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« | Home | »

Where the American fight industry stands right now

By Zach Arnold | July 13, 2010

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This radio passage from the Sunday Observer is an interesting discussion. The setup for this is the fact that TNA, the pro-wrestling promotion that Spike TV has heavily backed for several years now, is reportedly in very bad shape. Spike TV has put a ton of resources in pushing TNA and UFC at the same time. One property (UFC) turned out to be a giant success and learned how to monetize their base. Their base in terms of ratings for Spike TV shows is roughly the same as TNA. The difference? UFC is able to generate 400,000 or more PPV buys for a lot of events lately. TNA is struggling to get 5% of the amount of buyers that UFC is able to at this point.

The discussion at UFC 116 revolved around whether or not TNA would give Paul Heyman what he wanted in order to save the company. The answer appears to be no. In the radio passage, the ‘he’ being referred to is Eric Bischoff, former WCW boss who was brought in with Hulk Hogan to try to turn TNA around and has failed at doing it.

DAVE MELTZER: “You know, he doesn’t know how to do wrestling that works today. I mean, granted, that may not be so easy because I’m not sure anyone truly does as the #2 group. I mean, that’s one of the big problems right now is that you’ve got WWE and you’ve got UFC and they really are both, they’re different but they’re, it’s like it makes it much harder for a #2 group because in a sense the #2 group isn’t really #2, it’s a distant, distant, distant, distant #3. And TNA isn’t even #3, they’re probably #4 if you really look at it. So it’s… you know… IT’S HARD. I mean, the fourth biggest baseball league? What the hell is that? Some AAA league somewhere that no one knows about except for the people in the cities where it is? And baseball a million’s time more popular than pro-wrestling or MMA. I mean, they got a tough road to hoe and that’s maybe one of the reasons why, you know, (Paul) Heyman… You know, I don’t know that Heyman’s going to jump. I don’t think he wants to go in and be a failure. He’s had plenty of opportunities over the years to go plenty of places, between IFL, he was what was it, YAMMA, I mean they all wanted him and he turned them down because he didn’t think they were going to make it and…”

BRYAN ALVAREZ: “And he was right!”

DAVE MELTZER: “What?”

BRYAN ALVAREZ: “And he was right!”

DAVE MELTZER: “Yeah, they were both major failures. IFL was a money pit.”

BRYAN ALVAREZ: “If he turns down TNA, everyone, that’s not a good sign.”

DAVE MELTZER: “Um… yeah.”

BRYAN ALVAREZ: “Not a good sign.”

A few years ago when UFC started rising up and growing, the question was this: Would MMA become a substitute or a replacement product for disgruntled wrestling fans? Early on, the answer was substitute. In order for it to become a replacement, the wrestling product being produced in America needed to changed significantly to stop the fan base from eroding in popularity. In 2010, we are seeing a real contraction of financial support from pro-wrestling fans and a real boom in growth for UFC. WWE PPVs domestically are reportedly struggling in the 100,000-200,000 range and TNA would love to draw 20,000 buys a show. What will the end result be for a company like WWE? A look at what’s happened in Japan tells us some key clues.

When MMA started to cannibalize the wrestling industry in Japan, the wrestling industry saw a collapse in television support. Without the television support, it became significantly harder to produce the kinds of shows that were needed to generate new fans or maintain the fan base they had. The end result (through scandals and deaths of key players) is that there are severe money shortages in Japanese wrestling right now, right at a time when we are seeing some good matches being produced by the companies still in business over there. The problem is that the fans largely don’t care about these good matches now. The mentality of giving up has already set in. It’s probably too late for a revival without major corporate support.

The same thing is happening in America now.

Topics: Media, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, TNA, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 19 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

19 Responses to “Where the American fight industry stands right now”

  1. Liger05 says:

    The idea that Hogan and Bischoff in 2010 know what it takes to build a successful pro-wrestling promotion is stupid. WCW was a different era with Ted Turner’s money. NWO wasn’t even there idea (UWFI v New Japan is where the NWO angle came from) and they hit a home run with that but just look what happened after. They didn’t know what to do and drove WCW out of business.

    TNA should of done something similar to ring of honour and see how it went. Wouldn’t of been any worse than the results they get now. I know a lot of MMA fans aint into pro-wrestling but still TNA should be offering a product which could appeal to those who want something totally different to the soap opera of the WWE. However TNA just went along with the similar garbage to what the WWE produce just they cant even draw the WWE fans.

