EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, March 23, 2001
WWF to stand alone?
It seems so grandiose, so massive on the scale of the typical news we report and evaluate at SLAM!, that it's actually hard to bend my head around it. One reason for that is that this isn't necessarily a done deal. There's speculation, for example, that WCW's impending closure is a hoax, or a publicity stunt prior to its sale to some investor or other. Other folks think we'll see WCW again, only on Viacom stations as part of the WWF family of wrestling. And to some, it is simply a time of mourning as a federation with a fair bit of history, more than a few fans left, and the only means of competing with the WWF on a national scale may shut its doors.
First, let's go over some of the facts. Fact: WCW has declared, live on the air and behind the scenes to its employees, that the upcoming Nitro will be the "season finale". What that means, exactly, isn't entirely clear, but it sounds like a generous euphemism for "series finale". Fact: TNT and TBS have canceled Nitro and Thunder, respectively. Some folks are suggesting that this whole WCW-going-under thing is a big lie to draw attention to the ailing promotion, but Time Warner executives have spoken out on the subject, and I don't believe they'd allow themselves to be part of such a work.
Fact: Vince McMahon, owner of the WWF, announced on Howard Stern that he would "in all likelihood" purchase WCW. WWF has been rumoured to be in the running to purchase its competition for some time, now, but this is the first real indication that it could really happen, and soon. Fact: If the new is and was to be believed, then the WWF has had and will have problems with Viacom as far as the WCW purchase is concerned. Viacom has the rights to all WWF programming (or something to that effect), if I'm not mistaken, and WWF purchasing WCW may very well qualify. Since WCW was until now firmly entrenched on Time Warner networks, that was a big problem. Now it's not.
Fact: ECW has all but gone under, Paul Heyman is working for the WWF, and so are Spike Dudley, Rhino, Justin Credible, and perhaps several others. Only one nail remains to be hammered into ECW's coffin, and that's official notice. It seems so far as if the WWF may pick up the pieces, and that may or may not include access to the ECW name or the ECW video library. All this to say that there's a convergence going on in the wrestling world, as the business enters a downturn (less overall viewers per week this year than 2000 or 1999 or 1998) and only the strong survive. It would potentially make sense for McMahon to also go after WCW, which may be worth more alive than dead to him and the WWF. Aside from the potential for phony cross-promotional events and keeping WCW alive as a barrier to entry to new companies, the brand name alone might come in handy at some point – for the right price.
Fact: When Vince McMahon took the WWF national close to two decades ago, it seemed clear enough that he wanted to dominate the wrestling market in the United States. He largely succeeded, but other large-ish wrestling entities were formed to oppose him, namely WCW and ECW. McMahon spent years fighting these entities with his WWF army, and it wasn't always a winning battle. But now the war is all but over, and McMahon has to be happy. Fans and pundits will talk about how a lack of competition may dull the edge on WWF programming, and that may be true, but most definitely Vince McMahon is unconcerned about that.
No, this has been McMahon's plan from the beginning. If it were his way, I'm sure WCW would have folded long ago. A monopoly on arenas, a monopoly on talent, and a monopoly on any fans who want to watch new wrestling. Of course, when I simply mean that he'll be the only game in town, at least for awhile. Others may rise to oppose him, but that will take time and success is not guaranteed. I know with the way the business seems to be heading lately, I would be apprehensive at best about starting a promotion. The WWF name is entrenched in wrestling history, and the last of the organizations that could say the same are all but dead. Unless things change, they soon will be, and it will be an uphill battle for any new organization that wants to compete with Vince McMahon's WWF, no matter how much money is behind them.
Vince McMahon may be losing on the football field, but then again, football hasn't been in his blood for more years than I've spent on this earth. Wrestling has. Soon enough, McMahon's wish may come true.
The time may have come to turn off that wrestling faucet a little bit, maybe de-saturate the market somewhat. Hopefully, WWF product won't become stale without competition. Maybe Rupert Murdoch could start up a promotion.
Here's the mailbag.
Aaron Cowan, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes
"Hey, I was wondering what you think of the way Canada is being represented by wrestlers. It's obvious we are among the most respected nations in the industry but isn't it odd that there hasn't been a solid main eventer from Canada in some time (since Hart). Also every time a Canadian seems to be near the main event level, his push always seems to fall apart. Examples of this are Test, Jericho, Benoit, Storm, etc. I'm looking forward to your thoughts
Aaron Cowan, Cary, Toronto, Canada"
Hey Aaron from Toronto. Good line by Edge at the recent WWF Montreal event: "Your Canadiens suck. At least Toronto can produce some good teams, like the Maple Leafs And Edge and Christian."
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I disagree with you. You seem to be implying that someone or something is holding back Canadian wrestlers. That may be, but I don't think it's because they're Canadian. There aren't that many of them, so let's go over them case by case:
Test -- Not a main event wrestler, never has been. Received a huge push over a year ago, a push that was halted rapidly. I'm not sure why this was, and don't take this as fact, but I did hear at some point that there were problems with Test's attitude. That may or may not be true, but either way, it seems unlikely to me that his 'Canadianness' had anything to do with it, since he's not pushed as Canadian and I'm not sure most fans even know it.
Edge and Christian -- I think they will be main eventers soon. Give them time.
Val Venis -- He was pushed to the moon, and he had his moment in the sun. I don't think he necessarily made the most of it.
Lance Storm -- Lots of WCW guys with promise have been held back. That's a WCW thing, not a Lance Storm thing or a Canada thing.
Chris Benoit -- Listen to fans during his matches. If anyone else were pulling off his moves, they'd be much more applauded, in my opinion. Fans don't react to Benoit quite enough in the WWF -- yet.
Chris Jericho -- Jericho has consistently been pushed by the WWF since being hired. He took some time to adapt to their style, but I think ultimately has come through nicely. Give him until the end of 2001, and if he's still not gotten a shot, then I’d be willing to start considering conspiracy theories.
I don't think anyone's holding back Canadians for being Canadians. I mean there must be at least a hundred wrestlers between the Big Two, but only maybe ten bona fide main eventers. That's one tenth. Meanwhile, there are certainly no more than ten or twelve Canadians. Considering their relative positions -- both Benoit and Jericho have world titles to their name in the WWF, however brief, and Edge and Christian have a lot of tag titles, too -- I’d say they're doing quite well.
I would agree, though, that perhaps they're not being pushed as Canadians so much anymore (Lance Storm excepted), but that's a story for another time.
That's all for this week. Check back next week for another helping of the same. Have a safe and happy weekend!
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