Sean “The MiC” McCaffrey passed this along:
Is Indy Wrestling As We Know It Dead?
What’s up everyone and welcome to what seems to be a rare “McEditorial” here on the DOI. I know I don’t write as much as I used to due to real life, WSU responsibilities and generally not into indy wrestling as much as I once was, but once in a while I get inspired, hence this column. The fact is I’ve had this debate with several people in the business. Some have agreed. Some have disagreed. Some have partially agreed. However, I keep noticing that I’m having the conversation of “Is Indy Wrestling Dead?” over and over again, so here is my take on it all.
As I write this, I should mention the date is 10/7/10. It should be interesting to see how this column holds up a year from now, because wrestling is always a business that is constantly changing. Whether it’s changing for the best or for the worst, that is up to you to decide.
It will be interesting to get feedback on this: “The decline & free-fall of indy wrestling started in 2005. The peak years of indy wrestling were from 1997- 2001.”
I stand behind the above statement for several reasons. Indy wrestling has been around forever, but back in the territory days, indy wrestling could not compare to the regional promotion they were competing with. Indy wrestling was thought to be “outlaw shows” back then. The business was also protected then, so there were no such things as money mark promotions where the money mark would be champion of a promotion. There weren’t ticket sellers. There weren’t facebook pages where fans could see heels & faces talk about partying together. Not anyone could just get in, where today, if you can push tickets or have enough money to be your own Vince McMahon, you’re automatically a player. I mean, how hyped did some of the boys get when this whole Florida fiasco happened? Who are the real marks now?
As time went along, Vince created his empire and took over. With Vince & the NWA (and then eventually just Vince & WCW) as the only games in town, indy wrestling became a necessity for the business. There were alot of guys out of work. Indy wrestling in its infancy was still somewhat territorial, as Lawler was still the King of Memphis, Bruce Hart tried to reignite the Hart legacy in Calgary & guys like the Jarretts, the Dundees & Cornette stayed around the heartland of America.
Indy wrestling would go through growing pains in the early to mid 90’s. It was around this period where at an indy show near you, you would see random Gold Gym bums in the ring. The shows were awful. Many wrestlers tried their hand at booking, and we’d find out that some guys are just meant to wrestle, where some guys were able to manage both. Not every wrestler was a Bill Watts or Eddie Graham and had the skills to pull off wrestling, booking and in some cases, promoting.
When Hulkamania & Vince swept through America in the 1980’s, one of the effects were the decimation of territories. Every TV network interested in wrestling wanted Vince’s tapes. Gone was GCW. Gone was WCCW. Gone was the AWA. It was the WWF and nobody else. Don’t hate on Vince McMahon – if you were him, you would do the same thing. Vince McMahon is a genius and had that swagger that only the premier athletes and businessmen do. Vince McMahon taking over the wrestling business was like Michael Jordan in the last minute of an NBA playoff game. He just dominated and took over.
When Hulkamania started to cool off in the 90’s, the territories were done. The NWA tried to exist, but they were just a skeleton of themselves. With no TV outlets or PPV’s, how could the NWA really survive? Even to this day, the NWA is made up of a bunch of people who were fans of the original NWA. People who work for the NWA in an “office” capacity have good intentions, but come on – where is this really going to go? NWA in this day and age means “Not Worth Anything.” I forget who said it, maybe it was Jim Cornette in a shoot, but the saying is “The biggest marks are the people in the business themselves.” I think that applies here.
Before continuing – I hate that word mark, unless it is used in humor. Trent Acid always used to call people marks and it was funny. Frank Goodman used to call people marks on his hotline and it was funny. As a degrading term, it just seems whenever the person is using it, it comes off as insecurity. I like the term when you’re trying to be funny, but there are alot of people out there calling people marks, and most of the people using that term are the guys who have sacrificed half their lives, have banged up bodies and have nothing to show for it. Again who’s the mark now? This applies to me to – instead of being out and doing something productive, I am wasting an hour typing this column up. Who’s the mark now?
