The WWE recently decided that the word “wrestling” will no longer be associated with their product. No longer known as World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon’s company will now be referred to simply as WWE.
Vince McMahon is hedging his bets on his “sports entertainment” product growing into a media company. WWE is no longer just an entertaining male soap opera, it’s also a music company, a movie company and a soon to be television network. Vince McMahon seeks to forge a new media empire as his last act as head of his company.
Over the next few days we will look at what the WWE can take away from MMA if they wish to return to glory, and also what future promoters can learn as they seek to grow.
The Way Things Stand
As WWE seeks to forge a new position in an ever-expanding multimedia environment, they continue to lose ground to what has become the new sports phenomenon in mixed martial arts. This sport, embodied by UFC, is now the main source for violent entertainment. In many ways Ultimate Fighting has taken what has made the WWE so successful—video packages, rivalries, entrance music—and applied it to their sport. UFC is the new sports entertainment for the next generation.
Many will say there is no comparison between WWE and UFC. Currently there is not. If the WWE truly wants to recapture that magic of the 80s and the 90s, it must learn from their competition. Regardless of what Vince McMahon will say publicly, he knows that UFC is a very real threat to his business. Any entertainment source that could sap away potential revenue is a threat; such is the nature of the business.
A Quick Retrospective
Make no mistake, the UFC has grown in popularity dating back to its purchase by Dana White and his business associates in 2001. Remarkably, around this same time the WWE had purchased the competition of WCW and acquired the rights to ECW. Vince McMahon had purchased his competition—game, set and match. The Monday Night War was over.
UFC began to reinvest in advertising, returning to pay-per-view and upping their production values. WWE was seen as the best in the professional wrestling business with their video packages, colorful characters and their use of music and media to enhance their product. UFC followed suit and increased their exposure, including a contract with Spike TV for a show known as The Ultimate Fighter, a reality-based competition to find that next UFC star. This was not a new concept WWE, which had its own reality-based show in Tough Enough, a program to find the next WWE star. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Similar Products, 1 Defining Difference
UFC has one key component that separates itself from the WWE. The fact that UFC is a real sport is not that key difference. The UFC has blood, for the longest time the WWE had blood. The UFC has rivalries and personal grudges, the WWE still books with personal feuds involved. But when you look at the one concept that separates the UFC from the WWE, it’s all about the gold.
“To Be the Man”
Professional Wrestling has always enjoyed a large fanbase dating back to the NWA, AWA, WWWF and territorial systems of the 70s. Much like their “sports entertainment” counterparts and UFC fighters of today, they too had colorful characters, rivalries and feuds. What made these promotions of the past so special, in particular the NWA and Crockett Promotions, was the importance of the gold. Ric Flair embodied what it meant to be the champion. He was loved and hated, but respected by all for his in-ring ability and natural charisma. For this reason he was the champion for the NWA and primarily for Crockett Promotions. Being the champion meant you were the best and the promoter trusted you to carry the company. Titles were held for years on end, much like what can and has occurred in MMA. The chase for the gold has captivated fans for ages and continues to this day in the UFC.
Where It All Begins Again
What has become of professional wrestling titles? They are now seen as props to get a Superstar over. Easily changed on a whim, the titles no longer carry the shine of their former glory. If the WWE wishes to grow and find a new audience, as well as bring home lost sheep, they must restore the gold. This is where it started and ultimately where the current product has found an end.
In the next article we will look at what must be done to revolutionize the current WWE product, as well as what could be the next evolution in professional wrestling. It all begins again as we look at the importance a championship will bring to the next generation of sports entertainment.
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