Welcome back to the “Journey to SummerSlam”, as WWE called it this week on television. We begin this journey with open arms. Thousands of us will be in attendance even though we traveled there our separate ways. Its going to be a long drive, many hours on the road, but I think the trip will be so perfect we’ll feel like our wheels are in the sky. Today I’m going to break down some of the basics of current WWE so a new viewer, like my father who will be joining us for this event, can have some background to understand what’s going on. If you don’t like the metaphors I use, then that’s fine. Use your own. Any way you like it. These are examples that I thought would work well based on my pop culture knowledge and love of wrestling, which I have been a fan of for years. Faithfully.
Alright, enough with the song puns. How to explain World Wrestling Entertainment?
Wrestling fans, I know many of you will read this and want to add your “well, actually” and “but if you knew…” and so on. That’s not the point of this article. Go write that article yourself. The point is to break down a little bit of history to explain what’s going on today and then to talk about today.
Way back when, wrestling companies were confined to smaller territories and out of the many many companies out there none were seen all the time anywhere in the country. I’m going to use baseball as an example a lot in this article and that starts here. Picture the minor league baseball teams. New York and New England teams play against each other. California has a league. Mid West. Florida. And so on. Wrestling was much the same. A wrestler would work in the New York area for a couple years, do all he could there, then pack up and move to Georgia. Work the territory there for awhile, move to another state, do some stuff there. Maybe go back to NY many years later and get huge cheers as a returning favorite. The only carry over across these territories was that one man would be crowned world champion. The National Wrestling Alliance, a group of promoters in charge of these territories, would recognize one man as the world champion and that man would travel the world defending the title. Hey kids, welcome to the Staten Island Yankees home game and tonight Mickey Mantle is going to play a couple innings. This is the era where Ric Flair became RIC FLAIR. Travelling the world, wrestling hour long matches, being The Man.
Then Vince McMahon’s father decided that his company, the World Wide Wrestling Federation was going to have their own world champion. So all the other promoters say that’s fine. You stay in the east coast with your own champion and we’ll still have our champ for the rest of the country. You stay in your area, we’ll stay in ours, and we’ve reached wrestling detente.
Well, then Vince’s dad decides to retire and hands the company to Vince. (And thanks to the promotion WWE has received in recent history I don’t feel I have to explain who Vince is.) with the caveat of here’s the company, stay within our boundaries.
But then cable came along with all of this temptation and video tape and Vince starts thinking I could make a show out of one studio, record a lot of episodes at once, distribute it around the country and be the only game in town. He did this by means of talent raids. He would go to the next territory over, and offer all the top talent more money to work for him. Now the talent is gone, the competition closes up and Vince has another area to run shows. He continues to expand and only one major group was left in the South. But they had money. So Vince McMahon and the WWE became the Coca Cola of wrestling in the United States and the remnants of the NWA joined together to become Pepsi. Number two, but a close number two.
The NWA gets bought out and rebranded WCW. They get bought up by Ted Turner and have shows weekly on TBS and TNT. The two companies were neck in neck for years and at the height of competition. Wrestling was never more popular. This was the time of a bad guy Hulk Hogan and the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Wrestling was everywhere. Then AOL and Time Warner merged and they looked at all of Ted Turner’s assets and said, “Wrestling?! Get that garbage out of here!” WCW was sold to Vince McMahon himself for pennies on the dollar.
And thus Vince wept for there were no more lands to conquer. He was the only game left in the United States.
He made all this money through the challenge of competition. Someone was at his heels and at times over taking him. He had to get better in order to win, and upon winning no longer had a reason to better himself.
So he created his own competition.
This “simple” history lesson has already gone for a bit. So we’re going to stop here for tonight and come back for part two explaining Raw vs. Smackdown, or why does WWE have two of everything?