“…the pro-wrestling world will be the Era of the Global WWE Coalition vs. Anti-WWE Alliance.”, Takaaki Kidani, President of Bushiroad (Parent Co. of NJPW), December 16, 2016
It was a story that barely registered on many people’s radars – last week on March 23, 2017, The Mirror out of the United Kingdom revealed that legendary British wrestling programme World of Sport Wrestling (WOS) was returning to UK television after thirty years, primarily via a partnership with Impact Wrestling. Many scoffed at the news – a long dead company being revived by an American promotion that has been more of a punchline than a destination for wrestling fans for years now – and moved on to bigger news, like the ongoing legal battles of the Hardys and Impact or immersing themselves in the impending vibe of WrestleMania Week. But this was indeed a huge move, and one that, coupled with other moves in the past few weeks, shows that Anthem Sports & Entertainment – the new owners of Impact Wrestling – and their new Executive Producer (and co-founder) Jeff Jarrett and Vice President Of International Relations Scott D’Amore, Impact Wrestling has quietly entered The Great War that has been building internationally between ‘the Global WWE Coalition’ and ‘the Anti-WWE Alliance’, but as a third faction all together.
The Global WWE Coalition
WWE is still the worldwide leader in sports-entertainment – it’s not just a catchy slogan (and sorry, it’s all sports-entertainment and always has been, it’s all just have differing styles). Due to their size, they inevitably have a more watered down version of the independent or international product, but think of it like this. The indies are like Olympic figure skating, Broadway theater, or indie performance art, and the WWE is Disney On Ice, Hollywood blockbuster movies, or Cirque de Soleil. With their seeming realization the past few years that the independent circuit is a far more efficient feeder system than trying to simply train weightlifters, fitness models or former pro athletes, the WWE first created their own “gateway” promotion, NXT. Let’s not run with the cliche “it’s developmental” statement. The recruits at the Performance Center are developmental. They wrestle shows at the PC and Live Events for NXT, but the television version of NXT is not developmental. It’s its own unique brand that competes more with ROH, Evolve or PWG that it does develop stars for the main roster. But it does that as well. It’s either the finishing school for the younger recruits or the fine polish on the veterans, prepping them for the scrutinous way that WWE puts on a televised production – there simply isn’t any other company that does it the way the WWE does.
In June of 2015, WWE announced a working agreement with the World Wrestling Network (WWN), an independent figurehead who oversaw several indie promotions, most notably EVOLVE, SHINE and Full Impact Pro. Under this agreement, the WWE would get first glances and opportunities with talent from their roster – scouting purposes, not raiding. Through this agreement, the WWE enlisted such talent as Johnny Gargano, Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak, Tony Nese and the recently signed Andrea. Following the recent WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament on the UK Network, the WWE announced their intention to begin working on localized content for the United Kingdom and much of mainland Europe, with reports coming in that WWE was working on similar agreements to WWN with three of the UK’s top promotions – Scotland’s ICW, England’s PROGRESS and Ireland’s Over The Top (OTT). The WWE’s use of these promotions top stars like UK Champion Tyler Bate, “The Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, Mark Andrews and Wolfgang would seem to indicate the negotiations are still at least favourable, and there’s been rumblings from some that the UK stars who are appearing at WWE’s WrestleMania Axxess shows this weekend – including Jimmy Havoc, Mark Haskins, Travis Banks and Toni Storm – could be on their way to the roster of WWE’s impending UK program for the WWE Network. A program that may be getting fast tracked due to Impact’s recent partnership with WOS.
The Anti-WWE Alliance
NJPW was the first large promotion internationally to seemingly start the pushback of the WWE’s slow prodding into other markets, when Takaaki Kidani, President of NJPW’s parent company Bushiroad, announced plans to not only hold early qualifiers for the prestigious G-1 Climax on American soil in 2017, but hopefully start to run some NJPW events in California as well. Determined to push their product with a vengeance in North America, and lead by such recognizable North American indie stars such as Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, and paired with their own amazing superheroes like Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi and Katsuyori Shibata, NJPW is confident it’s Strong Style puroresu can gain a larger market share in North America. With a close working agreement with top US indie Ring of Honor in place since 2014 – the two share multiple PPV events throughout the year – NJPW already has a North American brand with which to draw and share talent with, as witnessed by the many ROH stars who appear at NJPW’s largest event, Wrestle Kingdom, every year.
Last August, the NJPW and ROH alliance added a third major head when they signed a massive working agreement with CMLL out of Mexico. CMLL is the oldest running promotion in the world (founded in 1933) and is considered the more traditionally authentic version of lucha libre. And while AAA may be more popular in the US, CMLL is the stronger tradition South of the border. Add in the partnership between ROH and California’s indie kings Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), signed in December of 2015, and the Anti-WWE Alliance is suddenly lead by two national juggernauts and two elite indie promotions. In February of 20167, ROH began working with Japan’s outstanding women’s promotion, World Wonder Ring Stardom, for a Women of Honor tryout camp. Whether this leads to Stardom joining the Alliance or not is yet to be seen, but Stardom losing top stars Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo to WWE in the past month is probably sitting about as well as it did when NJPW lost AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura to the WWE last year at this time. NJPW also has a small working agreement with UK’s Revolution Pro promotion, but it doesn’t appear to be as exclusive as the other partnerships (RevPro has also worked with the WWE lately as well), but NJPW may work on tightening this alliance further down the road to maintain a regular UK foothold.
