Why So Precious Few Are Truly Worthy To Be “World Champion”
By Trapper Tom, Ring Announcer/Wrestling Journalist
One word: commitment. On the independent wrestling scene, oftentimes wrestlers are eager to grab the “brass rail,” or the “top spot.” More often than not, they simply aren’t professionally ready to have the torch passed to them, or primed for the responsibility that goes with an organization’s preeminent title. (Not to say that the same can’t be said of the televised product, just the same.)
As a comparison and decades ago, “World Champions” like Bruno Sammartino defined what their position as the industry’s top draw was, and it had nothing to do with brawling, “stick work” or heaven forbid one’s choreography. The equivalent applies to the Verne Gagne’s, Fritz Von Erich’s and others who served as Champions in other parts of the country. Those territories were distinct and groundbreaking in the world of Professional Wrestling. Today, the “territories” are served by much smaller, mostly less-ambitious independent wrestling promotions.
However, the formula for success can be followed.
For some veteran wrestlers—namely those who have had some (or a lot of) exposure on television—independent wrestling shows remain a primary source of income. For some, it’s virtually their only source of income and treat the business as…a business. There’s assuredly nothing wrong with that and a dwindling few still draw enough devoted fans to make bookings profitable.
However, those spot show regulars are not the focus to this discussion. Conversely, it’s other veterans—young and old alike—that need to prove their value as a top draw.
For many of countless independent “champions,” most are relegated to their day jobs the moment the lights are turned out on the gymnasium or bingo hall. Straps are loaded into duffel bags, not likely to see the light of day until the next athletic event.
That is never the role of a “World Champion.”
Generations before the WWE breathlessly kept viewers abreast of Make-A-Wish visits and charitable endeavors, professional wrestlers have been “representing” in their marketplace. Long before a WWE executive tweeted about the “philanthropy is the future of marketing,” smart promoters had been doing just that. And reliable professional athletes have been working in-kind.
The rules of success are fairly easy, but rarely followed. When an independent wrestler makes it to the top of a promotion, all other bookings for any “nearby” organizations must immediately cease. Why would someone’s “World Champion” risk being pinned in the center of the ring in another federation? It doesn’t make sense, and takes the commitment of a champion.
When an independent wrestler makes it to the top of a promotion, he must make all events (looks like a “no-brainer,” right…but no). The “Top Spot” is earned for a reason. Even if it’s for only one show, a far-off-relative’s communion service can go unattended. If a paycheck interferes with one’s “spot,” they aren’t a worthy standard-bearer. Champions make it work for the love of their spot, the brand and business.
Most importantly, when an independent wrestler makes it to the top of a promotion, he has to market himself to the community. The champion needs to make appearances in 5K races, kids’ charitable events and anything in the area to “better the brand” comes first for a promotion.
Marketing one’s self may actually mean taking money out of your own pocket to network with promoters and others at venues like the Cauliflower Alley Club in Las Vegas and the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, New York. A scant few “World Champions” make that investment.
Some veterans may balk that they aren’t “being paid” to make local appearances. If appearance fees aren’t in the budget, smart and innovative talent can parlay community visits to future bookings, wrestling shows, autograph signings and merchandise sales. Most independent promotions don’t have Fortune 500 money to pay their wrestlers for appearances at worth-while charitable events in their neighborhoods. It’s absolutely agreeable for wrestlers to not attend these events, it’s just understood that they won’t stumble into “World Champion” status.
Generosity parlays itself into media attention that would better the champion and the brand. Champion and brand must go hand-in-hand.
Commitment to the craft, and the spot, is far more important that “Who Trained Who” and mindless mind games. It’s far simpler and foundational than one might believe. That’s why there are so few qualified “World Champions.”
— Trapper Tom