Looking back on the years of mainstream wrestling, it’s near 20 since there was truly big fish competition for WWE, then called WWF. In the territorial TV days, it was unlikely for fans of wrestling to see much else other than their local promotions. This was because when cable TV properly took off, the channels turned to wrestling as it was cheap to produce and drew decent figures.
Everything was hunky dory until superstations became a thing. Ted Turner, the owner of an Atlanta TV station had a show called GCW, Georgia Championship Wrestling. It then became a superstation and that meant GCW was being seen by a national audience. They renamed the show World Championship Wrestling.
Cue psychopath business megalomaniac Vince McMahon. He and the WWF began a Sunday morning show in 1983 on the USA Network, that aired across the entire country (they still air RAW on this station today.) They then started a Tuesday talk show. There was still peace in the wrestling world. Vince had his shows, Ted had his. Then Black Saturday happened.
Essentially on Black Saturday some key shareholders in GCW sold their stocks to Vince McMahon, including the TV time slot. Vince McMahon then controlled all nationally screened wrestling productions, and his power trip truly began. There was a lot of spats in the years that would follow, essentially boiling down to Vince not wanting anyone else to succeed in the wrestling world.
Those who didn’t sell, like Ted Turner, eventually bought out another company that was run by a man called Jim Crockett (it’s ridiculous and confusing but stay with me) and created WCW. The war was on.
From 1996 and into the next six years Ted Turner and Vince McMahon ran shows every Monday night, at the exact same time on different channels. It pushed the two companies to create exciting storylines, take big risks on what they broadcasted and fight for the best talent to be on their shows. Even to the point where stars like Lex Luger, who had worked a WWF house show on Sunday, appeared on the inaugural episode of WCW the day after.
With the WCW shows being filmed live, the shock value for fans in attendance and those watching at home was palpable and gave WCW an early push into the lead. It was all about Nielsen ratings, who would do the most numbers every week. WCW led for a while, partly due to the fact that RAW was pre taped, so WCW would pull tactics like giving away the results of matches live on air so that it would dissuade people from tuning in to watch RAW as they already knew what was going to happen.
The lead would flip flop throughout the years, WWF struggled particularly through 1997. Then the ‘Attitude Era’ came along and changed the game forever, introducing drinking, sex, true violence to TV, and characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin and the villainous Mr McMahon. WCW’s decline started through 1999. While live on air they announced that Mankind was going to win the title on the RAW episode that was showing at the exact same time. It’s unconfirmed but reported that 600,000 people switched over to see him pull of the childhood dream. It seemed like everything that could’ve gone wrong for WCW, did. Poor storylines, legal disputes, terrible matches, all dug them down into a deep grave, that they eventually couldn’t get out of. The promotion went up for sale, and Vince McMahon made his offer. It was accepted, and Vince had won. Like a wrestling Thanos, Vince has taken over and defeated any liable threat to his company.
After this, ratings dropped and the storylines were never as good, the PG era came into play and mainstream wrestling has never been the same.
In 2019 there are many more options, thanks to the internet. Granted there are still TV shows, like Impact, but they do so little numbers that Vince doesn’t have to worry.
The internet has opened us up to promotions across the world, notably NJPW which is massive, but because it doesn’t air properly on any US networks, again Vince doesn’t have to care.
But, there could now be a chance for the heat to be turned up. Cody Rhodes (son of Dusty, of former WWE fame) and The Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson (worldwide wrestling superstars, Kings of merch and ridiculous wrestling moves) have created a promotion, named All Elite Wrestling. They have signed some of the best indie stars from around the world, and even signed former WWE stars like PAC (formerly Neville) and megastar Chris Jericho.
Normally this wouldn’t matter all that much, but they have backing. Billionaire backing. Shahid Khan, whose net worth sits around $6.7 billion, has founded the promotion, with his Son Tony Khan becoming president and operator for the company. Shahid owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, and also Fulham F.C. Right now there aren’t many solid plans apart from a live event they are producing in Vegas, but rumours are in the pipeline about a TV spot. If this is the case it means that independent wrestling fans, that take up most of the audience worldwide, will have an alternative to watch instead of WWE. It’s no secret that fans are sick and tired of the overproduced, nonsensical lack of direction that RAW and Smackdown exhibits, so it wouldn’t take much for a lot of viewers to jump ship.
Competition very often sparks innovation, and a drive to be better. And we all know that Vince hates losing. Despises it probably more than sneezing (look into it, the man is mental.)
When WWF was faced with WCW battering them in the ratings we got some of the best wrestling ever to be seen, from both a storyline and a production standpoint. It made the game change, they had no choice but to try new things and push the boat out, otherwise they’d be left in the dust. WWE has been stale and stagnant for too many years now, but because there is no competition they get away with it. They can’t lose.
All that could change though, if AEW can truly take off. It’s what casual fans and the diehards alike have been asking for for a long time, just something to maybe light a spark under certain people. It’s a credible threat too, not something that can be just brushed off. In the past few days we’ve seen tag wrestlers ‘The Revival’ ask for their release from the WWE, and rumours are more, like Dolph Ziggler, are thinking about doing the same too. These guys are great wrestling but because the roster sizes are so huge in the WWE they are criminally underused. It was comical to see that Zack Ryder had travelled with the Dub for a full year and not had a single match on TV. Granted he isn’t the best, but to be on the road for 300+ days out of the year and never actually get to do what you are paid for must be infuriating.
All in all, I think this could be a sign of things to come, and if WWE don’t put their foot on the gas now before it gets too late, we could see some very interesting years to come.
To hear three daft lads talk all things Wrestling, check out ‘Staring At The Lights’ on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, and give us a follow on @thelightspod on Twitter.