Two weeks ago, Austin Aries walked back into Orlando, Florida as the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. With the fans strongly behind him, denizens of world of professional wrestling collectively turned their heads to the iMPACT Wrestling Zone to see how Aries would handle his first national cable broadcast with the contemporary big gold belt.
If you listened to his promo, then you heard him say that wrestling runs in cycles with down periods followed by boom periods. He’s right – just look at the modern era of professional wrestling with the down period of the late 1970’s, the boom period of the 1980’s, the down period of the early 1990’s, the boom period of the late 1990’s with the Attitude Era, and the extended lull that professional wrestling has been in for nearly a decade (since WWE sets the standard for the industry, we might as well call this lull the “family entertainment” era). Aries then went on to say that his fans are ready for him to be the man to lead the next boom period in professional wrestling.
I couldn’t agree more. Professional wrestling is ready for Aries to lead the entire industry into the next boom period.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that Aries is as transformative as guys like Steve Austin or The Rock were in the late 1990’s. But… he doesn’t have to be as transformative as Stone Cold or The People’s Champion. Instead, Aries needs to take advantage of the fierce opportunity of now.
What is the fierce opportunity of now?
The professional wrestling landscape is stagnant right now, but it’s well-positioned for something big to propel it forward. Speaking about iMPACT Wrestling and WWE – they have ample television coverage both domestically and internationally, there is sufficient coverage in all major forms of social media, there is a core committed fan base tuning in to the big two promotions on a weekly basis, and there are well-established distribution and promotional channels to sustain the industry’s growth and expansion for the foreseeable future. These are the very platforms that industries work for decades to achieve just so they have a point from which they can begin contemplating an evolutionary leap.
That is the fierce opportunity of now.
And, believe it or not, I think that WWE and iMPACT Wrestling can work with each other to get the next big boom period in professional wrestling started. iMPACT Wrestling needs to continue to play the role of the underdog promotion that could. They need to continue to be the promotion that puts their fans first with wildly interactive house shows, listening to the fans on major storylines and plot points, and bringing new styles of professional wrestling to the masses. In short, they need to be everything that ECW was in the 1990’s, but with the type of corporate polish that was available to WCW. If they can get that spark going on in Orlando (doubtful because the iMPACT Wrestling Zone sucks the life out of every broadcast), then TNA has a real opportunity to take advantage of the fierce opportunity of now.
And when iMPACT Wrestling begins to rise and get that widespread, cult-like following, the suits up in Stamford will have no choice but to change their product. Remember, the last time the suits changed their product the fans got Stone Cold and The People’s Champion. In retaliation, the fans also got a massive crossover star like Goldberg.
But wait, there’s more…
Now is the time when professional wrestling will either experience a boom period or suffer a prolonged lull period. And while groups like iMPACT Wrestling and WWE are well-positioned to take advantage of any opportunities that may emerge from properly negotiating the ferocious media circus that is today’s pop culture, I am concerned about other wrestling organizations that don’t have that type of luxury. There are dozens and dozens of domestic independent promotions who would receive a strong trickle down effect to their bottom lines if one of the big two companies can take advantage of the fierce opportunity of now. But if the renewed interest sparked by Aries’ climb to the top of the mountain is botched and fan interest wanes again, I wonder how many of those independent promotions can sustain their businesses during an extended lull period.
For the smaller promotions out there, this is really a do or die scenario. And what may be most frustrating to them is that they actually have very little say in how the strategy is set and how the battle is waged. In fact, we’ve even seen one of the long-time independent promotions in New Jersey shut its doors a few months ago. As a fan of professional wrestling, I don’t like that one bit.
I wish Austin Aries the best of luck in doing what some might say is impossible. While the responsibility for reinvigorating professional wrestling doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders, Aries has a unique opportunity where the entire alternative (i.e. non-WWE) wrestling world is ready to follow his lead. And while Aries can only occupy so many minutes during each week’s two hours of iMPACT Wrestling, I truly believe that his charisma is what all of TNA needs to take their game to the next level.
And if their game gets taken to the next level, then we all get taken to the next level with it.
Pretty exciting time to be a wrestling fan, huh?
joe1897 [at] gmail [dot] com