    Zach didn’t Japan pro-wrestling suffer from the pro-wrestling companies imploding on themselves. I know MMA had a boom but the respone from New Japan in particular was crazy. Some of the booking during this period was utter madness (killing the biggest draw – hashimoto springs to mind) and only accelerated the demise in popularity of the product.

    Baba unfortunately passed away which split All Japan and took away the one solid promoter in Puroresu who had the vision and smartness to produce a v successful product.

    • Mark says:

      Yes, the decline of Puro is much deeper than just “people liked watching PRIDE in 2003”. The All Japan-NOAH split was very significant, the terribleness of New Japan was very significant, no promotion creating any new stars the fans were drawn to was very significant when K-1 had Sapp and PRIDE had Sakuraba. Certainly PRIDE and K-1 had a huge role in drawing fans away, but saying they were the only reason would be like saying WWE was only hurt by the UFC. No, years of bad product started the snowball downhill, the UFC boom just packed on more snow to it. You have to have something that makes fans stop paying attention first before you can show them what you’re offering for their attention.

  2. cutch says:

    I think TNA should reduce the number of PPV events theey hold each year and maybe do Clash of the champions type shows monthly with say 4 PPVs a year.

    They are losing money on PPVs but I think they at least breaking even with the TV shows and in this day and age what adult is going to buy a scripted “sport” every month? Wrestling is fun for some mindless entertainment but I would never pay for it, with maybe the exceptions being the big four in the WWE.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    Pro Wrestling is on the decline and certainly won’t come back for a long time…

    1) They don’t have the small territories anymore to build up talent.

    2) The talent they do have is limited by MMA. Many of the guys who would have went to MMA even a decade ago now have a real sports option in MMA.

    • Mark says:

      That’s partially true. There’s no question a lot of guys like Rampage (who could have been his generation’s Rock) or Chael Sonnen (who could have been his generation’s Roddy Piper) were taken away from pro wrestling careers by MMA and countless other guys who would have been pro wrestlers in another time are too.

      But, there are still plenty of guys who are either too hurt for various reasons (namely football) to be able to go into a shoot fight when they could protect themselves pro wrestling. And there’s also guys who just want to entertain doing pro wrestling.

      Could you really see someone like Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair going to do MMA if it had existed in the mid-70s? No, they both would have done pro wrestling because they are entertainers, not shoot fighters. Hogan would freak out when he’d realize they test for steroids and Flair would be forever disheartened he can’t blade in an MMA fight.

      If MMA existed 10 years earlier it would have lost the Scott Steiner’s, Taz’s, Kurt Angle’s, Iron Sheik’s, and Jack Swagger’s of the industry while most of the superstars still would have gone into pro wrestling.

  4. Tradition Rules says:

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

    It’s not true of ALL old school wrestling fans, but all of MY friends who were old school/NWA/WCW fans are now solid, if not diehard, MMA fans.

    I grew up watching guys like Brisco, Robinson, Bockwinkle, who were true techinical grappling masters or guys like (Greg)Valintine, Ole Anderson & Koloff, who were also technically sound but much more stiff and gave a sense of legit toughness to pro wrestling. Or the third group I would mention were guys like Rick Steamboat and the Steiners who had the solid amature backgrounds that really also knew how to wrestle and make it a bit more “athletically” entertaining as well. Same with guys like Brett Hart .

    How many of today’s guys in wrestling (other then Angle, and he is shot physically) have any real knowledge of WRESTLING?

    I know it is entertainment, but when presented athletically or, at the very least, not insulting, it can be entertaining.

    Pro wrstling in the U.S. is not going to change. There are too many stupid people involved in the business and anybody that could make it succeed over here don’t want to deal with the politics or corporoate bullshit,…and I can’t blame them.

    I started following pro wrestling in Japan back in 1996 being fed up with an incredibly insulting wrestling product from both WCW & the WWF.

    Your “Unofficial FMW Website”, Zach, along with Mike Lorifice’s “QUEBRADA” & Herb Kuntz’s “Wrestling Tidbits” sites and later Hisaharu Tanabe’s “PURORESU DOJO”, gave me a FULL introduction and background into pro wrestling in Japan. Much more athletic AND entertaining ,…for my PERSONAL tastes.

    I also had a friend of our family who was in the military based in Japan for a while. He was able to somehow, back in 1985, get some videos for SHOOTO in Japan.He knew I like pro wrestling and asked me if I “ever heard of a guy named Tiger Mask” and mentioned this former pro wrestler started a hybrid wrestling/martial-arts company.

    After he left the military, he used to go back to Japan pretty frequently, as he really loved it over there. He ended up bring back some videos of the first UWF,…what unique and much more real looking stuff!

