The significance of SmackDown!’s move to Friday night may not be determined for quite some time. Will ratings take a downward spiral? Will they take a turn for the better? Will SmackDown! lose one audience and gain a new one? Or will absolutely nothing change at all? This series of questions goes for RAW and IMPACT! as well. But the difference is that it can be argued that many changes are in store for RAW and IMPACT!
It has been said that “You can never go back home again”, and oddly enough I JUST read that at the end of J.R.’s article in RAW magazine, but like him, I beg to differ. RAW is indeed going back home to the USA Network and home has never been better. RAW’s return to USA sparks many interesting thoughts. USA has been promoting RAW to no end in anticipation of it’s reimergence on the network. The network has aired promos, they’re showing The Scorpion King this week, and John Cena is even hosting the movie 2 Fast 2 Furious soon. All troubles that WWE and USA had in the past seem to be erased. Of course, USA isn’t exactly the same as it was before RAW moved to Spike TV. Anyone who has watched Conan O’ Brien in the last year, and has seen the segments where he plays Walker: Texas Ranger clips, knows that the USA Network is now a part of NBC. This can be very rewarding for WWE. If the entire NBC family feels the same way about WWE that USA feels right now, they could help to skyrocket wrestling into the mainstream like never before. Although RAW has always been the leading Cable show, it has never been fully accepted by the media. Word has it that Jay Leno refuses to have wrestlers on his program for whatever reason, only having The Rock as a guest on his show. While Conan O’Brien has wrestlers on once in a while, it seems that only Jimmy Kimmel welcomes wrestlers onto his show with open arms. But now things could be different. If NBC takes notice of RAW we could soon see the likes of Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Triple H, John Cena, and others as regular guests on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This kind of attention would certainly bring in more viewers for WWE. In turn, it’s almost certain that WWE would turn things up a notch and RAW would improve greatly. And Monday nights may improve for other reasons as well.
As IMPACT! makes the transition from being relegated to TNA’s website to being broadcast on Spike TV, it seems that a war is brewing. While Vince McMahon recently stated at a conference that he didn’t view TNA as a threat, he did admit that Spike TV was bitter and spiteful of RAW’s move back to USA, and as a result Spike TV was starting a war with WWE. Spike TV is putting UFC programming head to head with RAW as soon as RAW moves to USA. In recent ad campaigns for their own product, Spike TV has indirectly called wrestling fake, obviously trying to kill WWE’s image. While IMPACT! won’t exactly be going head to head with RAW just yet, it is apparent that Spike TV does want to compete with WWE in the future, thus probably having plans to start a war after testing the waters with IMPACT! first. TNA already has a strong and loyal fanbase behind it and it will certainly reach a larger audience on Spike TV, meaning that Vince is most likely at least slightly worried about TNA’s presence. TNA has been host to many big superstars, including Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes, Kevin Nash, DDP, and many more big names. It has been a proven territory to jump ship to from WWE, such as has been the case with Jeff Hardy, Billy Gunn, and several more. Many WWE wrestlers have contemplated the transition already, just holding back due to the lack of job security and the loss in pay. With TNA reaching higher success now, it will be a more stable home for those released and those who quit WWE. Perhaps TNA has become the true wrestling alternative to WWE, for us fans and for the wrestlers themselves also. As soon as TNA can become comparable enough to WWE in it’s monetary offerings, we will have a war. Vince made his empire by buying other territories out and stealing away superstars. WCW gained its strength by doing the same and eventually found itself in a better position than WWE. If a war is on the verge of breaking out, we are in for a treat.
As much as TNA has going for it right now, WWE may always have the high ground due to some simple factors. During the war between WWE and WCW we were surprised quite a few times. We saw Chris Benoit on WCW television and then the next thing we knew we saw him on WWF television holding the WCW title. We saw Tazz do the same thing with the ECW title. We witnessed instant defecting between companies. Now, that is impossible from WWE’s end. WWE has put an absolutely genius clause in its contracts that states that no one may work for another wrestling promotion until 90 days have passed since their official release. This means that Chris Benoit can’t just get fed up and debut on IMPACT! right after making an appearance on SmackDown! that same week. Nope. He has to sit at home and grow out love handles before he can work for another company. That allows time for ring rust and all the hype from someone’s firing to die down. After 3 months a wrestler’s name is forgotten and his support has dwindled. But that doesn’t matter anyways, because unless you have made your real name popular in the WWE or you own the rights to your own gimmick name, you’re screwed. Recently Billy Gunn and The Dudley Boyz have felt WWE’s wrath. Billy Gunn first switched to The Outlaw and now goes by Kip James, The Dudley Boyz have switched to Team 3-D, and TNA can’t figure out what to call X-Pac. He goes from being 6 Pac to simply being called Waltman. So there is absolutely no chance for a shocking debut of that sort in any other wrestling promotion. The WWE will chew you up, suck you dry, and spit you out before you can move on with your wrestling career. Fortunately for WWE, no other wrestling promotion uses such a clause. So Raven, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Abyss, or others could debut in WWE on any given night without TNA knowing a thing until they tuned their television sets to RAW or SmackDown! . As I said before, TNA has no monetary leverage, so when it comes to who offers more money, WWE has the cash.
Up to this point I have painted “mainstream attention” as a positive thing for wrestling. But is it really? While competition between promotions keeps things exciting and can be good for all involved, does the wrestling industry really need more attention? In recent years WWE has gotten carried away with trying to get into the mainstream. Now wrestlers are using WWE as a way to get into Hollywood, case in point being Muhammad Hassan who was just released on mutual agreement between himself and WWE. WWE has tried to branch out into football, movies, music, and many other projects. While we all want to see the wrestling business gain more respect and acceptance in society, do we really want it to go full blown mainstream? It’s bad enough that writing teams consist of comedians and Hollywood sitcom writers as it is. I for one am happy enough to be a part of a special community of wrestling fans. We are a minority and it kind of feels good to be in a relatively small group. Wrestling as we know it could be destroyed if it were to receive significant attention by Hollywood and people who care nothing about what professional is and should be.
The way I see it, despite the problems that comes with great success, there is much more to look forward to than to cringe at. We are about to step into new territory. This will not be WWF vs. WCW II, this will be a whole new era in wrestling. I would like to think that other promotions such as Ring of Honor will be able to benefit from this as well. Hopefully WWE’s and TNA’s new beginnings will create an exciting era in wrestling for us fans, and not push either company to an excessive amount of success. With that said, here’s to the future, whatever it may bring.