I guarantee you, whether they admit it or not, every male on this planet has loved wrestling at one point in their lives. When Vince McMahon purchased the company from his father in 1982 he revolutionized wrestling to what it is today, to use his self coined phrase “sports entertainment”. During the company’s ‘Golden Era’ we were introduced to men who are now classed as legends, the likes of Hulk Hogan, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat and ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka to name only a few. After a messy and public lawsuit over performance enhancing drugs, most of these veterans left and ushered in were the new generation featuring Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon and The Undertaker. This was more my era. Although I remember seeing Hogan slamming Andre The Giant, my greatest memory is the Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. Not matter what, every kid has one of these moments. But has wrestling become stale? With the current surge in popularity in the mixed martial arts sector, the UFC in particular, it begs the question has predetermined wrestling run it’s course? The UFC seem to think so as the plan to directly schedule their shows at the same time in hope of stealing some of the fan base. But what about TNA? Up until a few years ago this was a small promotion but has taken massive strides of late, and since former WWE legend Hulk Hogan and ex WCW honcho Eric Bischoff got involved a few months back it is stronger than ever. So with three promotions brawling for the same viewers, who will come out on top in Wrestling Wars: The Battle For Prime Time…
Though a potential nightmare for the participants involved in this triple threat war, history tells us it could well be the audience who reaps the benefits. Back in 1993 the WWE were coasting with little competition before they began their Monday night prime time show, Raw. However when Eric Bischoff was employed by rival company WCW he set himself the mission to challenge McMahon’s stranglehold on the format and in 1995 WCW Nitro premiered. What occurred is referred to as The Monday Night Wars. This was not what you would class as a normal war, a guerilla war is probably the best description, because things got nasty! Both companies would perform skits which eventually became pretty hostile and in some cases personal. WCW owner Ted Turner was the butt of many an angry tirade and former WCW wrestlers now with the ‘enemy’ were ridiculed with videos screened of them losing matches. The ratings however were pretty much even until WCW grabbed them by the throat as NWO made their debut. The initial trio of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were a ratings sensation and WCW ruled the war for 84 straight weeks. WWE tried in vain to battle back, introducing various controversial storylines including the infamous ‘Brian Pillman’ angle, but they failed. It was not until the so-called ‘Attitude Era’ began that the tide started to turn. Some credit Stone Cold Steve Austin for single-handedly turning it back into WWE’s favor with his simply excellent angle against his boss Vince McMahon, I mean who doesn’t want to beat his boss’ ass, right? Initially both companies were still recording figures of 10m, but Steve Austin coupled with Degeneration X was too much for WCW to handle. Where Austin is credited with rebuilding WWE, Eric Bischoff is known as the man who destroyed WCW. After announcing the winner of Raw’s title match live on Nitro (Mankind was to be crowned new champion) the majority of WCW viewers switched to WWE and they pretty much never came back. Expensive stunts like live concerts and the horrific decision to make actor David Arquette world champion had the company in around $60m debt and WCW was finished. The company was eventually sold to WWE and soon after, up and coming company ECW was also bought essentially removing any threat to McMahon’s empire…
The ‘Real’ Alternative
Up until the Zuffa purchase in 2001 the UFC was highly controversial, Republican senator John McCain branded it “human cockfighting”, with it’s no holds barred status it was not hugely popular with the public. After the takeover the rules were edited but most significantly the sport became regulated by the athletic commission in numerous states. Advertising deals and sponsorship followed, events were staged in large Vegas venues eventually making it’s way to PPV. Even with record high viewing figures (Tito Ortiz’s grudge match with ex WWE star Ken Shamrock drew 150,00) the company was still facing losses. Savior came in the form of reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter which featured a barnstorming finale pitting future Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffin against Stephan Bonnar, which captured the public’s attention and added a whole new legion of fans. Fan favorites in the form of ‘Captain America’ Randy Couture and Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell ensured a steady stream of viewers, Liddel’s fight with Tito Ortiz claimed a landmark 1m. The acquisition of Japan’s MMA company Pride brought a whole host of new and talented faces to the mainstream and the signing of another former WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar only served to strengthen the company and place it in its current prime position…
Up until a few years ago this Jeff Jarrett formed company was a blip on the wrestling the radar with a small cult following seeking an alternative to the repetitive WWE storylines (how many times can two people feud? Orton v Cena anyone?). It wasn’t until TNA was picked up by Spike TV in 2005 that the public finally took notice. TNA thrived on providing young talent in exciting and boundary pushing match-ups, miles apart in comparison to WWE who continued to headline their shows with veterans like The Undertaker. In 2006 the event was taken nationwide from it’s base in Florida, two years later it made it’s way to the UK and most recently Germany. October 2009 was groundbreaking as the immortal Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff came aboard to make a straight run at it’s rivals. Although their exacts roles are rather hazy this partnership has put TNA firmly in the spotlight.
