Back to the beginning: how WWE is becoming the modern day NWA
In 2017, the world of professional wrestling is dominated by World Wrestling Entertainment, but this wasn't always the case. Before the Monday Night Wars and WCW's spirited challenge, before the era of Hulkamania, The National Wrestling Alliance reigned supreme and the forerunner to the WWF was once a member!
The NWA was — for all intents and purposes — an umbrella organisation, covering the many territorial wrestling companies of the era. Each promotion had its own titles and championships; however, the NWA World Champion was considered the top man among them all.
The champ would regularly tour the promotions, facing their top star who would invariably come up short in their quest for the title but make a name in the process. A disagreement over who should be that champion saw Vince McMahon Sr. and his partner Toots Mondt leave the NWA; consequently, the WWWF, which later became the WWF, was born.
Once Vince McMahon Jr. bought the company and began his aggressive expansion in the 80s, the NWA started to fracture and became increasingly focused on Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), where the majority of its top stars had been working. It was JCP that was bought by Ted Turner and became WCW, but the NWA name and its prestigous World Championship remained a part of the show for a period.
Things went bad when the NWA finally separated, with Shane Douglas winning the title and "throwing it down", declaring it the first ECW World Title. While that action helped reinvigorate the business as a whole and ECW went on to influence and help form The Monday Night Wars, the NWA itself was severely damaged. Lest we forget, it now finds itself in the hands of Billy Corgan.
While the NWA lineage and name may largely have vanished, the idea of one umbrella organisation has never quite gone away. At various times promotions have had working agreements or tie ups to allow talent to appear on shows around the world. Ironically, in the last year, it is WWE, who could arguably be blamed for causing the destruction of the model who seem most interested in putting it back together, with themselves as the umbrella.
It began by fostering relationships with several smaller promotions like EVOLVE. WWE personnel like William Regal began to appear at their events on camera, as well as just being there to scout talent. Where once a talent would job out on their way to the WWE, now it was Regal showing up to offer them the deal in front of the fans.
Next came the Cruiserweight and United Kingdom Championship tournaments, which utilised talent from various outside promotions, and in the case of the UK title, co-promotions with Tyler Bate and later Pete Dunne defending the title on shows for promotions including ICW.
Most recently, the Mae Young Classic has seen female wrestlers from around the globe compete on the WWE stage, while many will end up signed by WWE it certainly appears to fans that the umbrella of WWE is widening.
While WWE is still actively signing talents, there is less emphasis on them being exclusive than ever before. While John Cena won't be showing up in ICW anytime soon, it's possible that Drew McIntyre may defend his NXT title there during his run.
Why go backwards?
To some, it might appear WWE's sudden move to working with other companies, after years of trying to dominate is a backward step. However since WCW was purchased, the one thing WWE has found is it is increasingly hard to make compelling weekly TV without competition. GFW/TNA has been inconsistent at best and rarely come close to being a real threat, while the indy scene has truly flourished, particularly in markets like the UK.
It may surprise some younger fans to learn that WWE often helped promotions to stay afloat, notably ECW during the early stages of the Attitude Era and had agreements with both Jerry Lawler's USWA and Jim Cornette's Smokey Mountain Wrestling in the 90's which saw their owners come to the company in return for some WWE stars heading the other way for the odd show.
WWE has also found a unique perspective through Triple H, who is now front and centre in planning for their future. NXT was part of the process, the next being ensuring the business as a whole survives for the long haul rather than just WWE. WWE have won the war once and it didn't go as they hoped, while fostering competition isn't quite what they seem to be aiming for, ensuring that there is a pro wrestling scene for them to be the "pinnacle of" definitely is.
The NXT NWA?
The one thing WWE has in its favour that is very beneficial to smaller companies worldwide is....The WWE Network. This is a platform that, given the right conditions and contracts could easily carry shows and libraries from companies like EVOLVE, ICW, All Japan and if the current rumours about GFW potentially being sold are true, even them.
For a smaller company, getting their product in front of WWE subscribers will help them to survive as it will drive interest in attending their shows. While some talents will inevitably get "hoovered up" by Vince, being part of an alliance with WWE will help them to gain more talents, eager to build their careers. In return, WWE gets preferential pick over their talent and increases value for the subscription dollar through more content.
WWE also has their Performance Centre and NXT as a carrot for smaller companies. By offering regular try-outs and chances to engage with the coaches and facilities at the PC or by encouraging NXT talents to visit the other promotions, their talents get the chance to improve their skills. While some will inevitably outgrow their home company, others won't "make the WWE cut" but will still be better for those trips to Florida or working the odd WWE talent.
Interestingly, EVOLVE head honcho Gabe Sapolsky is currently working with WWE to write their NXT show, which is another sign that companies and their methods are becoming increasingly "part" of the WWE, even if remaining indy.
The next few months will be very interesting. If GFW is sold and WWE bought them, it's unlikely that they would again shutter the company as they did WCW. There's every possibility that some form of TNA/GFW could survive with WWE as a loose owner and another part of their developmental process. With more talents coming in from Japan, the chances of a tie up with a Japanese promotion grow to help exploit the popularity of Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka and now Kairi Sane.
The "touring" model of the NWA may not happen, but WWE have several championships that can be defended rather than just "the big gold belt", indeed, AJ Styles just this week invaded an NWA Wildside reunion show as US Champion. The Miz could easily defend the Intercontinental title or as previously mentioned, Drew McIntyre taking the NXT title to Scotland.
WWE has certainly shifted its stance, no longer is it an island by itself but one building bridges to other companies. It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.
Rob Taylor Is a 30-year Wrestling fan and former columnist at Wrestlezone.com
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