Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wrestling's Glory Days

After posting yesterday and mentioning the great Bruiser Brody. I started to recall the great days of pro wrestling. I believe the heyday of grappling was the 1980s. I look back and think of how things were much different then in the business of the squared circle.

First off, today there is one promotion:the WWE. Yes, I know there is TNA, and the WWE has some "developmental" leagues. However, back then there was the NWA, which later became WCW, there was the AWA, World Class, Mid-South, which later became the UWF, Mid-Southern, which later became the USWA, and so on. There was even a collaboration between the NWA and AWA known as Pro-Wrestling USA.

There was a time when wrestling was regional. The WWWF(owned by Vince's daddy), before it became the WWF, and before it was the WWE, was based in the northeast, the NWA was down south, primarily Georgia, there was the Central States, based in Kansas, World Class was in Texas, Mid-Southern was in Tennessee, and Florida, was, well Florida. Wrestling promotions would never do a show in another promoter's territory. But that all changed when Vince McMahon decided to take the WWF national and then eventually international.

This explosion was able to occur for two reasons, really. Rocky III, in which Hulk Hogan had a role, and the whole Rock and Wrestling connection, with Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, and MTV. The centerpiece for it all was of course, Hulk Hogan. Hogan, broke the camel clutch and beat the Iron Sheik in the middle of Madison Square Garden in January of 1984 to become the WWF World Champ and the rest, as they say, was history. Wrestling really took off with the sale of t-shirts, dolls, video games, etc. McMahon was doing what his competitors such as Jim Crockett and Verne Gagne were not doing, he was promoting his promotion. McMahon looked at his superstars as products and marketed them as such.

Oh yeah, one other thing:pay-per-view. Originally McMahon's promotion would put on a "big event" every few months that could be seen by paying your cable company an extra fee. Soon though it became every month. The other promotions were not doing this and missed out because of their lack of imagination. The NWA had Starcade, their annual supercard. The WWF started with WrestleMania. McMahon knew how to do things right. The pageantry and wrestling mixed together. The stars of the WWF and the stars of Hollywood or pro sports all came together. He marketed it as the place to be.

Starcade had some memorable, memorable matches, and it is a shame the NWA never was able to really promote that event and give it its due until many years later. The actual wrestling in the NWA and Starcade was often better than the WWF and WrestleMania. However, more people knew about the WWF and thus the NWA never capitalized on their great talent.

McMahon often went for the cartoon types such as Koko B. Ware, who came to the ring with a parrot on his shoulder, or Jake"The Snake"Roberts, who came to the squared circle with, yep, you guessed it a snake. Those guys were bad enough. But in later years we saw Doink The Clown(who was sometimes accompanied by his midget companion, Dink), The Repo Man, IRS, etc. Conversely, the NWA had guys who were all about wrestling such as Ric Flair, Nikita Koloff, Magnum T.A., The Steiners, etc. Yes, the NWA had their cartoonish-types, but never to the level of the WWF.

But let me get back to my original point. I am not saying wrestling was better or worse then or today, just different. I did enjoy watching the various regions' stars perform. The Von Erichs were as popular in Texas as the Dallas Cowboys or the show Dallas. In Memphis it was Jerry"The King"Lawler who was the Elvis of pro wrestling.

Times change and unfortunately for the NWA and others they were not able to keep up. McMahon bought everyone and in a most astute move, purchased the video libraries of every single one of those promotions. He then came up with WWE 24/7 which is an all-day wrestling channel which airs all the wrestling footage that the WWE owns. Pure genius.

Wrestling is still great today. I don't watch it as often as I did. But I do fondly recall the days of ESPN airing classics such as David Von Erich(World Class) vs. Ric Flair(NWA) for the World Title. Great stuff. I supposed nothing stays the same, not even pro wrestling. But one can always dare to dream.

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