Wednesday, January 13, 2010

10 Biggest News Stories of 2000's/

Now that the first decade of the new millennium is over with, it's time to look back at the biggest news stories in the wrestling world. I rated these stories based on 1) impact on wrestling, 2) news coverage in the "mainstream media", and 3) how big the promotion is (if applicable). If a backyard wrestling promotion had a guillotine match where the loser is literally beheaded, it'd be a big story because of 1) and 2) but not 3). Also, keep in mind that my ethnocentric self tends to focus on wrestling in North America (mainly the U.S. and Canada) so while there were some huge news stories outside the U.S. and Canada, they aren't mentioned here.

10. Eddie Guerrero passes away-the death of one of wrestling's most beloved figures in and out of the ring startled the industry. Mr. Guerrero's tug at your heartstrings comeback tale of personal redemption warmed the hearts of wrestling fans as did his fantastic work in the ring. Sadly, the Eddie Guerrero story was cut short way too soon but it was a wakeup call of sorts for the industry. Mr. Guerrero’s passing would lay the foundation for what became the WWE Wellness Policy.

9. Ric Flair retires-Mr. Flair's retirement wasn't a question of "how long will this last?" but “how do we do this right to recognize THE MAN’s many achievements in the ring?” According to some stories, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin proposed a program in which “The Nature Boy” would shoot for one last world championship (culminating naturally, in a final match at Wrestlemania). In the end, the WWE went with a program that saw Flair marked for immediate retirement should he lose a match. The angle was masterfully done and it led to one of the most tearful moments in wrestling history. While Mr. Flair's future in the ring remains in limbo, his exit from the WWE was one of the biggest stories of the decade, a reflection largely due to his many contributions in the 70's, 80's, 90's, and 00's. As big as the send-off was, the news following Mr. Flair’s retirement was even bigger. Mr. Flair would leave a position as a WWE goodwill ambassador for lucrative gigs signing autographs, making shoot videos, and even appearing for Ring of Honor.

8. The XFL-in 2001, the WWF seemed as if it could do no wrong. The company's recent public offering was a smash success and it was on the verge of putting longtime rival WCW out of business. Now, Vince McMahon was about to show the world what he could do to football. Like previous attempts to utilize the McMahon magic on non-wrestling avenues (such as his Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred and the World Bodybuilding Federation), this one proved to be an epic fail. The WWE's efforts to offer fans football during the NFL's (or No Fun League as Mr. McMahon derided it) off-season flopped despite a successful first week. Despite having a two year commitment from co-owner NBC, the XFL was cancelled after one season (Mr. McMahon had the chance to air games on UPN but this would have required him to cut half an hour off of SmackDown!, a choice he refused to make). The XFL would become the butt of many jokes for the next decade but several of the league’s changes would be adopted by the NFL. Regardless of the XFL’s failure, you’ve got to give Mr. McMahon credit for trying such a bold venture.

7. WWF becomes WWE: if any one thing demonstrated the World Wrestling Federation’s arrogance, it was its handling of name rights with the World Wide Fund for Nature. After negotiating a deal with the animal rights organization over using the WWF initials for certain overseas business, Vince McMahon chose to do things his way. This led to a lengthy lawsuit which culminated in an English court barring the World Wrestling Federation from using its WWF Attitude logo and censoring past references to the WWF (please note this is a simplified version of a complicated decision). The result was that the World Wrestling Federation changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment as well as its logo. Although the WWE tried a clever marketing campaign (“Get the F Out”) to both make light of the situation and to minimize damage, the company still struggles with public confusion over its new initials.

6. Brand Split: Like most businesses, the WWE seems to thrive when it has competitors breathing down its neck (Nothing illustrated this like its Monday Night War with World Championship Wrestling). So what to do when you’ve put all your competitors out of business? In the WWE’s case, they elected to compete with themselves by developing an internal rivalry. The result was the WWE taking its RAW and SmackDown! shows and making them into separate divisions complete with individual championships and rosters. Although the idea was that the wrestlers from each brand would never appear on each other’s shows, this rule was broken enough that it diluted the value of the brand split. Fans still debate whether or not the brand split helped the WWE or diluted each show but most would probably agree that the one good thing to come about has been the annual WWE Draft Lottery in which Superstars are shuffled among the various brands. Despite the protests of some fans, the WWE has stuck to its guns and continues to maintain the brand split.

