Shore's Blog: On the tenth anniversary of the WWE's purchase of WCW, is the state of wrestling better today than it was then?

Posted in: Shore's Blog, MUST-READ LISTING
Mar 23, 2011 - 04:35 PM

By Chris Shore

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 4:30 CT

Ten years ago today, March 23, 2001, Vince McMahon officially ended the Monday Night Wars when he purchased WCW and all its holdings from AOL/Time Warner. The deal was officially revealed three days later when Vince McMahon announced on Monday Night Raw that he had purchased WCW, only to have the storyline become that Shane McMahon had actually purchased WCW.

This, of course, led to the WCW and then WCW/ECW invasion angles that never quite had the pay off so may fans wanted. Now a decade later, it's time to look back at what has changed for the wrestling, excuse me, entertainment business since WWE became the only major player in the industry.

First let me say that I was not watching wrestling of any kind ten years ago. As many of you know, December 1997 was the beginning of the end for me with the Starrcade 97 Hulk Hogan vs. Sting fiasco, and by summer 1998, I had washed my hands of the industry. WCW had become a shell of the once great NWA led Jim Crocket Promotions of my youth, and WWE seemed only to care about how far they could go before the censors called in the gun ships. There was nothing for me in either company.

Interestingly enough, it would be roughly ten years before I returned to my first love. WWE had changed wildly in those years away. It was now a PG product, no longer interested in shock value. Instead, I found programming that was aimed to the masses, and specifically children. At least most of the time.

But I also noticed that many things had not changed. WWE, never a company primarily interested in wrestling ability, still placed more emphasis on out of the ring activities. They would still throw us old school fans a bone every now and again to keep up happy. But their focus was on selling the story outside the ring, and then getting us to buy the PPV to see the payoff inside the ring. The more things changed the more they stayed the same.

So while WWE spent the last ten years remaking itself into a non-rink version of the Ice Capades, the rest of the professional wrestling industry has been trying to do one of two things, imitate WWE or stand in direct opposition. And there have been some minor successes and some epic failures.

Jeff Jarrett, a perennial mid-carder under McMahon, joined his legendary father Jerry and started Total Nonstop Action (TNA) just the next year, putting on their first live show on June 19, 2002. In what turned out to be a prophetic moment, their ring ropes broke just before the show was to go live. They had to shuffle things around to hide what was wrong; a skill set that would once again come in handy at their most recent PPV.

After selling the company to Panda Energy later that same year, TNA has moved from its original position as a member of the NWA to arguably the number two pro wrestling company in the Unites States. Little is known about the financials of TNA and many outsiders believe the company continues to bleed money and is only held aloft by Dixie Carter's ability to convince her wealthy father to pour more in.

TNA has patterned itself in recent years as a direct competitor to WWE, even going so far as to try and reignite the Monday Night Wars by moving their flagship show Impact to Monday nights on March 8, 2010. The ratings for the show plummeted however, and Spike TV move the show back to Thursdays just two months later. Since then Impact has continued to hover around the same ratings mark despite bringing in big name (and former WWE) stars like Jeff and Matt Hardy, Ken Anderson, Rob Van Dam, and even Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. The parallels between TNA and WCW continue to send shivers down the collective back of most of the wrestling media.

Ring of Honor (ROH) rose up out of the flames of the ECW bankruptcy when RF Video owner Rob Feinstein started the company, holding their first show on February 23, 2002. In June 2004, Feinstein encounter major legal troubles and left the company. After changing hands a few times, ROH settled into the lap of Cary Silkin and started producing their own videos and merchandise.

Since that time ROH has blossomed into the "King of the Independents" and has produced several stars that have gone on to bigger careers, most notably CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuniess (who wrestles in TNA as Desmond Wolfe) and Bryan Danielson (who wrestles in WWE as Daniel Bryan). As a smaller company, ROH is very adept at changing directions as necessary and working with non-traditional styles. The company promotes a much "stiffer" style than TNA or WWE, and is a favorite of many fans who grew up on the NWA territory days (myself included).

There are also numerous other independent companies that put on shows and sell DVDs, many featuring the same wrestlers as ROH as these up and coming stars tour the circuit homing their skills. Dragon Gate USA is an offshoot of the Japanese promotion Dragon Gate. Their booker, Gabe Sapolsky, has also started EVOLVE which relies on won-loss records to promote their stars. Pro Wrestling Guerilla in California sets itself up as an alternative promotion with an incredibly loyal fan base. CHIKARA runs lucha libre style matches with a ton of great comedy thrown in. And that's just scratching the surface of the countless regional independents that put on shows in armories, ballrooms and fairgrounds each and every week.

That begs the question, is professional wrestling better today than it was when WWE absorbed its only real competition? Unfortunately, I don't have the answer because what is "better" is subjective. Certainly the independent scene is much more alive and well than it was a decade ago when the best you could hope for was a washed up former undercarder not booking himself to look like a god in his shitty little organization—a practice which, sadly, still happens today. And the stream of young talent has turned into a raging river with the likes of Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, Jon Moxley, Akira Tozawa, Ricochet and countless others pushing the older guys from the bottom.

But I do think we suffer from some malaise at the top of the heap. WWE has become a brand, much like Coca-Cola. The product itself is not nearly as important as the brand is, and that does not make for a better product. Coke can get away with it because their product never changes—save for a disastrous experiment in the 1980s. WWE, and any company for that matter, must go out there each and every night and provide something different, something fresh. And WWE was never better than it was when WCW pushed them from the bottom.

So while I cannot say with any definitiveness that wrestling is better or worse today, I can say this. There are many pockets of very good stuff out there. And we would all be better off if one or two of those pockets were somehow able to rise up and create that same push that happened over a decade ago. And if it does, then I will be able to say without a doubt, that wrestling is better then than it was now.

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