The Global Force?
Which leads us to the surprise third entrant into this Great War for the wrestling ages, lead by Impact Wrestling. It began when Anthem Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of TNA‘s broadcast partner in Canada, The Fight Network, bought the company from Dixie Carter and family in January of this year. They rebranded the company as simply Impact Wrestling (dropping the atrocious acronym TNA) and lead by Jeff Jarrett and Scott D’Amore, announced in early February that Impact Wrestling had signed a working agreement with former NJPW ally Pro Wrestling NOAH. Much like Impact itself, NOAH had recently seen a change in ownership. Originally formed in 2000 by Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa after his departure from All-Japan, NOAH became one of Japan’s top promotions of the early 2000’s. Misawa’s unfortunate death following an in-ring injury in 2009 lead to a decline in NOAH’s popularity, with many top stars leaving the promotion. In November of last year, NOAH was sold to an IT company called Estbee who hired former All-Japan president Masayuki Uchida to run NOAH, which ended NJPW’s alliance with the promotion.
In early March, Impact followed the NJPW-ROH lead and went South, striking a partnership with upstart Mexican indie promotion, The Crash Lucha Libre, which is headed by former WCW Superstar and lucha legend Konnan. In a surprising move, not two weeks later, Impact Wrestling announced a working agreement with Mexico’s other major promotion (next to CMLL), Asistencia Asesoría y Administración LLC (AAA). The Crash is in direct competition with AAA (several of AAA’s top stars, including Pentagon Jr., Fenix and Garza Jr., defected to The Crash months earlier), and Konnan stated uneasily that he will work with Impact but never with AAA. One interesting part of this agreement is that AAA is the principle showrunner for Lucha Underground in the US, and the current agreement is for stars of each promotion (AAA and Impact) to appear on each other events and programming. Whether that will include part of the upcoming fourth season of Lucha Underground or not is still speculative at this point.
But the biggest coup yet may actually be the partnership between Jeff Jarrett and Impact Wrestling with ITV in the UK on the production of the rejuvenated World of Sports Wrestling. From 1965 to 1985, Britain’s World of Sport Wrestling was the premier British showcase of professional wrestling. Legends like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Billy Robinson and Johnny Saint were household names in the UK; a 15-year old David Smith made his pro debut with WOS before becoming The British Bulldog in the WWF years later, and such names as Fit Finlay, “Gentleman” Chris Adams and William Regal (then as Roy Regal), all got their starts with WOS.
With a resurgence in UK wrestling in the past few years, becoming an international hot bed thanks to rising British stars like Zack Sabre Jr., Will Ospreay, ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll and WWE Superstars Jack Gallagher, Noam Dar and Neville, as well as buzz promotions like PROGRESS, ICW, WCPW, IPW: UK, OTT, Revolution Pro, Preston City Wrestling, and more, the fire was ripe for World of Sport to make one last foray into the public eye. At the turn of the New Year 2017, ITV aired a World of Sport special that paid tribute to past legends while showcasing many newer British stars, including Impact stars Grado and Magnus, and indie stars like El Ligero and Mastiff. A 10-part series will be taped in May of this year, with a planned release later in the year. During an interview with the Daily Mirror, Jarrett stated the following:
“Being a part of this opportunity is great, but from the very beginning, it’s a full-on wrestling promotion. It goes with everything. This show is already being shopped internationally around the world. We are going to look at live touring, merchandise, licensing, who knows, maybe a pay-per-view in the future. But it’s a full-on wrestling promotion. It’s not going to just be a television show…
“The British scene is red hot, so IMPACT will have its influence, but WOS Wrestling is going to have its own flavour…It’s the WOS brand being revived and you can put a number on it – 60, 70, 80% British wrestlers – they are going to be the blood of it. But there are going to be international stars too, whether it’s from IMPACT, Japan, Lucha Libre, Japan or whatever it may be. There is definitely going to be international stars integrated with the British talent.”
It’s no secret that Impact Wrestling has always done well in the United Kingdom – there was a time not too long ago when Impact was regularly beating Monday Night Raw in the ratings in the UK, so with a new UK deal with SpikeTV for Impact Wrestling and an Impact influence wit WOS, Impact Wrestling is already off to a huge headstart in Great Britain over both the WWE Coalition and the Anti-WWE Alliance. And with new ownership in North America determined to push the product back to it’s glory days of the mid-2000’s, and new partnerships with Japanese and Mexican promotions of prestige, Impact Wrestling has thrown their proverbial hat in the ring as a third force to be reckoned with in the global battleground…or is it that a Global Force?
READ THE REST IN THE GREAT WAR SERIES
THE GREAT WAR, Part 1: “Blood on the Sun: The Silent War Between WWE and New Japan”, May 28, 2016
THE GREAT WAR, Part 2: “Elitism: Kenny Omega, Young Bucks and NJPW Start New War”, December 30, 2016
THE GREAT WAR, Part 3: “Honor Before Death: ROH Regroups For The Great War”, January 5, 2017