XFL 3.0?

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

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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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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