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For the last 20 years, WWE has ruled the wrestling world with an iron fist. Once World Championship Wrestling ceased providing legitimate competition to Vince McMahon, WWE has had by the far the largest scope and the deepest pockets in the industry. While some companies, particularly TNA during their glory days, have landed significant television deals and been able to carve out a niche in the American wrestling pie, they never approached WWE's overall might. TNA briefly tried to compete with WWE by airing Impact on Monday night's in direct competition of RAW, and got smoked in the ratings and have never been the same since.
With the new television contracts set to earn WWE billions of dollars over the next decade, the might of WWE will have never been stronger. That strength relative to their competition allows WWE to dominate and control the entire industry. To the general public, wrestling simply does not exist outside of WWE, and it has been nearly two decades since WCW closed down, meaning that a whole generation of wrestling fans have no memory of what it was like when WWE had a true equal that could rival, and at times usurp, their spot at the top of the industry.
Wrestling of course does exist outside of WWE, and in recent years has actually gained momentum while in the shadow of WWE. Thanks to the internet, particularly YouTube and modern streaming services, wrestling outside of WWE has been able to build a cult following despite lacking a major television outlet in the United States. Even so, the success those companies have had are dwarfed by the revenue generated by WWE; even a company like New Japan Pro Wrestling; which is a historic and very successful organization, can't come close to matching WWE in revenue and international appeal.
Despite their defacto monopoly status, WWE has recently not been content to allow these smaller companies to grow underneath their enormous girth. As companies such as NJPW and Ring of Honor have made modest gains attracting attention in the United States, WWE has went into overdrive trying to fend them off. If you don't believe me; just look at the recent history. In January 2016, WWE made a power play and acquired some NJPW's (and by default, ROH's) top talent in a raid reminiscent of the halcyon days of the Monday Night War; signing AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Just a few months ago, WWE attempted to block ROH from running a show in Madison Square Garden, leading to an awkward squabble between MSG and ROH's parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, before ROH was allowed to run the show.
ROH and NJPW have found success lately in America; NJPW has seen strong turnouts for their few shows in California over the last year, peaking with over 6,000 fans for a show in San Francisco last month. While technically not a NJPW or ROH show, the independent supercard ALL IN, is anchored by talent from both promotions and sold more than 10,000 tickets in 30 minutes. The MSG show in April has already sold 9,000 tickets during the pre-sale phase and will almost assuredly sell out the arena, something WWE hasn't done since 2015.
That kind of success though, has been minor in the grand scheme of things. It's not insignificant that non-WWE shows are drawing those kind of numbers for special events, but the revenue generated is still nothing compared to what WWE currently makes, and once the new TV deal kicks in WWE is going to be making much more than that. Even NJPW or Ring of Honor could gain a further foothold in the market and draw those kind of numbers consistently, WWE isn't in any danger of being usurped. Until they sign a billion dollar TV deal, the field will always be slanted in favor of WWE; because they are the established brand.
WWE though, is a company that in some ways is based on paranoia and a desperate sense of self-preservation. Vince McMahon doesn't want any company outside of WWE gaining momentum, and he will dedicate his efforts to preventing them from progressing further. The existence of NXT is somewhat related to that; NXT is essentially WWE's answer to independent wrestling. WWE's strategy is to sign the top independent names and promote them on their television and have them run separate house shows and programs on the WWE Network; with the idea being that fans don't need to watch independent wrestling (for WWE, this means any non-WWE promotion) because all of the top stars are on their show. This is the same exact strategy WWE utilized back in the 1980s, when McMahon signed top guys from a territory (think of the AWA as an example) and would then run that territory's towns with the former stars of the territory.
NXT exists under the guise of being a developmental territory for WWE; which isn't really true. While the WWE Performance Center, the one that is full of more than hundred former athletes looking to transition into pro wrestling, is indeed training and developing talent for WWE; it isn't like the elite talent WWE is poaching from outside promotions is in dire need of further development. To put it simply, Johnny Gargano is not in NXT every day learning how to run the ropes and do leapfrogs, he is there to draw fans to NXT as a touring brand. Consequentially; if you look at the card for the NXT TakeOver specials, almost all the talent was trained and developed outside of WWE. In fact, on the TakeOver Brooklyn show taking place next week, not a single talent featured on the card got their start in WWE; they were all trained on the independents.
In fear of these smaller promotions gaining ground, WWE is pumping resources into talent acquisition. Every month it seems that a new top name from the independents is singing with WWE. WWE has more talent now then they know what to do with; certainly on the main roster, where only a small fraction of the talent is given the opportunity to have a meaningful program; but also in NXT. WWE has a limited amount of screen time they can dedicate to talent, and with one PPV show a month, they are very limited in choosing who they promote. WWE might have 50 great performers, but you'll only see a handful of them reach their potential because they simply cannot dedicate the time on screen to give them a fair shot.
As a wrestling fan; it can be disappointing to see wrestlers you are used to seeing work long matches and engage in programs reduced to spot roles on here and there. Take Donovan Dijak (Dominik Dijakovic in NXT) for example. I have been watching Dijak since he first started out in 2013 on the New England independents; I've seen him wrestle a ton of good matches and he was starting to hit his stride on the independents in 2017; when he signed with WWE and began working there last September. Since then, Dijak has wrestled twice on NXT television, for a combined total of 7 minutes. Unless I live in Florida and I'm traveling to all the NXT house shows; my consumption of seeing Dijak has gone from 20-25 matches a year on the independents, many of which are good, lengthy matches, to two squash matches on NXT.
The same can be said for so much of the talent WWE has acquired over the past several years. Particularly once they get to the main roster; it becomes almost a joke. Bobby Roode was a major star in TNA and even had a lot of success in WWE; now he is a lower mid-card wrestler. Uhaa Nation used to be amazing with his combination of size and agility; he signs with NXT, gets his name changed to Apollo Crews and is now in a jobber tag team. KENTA (Hideo Itami) was one of the best wrestlers on the entire planet not that long ago, and today is a random mid-carder on 205 Live.
WWE going all out to try and sign as much talent as possible isn't inherently bad; it's actually great for the talent because they have an easier pathway to major success in WWE; and even if they don't sign, they have increased leverage while working in other promotions. The talent makes more money that way and that is good. However, it really does suck when one of your favorite wrestlers is reduced to a very minor role within the company. If every wrestler that was signed was treated like AJ Styles, things would be great; but the reality is only about a half-dozen wrestlers in the company can be booked like Styles, so a lot of them are going to have to be bit players in WWE. Ultimately, the more options fans have to see their favorite stars is probably what's best for the industry, and when WWE controls a disproportionate amount of those stars, we are not seeing the best the industry has to offer.
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