EXCLUSIVE: The Future Is Now…Or Never

Ken Napzok

The future is now… or never.

    The news that HDNet and the third biggest wrestling organization in ‘Merica today, Ring of Honor, will be parting ways come this spring is nothing short of disappointing.  Not so much because of the product itself, but more so because it is a giant blow to an already listing ship that is Pro Wrestling today.  Can ROH find a new television partner? We can hope… we must hope…. because without TV there is no business; no matter the spin you try to put on it.  Regardless of what you thought of the old school, straight ahead, stiff kick style, you had to root for Ring of Honor to succeed on HDNet because more ratings on TV mean more money, more success, and most importantly, more chances for everyone else.  And that includes Mr. McMahon and Co.

    Yes, the World Wrestling Entertainment will always be there. (Hey, does Vince realize that the word “wrestling” is still in the name of his company?)  It became a brand bigger than the business a long time ago, but look at their struggles to find a TV home for Smackdown (If it fails on SyFy where do they take it then?) and if you want to watch NXT season four you’ll need to fire up your laptop.  
The entertainment industry is built on the copy cat syndrome.   People want to watch one single guy trying to find love amongst twenty-five blushing brides-to-be? Then our network needs a show like that, too.  Except we’ll put them on an island and they’ll only have one tent, baked beans, and a fork to survive on.  Crime scene investigation shows are playing well in Kansas? Then get me an investigation show for every major American city.  So, if Ring of Honor can’t succeed and Spike TV one day realizes Ric Flair is sixty-five and Hulk Hogan made Mr. Nanny over twenty years ago, the stigma will bleed over to the big promotion and it will take a brave (or clueless) TV exec to give any other wrestling organization a solid chance.  And starting up any wrestling fed is hard enough.  (Just ask the Wilpon Group.)  Let alone trying to make one survive without television.  

    With the potential fall of Ring of Honor fresh in my brain, I tuned into an episode of the Los Angeles-based NWA Championship Wrestling from Hollywood and saw maybe forty people scattered across an empty theatre to watch very talented performers like NWA champ “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce and Colt Cabana.  You can’t avoid it: The under belly of the business is soft and fragile.  Sure, sure, we get it… wrestling goes in cycles…  we’ve been at this point before… Hulk Hogan will save us.   This time around, though, things look a tad darker and even a Miz fan optimist like myself has to look around and wonder what’s behind the decline and how can we stem the bloodflow?
The MMA affect…

    Let’s be clear: Pro Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts are two different things.  They just involve the same type of muscular supermen, pomp and circumstance-type entrances, and pay-per-view based hype.  Many wrestling fans cross over into MMA, but the numbers are far less when you count people who become MMA fans first.  They just don’t cross over to Pro Wrestling.  The “fake” stigma is a hard one to over come for some people.  You can’t convince them to root for Cain Velaquez one day and Alberto Del Rio the next.  After all these are the people that actively root against Brock Lesnar because of his pro wrestling past.  This makes it a waste of time, energy, and money to court the MMA lovers by adding a more realistic edge to programs, feuds, and storylines.   This was just excellently covered in Mike Killam’s first WrestleZone column The Problem with Realism.  Stop reading my schlock and check his out first. (That’s called putting someone else over, TNA veterans.)  

    This is not to say a more “realistic” approach can’t be done right.  A recent ROH promo on the current “best wrestler in the world” Davey Richards was well-made with a high level of intensity and a strong strain of realism.  It sold his character and story: that of a well-respect worker not ready to give up on his dream and career until he grabs that coveted ROH world title and he’s going to accomplish that goal being himself: a stiff, tough, straight ahead bulldog.  It was a great piece.  On a bigger stage it would generate buys as Richards’ journey to take the title got closer and closer to coming true.  There was no screaming and yelling, no one had face paint, and Tugboat wasn’t begging kids to write in their letters to wish Davey well, but, you can’t forget, it was still a worked wrestling promo. And no matter how realistic it came off, no MMA-only fan would suddenly say, “OK, I’ll give this a chance.”

    Same can be said for TNA’s creation of a ranking system to add weight to their World title and a conscious decision to present promos and angles in a “documentary” style.  Have they executed it with perfection? Absolutely not, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  TNA’s problem is more the content than it is the style.  (And that can be fixed!) Same thing remains, though.  Let’s say you get part of the MMA demographic to sit through TNA Impact! and you’ve got your rankings, realistic promos, and athletic, spotfest matches.  The iceberg might start to melt until the very second Abyss comes out with a magic ring and clobbers someone with a spiked 2 x 4.  Poof.  They’ll be very suddenly reminded that they’re watching Professional Wrestling.  Yes, the MMA fanbase has cut into the wrestling draw and many of the people buying UFC pay-per-views used to wear Triple H T-shirts in high school, but that doesn’t mean you should chuck the basic building blocks of wrestling aside and try to win back someone who already filed for divorce.  If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.

    But, their children might…

    Which is why you have to build for the future (*Cough* The PG era) and highlight what is great and grand about Pro Wrestling, not try to turn it into something it is not and never will be.  If it looks like a rooster, walks like a rooster, cuts promos like a rooster, then it’s probably Terry Taylor being punished for some crimes committed in a prior life, and, of course, it’s a rooster.  You can’t change those feathers.

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