Nostalgia is a tricky thing. In small doses, it helps color memories fondly and allows us to appreciate where we’ve come from. Too much, and we’re quickly living in the past, pining for a reality that is long since gone. Nostalgia, by its nature, neglects to remember the negative aspects of the past, thereby leaving us vulnerable to repeating previous mistakes. Professional wrestling is prime ground for the best and worst that nostalgia brings out of us. But, alongside nostalgia, exists tradition.
Tradition operates within the same sphere as nostalgia. Tradition is nostalgia’s stoic older brother, keeping a slightly wider orbit than its petulant sibling. Not content to dwell or ruminate, tradition upholds the elements that run consistently throughout multiple generations, with a steely focus on the future and what is yet to be accomplished.
Since Paul George assembled wrestling promotors from all over the country – in 1948, to form the National Wrestling Alliance – until Vince McMahon took over cable television and monopolized territorial talent in the early 1980’s, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion was recognized by discerning fans as the finest that professional wrestling had to offer. Before Vince’s acquisition of the World Wide Wrestling Federation from his father, the WWWF was the NWA’s representative territory in the massive population centers along the east coast’s megalopolis.
But, over time, for multitudes of reasons, public perceptions can, and will, change. With the highest visibility on television, the rebranded World Wrestling Federation became the prominent promotion, and its emphasis on drama and spectacle became part of what society, at large, accepted as the most accurate example of what was now called sports entertainment.
Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic territory carried the NWA banner valiantly against Vince’s juggernaut, but after Crockett sold the promotion to Ted Turner, the billionaire media mogul left the alliance. Without a globally viewed member, the NWA’s smaller territories began to falter, and soon, the influence of the governing body itself began to wain. Shane Douglas, famously, won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in Eastern Championship Wrestling, only to reject the title’s lineage and rechristen it as the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
WCW’s eventual mismanagement led to its sale to McMahon in 2001, and the professional wrestling business has since been dominated by World Wrestling Entertainment in the same way that Coca Cola owns global soda sales. The Jarrett’s TNA promotion sought to become a competitor and bring the NWA back to prominence along with it. Ultimately, however, the pairing didn’t prove to be beneficial for both parties: the Carter family’s Panda Energy purchased the company and rebranded it Impact Wrestling, leaving an, essentially, jilted NWA sitting on the curbside.
Currently, WWE has a “performance center” at a media arts-based technical college, intended to kick out WWE-ready talent: from wrestlers, agents, announcers, and referees to writers, video editors, lighting designers, and segment producers. Efficient? Probably. But, it could be said that this process lacks a varied assortment of perspectives on the business. TNA – as Impact Wrestling – struggles to find traction, attempting to emulate WWE’s success with less experience, knowledge, and far fewer resources. They, arguably, seem intent on not only ignoring their strengths, but on selling a great deal of nostalgia as a means of generating bursts of short term interest.
Meanwhile, fans of tradition and of the more essential elements of professional wrestling have kept the NWA alive. Smaller promotions, banding together with others, have once again formed a reciprocal, NWA-affiliated network, fostering a national independent wrestling cooperative – strength in solidarity – with each member sharing in the same overall goal: to present, again, the option of tradition. Not quick burning nostalgia, but the best of what got us here.
The modern National Wrestling Alliance has taken many steps to assert its rightful place in professional wrestling, most notably, re-establishing a connection with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Once again, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship is just that – a globally recognized title, competed for by the best that pro wrestling has to offer. Moreover, in this Internet age, fans from all over the world can immediately take in the matches, stay current with the title pictures, and communicate instantly with like minded people, fueling an international discussion.
Going forward, the NWA, the patriarch of all we know about professional wrestling, is poised, once again, to become the alternative to “sports entertainment”. Fans (like me) of history and tradition are grateful for this. We don’t have to, perhaps, lose ourselves in the nostalgia of a time long gone. We can, instead, lose ourselves in the quest to build upon the unshakable foundations of what has already been created.