The league makes treading water fun as it prepares for life after ''Wrestlemania,'' says Mike Flaherty
Chris Jericho
Credit: Chris Jericho: Rich Freeda/WWF

The WWF is in a strange transitional period

According to talent poobah and play-by-play man Jim Ross, the WWF’s split of its roster into two competing promotions is not as imminent as he or we had thought. Having passed on three well-watched spectacles on which to mount the schism — Triple H’s Jan. 7 return, Sunday’s ”Royal Rumble,” and this week’s ”RAW” (Mondays, TNN, 9 p.m.) — Ross stated that he can’t see the breakup happening until after ”Wrestlemania X8” on April 7.

Mr. McMahon and Co. would be wise to take their time, as the split, when it happens, will likely change the WWF and the wrestling world deeply and for a long time. Keeping in mind the half-baked thinking that bungled last spring’s Alliance invasion, they want to make sure that this time the right pieces and the right storylines are in place.

As a result, 2002 has so far been a strange, if hugely entertaining, stretch for WWF marks, partly because the WWF’s beefing up of its roster has made for an interesting infusion of new talent and the return of some colorful past superstars like Rikishi, Goldust, Kurt ”Mr. Perfect” Hennig, Val Venis, and the Godfather.

But while all those nostalgic bon bons are being thrown at the fans, the WWF seems to be making sure that nothing too monumental or complicating occurs at the championship-belt level, so as to leave its options open for ”WMX8” and beyond. How else to explain why so many second-tier superstars seem to be holding nearly all the gold?

Does anybody really think of tag-team champs Spike and Tazz as an enduring proposition? Though Intercontinental champ William Regal is, in my eyes, among the WWF’s greatest assets, he’s clearly not a fan favorite either as a heel or a fighter. Similarly, even though Trish Stratus has been among the most improved and charismatic superstars of the past year, it’s hard to argue that she should be women’s champ in the face of tougher, more exciting fighters like Jazz, Jackie, or Mighty Molly. Then, of course, there’s Jericho, who — as improved as he is in the ring and as amazing as he’s been on the stick since snagging the ”undisputed” heavyweight belt — is still clearly not quite in the same league as franchise players like Austin, Rock, Angle, or Triple H.

In other words, we have a slate full of transitional champs (the one possible exception being European champion Christian, whose push seems to have slowed down, but who I’m not ready to count out as a major player someday). Also interesting in the case of Jericho, Regal, and Tazz is that they’re all well-respected, well-connected workers (and sometimes whiners). So, in this period of preparation and flux, why not reward their hard work and loyalty with a short-term title reign?

The upshot is a time when a lot and nothing is happening simultaneously. If it all seems a little too tentative, better get used to it now that there are more than two months of it heading our way. If, like me, you are digging the light, kind of frivolous tone to the shows lately, relax and ride it out — headier times are a-comin’.

What have you thought of the WWF’s entertaining limbo?

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