Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ECW's final tale of the tape: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em

If you're reading this, you know that as of this week, ECW is no more. The WWE is now cashing in its chips on the new version of ECW, and playing with a new hand called NXT, with a youthful roster, showcasing talent from the indies, from the WWE farm systems, and from generational wrestling families. Here's a bright question: why wait until now to do such a thing? Why hold out on this move, while trickling in a slow build with new talent showing up on ECW in a sparse and miniscule way? Why rest laurels on making ECW a brand where the new can begin and the failed linger onward? Here's a staunch answer: ECW could no longer kill the grass roots. No matter how long ECW lingered, the competition just kept on striving. Within the past few months, ECW could no longer compare or outrate TNA's 2 hour show on Thursday. Also, ROH has finally managed to get itself a t.v. show moved to Mondays, promoting more action, wrestling, youth, and athleticism in its hour than any hour on any WWE show, specifically, ECW. It has come to the point where ECW has become veritably unwatchable. It's a shame, really, because, for the most part, ECW was much more watchable than the other main shows for its energy, athleticism, logic, and connection to an actual wrestling product. There were no guest hosts on ECW, nor were there dumb storylines involving weight issues. ECW was young stars striving, veterans surviving, and vice versa. The problem is, as I've stated many times before, ECW was never going to get the support, respect, or assistance every other WWE show gets on a regular basis, because, well, it's ECW. It's not a "Vince" idea, so it shouldn't matter. Now, WWE NXT will take its place, and the wrestling world couldn't be more excited. Thanks, ECW, for opening the door for this possibility, though. Now, what's up with your battles with these other feds? Also, why the change to NXT? Those answers and more will be analyzed....right now! (I was trying to do Neil Everett while typing when I realized that blogspots and ESPN don't really play on the same level...)

Ok, in the past,when I started these analysis topics, I purposely took my ideas of what the new ECW brings to the table and compared it to the 3 biggest forms of competition they would face on their own level. I said that the WWE is using ECW as a way to cripple these forms of competition, by siphoning their talent away, showcasing them on ECW and leaving their respective homes scrambling for answers. ECW could only logistically compete on a comparable level with Wrestling Society X, TNA wrestling, and Ring of Honor (ROH). When I compared them initially, I said that ECW couldn't match ROH or WSX, and was tied with TNA. When I compared them after a few months of existence, I saw that the changes made altered my answers slightly, still giving WSX and ROH the edges they needed, with TNA now better than ECW. However, logistically, only TNA was a winner because ROH didn't have a television deal at the time and WSX was canceled after 9 to 10 episodes. It's 2010, WSX is still canceled, TNA has 2 hours and is moving to Mondays (it had a strong 3 hour show that managed a record high for TNA at a 1.5), and ROH is on Mondays as well with their own t.v. deal. How does it measure up? ECW, once again, doesn't win, except against a defunct WSX. Now, ROH has a place to show these stars, although the WWE is making it a point to take them for themselves , and TNA has more stars to use and more t.v. time to do so, unlike ECW. The ratings for TNA have shown this consistently as their ratings have ballooned from 1.0 to about 1.4 on a regular basis, while ECW can barely make a 1.2 rating. Also, HDNet has expressed great support in ROH and its longevity, despite ratings, while ECW has had many a pundit looking to skewer the show for its lackluster ratings, viewership, and generally forgettable matches. I mean, ECW had been omitted from about 2 to 3 straight PPVs, while the most TNA has done was omit certain stars. ECW was showing its lack of polish, lack of drawing power, and lack of usefulness. What was the WWE to do? The answer is in the title, folks. If you can't beat them, join them. So now, ECW is joining in the new manifesto that ROH, TNA, and now, other upstart federations EVOLVE, CHIKARA, and Dragon Gate USA are now utilizing: preparing for the next generation and evolution of wrestling. The future is now, and it's time for a change.

While the WWE used ECW to put over new stars, thinking that new stars mean new direction in wrestling, the other feds used new stars from around the wrestling world to put forth a new wrestling regime. New stars trained in the standard WWE way doesn't guarantee new direction. You still get a formulaic, uninspired, wrestling product with the same old, same old. The difference: the stars that are doing it are woefully unskilled. Meanwhile, in other facets of the wrestling world, you have a new direction with new styles that have yet to break free into the mainstream that the WWE generally controls. We get styles blended from Mexico, Japan, and Europe along with the traditional stuff. Now, that's what I call the next evolution of professional wrestling. In fact, the five organizations I named have done something along those lines for the most of their collective existences.

