Friday, July 17, 2015

The End Is Not Nigh, but That Doesn't Mean to Trust WWE

Liger's introduction to NXT is not the end of the world, but it's still a dangerous move
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The shocking news that Jushin Liger would appear at the next NXT live special was warmly received by many fans, but those great vibes weren't unanimous. Liger's introduction into the WWE narrative may seem like a one-time thing, a feather to put in Triple H's cap for when he can go and claim he's King E-Fed in real life, but at least Dave Meltzer seems to think it's a political move. Many observers, myself included, have accused WWE of using the NXT brand to kill the indies, and this move doesn't do anything to dissuade that theory.

Although Ring of Honor is long past its independent status, it's still a competitor to NXT. It also has had a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling for the last few years, one that the company was banking on continuing into the indefinite future. The importation of NJPW talent, and not just the schlubs but big guys like Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura, has been the calling card that it has used to trump TNA and other similar competitors. In case you haven't noticed, Liger has been a part of the Global Wars/War of the Worlds contingent both this year and last. He's also been over for other excursions as well. He's very much a NJPW employee.

Having Liger at Takeover on the same day, at the same time ROH is having Okada, Nakamura, and KUSHIDA at its Field of Honor event seems like a shot across the bow. People are worrying that this change in direction means that WWE will be attempting to block ROH and independent promotions, both in North America AND the United Kingdom, from using NJPW talent so that they can exclusively appear at WWE-branded events. And now that WWE has run its first show from Japan to great fanfare, the trend may be to continue. A partnership between the two titans in each country would make a ton of sense from that standpoint.

Sure, wrestling fans will see positives out of this deal for sure. WWE has the widest distribution and the most money behind it to be able to get the word out on these dream matches. It employs some of the best, or at the very least most widely-known, wrestlers in the world. But it's also a corporate entity, and its tactics are reminiscent of how Wal*Mart expanded over its history. Wherever a Wal*Mart had sprung up, the mom-and-pop stores in the area would dry up, unable to compete with the prices (which were deflated due to shitty treatment/payment of workers) and the sheer convenience.

But does that comparison ring true? Is WWE's virtual overexpansion going to do the same thing to indie wrestling as the world knows it? While the strategies may be the same, the wrestling industry does not seem to have the same dynamics that retail has. Boutique promotions can thrive because they provide something completely different than WWE can even dream of providing given its structure, even more so than what mom-and-pop stores or even other smaller nationally corporate retailers can in the face of Wal*Mart.

For instance, WWE would never be able to kill a promotion like Chikara, which thrives on taking undersized wrestlers and making them larger than life via masks and outrageous characters. Even if WWE signs guys like Drew Gulak or Silver Ant or Eddie Kingston, the promotion will always have the base guys that won't draw interest nationally, and the nature of how gimmicks work there will replenish the roster more easily than if it were a straightforward promotion. Women's promotions would be safe too. Local companies would be hurt when their draws get signed, but again, many local companies are the draw in the area over the talent appearing there, give or take a couple dozen tickets outside of extreme cases.

The point is indie wrestling will always be around. People will always hunger for the alternative, even if WWE attempts to co-opt that alternative like it is rumored to be doing with WWN Live/EVOLVE right now. Wrestling is too big an enterprise for one monolithic entity to capture it completely. For that to happen, WWE would have to change its mindset from one motivated purely by profit and instead one that puts the company as stewards of the industry. However, with Vince McMahon in charge, that change will never happen. I also think that even when he passes the torch to Trips and Stephanie McMahon, that mindset will never permeate the company enough for it to be equipped to be caretakers rather than profitmongers.

But just because the indies and other companies will survive doesn't make what WWE is doing any less dubious. If you're skeptical about how WWE's rapid expansion into the second tier of American wrestling will affect the business, then you're totally justified in that fear. Again, WWE is a company that only is concerned with money. If it wasn't, then it would nut up and make its wrestlers employees so they could get basic rights afforded to that designation like healthcare. It would drastically reduce the number of dates it has in order to lessen injuries. It would work with more companies than what would be convenient for it or inconvenient for its competitors. And for crying out loud, the television product would be drastically altered.

As for ROH, its future without the NJPW wrestlers becomes a bit more dubious, but it's survived this long and actually grown after times when the end was thought to be nigh for it. It will always have its own audience, one that either rejects WWE or has room in their lives for both companies. But that doesn't make these maneuverings any less damaging to the former King of the Indie Promotions. Wrestling is a cutthroat business, as the folks at Sinclair are finding out as they venture into choppier waters. But the nature of business doesn't necessarily make what is happening to the company any easier to swallow.