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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J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans all-time leader in sacks (96.0), is entering his ninth season with the franchise ahead of what will certainly be an anomaly year for the NFL. Due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, there is serious doubt that the NFL will be able to play a full 16-game schedule, while others express their concern with the league's inability to play any form of football come the fall of 2020.

There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the league this coming season, which is becoming a theme for Watt's future in Houston.

The 31-year-old defensive end has two years remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed in September of 2014. But as he prepares to embark on another year with the Texans through Zoom meetings with his teammates, a new contract is not on Watt's priority list.

"No, I don't think that's necessary," Watt told Houston reporters on Wednesday. "I fully understand and respect the situation that I'm in at the moment, and what's happened in the past few years, so I'm not gonna sit here and demand anything. I think if I went back and asked for an extension or more money, I think that would be the wrong move. I am just going out there to prove my worth and to help this team win games."

As of now, it is unsure what the future holds for Watt's career with the Texans. Should management re-sign the three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner (2012, 2014 & 2015), the question becomes: How much is Watt worth as he enters the twilight of his career? It's the subject that will be the driving force when discussing Watt's future with the team, and the segment that sparked a trade rumor of his departure to the Chicago Bears.

Although his on-field production remains extremely valuable, Watt has had a difficult time trying to stay healthy. Since 2016, he has missed 32 out of a possible 64 games due to an abundance of injuries. In 2019, Watt missed half of the season after suffering a torn pectoral during the Texans' 27-24 victory over the then-Oakland Raiders.

"My goal for every season is to do whatever possible to help this team win, and number one, that means staying healthy," he said. "You have to be on the field in order to help the team win, and then it is to play at the peak physical level I am capable of. It is just making sure I am in the best possible shape to perform that way."

Contract and injuries aside, the five-time Pro-Bowler is excited about his opportunity to play under new defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver. During his introductory press conference two weeks ago, Weaver said Watt will remain the focal point for the Texans' defense in 2020, but acknowledged getting the future Hall of Famer through 16 games remains a hurdle.

After four seasons serving as Houston's defensive line coach, the Texans promoted Weaver to defensive coordinator in January to replace Romeo Crennel.

"I love [Anthony] Weaver... I think that he has a great mixture of knowledge of the game, experience, but also personality to be able to handle the players in the room," Watt said. "To be able to inject some fun and excitement into meetings, practice and everything, all while bringing the knowledge necessary to run a good defense."

Under the guidance of a new defensive coordinator, Weaver may be just the coach to help Watt rekindle the potential that made him an All-Pro defensive end. Regardless of the uncertainties surrounding his future at the conclusion of his contract, Watt is hoping he will have the opportunity to finish his career where it started — in Houston.

"That is a goal of mine, and this city [Houston] has been incredible to me since I got here," Watt said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I certainly hope that's the case."

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