MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – WWE Smackdown on FOX, AEW on TNT, and NXT on USA Network… Will it Matter?

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I’m back in your face from da Retirement Home to once again deliver you the Excellence in Column Writing exclusively here at LordsofPain.net and have been (besides helping out LoP’s friends at Top Rope) for almost 21 years. We’re in a very unique timeframe for pro wrestling, folks, as there is a real feeling of “change” in the air with (a) All Elite Wrestling (AEW) about to debut on the TNT Network, (b) NXT going national by having their own Wednesday night show on USA Networks, and (c) World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) moving Smackdown to broadcast television on FOX for Friday nights. For about the last 8 years when both Ring of Honor and TNA wrestling proved that they weren’t worth competitors, we’ve been stuck in the holding pattern with WWE as the clear #1 wrestling promotion that had the best television deal.

Things are possibly changing now and even if you have disagreements with how WWE or even the upstart AEW are operating creatively right now… The conditions of competition may spark something interesting in the months or even years to come. REMEMBER, when WCW Nitro debuted, besides the Lex Luger appearance at the end of the 1st Nitro during the Fall of 1995, things didn’t start to get interesting until May 1996 when Scott Hall showed up. The FACT that a competitor existed caused Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to consider leaving the WWE…

Wrestling fans need to realize that wrestling promotions need TIME to grow. All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was seriously formed during January 2019 and had their first official event, “Double or Nothing”, during May 2019. They have had 3 other events since… It’s honestly impressive how quickly this upstart promotion has gathered interest, but I worry that wrestling fans are creating too many expectations for this company to immediately challenge for WWE’s top spot. Remember, it took Ted Turner 8 years to defeat the WWE from the time he bought WCW during 1988 until mid 1996 when they began defeating WWE Monday Night RAW regularly. We’re expecting AEW to defeat the WWE in less than a year of operations? That may be a bit much…

HOWEVER, for this potential “boom” in the wrestling business to happen, It HAS to come from AEW… They are the key to this possible growth in the wrestling business. Thus, when many analysts get upset at pushing wrestlers with hands in their pockets, wanting to do goofy hardcore matches, having awful battle royals to determine your #1 contendership, etc., it’s the knowledge that AEW is closest thing to a real WWE challenger that is driving those criticisms. Sorry, but Ring of Honor and TNA/Impact Wrestling had their chances and they are failures. Nobody wants to watch New Japan on a national level here in the United States. I wish MLW and the new NWA the best, but they are small time… While it’s nice to have many wrestling promotions to choose from right now, it also runs the risk of diluting the product of quality.

AEW is in the best position to succeed with (a) TNT television deal, (b) billionaire backing the promotion, and (c) having access to top level stars that casual fans know and can follow. Thus, this new promotion war actually depends on how quickly this promotion can grow and challenge the WWE.

The “wild card” in all of this is NXT… That brand could flourish with a national television deal BUT it always has the risk of being raided by Vince McMahon for its wrestlers to join the RAW or Smackdown brands. All it takes is Vince McMahon just being bored of his current rosters and making a snap decision. I believe that he’s going to be obsessed with numbers on his Smackdown on FOX show and could thus want to risk wrecking the NXT show in order to help the FOX Smackdown show. However, he could also worry about AEW handily defeating NXT as well… Either way, I believe that RAW might suffer because USA Networks really needs WWE content because of the way its current programming is not drawing. Resources will likely be shifted more towards FOX but maybe some towards NXT as well… Depends on the viewership. Also, you never know when Vince might insert himself onto the NXT Creative Team, too…

FUN TIME to possibly be a wrestling fan… Could also be a bad time if AEW fails to captivate wrestling fans, WWE show fails on FOX, or if NXT isn’t allowed to be its own unique brand.

It could go either way… Could cause the next wrestling BOOM… But it could cause the business to be worse off for the long run with too much quantity and not enough quality.

Thus, we are at an INFLECTION POINT in the wrestling business… If you simply do a definition search on Google as to what an “inflection point” refers to, it is defined as: “a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point”

In hindsight, you can see when the inflection point occurred before each BOOM period in pro wrestling. Often, it was as a result of a management change, new talent acquisition, or a change in the tone of the booking.

