Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Billy Corgan's Folly

The NWA's savior? Hardly
Photo via Rolling Stone
Billy Corgan made news yesterday when he announced his purchase of the National Wrestling Alliance from Texas lawyer and man of impeccable style R. Bruce Tharpe. Corgan has been interested in the wrestling industry since his days as Resistance Pro Wrestling's founder and money mark. From there, he went onto TNA Wrestling, a relationship that ended in ugly fashion. It's also not the first time someone has tried resuscitating the NWA brand since Vince McMahon put a bullet in the back of its head and left it to bleed out through his systematic consumption of the old territory system. Whether it was World Championship Wrestling's co-opting of the history in its early years, WWE itself bringing it back as a niche brand/weak invading faction in the early Attitude Era, the latching onto TNA at its inception, or the revival it had after breaking in the later '00s that culminated with Adam Pearce and Colt Cabana throwing its World Championship down at the end of their Seven Levels of Hate, people seem to love the NWA brand.

However, much like with each attempt at putting the paddles to Extreme Championship Wrestling's chest, every time someone has tried resurrecting the NWA, it has resulted in diminishing returns. Sure, each incarnation has given some nice moments, whether it be introducing Dan Severn into the wrestling lexicon or watching Tharpe wear some of the most Don Cherry outfits while stalking ringside as a manager on the New Japan undercard. But what has given anyone looking to purchase the name and its history any kind of hope that it would give any return on investment, whether monetary or artistic? The biggest answer I can think of is that folks like Corgan who have a lot of money and fame think that they can buck the trend and allow the same bolt of lightning to strike on the same path to the same spot on the ground as it did before. Everyone who sets on the path for the Holy Grail thinks in their hearts that they have a chance. In this case, the Grail is "a financially-viable, nationally-broadcast competitor to WWE."

Theoretically, Corgan may have a chance to do this. He's got bank from his music career, and he's one productive conversation away from getting a weekly show on WGN. Those who embark on a fool's errand need to say optimistic things like that to themselves in order to keep going on, grasping at the most frail of straws to hit the ground running. To be real, the primordial soup that has potential to produce a pro wrestling mega-conglomerate is scarcer now than it was when Jeff and Jerry Jarrett decided they want to found a wrestling company based on a sex pun. Even then, TNA didn't start on wide distribution. Hell, it wasn't even on television to start; it sold weekly pay-per-views, which might have been a decent plan had it started today with an over-the-top streaming service. It's a small miracle it survived to get to weekly television when it hatched that plan in 2002. The path to any kind of national distribution has started small. Ring of Honor was the epitome of "bingo hall wrestling" until it joined up with HDNet in 2007. Lucha Underground was begun as a "nationally televised" promotion but with a decidedly smaller scale on a boutique, limited release network and a lot of backing from an established promotion. Neither can be considered a major competitor to WWE, and in fact are more in battle with WWE's developmental arm. Point is, no one hits the ground running with a big national package, and even then, WWE is such a juggernaut nowadays that competing with it is going to take a plan that will probably project further than the life of your company.

The thing is Corgan has gone through other channels before. He's done the grassroots startup, and he's joined a living brand with a national footprint. Neither worked out for him the way he would've liked. What's the allure of taking the name of a dead brand and trying to run with it? Maybe he misinterpreted the popularity of The Walking Dead? Or perhaps he overvalues history, especially with respect to a name that hasn't been nationally viable since the late '80s, i.e. 30 years ago. Wrestling's newest fans have barely any idea what World Championship Wrestling truly was, let alone what the National Wrestling Alliance was. What will the letters "NWA" mean to them in context of wrestling? Will people look to Corgan's purchase and think he's reuniting the rap group? I mean, their influence over hip-hop is much farther reaching and meaningful today than the NWA is on wrestling, which I guess you can thank Vince McMahon for.

The polite thing to say is that I hope Corgan succeeds because it's another place for "the boys" to work, which okay, in theory, yeah. But the thing is Corgan bucks trends of his fellow '90s alt-rock musicians and has become a huge "free-market" capitalist with right-wing political views. That is to say, he is cut from the same cloth as McMahon, Dixie Carter, and nearly every other wage-depressing major market promoter in the post nationalization era. Making grandiose promises of national prosperity shouldn't get you a pass for goodwill when you've shown no signs of deserving it. Calling wrestlers like a siren with promises of fame and fortune on shaky premises such as trying to revive an irrelevant brand in 2017 isn't noble or hopeful. It's irresponsible and selfish.

So, yeah, count me out on having any hope for Corgan's newest foray into the wrestling world. It has so many red flags attached to it that one could mistake it for a communist country. If it does succeed, and he does an about face on his politics that allow him to pay wrestlers well for work done, then it'll be a pleasant surprise, but a surprise no less.