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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

WWF comes through in the clutch
By T.J. MADIGAN -- Calgary Sun
 Last week's column ended with this message to the WWF: "The fans are watching again ... The next 72 hours will see if you're able to take the ball and run with it this time."

  The following night at Survivor Series, well, they dropped the ball! The pay-per-view ended and nothing much had happened. The show was solid but solid just isn't good enough when the audience needs something spectacular.

 The original plan had Triple H doing a run-in to give the deciding chairshot in the main event. But that idea was nixed and Kurt Angle was given the role of saving the WWF -- a move that was predictable and, for the most part, a let-down. The big surprise we were waiting for was teased yet never delivered. The invasion angle may have concluded but most fans went home disappointed.

 With the Survivor Series over, the focus turned to the following night's Raw. The WWF had one last shot to get it right ... And they kept us wondering right up to the last minute. It was possibly the most hectic news day in pro-wrestling since the WCW buy-out itself.

 As we reported last week, the WWF was in serious negotiations to bring in Ric Flair for the live Raw in his hometown of Charlotte. On Monday morning, however, hopes of an agreement seemed bleak. Flair was still under a guaranteed contract with AOL-Time Warner - WCW's previous owner. Under the deal, Flair was being paid $1 million per annum, irrelevant of the fact they no longer had a company for him to wrestle for. The WWF would have to buy-out the contract and also offer a substantial salary to Flair as compensation. After all, if he's making $1 million a year sitting at home, why go on the road with the WWF for less?

 By noon Monday, hopes were suddenly renewed. There were confirmed reports that Ric Flair was backstage in Charlotte. There was still no deal in place, though word spread that the WWF were desperate for a last-minute settlement with Time-Warner to have the Nature Boy appear on TV that night.

 In the midst of this, new rumours began to emerge that Jerry 'The King' Lawler would also be returning. This seemed even less likely than a Flair appearance. Just a week earlier, Lawler had participated in his first taping for the XWF -- The new Florida-based group fronted by Hulk Hogan. With `The King' signed to a rival organization, a showing on Raw seemed out of the question.

 That is, until news was leaked that Lawler had indeed taken a flight to Charlotte on Monday morning. The excitement intensified, and speculation of a TV appearance was rampant, even though he couldn't possibly perform for the WWF as long as he remained under contract to another company.

 Just hours later, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. The XWF issued a statement, announcing they were releasing Lawler from his contract, thus freeing him up to return on Raw. "If he feels he can make a better living up there (in the WWF), more power to him," said XWF booker Bryan Knobs. "We're not the type of company that will file a lawsuit or anything."

 With that, Raw looked set to be one of the most important in years. Appearances by both 'The King' and `The Nature Boy' were now very real possibilities and fans tuned in to see if the WWF could finally deliver the goods. This time, they weren't disappointed.

 The Nov. 19 Raw was an absolute five-star offering, by far the most gripping TV the company has produced in years. In just two hours, the writers completely changed the pro-wrestling landscape and literally fixed everything that was wrong with the flagging storylines.

 Steve Austin is back as the foul-mouthed babyface that made wrestling cool in the first place. Angle, McMahon and Jericho all made the perfectly-executed jump to the dark side. Shane and Stephanie have been written out of the storylines for the foreseeable future. The Alliance is gone. The titles are being unified. The heel/face turns all made sense. The stipulations from the Survivor Series were actually enforced. And, yes, both Flair and Lawler returned to the WWF, bringing a whole new lease on life to the on-screen product.

 If the thunderous pops from the crowd weren't enough to go by, the ratings certainly proved the point. The TV audience jumped a massive 15-20% from last week. Clearly, they're doing something right.

 And it's not over yet. With the imminent return of Triple H and more big surprises in the works, the WWF finally has that 'anything-can-happen' feel once again. As Jim Ross said at the close of Monday's show, "Business has just picked up."

 Let's just hope they can keep it that way.


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