I’m always pushing the great phrase of “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it” created by George Santayana from his writings during 1905-1906. If either WWE with Vince McMahon, AEW with Cody/Omega/Bucks/Khan, or NXT with Triple H want to get a “leg up” in the competition, they should look to the past to see what changed the business. For one, you cannot change a business overnight. It takes time and you need the right people in place while recognizing which talent should be pushed.

Here are a few examples of legitimate INFLECTION POINTS in Pro wrestling for the past 40 years:

Vince McMahon buys the WWE from his father in 1982, signs Hulk Hogan during 1983
Before 1982, pro wrestling was divided into territories and promoters actually honored those territories… It had benefits, too, as when you got tired of a wrestler, you should trade him to another territory to keep things fresh. It also presented many options for pro wrestlers to make lots of money and to gain valuable experience by moving from territory to territory. The 1980s had a big change in television infrastructure and that was the growth of Cable television and Pay Per Views. With both, you could push a national wrestling product instead of having to deal with regional broadcast channels for coverage. Vince McMahon Jr. knew this and sought to put his programming on USA Networks, TBS (briefly), and Mtv. On top of that, he begain to raid talent from all of the territories to present on his national product. Vince had the best talent and the best television contracts. Then, he began selling toys and merchandise of his wrestlers…

While the NWA had big events and pushed the closed circuit events, the WWE’s invention of Wrestlemania was HUGE. And then creating the rest of the big 4, Survivor Series then SummerSlam and then Royal Rumble created MUST SEE events that caused wrestling fans to pony up their hard earned cash for Pay Per Views. Headlining those Pay Per Views for the WWE, however, was a character by the name of Hulk Hogan. WWE had him before but lost him when the Hulkster wanted to become an actor in the Rocky 3 film. Vince Sr. forbid him to do it, so Hulk left… Hulk Hogan would later join the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in the Midwest where his Rocky 3 fame made him into an instant sensation on top of how Verne Gagne presented Hogan as a babyface. Vince Jr. saw the star that he wanted and during late 1983, he signed Hogan away from AWA and instantly pushed him to win the WWE Title. Hogan would go on to headline the first 3 Wrestlemanias and drew absurd money for Wrestlemania 3 against Andre…

The rest was history… The territory system was DEAD. Top talents were raided by the WWE and the attempts by other territories to go national, such as AWA and World Class, were failing. By the early 1990s, we were left with WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and I’d argue that WCW only survived because of Ted Turner’s purchase of the company.

WCW Promotes Eric Bischoff during Early 1993
If you look back in the history of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), they had major internal problems after Ted Turner purchased the company. Ted wasn’t a wrestling promoter and didn’t know how to successfully operate a wrestling company. He put his own company executives in charge of the newly branded WCW and it was a failure. Jim Herd took a company that was loaded with stars during the 1980s and drove many of them away by either disliking their look, age, or putting the wrong people in charge of creative/talent decisions. Turner put other executives in charge after Herd who also didn’t have a clue what they were doing with booking shows, wrestler payouts, and other character changes. On top of that, WCW brought in Bill Watts to oversee the company’s creative direction during 1992 and things went bad quickly. Watts pushed an more older school product which was a big 180 change on what WCW was before him (confused fans), but then he made various controversial comments that led to him falling out of favor of Turner executives.

During early 1993, Turner was looking for a change… Watts was out and because Jim Ross was a longtime friend and associate of Bill Watts, Ross wouldn’t get that shot… Eric Bischoff, who was a B or even C show announcer, made an amazing pitch to Turner management on what he’d do with WCW. Bischoff presented himself well and gave executives a clear vision of where he’d take WCW. The pitch was so impressive that they gave him the job as Executive Producer of WCW. Throughout 1993, Bischoff made various cost cutting measures such as reducing Houseshows and creating extensive television tapings… Yes, it reduced WCW’s quality that year, but WCW was already at its low point. They had to reduce the losses or they wouldn’t exist as a company. Bischoff was so successful at reducing losses that they named him as Executive Vice President of WCW during 1994.