Head to Head When Hogan and Bischoff joined TNA, their game plan was simple – go for the WWE. Amazingly it was on the finale of UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter: The Heavyweights that Hogan announced the company was to go head-to-head with the WWE on 5th January this year. The stage was set and both parties brought out their big guns, the size of Old Painless. TNA introduced a host of established names including Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy, X Pac, Val Venis along with Hogan himself and his former nWo cohorts, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. WWE countered with the return of the legendary Bret Hart in a showdown with Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels, the duo responsible for the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’ back in 1997. The ratings however weren’t entirely surprising, Raw had an average of 5.6million viewers, TNA 2.2m. Although on paper it looks like a big defeat, TNA’s Impact! show broke it’s previous record of 2.2million (note: which was not in direct competition with WWE) and it would seem more Monday night battles could be on the way.
A week after TNA’s attempt to cut them down, WWE were up against the UFC who were screening Fight Night 20. In what could have been an embarrassing bukkake for WWE, they showed they continue to be one of the strongest and most durable shows on TV, brushing aside the competition and destroying UFC with 5.45m tuning in for Raw against UFC’s 1.7m. You could argue that UFC did not have any big names on the card, and a defeat like this isn’t really a fair comparison. Rough estimates of PPV buyrate’s from 2009 show a massive advantage in UFC’s who can count around 7,955,000 buys to WWE’s 3,9600,000 and it will be interesting to see what happens when two big cards go head to head in the coming months.
So what exactly do the coming months hold? With the current induction of big names at TNA, profile will most certainly rise and it will be interesting to see how they gel into the current format. As mentioned earlier, the main pull of TNA was it’s difference to WWE, but already the format has is changing (no longer a six-sided ring, much to the dismay of loyal fans) and there is always the possibility of the whole Hogan/Bischoff era backfiring. While Hogan was in WCW he had a repuation of holding back younger stars and not “putting them over”, will we see the same thing happen here? Whether it is car crash TV and WCW all over again or a new challenger to WWE’s crown, it will be an interesting watch nonetheless. WWE will no doubt milk the return of Bret Hart, and word is they are planning long running feuds in the run in to their flagship PPV Wrestlemania in March. Among them are Bret Hart v Vince McMahon, most probably a gimmick match, Shawn Michael v The Undertaker in what surely has to be a retirement match, Chris Jericho v Edge, new star Sheamus v Triple H and the now customary Money in the Bank matchup. UFC seem set on bursting the Wrestemania bubble as they have scheduled the Welterweight title fight of Georges St. Pierre v Dan Hardy at UFC 111 around same time. The 111 PPV, also featuring an Interim Heavyweight Championship bout between Shane Carwin and Frank Mir, is just one of the heavily stacked cards the UFC have planned for the coming months featuring some of their biggest draws including; Wanderlei Silva, Michael Bisping, Keith Jardine, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Matt Hughes and Vitor Belfort. The much-anticipated grudge match between Rashad Evans and Quentin ‘Rampage’ Jackson and a rematch between Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida are also expected before the summer.
So who will come out on top? TNA has a lot to do to make up ground on WWE, and with the upcoming UFC cards they have to be considered frontrunners, but you can never count WWE out and Wrestlemania is always a big draw. With the prices of PPV close to $50 a pop, you have to wonder who will be able to afford to buy both UFC and WWE, and if not what will they be choosing. What will you be paying for?