This month marks fifteen years since WWE bought out WCW. In the time since then, there’s been books written about the demise of WCW, how WWE has struggled to adapt without competition, and many words said about the general state of wrestling post-WCW. Whilst it’s obvious that the big dog isn’t as big as it once was, it’s not exactly fair to say that the entire pound isn’t as loud as it was in 2001.
If you ask a long-time wrestling fan what the last great WrestleMania was, and chances are you’ll get a lot of them tell you that it was WrestleMania 17 – coming just days after the WCW purchase. Since then, the wrestling world has undergone quite a shift. Looking at just a few of those changes:
- ECW went bankrupt, and was then bought, revived and killed off by WWE
- A plethora of promotions tried to fill the voids left behind, such as Main Event Championship Wrestling, MLW, 3PW, the XWF, and the World Wrestling All-Stars
- TNA was born, starting with weekly pay-per-views, and has since swapped around four different TV networks
- Ring of Honor was created, got a weekly TV show, and has regular PPVs
- MTV tried to make wrestling “cool” again, giving us Wrestling Society X. Much like its target demographic, they got bored before the end of the season, and the show was never heard from again
- Smaller groups such as ROH, CHIKARA, Combat Zone Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla have enjoyed boom periods…
- …as have promotions outside of North America, with promotions in Europe (PROGRESS, FWA, Revolution Pro, to name a few!), Japan and Mexico also being “flavour of the month”
- …which has led to companies trying to replicate that in the USA, such as Lucha Libre USA and currently Lucha Underground
Not a bad recent fifteen years considering that to the wider audience, wrestling is supposedly dying. Granted, a lot of people just look at the biggest dog in the fight, and yes, WWE’s main product has been overwhelming fans with its stale stench for what feels like years now; a feeling reflected in the ratings: in July 2012, Raw was averaging around 4.3m viewers a week, by December 2015, we saw that average dip below 3m for the time time in history. The relatively sharp ratings dip has coincided with WWE adding a third hour to Raw every week, and in recent times WWE has seen interest in Raw start fairly strong, with viewers gradually switching off during the show.
As WWE’s main show struggles to maintain viewership, they find themselves one month away from having to fill a stadium of over 100,000 seats, with a WrestleMania card currently being headlined by the company’s latest chosen one (who yet again is being rejected by the fans), and a company executive who’s either a villain or the greatest man alive (depending on whether you watch on Mondays or Wednesdays!)
Speaking of which, NXT has been extremely cyclical. This time a year ago, the black-and-yellow group were on fire, but you could arguably say that since the WWE’s developmental group started their “super indy” run, they have cooled off somewhat. Yes, the Takeover: Brooklyn show was one of the best shows of the year, but since then the product has been on an oh-so-gradual downward trajectory. Maybe it’s the fact that NXT will be going almost four months between Takeover: London and Takeover: Dallas, but 2016 has seen NXT have more average shows than not, and you’re left with a product that seems to be killing time before the next round of WWE call-ups. And yes, I too am finding it hard to believe that a roster featuring the likes of Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, and the former El Generico, Prince Devitt and Uhaa Nation seems to be spinning their wheels, but that seems to be where we are. It’s almost as if the brand is in a holding pattern until after WrestleMania, when the developmental landscape may change as a result of WWE’s annual call-ups. But I digress – plenty of words have been written online about the current state of NXT; I’ll be waiting until after WrestleMania before making any firmer judgment.
In the mainstream, there really isn’t any alternative. WWE’s nearest competition at this time, depending on who you speak to, is either Ring of Honor or TNA. Whilst neither of them tour as extensively as WWE, nor do they have the televisual reach of WWE throughout the world (be it in the form of regular television or streaming video), so in that sense, a case could be made either way for “who is number 2?”. That being said, if you were to go to touring metrics and television ratings, there’s a good argument for ROH just about edging it; if only for the fact that their house shows/TV tapings draw at a consistent level, whereas TNA (outside of the UK) seemingly host Impact in front of bored, sometimes non-existent audiences. Add in the fact that the perennial rumours over TNA’s future are once again rearing their head, and you could strengthen ROH’s claim for number two, by the very fact that they haven’t always been chasing away the Grim Reaper.
With that being said, you’d be forgiven for thinking that wrestling was swirling the proverbial drain, but that is only true if you’re a casual watcher. If you’ve only ever watched WWE, then of course it’ll be easy to compare some of today’s product to the last time WWE was in the doldrums, back when we were being “treated” to the likes of Duke “the Dumpster” Droese, Mantaur and TL Hopper. But if you really are a wrestling fan, and are tired of what WWE’s giving you on free TV (or for your $9.99 Network fee), when why not look further afield?
Beyond TNA and ROH, there’s plenty of other groups who constantly put on a decent product that is accessible. Even in the comfort of your own home, groups like CHIKARA ($7.99/month), and the British trio of PROGRESS ($7.50/month), ICW ($6.99/month) and Revolution Pro ($6.99/month) offer their entire back catalogue and new shows for a straight monthly fee. If you’re into women’s wrestling, then Japanese group STARDOM has a YouTube channel for $4.99/month, and as we’ve mentioned before, Highspots has their own streaming channel for $9.99 a month. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed from our reviews on here, if you really have to watch it live, then New Japan World isn’t too bad an alternative either!
Considering that fifteen years ago, your choices were WWE, WCW or ECW pay-per-views, if you were one of those buying every PPV from those groups, the same money spent in 2000/2001 would get you a lot more wrestling for your money. Yes, some companies are spinning their wheels creatively (and financially), and yes, we’ve seen plenty of companies set up and burn out far too quickly. Whether it’s as good as back then is subjective, but the fact that there’s more companies in a position to put out a lot more product really kills the fallacy that wrestling is in the gutter.