WRESTLERS  INVADE  MANILA FOR  'SURVIVOR  SERIES"

[PHOTO AT LEFT - WRESTLEMANIA: Smackdown wrestlers ó led by Matt Hardy (left), Chavo Guerrero (with glasses), Mr. Kennedy (back to camera), Fil-Greek icon Batista (in white pants) and Gregory Helms (given a head lock by one of the members of the entourage) ó arrive at the NAIA yesterday morning to perform in the two-day World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ĎSurvivor Seriesí Tour beginning tomorrow before an expected banner crowd at the Araneta Coliseum. - Photo By RUDY SANTOS]

MANILA, OCTOBER 20, 2006 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Over 2,000 tons of flesh and blood landed in Manila on board a Philippine Airlines jet from Los Angeles yesterday morning as 21 professional wrestlers, led by Fil-Greek icon Batista, arrived to perform in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) "Survivor Series" tour at the Araneta Coliseum tomorrow and Sunday.

Two buses and four vans whisked the visitors and 20 companions, including WWE executives and set-up crew, from the airport to the Holiday Inn where the group is billeted until departure late Sunday.

Itíll be a whirlwind visit for the wrestlers who perform under the WWE "SmackDown" brand. Last February, a group of wrestlers under the WWE "Raw" brand saw action in a pair of Big Dome shows that grossed over P50 Million in ticket sales. The expectation is the "SmackDown" shows will outsell "Raw" because of Batistaís popularity here.

Manila will never be the same again after the wrestlers shake up the thunder at the giant Cubao facility this weekend.

Big Dome owner Jorge (Nene) Araneta hosted an invitational dinner for the wrestlers at his White House residence in Cubao last night.

Araneta Group senior vice president for marketing Grace Magno said the wrestlers will be split into groups to meet sponsors, advertisers and the press in various venues today. Batista will join King Booker, Queen Sharmell and Michelle McCool in a press conference early this afternoon then will be interviewed by Lorna Tolentino for the "Startalk" TV program. Matt Hardy, The Miz, Gregory Helms, Bobby Lashley, Chavo Guerrero and McCool will be involved in several meet-and-greet functions during the day.

Tonight, Paul London and Brian Kendrick will host a dinner for two promo winners and their guests at the Gateway Mall.

Batista will make his Philippine debut with Chris Benoit in a tag team match against Finlay with Liíl Bastard and Guerrero tomorrow. Other bouts in the card are Booker versus Lashley for the world heavyweight title, The Undertaker versus Mr. Kennedy, Hardy versus William Regal, London and Kendrick versus K. C. James and Idol Stevens with McCool for the WWE tag team championship, Jimmy Yang versus Helms for the cruiserweight crown, Ashley versus McCool in a diva match and Vito versus The Miz.

On Sunday, Batista returns with Lashley to face archrival Booker and Mr. Kennedy in a tag team grudge match. Also in the show are The Undertaker versus Finlay with Liíl Bastard, Benoit versus Guerrero, Hardy versus Helms, Vito versus Regal, London, Kendrick and Ashley versus James, Stevens and McCool in a six-way tag team battle and Yang versus The Miz.

No doubt, Batista will be the focus of attention because of his Filipino roots. He was in Manila for three days last month to promote the "SmackDown" tour and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by his fans.

Batista, 37, is a 6-5, 317-pound phenom who is half-Filipino and half-Greek. His Filipino grandparents migrated to the US two generations ago. Batista has always been proud of his Filipino roots. His real name is David Michael Bautista, Jr. His former wife Angie with whom he has two daughters is Filipina. To recognize his lineage, he carries a tattoo of the tri-color Filipino flag merged with the Greek flag on his left triceps.

Because of his Filipino roots, Batista regarded his visit to Manila last month as a sentimental homecoming. Now, heís back to thrill his countrymen and demonstrate why heís considered one of the top wrestling celebrities today.

Batista turned pro in 1997 and won the WWE heavyweight championship by trouncing Triple H in the main event of Wrestlemania 21 last year. He relinquished the crown after suffering a tear in his right triceps during a match against Mark Henry in New York. Batista underwent an operation to repair the tear and doctors took a graft of his hamstring to insert it in his arm. Since launching his comeback from surgery, he has been raring to regain the world title from Booker.

Touted to steal the thunder from Batista is The Undertaker whose eerie presence is a frightening experience for his opponents in the ring. Also known as The Grim Reaper, he will tangle with Mr. Kennedy tomorrow and Finlay on Sunday.

Tickets for each show are priced at P10,500, P5,250, P3,675, P3,465, P2,100 and P945. The tour is made possible by the Araneta Center, Pizza Hut, Solar Entertainment, Jack TV, Smart Buddy, Gold.s Gym, Petron, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn. - With report from Rainieer Allan Ronda


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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