One of the basic tenets of economics is that competition makes business better. Companies compete with one another to create the best product for the consumer. When companies compete -- when they fear that the consumer will leave them -- they typically put out a great product, or they risk getting left in the dust.
That concept is absolutely true in the world of professional wrestling. For more than 100 years, professional wrestling organizations have been competing for fans' attention. Today, the WWE is the Number 1 professional wrestling organization in the world because it competes the best, and over the last 30-plus years, has systematically destroyed or purchased its competition.
Sometimes, the result of competition can be a monopoly. The WWE is not a monopoly in the wrestling world, but the gap between them and the next nearest competition is so vast, it has arguably hurt its own product. Professional wresting has not been as hot as it was in the late 1990s when the WWE and WCW were fiercely competing for ratings. That era, when guys such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Sting, Mick Foley and Bill Golberg became huge stars, saw several million people tuning in every Monday night to watch two competing professional wrestling shows, Monday Nitro and Monday Night Raw.
Imagine two equally hot football organizations having games on rival networks on Sunday night? Cam Newton was the star of one organization and Tom Brady the other? That would be great for business.
Ever since the WWE purchased WCW in 2001, TV ratings and WWE's storyline creativity have been somewhat stunted. Ratings have dropped, and while the WWE is bigger than ever, thanks to its innovative WWE Network, the fact that it's a publicly traded company and for the first time in pro wrestling's history, the mainstream sports media covers the industry, the in-ring product is still spotty.
All of that is exactly why the rise of professional wrestling's independent organizations is transforming pro wrestling and the WWE. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why.
Billy Corgan, yes, the former frontman of Smashing Pumpkins, is one of the owners of Total Nonstop Action wrestling, along with Dixie Carter. TNA is struggling for survival these days. Many would argue that their best days are behind them. The company is funding its television tapings on a month-by-month basis, and no one quite knows how it was able to put on its flagship "Bound For Glory" PPV two weekends ago. TNA, since its inception in 2002, has been instrumental to the WWE's current global success. Some of the WWE's best in-ring wrestling is a result of what TNA did for the past 15 years. The WWE never acknowledges TNA on its television programs, but has no problem poaching their stars.
The current WWE champion, AJ Styles, created a body of Hall of Fame work in TNA, performing in some of the greatest matches of the past decade.
Styles honed his craft in Japan and in TNA, and now is, hands down, the best wrestler in the WWE today. Where would Styles have been wrestling the least 15 years if TNA wasn't around? Not in the WWE. Styles had a tryout in the WWE in 2002, but he lost his tryout match.
Other top stars to join the WWE include Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe, currently signed to the WWE's NXT brand. WWE Hall of Famer Sting, of course, spend a decade in TNA before the WWE finally signed him two years ago. These wrestlers benefited from having this small organization to wrestle for. They gave the fans an alternative to cheer for. The WWE is reportedly interested in buying TNA or just its library, so that it can have access to so much of their current stars' prior work.
TNA also recently broke ground with its "Broken Matt Hardy" angle, where long segments were filmed at Matt Hardy's home, where he is having a mental breakdown, and is on a quest to "delete" his brother Jeff Hardy. The scripted drama outside of the ring has bled over to the WWE, which has been doing it with its New Day vs. The Wyatt Family angle, and recently with Randy Orton having a mental breakdown, while staring in front of a mirror before a match.
Some of the best wrestling in the world is happening in Lucha Underground, a company that has embraced the theatrical aspect of professional wrestling. Based on the Mexican Lucha Libre acrobatic style of wrestling, the in-ring product is fantastic. No one can watch these Lucha Underground matches and not be amazed by the in-ring work. Check out this match:
Lucha Underground matches take place in a warehouse-style arena, as if the fans had found some underground, out-of-the-way fight club. The fans stand and watch, knowing that what they are seeing is a bit out of control. Lucha Underground offers some of the grit and rawness that the WWE lacks. One of the downsides of the WWE's rise of the past 15 years is that the product has become heavily scripted, from the moves, to the interviews, to the commentary. Sometimes, the WWE can feel overly sanitized.
Lucha Underground, however, is pure television. It's based on seasons, and takes a break in between them. The backstage work is often filmed as a serial drama, with antagonist-protagonist storylines.
This is a product that is turning professional wrestling into a legitimate "male soap opera," driven by a superior in-ring wrestling product.
Ring of Honor
Daniel Bryan. Kevin Owens. CM Punk. Matt Hardy. Sami Zayn. These are just some of the major pro wrestling stars who competed in Ring of Honor, which airs in syndication.
Ring of Honor is where you go if you want to have stiff, strong-style professional wrestling matches. Its product is modeled after the Japanese style, where there's even a "Code of Honor," that states that wrestlers should avoid outside interference and always shake hands.
Ring of Honor, over the years, has been a place for guys to hone their craft, or go after the WWE discarded them. It's also a place where the fans are as much a part of the show as the wrestlers. The fan chants are real and have influenced much of the WWE fan chants, including the "Let's go Cena/Cena Suck," "You Deserve this," and "This is Awesome," chants.
The WWE's current Universal Champion, Kevin Owens, waged some of the greatest independent feuds in history against WWE superstar Sami Zayn, who wrestled under a mask as "El Generico," long before they started to tear the house down in front of millions of people in the WWE.
When guys like Owens and Sami Zayn join the WWE, they become instant superstars because of the fan base they built on the independent scene.
The WWE offers the greatest overall product in the world, but one of the reasons it does so is because a lot of what we see in the WWE happens first elsewhere. The fans all over the world are watching these other organizations, which are pioneering ideas that the WWE will likely try out on the national stage one day.