Guide to the Video Libraries to Be Used on the WWE Network in 2012

David Bixenspan@davidbixFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2011

Guide to the Video Libraries to Be Used on the WWE Network in 2012

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    With WWE officially announcing that the WWE Network will be launching next year, fans have been talking about what content will end up filling out the schedule.  WWE has bought up many video libraries over the last several years, to the point that airing all of it with no repeats would take about a decade.

    It's unclear if all of the footage is ready to air.  WWE released statements years ago about having a Japanese company digitize the whole library (which consists of a huge mix of films and many forms of broadcast quality videotape, some of which are in very antiquated formats), but now they're saying that not everything is ready.

    Going by recent comments, I'm under the impression that they're going through the process of upconverting the standard definition content that makes up the vast majority of the library to HD.   They also haven't indexed the whole library to their satisfaction.

    WWE has a ridiculously detailed database of what happens when in everything they index.  Everything that could be relevant (specific moves or other actions performed by wrestlers) is logged with time stamps.  This is how WWE is able to put together old video packages of similar clips so easily.

    At any rate, they still have a lot done, though there's no telling how much has been digitized from each library that they own.  Let's take a look at each library that WWE owns and what you can expect to see from them, as well as quick looks at each of the major remaining libraries that they haven't acquired.

WWE's Own Historical Video Library: WWE/WWF/WWWF/Capital Wrestling

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    The largest part of the WWE library consists of footage that they produced themselves.

    Based on footage included on their earlier home video releases, it appears they have a number of films (both silent and with sound) of of matches from Madison Square Garden and elsewhere going back to maybe the very late 1960s. 

    As far as videotape goes, the most reliable information suggests that they started making an effort to save TV shows around 1972.  Madison Square Garden events were shot on tape starting in June 1973, when HBO (yes, HBO) started broadcasting them live.

    So, for starters, take all of the obvious stuff:

    - TV shows they have going back that far, including international versions.
    - Live events shot for regional cable networks, recap shows, Canadian television, etc. from 1973-1992.
    - PPV events, home video releases, live TV specials during overseas tours, etc.

    Then take the less obvious stuff it's become clear they have through clips here and there,:

    - Raw, unedited footage of everything they've produced: Everything at TV tapings, location shoots (as seen in the Mr. Perfect DVD documentary), even auditions (Eric Bischoff's failed announcer audition was shown on an episode of WWE Confidential during its run), etc.
    - Live event footage that never made it TV (here and there they've shown clips shot at ringside using handheld cameras, presumably done for in-arena screens and maybe insurance purposes).

    Now, spread this across decades.  They have a LOT of stuff.

    Unfortunately, losing the lawsuit to Worldwide Fund for Nature (the former World Wildlife Fund) over the WWF trademark has wreaked havoc with much of their content.  It's unclear if this was forced upon them by the court or if they are doing this as a precaution, but they've been erasing anything that they think the Fund would object to.

    This generally refers to two issues:

    - Use of the letters "WWF"
    - Use of the "scratch" version of the WWF logo (the one that morphed into the WWE logo).  WWE did not clear the change from the old block logo (which the fund is ok with because it was often interpreted as "WF" by those not familiar with the company) and it was deemed to more clearly say "WWF" than the block logo.

    WWE has remedied this in two ways:

    - Dropping the "F" (and sometimes the whole "WWF") from audio when someone says "WWF."
    - Blurring out the scratch logo and typed/written appearances of "WWF" (in graphics, fan signs, etc).

    This is especially problematic from 1998-early 2002, as the scratch logo was all over the shows.  The entrance banner, turnbuckle pads, camera operators' and photographers' shirts, announcers' desks, ring apron, and more all featured the logo. 

    All of this has made it harder to prepare footage for DVDs, WWE Classics On Demand, etc, and matches from the period can often be hard to watch with all of the blurring.

    The work involved is part of why WWE started buying up more libraries, as they need to make up for how much more work is required to clean up their own productions.

WCW, Jim Crockett Promotions and Georgia Championship Wrestling

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    WWE's first acquisition of a video library was part of their purchase of the assets of World Championship Wrestling (which reverted to being Universal Wrestling Corporation on paper to handle outstanding legal issues for the next several years) in 2001.  As part of the purchase, they got all of the wrestling footage in the TBS library:

    - The last year or so (1983-1984) of Georgia Championship Wrestling.
    - Carolinas-based turned national Jim Crockett Promotions (the promotion bought by Turner Broadcasting in 1988 that had largely been branded as "the NWA," of which it was just the most prominent member) footage starting in 1981, when they started to save everything.
    - WCW, obviously.

    This library generally consists of weekly TV shows, PPV events, and TV specials.  It's unclear just how much unaired raw footage they have, but it's clear they have some. 

    The Four Horsemen and Ricky Steamboat DVDs sets both had previously unavailable matches, and I've been made aware of more that exists in the vault.  I hope that means that they saved every major show, but we can't be sure.

ECW: The Library Purchase with the Most Interesting Story Behind It

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    The road to WWE buying the ECW trademarks and video library was a strange one.  Unlike all of the others, ECW was in the process of bankruptcy proceedings when WWE started to make their move.

    When Vince McMahon infamously changed the WCW invasion to the WCW/ECW Alliance, WWE had no legal right to use the ECW trademarks.  The bankruptcy trustee was not happy and WWE had to pay $50,000 for temporary use of the trademarks until they had a chance to buy them.

    ECW's bankruptcy proceedings were a mess that dragged on for a good two years.  WWE had to pay various ECW creditors to make sure none of them would feel the need to buy the company's assets and market the video library.

    The library appears to be complete, with all TV shows as well as the raw footage of what hasn't aired.

AWA Tape Library: Full of Holes, Full of Hidden Gems or Both?

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    As we move further back in time, I'll provide a brief introduction to the promotion featured in each library.

    The AWA was, like WWE before it expanded, an "establishment" wrestling promotion that just didn't happen to be a member of the National Wrestling Alliance.  Based out of Minneapolis and reaching into other parts of the Midwest as well as Canada and eventually some other places, it was owned by Verne Gagne.

    The AWA was, in its heyday, one of the most successful and best-paying territories in the US.  In exchange for being based out of a cold-weather territory, you got a pretty easy schedule and good payoffs. 

    Perennial heel AWA Champion of the '70s & '80s Nick Bockwinkel was offered an NWA Title run in the '70s, but declined it because he made enough money on an easy schedule that he didn't want to sacrifice the stable home life.

    When the WWF expanded nationally, they raided the AWA.  The first couple years after still saw the AWA doing some strong business, but then it fell off a cliff.

    From 1987 through the company's death in 1991, they would often go months without live events, just taping TV to fulfill the ESPN deal they got by virtue of hiring Sgt. Slaughter when he left the WWF.  In 1988, to keep champion Curt Hennig from leaving, they paid him to work the Memphis-based CWA territory full-time, but he soon dropped the title and left anyway.

    As for the tape library, there's reason to believe that much of it is missing or in unusable shape.  Samurai TV in Japan had interest in buying it, but an attempted audit didn't turn out well. 

    WWE has only run a handful of episodes of weekly AWA TV on WWE Classics On Demand, most of which appeared to be the source of segments used in the AWA Classics PPVs aired a several years ago.

    It looks like the most complete run would be the aforementioned late period of the company, the same footage aired on ESPN Classic in recent years.  Everything else has been repeated over and over, with few hidden gems surfacing.

Championship Wrestling from Florida: The AWA Problem Repeated?

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    The Florida territory is most associated with Eddie Graham, who bought part of the company in 1961 and took it over a decade later.  Considered a booking genius by many, many others weren't fans of him as a promoter due to the low payoffs he gave out to take advantage of being in a warm weather area.

    The glory years of the territory are associated with Dusty Rhodes, who set the area on fire after his face turn in 1975.  He would travel to other territories, but he was synonymous with Florida for much of the next decade, eventually becoming the booker.

    When Rhodes left in 1984 for Jim Crockett Promotions, taking some of the talent with him, the territory never recovered.  Graham committed suicide the following year, plus talent options thinned out.  Crockett pretty much took over the territory in 1987.

    As for the library, WWE bought it at the last minute when producing the Dusty Rhodes DVD set.  It was so last-minute that no Florida footage is in the documentary, though there is in the extras.

    There may be similar issues to the AWA library, as again, WWE never aired consecutive shows on Classics On Demand.  In addition, DVDs produced by Eddie Graham's son Mike generally featured late-period footage with some older film clips here and there.

    On the other hand, WWE has given us some hope.  A full episode of CWF from 1976 once aired on Classics, with a match from another 1976 episode appearing on WWE's "Families" DVD.  It's possible that there's more and the issue was Graham not having access to proper equipment for older style reel-to-reel videotape.

    As for film footage, it appears that a lot may have survived.  Whenever WWE needs footage of someone more obscure, the old film footage of Florida house shows is always what they use.

    Some incredible film clips of other types have also popped up, including Pat Patterson training a young, skinny Hulk Hogan to wrestle and some older Florida TV shot or preserved on film.

World Class Championship Wrestling: One of WWE's Best Purchases

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    Texas wrestling history is really complicated and the Wikipedia article about this promotion is fantastic (the best wrestling article on the site by far, so just go read that).  Thus, I'm going to jump straight to the video library.

    It appears that the World Class Championship Wrestling run is largely intact.  Some episodes have had damage from improper storage but they've been showing consecutive episodes on Classics for a while now with no sign of stopping. 

    Unfortunately, the local shows on KTVT were taped over each week so the surviving footage is whatever was aired on one of the company's other shows.

    The shows from after the ownership change in 1988 may or may not be part of the library.  Previously, the belief was that they were owned by another company, but recently, footage owned by that company showed up on Classics.

    WWE has shown a single episode of show shot in Dallas for airing in west Texas that predated WCCW and they may have much more.  They've also shown various interesting matches from the syndicated '50s-'60s "Texas Rasslin" show out of Dallas.

    They also appear to own some unaired footage, as WWE's WCCW documentary included a clip from one of their Israeli tours that has never shown up before.  There's definitely some reason to believe that there's a ton of stuff for WWE to mine out of this library beyond the surface.

Calgary Stampede Wrestling: Harts, Harts and More Harts

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    Stampede Wrestling (known by some other names in its earlier years like Wildcat Wrestling) was based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada for decades and owned by Bret Hart's father Stu.  In recent years, the territory has taken on mythical status.

    Besides the Hart family, many future stars got their starts there.  Nowadays, it's best known for transforming into a junior heavyweight (or mid-heavyweight, as Stampede called it) based territory after British star Dynamite Kid exploded into the territory and wowed everyone.

    With Dynamite, the Harts, various international imports, and eventually many Dynamite worshipers, the in-ring style was ahead of its time.  On the other hand, with some big exceptions like Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie,  Sweet Daddy Siki, and David Shultz, Stampede was one of the worst territories for interview quality.

    Unfortunately, the TV show was based around matches being joined in progress since it was shot at the weekly Calgary house show and they needed to protect the live gate.  Still, what aired was often fantastic, and for the company's last two and a half years, they had an extended TV show on cable network TSN.

    As for the library, it's largely complete from 1977 on.  It's not clear how much exists from beforehand, but WWE has shown some interesting earlier footage.

    WWE has not gotten a ton of use out of the library yet for a couple reasons:

    1. The period of complete shows starts around the debut of Bret Hart, and he made sure to buy the rights to his own matches from his brother Ross so he'd have some control over his video history.
    2. The period after Bret left starts with the debut of Chris Benoit, whose matches WWE doesn't air for obvious reasons.

    Thus, each show would require additional editing that other shows wouldn't require, though that would be most of it since Stampede was light on music.  There's some hope for the earlier shows, though, as WWE has started using some footage of Bret in Stampede since they've been working together again.

    As for Benoit, he was away for a long stretch in 1986-1987 to train in Japan.  And, well, they already edit him out of other shows.

Smoky Mountain Wrestling: The Last New Territory

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    Jim Cornette, unhappy in WCW in 1990, was struck by how the shows in Knoxville, Tenn., had larger, more excited crowds than just about every other market they ran shows in. 

    He decided to start making preparations to open a full-time territory in the area when his contract ran out and take the Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane, the team he had managed for years) with him.

    Before their contracts could run out, Cornette and Lane got fed up and quit.  With Eaton having a family to take care of, they told him to stay put and wait for WCW to fire him.  Instead, WCW kept him on for the next decade.

    Cornette and Lane worked for independent promotions (and the Memphis, Tenn.-based USWA territory) for the next year as Cornette lined up financial backers.  With record producer Rick Rubin putting up the money, Smoky Mountain Wrestling launched in late 1991 with TV starting to air in early 1992.

