They coulda been a contenda.

Two tech merger deals KO'd and another put on the ropes in one week. What happened to all that potential?

Just a couple of months ago, Internet companies were coming together with bravado. Security maven


(VRSN) - Get Report

shelled out a hefty $21 billion for registrar

Network Solutions



Global Crossing


bought trading desktop provider


and its parent

IPC Communications

for $3.8 billion in stock.



bought little, privately held


for $166.1 million in its shares. Big and small, the deals pranced into the ring.

Then Mr. T punched the market in the face with two 24-karat-gold fists of bearish rage.

Nursing swollen shiners and noses like rancid pieces of roast beef, February and March's prizefighters have crawled into May looking like


in the middle rounds. Do they have the charm to make up for their sudden lack of good looks?

Recent history doesn't offer much insight into whether a downturn in the


will dampen merger enthusiasm. In August and September 1998, during the last significant, extended Nasdaq decline, some 78 proposed or rumored deals fell through, according to

Thomson Financial Securities Data

. That's a bit higher than the average of 65 scrapped deals for every two months between May 1998 and June 1999, after which the average declined to about 31 every two months, according to Thomson Financial figures. Though data from the last couple of years are inconclusive, this week didn't bode well for M&A action in the current market.







unclasped hands and staggered their way to independent existence. Battered Corel still has its up-and-coming Linux reputation. The artist formerly known as Borland still needs help marketing its way out of a wet paper bag. There seemed to be worse ideas than a merger. But in the past two months, Corel's stock price sagged and dragged down so low it was grinning up at Inprise's share price.

Was Corel's flagging share price -- from around 15 in early March to around 5 at the start of this week -- the deal killer?

"Corel wasn't less or more vulnerable because of its stock price. Corel sold a lot less software on the Linux side than people thought," says Duncan Stewart, a partner and portfolio manager at

Tera Capital

, which has owned Corel in the past but doesn't currently. "The stock price exacerbated a bad situation."

Some of the same prewedding disenchantment browbeat health care portal builder and ASP



into shrugging off an end-of-March merger proposal with IMS Health


. Not only did the technology company get peppered with bottles and old shoes during its brief run at acquiring the health care industry darling, it lost more than 50% of its value as it tumbled to around 19.

Tuesday, it settled for the acquisition of IMS Health's technology subsidiary Erisco. TriZetto has to pony up 10.63 million, or 30.1% of its shares, for the consolation prize. In return, it will get Internet-based sales deals from IMS Health.

And, a slap across the face and we'll call it even.

Get those pens ready for the obituary of the three-way merger that online medical supplies provider



had planned with Internet health care company


and supply-chain player


. Why leave beloved partners behind? Investors hated the deal and that disdain showed up in a 67% decline in Neoforma's share price in the six weeks after the merger was proposed. The company started prepping the Street for depression with a May 16 announcement that it was re-examining its "transaction alternatives."

You can't help but wonder if more tech conquerors will be forced to ride off into the sunset alone. Start with the biggie, and least likely to come undone: VeriSign and Network Solutions may be a match made in strategic heaven, but VeriSign's stock is drooping dejectedly from the March 6 merger agreement's 247.44 to 133 1/16. Network Solutions shares are a still-perky 148.625, compared with 180.3125 on acquisition day. Will Network Solutions demand a recount?

"There is a huge strategic reason for the deal. If I were a Network Solutions investor, I would be looking at the strategic value of the deal, rather than the best price they could get out at," says Drew Brosseau of

SG Cowen

, which hasn't done banking for the duo recently. "The world has changed. Network Solutions wouldn't be trading where it was if not for the merger."

So keep an eye out for overly aggressive acquirers that have been pummeled by an unreceptive market.

What about auction aggregator AuctionRover, which could scratch its head over a 3.47 million share offer from at a flattering $57.125 a share, which has turned into a humble $20.625? Then again, the IPO window AuctionRover might have been eyeing is swollen shut. Beggars can't be choosers.

Email provider


relied on swiftness in March when it slammed 3.75 million shares, worth 142 1/4 each, on the table for messaging company As's stock price lost those sculpted 142 1/4 muscles and slimmed down to 86, a shotgun wedding closed the deal in a little over a month.

The seller's remorse goes on and on: DSL provider



was at 63 when it offered to buy branded ISP The offer doesn't look so appealing with Covad now around 20.



attracted Latin American ISPs SSD, Interserver and GlobalNet back when its stock lounged at 57.0625. Would it be so glistening at 29 9/16?

Keep an eye out for bums. This market is good at breaking hearts.

Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She breathlessly awaits your feedback at