Historically Speaking: Loooking Back at Five Years of Change

“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.” – Abba Eban

The Opening Chapter
Well I am back after a two week hiatus caused by my real world life. Without any more details I am now graduated, relocated and ready to earn some money.

Anyways, June 2007 has turned to be a very important month for us wrestling fans. The WWE held another draft (wish I would’ve waited on that Draft column I wrote last month), Mr. McMahon died, and oh yeah, that little promotion down south called TNA is about to hold a PPV commemorating their fifth anniversary.

When we look back at the past five years in wrestling we have seen a lot of changes. Since 2002, WWE washed away the bad taste of the InVasion angle by instituting a “brand extension,” Jerry & Jeff Jarrett started up their NWA affiliate Total Nonstop Action with a weekly pay per view broadcast and Paul Heyman understudy Gabe Sapolsky entered the independent wrestling landscape with a little promotion out of the Northeast called Ring of Honor.

This week, rather than take a look a specific instance or specific event found in the vault, I am going to analyze the methods and business practices of the three most profitable wrestling organizations currently in the United States and how they have evolved now into 2007.

The Era of Honor Begins
Ring of Honor started on February 23, 2002 and was created by Rob Feinstein, owner of RF Video. He was looking to fill a void in the wake of ECW’s death. I’m not going to go into history of Ring of Honor here because there are many more qualified individuals on this IP staff that could talk circles around me when it pertains to ROH. In fact I haven’t even seen a ROH DVD in its entirety. I can hardly be qualified as ROHbot. What I want to do is give a view of ROH from the view of an outsider, someone who isn’t qualified to talk about storylines and the five star matches.

As ROH nears its 150th show I want to mention what has made it successful and what has made it stand out where so many other indy promotions have failed. What I have always appreciated about ROH was that they made every one of their shows feel special. The one thing that always stood out for me was that every show had a nice title to it, making seem something more than your basic indy spot show. The fact that they put the wrestling above the storylines or the gimmicks or the heel/face alignments also makes the promotion something more than an indy fed trying to copy the “sports-entertainment” of the WWE. It is something different and something die-hard wrestling fans had been clamoring for since ECW folded. That’s another thing, I appreciate that ROH didn’t and doesn’t try to emulate ECW in order to make itself work either. (I’m looking at your XPW, IWA-MS and Major League Wrestling.) The whole concept of Ring of Honor, with talent pushed over looks, a legitimacy for rules and contender standings and stories based on competition it was just something different, different from the entertainment of WWE, different from the hardcore nature of ECW, different than puro, different than lucha. It was and is to this day a combination of the best of all of those elements rolled into one. For wrestlers ROH is a promotion of freedom. Freedom to do the moves you want, freedom to say what you want, freedom to act like you want and freedom to just be who you really are. The way that championships are treated in ROH is also wonderful change from the norm. Not only is their heavyweight championship considered the centerpiece of the promotion, but their tag championships carry almost equal the weight. It is good to see wrestlers actually vying for and wanting to win a wrestling championship. It’s a refreshing change not only for the fans but for the wrestlers themselves. I also like the storyline arcs that the bookers have used. Without the crutch of weekly television or monthly pay per views they have the freedom to build and carry a story for as long as is needed. And the way that Gabe has built in “chapters” into his booking so that there are logical points for new fans to begin with is pure genius.

As Ring of Honor slowly enters the world of pay per view I don’t expect too many changes from the traditional ROH formula. I think Gabe has learned some mistakes from Heyman when it comes to entering the PPV game and the ROH crew understand they can’t stand toe-to-toe with the WWE giant and don’t think they have any desire to do so. Ring of Honor has been a calculating and slowly evolving organization and I see this upcoming foray into pay per view as just another step on their evolutionary journey.

The Brand Extension
Vince McMahon always works better with a little competition, a little something to get his creative juices flowing. So after he had successfully vanquished both WCW and ECW he perhaps began to rest on his laurels and needed some sort of competition to keep him going. Enter the brand extension. Mr. McMahon and Ric Flair, co-owners of WWE, each draft one half of the roster and their championships to effectively create two touring groups and possibly cut down on some travel and wear & tear on some of the performers. The experiment really got rolling with Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as dual general managers in a bidding war for various talents during the summer of 2002 and it just took off from there.

