Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A look at competition in wrestling

I enjoyed the point made in McMahon about how the lack of competition in wrestling has hurt the business in general, so I just wanted to expand on that a little further.

The WWE was red-hot from 1998-2000, right around the time it took the lead from WCW in the Monday Night War and never looked back. Most older teenagers will say that this is the era that got them hooked into wrestling, if they're still hooked today. This era was the Hogan era of the new generation of wrestling fans and is the one most younger people fall back on. I believe Vince was at his personal best around this time period, where practically every storyline was hot and every championship had a meaningful feud behind it. And he couldn't afford to be anything less than his best since his company was on the line.

But soon after the buyout of WCW, the effects of not having any real competition started to show. Vince said once he didn't want to insult the intelligence of his fans, but I could recall too many a time when he did insult my intelligence and that of my fellow fans as well. But post-WCW, it seemed as though he got into this comfort zone mentality that since he was the only game in town, people would have to watch his crap and be forced to like it since there was no other alternative. With the influx of WCW and then ECW guys that joined, I have to say that the roster Vince had around 2001-2003ish was amazing. In fact, he had so many guys that he didn't know what to do with, he opted to split the brands to give more guys a chance to get showcased (more bang for his buck) - and also perhaps to create his own competition.

I say perhaps because although the idea was definitely interesting and got the fans drawn in at first, there never really seemed to develop this competition between the brands. Yes, around Survivor Series something would come up where they'd start feuding, but I can't think of another time where they went that way. The exception of course was the renewal of the ECW brand, which sometimes doesn't seem to quite be the success Vince probably would've hoped for it to be. But with vampires trotting out in storylines, you were once again reminded that Vince was the only show in town - if you didn't like it, you didn't get wrestling at all unless you turned to the indy scene.

But then there was TNA.

When I first saw them, they were only on PPV and hadn't hit a TV deal yet. My first thought was that Vince could squash these guys like a bug, but it never happened. Now they're on Spike, they've moved up the chains a bit and are featuring two hot ex-WWE guys in Christian Cage, the Dudleyz and Kurt Angle, while housing Jeff Hardy for a while as well. Besides attacking them with lawsuits over trademarks and the like, it doesn't seem as though Vince is paying TNA much attention.

Is this a mistake? For anyone who's watched TNA, you know that they're not quite ready to compete with the giant WWE, who's still the #1 game in town. But their situation almost reminds me of pre-Bischoff WCW. They're there, they've got the talent, but they're just missing that special something. That something could be the in the form of someone like Bischoff stepping up and injecting new life into it, giving it enough to push it over the edge - or it could just take one more big defection (what would happen if a disgruntled Rob Van Dam said screw it and joined the competition, kicking off a feud with AJ Styles?). It seems as though the company is chugging along and is one push away from giving Vince a run for his money once again, and Vince is more or less ignoring it until it does get to that point.

Or maybe, he sees what every fan sees and wants TNA to get bigger in name and in value. That way he could have legitimate competition, and being the driven egomaniac that he is, he could then attempt to destroy them and beat them out as well. Wrestling in general seems back on the upswing after dropping off with the buyout of WCW, and maybe he sees that.

Maybe he sees that TNA succeeding is just what the business needs.

7 comments:

Sam Ford said...

WWE's relationship with TNA is interesting, because they see them as competitive but not really competition. The thing that's really hurting TNA is that they have been in the red since they've started, and the company has lost millions upon millions over the past few years. One major upswing in momentum could probably give them a couple of years that would make that deficit up in quick order, but that's no guarantee.

The problem is that TNA books itself to be WWE lite, sports entertainment but not quite as entertaining.

That could easily change, and TNA could try to figure out what WWE doesn't do and try to excel at that. Of course, WWE could counterpromote that by making Smackdown, ECW, and RAW feel more "different" than each other and beating TNA at that very game.

I've always wondered why WWE didn't do more to distinguish their three brands. After all, they could put all the cruisers on ECW and have it be a brand that counters the X-Division type things that sets TNA apart. They could put all the tag teams on Smackdown and have it be everything RAW isn't, and keep RAW the traditional WWE product. They've done some degree of that, but Smackdown and ECW always seem like they are in identity crisis, maybe with a slight degree of schizophrenia.

Omar said...

If there's anything I've learned about Vince McMahon, is that he really thrives on competition. As we saw from his division of the WWE into Raw and Smackdown varieties, he's willing to start up competition within his own club when there's nobody else to pick on. I wouldn't doubt it if he was waiting for TNA to get bigger to really compete against them. Some of the best days Vince's product saw were during the war between the WWE and the WCW. I think it kept Vince on his toes and kept him devising greater and even more cooky ways to command a larger audience. With the integration of the WCW into his own program, he sort of lost that edge a little bit. His antics weren't any less outrageous, but they weren't of the same quality as, for example, the inception of the Austin-McMahon feud. If anything, the post-monday night-war era has shown us just how far McMahon will go to draw crowds--putting his own image and his own body on the line.

