SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, March 30, 2001

Still undecided about WCW acquisition

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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What an absolutely crazy week it has been. A lot of writers have thrown around the word 'surreal', and that's about as good a way as any to describe this particular week. Wrestlemania is just around the corner, only a few days away, and yet the buzz is not on Wrestlemania. This the first time I can ever recall this being the case. Of course, all eyes are on the new WWF-WCW and the endless myriad of possibilities, not to mention direct consequences.

Let's have a look at what this latest development really means.

First and foremost, Vince McMahon now has a temporary consumer monopoly on wrestling in North America. I say temporary because it's not really a monopoly. In a monopoly, there's only one company in the industry because no one else can enter. If there's only one company just because it happens to be the only one at the moment, that's not a monopoly. I don't really believe that the barriers to entry (stuff that would stop other folks from starting up a promotion) are really that steep in wrestling, and that if the desire were there, another national promotion could start up pretty much next month. Still, for now, McMahon is the only game in town, and he's got to like that. After all, that was the goal he set out on something like two decades ago when he broke the territory barrier, and that goal has finally come to fruition. You'd better watch out, AAA and New Japan. After all, next stop must be the world.

Next, what I believe has to be a first -- two major promotions under the same ownership. Each promotion has its own brand, talent, and production values in place, though many of these are surely about to change for WCW. Vince McMahon actually has the opportunity to operate the promotions separately, together, or separately with the occasional interpromotional pay-per-view. The possibilities with this are endless.

The McMahons are now also the only employer in town. Sure, there are the indies, but even ECW is gone. I'm not sure if any full-time wrestlers can really be supported without getting their paycheques from WWFE anymore. If so, they'd have to work for a lot of different organizations. This, of course, means the recent rumblings for a union are pretty much dead and wrestlers have just lost a lot of bargaining power. To the best of my knowledge, the WWF has always been pretty fair with its biggest stars, offering them a piece of the pie they help bake, but this doesn't bode well for average salaries or especially for the starting wages of younger, less experienced midcard wrestlers.

One element that some people seem to have overlooked is that the WWF is now free to fire a whole bunch of people. Anyone and everyone that McMahon was holding onto just because of the threat that they might leave to go to the competition -- well, that's not much of a threat anymore. Sure, it would leave a larger talent pool free for any start-up that should come along, but most people in a position to start such a promotion seem to be scared of wrestling's declining numbers and poor reputation right now. Apparently, Shawn Michaels was sent home from a scheduled appearance at Smackdown! He had been employed by the WWF for quite some time now -- and barely ever used -- because of the splash he could have made in WCW. Now, he has nowhere else to go. This just lessens further the bargaining power of wrestlers.

Some folks are arguing that a lack of competition will make the WWF stale. Well, that's entirely possible. It isn't, however, the absolute certainty that people seem to be giving it credit for. Many monopolies thrive under those circumstances, as even a monopoly has to deliver a strong product to make money. Or, at the very least, the stronger product it delivers, the more money it makes. If the WWF slacks, they'll still lose business. The only difference now is that no one else will gain it. So while they may become repetitive and uncreative, that's not necessarily going to be the case. If nothing else, putting different people in charge of WCW and running it separately could help to generate that back-and-forth competition of ideas anyway.

Ultimately, the point is, this turn of events is neither good nor bad. Or maybe it's both. It really depends how you look at it. If the choice was either a WWF-owned WCW or no WCW, I think I would choose the former. If the choice was either a Fusient-owned WCW or no WCW, I still think I would choose the first of the two. I'd rather see WCW in capable, non-WWF hands, but this isn't the worst of all possible situations. And if the only other two choices were Fusient or nothing, then this might not be a bad turn of events at all.

Certainly, some groups benefit way more than others. WWF stock appreciated in value on word of the news, so WWF shareholders should be happy. Ultimately, it's their aims and benefits (in theory) that the WWF is, or should be, promoting. WWF fans, at least in the short term, should be in for a treat with all of the possible inter-promotional stuff that could happen. There's probably a lot of new room for WWF employees to advance, now, too.

Of course, others don't benefit so much. Many people will lose their jobs because of this deal. But again, I refer you to the alternatives -- lots of people would have been unemployed without any WCW, too. More people, in fact. Wrestlers lose bargaining power, that's a fact, and now have only one major place to work.

Frankly, wrestling has been over-saturated for awhile, now. There are way more people trying to get into this business than there are actual spots in this business. There's one major organization, and it has a roster of maybe a hundred, being really, really generous and including absolutely everyone. Meanwhile, there seem to be nearly that many wrestling schools in North America, and probably fifty times that many people looking for the work. It's not like there was a nice, balanced equilibrium and the WWF has gone and shattered that. This was already a problem. The economics of the situation simply forced a situation where fewer wrestlers will be able to work. But given the amount of people who watch wrestling now, that's a move in the right direction.

I'm pretty undecided about this acquisition. I imagine that ultimately, it will be a good thing, and I'm happy it happened. But I have no idea how WCW will be used, how effectively it will be used, or whether I'll be more or less entertained by WWFE programming in a year from now. That, ultimately, will decide how I view the purchase. Until then, my lips are sealed ... Sort of.

More coverage of the WWF's purchase of WCW

Here's the mailbag.

Bob Addison, from, writes:
"Ralphus & Jericho must be reunited at Wrestlemania."

That's a noble thought, Bob. For those of you too new to the sport to remember, Ralphus was a WCW security guard -- sort of overweight, kind of not young, and not particularly charismatic -- who served as Jericho's personal bodyguard. It was a pretty hilarious deal, as Jericho, then a heel, would point to fans at ringside on his way to the ring, especially those with anti-Jericho signs, and make Ralphus take their signs away. Then Jericho would imitate Goldberg's ring entrance, only instead of ten police officers and the world heavyweight title, it would be just Ralphus and the television title.

Still, he did it again with Howard Finkel, and it was still funny, but it lacked something. I don't think you can recreate magic like that. Let's leave it be. writes:
"I just read your thoughts on Wrestlemania 15 and I kind of agree. But I want to ask you why you didn't say anything about the Undertaker- Bossman 'Hell in a Cell' match. Even though it wasn't much to talk about. That was a real mistake by the WWF."

I couldn't agree more, actually. Frankly, I was bored by the match more than I was offended, but it was a pretty dumb idea. Again for those who don't remember, Undertaker hung Big Bossman -- seriously, like by his neck with a rope -- after the match. I'm not sure whether that was better or worse than Bossman's Kennel in a Cell match with Al Snow. I hope there's nothing else like that this year, but look at the card: a whole lot of strange gimmick matches. We'll see. Actually, I'm looking forward to most of the card, don't let me dissuade you.

That's all for this week. Enjoy Wrestlemania!

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