Why the rise of the independent wrestling scene benefits WWE
In the early 2000’s, it seemed like WWE was the only company that mattered in the wrestling world. Once WCW caved, and New Japan entered its dark ages, WWE was seemingly the only thing worth reporting on for wrestling journalists. Sure, CMLL was there, but they didn’t (and still don’t) show any interest in expanding outside of Mexico.
WWE was the be all end all; the major leagues; the big time. For American wrestling fans, it seemed like you now had only one option for pro wrestling.
But then, something changed. Hiroshi Tanahashi started catching fire in New Japan. And soon thereafter, to help bolster the company’s prominence, a couple more got really hot as well: Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada. Around the time of Okada’s rise, Progress Wrestling hit the ground running in the UK, showing off how fantastic British wrestling had become.
As those companies progressively earned more recognition, other indy federations also started gaining traction: PWG in California, ICW in Scotland, wXw in Germany, MCW/PWA/EPW in Australia.
The most famous American wrestler not in WWE, AJ Styles, signed with NJPW, putting more western eyes on their product. And once Styles signed with WWE, what did NJPW do? They push a Canadian named Kenny Omega to the moon, as the face of their expansion into more North American markets.
The rise of quality and prominence of other wrestling companies benefits WWE for three reasons. Firstly, there’s a plethora of unsigned talent they can acquire. Wrestling promotions always need to keep their product fresh, and new signees are a great way to do so.
Can WWE get the likes of Tetsuya Naito? Probably no, but they signed Ricochet as well as the aforementioned Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles. Not to mention those they’ve signed loose contracts with, waiting for the perfect time to make a full-time debut, like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate.
Secondly, match quality improves with the rise of the indy scene. With more talented wrestlers on the planet, and with WWE still being able to pay wrestlers more than other promotions, they can have their pick of the litter (usually). This means better quality in the ring.
WWE had their first five-star match since 2011 (as rated by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter); WWE’s Women’s Wrestling is better than it ever has been, with Asuka, Charlotte and Sasha Banks leading the charge; and it seems like it is impossible for AJ Styles to have a bad match, week in and week out.
Thirdly and finally, the rise of the independent scene internationally helps WWE break into more international markets. After Vince McMahon signed the red-hot Hulk Hogan from the AWA in late 1983, what did he do next? He ran shows in traditional AWA cities with Hogan headlining. After opening WWE Network in Japan, Nakamura and Asuka become two of the biggest stars of NXT, and a little while later, both won their respective Royal Rumbles.
NXT signed one of Mexico’s biggest attractions, La Sombra (now Andrade “Cien” Almas), who is currently NXT Champion, while there are rumors of WWE wanting to do a Latin American tournament soon, making a transition into Central American markets even easier. China and the Middle East seem positioned to be next, based on recent shows and signees.
The rise of the international independent scene has only benefitted WWE. As we learned from the Monday Night Wars, competition can only bring good things for the audience. And where WWE is positioned right now, these other promotions cannot threaten them, only boost them.