SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 28, 2001

Wrestling's big quandary

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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With the WWF the sole provider of large-scale professional wrestling in North America, there is now, for the first time years, much unsatisfied demand for wrestling in Canada and the United States and many other countries abroad. Sure the WWF plans on splitting into two promotions, but they are in many ways scarcely able to please their own fans right now, let alone the fans who abandoned them shortly after the demises of ECW and WCW. Either way, there are fans craving wrestling today.

The tricky situation is that the WWF in many senses does have a monopoly on any kind of strong national wrestling presence. As far as I know, they've got exclusivity deals with many of the arenas at which they run shows. They have some of the best access to television timeslots of any promotion in years, and with ratings the way they are, it's unlikely that another wrestling promotion would be able to get coverage even close to as favourable. The upstart XWF promotion is going so far as to pay to air their 'shows', which as Jon Waldman explained in SLAM!'s Q&A last week, are really more like infomercials.

So on one hand, wrestling is saturated. House show attendance is down, there are still eight hours of new wrestling product on each week from the WWF alone, and I don't think any television networks would touch wrestling with a ten-foot pole right now. They would only want a reliable name to back any show they took a chance on, and the WWF owns WCW and ECW. Meanwhile, I get e-mails from disgruntled fans every day clamoring for some kind of new programming. Either they've never been fans of Vince McMahon and company, or they've grown bored with the WWF's current direction, or they've always enjoyed following numerous promotions and get easily bored with just one.

This is quite the quandary. Fortunately, there are some individuals out there who are working on a solution as we speak. Andrew McManus and his World Wrestling All-Stars promotion, which has completed tours in Europe and Australia, will be running a live pay-per-view from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in February. There's no regular television series to follow, and for the most part readers of this site won't be able to attend their shows, since they're out of the continent. But McManus is providing something that the WWF is just now starting to look at: international shows of North American-style wrestling.

Though the WWF has run shows and pay-per-views in England over the past few years, they rarely venture far beyond that. First-run shows in Germany and other European countries could do just as well as their fourth trip to Chicago, given recent house show attendance figures. But the WWA is trying to cut them off at the pass. Unfortunately, short of a lone pay-per-view in February, there's not much for us to see from this young federation.

The other new contender in the North American wrestling business is the XWF, which is having less luck so far securing a television deal (which the WWA isn't even seeking, as far as I can tell) and pay-per-view showings. They taped a few shows at Universal Studios in Orlando last month, and have edited those into infomercials aimed at attracting fans to buy tickets to their live shows. They're apparently slated to head to Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Toledo, and Green Bay. Not exactly national coverage, but it's a start.

Both new promotions have strong rosters, if we're to compare them to other independent promotions. XWF features Buff Bagwell, Curt Hennig, and The Nasty Boys atop their cards with appearances by Roddy Piper. WWA, meanwhile, is still working on securing their roster for this year's shows, but has offered Jeff Jarrett, Road Dogg, and others in the past.

Whether or not these two promotions will blossom into something that help satisfy your cravings for wrestling and into something that we discuss here each week at SLAM! remains to be seen.

Looking at the current state of wrestling, however, offers some interesting insight. For example, it makes it all the more impressive to me that Jacques Rougeau has been able to secure the Molson Center for his upcoming Family Gala show this Sunday, December 30. With a lineup consisting of Kurrgan, Pierre Carl Ouelette (think Pirate), Earthquake, King Kong Bundy, Sid (as a referee only), some local legends, and largely young upstarts, Rougeau is promoting a show in a venue that normally offers the Montreal Canadiens, WWF house shows, and U2 concerts. Reading about upstart indy federations across the country and continent struggling to draw a hundred fans, this seems like an incredible feat.

It will be interesting to see how many fans show up for the show and how strongly the wrestlers perform. I think it will be easier for fans in a major arena venue to expect more from the show, since it won't have that small-venue feeling that tends to mitigate inexperience or lack of quality with quaintness.

If previous Rougeau efforts are any indication, the wrestling will probably be simple, well-booked, and effective. The wrestlers will do a good job of getting the fans reacting to their verbal barbs before their matches, and then put on a strong match. No Hardy-esque daredevils, no crazy hardcore matches, just wrestling. This isn't everyone's cup of tea, but obviously it suits enough to in theory fill a major arena.

Meanwhile, Rougeau's efforts in turn offer some insight into the world of wrestling at large. If his Lutte International 2000 promotion can hold its own in an arena venue, then obviously the WWF has not completely saturated the wrestling market in at least some places in North America. Maybe there's a place, even today, for regional promotions. Maybe there's room for wrestling organizations that don't compete directly with the WWF for the same revenues (like pay-per-view buys and merchandising). Maybe the WWA can visit arenas outside North America, the XWF can air its infomercials, and Jacques Rougeau can promote a show at the Molson Center.