Back to business. Once Hulkamania was over, so were the territories. The WWF cemented themselves as the national brand of pro wrestling. Let me remind you as you read this, I was born in NY and have lived in NY my whole life. This area has always been WWF territory. I don’t know about people my age who grew up elsewhere, but when I first saw WCW, it came off as low class and not to sound like Eric Cartman here, but for poor people, like Nascar. It didn’t look professional at all. WWF had all the bells, whistles and fireworks. WCW had some fat blithering idiot named Dusty Rhodes on commentary. Do you think kids that weren’t inbred could understand one thing he was saying besides “The mothership here on TBS?” On the other hand, you had Gorilla Monsoon & Bobby Heenan, who were funny for adults but easy for kids to understand as well. Vince knew that the young generation was his meal ticket. A family of four brings in more money than a man who often pleasures himself with his hand. The family goes to the live events, buys the merchandise and makes noise, where the single guy wrestling fan rarely does that.
But as stated, with WWF as the only real game in town, and WCW being there, there was a need for indy wrestling. Indy wrestling would grow, but would really hit its stride in the late 1990’s. Now if you don’t understand what I was trying to set up here, maybe you were one of those kids who could understand what Dusty Rhodes was saying back in the day…
“Indy wrestling lives & dies with Vince McMahon.”
Let’s be real here – Vince can care less about the indies. He doesn’t even monitor TNA at this point because TNA is such a .ing joke that you have to wonder if Dixie Carter is a crystal meth crack whore. There’s no other way to explain her decision making. And as someone who’s seen a real life crystal meth crack whore, the business decisions between a crystal meth crack whore & Dixie Carter are remarkably similiar.
Going back to “indy wrestling lives & dies with Vince McMahon”, what I obviously mean is that indy wrestling lives on what number 1 is doing. When the business is hot, indy wrestling thrives. When the business is slow, indy wrestling hurts.
In the late 90’s we had the whole Attitude era and for the first time in a while, the rise of another national company in WCW. When WCW had their 82 week run on top, WWF was actually in trouble. However, the competition would light a fire under Vince’s ass, and Vince would go on to win the war for good. However, from the debut of Nitro in 1995 until it’s dying days in 2001, wrestling fans got PPV matches every Monday (and Thursday nights, later on in this wrestling war.)
Whether you were a WWF fan or a WCW fan, it didn’t matter. Wrestling was .ing hot. I haven’t even mentioned ECW yet, but if you’re reading this column, you are obviously aware of ECW’s affect on this business. If it wasn’t for ECW there would be no such things as hardcore titles. ECW made wrestling grow up and become a mature product nationally. With the rise of ECW, wrestling fans had three companies going balls to the walls to be successful. In turn, wrestling was in a golden age. However, if you accept the notion of golden ages, then that means if there is a golden age, that means there must also be a dark age too…
However, just to stay in the late 90’s for a minute, wrestling was at an all-time high. Never before were there two national companies going head-to-head. In the middle of all that, you had a legit number 3 promotion, which the two national companies would borrow ideas from and take talents from. The WWF would actually send guys to ECW to get them over, like Al Snow. Wrestling was on fire. What this did was make people want to see wrestling even more. Despite there being 4 hours of wrestling on Monday & Thursday nights, 9 hours of wrestling on PPV every month, plus the generic recap shows & ECW’s TV spots, fans wanted more. Indy crowds were drawing 1000+. Wrestlers who couldn’t get a spot in the big three, were cleaning up on the indies. Promoters were cleaning up. Fans were getting to see TV names in their home town. And perhaps most importantly – IT WAS COOL TO BE A WRESTLING FAN, something that hasn’t been true ever since Austin & The Rock left.
When wrestling is great at the top level, people will give indy wrestling a chance. If the stuff on TV sucks, people will assume all wrestling is like that and won’t bother.
When Vince won the war and owned all of wrestling again in 2001, he had no one left to trample on. Many great athletes use hate or their opponents words as a source of inspiration. Vince owned all of his enemies. He had no fire. The war was over, he was the winner, but at the end of the day, he still had to produce the WWF product.
Once the WWF turned Austin heel in 2001, the golden age was over. Southern wrestling fans were disenchanted by the WWF. The late teenage/early 20’s crowd were turned off with no more ECW. All that remained really were the loyal WWF fans, but with nothing to compete against, WWF didn’t really have to push themselves anymore.
