By Haydn Gleed
”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens – Tale Of Two Cities Chapter 1
Bet you wasn’t expecting me of all people to start my blog with a bit of Dickens, was you? It’s been a weird week all round in the world of Professional Wrestling. Rumors are running rampant over the Internet about a possible WWE buyout of ROH and the potential of two of the biggest UK companies in Progress and ICW joining their network. The later rumor being fueled by Progress talent being used at WWE Axxess coming up before WrestleMania. Of course, it has also been confirmed by Impact wrestling themselves that they have setup partnerships with AAA in Mexico and the historic World Of Sports Wrestling here in the UK.
First, let me talk about the positives of these confirmed and rumored moves. The biggest of course is the security of the talent and the ability for them to go to different places in the world in the knowledge they have a secure job. Since WCW went out of business 16 years ago, unless you were on a safe footing with WWE you had to go from place to place earning your money or hoping that TNA might pay you what you were promised. I can already hear the sniggering from the back of the room because of the thought of anything Impact Wrestling being secure I know is a leap of faith, but with parent company Anthem obviously excited by their new toy, for now being within the Anthem/Impact Wrestling umbrella is a secure position to have.
With so many companies in a partnership agreement, you can exchange talent and keep your rosters fresh and constantly keep people guessing as to who might be showing up at a show. This will of course lead to companies growing as demand for tickets will be higher because you never know who might appear. The perfect example was the Progress show that I attended the weekend of the UK Tournament where Finn Balor and Tommy End/Aleister Black made appearances and the crowd loved it. It also allows the exchange of ideas and philosophies to help each other grow, and this my friends is where I have my biggest concerns.
I am currently struggling to watch WWE TV, simply because I don’t feel like the product is for me. There’s very little that I watch on Raw and Smackdown and go, yes that’s how I would like to have wrestling presented to me. Of course, I like to remain positive but the simple fact is at this very moment it’s a product that I can’t connect too. For the past 12-18 months, watching Progress wrestling has been my salvation. This is a product that is aimed at adults, with adult themes, and tells real life stories of triumph over adversity, great stories of reaching a one time impossible target and real heated feuds based on stories I can believe in. If Progress end up on the network, how long before the content is toned down to be more WWE Universe friendly.
How long until swear words are no longer allowed? How long until edgy storylines that walk a fine line such as the real life story of Jack Sexsmith will be seen as non-PG and therefore toned down or even disregarded? For those who don’t know Jack Sexsmith, he describes himself as pansexual, and Progress is telling a great story. Although Jack is seen as a great role model to the wrestling fans dealing with the same emotions, he wants to be taken seriously as a wrestler not just as a token role model. Can you really see that fitting into content that WWE would be comfortable putting on their network? Glenn Joseph, one of the co-owners of Progress, called the wrestlers “sports entertainers” on the live pre-show of Chapter 44, so I fear the transition into being “more WWE” has already started.
The rumor of Ring of Honor potentially being purchased by WWE had me excited. Think of all of the history and content they would have in the tape library and how WWE could utilize it far better than ROH ever have. However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the realization that if this happened, would Ring Of Honor even continue to exist? After all, aside from the different talent, what function does ROH serve that NXT doesn’t if you strip away all of the elements that WWE and especially Triple H have talked down about over the years. The spot-fest style matches, the brutal ladder wars, etc. and of course the style of wrestling and the sports like narrative of the “universe” doesn’t mesh with what WWE is trying to achieve. So if it continued, after WWE/NXT stripped bear the bones of anyone with name recognition and/or talent in the ring what exactly could you have on the show? The wrestlers who are not good enough for the NXT roster and the kids battle it out. Does that excite me? Not in the slightest.
Moving to the news that came out on Friday about the Impact Wrestling/Anthem/World Of Sports Wrestling partnership, it certainly has a lot of positives all round in terms of WOS returning on terrestrial TV in the form of the mainstream channel ITV. Impact Wrestling will surely get mentioned meaning a far larger exposure for the brand in the UK. WOS did a 1.2 million viewing figure on their first showing equating to roughly seven percent share of the audience on New Years Eve, which leads to the question how many more could they get on a normal Saturday evening? With the show being on free to view TV and on a major network, there’s every opportunity in the world to convert little Johnny who’s never seen wrestling before into a life long fan.
There are two main concerns that I have with this particular partnership. Firstly, it’s the line in the press release regarding WOS using the creative input from Impact Wrestling. If it were this time last year then perhaps I wouldn’t be so worried, but from what I’ve seen of the first three shows of the new era of Impact, I can’t say it fills me with confidence. The most alarming thing for me personally is what this will mean to the UK indie scene that I love.
Although companies such as Progress and PCW have their development system, and have done a great job in a short amount of time developing brand loyal talent, the fact of the matter is the success of the UK indie scene has been down to some big name stars in the market being able to turn up wherever they want to go/are booked. If the roster is similar to the new WOS from the beginning of the year, and Progress also joins the WWE network family, that will probably mean big UK talents such as Dave Mastiff, El Ligero, Zach Gibson, etc. not being able to appear on anything WWE related. Although the companies that I have mentioned with a developmental system are getting the next generation of UK wrestlers ready, they are not quite there yet. We could end up with the UK indie scene having reached its peak and because of these partnerships see a cooling down period.
What I love about analyzing the wrestling business is that when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it changes. Something that will change the course of the business will hit you with little warning. Will these announced/potential partnerships be a good or bad thing? I’ve laid out my thoughts on it, but time will tell. Some people will love the change and some people will hate it. Some people will profit from it, others will lose out. To describe how fans in the future will view the current changes taking place, I will close with the final words of chapter 1 – Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
“The period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
As always you can find me on twitter @haydngleed if you have anything you wish to discuss, feel free to get in touch.