TNA wrestling had become an amalgam of wrestling styles with no definitive brand, up until now. It seems that TNA is taking the WCW approach, blending stars of old with stars of new and stars who never got the break they deserved. You'll get the best of the indies, the kings of the old school, and the castaways of the WWE that were fired or have quit for one reason or another (I'd like to think because they were more talented than the WWE could handle, but I digress). This has worked for the most part if not for the effort, then for the sheer athleticism these guys put on. Since TNA came to television in 2004, they have succinctly outperformed the WWE stars on virtually every PPV the WWE has put out there, with few exceptions (the WWE had made it a point to make sure their big 4 PPVs had something good, but they don't always strike gold). This trend still holds true today, but sadly, the backstage environment overshadows this greatly. Regardless, TNA is making its mark and making its move to change wrestling. If that wasn't the case, then they wouldn't be managing to get something close to a 2.0 on the night they competed directly with the WWE. People support TNA for one single solitary reason: as bad as it looks or seems, it's an alternative, and anything's better than watching a guest host or a midget goof off on t.v., let alone the same guys getting the same push every now and again (Cena/HHH, round 100, anyone?)

ROH has scratched and clawed its way into the mainstream, spending countless amounts of dollars on DVD sales, tickets, at least 3 events a month, and now, television on a high-definition network. 8 years ago, the remnants of ECW in the forms of Rob Feinstein, Doug Gentry, and Gabe Sapolsky came together to help bring about a legitimate alternative to the wrestling scene in 2002. It's been 8 years, and ROH has gone from wrestling's best kept secret to wrestling's #3 organization, giving the fans the athleticism and entertainment they have longed for since the demise of ECW and WCW. It was through Doug and Rob that ROH became that #3 organization, but due to circumstances beyond their control (Rob's legal troubles and, I believe, Doug's subsequent departure because of Rob, and later, Doug's death), ROH hit a terrible snag in their longevity. It was through Gabe's booking knowledge and now, Cary Silkin's presidency, that ROH returned to its rightful place as a top organization, with amazing battles involving many of the top stars you see today. As of late 2008, Gabe was released from his ROH contract and a new booking crew was made, with Adam Pearce at the helm. Despite the changes and shifts, the ROH support had remained remotely strong, and the accolades that the organization had received by its peers. In fact, to this day, two things can be said about this company. ROH has produced some of the top stars that not only made TNA a household name, but it also added to the roster depth and continued success of the WWE, so they have had a hand in setting up the next generation of professional wrestling with the stars they create. Also, as of March of 2010, ROH will be the longest-running independently owned and independently-run organization to have survived relatively on a national level. No big companies to give them money. No stock options. Just money from the ground up to go on. The record for longevity was held by ECW with a scant 7 years to their name. That's quite a feat, and as long as they continue their run with hard-hitting action, high-flying feats, and the most concise form of professional wrestling, they will continue to grow as an organization.

But, wait! TNA and ROH aren't the only game in town. In fact, Gabe's loss in ROH is the gain of three other organizations, and these three organizations have formed something of a partnership to help usher in the next generation of wrestling on the independent scene. Now, when there is mention of a new type of wrestling style, and an evolution in the game, these organizations might very well have their compasses pointing in the right direction. The organizations in question are EVOLVE, CHIKARA, and Dragon Gate USA.

First off, Dragon Gate USA became a reality when the fabled Dragon Gate organization in Japan decided to co-brand its existence with Ring of Honor. This led to a few shows where ROH showcased Dragon Gate and their stars to amazing fanfare. However, due to some monetary issues and Gabe Sapolsky's release, Dragon Gate and ROH disbanded their partnership. When the decision was made to give the U.S. a brand of Dragon Gate wrestling where its top stars among others on the independent wrestling scene could come together to showcase the Dragon Gate style of wrestling (Japanese wrestling mixed with Lucha Libre, courtesy of Ultimo Dragon and Skayde) to those of us on the western hemisphere. It was only fair to bring in Gabe Sapolsky as the man in charge of DGUSA, since it was he who helped orchestrate the relationship between ROH and Dragon Gate. Since its inception, DGUSA has earned the right to be the organization that has had the best show of 2009, with more on the way, along with a brand new title being introduced, the "Open the Freedom Gate" title, which is currently held by Dragon Gate's BxB Hulk. If Gabe helped ROH reach the level of excellence it has today, the possibilities are endless for DGUSA.

