In Wrestling, Like Economics, Market Change Is Massive & Must Be Embraced
Regarding economics, and guys named Hulk, Rocky, Steve, and Joe.
At it’s core, this is a read that’s about the left-of-center influence of powerful underground movements against the mainstream. Dig deeper, and we’re talking about economics, and how since 1970, we’ve seen America fail at using a plethora of economic strategies to attempt to normalize radical shifts that now sees America nearly $20 billion in debt. This has created a nation-as-marketplace where the top one percent have minimal vision of the bottom 99 percent, until it’s time to attempt to right the ship, and then it’s possibly too late. As to how this relates to pro wrestling, there’s a real issue in mainstream wrestling somehow always being a day late but a dollar rich to the indie party has always saved itself. However, in noting how gross the inequalities are now between the top and the bottom of the industry, is it too late for mainstream wrestling to truly “save itself” with what now appears to be a fuller embrace than ever before of its independent scene? Let’s contemplate.
While yes, there’s strong reason to correlate Vince McMahon to Donald Trump, the better correlation is between McMahon and Ronald Reagan. In 1896, “Reganomics” progenitor William Jennings Bryan noted in his “Cross of Gold” speech that “[t]here are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”
Vince McMahon may actually be one of the most savvy marketers of all time because he finds a way to not just legislate from a position of exorbitant wealth at the top of the industry, but as well he’s able to stimulate the bottom of the industry to the point wherein he’s also able to pluck the gems from the Democratic mob of promotions beneath him as well.
McMahon has always gambled the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment’s success in a high stakes game of “who’s the hottest free agent in the world” that he can sign and install into his system, immediately place the entire company on their back, and allowing that person to generate profits that trickle down throughout the entire industry. He then drains every dollar out of that top star, and every other subsequent top star, to the point of absolute zero, wherein he then plunges down into the “mob of promotions” beneath him for yet another star that can keep his company economically viable. Intriguingly, its in noting how this system has expanded (and how maybe its expanded too far) that we consider where wrestling as a microcosm of American economics is headed.
Similar to Vince McMahon, American presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have faced economic woes, and similar to Vince McMahon going from putting his entire company on the back of one wrestler in the Hulk Hogan in 1984, to two wrestlers in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock in 1998, to now putting the company on the backs of a literal entire generation of wrestlers groomed in non-globally televised independent promotions worldwide (available in various permutations as streaming broadcast content for $9.99), we’ve seen a depth and scope of economic theories that increasingly resemble more absurd pie-in-the-sky notions than ever before. Going from reducing government regulation and reducing taxes on the rich to a $700 billion bank bailout, $787 billion fiscal stimulus package, and a full embrace of tech and digital-sector driven globalism may not appear to be on quite on the same level as Hulkamania-to-NXT, but it actually is. However, it’s in breaking down and breaking out the core key drivers of this wherein we get a sense of where America’s current economic steps fail and where WWE could be staring down quite the conundrum.
Donald Trump swept into office on the back of a theory of economic protectionism that, in layman’s terms related to this article says, “hey, we signed too many independent and foreign-grown stars, and let’s boot them ALL out and instead use our homegrown guys and girls who don’t have independent or international affiliations to save our company. While yes, I’m sure that seeing Charlotte vs. Alexa Bliss, Braun Strowman versus Roman Reigns, and Brock Lesnar versus Goldberg would make everyone want to continue to watch WWE (or nah), it’s a knee-jerk reaction that while yes, showing that market change needs to be swift, if it’s not well considered, it’s rife with the potential for failure.
The better solution is to take a nuanced look at the world as a series of markets that have been influenced by the (yes, largely failed) American economic and WWE “trickle-down” marketplace. Where wrestling succeeds as compared to where Trump potentially fails is in maybe stopping just before full protectionism and instead using it’s access to the entire world of talent and maybe, just maybe, finding the one or two performers who best represent a hybrid of the best of what their “failures” hath wrought as successes is where we should ideally be headed.
For just as much as Donald Trump would be wise to double down on American independent Facebook and global e-commerce kingpin Alibaba, WWE would be super-wise to note that their three-year experiment with searching the universe for its next new star ended withe the signing and subsequent evolutions of Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura.