As EVP, Bischoff began moving and shaking things in WCW to set them up to be a major success in 2 years. First of all, he signed Hulk Hogan to a WCW deal. Yes, the structure of the WCW was ridiculous as it has been revealed later, but Hogan helped further establish WCW as a national and international brand. It’s like a professional sports team overpaying for a top player but he delivers a title… After winning that title, though, that’s when some difficult years could occur. Following the signing of Hulk Hogan, that helped lure Macho Man Randy Savage to WCW. During mid 1995, Turner inquired on what else Bischoff needed to grow WCW… He suggested going Prime Time and Ted gave him a Monday Night show on TNT (all other WCW shows were on TBS previously). With the success that Bischoff had in lowering costs, signing Hogan/Macho, and putting WCW in a position to FINALLY make money as a company, they trusted him to sign more talent. ECW, Mexico, and Japan were raided to help stack WCW’s roster and after WCW Nitro debuted, he could begin luring WWE’s top stars.

In my opinion, though, where Eric Bischoff really succeeded was when he began pushing more reality based wrestling that catered more towards adult fans. After the Uncensored 1996 debacle, the tone of the storylines were changed and Eric began getting more involved with Creative. After signing Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to guaranteed contracts, which not many in the WWE had, he thought of a storyline for them that would revolutionize the business. Both Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were in WCW previously and failed with various gimmicks… Hall was the “Diamond Stud” while Nash went from a Master Blaster to Oz to Vinnie Vegas. The idea was that they wanting to seek revenge on their former WCW employer, yet fans perceived this entirely differently. When Bischoff debuted both without any names and said “you know who we are but you don’t know why we are here”, the fans believed that Hall/Nash were actually invading WCW from the WWE. Then, the promise of a 3rd man really engaged fans… Who could it be? What other WWE superstar might be joining them?!? And then the reveal of Hulk Hogan happened at WCW Bash at the Beach 1996. Bischoff knew of the group’s name, as evident by Hulk Hogan saying “New World Order of wrestling” after that famous heel turn.

The New World Order took over Pro Wrestling for the next year and a half… While the NWO was a draw, Eric Bischoff’s talent acquisitions from ECW, Mexico, and Japan were paying off in the midcard. A Cruiserweight division was created that showcased smaller wrestlers and gave a stage to wrestlers like Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio Jr., Ultimo Dragon, Billy Kidman, Chris Jericho, and a host of many others whom the likes of Vince McMahon would NEVER use for his promotion.

Of course, it all fell apart after Starrcade 1997… But if there is a silver lining in any of this, WCW’s rise helped the WWE evolve into the powerhouse that it remains to this day. Without that threat of competition, WWE would have continued to be stuck in its 1980s ways. Thanks to Bischoff, more wrestlers got paid guaranteed contracts, wrestlers could be themselves instead of catering to a goofy gimmick, and the product was improved on how it was presented on television at at live events. On top of all of that, he gave many future all-time greats a new stage to perform on… Would Rey Mysterio Jr. have ever become a huge household name without Bischoff putting him on that WCW stage? Scott Hall and Kevin Nash are referred to as their real names instead of “Razor” or “Diesel”. He gave us Diamond Dallas Page, Booker T, and Bill Goldberg while letting Sting evolve as a wrestler.

I only wish that Eric Bischoff just stayed in the announcer’s booth instead of becoming an on-screen spokesperson for the NWO during late 1996. That was the beginning of the end for World Championship Wrestling when the great visionary begin getting a taste of fame and it went to his head. Bischoff was so intoxicated with his NWO character that he failed to notice the changing climate around him. The great visionary was impaired and WCW suffered greatly, long-term, because of that. They needed a leader backstage to manage talent, creative, and finances… Bischoff lost his touch during late 1996 when he joined the NWO and began foolishly delegating duties after that while coasting on the fumes of the NWO. Once Sting vs. Hogan busted at Starrcade 1997, he had zero plans for 1998 on how to keep the company growing. But hey, wrestling Jay Leno during August 1998 was a lot of fun, right?

The Rise of the WWE Attitude Era – Late 1990s
During the mid-1990s, the WWE was stuck in its old ways. In fact, I’d argue that the WWE became worse than their old ways with the many career gimmicks they decided to employ. We had Plumbers, Hog Farmers, Race Car Drivers, Hockey Players, Clowns, Striking Baseball Players, and many other bad gimmicks. WWE was also coasting on Monday Night RAW, as they’d have 1 monthly taping filmed from a single arena and had many squash matches. WWE’s main event scene was terrible, as they lacked the box office attraction that Hulk Hogan once was. While Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were stable and amazing in-ring workers, they just didn’t have magnetic personalities as babyface wrestlers.

