WWE vs. The World: Creating an Alternative to Wrestling's Juggernaut
Ever since the demise of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), a major talking point among wrestling fans has been the absence of a promotion to challenge the almighty WWE. To that point, a criticism levied by fans and journalists alike has been a seeming complacency from Vince McMahon and crew. Since they essentially had a monopoly over professional wrestling, they no longer had to try as hard. They were the only game in town. So, many fans have been calling for a new promotion to cement themselves as the no. 2 professional wrestling company, to give some competition to WWE.
Over the last 16 years, we’ve seen some attempts to create competition for WWE. In fact, WWE seemed to recognise the need for a competitor as well- the ill-fated Invasion/Alliance storyline in 2001 was meant to be the beginning of re-launching WCW, now owned by WWE, as a separate brand. When Booker T vs. Buff Bagwell for the WCW Title as the main event of Raw was received about as well as a shart in church, those plans were abandoned, and the WCW/ECW Alliance died a quick death. Any stars worth saving, like Booker T and Rob Van Dam, were shifted to WWE. A few months later, WWE launched the brand extension, turning the Raw and Smackdown TV shows into separate brands. This lasted a few years before being abandoned, only to be brought back in 2016. Raw and Smackdown still exist as separate entities today, with their own unique rosters and championship.
WWE’s brand extension works- to an extent. The problem is, it’s artificial. At the end of the day, it’s still WWE. It’s still Vince McMahon running the show, and it’s his vision we see projected onto our TV screens every Monday and Tuesday. Ultimately, a large segment of the fanbase- the ones who stuck around through old ladies giving birth to hands, Samoans super kicking lesbians, and Katie Vick- want to see something different, something fresh. That’s why the NXT brand is so popular. Yes, it’s WWE, but it’s run with a different man’s vision- Triple H. The result is a completely different wrestling show, created by someone who loves pro wrestling. Not to say Vince McMahon doesn’t have love for pro wrestling- it’s been his entire life- but he’s always wanted to run an entertainment conglomerate, from creating the WBF (World Bodybuilding Federation), to the disastrous football league XFL, to WWE Films… Vince wanted more than just wrestling. Hunter, through his words and actions as a businessman over the last 5 years or so, wants to create something in wrestling that the people will love. He wanted to give fans an alternative to the main roster. So we have NXT.
But at the end of the day, it’s still WWE. Triple H signs all this amazing talent to NXT, from all around the world. Eventually, Vince takes notice, they go to the main roster, and invariably lose a lot of what made them special. Shout out to Finn Balor, Tyler Breeze, Bayley and Sasha Banks. So, many fans still call out for another promotion to come along and shake WWE out of its sleepwalking state.
The first company to really try it, post WCW/ECW, was TNA. Jeff Jarrett joined up with Dixie Carter and her rich family to start a wrestling promotion from the ground up. Linked to the historically significant NWA, the company was originally known as NWA-TNA, and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was the main belt available- and often held by Jeff Jarrett. From its inception, TNA featured a plethora of former WCW and ECW stars, and over the year would sign any major star that left WWE. Despite the star power and some great matches over the years, TNA would never truly be WWE’s rival. Some bad booking and business decisions meant that TNA never caught on. Also, its name was an acronym for “Tits N’ Ass”, that probably didn’t help them from a corporate standpoint. Now with the company rebranded as Impact Wrestling, it’s still kicking, but it’s been on life support for many years. Nothing for WWE to worry about. At least they were able to get AJ Styles and Samoa Joe out of them.
What about New Japan Pro Wrestling? NJPW has made some great progress into the English-speaking market over the last few years. They obviously have tremendous talent on their roster- WWE signed away a few of them in recent years- AJ Styles may be most associated with TNA, but his arrival in WWE followed a successful run in Japan in Bullet Club. Stars like Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Ricochet, War Machine. NJPW have done successful US tours, and their subscription service NJPW World continues to grow. NJPW may be the closest thing WWE has had to a competitor in the last 20 years or so.
Yet, I don’t see NJPW as the true competitor to WWE. I feel like a lot of what they’ve done has contributed to where the wrestling industry is today, which to me is on the verge of a paradigm shift. See, maybe fans and critics have been looking at this all wrong. No one company is going to be the challenge to WWE. It’s the whole world versus WWE, that’s what will challenge the monster that is Vince McMahon and his billions.
Wrestlers, more than ever, are taking ownership of their characters and professional lives. The biggest news stories of the last year or so haven’t been what TNA/Impact is doing. Or what Ring of Honor is doing. Or even New Japan, even though a lot of the newsworthy things are happening on their shows. It’s the wrestlers themselves who are the game changers. Chris Jericho is a massive part of this. The Bullet Club is the other massive part.
All of these men took part in a highly significant PPV event this past week. Called ALL IN, it was a celebration of independent wrestling. Funded by Bullet Club members Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, and featuring talent from all over the world in different companies, whoever was not tied to a WWE contract. It was a highly successful show, very fun to watch, and from a business standpoint, was the first non-WWE or WCW show to sell 10,000 tickets in the United States since 1993. That, my friends, is a paradigm shift. The show featured talent from ROH, NJPW, AAA, CMLL, HOH, PWG… and the major stories were not any of those companies. It was the amazing work done by Cody, as well as Nick and Matt Jackson. It was Chris Jericho, who appeared in a major shock, and promoted his Chris Jericho Cruise after attacking Kenny Omega. The wrestlers are the brands, the wrestlers are the stories. They combined forces, and it truly marked them as the alternative- a fantastic alternative- to WWE.
Do I think that shows like ALL IN, and all this wrestling entrepreneur stuff from Jericho and Bullet Club can threaten WWE’s position, and put them out of business? No. But they’ve created so much buzz- and with that buzz, ticket sales, PPV sales, merch sales, cruise cabin sales, streaming subscription sales- that it’s impossible to ignore at this point. WWE will need to step their game up to retain their status as the elite (deliberately lower case) of professional wrestling. After the success of ALL IN, I hope that the Chris Jericho Cruise does incredible numbers. I hope we get ALL IN 2. I hope the NJPW/ROH Supercard in Madison Square Garden on Mania weekend outshines Wrestlemania. I hope that all these great wrestlers, who are creating such great brands for themselves, using every outlet possible, make Vince McMahon take notice of them. Pro wrestling is about to get really exciting again. The alternative is here.
Until next time, take care,