Since the inception of the brand extension over five years ago we have seen four drafts, a rotation of SmackDown! general managers, a third brand introduced, and a lot of “inter-promotional” matches. The theory behind the brand extension was not only to provide some sort of “competition” but also to create new stars by having new fresh talent appear on only one show. Some argue that the new stars experiment has failed and others say it has been a success. And others say that the Championships have been diluted by having so many, which I can agree with. But without the brand extension Bobby Lashley, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, Rey Mysterio, Booker T, Rob Van Dam and dare I say Edge would have never held some sort of a World Championship and guys like Carlito, Ken Kennedy, MVP, Umaga, CM Punk and Elijah Burke would be fighting for the same mid-card roster spots as The Hardy Boyz, William Regal, Hardcore Holly and other WWE mainstays. Guys like London & Kendrick and Charlie Haas would have never seen the light of day. Finlay and Dave Taylor would have never been brought back to lend their expertise. And without the third brand of ECW veterans like Balls Mahoney, Sandman and Sabu would still be toiling in the indys trying to relive their “glory days” while others like Little Guido and Stevie Richards would be out of a job.

The bottom line is that WWE’s brand extension has created a lot more jobs for wrestling performers and that is a good thing. Wrestlers should be able to earn a living with three touring groups available it provides for a lot of job openings for qualified, and sometimes unqualified, performers. Perhaps it is just Vince’s way of giving back for putting so many territories under back in the ‘80s.

Total Nonstop Action TNA, Get It?
Jeff Jarrett saw the writing on the wall. With WCW out of business and a burned bridge with Vince McMahon he knew he would have to do something drastic if he wanted to continue to make money and be relevant in the wrestling business. Enter NWA-TNA. Jeff and father Jerry Jarrett created Total Non-stop Action, an affiliate of the National Wrestling Alliance. Armed without a television deal, really the only thing that matters in today’s wrestling business, they created a weekly pay per view model, charging $10 a week for a two hour show airing on Wednesday nights from “The Asylum” in Nashville, Tennessee. They got control of the NWA’s World Heavyweight Championship and Tag Championship, instantly giving them some shred of credibility. For 27 months they used the weekly television model to build up a fanbase while supplementing with a weekly television show on FSN during the summer of 2004. It was in November 2004 when they finally made the transition to the now traditional monthly PPV supercard format supplemented by weekly free television.

Since then the television show “Impact” has moved from FSN to the more widely viewed Spike TV and has now improved its timeslot twice. The monthly pay per views roll on with a talent pool of former WCW talents that WWE didn’t want, former WWE mainstays, and a crop of solid indy talent that make up the workrate portion of the show. Their championships are held in high regard, as the Tag Championship and the “no-limits” X-Division Championship have both main evented shows over the World Championship. Their X-Division has carved out a nice niche for themselves for high-flying and talented athletes in matches reminiscent of the old WCW cruiserweight division. Their tag team division has boasted over eight real, legitimate, matching teams at one time. They have created and branded their own signature gimmick matches, including Six Sides of Steel, King of the Mountain, Ultimate X, Elevation X and others. And as TNA approaches its fifth anniversary show this weekend they have already surpassed anything that the doubters said they would. They have secured a solid television time slot, switched to the monthly pay per view model, created a solid core group of talent, started touring with house shows and have slowly started to take their pay per views on the road. They have also now broken away from the NWA affiliation and are now known only as TNA Wrestling with their TNA Champions and Championship belts.

So with the Jarretts’ vision and Panda Energy’s financial backing, TNA has become some sort of a success. They are still the distant number two promotion in the country but at only five years old and starting from scratch it’s mind-boggling that they should be trying to compete with WWE at this point anyways. They have done many things successfully as I have outlined above, but there are also many faults in their current business practices. First and foremost they try to be like the WWE too much and it doesn’t work for them. Quit with the sports-entertainment storylines, quit pushing WWE mainstays like 3-D and VKM and quit with the celebrity involvement that doesn’t make any money. Toby Keith, Chris Rock and Brian Urlacher didn’t make money for them in the early days, why would a retired Tennessee Titan or players from the White Sox make any difference now? Focus on your strengths: the talented X-Division, the six sided ring, the international talent exchanges and homegrown talent like AJ Styles, Chris Harris, James Storm and Samoa Joe. Also they are also eerily reminiscent of WCW with guys like Sting, Jarrett, The Steiners and Konnan in prominent roles, Dave Penzer as announcer, Mike Tenay as commentator, Vince Russo as booker and Universal Studies as its home base. TNA has done well considering its humble beginnings but right now the company as a whole needs some work, but I’m pulling for them. No matter what they may do wrong it wouldn’t compare to the injustices WWE would do to talents like Styles, Chris Daniels and Samoa Joe if they got their hands on them.

