How I Would Save Professional Wrestling
I am a pro wrestling fan. A big fan. I first came across professional wrestling as a 10 year old in the early 1970’s. Every Saturday afternoon I would watch the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) television shows from Pennsylvania. Before going to bed at 8pm, I would set my alarm clock on Saturday night for midnight and wake up to watch the WWWF hour long television shows from New York.
Needless to say, I was hooked on wrestling and I became quite the mark. I would beg my father to take me to the Philadelphia Spectrum to watch Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham and all of my wrestling heroes.
I was confined to my own little north eastern wrestling universe until the day I saw a wrestling magazine at the news stand. After purchasing The Wrestler and Inside Wrestling, I realized that there was a whole world of wrestling outside of my area. I learned the names of Jack and Jerry Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, Ric Flair, The Sheik and Dusty Rhodes. I followed all of their exploits every month in my favorite magazines.
What happened next was pivotal in my wrestling fandom development. For me, magic had occurred and I had another reason to set my alarm clock to wake-up in the middle of the night. Championship Wrestling from Florida. CWF was broadcast on our local UHF Spanish speaking television channel. The television commercials called it Lucha Libre (my first Spanish words) and every Tuesday night I had the opportunity to see wrestlers that I had only read about in the magazines. It was a whole new experience watching the different styles of wrestling from down south compared to the up north style of wrestling.
As I got older, the WWWF became the WWF and they broadcast even more weekly shows. With all of the WWF shows and my Florida wrestling, I was one happy wrestling fan. Who knew things could get better?
In 1983, I moved away to college down south to Georgia. It was there that I found Georgia Championship Wrestling (which gradually morphed into World Championship Wrestling). My buddies and I would not leave the apartment on Saturday evening until our 6:05pm to 8:05pm block of wrestling on the Superstation was over. Many trips to the Omni in Atlanta as well as the Marietta Civic Center. I even got in the ring with King Kong Bundy when he was having his $10,000.00 body slam challenge. I thought he was going to kill me when I lifted one of his legs off the mat and made him stumble back a step. I made a hasty retreat but not before I climbed up to the 2nd rope in the corner of the ring and waved my arms to the fans in a sort of faux victory. LOL, over the next 2-3 months, I would be in a store or a gas station when someone would come up to me and say, “Aren’t you the guy who got in the ring with King Kong Bundy?”
At that point, I almost considered becoming a wrestler. I was not small, a 6ft, 235lb rugby player and I had smartened up to the business. Afterall, I was in college outside Atlanta, my gym that I worked out in always had wrestlers in there working out and I would become friends with a lot of them. Granted, they were all jobbers on the WTBS Super Station show, but they loved what they did so much and I loved what they did, I thought I could be a jobber and earn some spending money for school. Then one day while walking through the hallways at Life University Chiropractic College, I had almost got run over by a student who looked like a Mack truck. I said to myself, “Guys this size would be beating me every weekend for $40.00 a match.” I decided to take a pass on wrestling and stick with the rugby. FYI, do you know who the Mack truck size student was? Jim Hellwig. Little known fact, Jim Hellwig graduated with a degree in chiropractic. For those who do not know the alias of Jim Hellwig, Jim went on to be one of the most over professional wrestlers in the world, The Ultimate Warrior.
One of the benefits of being in the southern United States in the early to mid 80’s was all of the wrestling shows. In addition to World Championship Wrestling, I was able see Memphis wrestling with Jerry Lawler, Mid Atlantic wrestling, Deep South Wresting and one of my personal favorite programs World Class Championship Wrestling from Texas with the Von Erich family. Add to the mix my weekly WWF shows and I don’t even know how I found the time to study, let alone graduate.
The highlight of living in the Atlanta area for me as a wrestling fan was that my friends and I were frequent front row spectators to the World Championship Wrestling television tapings at the Superstation. Front row seats for all of the up-close action and the promos! And it was free. No charge to get in. Amazing. My best show there was when Nikita Koloff was in the ring squashing an opponent as a babyface with his Russian sickle clothes line. After beating his opponent, he was cutting a promo in the ring. We were standing and cheering him so loudly, he forgot what he was trying to say and had to stop his promo. He then pointed to us and said, “Just like my American friends are saying!”
My parents in New Jersey would watch the Saturday night Superstation wrestling matches just to see me on TV! My father would also call me a knuckle head, even though I knew he was laughing at all of our front row antics.
