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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Did Heyman Stop Writing Smackdown in 2003?

May 17, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Paul Heyman Raw

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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If memory serves, in 2002, Smackdown was booked by Paul Heyman, which helps explain the quality, especially compared to Raw. By early 2003 or so, Heyman was demoted to being a purely on-air talent and the quality dipped quite a bit. Thus my question is why was Heyman demoted in the first place? Was it the usual personality clash that VKM has with just about everyone who doesn’t share his perspective, or were there other issues at work?

This story was covered in some detail by Wade Keller in the March 1, 2003 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter. According to that article, some within WWE complained about Heyman’s inability to work in a team environment, as he seemed to want to do his own thing and had difficulty attending meetings and making deadlines necessary in a collaborative writing environment. However, even though Keller’s story mentions that as a criticism of Heyman backstage, his removal as SD’s creative head appears to come down much more on the side of the move just being a change in direction that Vince McMahon wanted to see happen.

At the time, the company was building towards Wrestlemania XIX, and it was reported that McMahon had a clear vision for the event and wanted somebody heading up creative for Smackdown that he would be able to work with more easily in executing that vision. (As one can imagine, McMahon and Heyman have differing philosophies about wrestling.) This theory makes sense if you look at who replaced Heyman, namely Bruce Prichard and Dave Lagana, the former of whom was a long, long-term McMahon employee and reported “yes man,” while Lagana was fairly young, new to the company, and eager to please.

A.G. is taking the column back to its roots with an oddly detailed research question:

Please tell me how many appearances the following people had on RAW where they either wrestled and/or cut a promo (or were in a segment).

I’ve been curious about who has actually worked the most over the years, especially with guys that have a lot of longevity in the company.

The List: Undertaker, John Cena, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Booker T, Chris Jericho, Kane, Big Show, Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, Rob Van Dam, Randy Orton

If there is anyone else who has actually had a lot of appearance that I left off please feel free to add them, though I’m sure the ones I listed will cover the biggest performers (or just ones I was curious about).

I’m going to have to exercise a little bit of editorial privilege here, because otherwise this will be almost impossible to answer. I’m going to focus exclusively on appearances in matches, because there are databases that make doing that sort of research reasonable, whereas there are no similar databases that I’m aware of that track non-match segments . . . and I’m not going to go back and read reviews of twenty-six years’ worth of Raw.

Besides, I think that you can probably use the number of matches an individual has wrestled on Raw to determine their activity level on the show, because those individuals who are featured heavily in non-wrestling segments are likely to be featured heavily in matches as well, with a small handful of outliers like Brock Lesnar (who is not on the list provided).

That said, here’s the list, reordered from fewest matches to most:

Bret Hart – 41 matches
Steve Austin – 116 matches
Booker T – 131 matches
Chris Benoit – 139 matches
Kurt Angle – 148 matches
Undertaker – 158 matches
Rob Van Dam – 181 matches
The Rock – 197 matches
Shawn Michaels – 216 matches
Big Show – 330 matches
John Cena – 367 matches
HHH – 374 matches
Chris Jericho – 423 matches
Kane – 436 matches
Randy Orton – 488 matches

There aren’t a ton of surprises on the list in my opinion, aside from the fact that I would’ve expected Orton to be in third or fourth place as opposed to having a strong lead over his competition as number one. Though I don’t have a very good memory for what wrestlers were on what brand and when during the promotion’s two brand splits, I assume that he gets his advantage by virtue of having been exclusive to the Raw brand for longer periods of time than Kane or Chris Jericho. Some might be surprised to see Angle, Austin, and Hart as low down the list as they are, but you have to keep in mind that, even though they were major stars who made significant impacts on the wrestling business, the portions of their career that overlap with Raw being an institution on cable television were relatively limited in duration.

Sam is looking for a change of scenery:

My questions – I have been watching WCW Thunder from the beginning and I noticed that they had a different set (a cool looking rock formation / medieval one with an automatic doorway) for the first 3 episodes and then they went to the pots & pants / aluminum city looking one with the doorway. Any reason why they changed so quickly? I personally think the original set for the first 3 episodes was much nicer.

