XFL 3.0?

If the Houston Roughnecks return, it could play out like pro wrestling drama

Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images.

You remember when Vince McMahon declared bankruptcy for his twice-flopped XFL and laid off all its players, coaches and front office personnel last month? Now there are reports that a mystery shopper is writing a deposit check to buy the XFL out of bankruptcy and resume play next year. And who's that throwing good money at a snakebitten football league?

The rumor is Vince McMahon. Well, somebody is reinstating XFL stadium leases in Seattle and St. Louis. If true, 2021 would mark McMahon's third attempt at getting the XFL off the ground. What's that definition of insanity?

Some underperforming XFL teams may relocate to markets abandoned by the NFL, like San Diego and Oakland. While most XFL teams faced free-falling TV ratings and downsizing attendance in 2020, and former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck is suing the league for wrongful termination, the Houston Roughnecks appear to be on firm artificial turf at TDECU Stadium on the UH campus. The Roughnecks were the undisputed crown jewel, the high-scoring dazzlers of the XFL 2020. They were the only undefeated team, standing at 5-0 with a 3-game lead in the Western Division when the plug was pulled in March, a victim of the COVID shutdown. Their average attendance was 18,230, good for third in the 8-team league. If the season had completed its 10-game regular season, the XFL title game would have been played in Houston. Our city clearly was the capital of the XFL.

A poll of XFL writers named Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker as the league's projected offensive MVP. Roughnecks' June Jones was the midway Coach of the Year. Receiver Cam Phillips was the XFL's "Star of the Week" three of the five weeks the league played games. Unlike that other pro football team in Houston, the Roughnecks did not trade their superstar receiver for a broken-down running back and a bag of used kicking tees.

After the season unexpectedly wrapped, six Roughnecks signed NFL contracts, the most of any XFL team: quarterback P.J. Walker (Carolina Panthers), cornerback Deatrick Nichols (New Orleans Saints), linebacker DeMarquis Gates (Minnesota Vikings), linebacker Edmond Robinson (Atlanta Falcons), and cornerback Savion Smith (Dallas Cowboys). Two more Roughnecks signed deals with the Canadian Football League: kicker Sergio Castillo (BC Lions) and receiver Jalen Saunders (Ottawa Redblacks). The bad news is, if the XFL returns, you might not be able to tell the Roughnecks without a scorecard.

While McMahon possibly is bringing back the XFL, his World Wrestling Entertainment is struggling to put on original live programming with Monday Night Raw, Wednesday Night NXT and Friday Night Smackdown in the WWE's empty Performance Center in Florida - God love it, the only state where professional wrestling is considered an "essential service."

Monday Night Raw debuted in January, 1993 and airs live, 3-hour shows 52 weeks a year. It is the longest-running episodic show in TV history. That's 1,408 weekly shows and counting. Second longest running episodic show – Friday Night Smackdown with 1,014 shows. Then comes NFL Monday Night Football with 718 games.

Earlier this month, Raw sunk to its lowest number of viewers ever, only 1.68 million fans for the May 4 episode. To be fair, pro wrestling is hard to watch, and very strange, without a live crowd cheering on the babyfaces and jeering the heels. WWE puts on 500 live events a year, but not 2020 with COVID-19 shutting down arenas worldwide and canceling lucrative U.S. and international tours. WrestleMania was canceled for the first time last month. WWE's last blockbuster live show was the Royal Rumble, which packed Minute Maid Park with 42,715 fans in January.

Last month, shareholders hit WWE with several class action lawsuits claiming that WWE lied about business opportunities while WWE executives unloaded stock in advance of troubling financial reports. Two of WWE's most bankable stars, Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch, are on the sidelines. Reigns is sitting out the coronavirus pandemic for health concerns. Lynch announced last week that she is expecting her first child. Last month, WWE laid off dozens of wrestlers and furloughed some veteran staff to the coronavirus crisis. Comic Tom Segura grabbed headlines this month when he called wrestling fans "retards, in the same category as flat-Earthers." WWE is facing a new rival for ratings on Wednesdays with the debut of All Elite Wrestling on TBS.

