Thoughts on American Wrestling
September 4, 2007 by Winter Trabex
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Having been disappointed by TNA's product of late (and it appears I am not the only one), I have invested time that would have gone to TNA-watching into watching Japanese wrestling. Rather than spend three hours on a Sunday watching a PPV that I know I won't like, I pop in a NOAH DVD, or a Zero-1 MAX show. At first I thought I was watching this stuff because it was new, it was fresh, and I was sure that I would tire of it after a while and move on to something else.
Except that I haven't tired of it at all.
I still watch NOAH, Zero-1 and now I have some AJW. Aside from monetary considerations (5 dollars + shipping for a DVD against 30 dollars + tax for a PPV), I prefer Japanese wrestling because in Japan, kayfabe is still alive. The Japanese audience is respectful because they understand that the wrestlers are risking their health and well-being in the ring. They do not go crazy for a spotfest, they understand psychology and appreciate a match with a story. TNA's habit has been to throw a bunch of X-Division guys in the ring all at once and get twenty random spots in the match which generates the majority of "TNA" chants heard during the show. The rest of the matches do precede from angles that are advanced on Impact, but the PPV matches- which people have to pay for- have often been worse than the Impact matches. I can remember specifically a tag title defense by Team 3D against LAX and Styles/Daniels that was great on Impact. Yet ever since Lockdown, Team 3D's matches have been fast-forward bait. Though I did order Victory Road, I turned the TV off prior to the match of champions. I had seen their electrified cage match, I had seen their wars with America's Most Wanted and I had seen how little they were able to get out of Road Warrior Animal and Rick Steiner. I knew it would be a bad match, and from what I have read around the internet, it doesn't seem that I am wrong.
So, here is my first thought about American wrestling: everyone is impatient to make money. Obviously, if you're gonna pay your wrestlers, then you want to make a profit. Yet the majority of wrestling companies I know of in America are far too money hungry. Ring of Honor has set a model for slow growth and the freedom that comes with it. Also, I am sure that I will not get much disagreement when I say that the WWE was better before it went public. When they were a private company, they could do what they wanted, and they were much better at presenting their product than they are now. Moreover, even though public stock means more chance of profit for the WWE, they have been restrained on all sides (including themselves). Specifically, in 2005, they had a character called Muhammad Hassan who was catching fire just before they released him. Hassan was doing such a good job that he was paired against Hulk Hogan in a PPV tag match. Then, the TV network objected on the grounds of racism and Hassan had to go. It's a shame, too, because the Iron Sheik was one of the WWE's better workers back in the day, and I cannot remember any network station forcing Nikita Koloff et al. from the airwaves. Whether the WWE's public operation had anything to do with Hassan being taken off Smackdown is unknown. What is known, however, is that the WWE had much more freedom when they were on Saturdays and the kayfabe had not been completely broken. I do not know if the WWE as a company would wish to pursue a legal battle with a network TV station over Hassan, but the precedent should never have been set. Television executives, most of whom know absolutely nothing about the business of wrestling, should not have the power to say who is and is not on the show.
Spike TV's objection to TNA about man-on-woman violence was also a step in the wrong direction. TNA, in 2003, had one of their women, Trinity, work a series of matches against Kid Kash. During the year, women were constantly getting attacked by men. After all, it was a good way to get heels over. But now this can no longer happen on TV. Slowly but surely, it seems as if the network executives, not the companies themselves, are deciding what the content of the show is. If TNA and the WWE were not money-hungry, they would always have the option of telling the TV executives to shove it and they would find a different way to go. TNA, for instance, could always go back to Wednesday PPV's. This would mean they would not be able to carry as many big names as they do now, but it seems like most TNA fans do not find these big names any better than the smaller ones, so I doubt if it make much of a difference either way. There is also more than enough talent in the American indy scene to fill up 10 hours of PPV every month. The WWE has such a big name and reputation that, at this point, they should try making their own television network, just as the Yankees have the YES station. WWE 24/7 would not be limited to Comcast On-Demand, but would become a network of its own. The WWE has more than enough content to air after all- between AWA, ECW, WCW and their own older shows. Whether the network is on cable TV or Premium, it's clear that Vince McMahon will be constantly restrained by the desires of people who have never even sat backstage at a show and worked out the finish of a match.
