January 4 – a date that has been on the tongues of wrestling fans for months now – is finally upon us.
For the first time in nine years, two nationally televised wrestling companies will go head-to-head live on a Monday night. And for the mini-Monday Night War, both sides have pulled out their biggest guns. For TNA, that means the debut of Hulk Hogan, and the potential fulfillment of months of promises to radically shake up the product.
For WWE, it means the return of Bret “The Hitman” Hart to a WWE wrestling ring for the first time in 12 years.
For weeks now, several questions about tonight have dominated the wrestling world? What role will Hogan take? Will Bret have a showdown with Vince McMahon?
But I’ve come up with several other questions that, while not so obvious, may be pretty intriguing:
1. What entrance music will Hogan use? When Hogan left WWE to join WCW 15 years ago, he was forced to leave behind “Real American” in favor of reasonably close facsimile titled “American Made.” But, if I’m not mistaken, WWE now owns that song too. Has Jimmy Hart returned to the studio and penned a third yet another patriotic rock song? Perhaps, “Made in America, For Real.”
2. Will Bret Hart grease up his hair? The “Hitman’s” dripping wet locks were one of his signatures during his 13-year run in WWE. But, in recent appearances, Hart has opted for the dry look. He’s also gone considerably gray, and put on some weight. Will Bret do what he can to look like the “Hitman” WWE fans remember from a dozen years ago?
3. When will Hogan and Bret appear? In the peak years of the Monday Night Wars, WWE and WCW would typically wait until the very last segment of their shows to deliver a much-anticipated bombshell. But that might not be the case tonight. In recent weeks, Impact’s ratings have shrunk throughout the course of its program – so it would be foolish to wait until almost 11 p.m. – when Raw’s ratings are often at their highest – to unveil the Hulkster. A smarter strategy would be to do so at the very top of the program at 8 p.m., before Raw comes on the air. As for Raw – seeing as how Bret Hart is supposed to be the “guest host,” you’d think he’d come out early in the night to make some announcements about the night’s show. But having Hart act just as any other guest host could water down the significance of his return. I’d wait until the last segment to bring out the Hitman. It’s not like they have to worry about TNA beating them in any quarter hour.
4. Will Hogan be any good on the mic? When I recently watched WWE’s newest Hulk Hogan DVD compilation, I was blown away but what a great talker he was in his day. Without a script, Hogan would cut these amazing, passionate interviews that would frequently involve fighting whales in the Pacific Ocean or tying his opponent to the back of his Harley and dragging him up and down Venice Beach. But in the few times he’s been given a live mic in recent years, Hogan has seemed confused, unsure of himself and tripped all over his words. That was the case when he delivered the bombshell about TNA going live during a UFC broadcast several weeks ago. With Hogan vowing to move away from scripted promos for wrestlers, it will be interesting to see is Hogan sinks or swims behind the microphone tonight.
5. Will Bret Hart give a damn? During his wrestling career, few wrestlers seemed to put as much passion into their work as Bret Hart. In fact, it’s Bret’s penchant for taking his performances so seriously that has earned him a reputation for being a mark for himself. But in the few wrestling appearances he’s done in recent years, Bret has appeared anything but passionate. While it should be taken into consideration that Bret suffered brain damage and a stroke years ago, it’s still the case that Bret looked downright disinterested in what he was doing during his appearances for Ring of Honor over the summer. What’s more, with so much real-life bad feelings between him and WWE, will Bret be willing and able to put his worker’s shoes on and really sell a “fake angle” that would presumably lead up to a WrestleMania pay off, or will he just go through the motions?
6. Is TNA really crazy enough to do business with Scott Hall? One of the big rumors floating around is that the Outsiders will reunite today, with Scott Hall and possibly Sean Waltman joining Kevin Nash in TNA. Lest we forget, the last time we saw Scott Hall in TNA, he crashed a show and sat in the front row with the Insane Clown Posse and made a fool of himself. Before that, he no-showed a much hyped pay per view main event in 2007. Hall’s problems with drugs and alcohol are well documented, and there’s no reason to believe they are a thing of the past. Investing any money or TV time in Hall could have disastrous results.
7. Who else will show up on TNA? We’ve heard lots of promises of big surprises for tonight’s show, and we know the free agents that are out there. As I mentioned, there’s a chance we’ll see a reunited New World Order tonight. The most likely other surprises TNA could pull out would include Ric Flair, Rob Van Dam and Ken Anderson (although Taz suggested in my interview with him that there are reasons why TNA has not picked him up so far.) And with Hogan in the mix, there’s always a chance we could see the likes of Brutus Beefcake and the Nasty Boys. How about some long shots? Jeff Hardy made a comment over the weekend that he would be in the Impact Zone tonight with his friend Shannon Moore. Some have speculated that Paul Heyman would be a great addition to TNA’s creative team. Hogan has even mentioned Randy “Macho Man” Savage as being on his wish list of wrestlers to bring on board. I’m keeping my expectations low, although I would love to see the Ultimate Warrior back.
8. Will WWE do anything else to counter-program TNA? One train of thought is that, if WWE really loads up its show tonight, it’s a tacit admission that it considers TNA competition. WWE can reasonably argue that it was just a coincidence that Bret Hart was available for tonight’s show, but if Vince McMahon hot shots some other big angles or matches tonight, it does stand to inadvertently legitimize TNA. That said, I expect to see Jeri-Show win back the tag team championship tonight. As well, WWE has already teased some advancement of the Undertaker-Shawn Michaels rematch storyline. WWE women’s champion Melina was injured over the weekend, so we may see a match to decide a new champion tonight. As well, Sheamus is still without a challenger for his world title at the Royal Rumble. So will Bret Hart’s return just be the tip of the iceberg on a fully-loaded Raw tonight?
9. How many sides will TNA’s ring have tonight? Hogan has said that he has visions from a complete overhaul of TNA, that could even include doing away with its six-sided ring (I would welcome that. If you’ve ever seen it in person, the ring is tiny.) How about a new name for the company? A lot of people feel the asinine “TNA” name has held back the company. Maybe Hogan debuts a new moniker for the company tonight. Whatever the case, I hope Hogan’s mission statement has more than just meaningless rhetoric about wanting to “shake things up” without any specifics – much like the speech Dixie Carter gave weeks ago.
10. Will John Cena be around? It’s the biggest Monday night the wrestling world has arguably seen in years, and wrestling’s biggest star may not be a part of it. Word is that Cena is taking part in Rose Bowl festivities today and will, therefore, be unable to make it to Dayton, Ohio for tonight’s Raw. I’d think we’d at least see Cena “via satellite” in a promo to further his feud with Cena. But considering the stakes, will WWE go as far as to charter a jet to have its biggest attraction in the building live?