EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, February 23, 2001
Not everyone from ECW will find a home
There's a lot of speculation over who will end up where. When speculating about such a thing, though, one question is just forgotten: Will there be room for ECW's entire locker room?
I'm afraid the answer to that might be no.
If the year 2000 taught us anything, it's that just like the economy, wrestling's boom cannot last forever. There is indeed a limit to the once seemingly limitless appetite of fans for grappling, and that limit has been reached. Once upon a time, in the days of WCW Saturday Night or WWF's Saturday Night Main Event, I had a craving for wrestling that was not met. I would watch whatever I could because there was so little out there. Even watching Diesel or Jake the Snake or whomever pound on some local jobber I had never heard of was enough to make me watch. At this point in time, demand from serious fans far outweighed the supply.
Now, and I'm as much a fan as I ever was, I can barely manage to take in all the wrestling offered week in and week out. I mean, I skip the recap shows (Metal, Jakked, Worldwide, and so on) and I don't watch Heat much except on pay-per-view nights, but just the A-level shows are sometimes too much for me. Smackdown!, Raw, Nitro, and Thunder make up eight hours of television, and that's more than I watch of all other shows combined each week.
I'm not complaining, I think it's great that I have so much to choose from, but even I have to admit it's a bit of a stretch sometimes to think that there's really a market for this much wrestling. As I was saying before, if the year 2000 taught us anything, it's that there's a limit to this demand. The limit has been reached, and the demand met.
With its finances in disorder and its ratings in decline, WCW has cut Nitro down from three hours to two. They moved Thunder. They even canceled WCW Saturday Night/Saturday Morning. ECW found that the remaining viewers valiant enough to watch still more wrestling were no longer able to sustain their organization, and they have all but folded.
Now, we're supposed to believe that there's room in the WWF and WCW for even more wrestlers. That it's simply a matter of where Kid Kash or C.W. Anderson will end up, and not if. I cannot agree with this.
Sure, some of ECW's best talents were signed. That makes sense. I mean, while Extreme Championship Wrestling may not have always been the benchmark standard for popular wrestling, their best has always been better than the WWF's and WCW's worst. So some of their top guys are surely going to be swept up to the big leagues. I think, though, that they may be earning their jobs at someone else's expense.
Wrestling is a competitive business. Politics aside, you can often steal someone's job by outperforming them. It's like other professional sports -- well, maybe not quite, but it's certainly like Hollywood. Bigger draws will earn better jobs and bigger paychecks. And when there aren't enough jobs to go around, they'll be the last to go.
I honestly hope that everyone from ECW finds gainful employment after the fact, ideally with a guaranteed contract in a big federation. But that's just not going to happen. The mediocre wrestlers from ECW, the ones who rounded out their cards, may never find such a home.
No, I think wrestling has hit its peak, at least financially. If it is to grow more, it will first have to ride out this so-far-mild decline of sorts, and at the very least ECW's tertiary grapplers will have to find something else to do in the meantime.
To boot, the WWF is already full. They're already stuck making obscenely large four-way and six-man tag matches, not to mention battle royales, just to get their whole roster on their pay-per-view cards (a large source of earnings for most wrestlers). WrestleMania last year was something of a joke, as it's the year's biggest payoff and kind of a slap in the face not to be included on that card, so there were far too many men involved in each match and very few one-on-one contests. No, the WWF is full, which means that for each new entrant who's accepted and who succeeds in their first few tries, someone else is going to have to go.
Ultimately, that may be a good thing. Mideon, Big Bossman, and other wrestlers who readers frequently complain to me about may find themselves gone. From an entertainment standpoint, I wouldn't really miss them. From a more human perspective, I think it's sad that men who have given their all to this profession for so many years may be depending on indy dates to provide for themselves, or that they may have to give this business up.
Of course, I don't know this for a fact. I don't know that anyone will lose their jobs. I'm not a prophet, and I certainly don't have any proof to back this theory up. But I can read the writing on the wall, and I know that there's too much wrestling on television for the demand right now, and often times too many wrestlers on a given card or in a given organization.
If that saturation begins to affect business more profoundly, through house show gates or pay-per-view revenues, then those excess wrestlers will become an even more blatantly unnecessary cost. That's when I'll really worry. The problem is that point doesn't seem to be too far off.
Here's the mailbag.
Kory Wielenga, email@example.com, writes:
"I read your column about Paul Heyman and the WWF, and you brought up many points. The first point that was brought to my attention was the fact that if this storyline goes through, it will be the second time it's happened. Back in the day, when they had this angle for the first time, I think you'll agree that only about 10% of the WWF fans knew what the hell was going on. Most of those guys were never heard of by the "average" wrestling fan, and the fans were confused. But now, I think if they do it again, it will be a success. Congrats to Paul Heyman for doing an excellent job in ECW."
I agree that more people would 'get it' this time than last, but not quite so far as you suggest. I think that few people knew much about the talent involved last time, but that they still understood what was going on. In that sense, it was probably a bigger gain for Heyman as his crew built name recognition in the WWF. However, I don't believe that everyone knows who all of them are this time. Raven was not greeted in the WWF as if a hero, and I don't necessarily believe the others will garner such a huge reaction. I think more fans will know of them now, but I think a good chunk of WWF fans who attend live events don't actually know who Bull Buchanan is, either, for instance.
Tony Brice, firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"While I am a big fan of Paul Heyman and think he would be a great addition to the WWF, a big part of me hopes he doesn't end up there. Vince McMahon and the fans of the WWF have become too arrogant with all the success that the WWF has been having, they think the WWF is the be all and end all when it comes to wrestling. They deserve to see their ratings go down because if their ratings slip down far enough then maybe Vince will quit being so cocky, Vince thinks that since the WWF is so popular he can get away with using the same old story lines over and over again. Although I know it would never happen because he seems to really hate them I would rather see Paul back with WCW. I think with Paul and Eric Bischoff WCW could bring down Vince and the WWF"
Yes and no.
I agree with you that some in the WWF may be becoming complacent -- I think it's largely the natural thing to do after a hard-fought victory against WCW two years ago. However, I am curious as to why you call their fans, of all people, arrogant. When the wrestling wars were much closer than this, before the WWF began to dominate, fans of each federation would target each other with their criticisms as if it were the fans' fault for this or that. That didn't make sense to me then and it doesn't now. If fans are enjoying the WWF, maybe they just like watching recognizable names performing, even if they are sometimes going through the motions on a federation-wide level. Is that wrong? Does that give you the right to call them arrogant, and to wish that their favourite federation loses viewers? I don't think so.
On your other point, I think Paul Heyman in charge of WCW with someone else running the books would potentially (but not exactly certainly) stand a chance against the current WWF, but if anything I think Bischoff and Heyman would be detrimental to each other with their long history and poor delegation skills.
That's all for this week. Thanks for tuning in, and thanks for writing in. See you next week!
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