NWA: The Good, The Bad, and The History
September 4, 2007 by M.J. Hammond
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Like many modern wrestling fans, my story starts during the WrestleMania days. I was eleven years old when my school chums starting talking about Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, so I checked out the spectacle on Saturday morning syndication. Soon I would eat up every chunk of wrestling I could find: Crockett on WTBS, World Class, AWA, and even eventually Mid-South and Memphis. The quality and diversity of televised wrestling circa the mid-eighties was staggering for a young fan. I will never forget my breathless anticipation as I sat in front of the tube every Saturday afternoon at around 5:03 central time, as WTBS played the closing credits to Fishin' with Orlando Wilson. I stared at the clock, willing it to 5:05, time for the opening video clip that came before the intro montage of World Championship Wrestling. It was the highlight of the weekend, and even the over-the-top microphone antics of David Crockett could not wreck that.
Before long it would all be gone, the stalwarts of the eighties passed on, although not without a last gasp in the form of some of the earth-shattering main events of 1989, Steamboat v. Flair and Flair v. Funk. I held on through the nineties, the bland and generic early nineties, until things got interesting again with the Monday Night War and ECW, but then came 2001, what should've been every fantasy booker's dream, WCW versus WWF, but what the dream come true ultimately spelled the end of wrestling as we knew it instead.
Like many of you, I view the golden age of the eighties romantically-and naturally, we tend to place the memories of our youth on a pedestal above all else, but reflecting, I've always been a bit saddened that I was just a touch too young to truly enjoy the old pre-cable television NWA territory system. Sure, I was old enough to remember reading about Continental, Stampede, Pacific Northwest, and Championship Wrestling from Florida in Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Old enough just to see them all die off, that is.
Given that I am relatively disinterested in most of contemporary mainstream wrestling, wrestling history tends to fascinate me. I was eager was eager to check out Tim Hornbaker's new book National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling (ECW Press). As Dave Meltzer recently acknowledge on the Wrestling Observer website, Hornbaker's research is amazing, even by academic standards. This is a work of history as much as it is a piece of entertainment or a pop culture retrospective. The book traces the NWA from the cigar smoke-drenched backroom meetings that gave it birth, through its national and worldwide expansion, to its legal scandals, and eventual decline. Hornbaker profiles the stars, the champions, who made the Alliance what it would become but, most provocatively, the promoters, the moneymen and dealmakers, who defined professional wrestling in the modern age.
When one reads about wrestling history, it becomes obvious that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It is eye opening to discover how many endings, angles and storylines go back generations, or how behind the scenes maneuvering has always dictated what we see in the arena or on the screen. Hornbaker reveals how Lou Thesz defined what it meant to be a credible World Champion, working a schedule unfathomable today, but it was equally compelling to learn how Thesz used leverage to keep the belt off of legends like Verne Gagne and, for awhile, the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, who in turn did everything he could to keep from jobbing the belt back into Thesz's hands. Hornbaker details the remarkable legacy of the NWA World Heavyweight Title, a lineage forged by icons like the Funk Brothers, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Kerry Von Erich, and even in some sense his brother David-the book explains how close David was to wearing the gold instead of his younger brother.
Hornbaker reveals how promoters worked together to form an Alliance charter, and then sometimes worked just as hard to double-cross and screw each other. The story of the NWA is theirs, above all others. Men like St. Louis' Sam Muchnick, who spent a lifetime keeping the Alliance strong, governed an unprecedented collaboration. Among the book's many up-close profiles is the hard luck story of Chicago promoter Fred Kohler, the man who made wrestling a nationally televised spectacle, defying those who, yes, claimed television would be the death of the sport. Kohler rose and fell only to rise and fall all over again.
Near the end of the book, Hornbaker chronicles the latter days of the NWA, including the version of the NWA that for younger fans may be the only one they are old enough to know, the post WCW Alliance of mostly independent promoters. In relation to the glory days of the NWA, the last 15 years seems somewhat sad in contrast, yet there is something special about the effort to keep the National Wrestling Alliance name and legacy alive. These days, The NWA is attempting to embark on a new era, with a new champion, and a new business model, and I wish them luck-they'll probably need it-but I'm glad someone is still waving the Alliance banner.
by M.J. Hammond (View/Submit your feedback here)..
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