As Corey Graves oftentimes notes on WWE commentary, Samoa Joe should’ve been signed to WWE over a decade ago. In fact, let’s pinpoint this to a more direct time, namely March 2005. In March 2005, Joe had finished up a run in the independent Ring of Honor promotion that saw him elevate the company’s World Championship while also elevating the company’s renown via a near two-year title reign that saw him wrestle none other than CM Punk in an epic trilogy of matches. As well, during his time in the company, he had interactions with Bruno Sammartino, Kenta Kobashi, Mick Foley, and Daniel Bryan (among a litany of well-respected names), which in all actuality makes him likely the best mixed martial arts-as-pro wrestler hybrid in the industry since, well, Brock Lesnar, who intriguingly is aside from John Cena helming a financially unsteady WWE in the same manner as a Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, they last big-revenue draw of “billion dollar worth NYSE-traded Attitude Era WWE.”
Intriguingly, Samoa Joe heading to WWE competitor TNA in 2005 led to Joe becoming a “mainstream” World Heavyweight Champion. However, given that TNA has yet to remotely eclipse WWE’s worldwide-dominant wrestling standard, his renown on the worldwide mainstream stage arguably waned with each year he remained in the company. Impressively though, Joe’s skills and unique “real fighter” charisma have not diminished, as none other than The Rock notes regarding Joe that,
“Many wrestling and fight historians will attest to this, that at one time in 1970’s, pro wrestlers were some of the biggest and toughest men on the planet. Well before UFC and MMA made its worldwide footprint, there was a hard core wrestling style derived from ‘Catch wrestling’ which then spawned lots of shoot styles in wrestling training. Samoa Joe reminds me of that rare legit tough MF throwback style of wrestler. Happy for him and his family. It’s his time. He’s earned it and one day we’ll be referring to him as WWE World Champ. Keep kickin’ ass Uso.”
As for Shinsuke Nakamura, he’s arguably the first Japanese pro wrestler ever to truly have main event-level charisma that supersedes cultural barriers and makes him appealing to a primarily North American pro wrestling audience. In an article for Eephus last year, I noted the following:
“Nakamura has his hair styled with the left side long and right side shaved like EDM superstar Skrillex. When strolling to the ring, he waves his arms and dances in time to his violin and bass-drum driven theme song wearing a leather jacket, pleather pants and generally looking like an extra from Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. Once he gets into the ring, he firmly grabs the top rope with his right hand and leans back to the point where his head touches the mat behind him, looking as flamboyant and triumphant as Freddie Mercury.”
As well, I stated, “what else is it about Nakamura hitting his opponents in a surprisingly aggressive manner (for pro wrestling) that has a world of fans chanting “fight forever” at him? It’s not just the MJ and Queen vibes, it’s a spirit. A fighting spirit that was borne of American wrestling champions Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, who spent a significant amount of time in Japan and whose charisma became somewhat of a staple of Japanese wrestling. When the essence of legendary American wrestlers and Antonio Inoki’s “strong style” fighting combine, pro wrestling becomes as passionate of a sporting moment as Stephen Curry lining up from 35 feet and hitting nothing but net.”
Unlike America as a nation, pro wrestling has smartly stopped itself in its tracks, and is gazing at the wreckage of its too swift and too massive misses in embracing how markets and times change. In doing so, wrestling has found a way to right itself, and is on the cusp of it’s next massive evolutionary cycle. In a lineage from Hulk Hogan to The Rock and Steve Austin, it’s Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura that are next to grab the reigns and right a “sinking” ship. Given that this article is being posted on Capitol Wrestling’s Medium site, we applaud this, and we note that with our “old school three-way dance” main event on March 25, that we’ve identified, in Logan Easton Leroux, Preston Quinn, and Leon St. Giovanni, three more key pieces to the overall puzzle of the promise that lies ahead for a thriving, vibrant and economically sustainable wrestling business overall.
In the midst of the most savage of inequalities we’ve ever seen it’s a destructive Samoan submission machine and a strong style king who will save us all. After that, at Capitol Wrestling, we’re confident that we’ve got who’s next.