Also, what happened to all the WCW sets / rings? I assume they are in storage, but has WWE reused any part of these?

To be quite honest with you, I can’t seem to find what the rationale was for Thunder changing sets after only a month on the air. The February 2, 1998 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter noted that a new set would be coming on the next episode of the show and also mentioned that it would take up about 25% of the seating space in the venues that WCW tended to run. With the change having been made so quickly after the show’s debut, the only thing that I can think of is that the original set was never intended to be permanent and was just a temporary placeholder.

To the extent that WCW saved its old sets after they were taken down, they should still be in WWE’s possession. There is a Twitter account called WWE Warehouse Pics that appears to have posted pictures legitimately taken from the company’s storage facilities (though it claims no official affiliation with WWE), and back in 2017 they did send out a photo that seemed to show part of the Thunder set is still sitting around.

As to WCW’s rings, WWE wouldn’t use them, because the two companies’ rings were different sizes and otherwise structurally inconsistent with one another. I seem to recall hearing in a few different shoot interviews that WCW’s rings were sent to the WWF’s developmental territories at the time, though I haven’t gone back and independently confirmed that.

Mike S. is going off script:

Do wrestlers practice backstage and tell each other what they are going to say to each other in the ring when they are going to do a back and forth in a promo? For example, before WrestleMania XXXIII with Cena, Bella, Miz, and Maryse, did Cena beforehand tell the Miz, “Yea, I am going to smack you in the balls and say, ‘What, are ya shooting blanks?’ and then I am going to rip into Maryse and ask her what the hell she is doing here?”

The vast, vast majority of wrestling promos these days are scripted word-for-word, so wrestlers absolutely know what they are going to say to one another before they head out to the ring. There are some limited circumstances in which competitors may still ad lib, but most of their zingers come off the printed page.

Connor has not forgotten the name:

Does Goldust have the record for most times released and rehired by WWE? The guy seemed to come and go quite a lot.

By my count, Goldust has had six distinct runs with the WWF/WWE. The first started in September 1990 and continued through January 1991, where he competed under the name Dustin Rhodes and was primarily aligned with his father, Dusty Rhodes. It looked like the two were set to have a continuing feud with Ted DiBiase and Virgil, but the Rhodes family abruptly left the company after the Royal Rumble in ’91.

Rhodes returned in the late summer of 1995, when the Goldust character was initially devised. It went through several different iterations over the years until, ultimately, Dustin took off in 1999 to have another run in WCW.

When WCW went under, Rhodes eventually accepted a WWF buyout of his contract with that company and came back during the 2002 Royal Rumble match, almost eleven years after he first left the WWF. This run kept Goldust in the Fed through its name change to WWE, though it came to an end in December 2003 when the Golden One’s contract with the promotion was silently not renewed.

Rhodes/WWE run number four was so short that you may have missed it if you blinked. He returned as part of the buildup to the 2005 Taboo Tuesday show, participating in an infamously bad match and angle in which he and Vader were meant to assist Jonathan Coachman in a match against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin that turned into a match with Batista when Austin and the company had differences regarding the creative direction of the storyline. (Austin was in the right, by the way.) Goldust was fired again the following summer after an unimpressive stint.

Runnels was back under Vince McMahon’s big top in October 2008, initially feuding with Santino and then forming a tag team with Hornswoggle of all people. Eventually this would turn into Goldie wrestling primarily on c-shows like Superstars and as a “pro” on the original iteration of NXT before he attempted to transition into a road agent position after an injury at the end of 2010. That did not last, as he parted ways with the company again in mid-2012.

We got to see Goldust return to WWE one more time in 2013, when he and his brother Cody Rhodes became a team as part of a feud with the Authority and the Shield. This would actually turn out to be Dustin’s longest continuous stint with WWE, as he had a variety lower-card roles in the company before ultimately requesting and being granted his release earlier this year so that he could jump ship to AEW.

