WWE History: Cross-Promotions of the 90s—Are Punk & ROH Reviving a Tradition?
With WWE seemingly launching a new era based on the disillusionment of CM Punk, rumors are circulating about a possible working relationship between WWE and Ring of Honor (ROH).
Should such a relationship become reality then it is certainly cause for some celebration. But this deal would hardly be a novel concept.
I have recently read on various message boards and article comment threads how reluctant Vince McMahon is to mention other companies. The mention of other promotions on WWE TV might be a rare thing, but it is simply not as unheard of as some fans seem to think.
WWE has a history of this sort of thing.
In the 1990s, WWE developed a series of talent exchanges and working relationships with other companies. These situations created some interesting television. They broadened the talent pool and helped shake WWE out of a dreadfully dismal period.
United States Wrestling Association
The United States Wrestling Association was not around very long. But in the early 90s the company tried to become a third player along side the then WWF and WCW.
Jerry Jarrett and Jerry "The King" Lawler had been successfully running the CWA (Continental Wrestling Association) out of Tennessee for quite some time. Most known for legendary cards at the Mid-South Coliseum and the Andy Kaufman angle in the early 80s, it struggled in the new era of the late 80s.
An attempt to merge with Verne Gagne's fledgling AWA failed, but a merger with the once powerful World Class promotion in Dallas went through in 1989.
The Von Erich dynasty in Dallas, Texas had seen equally prosperous days under the World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) banner in the early to mid-80s. Also failing to find elusive dollars in the new era, the promotion joined forces with the CWA and the USWA was born.
Only one year later WCCW withdrew. It folded completely two months later. Jarret and Lawler continued as the USWA and were able to keep operations moving forward.
To stay relevant and financially secure, Jerry Lawler signed on with the WWF in 1992 and a talent exchange agreement with the USWA was reached to duel benefit.
Everyone from Vince McMahon to Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Owen Hart, a young Dwayne Johnson and Shawn Michaels showed up on USWA TV and house shows.
The WWF benefited from talent such as Jerry Lawler and Jeff Jarrett while the USWA got a rub from the biggest names in the business at the time. The relationship was off and on but lasted through the early days of the Monday Night Wars and even saw a three-promotion crossover angle with ECW for a short while
The USWA folded in 1997 as a casualty of the Monday Night Wars and is largely considered the last great territory.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling
The WWF reached a similar deal with Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling.
Jim Cornette and Stan Lane left WCW in 1991. They were disgruntled and longed for the old days of territorial wrestling.
They launched Smoky Mountain Wrestling immediately and catered to a southern audience of fans who wanted southern wrestling in the mid-South/mid-Atlantic tradition.
Some great young talent came through the territory including Glen Jacobs (Kane), Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, Chris Candido, and early ECW favorites the Gangsta's (where the controversial gimmick got started).
To get the people through the gates Cornette actually established a relationship with the very type of product from which he wanted to distance himself.
A talent exchange with the WWF brought Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker and plenty more down to SMW. The WWF eventually saw the Heavenly Bodies, Adam Bomb, Jacobs as Issac Yankem and then Kane, and Cornette himself come to WWF television. Titles were also defended in the different promotions.
The relationship produced a few unlikely classics including a series of fantastic matches between Shawn Michaels and Buddy Landell over the WWF Intercontinental title in early to mid-1995.
The promotion went out of business in December of 1995.
Extreme Championship Wrestling
Perhaps the most successful and famous of any WWE cross-promotional effort was with ECW in 1996.
After chants of "ECW" were heard in north-eastern arenas in 1995, Vince McMahon took notice and reached a low-profile deal with Paul Heyman and ECW.
With only a few people in the know, Taz, Sandman, and Tommy Dreamer caused an uproar sitting in the front row at the WWF event In Your House: Mind Games. This eventually led to disparaging remarks from McMahon and then insults from Jerry Lawler.
After Lawler "invited" ECW to come to Raw to put up or shut up, an ECW contingent actually did. The infamous ECW invasion of Raw at the Manhattan Center in February of 1997 produced one the best Raw moments before the Attitude Era explosion.
The invasion enabled ECW to promote their first ever pay-per-view and the WWF was able to shake off the stagnant nature of its mid-90s product and position itself well against the newly successful WCW.
ECW saw some WWF talent appear at the ECW arena, most notably the much hated Jerry Lawler
It was later revealed that the deal was more than just cross-promotion as Vince McMahon had earlier put Paul Heyman on the WWF's payroll in order to help ECW stay alive and thrive.
The National Wrestling Alliance (and the Forgotten UFC Connection)
In 1998, the NWA was a pointless and virtually homeless organization. But a deal with the WWF and the international appeal of Dan Severn looked like it could really revive its credibility by boosting its visibility.
Long before MMA became a major attraction in the U.S., Dan Severn was both an MMA fighter and a professional wrestler. At a Smoky Mountain Wrestling event in 1995, Severn became the NWA World Champion.
Months later, he won the UFC Superfight title. UFC had a small but loyal following, and Severn holding the NWA championship brought attention to both. Severn appeared on WWF TV with Jim Cornette in an attempt to give the NWA some legs.
Severn actually brought the UFC title with him onto WWF TV with UFC likely thankful for the exposure. This led to a period of WWF being long ahead of the mainstream sports curve as Severn's MMA background and UFC success was highlighted.
Ken Shamrock was also a huge success in the WWF and his MMA/UFC background was also used. During this period, the WWF also experimented with the ill-fated "Brawl-For-All."
There was no real central NWA territory at the time and the roster was thin and non-exclusive. Current WWF performers with traditional NWA or territorial backgrounds such as Jeff Jarrett and Barry Windham became involved as did Bob Holly and Bart Gunn.
This rounded out the angle and gave the NWA some much needed storyline stability.
A new NWA title was even created for Jeff Jarrett (NWA North American Championship) to win and defend on WWF TV. In one of the most surreal moments, the NWA World tag Titles were defended on Raw by none other than the Rock N' Roll Express with Cornette as manager.
Ring of Honor?
Should there be a relationship between WWE and ROH, it would hardly be surprising. But is there enough evidence to support such a relationship? How about a loose connection?
Let's evaluate what we know:
1. Punk mentioned ROH twice—once in the first promo and once with Vince during the "negotiation"scene on Raw. No other outside promotion has been mentioned since the demise of WCW.
2. Punk mentioned Colt Cobana twice, both in the first promo and in the negotiation scene. Colt signs are not confiscated and he has been shown on PPV and then pictured in a shot in Chicago with Punk and the WWE title. One indy promotion claims that Colt said he is not accepting bookings after August.
3. ROH is sold to Sinclair Broadcasting and has new branding efforts in the works as well as a new TV show.
4. Rumors persist that the Kings of Wrestling have signed with WWE.
5. Daniel Bryan won Smackdown's Money in the Bank match.
6. ROH has a big taping coming up for their first Sinclair broadcast. It's in Chicago where Punk is laying low. Cabana also resides there, and Chicago was the scene of Punk's WWE departure.
7. Punk's new shirt and saying is "Best in the World," an ROH PPV title.
Maybe ROH is involved, maybe not, but it looks to me like it is probable. Given WWE's history of helping and being helped by smaller promotions when in need of a little juice, I think that ROH will have an increasing role to play in this new era.