The Reality of Wrestling: MMA’s Influence on Pro Wrestling
By Phil Clark
As a little preview of later this year when my awards article comes out, 2006 has been MMA’s year, period. Pro wrestling has really taken a hit as missed opportunities and bogus backstage decisions have ruled the day. On the “real” side of things, MMA has enjoyed one of its finest years ever. UFC has officially trumped boxing as the main sporting attraction in Las Vegas while also trumping The E in pay-per-view buys and has scored good T.V. ratings for their Ultimate Fight Night specials as well as their Ultimate Fighter reality show. The World Fighting Alliance scored some big news stories with Bas Rutten’s return to MMA as well as their brief feud with UFC. Strike Force scored one of the year’s biggest (and least noted) highlights when their March 10 show headlined by Frank Shamrock taking on Cesar Gracie broke the North American MMA attendance record when 18,265 packed the HP Pavilion in San Jose; and that’s all that happened in North American MMA. Japanese MMA has had their own flurry of big stories from Bob Sapp’s departure from K-1 to Kazushi Sakuraba’s signing to K-1 and collapse during training to Brock Lesnar’s entrance to MMA to Pride’s cancellation from Fuji TV to their Openweight tournament (the subject of this article) and their first U.S. show, which will be taking place October 21 in Las Vegas. Overall, wrestling has some catching up to do if they want to spark interest back into their product.
P.C. Says: I purchased Pride’s Final Conflict Absolute PPV instead of Unforgiven or No Surrender
Some are wondering, what does MMA have any business being in an article on pro wrestling? In this case, it has plenty. The rapid growth in popularity of MMA the last couple of years is something that all wrestling promoters have been aware of; they just don’t know how to put out the fire. The proof of MMA’s influence in wrestling has been seen with shootfighters making appearances in wrestling promotions, most notably Tito Ortiz’s two appearances as “special enforcer” for NWA Title matches last year in TNA. Shoot style wrestlingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âfirst made to look legit by Ken ShamrockÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âhas been incorporated into just about every style of pro wrestling and has begun to be accepted by American audiences (something it wasn’t when Shamrock came around). What this article specifically has to do with MMA is the fact that in the middle three weeks of September, Pride, The E, and TNA had PPV’s. I chose Pride’s, which was the final night of their Openweight tournament.
This decision was made by yours truly after the second round of the tournament, which occurred July 3. After that night, the four remaining men in the tournament were Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Josh Barnett, Mirko Cro Cop, and Wanderlei (pronounced Vanderlei) Silva. Those four men alone would make any real MMA fan want the show. The fact that the long anticipated Cro Cop/Silva rematch would be on the card sealed the deal for me. Not only that, but Ricardo Arona and Mauricio Rua (two fighters that I’m a fan of) being on the card was just icing on the cake. What does this mean towards pro wrestling? Simply, they aren’t making their PPV’s interesting enough.
Granted, both TNA and The E have put effort into making their PPV’s interesting on paper. The E’s best examples (other than Wrestlemania) are Backlash, Judgment Day, The Great American Bash, and Unforgiven. In TNA’s case, just about every PPV they’ve done was at least intriguing on paper. At this point, it should be noted that I try to buy at least one wrestling PPV a month and in April, June, and August this year I’ve bought both TNA and The E’s PPV’s. However, September wouldn’t be their month. The main difference (presentation wise) is that people know MMA is real and thus there’s no need for storylines or other devices that wrestling promotions use to hype their shows. The fighters and the matchups hype themselves in MMA. Wrestling doesn’t have big enough of names right now to be able to do that, so they really need to make their shows interesting by trying to put out the best shows possible. Needless to say, that hasn’t been done on a consistent basis for the last few years driving a lot of their audience away and making it harder for anyone except die-hard fans to get into it.
September was a good month for both TNA and The E when it came to their PPV’s. While both shows have only been seen as average (if that) by critics, both shows were very intriguing to wrestling fans for a number of different reasons. In the E’s case, it was because they put everything they could into their September PPV, Unforgiven. There was a Hell in a Cell match with sports entertainment overload guaranteed, all the titles were on the line, Trish’s retirement match was hyped very well, Orton/Carlito was a good choice as an upper mid-card match, and a TLC match was the main-event. In TNA’s case, it was a mix of putting as much as you can into a show and using the power of intrigue. The intrigue came with the announcement that there would be a “major announcement” at the PPV about TNA’s future. That was enough to intrigue the Internet and the wrestling world came into the fold when Vince Russo’s hiring was announced the week of the show and many thought that was the announcement. TNA did put a lot into the show match-wise as well, booking an Ultimate X match, Joe main-eventing in a non-X Division match, just about every tag-team TNA has was booked into one match, and Christian/Rhyno was in the same position and had the same purpose attached to it (main-event guys in the mid-card) as Carlito/Orton did. Still, I went with Pride.
I’m not ashamed of or regretting my decision as the PPV provided plenty of knockouts and mildly good action. However, for me, watching Mirko Cro Cop blaze through Silva and Barnett to win Pride’s Openweight title while barely breaking a sweat was enough because Cro Cop came into the event celebrating his 32nd birthday and looked to break the stigma of not being able to win the big one (an angle that wrestling promoters have used for a long, long time). Not only did he break the stigma, he did it with a brutality that is rarely seen from the Croatian. Will I continue to buy PPV’s from TNA and The E? Absolutely, as long as they can arouse my interest. And judging by the fact that Pride is trying to save their company by entering the U.S. increasing the possibility of a Pride/UFC collision, both companies may be realizing that bringing their A-game is a necessity and shouldn’t be a rarity.
The Reality is”¦Gracie/Hughes was the final signal to wrestling companies that MMA has overtaken wrestling in terms of popularity and revenue. The 600,000+ buys for that show accompanied by the possible 700,000+ for UFC 61 proves that people have no problem shilling out $35 to watch MMA. The fact that TNA PPV’s haven’t even gotten close to The E and that The E’s PPV’s are losing ground little by little is showing that wrestling has entered another down era. Granted, that isn’t exactly something that’s hidden, but during 1993-95 (the last down era in wrestling) MMA wasn’t getting the kind of numbers they are now due to constraints put on them by athletic commissions and PPV companies. Now, there are no constraints as PPV companies get it: MMA sells. Simply put, wrestling has to exert more effort or give in and whether the storm that is this golden period in MMA. However, unlike the last MMA boom, we don’t know how long this storm will last.