5. Ring of Honor: If someone told you that a niche promotion with no weekly television and no major stars would have impacted the wrestling industry, they’d probably have laughed at you. No one was laughing though when Ring of Honor became a cult success. Although Ring of Honor remains a niche promotion, its impact on the industry cannot be denied. The promotion’s focus on in-ring work and its “code of honor” quickly captured the attention of some fans. ROH provided fans a true alternative to the WWE, giving them a product that focused on wrestling rather than glitz and glamour. With wrestling now out of favor with many television networks, ROH thrived despite a lack of weekly television to promote the shows. Instead, the promotion sold DVD’s of their live events for fans to follow the action. Despite its public access TV-like production values, ROH’s in-ring work blew away anything happening in the ring in North America. The promotion would develop major stars of its own including CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, and Samoa Joe. The company has taken a methodical wait and see attitude to growth, eventually having PPV’s and making the jump to TV. While the company’s future always seems in jeopardy, it remains a source of joy for its loyal fans.

4. WWE Wellness Policy: The death of wrestler Eddie Guerrero renewed discussion of the alarming number of wrestlers who died at a young age. With critics arguing that steroids and drug abuse were the cause of many of the deaths, it came as no surprise that the WWE began testing for steroid and drug abuse. Critics found fault with the program and a 2007 investigation that linked several prominent WWE stars to illegal pharmacies only added to questions about the program’s ultimate value. While the program remains a subject of intense debate among some, the WWE continues to fine-tune the program, giving it more and more credibility. The WWE’s generous offer of paying for substance abuse treatment for WWE stars both past and present gives support to the idea that the Wellness Policy is more than just a corporate move to garner good publicity. In any event, WWE Superstar Montel Vontavius Porter is undoubtedly thankful that the WWE Wellness Policy’s cardiovascular testing (an aspect of the policy that is often overlooked) led to his diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a cardiovascular condition.

3. Debut of TNA: It's said that nature abhors a vacuum so it's no surprise that following the demise of WCW and ECW, promoters quickly followed to fill the void left by their absence. While Andrew McMannus' World Wrestling All-Stars looked to be a possible successor to WCW, it eventually faded from sight as did several others. Then, legendary promoter Jerry Jarrett announced he was back in the game. The result was NWA-TNA, a promotion that wouldn't rely on weekly TV but instead, weekly PPV's. Despite a catastrophic beginning in which Mr. Jarrett was reportedly given overblown estimates on the show’s actual success, TNA has gone from weekly PPV’s to weekly television with monthly PPV’s. While TNA seems to have trouble establishing its own identity, the promotion continues to survive (thanks largely in part due to the financial backing of its current owner Panda Energy) and only the most iconoclastic of people would say the program wants for solid wrestling. TNA’s recent decision to sign Hulk Hogan and compete directly with the WWE has sparked some interest about where TNA is heading in the new decade. While TNA remains a distant second to the WWE, it’s a large enough company that it gives both wrestlers and their fans a chance to watch something besides the WWE.

2. Chris Benoit murders wife and son, commits suicide: Fans are still grappling with how this horrific crime happened. While we'll never know for sure, we are certain that this news story rocked the industry and exposed it to new criticism including misreporting by the mainstream media and self-proclaimed wrestling journalists. The firestorm of controversy eventually led to Congressional investigations not only of the WWE but of the industry in general. One of the sickest aspects of the news coverage of this story was by wrestling news sites and newsletters that exploited the story in order to sell their product. In the end, this exposed these peddlers of misinformation as journalist wannabes, both for their lack of journalistic integrity and for their inability to break any real news about the story.

1. WWF wins Monday Night War: As big as the Benoit story was, its impact on the industry paled in comparison to this story. After a century of major competition between various promoters, wrestling had one true kingpin in Vince McMahon. For many fans, it's still hard to imagine a world where there's only one wrestling show on Monday nights. Fans continue to debate why WWE won the Monday Night War but regardless of the reason(s), the WWE was the winner. In many respects, the WWE’s triumph would be a pyrrhic victory as their shows lost audience and the company continues to find a way to regain the buy rates and TV ratings of their peak.

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