So, that’s six turns that Dustin Runnels has had as a WWE employee. However, I don’t think he holds the record in that regard.

Who does?

It’s this guy . . .

(No, not Sean Mooney.)

Marty Jannetty, as near as I can tell, has seven definitive terms in the WWF/WWE and possibly as many as nine depending on what you want to count.

Most people will say that Jannetty and Shawn Michaels initially had one run together as the Rockers, beginning in 1988 and continuing through 1992, but the team of the Rockers technically had two separate periods during which they were WWF employees, as they had only a handful of matches after initially being signed before they were fired for their role in a barroom brawl that both Michaels and Jannetty claim was overblown. They were rehired not long thereafter, and, thus, the team’s first run is actually bisected into two.

Jannetty was fired again after he was arrested for allegedly attacking a police officer in March 1992 but came back as soon as the heat was off, as he resurfaced in October of the same year to feud with Shawn Michaels (now known as the “Hearbreak Kid”) over the Intercontinental Title that Michaels had won after turning on Marty. After Michaels was the decisive winner in that feud, Jannetty hung around for a little while longer, ultimately cutting ties with the company again during the first quarter of 1994.

In September 1995, Jannetty showed up in the WWF again for seemingly no real reason other than that the company’s talent pool was at an almost embarrassing historical low. Though he initially came back as a babyface, Marty eventually turned heel after forming the New Rockers with Al Snow, then known as Leif Cassidy. By the end of 1996, Jannetty and the WWF had parted ways again.

It would be almost a decade before Jannetty got his fifth WWE run, as he originally was to have just a couple of guest appearances as part of Shawn Michaels’ ongoing feud with Kurt Angle in 2005, but Jannetty impressed company brass so much that he wound up getting a full-on contract with the company. However, the stint lasted only four months, as he was signed in March and released in July when he was, once again, arrested. This time it was for an alleged DUI.

Marty had another, somehow even shorter run the next year, when he showed up on the February 20, 2006 episode of Monday Night Raw to save Shawn Michaels from an attack by the Spirit Squad. A Rockers versus Spirit Squad match was supposed to be in the works, but Jannetty was cut by WWE again in March 2006, somewhat ironically the same week that the company implemented its new talent wellness policy.

In a somewhat surprising move, Jannetty was signed to a WWE contract YET AGAIN in September 2006, as part of an initiative in which the company was hiring experienced wrestlers to essentially be “player coaches” who would occasionally wrestle but spend most of their time teaching young talent. Rodney Mack, Brad Armstrong, and Henry Godwinn were also brought on board as part of that effort. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that he was fired by October.

Jannetty did show up twice more to wrestle on WWE programming, as he had a match with Ken Kennedy on the December 3, 2006 Raw (after his release earlier the same year) and one with Mike the Miz on the October 19, 2009 Raw. You could count those as runs eight and nine if you wanted to, though I personally wouldn’t, as in this answer I’ve tried to focus solely on times when the wrestlers were under contract to WWE.

Hold on a second, Connor actually has one more question about Goldust:

Also, in late 1995/early 1996, what was the deal with outside groups complaining about Goldust forcing him to be toned down?

There’s really not that much more to it than what you’ve stated. From the beginning, Goldust was very much an effeminate character and was not-so-subtly coded as gay. Conservative groups did not want that sort of character to be portrayed on television, particularly because the WWF was probably at its most kiddie-friendly at this point, with syndicated WWF television airing in several markets on Saturday mornings or afternoons immediately following cartoons.

It’s interesting, because at the time the objection of these outside groups was to any sort of “gay” character, whereas if something like the original Goldust character showed up on WWE television today, the complaints probably wouldn’t come from conservative groups but instead would come from left-wing groups upset about LGBTQIAPK characters being portrayed in a negative light.

It’s also worth noting that some of the complaints came not from outside groups but from the actual television stations that were airing syndicated WWF programming, some of which went as far as to not show Goldust’s vignettes on their broadcasts of shows like Superstars and Wrestling Challenge.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

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Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers