Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

The pro wrestling “product” is no different from services offered by other companies, such as mobile phone coverage, airline tickets, and groceries. Each company wants you to select their product over their competition. In wrestling, the promotion wants you to watch their television shows, attend their live events (where you also buy t-shirts, foam fingers, and replica championship belts), purchase their pay-per-view broadcasts, and visit their website.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Competition is good for business.

When companies compete for your business, they are forced to design higher quality products, offer better deals, and do whatever they must do in order to get your attention. But when one company is nearly a monopoly, as WWE has been since they bought all their major competitors, they have much less pressure to deliver a quality product. I realize there are several alternatives in local areas such as RoH, but as for major league wrestling companies with high production value, weekly television and worldwide arena events, WWE is the only source available.

Once upon a time, there were two American pro wrestling juggernauts, WWF and WCW. They both consistently aired solid TV shows and outstanding pay-per-view events. During the fabled “Monday Night War” of the late 90’s, fans feasted from a virtual cornucopia of wrestling goodness that included four primetime “A-level” shows in the form of Nitro, Raw, Thunder and SmackDown. There were at least two Sunday ppvs each month (one per company), and a few recap and/or “B-level” shows on the weekends.

This market saturation forced both brands to put their best foot forward every week. WCW dominated wrestling for 82 weeks on the strength of the nWo concept, and WWF struck back with the epic Austin vs. McMahon saga. Both were defining storylines that catapulted US pro wrestling to its greatest heights.

Every show felt like “must see TV” to diehard fans. We didn’t know if a huge new storyline development might occur, or if a major player from one company might debut for the competition. Would another WCW man join the ranks of the evil nWo? Would Stone Cold get screwed out of his title tonight, just as Bret Hart once had? Would Sting finally break his self-imposed silence? Who would Mick Foley be tonight, Cactus Jack, Dude Love, or Mankind? Would Goldberg continue his rampage?

Sadly, that excitement has become a thing of the past. There’s no more pressure on creative to produce compelling, logical programming. WWE owns the only major league national wrestling shows on the air, so there is no alternative. If you’re looking for big-time pro wrestling on television, WWE is the only place to be.

The only shocking debuts anymore are when wrestlers jump from Raw to SmackDown, and that’s barely interesting. A few years ago, jumps from WWF to WCW and vice versa were monumental. In fact, one of my favorite storylines was when the “Radicalz” (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn) left WCW and showed up on WWF television. It truly felt important when these strong, young, talented grapplers chose to move “up north”. As with earlier WCW escapees Chris Jericho and Paul Wight, the arrival of the Radicalz signified that WWF was the powerhouse, where the athletes wanted to be. Conversely, it seemed the older performers in the twilight of their careers moved “down South” for one last run, and one more payday. It meant something when a performer chose to burn a bridge and take his chances elsewhere.

The annual Draft Lottery is kind of exciting, but the “newness” of performers appearing on different brands wears off after a few weeks. All things considered, the pro wrestling landscape has been pretty bleak lately, at least as far as national companies with weekly television.

But all that is about to change! That’s right, thanks to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, there will now be another alternative.

TNA iMPACT! debuts October 1st on Spike TV, hopefully ushering in the next era of competition and great programming. Vince McMahon is slowly losing his stranglehold on domestic major league wrestling, and that can only be a good thing for us fans. TNA consistently offers exciting in-ring action, sensible storylines, and reasonable character development and motivation. That’s all I’ve ever asked for from pro wrestling shows…

Even if you don’t watch TNA (and I highly recommend that you DO check it out), you can still benefit from their very existence on Spike. Vince will be forced to step up his game knowing that the fan base has another choice now, and that his discarded talent might have another stage upon which to shine. After all, WCW rejects Steve Austin, Paul LeVesque and Mick Foley certainly made the most of their new job opportunities after Bischoff unceremoniously dumped them. Who knows which WWE castoff might become the next big thing, if TNA plays their cards right. The right guy, with the correct gimmick, in the perfect place and at the perfect time, could become the next Stone Cold, HHH, Mankind, or Rock. Hell, even His Highness, Hulk Hogan was so successful for so long mostly because of character and booking than skill and work ethic. The marketing machine works, and considering the swath of destruction Vince has recently cut throughout his talent pool, he might not want to risk losing any of his audience now.

WWE recently released several good, solid, marketable performers. TNA has already gobbled up “Team 3D” and Gail Kim. NWA World Heavyweight Champion (and part owner of TNA) Jeff Jarrett worked for both WWF and WCW in the past. Jeff Hardy was WWF all the way, and all three members of 3LK worked for WWF at one time, although Konnan became famous during his solid run in WCW. Kip James, Kevin Nash, Sean Waltman, Raven, Rhino, and Zach Gowen all appear on the current TNA talent roster. These men all once worked for WWF/WWE, and some also worked for other major companies WCW and ECW. Who knows who might be next?

Vince may already be feeling the pressure of TNA’s debut, because the September 19th Raw featured a liveliness and fun that I don’t remember seeing in a while. The 8-man tag (including the face team’s terrific rotating promo earlier in the evening) was quite enjoyable, the lengthy Intercontinental title defense was intense, as Ric Flair fought through that Rocky Balboa-esque eye injury. I even laughed out loud watching Vince’s signature BMF strut to the ring, when he showed up to emasculate Bischoff one more time. This show reminded me why I’ve looked forward to Monday nights.

Plus, the hype for the USA Network “Homecoming” show on October 3rd was through the roof. I was at WrestleMania 21 in L.A., and I’m not sure the hype for THAT show matches up to the hard-sell they’re doing for the first USA Network edition of Monday Night Raw in years.

Well, good. I hope WWE is feeling pressure, and I hope we’re on the cusp of the next great age in American pro wrestling. I hope talent continues to trade sides, and I hope both companies produce solid shows every week. That’s why I tune in, after all.

Interesting note: TNA will be the third wrestling promotion with a weekly show on Spike TV. Sure, Spike was known as TNN when ECW aired on Friday nights, but it’s the same network.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end you first try?