    I became a fan of the UFC back in in its very raw beginning in 1993 and the last time I saw him, right before I moved to Arizona in ’94, he had metioned PANCRASE to me. Really had me intrigued.

    Japanese pro wrestling didn’t have the exact same feel, but the difference from pro wrestling this side of the Pacific, was much closer to it. The use of submissions much more (primarily in New Japan and later the UWFI) and occational KOs was essentually a worked MMA.

    Anyways, I’m not saying that pro wrestling in the U.S. needed to change into that exact model (not that I wouldn’t have loved it!), but stoylines with much more technical matches would have been better then the shit that has been on TV for years over here.

    Promos are enough added “color” for the UFC today (look at Lenar & Koshcecks promos,…people eat them up!), so I believe that pro wrestling, with a much more “New Japan” style would work over here.

    For years I made VHS copies of stuff from all different Japanese promotions for friends and they all shit a brick every time they saw something new.

    It didn’t matter if it was All Japan, New Japan, UWFI, Michinoku Pro, FMW or Joshi (women’s) pro wrestling. It got so bad I had to tell them I couldn’t make tapes for them anymore, it was taking up too much time. I told them if they want to come over and watch some from time to time fine, but thats it. These are all my friends who watch UFC (and to a lesser extent, other MMA) as dihards.

    See a conection here?

    As I said earlier, wrestling is not going to change in the U.S., even with guys like Austin, Calloway, Heyman and others, who are big wrestling names, & proud MMA fans speaking out about why they like MMA and what it has thats missing in today’s wrestling,…because those in charge are either to proud, stubborn or stupid to acknowledge that they are out of touch with what most fans want to see.

    I’ll stick to the UFC & MMA.

  5. liger05 says:

    There is no reason why pro-wrestling cant appeal to an MMA fan. It’s just pro-wrestling in America is so far away from actually looking like Athletic competition that there is no reason why an MMA fan would even give it the light of day. I got turned off from that rubbish in the late 90’s due to finding puroresu just cos that looked so different to what one would find WWE or WCW. I dont need storylines or wacky cartoon characters.

    The 18-34 crowd in the US will be lost for ever to pro-wrestling in its current format.

  6. PizzaChef says:

    Wrestling will always have it’s die hard fanbase…But looking back Vince really did damage the business in the long term, although no one really could of predicted the arrival and popularity of MMA back then. I see another (somewhat) similarity here. The two big figureheads in pro wrestling essentially destroying what they created. Inoki did some really dumb shit in Japan and Vince is doing dumb shit of his own. Although in the case of Vince he’s destroying potential young up and coming draws on purpose. Bryan Danielson in particular. Something is telling me he made him look weak on purpose to try to make the independent groups look weak by destroying one of their most highly praised wrestlers in Danielson.

    • Mark says:

      Vince is for sure nearly as (if not more so) crazy as Inoki is (and Zach I would LOVE a post from you comparing the two on insanity) but Danielson is a bad example. Under any circumstance he would not be over. He’d be a Chris Benoit level star (pre-murders, obviously) at best. He’s too small, they took away most of the moves he got over for doing on the indies, and he is hardly CM Punk with charisma or promo ability.

      There is the conspiracy theory they purposely crapped all over him just to enrage the online smarks, but truthfully he just never should have gone to the land of the giants under any circumstance beyond just going there for a paycheck.

  7. liger05 says:

    Hopefully danielson will be back in japan and not TNA.

  8. Mark says:

    There’s a few more issues around TNA that Meltzer and especially Alvarez always ignore when they do their daily “TNA Death Watch” deals.

    #1 is that Panda Energy is content using it as a tax write-off. And that makes it very different from promotions that weren’t backed by a corporation, so really it’s closer to WCW in a smaller way than it is to every other pro wrestling promotion bleeding money. They have been allowing TNA to cost them a ton of money since 2003, so if they were going to throw up their hands and give up on them it would have happened years ago when things were A LOT worse than they are for the company in 2010. Is Panda Energy disappointed that the Hogan/Bischoff experiment and going to Mondays didn’t work? Of course. But not so much that they’re ready to call it quits. Also, keep in mind that Bob Carter bought this company for his daughter Dixie to oversee, so just like Vince McMahon not being able to throw in the towel on Stephanie’s reign of terror as head of “creative”, neither can Bob tell his daughter she’s awful and needs to shut the promotion down.

    #2 They’re overstating Spike’s disappointment in TNA’s ratings. They get 1.0’s and that makes Spike happy. They pulled them off of Mondays because they were getting slaughtered and that 0.5 up against the (I believe) Shawn Michaels retirement speech was the breaking point. Also take into account that doing a 2 hour live broadcast is very expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars) But on Thursdays, unopposed and pre-taped is a much different story.

    As for how much of UFC’s current audience is made up of ex-WWE fans, it’s certainly quite a few, but I don’t think you can definitely say it’s the majority. All of my friends who used to be big into pro wrestling and got out of it between 2002-05 do not like MMA and now invest their fandom solely into football. And there’s some real hatred directed at pro wrestling from online MMA fans that lead one to believe they were never fans of it. I know you can’t base an ideal off of what people on the internet say, but when you look at it the ex-pro wrestling fans seem to be the minority. Either that or they’re too intimidated by the “OMG U LIEK THAT GHEY SHIT?” comments to admit it.

    Of course there’s a very vocal group of disgruntled pro wrestling fans who were so desperate to cheer on the McMahon family get taken down they’d hitch their wagons to the UFC, but that is certainly a minority of UFC fans. And people like Bryan Alvarez (who I’m not even sure actually likes MMA since he continuously speaks of it like it’s ROH) do not represent the mainstream, that’s for sure.

    • edub says:

      Great post.

    • Steve4192 says:

      “I know you can’t base an ideal off of what people on the internet say, but when you look at it the ex-pro wrestling fans seem to be the minority. Either that or they’re too intimidated by the “OMG U LIEK THAT GHEY SHIT?” comments to admit it.”

      I’ve always been of the opinion that the people who talk the most shit about pro wrestling are the converts. They feel the need to build their ‘street cred’ on the net by crapping on pro wrestling, even though pro wrestling is what introduced them to MMA. Most older fans remember that legends like Severn, Shamrock, & Sakuraba came from pro wrestling, so they aren’t up in arms about the current influx of pro wrestlers.

      • Mark says:

        That is a good point, they could be not unlike publicly homophobic gay people overcompensating “LOOK HOW MUCH I HATE THIS!” to cover up.

        Also not unlike how lots of people new to the sport do this “I WATCHED UFC 1 ON PAY PER VIEW!” crap, which given the number of people I have seen claim this should put the UFC 1 buyrate at 8 million instead of under 80,000.

        • edub says:

          That is too funny. I remember watching the UFC 1 on my dad’s “black box”(so I wouoldn’t have been part of the buy rate)…

          I’ll never claim to be a fan from the beginning though. I think I was 8 or 9 at the time of the first UFC, and I absolutely hated it. I thought it was the most boring thing in the world. The first match has like 2 punches and a kick land and then it gets stopped. The lone boxer comes to the ring with one freakin glove on and get’s tooled. Ken Shamrock a guy who looks like a pro wrestler(which I was a huge fan of at the time) got beat in about 20 seconds by the most boring guy there…(I’m sure I hated him more because he was wearing a gi and after three years of Judo I absolutely loathed the thing…).

          So all in all, yea I watched it but was in no way a fan from the beginning.

  9. Pro wrestling can’t compete with MMA for violence or reality. If that’s your goal, you’re going nowhere with a mainstream audience.

  10. marlowe says:

    I grew up watching the UWF and NWA. As soon as I saw the UFC in 1994 I was hooked. I no longer watched pro-wrestling and instead spent my free time training in BJJ and Muay Thai over the last 15 plus years. For me, MMA is completely different animal, but more attractive then pro-wrestling since it’s a hobby you can acutally parcipate in.

    One other point, as a child back in the 80s, I think the Dr Death’s, the Terry Gordy’s, etc were a ton more fun to watch then anything probably going today.

  11. Zack says:

    This thread fails without the “it’s still real to me, damnit” video.

  12. Tradition Rules says:

    marlowe says:

    “I grew up watching the UWF and NWA. As soon as I saw the UFC in 1994 I was hooked. I no longer watched pro-wrestling and instead spent my free time training in BJJ and Muay Thai over the last 15 plus years. For me, MMA is completely different animal, but more attractive then pro-wrestling since it’s a hobby you can actually participate in.”

    I still enjoy wrestling from Japan, but also having a love of Martial-Arts, be it reading about it or participating, I can totally understand what you mean. 🙂

    But like you said “its a different animal,….but you can participate”.

    “One other point, as a child back in the 80s, I think the Dr Death’s, the Terry Gordy’s, etc were a ton more fun to watch then anything probably going today.”

    Oh yeah, even more soe in the ’90s in All Japan, they were such agreat team together. Again, like other guys I’ve mentioned in other posts, true athletes that gave some legit tough guy credentials to pro wrestling.

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