This January, the NWA World Heavyweight Title turns 65. When Orville Brown defeated Sonny Myers to win the belt for its initial run, it’s hard to believe that the men involved would have thought the belt they were dueling over would go on to to have an almost uninterrupted lineage (and none at all until 1994, more on that in a second) and become arguably the most important title in the history of the sport.
My how times have changed.
The NWA Title is all but dead, the concept all but buried. Only in the world of professional wrestling–where basic economic principles are seemingly turned on their heads–could this have possibly happened. In theory, the NWA title should at least be competing for the honor of being the World’s second most important title–behind the WWE and possibly NJPW titles–and should be lending itself a group of increasingly strong promotions, not increasingly fractured ones.
Here’s what I mean: Purely in theory, the NWA title should be getting stronger and more valuable given the current climate in the broader wrestling world. Revenues are down; interest is harder to drum up; top level talent is as concentrated as ever. Shared, national level titles like the NWA title and its historic cousins should be more valuable to promotions both as a way of effectively sharing talent, and increasing the profitability of promotions.
Modern transportation makes moving major title holders easily, eliminating the need to try to run multiple, conflicting angles across the country. Shared cost would help ease the financial burden smaller promotions often face. Moreover, these other things should be leading into other promotions competing to join the NWA. But none of this is happening. None of it. Now hold all that in your brain for a second, while I throw a stark picture at you.
The following is a decade by decade breakdown of NWA Champions:
1948-58: Brown, Thesz, Watson, Hutton.
1958-68: Hutton (continued from previous decade), O’Connor, Rodgers, (Brazil, unofficially), Thesz, Kiniski
1968-78: Kiniski (continued), Funk (Dory), Bricso, Baba, Race
1978-88: Race (continued), Rhodes, Baba, Rich, Flair, Race, Von Erich (Kerry), Garvin
1988-98: Flair, Steamboat, Sting, Fujinami, Chono, Muta, Windham, Douglas, Candido, Severn
1998-2008: Severn (continued), Ogawa, Steele, Rapada, Sabu, Corino, Hashimoto, Shamrock, Killings, Jarrett, Styles, Raven, Rhino, Sting, Cage, Abyss, Pearce
2008-present: Pearce (continued), Albright, Blue Demon Jr., Cabana, Sheik, Kahagas.
Yes that’s right. Kahagas. A man who once wrestled Scotty Too Hotty (recently I might add).
Besides the stark drop in quality of champion, what should stand out is this: At some point, men stopped getting the title because they were stars, and started getting it because enough people wanted them to be a star.
Cabana and Pearce did a lot to bring back some value to the belt. But men like them were short term solutions for a long term problem anyway. What the NWA needs is to grow and properly expose star names, and then capitalize by putting national level titles on those names.
Now put both halves of this column together, and you’ll see what the NWA needs to do.
Grow strong, united regional promotions with their own localized pools of talent. Find the regional stars, and then elevate them from there. Make the product available as much as possible in every region possible. And let the talent find itself, don’t force development, and grow steadily enough that other promotions want to join you, instead of finding it more beneficial to bolt or not ever sign all together.
That’s a pretty daunting hill to climb. Thankfully, the title has 64 years of experience.
This past week, my buddy and former Baltimore-Sun Wrestling blogger Adam Testa opined the following on Twitter: “Think about the fact that Raw each week is longer than the monthly pay-per-view. This is part of the problem.”
He’s right. Once the show does its overrun, you’ve invested more time in a Raw than you have in a PPV. Aside from how ridiculous of an expectation that is for your fans, this should raise two questions:
1. What could the excuse possibly be for the stalled midcard and lower-card development?
2. If Raw is the most bang for our buck–and we’re to believe that unfathomably stupid line about “reigns don’t matter, moments do”–why should anybody care about your monthy PPVs?
You can hear Ray on In the Room, read him monthly in The Color Commentator, and follow him @rayITR.