Fast forward to now, 25 years later. With a ton of pay-per views, live shows and countless hours of television wrestling under my non-championship belt, I like to think of myself not only as a super fan, but someone who understands the profession. That being said, I have been quietly making observations on the current state of professional wrestling.
Despite my joy watching all of the current wrestling shows (WWE, AEW, IMPACT, RING OF HONOR, NEW JAPAN) and spending way too much time on the WWE Network watching the old stuff, wrestling is not as exciting to me as it once was. Is it the changing of the times? Or is wrestling just losing some of the charm that made it great? With the DVR, I find myself fast forwarding through matches, promos and segments that just don’t interest me. Whereas years ago, everything interested me. For myself, I want to bring back that lovin feeling. The charm that made me watch whole shows without getting up from the couch, the charm that made me run out to the live show on a Saturday night to see how my wrestlers settled their feud. The charm that made me instantly excited at the end of a wrestling program to see the next week’s show. I think that charm can be brought back. Here are my ideas.
Bring back the territories (sort of)
You say the time of territories has past and they can never come back. I say they can. Just not in the traditional way. There is no way that all of a sudden 20 promotors are going to start up their own wrestling organizations. They don’t have to. It can be done with what we have.
Let us start with the WWE. Here is my WWE make-over. First make Monday Night Raw and Smackdown two completely separate brands and never the two brands cross. Make the two shows separate and distinct like their own territory. Keep the wrestlers on their own show. No crossovers. Go back to giving each brand its own separate pay-per view. Didn’t they do all that already years ago? Yes. It didn’t last long. Here is how to make it work.
Unify all of the world titles. One world champ, one tag team champ for each gender. Assign the Intercontinental championship to one brand and the United States Championship to the other brand.
The world champs defend the title against the number one contender on each brand. And that’s it. Number one contender matches.
Not territorial enough for you? Make NXT a territory. Make WWE UK a territory. The champs travel and fight the number one contender in NXT and UK as well as Raw and Smackdown. WWE now becomes a four territory promotion. Wrestlers change promotions with an annual draft.
How would this work in other promotions?
It is sort of already going on. The “forbidden door” is being opened on AEW, Impact, Ring of Honor, New Japan and GSW. Let’s make it better. Form a co-operative like the old NWA was in the 50’s though the 80’s. Keep all the promotions separate and distinct with their own rosters. Nominate one world champion (Male and female) and send the champs to do time in each of the promotion’s television shows, shooting promos on the number one contenders and participating in their pay-per views. All of the individual promotions can keep their own tag champs and TV champs. Share the world champs, having them visit 5 “territories.”
What about the NWA?
This one is my personal fantasy day dream. The oldest operating wrestling organization in the world up until 1981 counted Vince McMahon Sr. as one of its members. A long history of talent sharing existed between the NWA and WWE. Why not continue? The forbidden door has been opened. Open it between the NWA and WWE. Every now and then send a WWE wrestler to start a feud in the NWA and vice a versa. Once a year have a pay-per view where the WWE Champs face the NWA Champs. Have the undercard filled with historic cross over matches! Yes, the WWE is the major player of pro wrestling and has little to gain financially by doing cross promotional events. In the short run. But in the long run, this is the type of business strategy that would create huge excitement with fans, increase viewership and yes, bring in more money.
And what about Kayfabe?
I think the best part of professional wrestling was the wrestlers doing everything they could to make us believe it was 100% real. The one entrance down the ramp from the back of the arena ruins the “heat.” If they all share one locker room after beating each other in the ring, doesn’t that take away the illusion of heel and baby face? Sure, fans are not stupid and we know that wrestling is sports entertainment, but why not entertain us even more with kayfabe?
Maybe it’s just me.
Maybe I am old and nostalgic and I miss my younger years of being a wrestling fan. Or maybe I’m not. Maybe these ideas could be incorporated in someway to make wrestling a bit more exciting. Oh, one more thing. Stop the scripts. Give a wrestler some bullet points for a promo and let them go! The best part of wrestling is the personality of the wrestlers. If you want wrestling to look real, let the wrestlers be real. The real talk from a real personality creates a connection for us fans to the wrestler, to the feud and to the match. And after all, isn’t that what it is all about? Fans being connected so they keep coming back for more? These are my thoughts. Maybe you agree, maybe you do not. But in either case, I had fun sharing them with you. Thank you.