Sunday 7 June 2015

Key to the (Alleged) Boom

When he was doing initial interviews to hype Global Force Wrestling last April (yeah, fourteen months on and they've still not run a show) Jeff Jarrett talked about how it was a good time to start a wrestling promotion. He predicted another boom period. I was sceptical of that claim. While I don't think it's come to pass on quite the level 'Double J' seemed to be expecting wrestling does seem more popular, more exciting, now than it did fourteen months ago. Or at least wrestling fans have become more feverous with their praise. That's pretty much the same thing, right?

The so-called Wednesday Night Wars are a good example of wrestling being more exciting. ROH is now the lead-in show for TNA's Impact Wrestling on Destination America, in direct competition with WWE's white hot NXT show and the weekly one hour cinematic masterpiece that is Lucha Underground. All of those shows but Impact are great. They have their own distinct tropes and identities and they feel fresh, new and exciting. Impact, despite its numerous flaws and the fact that it's just flat out not good, has a dedicated fan base who will tune in (and, perhaps more importantly, defend it) every week. It's a concentration of shows that illustrates the variety of styles and approaches that can be taken within the pro wrestling format.

Calling it a rise in popularity rather than a definitive boom period also neatly covers the issue of WWE's dominance. The phrase boom period conjures up an image of another wrestling promotion becoming successful enough to challenge WWE's status as top (big) dog. That won't happen. WWE has so much cash flowing in and so many draws and talents at their disposal that they're going to be on top until some sort of major, unpredictable catastrophe befalls them. The company best placed to challenge them, New Japan, are years away from even trying in North America, although they're comfortably smashing WWE to pieces in Japan.

No, a rise in popularity makes it clear we're discussing the status of the wrestling biz as a whole, particularly the non-WWE segment. And this finally brings me around to my point: I think the company that will do best as wrestling gets a little more popular in mainstream culture is the company that makes the best use of female talent.

Give this woman a women's division to head up. Watch the money roll in.
Looking back it's clear that the last few years have seen the status of women's wrestling progress considerably. The prominence of Ivelisse Velez and Sexy Star in Lucha Underground and the entire women's division of NXT has simply helped to highlight the point, because they're TV shows. SHIMMER has been going for ten years now and has, along with Florida-based Shine, helped to create an environment in which all-women companies are a viable option for promoters.

These promotions being in a position to continue running shows illustrates that there's an audience for women's wrestling. So does the reaction that the performances of the wrestlers above get on TV. Just look at the response to the Banks versus Lynch match from Takeover: Unstoppable. WWE and TNA have been letting us down for years with shoddy women's divisions booked as afterthoughts, despite each group having had a solid division at one time or another over the last fifteen years1. Ring of Honor doesn't even have a women's division at all.

There's a gap in the market for a wrestling TV show that emphasises women's wrestling. NXT has made a lot of headway but so have LU, and it wouldn't be impossible for ROH to look at hiring some more women to go along with Maria, Veda Scott (who never seems to wrestle in ROH despite doing so elsewhere) and ODB. Global Force could theoretically launch with a fantastic women's league if Jarrett wanted to, there's enough available talent to be signed up. You can turn on any wrestling show and see guys killing it great matches. Making women min event attractions would be new and something wrestling fans are ready for. More importantly it would be a way to hook non-fans with something different. That's why I think good quality women's wrestling is going to be of increased importance in wrestling's future, whether there's another boom period coming or not.


1 For TNA it was the Knockouts. In the mid-00s they, along with the X Division, were a reason to watch TNA in the mid-00s. Then the writers decided to revert to the WWE approach of focusing on the world title scene, keeping women and cruiserweights as a side attraction.

A few years earlier WWE had Trish Stratus, Molly Holy, Ivory, Lita, Victoria, Gail Kim and others in a competitive women's division that produced good matches. It's not clear why they decided to scale the division back and reduce it to the filler role it occupied for about a decade. At least the company as a whole remained profitable and had other, enjoyable things going on instead. Which can't be said for TNA.

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