Verne Gagne and the Von Erichs were names I had heard before, but couldn't put faces to or matches to and knew nothing more than the Von Erichs were littered with tragedies. I knew that they were influential, but I truly had no idea just how much of their influence is still seen today until I watched the documentaries both last week and this week. However, the one thing that struck me the most about the AWA and WCCW is just how successful they were in their primes, where with smarter decisions, either could have outlasted Vince in a wrestling "war" for the supreme product on TV. Vince did not single-handedly conquer like he always makes it seem to younger fans (like me) who know no better - he was just lucky that the people running his "competition" didn't know how to change with the times, because they definitely had the crowds and the talent.
What surprises me the most is that the AWA and WCCW back in the 80s seemed to be much more successful in their time than the WWE is present-day. When they spoke of ratings, they were talking around 10-15 range. Last time I checked, WWE Raw has a good night when it breaks over a 4.0. One of the articles that we read (the name escapes me at this time) nailed it right on the head with a quote that went something like... "if you're the only shoemaker in town, you should be selling a lot of shoes."
The WWE, I'm sure, also did rather well in that time period. The 80s are glorified as the first big "boom" era in WWE history, where Hulk Hogan reigned supreme. Whenever I thought of the 80s, the WWE immediately had me think of Hogan, Macho Man, Andre, Ricky Steamboat, The Rockers, etc etc. Names like the Von Erichs, or Verne and Greg Gagne, they're there but vague and in the background for younger fans who grew up when wrestling was being defined by middle fingers and chugging beer. And yet, even with the different organizations and competitive atmosphere, wrestling not only survived - it flourished.
So my question is what changed? Vince won the war in the end since he's the only one left standing, but the fans who followed the local shows week in and week out are gone for the most part. Is it just harder these days with more competition from other network shows (like I know SmackDown tended to struggle when it ran head-to-head with Friends), or is there something lacking in today's WWE that was abundant in the time that the AWA and WCCW were at the top of their game?