I don’t want to alarm you. I don’t want you to panic. I don’t want you to abandon all hope. But, something major has been happening for a while now. It’s been creeping in little by little. It’s been happening subtly, and if you aren’t paying attention, you might even miss it.
WWE is trying to dominate your pro wrestling viewing, and little by little, they’re succeeding.
Think about all the alternatives to WWE that exist: TNA. Ring of Honor. New Japan. Lucha Underground. Evolve. Progress. Shimmer. And, of course, your friendly local indy federation. These are just a handful of examples. I’m missing quite a few, but it’s impossible to list them all.
One by one, WWE is developing a counter to each of those brands and the style they represent, and airing them on the WWE Network for a friendly price of $9.99/month.
On the surface, it may not be evident, but when you dive in and start drawing lines, it’s much more apparent.
WWE Raw compares to WWE Raw.
Currently, there is no comparison to WWE Raw. WWE’s flagship program is – for better or for worse – an island unto itself. The show tries to be a jack of all trades and is Vince McMahon’s true vision for what he wants WWE to be – a genuine entertainment company. It’s filled with bad humor, terrible skits, questionable feuds, and really great pro wrestling. It is the epitome of the words “sports entertainment.” When you think of WWE, generally speaking, you probably think of the current incarnation of WWE Raw.
WWE Smackdown compares to TNA Impact.
Since the brand split, Smackdown has been a compelling, 2-hour program that features stories that make sense, feuds that matter, titles that mean something, and a booking philosophy that looks at the big picture rather than week to week. Smackdown is becoming what it was back in the early 2000’s, when the Smackdown Six were tearing it up in awesome matches over titles that held value. But you don’t have to go back to 2002 to get that same vibe – all one must do is look at TNA circa 2015 and 2016, where the same philosophies have been happening since TNA first moved from Spike TV to Destination America.
TNA’s 2016 has been sadly overshadowed by the negatives of the Dixie Carter/Billy Corgan power struggle, and the positives of the mesmerizing Broken Matt Hardy. Beneath the surface is a brand that has wrestlers and writers that have worked really hard to make the program a true alternative worth watching. For the most part, they’ve succeeded. The TNA World Heavyweight Championship has been coveted and protected. There is a strong core of talent that are all viable contenders for the title. And, overall, the in-ring action has been exciting.
Now under new ownership, TNA has an opportunity to step up and make a difference. They are leaving all the real-life drama behind them and they have a chance to focus on what truly matters – the men and women that step into the ring each and every week.
NXT compares to Ring of Honor.
NXT has become the place where stand-out indy talent cultivate before being called up to the main roster. And while NXT is still churning out it’s own home-grown talent, it’s being headlined by a squad of former TNA and Ring of Honor alumni, with some help from Japan and Mexico thrown in for good measure. It’s booking is simple – one hour per week devoted to building long-term feuds that can (and often do) last a year. Four pay-per-views per year.
It’s similar to a formula that Ring of Honor has been using for years. Build up your champ, and give him a few title defenses, then ultimately focus in on a long-term feud that usually ends with a stipulation match. Ring of Honor has always taken pride in it’s tag division too, something that we’ve seen from NXT quite often, but most recently with The Revival vs. DIY. The only way ROH doesn’t compare is in it’s women’s division. Their Women of Honor series doesn’t happen frequently enough, and with no championship for the ladies to fight for, the matches are seemingly pointless in the end.
The Cruiserweight Classic/205 Live compare to Evolve/Dragon Gate USA.
This is an easy comparison to make considering a good chunk of the talent came directly from The House that Gabe Sapolsky built. Rich Swann, TJ Perkins, Tony Nese, Drew Gulak, Kota Ibushi, and many others have spent time in Sapolsky’s brands in some form or fashion, and he helped popularize the style, which is a unique blend of strong style and high flying.
The Cruiserweight Classic itself trended more towards Evolve and Dragon Gate, while 205 Live has most certainly taken on a “WWE feel” to it. That said, the action has been good, and we’ve seen talent wrestle solid matches and do things that the main roster just can’t do. As more and more stars are introduced, we will see the product continue to take shape and become it’s own unique entity.
The United Kingdom Championship Tournament compares to Progress and ICW
WWE is now making an attempt to tap into the United Kingdom fanbase in a way that has never been done before. The UK has always been a popular spot for live wrestling – just take a look at NXT Takeover: London, or TNA Impact’s past tours, or even any episode Raw or Smackdown taped in London. The crowd are rowdy and have a blast, and it comes across on TV.
With the launch of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, airing this weekend (January 14th & 15th, 2017), WWE is bringing faces front and center that have been leading the UK wrestling movement for years now. Names like Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Wolfgang and others are being introduced to a wider fanbase for the first time. And, with WWE’s open intentions to launch a TV show based around this roster, they look to tap into the rabid fanbase that follows Progress and ICW.
So where does that leave New Japan Pro Wrestling and Lucha Underground?
Up to this point, WWE has taken elements from NJPW here and there, and picked up some of their biggest stars. But New Japan has had little trouble retaining top talent, and less trouble making new top stars. All one must do is look at Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada from Wrestle Kingdom 11 for the proof. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer ranked their match at 6 stars – a first for the publication.
Lucha Underground is an entity unto itself, having created it’s own unique brand of pro wrestling mixed with Spanish telenovelas. They have successfully created a weekly serial program, where drama plays out and scores are truly settled in the ring.
I don’t forsee WWE heading down the path of Lucha Underground, but New Japan is a strong possibility. As long as WWE continues to try to be “sports entertainment” instead of a sport, they will never truly be able to match what New Japan is producing. That doesn’t mean they won’t try however – all one must do is look at the list above to see they’re not afraid to dip their toes in different waters. With the WWE Network at their disposal, they can take chances and make risks without worrying about pleasing advertisers and television network executives.
They’ve already started taking those risks, and they’re starting to pay off – the Cruiserweight Classic was critically acclaimed. The UK Tournament has the potential to be a strong success. And, with a rumored Women’s Wrestling Tournament on the horizon, WWE could potentially corner the Shine/Shimmer market as well.
Be careful folks. For $9.99/month, WWE wants to ensure that you watch them – and only them – no matter what your preferred style of wrestling may be.