The tradition of the foreign object is one of the greatest in rasslin' history. While anything will do -- a Coke (NYSE:KO) or Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) beverage can, a folding chair from Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) or Office Depot (NYSE:ODP), or even a TaserInternational (NASDAQ:TASR) stun gun -- typically, the ones that have the greatest impact on the match are the ones most easily concealed.

If you're a World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE) investor, you might be looking for a break. After the roller-coaster ride of the past few quarters and last year's strong comeback, the numbers today look downright yawn-inspiring. But check the replay. Somebody did toss a secret weapon into the ring. It's just tougher to see.

The 9% sales surge didn't match last quarter's timing-juiced, 20% revenue spike, but it was better than last year's ring-rope flat trend. The $81.6 million included some disappointments, including a 14% decrease in comparable pay-per-view buys, a 1% drop in revenue from live events, and a 20% drop in average crowd size in North America.

At the final bell, the firm brought in $0.11 per share in earnings, a 175% gain over the prior-year quarter. How did it make a comeback like that with sales continuing to slide in its primary events? By putting costs in a headlock and expanding sales in key, higher-margin areas.

Stronger international numbers and better TV revenues provided a soothing ice pack for the wearied events segment. This quarter, WWE put up a 33% gain in branded merchandise and a 128% spike in home video sales. Let's pin that down: Live and televised events carried gross margins of 39%, a 5% improvement. But the branded/video products put up a 10% margin improvement, to 44%. Keep in mind that this still accounts for only a fifth of the firm's revenue pie, but stealthy improvements here could provide big rewards for investors with their eyes wide open.

The firm managed $35 million in free cash flow (FCF) last year and more than $9 million so far this year. That puts it at an enterprise value-to-FCF ratio of around 15. That's cheaper than the market as a whole, which is unsurprising given guidance for decreasing revenues and earnings. But Fools should keep an eye open. If this proven contender gets much cheaper, it may soon hit the mythical territory of the good company at a great price.

Philip Durell looks for great companies at great prices every month in Motley Fool Inside Value . Take a free trial.

Seth Jayson is working on his flying dropkick. He has no position in any company mentioned. View his Fool profile here.