Make no mistake about it. Vince McMahon is still the star of his own show.
The 67-year-old WWE owner proved it again last week when he challenged heavyweight champion C.M. Punk to a main-event match on Monday Night Raw.
Ratings had dropped to a 15-year low for the previous week's show, and that was a clear signal to McMahon that something needed to be done in a hurry.
And McMahon, as has been the case in other downturns in business, knew exactly who to go to.
Drawing on his late-'90s feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a program that took the wildly popular Attitude Era to another level and was largely responsible for turning the tide in the Monday Night Wars, McMahon returned to save the day once again.
The move paid off as Raw jumped to more than four million viewers on Monday night.
While it wasn't a dramatic increase over the past couple of weeks, it did serve to advance storylines and add some much-needed anticipation and excitement to the company's flagship show.
Forget the fact that McMahon's last Raw appearance was several months ago when he was officially removed from the show — in storyline fashion — by son-in-law Triple H (Paul Levesque). That's a minor detail when ratings are declining and viewers are tuning in to Monday Night Football.
What McMahon brought back to Raw was some tried-and-true star power. Fans know by now that it means something when the mat czar makes an appearance. When it was announced that McMahon was going to show up in an authoritative role, making a “State of the WWE” address, the stage was set for a showdown.
Punk, whose comparisons to a modern-day Austin have to be viewed as a supreme compliment, played the perfect adversary.
An entertaining verbal exchange between the two ended with McMahon on the business end of a slap from the 33-year-old WWE heavyweight champ. The owner issued a challenge for the end of the show, and the tension simmered for the duration of the three-program program.
The payoff was good for what it was — a harmless, fun brawl that involved kendo sticks, destroyed tables and monitors, blood and low blows. The boss suffered a cut over his eye, adding drama to the occasion, and for a brief period took fans back to a time when wrestling seemed just a little crazier and a little more unpredictable.
And, in the end, it accomplished what it set out to do. And that was to further the high-profile program involving Punk, John Cena and Ryback.
While working a physical match at the age of 67 might not be the best idea in the world, particularly in the wake of 62-year-old Jerry “The King” Lawler's near-fatal heart attack several weeks ago on Raw, McMahon stepped up to provide the example for the rest of his crew.
His mantra over the years has been that he would never ask his talent to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
The formula still works.
The third-generation promoter not only made his presence known on camera, but carried a big stick behind the scenes as well, making some major changes to the WWE creative team prior to the show in Sacramento, Calif.
First order of backstage business was sending home longtime Raw creative director Brian Gewirtz in a move that took many by surprise. The mercurial WWE chairman reportedly then put the rest of creative on notice to turn the show around and warned them that no one's job was safe.
While Gewirtz, a one-time McMahon favorite who had fallen out of favor with the boss, was relieved of his duties as Senior Vice President of Creative Writing, he will remain under contract as a consultant. Sources have reported that WWE cannot release the 14-year veteran, who was known more for his promo writing than character development, without buying him out of his contract.
Eric Pankowski, who was hired in February as the Senior Vice President for Creative and Development, has been hired in place of Gewirtz.
The high-pressure job, once held by Vince Russo, involves vetting Raw and Smackdown scripts and ideas before giving them to McMahon and daughter Stephanie for further approval.
Ed Koskey, another top WWE creative writer, was taken off the road as a traveling member of the creative team and will be working more out of WWE headquarters in Connecticut.
The “results or resignations” shake-up stems from the rating for the Oct. 1 edition of Raw. That show drew an alarmingly low a 2.54 rating and 3.5 million viewers.
Recent rating declines have been attributed to stiff NFL competition and audience burnout due to the new three-hour format.
Sources say one unnamed WWE performer may have exacerbated the situation by complaining about WWE writing and telling McMahon that he no longer has his finger on WWE's pulse.
-- A revised and expanded second edition of “Ten Pounds of Gold: A Close Look at the NWA World Championship Belt” has been released.
The book, written by Dick Bourne of the popular Mid-Atlantic Gateway website along with veteran beltmaker Dave Millican, contains a wealth of information about pro wrestling's most revered title.
This version of the 2009 volume contains 70 additional pages of photographs, memorabilia and historical information, plus a new title history chapter with behind-the-scenes details, and an expanded chapter on the night the belt was first presented and defended.
The 151-page book takes a close look at a belt that was defended by the likes of Harley Race, Jack Brisco and Ric Flair, and examines its origin, construction and evolution.
It's a must for longtime NWA fans and old-school wrestling fans in general.
The book, beautifully illustrated and drenched in history, is worth its weight in gold.
For more information, visit www.TenPoundsOfGold.com or www.midatlanticgateway.com. The book also is available on Amazon.com.
-- WWE is bringing a Smackdown TV taping to the North Charleston Coliseum on Dec. 4.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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