    Cornette used a combination of his own ideas with classic angles from other promotions.  The promotion had its ups and downs, with the ups including them outdrawing WCW at times.  A working relationship with WCW fell apart due to a management change, so he made a deal with the WWF a few months later.

    The promotion declined in 1994 after Rubin pulled out.  Cornette started to burn out, as well.  He started to book more special appearances of WWF stars on his shows, but that backfired when fans stopped coming to shows without WWF wrestlers.  The promotion closed at the end of November 1995.

    When Cornette still worked for WWE in his role running developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling, he decided to sell the SMW rights and library to WWE.  He wasn't doing anything with the footage himself and it was a good payoff.

    Speaking of OVW...

WWE Developmental Promotions: OVW, FCW, & UPW (Sort Of)

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    WWE worked with various promotions on talent development in the mid to late '90s, but there were no official developmental promotions until they made a deal with Memphis Power Pro Wrestling.  Meanwhile, Jim Cornette wanted to get out of Connecticut while still working for WWE.

    In his hometown of Louisville, Ky., "Nightmare" Danny Davis (Cornette's friend of 20 years) was running Ohio Valley Wrestling, an independent promotion and wrestling school.  Cornette realized it would be a perfect second developmental promotion. 

    He got the deal made and also bought into OVW (the developmental promotions are privately owned with WWE paying a fee for the talent development and paying the contracted wrestlers).

    OVW and MPPW worked together a little bit as talent went back and forth, but that fell apart when Jerry Lawler fell out with MPPW and took the developmental deal with him.  He jumped to Terry Golden's Kick-Ass Wrestling, which was renamed Memphis Championship Wrestling.

    OVW eventually became the main developmental territory with the No. 2 spot rotating and occasionally not existing.  It went from MPPW to MCW to both when they decided to work together to just MCW when MPPW closed to the Heartland Wrestling Association in Cincinnati to none for several years to Deep South Wrestling in Atlanta to Florida Championship Wrestling in Tampa.

    Meanwhile, WWE affiliated with some other promotions that weren't officially part of the developmental system.  These were Ultimate Pro Wrestling out of California and IWA-Puerto Rico.  UPW was where John Cena came out of, while IWA-PR was started by Victor Quinones, the godson of Gorilla Monsoon.

    Eventually, WWE stopped working with OVW, making FCW the only developmental promotion.  There had been a whole mess with Cornette being fired, going to TNA, and eventually selling his share in OVW while others took over his role for WWE, but he's back with them now.

    To have the early footage of their stars, WWE has bought the developmental-era OVW footage, the whole UPW library, and control of the FCW footage.

Mid-South and More: A Quick Look at the Major Libraries WWE Doesn't Own

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    And now, the lightning round: The remaining major libraries in the U.S. and Canada not owned by WWE.

    Mid-South Wrestling/Universal Wrestling Federation: Bill Watts' Louisiana-based regional promotion turned national promotion with great TV ratings and terrible attendance.  May also include the promotion's predecessor, Leroy McGuirk's Championship Wrestling/Midwest Wrestling/Tri-State Wrestling.

    Plenty still exists though some may need to be converted into more modern formats.  Watts' ex-wife owns the footage and she and their children sell DVDs as Universal Wrestling Archives.

    P.M. Film Collection: Former promoter Pedro Martinez and his ring announcer son Ron combined what they kept with what they bought cheaply from other promoters.  They would license the footage for home video releases like Wrestling Gold and also sell tapes of full shows directly to fans.

    The collection includes surviving footage from Detroit, Chicago, Martinez's IWA, Angelo Poffo's ICW, and more.  I've heard conflicting information about the current ownership: Ron told me before he passed away that he still had it and was planning on selling, while Classic Wrestling out of Minnesota said they had already bought it from Ron and they had pretty good proof.

    Savoldi Family Collection: Angelo and Mario Savoldi promoted ICW/IWCCW in the Northeast US from 1984 through at least the mid-'90s and then picked up other libraries.  They picked up various Dallas-based promotions including World Class and its successors and have unleashed some pretty random stuff on their DVDs and PPVs.  There have been unproven claims of them owning a lot more.

    USWA Texas (WCCW successor) footage was used by them for years but recently showed up on WWE Classics On Demand as part of a Steve Austin "Hall of Fame" show.  The Savoldis are still doing "Wrestling War Classics" PPVs with one built around Austin being the latest, so it's unclear what's going on.