By Mike Mooneyham

June 17, 2001

Some say it’s mere coincidence that WWF ratings have been dropping since the night Vince McMahon announced that his company was gobbling up the competition. Others are calling it the curse of WCW.

Curse or coincidence, though, it’s become painfully clear to WWF brass that the company’s immediate future depends on the success or failure of the relaunch of World Championship Wrestling.

So far, there’s been little to get very excited about, unless one views recent run- ins by WCW mid-carders Lance Storm, Hugh Morrus and Miss Hancock as a positive sign. Hints that stale WWF talent like Billy Gunn and Test might be joining Shane McMahon in the new WCW also don’t bode well for the WWF’s plan for the former Atlanta-based company.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Lucrative AOL/Time Warner contracts, many of them fashioned by “ATM” Eric Bischoff, have posed a major stumbling block to the signing of most of WCW’s big names, including Bill Goldberg, Ric Flair, Sting and Kevin Nash, and WWF so far has been forced to settle with mid-carders and developmental talent not subject to expensive buyouts, or stars like Booker T who are still relatively young and have a strong enough upside to gamble by signing a WWF deal for considerably less money.

Signs that Vince McMahon and company may be getting desperate include the recent signing of Buff Bagwell, who two months ago wouldn’t have even been considered due to his behind-the-scenes problems at WCW, and a call made by Shane McMahon to Scott Hall, who over the past three years worked a scattered number of WCW dates around injuries, rehab stints and personal issues. To his credit, the 42- year-old Hall reportedly has been “clean” the past several months, motivated by the harsh reality that the WWF most likely will be his last chance to make one final mark in the wrestling business.

The original two dozen performers who had their contracts purchased as part of the WCW sale are Storm, Morrus, Hancock (Stacy Keibler), Mike Awesome, Eliz Skipper, Sean O’Haire, Chuck Palumbo, Mark Jindrak, Lash LaRoux, Shawn Stasiak, Shane Helms, Shannon Moore, Evan Karagias, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Mike Sanders, Kwee Wee, Kaz Hayashi, Yun Yang, Jaime Noble, The Wall, Reno, Johnny The Bull, Jason Jett and Kid Romeo. Billy Kidman and Torrie Wilson were unofficially added last week to the new WCW roster. Other signings that the WWF haven’t made public include Diamond Dallas Page, Chris Kanyon and former ECW champ Rob Van Dam.

Until the WWF signs big-name players who are perceived as ratings draws, the WWF may have a more difficult time than had been anticipated securing a slot on TNN for a WCW show. An 11 p.m.-1 a.m. late Saturday night time slot is still being discussed, but the chances of that happening anytime soon are getting slimmer by the week, with the more likely option being the WWF giving WCW one of its existing TV spots.

WWF sources recently indicated that there might be a few big surprises as far as WWF talent being sent over to the “opposition.” Kurt Angle has been prominently mentioned as a possible addition to the Shane McMahon-led WCW troops. A number of WWF performers, however, have privately expressed fears about being “sent down” to WCW.

In the meanwhile the WWF is dealing with its own personnel problems. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the top heel in the business, will be on the sidelines for several months rehabing from surgery to repair his injured left quadriceps muscle, as will Rikishi, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Chyna has been MIA for months as she has been preoccupied with non- WWF matters such as posing for Playboy and promoting her book, along with her latest TV and movie projects. The WWF’s biggest star, The Rock, is still on the Hollywood set and may not be back until late summer.

Drug issues also have eliminated two of the company’s more entertaining performers. “Too Cool” character Grand Master Sexay (Brian Lawler) was fired after crossing the Canadian border with what he now claims were drugs belonging to a friend. Eddie Guerrero was sent to a drug rehab facility after showing up at Raw in no condition to perform, but WWF officials are supportive and say he will be welcomed back when he gets his life in order.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]

The jury is still out on the Steve Austin heel turn. While Austin’s recent workrate has been at a pre-neck injury level and his effort in the heel role has been commendable, it’s hard to match the response he received the past several years as the anti- establishment “Texas Rattlesnake,” and even harder for many fans to accept him as a sometimes cowardly heel in cahoots with “evil owner Mr. McMahon.”

The WWF problems, at least perception- wise, have been compounded by the fact that the XFL debacle was put out of its misery and deemed a tremendous failure, proving that everything Vince McMahon touches doesn’t necessarily turn to gold.

Vince, who in the past has been able to pull more than a few rabbits out of the hat, now faces his toughest challenge in quite awhile.