The End of a VERY Long Era
My wrestling exposure dates back to 1985 when Stephanie McMahon was a wee lass, an eight-year-old girl. Hulk Hogan was the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) champion, and he, along with television superstar Mr. T, set the world on fire with their performance at the inaugural WrestleMania.
During these 37 years, I have taken it upon myself to become quite the wrestling historian. Folks who know me know that they can ask me a question about pro wrestling, and I’ll know the answer. This web site helps to prove just that.
But I didn’t write this blurb to tout myself. Instead, I must bestow my feelings toward the man who took wrestling up a notch. Some would say many—Vince McMahon.
When Vince bought the WWF from his father, Vincent J. McMahon, he had a bigger vision of what wrestling could be. Rather than have his group of misfits/actors/wrestlers just tour the Northeast which encompassed Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, among other municipalities, he decided to take the WWF national.
How’d he do it? Simple. He invaded what used to be exclusive NWA territories and brought Hulk Hogan to the local arenas around the country. NWA territories like Jim Crockett Promotions, AWA, and World Class took notice. Since the WWF had national (or international based upon satellite TV) coverage, Jim Crockett Promotions and the AWA obtained their own national exposure on TBS and ESPN respectively.
By marketing his product to the younger generation and adapting strategic business techniques, the WWF soared to #1 in the wrestling business. While Vince bet it all and won on the first WrestleMania, he did it again with WrestleMania III, and it paid off in spades.
Some would say he raided territories for top talent. Wrestlers, during the territory days, didn’t root themselves within a single territory for too long because they didn’t want their character to become dull to the regional audience. Hence, when wrestlers left the AWA such as Jesse Ventura and Rick Martel, they followed the money to where they could ply their trade for the highest bidder.
Back in the 80s, these guys didn’t wrestle under guaranteed contracts. They shook hands for the sake of an opportunity. How much they made was based upon how well their character succeeded with the WWF audience along with a percentage of merchandise sales.
Wrestlers like Junkyard Dog, Ted DiBiase, and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan left Bill Watts’ UWF (not to be confused with Herb Abrams’ UWF) because the WWF had a bigger upside. In DiBiase and Duggan’s cases, the territory was dying, and Jim Crockett gobbled up the remains much to his financial detriment.
Was this good for the wrestling business?
In some ways, no. As the territories such as Championship Wrestling from Florida and Central States were purchased by Jim Crockett, local wrestlers in those areas lost their jobs. The production people who produce weekly TV shows also had to seek alternative employment.
In other ways, yes. Once it was down to two promotions—WWF and WCW, wrestlers busted their tails on national TV and PPV and made if not a good living, a great one.
Yes, I’m aware of territories like the USWA and ECW who stood the test of time thanks in part to their business relationships with the WWF. No, these wrestlers weren’t making bank, but folks at WCW and the WWF were watching and scouting.
Speaking of scouting, Vince knew how to scout like no other. He recognized talent and helped the wrestlers to hone it for both the wrestler’s and WWF’s bottom line.
Heck, he was acquitted in federal court for steroid distribution. The steroid stigma surrounding wrestling in the early 90s helped to diminish the audience, but that didn’t stop Vince. He pushed the WWF to continue putting Monday Night RAW on USA Network each week. In some of those years, the buildings barely drew a couple thousand, but the show had to go on.
The Monday Night War lit a fire under Vince. With the help of Jim Ross and Jim Cornette, he built a talented roster of wrestlers most of whom would rise to the top. Steve Austin started his career in World Class, had a successful midcard career in WCW, but got hurt. While his attitude helped him to find the back door to WCW being locked, he took his opportunities to ECW and WWF and pushed himself to become a legend.
That’s just one example. There are many more such as The Rock, Undertaker, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Kane, Shawn Michaels among others.
How did WWF win the Monday Night War? Not to give away the long story I’m writing over several years, but he knew how to build characters and maintain an audience with them.
WCW, on the other hand, bet their bottom dollar on wrestling legends like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Roddy Piper for the sake of TV ratings. When the salaries of these legends outweighed the revenue the company was generating, WCW had no choice but to close its doors and sell. Thanks to the Scott Hall lawsuit, the WWF had the right of first refusal to buy. They took it and swallowed WCW to the tune of a mere $2 million.
While I can’t comment too much on today’s product, one venture I can appreciate from the WWE (formerly WWF thanks to a lawsuit lost in England to the World Wildlife Fund) is the WWE Network. I subscribed from the first month onward because the WWE Network contained precious wrestling history that I still cannot ignore.
I understand that Vince may have done some unscrupulous things while atop the WWE brass. If he’s guilty of doing them, then I cannot condone what he did whatsoever. However, the wrestling business wasn’t built in Wonderland. For the wrestling business to succeed in corporate America, it needs to be whitewashed.
That brings me to Vince’s retirement. Forty years at the helm of the WWF/WWE is nothing to scoff. Whether it was fair or not, he did what he needed to do to continue to succeed in the wrestling business. I must tip my hat to him for that. Good luck going forward, Vince. You have carved a name for yourself that will transcend generations.
As of this writing, Paul Levesque, a.k.a. HHH and Stephanie McMahon’s husband, has returned to WWE following a major health scare as Executive Vice-President of Talent Relations as well as the head of creative.
Paul and Stephanie,
Best of luck to you on the enormous task of running WWE. While I understand you also have the savvy Nick Khan to assist you, Vince’s shoes will be extremely difficult to fill.
Having said that, if I can be of any assistance, please let me know. While I’m no wrestler, I’m a fountain of information that can be a tremendous asset. After all, I know the intricate difference between a wrist lock and a wristwatch.
Rock Star Gary
Comments? Suggestions? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter (@rockstargary202).