‘A Mark’s Eye View‘ is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
AEW recently held its first card and from all indications, it was a success. It also got me thinking: why were there so few startups during the wrestling boom of the 1980s? Granted, it would have been impossible to compete with the WWF and the NWA, but if there was ever a time to get a new wrestling promotion off the ground, the 80s was it.
The easiest answer is that there were promotions starting up. Today the internet lets us know about all the late breaking news and rumors. Before a wrestler has been signed or the first card as even been held, a great amount of buzz and interest is generated. Back when there were only magazines to rely on there still would be some intrigue in new promotions. But it was more of a “I wonder what’s going to happen” as opposed to a “I can’t wait to see this!”
Instead of startups, Many promotions rebranded themselves to sound less regional. In 1986, Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling became the UWF. Decades before Vince McMahon asked the same question about his world championship, Watts asked why should he just cater to the world when there was a whole universe. The Universal Wrestling Federation is fondly remembered for its no-nonsense style and great action. To this day, no show has captured the flavor of pro wrestling better than UWF Power Hour. Unfortunately, the UWF was ill equipped to handle its many adversities and was sold to Jim Crockett Promotions within two years.
World Class Championship Wrestling was one of the biggest promotions of the 1980s. Due to talent leaving, mismanagement, and disgusting promotional tactics,the promotion was dead In the water by the end of the decade. “Flamboyant” Eric Embry famously ushered in a new era and the USWA was born. The promotion eventually relocated to Memphis and became one of the last major territories.
Mergers were also common in the 1980s. As is often the case in pro wrestling, the people in charge would not let World Class go. The former powerhouse merged with ICW in the Northeast. This gave fans a tongue twister of a promotion: International World Class Championship Wrestling. Continental merged with USA wrestling to form Continental USA. And these aren’t even to mention the many times one promotion would absorb another, such as when the aforementioned USWA absorbed the CWA or when the NWA took on the UWF talents (and proceeded to do nothing with them).
In 1991, things began to change. The Global Wrestling Federation began to turn some heads, but this may have been due more to having a new daily show than fans wanting to watch a new promotion. That same year, Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling began. Thanks to favorable coverage from the Apter mags and tough old school booking not seen in the bigger companies, the promotion became popular. In 1994, Paul Heyman revolutionized wrestling when he pushed Eastern Championship Wrestling to the Extreme, and from then on each new wrestling company in America sought to be the next ECW.
Wrestling promotion startups were not as big of a deal in the territory days. Maybe it was because the information simply didn’t get around as quickly as it does today. Of course, the landscape of wrestling has changed a lot since 1985. Back then, another promotion was almost a burden to follow. Today, even the most ardent fans of America’s only major wrestling company refer to themselves as apologists. It only makes sense a competitor would be greeted with open arms.
Next Week: Looking at wrestling and homosexuality.