WCW caught the WWE off guard when they unleashed the New World Order and the WWE hit rock bottom with their viewership during early 1997. Vince McMahon had enough and made some changes to how the WWE was present. Yet, many changes were already in progress during 1996… As I said above, pro wrestling promotions take time to develop. Moreso with the WWE, however, it was “getting rid of the old in favor of promoting the new”. During 1996-1997, the WWE made several strategic changes to set the table for future growth… But it was the removal of 1 WWE star that made the growth go faster… Bret “the Hitman” Hart.

Let’s evaluate the key changes that the WWE made in preparation for its rebirth as the #1 wrestling company in the world:

(1) Made Jim Ross become the VP of Talent Relations. Job was previously held by Pat Patterson and then briefly by Bruce Prichard. Ross took a chance on Mick Foley joining the WWE and began to build a farm system that would supplement the WWE with new talent for many years to come.

(2) Adding Vince Russo to the WWE Creative Team. Before, the creative team was Patterson, Cornette, and Prichard with Vince McMahon. Russo as part of WWE Magazine and he became more vocal on the creative direction of the WWE. Thus, Vince McMahon tried adding him to the creative team. Russo’s key contributions were to (a) stand up to Vinnie Mac, (b) push for more adult themed storylines, and (c) complementing talent instead of controlling them. The change in tone for WWE storylines stopped treating wrestling fans as children and acknowledging that older fans wanted something more edgy.

(3) Changed RAW’s format on USA Network from 1 hour to 2 hours while being live every other week.

(4) Recognized how over the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin character was becoming and began pushing him.

(5) Had zero fear pushing female characters as sex symbols. Sable, Terri, and Sunny took what Miss Elizabeth did as a sex symbol and flipped it on its head!

(6) Gave up on the babyface character for Shawn Michaels. After he lost his smile, Michaels returned to do his best character driven work of his career. He was too much of a headcase back then to be a well liked babyface character.

(7) Finally let the Undertaker wrestle real opponents instead of hoss characters. Undertaker is a great in-ring performer yet he had to wrestle to the tune of the walking stiff opponents that he had throughout the mid 1990s. Now, he could wrestle Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and others to showcase what a tremendous athlete that the Undertaker was.

And then, Survivor Series 1997 happened… In case you lived under a rock back then or you’re a younger wrestling fan, Survivor Series 1997 changed the WWE significantly for the better. While the act of “screwing” a wrestler was highly unprofessional, it gave us the HEEL Vince McMahon character while getting Bret Hart out of the way. During 1996, Bret signed a 20 year contract with the WWE but that very contract had a 1 year termination clause if the WWE chose to use it. They did… After the decision was made, there was drama created with Bret Hart being WWE Champion. Bret had personal issues with Shawn Michaels and refused to drop the title to him. Thus, a plan was hatched to screw Bret out of the WWE title before he could join WCW. Shawn applied Bret’s own Sharpshooter against him and referee Earl Hebner called for the bell.

First of all, Bret Hart was now out of the way. Wrestlers like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, the Rock, and eventually Triple H could now step up and take on larger Main Event roles. Better yet, Bret joined WCW under a hefty contract… It was addition by subtraction and for WCW, subtraction by addition. Bret never materialized to much in WCW while WWE flourished without him. Better yet, the Montreal Screwjob made it well known that Vince McMahon actually owned the WWE and wasn’t just an announcer or on-screen personality. Vince, at first, tried to portray himself as a babyface but the fans rejected him… Mix Vince as a heel boss with the very popular Steve Austin, and you had magic. But the midcard was just bonkers back in the day and completely fearless on the adult themes. Degeneration X could say or do whatever they pleased while Sable could just show off the body… And then, the developmental system started to unload guys like Edge, Christian, Hardy Boyz, and eventually Kurt Angle.

WWE was a well oiled machine through 1999 with Jim Ross supplying talent, Vince Russo writing storylines, Vince McMahon overseeing the company and filtering any talent/creative decisions, and Steve Austin was arguably the most over babyface in the company’s history for a 2 year period. By the Fall of 1999, it all fell apart… Storylines became stale and repetitive following Wrestlemania 15, Russo would eventually leave, and Steve Austin’s neck injury worsened to the point where he’d need surgery after his last appearance at Survivor Series 1999. The WWE began to change with its Creative Team and the focus became pushing Rock vs. Triple H instead of Rock vs. Austin. When Austin returned later during 2000, the landscape changed… Triple H became a big part of the company and he wasn’t as willing to get his shoulders pinned unlike the Rock. And then the botched 2001 WCW/ECW Invasion and the Steve Austin heel turn… As loaded as the 2002 roster may have been, it was like throwing darts at the wall creatively.

