Indie Companies Lead the Way

18 Oct

I’ve already looked at some of the issues with the major professional wrestling organisations such as TNA and, moreover, WWE – the latter being particularly prone to vested interests, petty politicking, and abuse of employees as “independent contractors” (though in fairness to WWE, they’ve had more media light shed on them and are thus subject to greater scrutiny than TNA, who have still yet to present a competent drug testing programme).

Momentum is gaining in the industry on the call for an off-season for pro wrestlers. Above all other issues, this is one which consistently garners the support of sports entertainment followers. The reason for this is that, though a relatively simple concept (particularly in terms of each star’s “off-season” being rotated so that the roster as a whole doesn’t have one), it lies at the root of so many other surrounding difficulties facing the business today.

Kevin Nash may have cut another insider promo on CM Punk on Raw recently – in response to Punk’s own comments that have, from all accounts, actually deterred casual fans – but if he’s ever spoken poignant words in his career, it was when he pointed out that, in exploiting WCW’s old desire to buy stars rather than create them within, he (and Scott Hall) demanded guaranteed contracts that would become widespread throughout not only WCW but also the then-WWF, starting with the likes of Brian Pillman (at the time, arguably the industry’s hottest free agent, and the most compelling character on TV).

What the guaranteed contracts provide today is an opportunity for pro wrestlers to each be rewarded with an individual, custom-made off-season period and, as I’ve previously pointed out, increase their body’s longevity and, thus, generate more revenue for everyone at WWE. While the contracts and their heavily restrictive nature are a blatant contradiction of WWE’s “independent contractor” rhetoric, they do offer a foundation for such a plan to be built upon – if the will was there.

Chris “Harvard” Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute – an invaluable research resource for high-impact sports entertainment such as NFL, NHL, and pro wrestling – recently suggested that it’s not just chair shots that have been causing concussions; various collisions and moves can put athletes at risk, and this includes pro wrestlers under the banner of WWE where chair shots are banned (unless, apparently, you’re Triple H and the Undertaker, “fine” or no “fine”).

As has been driving much of the writing on sites like this and others, the greatest challenge for this business is engaging the mass media and public at large in looking at pro wrestling as a serious art form. When this happens, as opposed to dismissive scoffs at the product by those who simply don’t understand it due to its athletics/acting crossovers, it will be subject to more worthwhile scrutiny. As Jeff Katz recently tweeted, “Love the genre of wrestling, hate the genre wrestling – you simply must respect the heart, will and commitment it takes to do such a thing.”

Jeff Katz happens to be directly from the Hollywood scene that Vince McMahon has for so long bizarrely craved to become part of and yet is, somewhat ironically, doing Vince’s “unthinkable,” by not only venturing into the world of sports entertainment with the Wrestling Revolution Project, but also actively seeking Screen Actors Guild union memberships for his talent. WRP will also be featuring gifted stars WWE didn’t hold onto, such as Luke “Festus” Gallows, Ken “Dykstra” Doane, MVP, Daivari, and Colt Cabana (“how ya doin’?”) What’s probably the most exciting part of this project is the ground-breaking, innovative way it utilised Kickstarter to get off the ground, and the fact that it really will literally have an off-season for its talent – because its premise is based on a 12-episode television series with an entire story arc running right through, encompassing all the characters therein.

That’s not all that’s happening right now beyond the glitz, glamour, smoke and mirrors of WWE into the grassroots. Because there’s a pattern of extremely successful names in the entertainment industry applying their own take on pro wrestling. While Jeff Katz brought us such movies as Wolverine whilst VP of Production at Fox, one Billy Corgan enjoyed massive success as frontman for the Smashing Pumpkins rock band – and is also putting his name to a start-up promotion, known as Resistance Pro, which is featuring indie scene stars such as Harry “DH” Smith, Teddy Hart, Necro Butcher, El Generico, Cheerleader Melissa, the Briscoes, and – yes – that Colt Cabana guy.

