kiniski.
The late Dick Murdoch is considered an honorary member even though he never attended the university.
"It's an honorary degree," Dory Funk Jr. once explained. "He loved West Texas football so much and was always down at the sidelines that people just assumed that he was a part of it. Dick actually played middle linebacker in the West Texas alumni game. The people that were there at the time had no idea that he never actually attended WT. He was cited for unnecessary roughness against these college kids."
- Neither Ric Flair's return nor a rare Raw appearance by The Undertaker could spike ratings Monday night. Raw drew a 3.4 - down from the previous week's 3.6.
President Barack Obama's first primetime news conference on Monday night could have had something to do with the slight drop, even though it aired during the hour prior to Raw.
WWE will hold its 2009 brand draft on the April 13 episode of Monday Night Raw in Atlanta.
- WWE champ John Cena told the Baltimore Sun last week that he never could have envisioned he and potential Mania opponent Randy Orton headlining the mat extravaganza together when they were working for Louisville-based Ohio Valley Wrestling.
"As a matter of fact, when we were in OVW, we thought we wouldn't make it out of Kentucky," said Cena. " I don't want to say we were two lost souls, but we were surrounded by talent that was one of the greatest developmental units to ever be assembled.
"I think WWE started the developmental system in the mid '90s, and that class of 2000 through '02 I think is the most successful that has ever been. We were literally just two average guys among some very gifted performers, and never once did we think we'd be headlining Wrestlemania."
Cena also called Orton the best performer in WWE and "the best performer of my generation."
He called Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson a great actor, but intimated that he was being less than honest when he once said he "was WWE through and through," only to bolt for a film career when the first opportunity arose.
"There's nothing wrong with that. Dwayne's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He's one of the hardest workers you'll ever meet, and he certainly is a great actor. The roadblock that I have, because I certainly am in love with this business and I don't see myself leaving it any time, is when someone says that and then leaves, it cheapens our business. If he's going to say that, then back your word."
- Linda McMahon is one step closer to becoming the newest member of Connecticut's school board. The state Senate voted 34-1 Wednesday to approve the WWE Chief Executive Officer to the position.
"I thought the skill set that she brought to the position was her record of organizational and business success," state Sen. Andrew McDonald told The (Stamford) Advocate newspaper. "I think a large institutional bureaucracy such as the state Board of Education could really benefit from that type of professional discipline."
Some critics have expressed concern that the 60-year-old McMahon, a longtime Greenwich resident, lacks experience in education and has a leading role in an industry they claim promotes sex and violence.
McMahon, an East Carolina graduate who has had a longtime interest in education, was certified to teach French in North Carolina in the late 1960s but admits that is the extent of her experience in the field. McMahon has overseen educational and literacy programs for WWE and sits on the board of trustees of Sacred Heart University.
Her supporters say the board would benefit from her business savvy and outsider's perspective.
McMahon, who has touted her experience as a mother and grandmother, reportedly told some legislators that she believe some Democrats were trying to "torpedo her nomination over partisan politics," according to the Greenwich Times.
Democratic Sen. Joan Hartley was the only one to vote against McMahon, saying she believes McMahon would be better suited for boards other than the one that helps set state education policy.
"I don't doubt her business skills," Hartley said after the vote. "Quite frankly, I find the sport to be bordering on the barbaric."
McMahon's nomination now goes to the House of Representatives.
- Former WWE star and Tough Enough trainer Al Snow (Allen Sarven) and independent performer Bobcat ( Cynthia Lynch) were scheduled to tie the knot this weekend in Louisville.
Lynch, 37, broke into the business in 1996 with help from childhood friend Dawn Marie (Dawn Psaltis). The New Jersey native signed a developmental contract with WWE in 1999 and was released the following year. A career highlight was being part of The Godfather's entourage that held the WWF hardcore title for mere minutes during the company's Attitude Era.
Snow, 45, who broke into the business in 1982, has two children from a previous marriage.
- Former WWE diva Victoria (Lisa Marie Varon) is training for mixed martial arts competition.
"I have really increased my jiu-jitsu training," the 40-year-old Varon posted in a recent blog. "I was even training on vacation. Again, if you know me, I'm 1,000 percent about anything I do. Now that I'm back in Louisville, I've moved from a straight Jiu-Jitsu program into a full MMA training program.
"I have also been contacted by several agents, a couple of whom represent current and former UFC champions. But I think that's putting the cart in front of the horse. I think they think I can fill seats. I'll sign with someone if and when I feel that I can be a top level competitor."
- Hard-luck performer Ken Kennedy is expected back in the ring by the end of the month.
- Former SHIMMER Women's Athletes star Ashley Lane (real name Ashley Simmons) has signed a deal with TNA. She will join the Knockouts division and appear as Madison Rayne.
- Petey Williams and Lance Hoyt have left TNA. Williams, who was entertaining this past year as a "mini" Scott Steiner, had one of the sickest finishers in the business with his Canadian Destroyer. Hoyt teamed with Jimmy Rave in a mid-card act as The Rock 'N Roll Infection.
- The fiance of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson, David Otunga, is training at WWE's developmental facility in Florida.
Interviewed prior to the Grammy music awards show last Sunday night, the 28-year-old former dating show contestant and Harvard Law School graduate called wrestling "a childhood dream."
" It's so great to finally have a career that I love ... "She (Hudson) supports everything I do," added Otunga, who was sporting a black eye at the event. The two were engaged last September.
- "The WWE: The Best of Saturday Night's Main Event" was released last week.
The company also is working on a Randy Savage DVD title with a projected June release. The DVD will be a collection of his greatest matches.
- Chris "The Masterpiece" Masters and Lodi will appear at an Old School Championship Wrestling show at 6 p.m. March 1 at Weekend's Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800.
- George's Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the No Way Out pay-per-view at 8 p.m. today. Cover charge is $5.
- Halligan's Restaurant and Bar, 3025 Ashley Towne Center, Suite 201, will air No Way Out at 8 p.m. today. Admission is free.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at (843) 937-6000, ext. 3090.
Christian made his TV return to WWE last week.×
The late Fritz Von Erich and his famous wrestling family will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.×
John Cena put over Randy Orton in a recent interview.×
WWE CEO Linda McMahon has edged closer to being named to the Connecticut Board of Education.×
Former WWE diva Victoria is pursuing a career in MMA.×
Ashley Lane is joining the TNA Knockouts.×