Over the past few months, Eric Thompson has had the chance to speak to many talents who work for Impact Wrestling as part of Impact’s media conference calls. Many of these men also work for other companies outside of Impact as well. One recurring theme was the growing alliance of promotions outside of the WWE and the accessibility of wrestling to fans around the world. Which posed the question: is it WWE versus Everybody now?
Since the end of WCW, there have been very few options for making a living as a professional wrestler. TNA, now known as Impact Wrestling, has been there as a distant second in North America. Ring of Honor has flirted with the number two spot as well. The dream job, however, had always been the WWE. Until recently. Today, the world feels a whole lot smaller, and wrestling has become a lot more accessible. That has lead to a particularly unique situation for “the little guys”. It almost appears as if it is WWE versus everybody else.
According to lucha libre legend, former nWo member, LAX leader, and the man behind Aro Lucha, Konnan says it is just that. “I think at the end of the day it’s WWE versus everybody else. Everybody else should work together, and if they aren’t going to work together, they shouldn’t get in each other’s way. They should try to help each other and strengthen up the industry. What I feel that I see is this big fan base that doesn’t like what the major companies are giving them, and they like what the indies are giving them. And there’s this niche audience that’s just following them. I just think everybody should be working together because the boys would have more places to work, the fans would see matches they normally don’t see, and the promoters would make more money. So it’s a win right across the board.”
Impact Wrestling, Defiant Wrestling, IPW:UK, and World Series Wrestling champion Austin Aries agrees. “Companies are seeing that if they work together, there’s a pretty big pie that can be baked and everybody can have a nice slice instead of fighting over the crumbs, which is kind of the old philosophy that wrestling has been held back with for a number of years.”
Impact looks to be on the front line of this shift. One-third of the new executive committee, Scott D’Amore says “we want to have an open-door policy. If there’s a way that we can work with other groups that is mutually beneficial, then we’re happy and excited to explore that.”
He continues “we want to work with as many good promotions out there as there are when it makes sense to work with them… We want to focus on bringing in great talent from around the world. Unlike historically in wrestling, if there’s a talent out there that we can work with or a promotion out there that we can work with, we’re not going to get overly bogged down by what the initials are and what the history of it is. We really want to be collaborative with people to put out the best possible product.”
One of D’Amore’s partners, Don Callis adds that “our attitude is that the days of thinking from a territorial perspective is old school thinking… We’re moving away from those institutionalized, old-school paradigms and moving towards a future where… the power is in the hands of the wrestlers. They have social media, they have t-shirt stores. They have the ability to promote themselves in a way that guys like me who came up in the 90’s never could… We’re very open to working with anyone. Not just New Japan, but also Ring of Honor, and any other promotion. I mean, I think you have to be, none of us are Vince McMahon… There’s enough business for everyone, we can all work together and do well.”
Everyone is looking to compete with the WWE, but what happens when the WWE starts following the same model? Apollo Crews and Finn Balor have both made appearances with independent promotions. The success of independent promotions is the success of professional wrestling. If that means that the WWE needs to lend out some talent, it might be worth it.
Sami Callihan, the owner of Pro Wrestling Revolver and a man who prides himself as a talent who can appear anywhere had some interesting numbers. “WrestleMania weekend has kind of become the San Diego Comic Con of the pro wrestling industry. It’s all these different conventions and all these different shows, and there’s WrestleMania there. But it was projected that last year in Orlando during WrestleMania weekend there were 195,000 people. Mania, I don’t know the exact numbers, but drew like 90,000 people. So there were just as many people there not seeing the WWE product as there were seeing the WWE product. They were there for all the other shows, all the conventions, and everything else the wrestling world has to offer. That’s a really cool place for the wrestling world to be in right now.”
The talent is reaping the benefits as well. Johnny Mundo feels that last year “talent started speaking louder than propaganda… The alternatives to products that have been pre existing for a long time started to rise in 2017. I see that trend continuing in 2018… There’s nothing I would like to see more than cross-promoting.”
Aries adds that “you’ve got to understand, this is a different day in wrestling. You don’t need a professional wrestling company’s platform to get yourself over. We all have our social media accounts, we all have our social platforms. With our Twitters, our FaceBook, YouTube channels, people can build their own brands outside of any one certain company. Also with companies, they don’t necessarily need network television to get their product out there, you know? I’m really fortunate to be working with a number of different companies who all have their own streaming service or put their own stuff up on their YouTube channel so that their content is out there.”
Social media and sites like ProWrestlingTees have made it possible for wrestlers to gain income through wrestling without actually wrestling. Sometimes it is through meal prep endorsements. Sometimes it’s an apparel deal. It could be through Patreon accounts or just a great t-shirt design. Either way, Aries believes the avenues are there to thrive as a professional wrestler like never before.
“There’s a market there and there’s a fanbase there that wants to see an alternative to what they’ve been given. They want to see pro wrestlers pro wrestling. I think there’s a lot of guys who are recognizing that. This is maybe the first time as an independent wrestler you can go out and make a great living. You could make a living before, and you could maybe make a good living but you can go make a great living now traveling the world. There are enough quality promotions who are trying to do things the right way and give guys the opportunity to go out and do that. For someone like myself who values a certain sense of freedom, who values the artistic expression I get to have, I couldn’t be happier right now with the landscape of professional wrestling.”
And that landscape is a lot flatter than the past. Before recently, if you saw a top talent from television appearing at your local indie, it was as a shadow of who they once were. Today, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a champion of a globally relevant promotion. Or to see your local promotion’s champion getting picked up or try out opportunities with a top wrestling company. With so many promotions and talents working fluidly all over the world, is it really WWE versus everybody? That’s for you to decide. One thing is for certain, it is a great time to be a wrestling fan.