With all that happening, or not happening, a rumor is ratting WWE fans … is Vince McMahon negotiating to sell WWE and the WWE Network to ESPN and Fox? The buzz started last month when former WWE performer Dutch Mantell tweeted:

"Huge News: Any truth to this? Overheard directly out of WWE headquarters (in) Stamford (Connecticut) is that a deal is being negotiated to sell WWE & the network to ESPN and Fox as early as Mid May."

Mid May sounds about right now.

Although pro wrestling performers are known for being big fat fibbers, and they don't call Mantell "Dirty Dutch" for nothing, just maybe there's something to McMahon selling.

Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is 74 years old. He bought WWE from his father and investors for $1 million in 1982. WWE is now worth $5.7 billion, and McMahon's personal wealth is estimated at $3.2. That's Oprah territory. That's more than Mr. Wonderful is worth on Shark Tank. WWE isn't just a wrestling company. McMahon sits atop an entertainment empire that includes movies, TV, music, magazines, toys and video games. WWE television shows air in 150 countries. He is one of the great owners in sports history, more than willing to strap it on and get down and dirty with his performers. Let me know when Jerry Jones or Tilman Fertitta lets Donald Trump shave his head bald on pay-per-view like McMahon did. McMahon is committed, all right, or should be.

What's he knocking himself out for? He could sell WWE to ESPN and Fox, and insist that son-in-law Triple H and daughter Stephanie McMahon are retained in executive positions. McMahon could cash out his billions, take a deep breath, and concentrate on losing a big chunk of it next year with XFL 3.0.

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All 3 major sports teams in Houston appear to be in good hands.Composite image by Jack Brame.

Houston is a strange sports town, professionally speaking. Football is the undisputed king. That's evidenced by the undying love fans show the Texans. Baseball is second, even though the Astros most recently gave the city a title and have given them a consistent winner to cheer for since 2015. Basketball is a clear third, since fans won't show up to a Rockets' playoff game until after the game has started.

At one point, all three teams were competitive and provided the city with a good deal of excitement. They also had competent general managers, though not all at once. The Texans had Rick Smith, who some say was hit or miss, but he was by far the team’s best GM in their history. The measuring stick isn’t very high, but Smith normally hit on 1st rounders. Jeff Luhnow was in charge of the turnaround for the Astros. His work environment may have been contentious according to rumors, but he brought the city a World Series and built a consistent contender. Daryl Morey may have left a hot mess, but the Rockets were always in the playoffs. He was able to keep a winning team, while reshaping the roster.

Fast-forward to today, and the city has a competent GM in every major pro sports team at the same time. James Click has kept the Astros on the winning track. While the penalties for the sign stealing scandal were hefty, he’s managed to make some shrewd moves. Signing Yordan Alvarez before he hit arbitration and free agency was huge! If he can get Kyle Tucker locked up as well, he’s definitely on the right track. Not going crazy over losing key guys and trusting his process has paid off handsomely so far.

Rafael Stone has had the best luck of all. It started very rocky for him by having to deal James Harden and Russell Westbrook at the beginning of his tenure. The return on investment was initially laughed at and thought to be pennies on the dollar.

Considering they drafted four 19-year-olds last draft (headlined by Jalen Green who looks like the real deal), taking a chance on Kevin Porter Jr, landing Jabari Smith Jr in this draft (Tari Eason not to be forgotten), and the inevitable collapse of the Nets, I think Stone has done well for himself. He may not have had the ideal background for the job (he was a lawyer by trade), he’s done well so far in trying to build this team back into a contender. If these kids develop and grow together, I think they can be what Boston and Golden State have been: a homegrown team contending year in and year out.

Nick Caserio of the Texans had perhaps the tallest mountain to climb. The quarterback position is the most important. He inherited one of the best young QBs in the league, but he also inherited his desire to leave and his alleged bizarre fetish that led to civil lawsuits. Some thought the haul he got was fair, while others thought it wasn’t enough. Did I mention his predecessor left the team in cap hell? Through it all, Caserio has managed to turn this team around and has them headed in the right direction. If Davis Mills proves to be a competent QB, that’ll be HUGE! However, the draft capital they have moving forward will help them draft or trade for their franchise QB if Mills isn’t the guy.

While the Astros are the only team currently in contention, the Rockets and Texans are looking like they may not be too far behind if things continue going their way. I’d LOVE to have a sit-down with all three and talk about philosophy and strategy! Houston sports are in good hands with these guys. Here’s to hoping they keep it going!

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