However, Gabe's need for a new evolution wasn't limited to an established brand like Dragon Gate. One day, he got together with Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan in the WWE) and suggested to bring a new organization about, just like ROH, but new and different, focusing more on the wrestler's lives and on a more professional form of wrestling, utilizing win/loss records, and disciplinary action towards anyone looking to break the rules. This organization would be called EVOLVE and it would focus on not just the evolution of wrestling, but the evolution of the wrestlers involved, taking them from breakout stars to breakthrough ones on the wrestling scene. Due to Danielson's newly-acquired WWE contract, Gabe had to rely on another top star to help him. Enter Davey Richards. Richards is a professional wrestling dynamo, cut from Danielson's ilk, who masters in powerful kicks, concise scientific wrestling, and amazing precision. Danielson openly considers Davey as the next to be considered, like himself, the "best wrestler in the world". So Gabe, Davey, and former FIP owner, Sal Hamoui, began the EVOLVE organization. The first show, which showcased the many stars of the Jeff Peterson Tournament, earned the respect, attention, and adulation of wrestling fans. In fact, both EVOLVE and DGUSA have been considered much more entertaining than ROH, either due to their respect and support for Gabe, or due to the fact that their organizations still remain true to bringing more of an alternative to the wrestling world. As soon as this was the case, ROH decided to sign Davey Richards, among other stars to contracts, in an attempt to keep them from straying from ROH. While doing so, they have been pulled from any and all other shows from other organizations. This might very well be proof that EVOLVE is the true evolution of professional wrestling that ROH couldn't be, or can no longer be.

Where does this leave CHIKARA? Well, CHIKARA is a wrestling organization built on the styles of Skayde, as it revolves around Lucha Libre. It can be said that it is the first legitimate American Lucha Libre organization, even though other wrestling styles are allowed and showcased. Other than that, this organization promotes a very diverse way of professional wrestling, being somewhat comical in its approach. It definitely caters to the fans that come from both Generation X and from the Millenium Generation (that would be those born between the late 70s and the late 80s), with its comical references, surreal mentality, and innovative aspects. CHIKARA's stylings have allowed them to work side by side with organizations like EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA, as all three organizations look to promote a different look at the wrestling world. In fact, CHIKARA has been voted the "wrestling promotion of the year" for 2009, if not for its aforementioned attributes, then for its complex, well-thought, inviting, and compelling storylines and angles. CHIKARA's blend of what we know and love may very well make it a forerunner for the next evolution of professional wrestling.

So, what does this have to do with the WWE? Well, other than their need to steal stars from CHIKARA (see Colin Delaney), they have virtually ignored the attempts of these organizations to make way for the next level of wrestling.....until now. It's not enough that they have to steal stars, compete at an indy level, and showcase this on ECW. Now, they have decided to join up with these companies by casting off ECW and now taking a chance at promoting their new stars through NXT. Since ECW couldn't beat them, or stop them, the WWE will join them through NXT. Next week, when NXT starts, we will see 8 of their top stars being mentored by top stars in the WWE, through a more reality-based television program. Think "The Ultimate Fighter", only with WWE. Is this a good idea? Well, to get over new stars, yes. The WWE has the television time and production value to do it. But, I just find it funny that the WWE chooses to focus on the new stars fully now that every one else is. Sometimes the best way to beat your opponents is to do what they are doing....only better. Then again, the best way can also be to not do what your opponents are doing. This is probably why TNA still survived on a stacked Monday night against WWE. They may not act like it, but the WWE is concerned. This is why ECW can't go on anymore. It's not pulling weight. so, it has to go.

ECW will just about a memory by the time this will be published. In its place, NXT will come to life, breeding the next level of WWE wrestlers to help usher in the new level of WWE and the new wave of wrestling and sports entertainment. This comes about because ECW couldn't kill the grass roots of independent wrestling and national wrestling looking to change the face of professional wrestling. So, if you can't beat them, join them. Good luck, NXT. But, I'm warning you, right now. If you botch this up, fail, falter, or slip up, your competitors will take advantage, and they will run with it, properly. It might not be shown on t.v., like NXT will be, and it might, but it will happen. If I'm wrong, then if I see any of their stars on NXT, I'll know why: because you couldn't beat them, so you coerced them to join you. If I'm wrong, then where did Kaval and Daniel Bryan come from? Certainly not from under the wings of Steve Keirn or Johnny Ace...

No comments: