Watch for these rising WWF stars. The new-look ''RAW'' promises better days ahead for some underused talent, says Mike Flaherty
Credit: Rob Van Dam: Rich Freeda/WWF

Watch for these rising WWF stars

The biggest news of Monday night’s ”RAW” (Mondays, 9 p.m., TNN) was not news at all: In the wake of the WWF’s promotional split (oh, I’m sorry, ”brand extension”), relegating the Rock and Kurt Angle exclusively to Vince McMahon’s ”Smackdown” division, OF COURSE Stone Cold Steve Austin would sign with Ric Flair and provide the star power on Monday nights. Still, his pretending to go with McMahon in the climactic finale was a nice April Fools gag.

More important, this episode offered an intruiging glimpse into WWF’s future, showcasing new, returning and re-energized performers who, thanks to the division of the company’s roster, will finally have a chance to shine.

Rob Van Dam Sure, RVD has been dazzling audiences ever since he arrived in the WWF, and he is, after all, the Intercontinental champion. But, he’s now a bigger fish in a much smaller pond, with only Austin and Triple H exceeding him in star power. Younger, prettier, and more agile than either of them, he’s destined to be the WWF’s premier attraction.

Eddie Guererro The return of ”Latino Heat” was undoubtedly the high point of the show for me. Though he’s had his troubles outside the squared circle, Guerrero has got the charisma, brutality, and comedy chops to reach new heights of popularity. Setting him up in a feud with RVD (likely to result in a killer match at the upcoming Backlash pay per view) is genius. !Si!

Brock Lesnar The hulking rookie, who thus far has made his mark in a series of nasty run-ins (most recently this week, when he pummeled the [yawn] Hardys), may be just the ruthless heel the WWF has been sorely needing. As for teaming him with the ne’er do well Paul Heyman? Sheer genius.

Mighty Molly Okay, so Monday night’s bikini ”paddle on a pole” match (yes, you read right) was pretty stupid; nevertheless, the women’s division has definitely been kicked up a few notches of late, with Jazz and Trish doing especially fine work. Separating good-two-shoes Molly from the Hurricane and turning her heel can only further its improvement, as can a move away from gimmick matches and toward real pain.

Raven Marks who only know the bedraggled slacker from his WWF stint may not realize what an excellent performer he is, both in-ring and on-mic. It’s a bummer that he lost the hardcore belt to Bubba Ray Dudley (who could really use a vacation, by the way); let’s hope Raven snags it back at Backlash. One other thing: It?s time for the WWF to drop the tired ”24/7” rule and bloody up the hardcore division, so it can truly live up to its name.

Bradshaw As much as I loved the APA, I think it was an interesting move to separate Farooq and this badass Texan — but only if he’s going to get a real, sustained push and be placed in some interesting plotlines.

Kurt Hennig I’m a recently converted fan of this arrogant, gum-chomping WCW refugee. His blase superiority is the stuff that great heels are made of. That said, he sometimes looks a little too blase in the ring. Turn up the energy a bit, and this bastard may well blow up as he deserves to.

Are you as psyched about the post-split WWF as I am?