Death of the Territories
Cookie Cutter. It’s a word we use on the Strutting From Gorilla podcast often. Where is it derived from? Why do we hate it so much? Original, Organic, Natural, what ever you may want to call it as a fan, we yearn for something unique. Seeing the same move set or inconsistent storylines, makes for a stagnant product. So where did this start in the business? Why is it happening? These are all questions I have been asking for years! Let me indulge you into my theory.
I am not an expert nor do I pretend to be. I am simply a fan of wrestling and I have seen a few generations of wrestler come and go through my years. As I watch the current product, like many of the other years in wresting, storylines and wrestling seem to mimic society. The politically correct or PG era has been a dark hole in my wrestling fan hood. I grew up watching Hulk Hogan, then seeing Stone Cold and the Rock take over the world during the attitude era. During that time many wrestlers didn’t start in WWE developmental. Most spent many years scratching and clawing for any opportunity to “make it”. Many tried, many failed and few found the lightning in the bottle. Those that did had 1 thing in common: extreme desire. Many of these wrestlers started from the bottom, learning the craft frommultiple prowrestling veterans, who were salty in their own right because they never made it. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. One name comes to mind and that is Bruiser Brody. His attitude always seems to represent the “old school wrestlers”. The ones who knew you had to respect the business and earn your stripes. That meant taking beatings, setting up rings, anddoing the work most others didn’t want to do just to earn your spot. Those that were more athletically gifted, had family ties or had the “it” factor seemed to elevate more quickly. Those that didn’t truly had to love the sport because most didn’t make much money.
In the 80’s there were wrestling promotions scattered across the US. Most territories had promoters that had been in the business for years. They always had unwritten rules about pouching talent but were willing to share the wealth to gain exposure if the star was big enough. Before TV, information was shared at a much slower pace and most wrestlers became popular through a sort ofmythical word of mouth status. Each territory was scattered with different talent that learned wrestling techniques from experience within multiple territories. It was a fight for survivalfor a passion most loved. They had to or they wouldn’t subject themselves to such a life style. One man single handedly changed this industry. His name was Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
To compare it to modern day times, think about what Uber did to the Taxi industry or Netflix to the movie renting industry. Most saw it coming but no one adapted to the future fast enough or was willing to adapt. Vince decided to buck traditional thinking and created an empire or even a monopoly in the industry. Vince was the first to capitalize on the cable industry. He was able to develop stars and make money from more than just ticket gates. As he grew he swallowed up wrestling territories and their stars as he grew. Eventually, he was able to buy his competition or put them under financial pressure by enticing their fans away. It was a brilliant business strategy and one that would have a lasting ripple effect on the business for the foreseeable future.
It started with smaller territories and the eventually once WWE won the Monday night wars, he bought his bigger rivals. Thus, a developmental program was built. Wrestlers were signed to contracts, developed in a system around what WWE wanted wrestlers to evolve into. There was no organic or uniqueness to wrestlers anymore. The influence of salty lifelong veterans were gone, earning your stripes gone and the fight for your life mentality, gone. While it was great we got to see all the stars in one place, programming had become stagnant. Sports Entertainment had overshadowed professional wrestling. I have learned to embrace the new norm but still desired for more! I wanted my prowrestling back. I wanted the wrestlers to tell their own stories, not be given a character that needed to be scripted. The Monday night wars was the last time we saw a grittierproduct with a desire for the wresters to use their unique talents to tell stories in the ring. For years I have felt force fed a product. I still loved wrestling but was losing interest fast until they reeled me back in, only to be disappointed. Enter AEW.
Eventually, some talent grew tired of this product as well. They desired a bit more of the roots that started wrestling. Many companies tried in the wake of WCW’s downfall. They all failed to topple the WWE giant. AEW, while not perfect, has given fans their wishes. It is a thin line because failure is only a doorstep away, but as a fan I am hopeful. I feel rejuvenated as I see wrestlers a bit more free and passionate about what they are doing. You can see it in the matches they put on. The popularity of AEW has even forced WWE to change their ways a bit. While it will most likely never be what is was in the past, competition is always good. It forces change and empowers the fans to be able to choose what they want and reject what they don’t! In an ever changing world, let’s hope that history is a lesson well learned and not something repeated.