Take this in for a second. On any given Monday night, during the height of the wars, the WWF and WCW were doing at least 3.5 ratings each. That means on any given Monday night, wrestling did at least a 7.0 rating. Just a week ago, WWF did a 2.7 rating on a Monday. Where did everyone go?
With the WWF as the only game in town, tons of indy wrestling shows popped up. It seems that everyone can be the next Vince McMahon. Whether it be MECW, MLW, XPW or any other letters of the wrestling alphabet soup, all these promotions that promised big things, crashed and burned. Some would never take off, like H2, the Florida Sean Davis nonsense, anything Carmine Sabia touched, etc.
Eventually TNA & ROH would come into existence in 2002. However, here in 2010, both companies have major financial problems, just like everyone else. The only ones who dictate this wrestling game is the WWE. On a national scale, nobody gives a . about TNA or ROH. Shit, even pro wrestling fans don’t know that Hulk Hogan, Sting, Flair and every other fossil is in TNA. Kevin Nash does interviews saying that people don’t know he’s in TNA. Over in ROH, ROH caters to such a small audience as it is, and they are having money problems too.
Even looking more broader, how about this – imagine having a current WWE superstar involved in the second hottest program on the biggest wrestling show of the week? You should easily draw 1000+, right? No brainer? Well ask Dragon Gate USA, EVOLVE, NYWC, AAW, ACE & every other single indy company what their draw was with Bryan Danielson. Dragon Gate USA & EVOLVE, ran by the same people, had Danielson after his huge explosion on RAW & as United States Champion. It didn’t do one thing to spark the crowd. The same people who went to the shows would’ve went anyway. Again – here’s Danielson, involved in the 2nd biggest angle on the biggest show in Raw with the Miz (Cena/Nexus being number 1 angle) and he’s on the indies. This should do gangbusters. However, it doesn’t do anything. Every company I mentioned, with perhaps the exception of Evolve all have had higher drawing gates than the gate they did with Danielson.
How cruel is that indy wrestling?
What’s even crueler are the MARKS (ok I said it) behind TNA, that charge indy promoters ungodly prices for TNA talent. I’ve seen Jay Lethal grow and have always been a big supporter of his career when he was on the indy level (Personal favorite Lethal stuff: JCW feud with Livewire, growth as a heel in AWA & the Azrieal feud) but you show me how the . Jay Lethal draws $800 of people? Factor in that some promoters have to fly Lethal in and get him a hotel, how the . is Jay Lethal drawing $1000? Nothing against Jay, but if he’s booked like shit on TV, how the . is that going to make people want to see him on the indy level? AND THAT GOES FOR EVERY NON WWE NAME THAT’S IN TNA!!!! Who the . is going to pay to see Matt Morgan? Tell me how Velvet Sky, another person I’ve seen grown leaps and bounds on the indy scene before her TNA deal, is going to draw $800 + expenses? It’s impossible. TNA is not only ignorant in booking and in the wrestling business, but ignorant in even booking out their own talent. That is why the most successful indy promotions right now are shying away from TNA, because you really can’t make money on TNA talent unless you’re doing an autograph signing, and even then most of these guys are so exposed, that they are not going to draw their weight number.
However, it’s not TNA, ROH or the indies fault for the death and decline of indy wrestling. They are not affecting Vince. What we didn’t have 20 years ago, which we have today is UFC.
Ok, I know – there have been a million columns written about UFC vs WWE. I am not here to bore you and drone on with numbers and comparisons. But let’s face it. 12 years ago – Austin, The Rock and the nWo were hot. Everywhere you went you saw Austin 3:16, nWo and Rock shirts. Now in my everyday life, I rarely see John Cena shirts. The only wrestling shirts I see everyday people wearing are old “vintage” WWF shirts, like Bret Hart, Iron Sheik, etc. Once in a while I’ll see a kid in a Rey Misterio shirt. But that’s rare.