Now, I’d argue another “inflection point” was making John Cena become Champion at Wrestlemania 21 and moving him immediately to RAW. Ratings dipped from mid-2000 through early 2005 but spiked with top babyface John Cena joining the brand as WWE Champion. The Cena era began and he’d remain on top until SummerSlam 2014 when Brock Lesnar pretty much murdered him. I’d argue that was an “inflection point” because it was out with John Cena and onto pushing Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns HARD.

You could easily argue that Chris Benoit‘s Murders and Suicide was a major “inflection point” for the WWE Corporation. Suddenly, the Wellness Policy got tougher after its inception during early 2006. The policy got tougher during mid 2007 as many wrestlers got busted buying from online pharmacies. The Benoit killings, though, scared many sponsors and investors away… WWE’s response, by 2008, was to usher in the PG Era by cleaning up their shows for any violence or vulgarity. WWE also became much more corporate and aware of their public relations as a result of Chris Benoit. They are censoring speech among their wrestlers for political correctness purposes and also purposely pushing diversity on their product. Decisions are now being made by sponsors, television networks, and WWE’s own corporate types instead of anyone with wrestling experience.

So, what did each of these “inflection points” have in common?

(a) Change in ownership (Vince McMahon) or management (Eric Bischoff)

(b) Change in the Creative Team or the tone/direction of storylines, such as adding Vince Russo to WWE’s creative team.

(c) Unexpected rise of a popular superstar. Hulk Hogan thanks to Rocky 3, Steve Austin thanks to Austin 3:16, and John Cena after he found his rapper gimmick.

(d) Change in Television, whether it’s a new network, new timeslot, trying something new on Pay Per View, or whatever else. Something that creates “must see TV”.

(e) Compelling storyline that felt real. New World Order, for example, or the Hogan vs. Macho animosity. Degeneration X and the Hart Foundation’s heat felt real.

(d) Great eye for talent. Vince McMahon knew which talent to raid during the 1980s, Eric Bischoff did an amazing job signing talent from 1994-1997 from other promotions and other countries, and Jim Ross created a developmental system that restocked the WWE with superstars with many years to come.

I just don’t see it for the current crop of companies for most of the letters above. AEW has created a buzz but there are parts of their 4 streaming shows that many fans really dislike. Much has been made about how many Resale tickets are available for AEW’s first television show… Maybe scalpers bought up tickets quickly only to find that demand might not be as strong as they thought.

Part (c), in my opinion, is the more important part of it all… If ANYBODY can create the next Hogan/Rock/Austin/Cena, that promotion will win that battle. Hell, even Ring of Honor and Impact wrestling could win this battle if they found THE GUY (or the girl). That’s where I think that Triple H has failed as the Talent EVP in that he has yet to deliver a top drawing Main Event wrestler since taking over talent duties during late 2012.

AEW has to drive the bus to pull in more wrestling fans… You could suggest NXT, but VInce McMahon can always raid their talent to help out the WWE shows. Another wildcard is how good this FOX Smackdown should could be… But WWE failing on FOX could be detrimental.

There just isn’t any fresh creative minds backstage at any promotions now… WWE is relying on Bischoff, Heyman, and Prichard again while AEW has wrestlers in charge… Where are the Creative Minds at in pro wrestling?

Time will tell…

My prediction? Wrestling on Friday nights will be a hard sell. I don’t see this version of TNT being as patient with AEW as the Ted Turner led TNT was with WCW. Remember, AT&T just bought AOL/Time Warner and thus now owns TNT. WWE will raid NXT to keep that show from growing.

I hope that I’m wrong… I also hope that CM Punk joins AEW and not the WWE.

So just chill… Until the next episode!

LordsofPain.net’s YouTube Channel

Play my Pro Wrestling themed Mario Maker 2 courses on the Nintendo Switch:

Super Wrestling Bros: 0H6-9HT-S5G
WWE Royal Rumble: SDH-JC2-HFG
WWE Elimination Chamber: P3B-5DJ-91G
WCW World War 3: BT4-W1Y-HRG
Extreme Championship Wrestling: 42J-4GT-W3G

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