By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 2, 2001

Just when you thought it was safe to watch the WWF again.

Three weeks ago it appeared that the federation was coming apart at the seams. A subsequent high-level meeting resulted in a move that should have been made months ago, and that was to bring Ric Flair into the fold. Flair’s re-debut on Raw two weeks ago spiked Raw to its highest number in months and, along with the return of Jerry “The King” Lawler to the announce table, things seemed to be headed in the right direction. But amidst the fanfare surrounding Flair and Lawler, a rather disturbing development occurred.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Vince McMahon dropped his pants and asked someone to kiss his buttocks on live national TV.

When veteran Lord Steven Regal obliged, many old-schoolers shook their heads in disgust, lamenting the fact that a respected grappler like Regal would lower himself to take part in such a demeaning angle.

A week later, though, McMahon came back with the same routine, first asking “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to do the honors, and then tapping longtime announcer Jim Ross after Austin turned the tables and dropped the WWF owner with a low blow. Ross shortly afterward suffered the humiliation of having his face shoved into his real-life boss’s bare butt. Quite fittingly, Oklahoma University’s fight song, “Boomer Sooner,” was played at the end of the show as Lawler helped his play-by-play partner to his feet.

Ross has not commented publicly on the angle, but one would have to believe that such a public display – even under the guise of “sports entertainment” – couldn’t possibly have set well with the respected broadcaster. The angle was designed to put heat on The Undertaker’s heel turn. What it did, unfortunately, was put Ross in a very unflattering position in, of all places, his home state of Oklahoma, and with family members backstage.

Ross may have imagined he was suffering the ultimate indignity of watching his beloved Sooners get bounced by rival Oklahoma State on Saturday, but that certainly wouldn’t have prepared him for what McMahon had in store for him Monday night on Raw.

Alarmingly, McMahon reportedly wants to continue the “Kiss My Ass Club” routine, despite the angle on Smackdown Thursday night when he suffered a brow-beating at the hands of The Rock before he could initiate Trish Stratus, a buxom blonde half his age and no stranger to degrading roles.

The recent signing of Flair and McMahon’s renewed emphasis on edgy content don’t go hand in hand. Better booking and compelling, reality-based storylines will further the product more than tasteless “entertainment” and bad adolescent humor that will ultimately cause network concern, loss of sponsors and loss of fans. Some fair-weather viewers will naturally tune in for the shock value until they’re no longer shocked and something new comes along. These “fans,” however, aren’t the kind you base the future of your business on.

The type of fans you build your product around is same type who stood in line for hours last weekend in Summerville just for the chance to exchange a few words with Ric Flair, the man most of those fans consider to be the greatest performer of their generation. They were fans who, for the most part, continued to follow WCW – even during the company’s death throes. They were NWA loyalists who supported a company they viewed as an extension of the Crockett dynasty and the old National Wrestling Alliance, although WCW had long extricated itself from those Southern roots. Eric Bischoff, in particular, made it his goal to distance the promotion from “anyone with a Southern accent,” and in doing so, lost a sizable percentage of viewers from this area of the country. Vince Russo later flaunted his New York street-smart character and took WCW into unchartered waters with his watered-down version of “WWF lite.” Under the leadership of both, and with the “help” of a greedy cast of characters who put their own careers above the interest of the company, the once-mighty WCW would become easy pickings for McMahon and would eventually be unloaded in what amounted to a high-profile fire sale.

Many of those same fans, unfortunately, probably won’t be around for the long haul if the WWF continues to stress sleaze over substance.

With seasoned pros like Flair, The Rock, Austin, Triple H and Kurt Angle, WWF programming could produce a ratings bonanza with some of the most provocative storylines ever. For that to happen, though, requires a creative team whose expertise and direction extend beyond Russo’s formula for “crash TV” and nonsensical skits written by a staff that prides itself more in bathroom humor than a solid knowledge of the wrestling business. The WWF had the opportunity to cash in on a new influx of fans. Another hastily arranged heel turn and the company owner baring his buttocks won’t do much to ensure that these fans stay for the duration. Now is the time for Vince McMahon and staff to look at some recent history and take note of a tried-and-true adage. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them.

- Chances of the WWF getting a new crop of ex-WCW stars in the next few months appear to be getting slimmer.

Kevin Nash has made it clear to WWF officials that he’s not interested in working 15 dates a month, and has been talking about working tours in Australia and Japan with former Outsiders cohort Scott Hall, whose value to the WWF would be greatly diminished without Nash as part of the package. Nash’s questionable work ethic was reflected in a passage he wrote earlier this year on his Web site: “I want to thank Vince McMahon. In fact, my son and I both thank you very much for a paid vacation. Thank you very much for buying WCW – and letting me have a complete summer with my son, to see him every day. I really appreciate it. Guess I owe you one, Vinnie-Mac.”

Scott Steiner, whose career has been riddled with injuries and controversy the past few years, also may opt for the lighter schedule demands of working overseas tours, along with the possibility of a second viable promotion if the fledgling Florida-based XWF can secure a television contract.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]

– Raw dropped from a 4.8 two weeks ago to a 4.4 for last Monday’s show in Oklahoma City. Smackdown drew a strong 4.2 broadcast rating.

- The WWF will split into two separate promotions with equally divided talent beginning in January. The working plan is for Flair and Vince McMahon to each head up the Raw and Smackdown shows. A televised draft will determine the roster for both groups. The change may occur as early as the Jan. 7 Raw at Madison Square Garden.

- Some low-level cuts are planned in the WWF over the next few weeks, with one wave of cuts among developmental talent expected this week.

- Randy Orton, who has been drawing strong reviews working for Ohio Valley Wrestling, will be brought up by the WWF as soon as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Orton is the son of Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. and the grandson of ‘60s star Bob Orton Sr.