How the WWE Won a War They Created and the End of "Rasslin" Territories
This Article is a response to FRANK's articles about the Great Raids of Wrestling if anyone hasn't read it I suggest you do so now... it was a Great Freaking Article! I loved it man, kind of like a brief history of the death of regional wrestling territories and the push for National Expansion by Vince and the WWF (WWE).
I liked how Frank made the Gagne/ Hogan clash the focal point of the fate of small wrestling territories, one wonders if Gagne would have backed off of Hogan, let him carry the AWA strap as a true face and not request a high percentage of all merchandise and royalties, if the AWA would still be alive and kicking today, as well as other promotions.
Mid-South may have been the eventual winner of the war if this scenario played out considering their immense talent pool of both old-school and new-age wrestlers.
But like many have said before, any of these promotions could have made it to the top if they had a Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. to run things. His ambition, drive, vision, passion and ingenuity and disregard for the health of the business as a whole led to his success.
Vince buried regional "Rasslin", and turned his promotion into the International Face for "Professional Wrestling," he created the image, made it mainstream, and kept it interesting enough to beat all competitors for more than 25 years.
WCW, while they had the money, the power of network syndication, and prime-time cable TV slots, lost it all due to over-confidence, under-management, and stale storylines which always saw the same handful of wrestlers get their shots at main-eventing.
ECW was the last regional powerhouse, their departure from NWA by Shane Douglas' discarding the NWA Heavyweight Title in favor of the ECW title was historic, and led to a different direction in wrestling, something that was edgy, real, hardcore, drenched in sex appeal and so counter-culture that the masses of fans who had become accustomed to campy WWE and stale WCW programming were instantly drawn.
While ECW did try to go national, as a start up promotion with little capital, owner Paul Heyman was unable to create the revenue needed to push his vision into the mainstream and keep the promotion afloat, often leaving many performers unpaid until they were frustrated and left for greener pastures.
A lot can be said for the talent, and how "raiding" smaller territories for their big stars put them out of business, well that's true, but Vince also stole or repackaged ideas and sold them better to the masses, making them not only more popular, but also marketable, and more accessible to the public.
He even went as far as having a "good faith" initiative by promoting ECW on WWE programing, in a way trying to put them in the mainstream and keeping them afloat in a crucial period in their war with WCW. Many still don't understand this move by Vince during 1997, but I have a theory which makes perfect sense.
ECW was doing everything at that point that WWE had not, ECW was in a way more diabolical, and more of a guilty pleasure to view then the traditional WWE empire, and this is because of all the reasons I stated above. It just so happens that current generation of fans, especially males 13-24 years old gravitated towards the entertainment factor ECW provided that WWE could not.
In many way ECW was revolutionary, and rather then seeing this as an obstacle that had to be crushed like so many before, instead Vince groomed the ECW for a short while to ensure their popularity and increase their chances of staying in business so two things could happen.
The first was to study them under a microscope and re-use, re-package, and makeover storylines, angles, and etc that made ECW seem extreme and successful.
With the addition of stars like Stone Cold and The Rock to play out the type of show Vince wanted and create the "Attitude Era," he could accomplish the latter of his two reasons for having a working relationship with ECW, and that was beating WCW.
WCW themselves had the purchasing power to draw away the biggest stars from rival promotions including the WWE, like for example, Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Lex Luger, Curt Hennig, Randy Savage, Jeff Jarrett, Bret Hart and they in a way "raided" some of the best talents in the industry.
WCW also imported Japanese wrestlers and Mexican luchadores and showcased them on American television as no one had done before, creating something that until their demise was unique, their Cruiserweight Division.
Their only downfall was that they didn't capitalize on all their advantages, such as having Ted Turner's financial backing, an incredible pool of talent (most of which was misused or unused), successful storylines and angles (i.e., Starrcade 97 which was built up to be possibly the most anticipated match up in WCW's history but due to poor execution lead to WCW slip in the ratings, also the over-saturation of NWO and NWO-like entities made it a tedious prolongation of an angle that could have been done right, and should have neded years prior) and marketing their young talent (aside from Goldberg, none of the other young talents like Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr., or Dean Malenko were getting the pushes they deserved).
In the end a merger with AOL ended what was left of WCW to be purchased off by Vince McMahon, and I don't believe that AOL truly thought that WCW didn't appeal to their culture of business, it was merely just business.
WCW didn't have the success or the fans they once had in 1996 through 1998, they weren't making a profit, and AOL cut their losses.
Too many things led to the demise of wrestling territories, and the elimination of the remainder of older promotions like Jim-Crocket Promotions (WCW) and ECW from their bids to go National.
The NWA although struggling, remains alive, even without the territories they depended on to continue business, and we have Indy promotions that are steadily gaining larger audiences like Ring of Honor, and we even have another contender for National Expansion against the WWE in TNA (although they are far away from being a threat in their current Post-WCW like traits and follies, ultimately they will go out of business too if they follow WCW's path of destruction).
TNA, a brainchild of Jeff and Jerry Jarrett, set out to set themselves apart from the WWE and did that with many respects to their younger history with the X-Division and putting up and coming talent over as main NWA Heavyweight Title (prior to the split from NWA) contenders.
They also did something that most promotions hadn't done prior to them, was rebuild, re-image and sometimes re-establish Ex-WWE talent and build them up to Main Eventers when in the WWE they weren't given the chance either during their WWE run or towards the end of it (i.e. Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Christian, Rhino, Matt Morgan, Ron Killings, Raven etc.) with a few exceptions that weren't so popular like Mick Foley and "Cute" Kip James.
TNA has a long way to go before it could ever compete seriously with the WWE especially if they are exhibiting the same symptoms that WCW suffered in its last run but maybe they can stick around a while and make things interesting.
All in all, Vince changed the business, who knows maybe for the better, but I've always been glad of the product the WWE produces, even though I do watch AWA matches on ESPN Classic, and YouTube whatever else I can find in wrestling's early "Bronze Age" and appreciate the quality of the matches and promotions that are no longer existent thanks in part to Vince McMahon.
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