Bigger Than A Promotion? by Marc Madison

The argument seems impossible to have; in fact, the mere suggestion that someone is bigger than an entire company seems so much of a stretch that the person suggesting it may seem like they have a screw loose. Hulk Hogan in his day was the face of the WWE and he was the one that led the company into the ‘Rock n Wrestling’ direction that led to a crossover with popular culture and spawned as much celebrity involvement as anything we see today. His role and involvement aren’t to be minimized nor diminished in the slightest. When Hogan left WWE and ended up in WCW, it was unquestionably seen as a huge achievement. World Championship Wrestling had brought in arguably the biggest face in not only wrestling but possibly pop culture. However, while his addition was heavily promoted, and WCW was pleased with having him there because of what it meant for the company, there was never the notion that he was bigger than that company. If anything, he was an addition to the reputable list of names already there, such as RicFlair and Sting.

RicFlair is renowned for winning multiple championships and was tied to the iconic NWA/WCW world championship belt as anyone. Flair left the American Wrestling Alliance and came into the NWA through the Mid-Atlantic promotion, and was pushed as the guy that would lead the company and move them forward. However, for as much time as Flair spent working for Jim Crockett, there was never an idea that he was bigger than the promotion. When he briefly departed WCW, the company knew that his role was as talent, and they would be able to survive without him. In comparison, after all his contributions and the accolades bestowed upon him, Sting was always known as ‘The Franchise’. He was a signature person that was contributing to the company from when his career began to when the promotion closed its doors. Even though he was acknowledged as being the cornerstone of the company until its end, the company still worked in others and involved them in storylines, making them just as prevalent in feuds, angles, and titles because it helped move them forward.

As many will recall, after Hogan left WWE, they needed to rebuild with a focus on new and young talent, and develop a new guard to move forward. This is where men like Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels came in. Gone were the days where you could have someone simply hold a title for a prolonged period, and be booked at their annual event year after year, simply because it was what worked. For all of Hogan’s popularity and the business he helped generate as the main eventer of the first three Wrestlemanias, there was a need to move on, and it is safe to say that they did. Those four men helped to collectively move the company forward, and regardless of WWE’s relationship with the talent behind the scenes, the concept that any of them were bigger than WWE at any point is never entertained. The promotion helped to elevate them. The question is, would the company have been as successful as it was if others were in that role? We can speculate, if Hogan didn’t leave, would the company have faltered? It is safe to say the compelling stories being told with the likes of Hart, Michaels, Diesel, Ramon, etc. were because they were able to do things in the ring that Hogan couldn’t.

The product needed to move forward because the fanbase was changing, the world was changing, and a promotion needs to reflect that. Much of the ‘Rock n Wrestling’ fanbase didn’t connect to the new programming, and rather than watch they decided not to follow sports entertainment anymore. As the 1980s turned to the 1990s, the fans that loved WWE had other interests, as entertainment options were plentiful and wrestling didn’t have that necessary pop culture connection that it once did. There was interest, but the interest wasn’t as grand as it once was as new names were being built. As many will recall, after the Montreal Screwjob and how Bret Hart left the company, following the previous departures of Diesel and Ramon, they once again rebuilt and reloaded, as it was important to do so rather than to sit back and become stagnant. The promotion didn’t close up shop; they took a hit and were set back somewhat, but to suggest that they were a deficit would be a bit of a stretch. No one ever suggested that when Hart left the company, there goes the promotion. As a longstanding Bret Hart fan, I was grateful that he was the focal point of the promotion for a period of time. When he joined WCW, as much as it was meant to be a huge addition, it simply didn’t fit, much like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Hart was in a different environment and that didn’t help him, as it wasn’t where fans knew him best. It almost would be akin to when Sting came to the WWE; for all he contributed in WCW, as part of WWE, it didn’t seem like the right fit, and not just because it was thirteen years after the company closed its doors.

When Jeff and Jerry Jarrett opened NWA-TNA, they wanted to create an option for fans outside what was presently, available. As we know, no one wins in a monopoly, despite how much we may like Walmart. NWA-TNA fresh and new, and they developed talent as part of their promotion that would later become stars and help lead the company forward. One such star that has been known as the company’s franchise during his time there was AJ Styles. They had an incredible talent such as Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and years later Kurt Angle joined the company, providing exciting matches. So for as much as Styles was valued and made a major part of the company’s past and future, they eventually moved on. Whether they were prepared to do so or not, they did, and so other stars were made. The company didn’t close their doors, but rather continue to push new talent moving forward.

The same could be said for Ring of Honor, who have also been in operation for fifteen years and have housed talent such as Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), CM Punk, Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) and so on and so on. These men were part of the company’s early days, and there was never the belief that they were bigger than the company at any point. They continue to develop new stars and work to make names known to wrestling fans all over the world.

As we have seen, reactions for top talents can be somewhat scattered since for as many cheers as John Cena gets, there are those that jeer mercilessly. The same could be said about Roman Reigns. He is identified as being polarizing because he either generates love or hate, but overall he gets a huge reaction. Really, this is the ultimate goal for any talent, getting people talking, and if they aren’t saying something nice about you least they are saying something. However, something that Cena has stated time and time again, much like The Rock, is that WWE is home rather than being where John Cena works.

So where did this belief come from that someone (or someones) could even remotely be considered bigger than a promotion? On Sunday May 7th, a friend and I attended a Ring of Honor house show, and while the sold-out crowd of about 1,500 was heavily involved and engaged in each of the matches, it felt like there was one particular match that everyone was there to see, from bell to bell. Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, Matt and Nick Jackson, are collectively known as The Elite, which is part of a much bigger faction in the Bullet Club. Fans know that these three compete in not only North America, but in Japan, and do so fairly regularly. The Jacksons have often drawn comparisons to the Hardys, and that could be because of their look and wrestling style.

On this night, this threesome had the fans in the palm of their hands. There were chants that drew responses from the performers, and through every action and reaction, The Bucks were as entertaining in the ring as they were while standing on the apron outside the ring. It was a case of the cool heels that were generating laughs, engaging with the fans and encouraging fans involvement. At one point, Matt Jackson started a ‘that was too sweet’ chant. Can you imagine Hulk Hogan doing that, even as part of the nWo? While we are only talking about three wrestlers, they know what they want and truly appear to call their own shots, unlike wrestlers that have been tied to promotions before them, and currently.

We understand that there are still obligations that they hold with New Japan or Ring of Honor. However, their schedule is such that it feels like they have an unusual amount of freedom. Maybe it is not that way at all; perhaps they are bound to their schedules and no greater than the promotions that they are a part of. However, there was just something about seeing them, and how popular they were with that crowd that led me to believe if there was a person or persons that could be bigger than who they worked for, it is the Young Bucks. They would probably never say they are bigger than any company because doing so would raise the question of where to draw the line between fact and fiction. These men all seem fairly grounded, and play a role that doesn’t suggest that they believe they are bigger than anyone who employs them.

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