My schedule has been pretty busy as of late, as you could probably tell. However, there were two news items that came out over the course of the last fourteen days, that I felt I had to address. Unfortunately, I’m doing so a bit later than I originally planned to, but I hope you enjoy this edition of News & Analysis.
I can’t say I was shocked by how little coverage was provided online to what to me was one of the biggest stories of 2007 so far – Mistico getting a try-out match with WWE, going against the will of CMLL. I’m not surprised that the “Internet Wrestling Community” didn’t bother to sit down and analyze the news item any further than regurgitating Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller’s notes of some “Mexican wrestler” getting a try-out match at the February 27 SmackDown/ECW taping in San Jose. What very few realize (perhaps only the two names above that originally reported on the news) is that this is WWE’s way of buying out the biggest current star in Mexico responsible for what many industry insiders refer to as a re-birth of a dead business south of the border. Not only was Mistico ranked number five on the PWI Top 500 of 2006, he was voted as the 2006 Performer of the Year, Biggest Box Office Draw, and Best Flying Wrestler in the Wrestling Observer Year-End Awards. Quite the profile.
After being repackaged with his religious gimmick of Mistico in 2004, the wrestler formerly known as Dr. Karonte, Jr. (tribute to his father) and Astro Boy (named use when he entered CMLL) was without a doubt the biggest star in Mexico this past year. Statistically, he was also the largest drawing wrestler in the entire world, having main evented eighteen events that drew over ten thousand people each. His popularity in Mexico is amazing, which is where the WWE steps in. Known for his high-flying style, Mistico was an easy target for an expanding WWE. He was invited to a try-out match in San Jose at the February 27 tapings, as mentioned above. In the week leading up to the taping, there was a lot of controversy involved. CMLL was upset with Mistico, seeing the situation as their biggest star jumping over to the “big boys” up north. Other than the fact that he was booked at another event the same night, Mistico did make his WWE date. However, due to CMLL threatening to call immigration and actually cancel several bookings, cooler minds prevailed perhaps and Mistico wrestled veteran Dean Malenko in the ring before any audience was allowed in the building, not to get in trouble back home. Unfortunately, that didn’t allow WWE officials and upper management to see how a crowd might react to the Mexican star, but it’s believed that the company will indeed offer him a contract.
It seems like WWE has been in the search for the next Rey Mysterio for a while now. While they’re aware of the success Rey has brought, Mysterio had a legendary career even before coming to WWE, having cemented his spot in wrestling history. While his WWE career was very up and down, he was treated well for the most part up until the death of his close friend Eddie Guerrero. While he was given the World Championship, making him the only wrestler in WWE history at 150 lbs to hold the belt, he suffered from having to undergo ridiculous storylines and ideas put forth to him, all exploiting the death of Guerrero. Event with that mixed reaction, Mysterio capped off an amazing career, and definitely can retire tomorrow knowing that he’s left an amazing legacy in the business.
While that is all nice, WWE is certainly not looking for cute endings. They are aware of the marketing tool Rey Mysterio was, the merchandise sales he brought in, the draw he was, especially in states with large Hispanic following of the product, and most importantly – his overseas exposure, as he is a well-known superstar overseas and obviously south of the border. WWE tried bringing Ultimo Dragon in with the thought that they have found the next Rey Mysterio. We all know how that went. Yoshihiro Asai, another legend in the industry, failed miserably as WWE just didn’t know how to use the former WCW Cruiserweight Champion. In their mind, they didn’t get Rey Mysterio 2, and that’s what they were looking for. The move with Mistico, while similar to that, has a very key component. A fading WWE year after year seems to be falling off the charts when it comes to popularity abroad. While the dollars keeping rolling in and all is well in Stanford if you ask anyone with last name McMahon, the hunger for wrestling abroad is getting bigger and bigger, and WWE is behind. Mexico’s rebirth has been well documented by people like Dave Meltzer, and the industry has become a huge money-drawing machine there yet again. The attempt to get Mistico also ties into the second news item I wanted to discuss.
The most talked about news item over the next few days is going to be the new plan of expansion Vince McMahon is putting together. While this hasn’t been talked about online as of yet, it will be/is the topic of conversation in an edition of the Wrestling Observer, as well as Financial Week. WWE is currently planning an overhaul of a new international brand on a huge scale. It’s no secret to anyone who follows WWE financially that over the past few years, the international tours the company has done have been not only huge for popularity reasons, but very profitable financially, as the company’s popularity is growing overseas. Instead of merely producing close to facsimiles of the product and putting it on TV and PPV on an international station and occasionally doing a tour in that country, WWE would essentially create a full-time local/regional touring brand in several countries, with the WWE name, much like the territory system. It is meant to harness growth opportunities that the company has seen abroad. One major possible complication with the plan is that current wrestlers would have to be moved around to those international brands for this to work as well. While this is just in idea stage, Shane McMahon and the Chief Financial Officer have been assigned to create a business plan for it. [Thanks to Trevor Hunnicutt.]
I think you all now understand why purchases like Mistico are so vital to WWE. Not only does the biggest draw of 2006 completely crush CMLL business by jumping over to WWE, but allows for a completely new market and expansion of the company.
Looking into the idea, there is just as much opportunity and potential, as there’s room for failure. WWE has proven in the past that they’re not exactly good at executing side projects, as a certain Bodybuilding League, and XFL football league come to mind. One could even put a WWE Films branch in this space, as we’re yet to see major success or character development we were promised when the idea came about. However, it is important to point out that all of these side projects were non-wrestling related, while this project consists of WWE doing what they’re known to do best – wrestling. How do they approach the situation?
One way to go is trial and error, which could be costly if ran for too long and not adequately. Create a local, touring brand carrying the WWE name and wrestlers, whether it be Asia or Europe, and see what the response is. Not only is it hard to promote and organize such a thing, it’s very costly, as WWE would certainly want to send at least one or two big names to get people to pay for tickets. This will directly affect business in the US, but in the long run seems more than worth it.
Another possible solution is to just go overseas for a bit, and perhaps even do TV there for a month or so. While this is also very costly, having all the WWE superstars there will definitely help set up the “international brand.” The possibilities are endless, and WWE could literally take this project in all directions if they decide to do it. The bottom line is that in the year 2007, professional wrestling seems to be on the uphill once again, and is far from dead. Interest in the product is at an all-time high, and the quiet revolution of what’s happening abroad might have some huge consequences in the United States, as well as the future of the business overall.