Now walk around whether it be the mall, around town, whatever, and notice what the kids and even adults are wearing. They are all wearing either UFC merchandise or Tapout stuff. Sure, Tapout stuff being sold at Modells for $14.95 doesn’t hurt, but that even shows you – when wrestling was at its hottest, a few mainstream stores carried bootleg WWE T-Shirts. But now, every store with a clothing department carries Tapout stuff. I mean it is ridiculous that a 14 year old or a 400 pound 30 year old is wearing clothes that say Tapout on them, but that is what’s in. Is this all a fad? That remains to be seen.
But like the 1990’s, when wrestling was cool, right now UFC IS COOL. IT IS COOL TO BE A UFC FAN. No one will ever slight you for being a UFC fan. Some might think it’s barbaric and liken it to the days of Roman Lion fighting, but it’s understood that it’s legit. Even when wrestling was hot, people would snicker when you told them you enjoy men in spandex grappling on Monday nights.
The UFC (and I say UFC over MMA because it is UFC and not these smaller MMA companies having affect on WWE) is hurting Vince on every level. Here’s just three quick points, and I’m sure you can come up with more on your own:
1. Aspiring Wrestlers Are Now Aspiring Fighters – Guys who would go the pro wrestling route are now training to become cage fighters.
2. Wrestling Fans Of The Golden Age Are Now UFC Fans – UFC is now experiencing their own Attitude/Golden age. How long will it last is anyone’s guess, although recent PPV rates show a decline. But then again, when Brock Lesnar fights again, all those declining PPV buyrates will be old news. Fans who got sick of wrestling and boxed up their Austin 3:16 shirts are now spending their PPV dollar on UFC while wearing their Tapout shirts.
3. UFC Is Making Waves on PPV – UFC now dominates the PPV buyrates. Without UFC, you would have to figure that more fans would purchase WWE PPVs. Wrestlemania did a bad number this year with a great card on paper and with great booking going into it. Alot of people don’t have money to shell out for all these PPVs and have to choose between UFC and WWE. WWE has positioned themselves as a company with no real top draws. UFC has more guys who are legit draws on PPV than the WWE has. Brock. Rampage. GSP. Couture. These are just some of the draws UFC has. It doesn’t matter who WWE has on top, Randy Orton & John Cena are not the Rock & Austin, and they certainly aren’t Lesnar & Couture.
I mean even going further, just think, UFC is doing all of this with the economy in a recession. With the economy in a recession, UFC is doing record PPV buys. In stockholder meetings, WWE always brings up the economy as one of the reasons why business is slower than normal. How is that the case when UFC is breaking into the Top 5 most bought PPV’s of all time?
Also, how many of you reading this have chosen a UFC event over an indy show? UFC runs their shows on Saturday night. Most indy shows, at least the most successful ones, are on Saturday’s. I know as a promoter with WSU, I look at UFC’s PPV schedule before booking a show. How many fans will blow off a local indy show in their area on 10/23 to see Brock Lesnar’s next fight? How many of you have blown off an indy show you might’ve went to but decided to check out a UFC PPV instead? I know I have. Indy wrestling at times can feature more superior wrestling and more thought out storylines than the WWE, but for most, indy wrestling is a place to learn and to see old guys on their way down. Who has time for that shit when you could be watching guys in their prime kicking the shit out of each other in UFC?
It’s not Eric Bischoff & “Dubbya Cee Dubbya” anymore as the number 1 competitor, it is Dana White & UFC. What does this say for pro wrestling when pro wrestling has control of who can become stars, bookers can manipulate finishes and can set up storylines to make big money matches but it is UFC who has no control of wins/losses, if a fight will be boring or bad judges, but it is UFC who is making bigger stars and banking? In theory, wrestling has complete control over big matches and how exciting they can be, yet it is UFC that is delivering in this department. Perhaps UFC has a bigger talent pool than wrestling does too, since alot of guys are going into cage fighting rather than into pro wrestling.
Back to my original question – is indy wrestling dying? I mean does anyone have a chance anymore?