The Perspective
There you have it. Three different promotions, three different booking philosophies and three different ways of doing business. This is a big year for all three was ROH and TNA reach a half-decade of existence as does WWE’s experiment. The newness has worn off on all three by this point. It’s time to watch all there grow and evolve. WWE just turned a corner with the “death” of Mr. McMahon. ROH is about to hit pay per view and rumors of second hour for TNA Impact grow stronger by the day. Each of the three has their strengths and each has their weaknesses. There is one thing for sure though; competition is good for all of them. Competition makes them all grow stronger and in theory makes their product improve, which is something us fans can’t complain about, even though we probably still will.

For this week the vault is closed

Linked to the Pulse
The latest edition of VS is up. Yours truly is a competitor this time around so click to see how I fair against fellow IP Wrestling newbie Kace Evers.

David B. talks about a Real Man’s Man. God that theme music was awesome.

Big Andy Mac talks about the various chants that make up ROH and TNA events, most of which started with ECW. Just one question though: Why no talk of “you sold out”?

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1981 – Jim Brunzell & Greg Gagne defeated Adrian Adonis & Jesse Ventura for the AWA Tag Team title
1984 – Antonio Inoki defeated Hulk Hogan for the IWGP Heavyweight title
1989 – Jim Garvin & Michael Hayes defeated Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane in a tournament final for the NWA World Tag Team title
1993 – The Steiner Brothers defeated Money, Inc. for the WWF Tag Team title
1997 – Billy Joe Travis defeated Brian Christopher for the USWA Southern Heavyweight title
1998 – WCW Great American Bash was held in the Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, MD
1998 – Sting defeated the Giant to determine who would control the WCW Tag title
1998 – Booker T defeated Fit Finlay for the WCW Television title
1998 – Chris Jericho defeated Dean Malenko for the vacant WCW Cruiserweight title
1998 – Nick Dinsmore & Rob Conway defeated Flash Flanagan & Jason Lee for the Ohio Valley Southern Heavyweight Tag Title
2001 – Wife Beater defeated John Zandig for the Combat Zone World Heavyweight Title
2002 – Nick Dinsmore & Rob Conway defeated Trailer Park Trash & Flash Flanagan for the Ohio Valley Southern Heavyweight Tag Title

1946 – Bruiser Brody was born.
1959 – Buzz Sawyer wasbborn.
1993 – Kangaroo Don Kent died of leukemia at 61

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Nova implemented history assignments for the students of the developmental territories months ago so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova did create. I feel this is a smashing idea and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational but very entertaining.

I recently picked up a book I have been wanting for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was Bodyslams: Memoirs of a Wrestling Pitchman by Gary Michael Cappetta. Cappetta was the main WCW announcer through the late ‘80s and until early ’96 and as I learned from the book was an announcer for the WWF during the early ‘80s. He has some fascinating road stories, including some about Abdullah the Butcher and a pre-Undertaker Mark Calloway that are highly entertaining. He also provides some great insight into WCW’s horrible international trips including the infamous stabbing incident and the one where Mick Foley lost his ear. He is also a guy that pulls no punches and says exactly what he feels, which is refreshing considering most books that come out usually have some agenda so true feelings about everybody aren’t always released. He is also a guy that thinks very highly of himself and his talents so be warned. I personally grew up a WWF guy so his announcing voice always sounded so whiny to me compared to the rich tones of The Fink. I’m glad I waited this long to pick up the book as he is now gone back and published a new edition where he spends the last chunk of the book talking about all the work and media and press that went into creating Bodyslams and also gives his thoughts on the business of today. Overall it is a very interesting read and clocks in at right about 300 pages so it shouldn’t take a reader long to get through it once they’ve started.

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