Corgan – like Katz – is a lifelong, passionate pro wrestling fan, and is also approaching the art-form with the same sensibilities. In a Fox interview, he explained that Resistance Pro is an effective alternative to WWE because it’s attempting to take pro wrestling back to its rough-and-ready roots, and, working closely with Nowinski, is trying to prevent serious injuries such as concussions affecting the talent through “pre-screening and post-screening” and various proactive measures.

Both the Wrestling Revolution Project and Resistance Pro have more than borrowed from historical uprising imagery and language in the promotion of their respective start-up organisations this year. But unlike so often in media, these groups have not just embraced a cliche – they have truly trailblazed for the business as a whole. Through resistance to the same old methods, they are legitimately attempting to revolutionise an industry that has for so long suffered from the domination of an ethically suspect WWE and the downturn of the diminishing independent scene and developmental territories. Much can be enjoyed and respected from their respective unique interpretations of the genre many of us love. It’s fair, it’s fresh, and it’s exciting for the industry as a whole.

Again, ironically, Vince and Stephanie McMahon have been in awe of mainstream entertainment to the point of hiring disinterested celebrities and even holding SummerSlam in Los Angeles in order to try to woo personalities and potential partners there. But what Vince, in particular, doesn’t seem to grasp, is the way the likes of proven successes like Jeff Katz and Billy Corgan respect the business on a human level, and in a manner that, if anything, has greater chances of a thriving, healthy working environment – something WWE could learn from, embrace, co-opt, and enjoy even greater success from.

The fact that Vince McMahon doesn’t “get it” is what, in a final twist of tragic irony, makes him more of a carny “wrasslin'” promoter than any of these promoters – or perhaps even the Turner boys he so hated – ever were.

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2 Responses to “Indie Companies Lead the Way”

  1. Lennon November 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Interesting piece, but I have a few issues with it.

    We’ve seen nothing of either of these companies yet, so we should keep that in mind before patting them on the back, especially when there are so many great companies out there that don’t get nearly the credit they deserve.

    You can’t really thank WRP for providing an “off season” when all their wrestlers fight year round for other promotions at the same time. It, so far, was just a weekend shoot not the home promotion for anyone.

    Also, their kickstarter campaign was clearly faked and it is unfortunate to see people report otherwise. It is impossible to raise that kind of money for most projects, let alone wrestling, and when you look at the numbers you realize far too high percentage of the money came from a very small group of “donors.” It doesn’t add up to anything other than Katz financing it himself (or through traditional means) and funneling the money through kickstarter for publicity.

    • Wrestling Scribe December 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      I appreciate your points; you have raised some interesting questions, and rightly so. However, there is some cynicism that I think could be left aside when organisations such as these try so hard to do something different, and in a different way.

      I think the thrust of the piece, and the important thing to remember, is that any attempt to, say, reduce concussion risks or unionise a roster – especially at the outset, at the birth of an organisation looking to minimise bureaucratic challenges – is extremely admirable, unprecedented, and quite ground-breaking. The way WRP runs as a seasonal product is not about praising them for it (such a decision was largely due to circumstances surrounding the nature of their set-up), but it’s food for thought and again provokes consideration towards an off-season not in fact for an entire product but rather for individual performers who do not wrestle on other shows, but instead as “independent contractors” (sic) who are bound to WWE’s restrictions.

      Again, regardless of where the cash came from (it was, indeed, obvious that a few transactions provided the full amount, suggesting high interest from wealthy contributors), the concept of using Kickstarter – for something other than indie movies, for a change – is also innovative, as I said in the piece.

      I have never said that existing indie groups aren’t excellent, or that WRP provide an off-season for anything like contractually-restrained talent, or that the financing’s source was anything other than a few wealthy interests. My point was, and remains, that any groups in their infancy to try and contribute to a more ethical, innovative, and outside-the-box pro wrestling landscape should be applauded. I really don’t see the need to smack them down for such admirable efforts, and the other “great companies out there” would do well to take these on board rather than dismiss them. It would be better in the long run.

      Thanks for your comments and for reading – it’s appreciated!

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