I'll definitely be at Lutte 2000's show in Sunday. If you see the show, let me know what you think. If you've seen an XWF or WWA show live, please drop me a line. I'd love to know what fans are thinking about this.

Here's the mailbag:

Patrick Chambers, from, writes:
Eric I have to agree that the tag team division in the WWF is not in a good position right now. But I must disagree on your view of Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn. I think this team will be THE tag team in the future of the WWF. It is also interesting that they are not getting any mic time. I think this is one thing the WWF is trying different with these two. These are just my thoughts though, for all I know they could be fired tomorrow.

Patrick: If by 'trying something different' you mean that the WWF is protecting these two from ruining their image by opening their mouths before they establish themselves, I agree with you. In all seriousness, I can't deny that this is an intriguing team. I had the same feeling when I first saw Billy Gunn tagging with Road Dogg. I thought it was at least a new direction given the tag scene at the time, but I wasn't particularly enthralled. They eventually won me over with innovative matches. I respect that you see something in them early, but I still have to stick with my gut when I say that these guys can't carry the tag division.

Ron Hutton, from, writes:

RE: 'the tag team scene in the WWF is pathetic right now'. First of all, the WWF misused Kronik and they under-performed at Unforgiven. Now I don't blame the WWF for firing Kronik because they should have produced a better match and their match with the Undertaker-Kane was one of the worst matches of the year.

The tag team scene with the Dudleyz as tag team champions is old and abandoning the WCW tag team titles is stupid.

Now if I wanted to improve the tag team scene in the WWF, I would bring in some new blood like the Outsiders. I would much rather see the WWF tag team titles around the Outsiders than the Dudley Boyz. Granted negotiations with Nash and Hall may have broken down but the WWF likes to surprise people and several publications are hinting at the Outsiders come to the WWF including WWF magazine.

As for Sting, well, I believe he will come to the WWF. You never say never wrestling. He's not officially retired and furthermore, I won't believe that Sting's retired until it's on the cover of a magazine.

The tag team scene in the WWF has been mediocre for 10 years. Demolition was the best WWF tag team champions and no one can match their success. The tag team title like all the WWF titles change too often now and for the WWF titles to have credibility, there needs to be longer reigns.

As for X-8, the main event will be Austin-Triple H for the WWF title. I expect Triple H to win the Royal Rumble and Jericho will drop the title before No Way Out. I doubt he'll drop the title to RVD, but will be RVD-Jericho at the Royal Rumble for the Undisputed title, but Triple H will steal the show at the Rumble. Triple H is expected to be WWF champion by the end of March. Triple H will leave Skydome as WWF champion and that's a guarantee. You'll see. I predict by the end of 2002, the Rock will no longer be in the WWF with the tremendous success of the Scorpion King.

By the end of 2002, Nash will have retired the Undertaker. I can't see the Big Show having any impact in 2002 and besides Nash, only Sid Vicious could retire the Undertaker.

Ron: Wow, a very long list of predictions and opinions. Let's see if I can address these succinctly:

The only mistake the WWF made with Kronik was hiring them. I can't recall a single match of theirs that was ever good, and I've been subjected to many. Their match with Undertaker and Kane was just worse than average, which is also bad.

I agree that the Dudleys are rapidly becoming a tired act, but with so few serious tag team contenders, having two sets of tag team titles would get even more tired more rapidly.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Hall and Nash show up in the WWF sometime this year, but I would be surprised to see them put on decent tag matches against actual tag teams at this point.

I don't believe Sting will return. The WWF is back up to its old tricks with regards to extreme, programming in some respects, and just because a magazine doesn't report it doesn't make it not true. Sting's retirement just wasn't very newsworthy because he sort of faded away. There was no big announcement.

I agree that the WWF tag team scene is mediocre now, and has been at many points over the past ten years, but to suggest that it's been mediocre that entire time is to ignore, in my opinion, a number of superb matches and feuds put on by such teams as the Hardys, the Dudleys, Edge and Christian, The New Age outlaws, The Hart Foundation and others.

Your prediction about Wrestlemania X-8 this year makes a great deal of sense and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with you. I wouldn't count on The Scorpion King being a great success just yet, though. As a wrestling fan, I would take it almost as a personal insult for someone like Kevin Nash to retire The Undertaker. I hope the WWF never, ever, ever goes that route.

Interesting predictions and ideas. SLAM! readers have been offering many more of these, of late, which if nothing else means people are intrigued enough by the product to think about it. That's a good sign.

That's all for this week. Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and see you in 2002! .

That's all for this week. Have a fantastic holiday weekend, happy holidays, and merry Christmas. Iíll see you next week.

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