Anytime someone that has had success in the indies begins to make moves in WWE, the story is the same. Some WWE standout, maybe John Cena or even Chris Jericho will say “You made it in the minor leagues, but now you’re in the NFL, kid”. This is a commonly accepted thought process, but it simply isn’t true.
WWE: The Myth of the Big Leagues
To say that the WWE isn’t the biggest, most popular wrestling promotion in the entire world would be ludicrous. In fact, to the majority of people in the world, there is no wrestling beyond WWE. They have better ratings, bigger crowds, and are seen by more people every week than any other promotion in the world.
Even with WWE’s ratings near historical lows, they’re still easily the most watched wrestling promotion on earth, as well as the most watched programs on the USA Network. You can make a living wrestling for other companies, but you’re not going to star in movies or host Saturday Night Live working for an independent wrestling promotion. New Japan Pro Wrestling may be the King of Sports, but WWE is the king of sports entertainment.
“The Big Leagues”
However, calling WWE “the big leagues” is completely unfair. It’s true that pro wrestling is a sport, and no association, league, or company is bigger than WWE, but just because it is bigger, that doesn’t mean it’s better.
If you go to a minor league baseball game on Monday night, and watch a New York Yankees game on Tuesday, what’s different? The size of the stadium? Sure. The quality of baseball being played? Absolutely. But are you watching two different sports? No. You’re watching the same game, just being played by different players, in different arenas, in front of different people.
The same is not true for professional wrestling. If you go to Monday Night Raw one night, and then go to a CZW show the next, you are going to watch very different products. On one show, you’ll see a character-driven, story-based PG “sports entertainment” program. The next night, you’ll see someone get smashed with light tubes before being thrown through tables onto thumbtacks.
The Beauty of Pro Wrestling
The beauty of pro wrestling is that there’s something for everybody. Lucha Underground, CZW, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, TNA, and WWE are all completely different. If you watched an episode of each show back to back, you’d find that you watched six very different programs. So how can WWE be the big leagues when they’re barely playing the same sport? Instead of acting like there’s the WWE and then there’s everywhere else, people should try equating the world of wrestling to the world of cinema.
At the end of the day, everything from WrestleMania to your local indie is done for one reason, to entertain the fans. So instead of thinking about wrestling as a competitive sport, think of it as a movie.
In the world of wrestling, WWE is Hollywood. They have the beautiful, well-known stars, making expensive, easily consumed movies. Some movies are terrible (like the Transformers franchise or the Bella Twins), but they’re easy to watch, look great, and make millions of dollars. Some movies don’t pan out (Think of The Great Khali as the Fantastic Four remake), but the Hollywood machine is so big, and has so many moving parts, that it doesn’t even register.
Then think of indie promotions like Ring of Honor as independent movie studios. Their budget is smaller, they don’t reach as many viewers, and they rarely pull in the big name actors unless their careers have taken a big hit or have simply faded away. However, just because the budget is smaller and they don’t have the production value of Hollywood, that doesn’t mean they don’t make great movies.
The Rest of Us
Halloween, Terminator, and Reservoir Dogs were all independently made movies that went on to have incredible success and are regarded as some of the best movies ever in their genre. Ironically enough, it was only after Halloween and Terminator moved to Hollywood that their sequels took a hit. Terminator 2 was fantastic, and is one of the greatest action movies of all time, but the three Hollywood sequels that followed? Absolute garbage.
You could even think of promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling or Lucha Underground (even though it’s filmed in Los Angeles) as foreign films, if you were so inclined. They all appeal to different crowds, though they could be enjoyed by anyone who felt so inclined.
You wouldn’t go up to Arnold Schwarzenegger and say, “Yeah, you were big in Terminator, but you’re on the set of Batman and Robin now! This is the big leagues!”, so why should people keep maintaining the stigma that anything outside of WWE is the minor leagues? You can make more money in Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean the movies are somehow more important.
Unless you want to compare The Usual Suspects to Gigli.