We are in the midst of the greatest wrestling war scenario of the last few decades. WWE mogul Vince McMahon is looking to repeat his last “big steal”, when he bought out WCW then turned around and dismantled it after he absorbed their best talent and spat out the rest, leaving them with no job or source for work.
It was different back then since WWF (as it was known before losing another costly fight for the acronym to the World Wildlife Fund) and WCW were the only game in town. Today, there are several options for wrestling talent. Back in the 1990s, Vince buying out ECW and WCW allowed small boutique promotions to expand, and Vince overplayed his hand by booking his expanded roster everywhere, fueling grappling fans’ hunger for the sport and its popularity.
Because of that, a small regional promotion, Ring of Honor, blossomed so much that it gained a major investor (Sinclair Broadcasting) and nationwide TV contract. In Mexico, a perennial hotbed of wrestling, Vince’s influence led to another rebirth as Mexican promotions like AAA and CMLL got major TV deals with Galavision and Azteca TV, which allowed Mexican expatriates in America to again see their old Lucha Libre favorites. Today, this has spawned a new lucha promotion called Lucha Underground which airs its rapid-fire, high-flying style on cable’s El Rey Network, and this has forced Vince’s hand as he introduced the Lucha Dragons team and revived his Cruiserweight division for talent 205 pounds and under to limited success.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, a similar scenario developed. WWE’s popularity spawned a new interest in local talent, and New Japan Pro Wrestling”phoenixed” itself back to life and is now the Orient’s premiere wrestling promotion. New Japan officials shrewdly aligned themselves with Ring of Honor to bill American talent and give their fans something to add to their existing coupling with Mexico’s CMLL. They also struck a deal with the American AXS TV to air their shows here on Friday evenings.
Additionally, a few independent promotions have gained strength, and names like Evolve Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerilla have lured former WWE talent to their ranks as the talent Vince keeps abusing discover there are other avenues open to them and they don’t have to take the Zookeeper’s BS.
What Vince is hoping for ultimately is to become the Walmart of wrestling and be the only source of employment in wrestling. He is a near-billionaire who pays his top talent insane amounts of money. Several of his athletes draw seven-figures-a-year salaries, but an increasing amount of these stars are realising that selling your soul for money doesn’t villify the money they make for wrestling, especially when these guys (and ladies) have to be away from their families, sometimes for weeks to meet the three-to-five night a week schedule. Also, while pro wrestling IS scripted and the outcomes of matches have been figured out weeks in advance, the moves involved can be extremely dangerous, and the contestants involved often “rehearse” together to perfect the moves they do during the matches. Even then, accidents occur which can send wrestlers to the hospital or end their in-ring careers.
One possible new threat to Vince’s megalomaniac dreams is former WWE, WCW, and TNA star Jeff Jarrett. For the last couple of years, Jarrett has been forming a new wrestling promotion called Global Force Wrestling. Last year he briefly flexed his muscles by making appearances in TNA, where one of his company’s championship titles was integrated in the storyline. That eventually went nowhere because TNA didn’t have the resources to sustain it, but Jarrett moved on. He gained a home arena in Las Vegas at the Orleans Casino and cemented a TV deal with an international corporation that today is poised to move in on the spot TNA may soon be vacating.
Another outlet for wrestlers has been MMA. Major MMA promotion UFC has been in the forefront when Brock Lesnar came to WWE, but lately it’s been the other way around. TNA world champion Bobby Lashley signed with Bellator Fighting and has been successful there. WWE former world champion CM Punk (Albert Brooks) recently participated in a losing capacity with UFC but got paid $500,000 for it. Word is out that former WWE star Ryan Reeves (Ryback) is now in talks with Bellator to fight with them.
All this has led to various desperation moves by Vince to salvage his sinking ship as fans have begun not caring about his product. The signature WWE TV show, “Raw”, has been experiencing declining ratings. Vince went on a “buying spree” by hiring some big names from the competition, like Samoa Joe from TNA and AJ Styles from New Japan. When that didn’t get the hoped-for results, he brought a truckload of talent from his NXT developmental league in Florida (Florida Championship Wrestling before he bought and rebranded it) to give WWE that “fresh talent” feel. Again, this got mixed reviews, so he countered by splitting his roster in half and rebranding WWE in two separate entities, “Raw” and “Smackdown Live” in hopes of salvaging himself in either side, which may be wise since recent weeks have shown a large growth in the “Smackdown” brand while “Raw” continues to flounder as Raw concentrates on the BS storytelling aspect of the sport while Smackdown is more physical in nature, which seems to be what fans want. Raw will make a last-ditch effort by exclusively showcasing the Cruiserweight Division, but it appears that the Godfather of Wrestling, Vince McMahon, is getting ready to throw in the towel, and on that day, no one will celebrate more than me