David O'Hara said...

Carolina's comments:

"But their situation almost reminds me of pre-Bischoff WCW. They're there, they've got the talent, but they're just missing that special something. That something could be the in the form of someone like Bischoff stepping up and injecting new life into it, giving it enough to push it over the edge - or it could just take one more big defection (what would happen if a disgruntled Rob Van Dam said screw it and joined the competition, kicking off a feud with AJ Styles?). It seems as though the company is chugging along and is one push away from giving Vince a run for his money once again, and Vince is more or less ignoring it until it does get to that point."

I think that "special something" you speak of that TNA is missing is a vision. The people in and out of power in TNA--the Jarretts, Russo, Dutch Mantell, Mike Tenay, Jeremy Borash, Scott D'Amore, Dusty--were all highly influenced by both old-school southern wrestling and the late-90s, severely ailing WCW. None of them have a vision for the future of the wrestling business or for their company, much less a vision that would distinguish them significantly from what people have been seeing for ten years. It would be really ideal to think that TNA is like pre-Bischoff WCW because I would like to see the company really succeed and give WWE a reason to rejuvinate itself. Unfortunately, however, I think TNA now is really more like post-Bischoff WCW.

"Or maybe, he sees what every fan sees and wants TNA to get bigger in name and in value. That way he could have legitimate competition, and being the driven egomaniac that he is, he could then attempt to destroy them and beat them out as well."

For as much as Vince talks about how much he loves competition, I think much of it is hyperbole. He prefers "competition" he can easily squash. As Sam said, Vince doesn't see TNA as being competitive enough right now to even care about. I think if he did he would have push for the ECW show to be on Thursday nights against TNA and would pump a lot of talent into that show. He would probably also run free-TV specials up against TNAs pay-per-views, much like he ran the first Royal Rumble on USA against Crockett's Starrcade '88. I will concede, however, that Vince does seem rather interested in keeping Rob Van Dam under contract right now.

Joshua Shea said...

One thing that I've never seen mentioned about TNA is that with the exception of the AWF debacle in the mid-90s, it's the only wrestling company of note that has shot to be a national organization from day one.

The WWF played only the Northeast. WCW evolved out of Georgia Championship Wrestling. AWA, WCCW and ECW, while watched nationwide, were never truly nationwide organizations.

TNA has started to run live shows after a couple of years, but they are few and far between and poorly advertised. And, a good chunk of the talent is still free to work for ROH and other indies.

If TNA is going to succeed, they need to pick a part of the country and work it hard. They should be running like an old time territory on steroids. You need to skip Atlanta and play Macon, skip New York and play Rochester, skip Anchorage and play Juneau...kidding. They need to build a fan base that wants to watch their TV, not one that stumbles upon it. You usually don't stumble upon something when it's Channel 47.

They should be willing to play in front of 500 fans, and give them a great show. They should be building a following the way a good band does. If Dave Matthews had just bought 30 minutes every week on the USA Network back in 92 or 93, do you think he would have exploded a few years later? No. He got out in front of the people.

Even if they don't have the Angles or the Stings on all of the shows listed above, at least they'd be branding and getting that retarded logo out there.

They can continue their mind-numbingly dull TV show during this strategy above, but what you're going to get is people in that area starting to watch. It would build stars of the guys who people see now and go "Who is Sonjay Dutt?"

But, you put Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo in charge of something and I guess history shows you can't expect good results.

BMN said...

I'm in complete agreement with Josh on this one. The NWA abandoned the Southeast and paid dearly for it in 1988. Vince was able to go national ONLY because he purchased talent that was over in all of the regionally promoted areas (i.e. Roddy Piper can headline in Portland or North Carolina, we have him. Jesse Ventura or Hulk Hogan can headline Minnesota, we have them. Etc.). But it started with a solid base in the Northeast.

TNA seems to be running on fumes. It's never captivated my interest despite having a lot of great talent come through.

Ismael said...

This situation reminds me of when ECW started to gain popularity. Vince could've really taken them out if he wanted to, but he didn't. Instead, he worked with ECW and brought some of their wrestlers on the show. I don't know if he wanted to team up with them because they both hated WCW so much or if he wanted to help ECW gain popularity. If the second is true then I guess he just wanted to have a greater competition to overtake later on. This might be the same situation occurring with TNA and WWE right now. Vince might be waiting until they gain enough popularity that their demise will be even sweeter.

Sam Ford said...

I think Vince liked keeping ECW in business at first because it became a good training ground for his talent. He sent wrestlers like Al Snow to ECW when he didn't know what to do with them, and they got cult followings in the process. In the meantime, working with Paul gave him a better relationship with the company than WCW, so that when wrestlers wanted to leave, they eventually started jumping to WWE. For instance, Tazz and the Dudley Boyz came to WWE, whereas a generation before, it was all the ECW guys going to WCW in 1996 through 1998. In the end, Bischoff became the hated figure for ECW fans while WWE was more of a fun rivalry...