This bring me to my second point- lackluster talent. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy watching Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, AJ Styles and the rest. I've enjoyed Jamie Noble's matches in ROH and CM Punk's matches for ECW have been above the WWE's standard of late. But instead of pushing talent such as this, TNA and the WWE pushes according to their own pre-conceived standards. TNA pushes anyone who has worked for WCW or WWE before (though there is other talent who have received an occassional push as well, it usually doesn't last), while the WWE pushes anyone who is big and strong, irregardless of ability in the ring or mic skill. I get discouraged with the two big companies when I see that they sign a guy out of nowhere and give him a higher spot on the roster than the guys who have worked for them for years. How can you, for instance, push Andrew Martin more than you push Chris Sabin? Surely loyalty counts for something. But apparently not in Nashville. The reason why TNA keeps getting accused of being WWE-lite is because they preferred Team 3D over the Naturals. They would rather see the Steiner Brothers than Triple X. Abyss, Chris Harris and James Storm are the only guys doing anything right now in TNA who appear to be "TNA homegrowns," so to speak. On a roster that keeps getting bigger all the time, this seems wrong. What is the point of working for TNA for 4 years if all you're going to get is a midcard feud and get turned into jobber bait after that? What's the point of trying to help out the company as much as you can if the company doesn't help you out in return? This is the one policy that has a chance to destroy TNA over the long haul. It is unthinkable that King Booker would be working in the opening match, being asked to do a spotfest. King Booker is a big star, and the WWE knows this. They treat him accordingly- they put him in a match against the returning hero, Triple H, at Summerslam. They do not put King Booker against Hornswoggle in a three minute cruiserweight title match.
The only reason why Jamie Noble and Shannon Moore are under this treatment now is because they decided to work for organizations that are now alternatives to WWE programming- ROH and TNA, respectively. Had both Noble and Moore done tours of Japan or stayed quiet working for organizations such as PWG or IWA-MS, they WWE would have brought them back and let them have normal cruiserweight matches. But Vince McMahon has never wanted to make anything that wasn't his look good. This is why the Invasion angle went badly. This is why DDP was never used to main event PPV's, and it's also why ECW is consistently thought of as the "C" program today. ECW, from 1993 to 2001, was never in a position to hurt the WWE in any significant way, but that's irrelevant. After RVD dropped the ECW Title (he may be viewed as the exception), the ECW champions have been: the Big Show, Lashley, Mr. McMahon and John Morrison. Not one of them were ECW originals. This has always been what has held the WWE back, what has kept their roster from being all it could be. The WWE is more than willing to sign talent from other organizations, but they are not that willing to use the talent to its fullest extent. Paul London, for example, kept getting pushed less and less as ROH kept getting bigger. It should not matter who worked for who. It should only matter what each person can bring to each show. I have a feeling that if the WWE thought this way, there would not be as many people on the internet complaining about how bad they are.
My third thought: comparisons to Japanese ways. This will be my final thought, as I've written quite a bit already and I believe most of what I have to say is clear enough. In 1990, the WWE had a working agreement with All-Japan Pro Wrestling. They did a supershow in Japan, the main event of which was Hulk Hogan against Stan Hansen. WCW had a working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling and did three supershows there in 1991, 92 and 93, respectively. The first one was called "Rumble in the Rising Sun" and featured Ric Flair vs. Tatsumi Fujinami in the main event. The NWO gimmick was even exported to Japan where Masahiro Chono and the Great Muta's alternate identity (I can't remember his name at the moment) lead the faction. The NWO gimmick in NJPW outlasted WCW. Today, Japanese wrestlers get very little respect in either American television organization. The WWE did so little with Tajiri that Tajiri decided to work for Hustle in his home country rather than earn a big salary in the WWE doing the same thing month after month and never getting anywhere. I can recall the WWE bringing the Great Sasuke onto their In Your House show called "DeGeneration X" to wrestle Taka Michinoku, but to do this today is almost unthinkable. TNA has used Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tiger Mask IV, though in both cases, the Japanese wrestler had a disappointing PPV appearance and then a short match on TV. Tanahashi didn't make it to Impact; TNA decided to use him on Xplosion against Roderick Strong. The one organization who treats Japanese wrestlers and organizations with respect is Ring of Honor, and it's paying off for them. It does not good to protect a veteran's spot if there's a younger guy waiting in the wings, even if the guy is a foreigner. Since it is logical to put on the best show possible, it is also logical to have the best roster possible. Ring of Honor has not been prejudiced in this way, as they have used a guy from Switzerland (Claudio Castagnoli), a guy from England (Doug Williams) and many Japanese guys. Is it not ironic that Ring of Honor is following a strategy the WWE and WCW used back in the early 90's?
An organization that does not consider the egos of their talent first is an organization that stands to do very well. Japanese wrestlers are prized not only for their ability in the ring, but their ability to keep kayfabe going. Kayfabe is more or less dead in the US, but in Japan, as I said, it is alive and well. Japanese wrestlers aren't influenced by chat rooms or message boards; they just want to do the best that they can. Japanese organizations also are not jealous of others, because NOAH, ROH, Dragon Gate and Zero-1 MAX are all a part of a cooperative organization called GPWA. The GPWA allows talent from one place to go to another place. You would never see AJ Styles work against Mr. Kennedy, yet in Japan, this is entirely possible. In 2002, Jun Akiyama defended the NOAH GHC title on a New Japan against Yuji Nagata.
Japanese promoters understand that the most important thing is how good the show is. It seems, however, the American promoters have yet to catch on to this idea.
by Winter Trabex (View/Submit your feedback here)..
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