WWF grapples with becoming two separate wrestling entities
By T.J. MADIGAN -- Calgary Sun
If it seems like the WWF is treading water until they can execute their next big angle, it's because they are. And that next big angle, arguably one that could revolutionize the whole business, is less than a month away.
The WWF is splitting, for real this time. After eight months of false starts on the plans to establish WCW as a separate entity, the suits on the top floor of Titan Tower have finally decided the time is right to pull the trigger on one of the riskiest business moves pro wrestling has ever seen.
In January, the WWF roster will formally be divided into two different companies, presumably with the Rock as the main star of one talent pool and Steve Austin fronting the other. One company will be given Raw as their flagship show. The other will use Smackdown, albeit with a possible name change to Nitro.
The big shock is the revelation the two won't actually be mixed. No inter-promotional matches. No cross-over feuds. Each company will have its own stars, its own commentators, its own championships and most importantly, its own pay-per-views.
The only time the two will combine will be for untelevised house shows, and even then, no match will pit stars from opposite sides against each other. It's hoped they can significantly boost the declining attendance by making house shows the only events with all the big stars on a single card.
On paper, the plan is fool-proof. It'll allow more young guys to be elevated, more stars to be created, and less rush in developing on-screen storylines. The move also leaves WWF brass with a lot more leverage. For example, they could market one organization as their family-friendly show, while the other targets the lucrative 18-24 market that ate up the more risqu content during the DX era.
The only obstacle preventing the split was the WCW name. Apparently, neither TNN or UPN (the U.S. networks that air Raw and Smackdown, respectively) were keen on the idea of having their wrestling show carrying the WCW brand name, thus pegged from the outset as the weaker of the two. The solution? To completely eliminate the name WCW. Instead, both factions will retain WWF as their identity, although this sadly spells the end for the decades of pro-wrestling legacy under the NWA/WCW banner.
Explaining the split on television is a whole different story. It's been leaked that the writers are working towards a 'televised draft' angle, to take place at the Madison Square Garden Raw on Jan. 7, 2002.
In the meantime, they'll continue to build the tension between Ric Flair and Vince McMahon as co-owners of the company, until the two finally can't work together anymore. Their respective characters will draft their own roster and officially divide the WWF. The two organizations will probably continue to share pay-per-views until after the Toronto Wrestlemania in March, when Flair and McMahon will have a blow-off match to end the feud.
Tomorrow night's Vengeance will now be the final PPV with a single WWF roster. The show looks promising, although with Austin, Rock, Angle and Jericho involved in the top three matches, five-star in-ring action is almost a lock.
As improbable as it seems from a political standpoint, Chris Jericho appears to be the favourite to walk out with the gold. A main-eventer jobbing twice the week before the PPV is a booking tactic most often used to draw fans away from the scent of the eventual winner. Despite the fact that he has far less backstage stroke than the other three contenders, Y2J's losses in the teaser matches on Raw and Smackdown may hint that the WWF is finally willing to push him beyond the company's notorious glass ceiling. On the other hand, with their current preference for hot-shot scripting over long-term planning, killing Jericho's heat on TV this week may just have been a careless oversight.
WWF Vengeance goes out at 6 p.m. tomorrow night on pay-per-view. Calgary's Famous Players theatres will also be airing the event live.