Look at it this way how many independent deals are ever really successful? Wrestlicious is a .ing joke. The Florida thing was dead before it even started. Hulk Hogan has become a parody of himself. People are pitching TV deals and are having doors slammed in their face. I mean Lita & Mickie James are pitching TV deals right now, does anyone really see it taking off? The Lucha stuff on MTV didn’t even last a month and that was already after MTV pulled a plug on Wrestling Society X. Half Pint Brawlers had a “short” (ha ha get it) shelf life.
Even continuing with this, just a few years ago, you could go into any random DVD store, Best Buy, FYE, whatever, and you’d see independent DVDs on the shelves. With the advent of BlueRay DVDs, these stores don’t have the room to stock indy DVDs anymore. Alot of WWE titles aren’t even stocked, because in the sports section, all you see is UFC DVDs. Look at it this way, if a store is 500×500 square feet, for arguments sake, and the sports section is 10×10, now these stores have to keep in stock blue ray DVDs which cuts the space in half. With the growth of UFC, stores are still the same size, but have to sell what will sell best for them. What’s going to sell better , a UFC DVD or some random indy show from bumble., USA?
I am not hating on UFC because I am a fan of it, but the fact remains is that it has hurt pro wrestling at the top to the indy level. With WWE in a funk, more people are turned off by pro wrestling and are not seeking more wrestling like they did in the 90’s.
The most profitable promotions today are either niche promotions or sold show promotions. Mike O’Brien’s NEW is the largest drawing indy in my estimation, but it is also because his shows are sold/sponsored. NEW doesn’t have real angles or show-to-show booking. Just like the NWS. ROH is having money problems because they’ve now been around for 8+ years and fans have seen it all. What else can they do to keep their fan base interested? I don’t know the financials of Dragon Gate USA, but they are catering to a niche audience, and those Japanese flights aren’t cheap. Of course, I got WSU and there is Shimmer too for fans of womens wrestling, but that is niche too. There will be fans who will always hate and never get into womens wrestling. Just like how there are fans who aren’t into Japanese, Lucha or sports entertainment. You can’t change that. Wrestling has their niches, while UFC does not. At the indy level, everyone is kicking and clawing to get their slice of the pie, while UFC is able to give their fans the whole pie.
The DVD boom is over in my opinion. You can stay profitable at the indy level with DVDs, but you can’t fight piracy. All these torrent sites are hosted off of off-shore servers and are not regulated by US law. That is why you see many companies give iPPV a chance because most people want to see events live and hopefully they will support their favorite companies and pay to do so.
Another advantage UFC has right now is that alot of their events get great hype and are must see live. Does wrestling really have that? More fans are realizing that you can skip a show, and nothing will happen. Then they start to skip more shows, and slowly they realize they can just follow wrestling if they desire through free TV and the internet. With UFC, it is a big sporting event and everyone wants to see it live. How many people have the time to watch old baseball, football or basketball games? Sure people re-live wrestling on tape, but who goes back and watches a Yankee game from 1993? UFC DVD sales are good, but people want to see the fight live. Right now, I don’t think I can say the same about wrestling.
Wrestling’s roots are from the circus, where wide eyed dreamers and people with pipe dreams permeate like a balding man’s hair at the bottom of a shower drain. There will always be people talking about being part of the next big thing, trying to get TV deals, trying to re-invent the wheel, etc. But will it happen, the cynical nature in me and the realist in me, says no.
At the indy level, the best we can do is to keep our heads above water. We are losing more indy wrestlers and promotions than ever before. It all starts on top. WWE needs to get their shit together for indy wrestling to flourish again. But for WWE to get their shit together, they will have to compete against the UFC juggernaut. It is time for Vince to accept reality on that one.
As someone who has enjoyed indy wrestling in the past, I would love to see WWE start kicking ass again and for indy wrestling to rise from the ashes. It is tough for people in indy wrestling and the fans of indy wrestling to fight the good fight. You can only rebel for so long. Sometimes it is better to burn out , than to fade away. Has UFC caused all forms of wrestling to burn out? I think so, although the candle is still flickering. I just wish someone would take that candle to the WWE’s ass and light that fire once again. Until then, we are destined to live in a world with 6 year olds wearing Tap-Out shirts.
All feedback, hate mail and money can be sent to:
Sean “The MiC” McCaffrey