The following is my secondary BTB, started with the permission of Dubya. My other BTB, WCW 2007: Don't Call It A Comeback..., WILL continue, but this thread allows me to explore something I've been working at for a while.
This thread will be written, as closely as possible within the confines of BTB, in the style of a book about this (obviously fictional) promotion. That means shows will be recapped and, possibly, even skimmed over entirely. It's also written as a retrospective, in the past tense, as though it's a book being written now about a promotion that may or may not still be in existence in the present day.
With that mildly boring bit of explanation out of the way, let's get to it:
NWA New Frontiers: Taking Tradition Into The 21st Century
Chapter 1: The History Of The NWA
Our story begins long before the formation of NWA: New Frontiers, as the history of the National Wrestling Alliance can be traced back as far as the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Before the formation of the NWA, professional wrestling existed as a global array of independent regional promotions, each with their own ‘World’ champions that were neither recognized nor promoted in other territories. At that time, the system could reasonably be described as a mess; the variance in promotional rules and ethics among promoters was vast and regional stars, with the exception of exceptional performers such as George Hackenschmidt and Karl Gotch, had never had much opportunity to see their fame spread.
It was in 1948 that promoters realised it was time for a change as Paul “Pinkie” George, a promoter from the Midwest, formed the first version of the NWA with five other regional promoters: Al Haft, Tony Strecher, Harry Light, Orville Brown and Sam Muchnick. Each of these promoters had their own regional territory, the two most successful of which were Muchnick’s St. Louis territory and Brown’s Kansas City, MO promotion.
After much discussion, Brown himself was awarded the first NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign and set about the Board of Directors’ project of unifying the belt with other promotions competing ‘World’ championship belts. The most significant of these saw Brown defeat Frank Sexton, the holder of the American Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Title, at that time the second-most important championship in the United States. Brown would continue to unify the title during the course of his two reigns as champion prior to his retirement in November 1949.
His successor was a man who would go on to become recognized as one of the true greats in the sport, Lou Thesz. During his seven-year reign, Thesz would unify the belt with almost all of the other ‘World’ titles in the business, including those promoted by the rival National Wrestling Association, the Detroit version of the American Wrestling Alliance belt and another ‘World’ title being promoted in Los Angeles. This gave the National Wrestling Alliance the ability to legitimately claim their belt at the first ‘Unified World Title’ whilst promoting Thesz himself as the ‘Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Of The World.’
As time went on, the alliance grew stronger, dividing the United States and Japan up into regional territories that were ‘owned’ and operated by individual promoters. These territories were fiercely guarded by the Alliance and it’s promoters, with severe penalties for any who crossed into another territory without special arrangement with that promoter. Non-NWA promoters could expect harsher penalties; if they encroached upon the NWA’s territory, they often found themselves faced with everything from verbal and physical threats from the Alliance members and being forced to run against stacked cards filled with NWA stars from all over the country.
Not all the Alliance’s activities were so dubious, however. A travelling NWA Champion meant that local audiences only got to see the champion a few times a year, with his appearances being promoted months in advance. The champion would come into a territory and often face that area’s top star in a match that made both men look good, with narrow wins or time limit draws a common occurrence.
More importantly, wrestlers had the freedom to move around for the first time. If a wrestler’s act became stale in one territory, they’d simply move on to another area and continue their career.
In 1950, Sam Muchnick took responsibility for promoting NWA Champion Lou Thesz out of his St. Louis office, in turn becoming the NWA President and seeing his territory promoted as the NWA’s flagship group. Muchnick would hold the position for ten years, overseeing one of the most tumultuous times in the history of the NWA.
Major arguments broke out amongst the NWA promoters as the threat of a Supreme Court antitrust suit loomed large over the organisation and various promoters disagreed over the continued promotion of Thesz as the World Champion. In 1957, a key battle took place between Muchnick and one of his business partners, the Montreal promoter Eddie Quinn. Quinn disliked that Muchnick had business dealings with ‘outlaw’ Montreal promoter Jack Pfefer.
Quinn walked out at a time when the promotion were in the midst of one of the first ‘shoot’ angles: Montreal wrestler Edouard Carpentier had notched a disputed win over Thesz for the World Title with NWA promoters divided over who they recognized as the champion; this led to both Carpentier AND Thesz being promoted as the champion in various parts of the company. The plan was to build up this dispute until the two men would meet to crown an ‘undisputed’ champion but, when Quinn left the Alliance, Muchnick announced that Carpentier had no claim to the belt and the angle was dropped.
The possibilities of the Carpentier situation were not lost on Quinn, however, and he began to negotiate with unhappy factions within the NWA. He offered t have Carpentier lose a title match to their prospective champion, thus giving them a legitimate claim on the World Title should they decide to break away. In 1958, Quinn arranged for Carpentier to drop his title to Verne Gagne in Omaha but this led to more controversy as he had also arranged for his ‘champion’ to drop the belt to Killer Kowalski in Boston.
In 1959, Quinn also began to negotiate with the Los Angeles promotion, who also recognized Carpentier as champion. It was arranged for Carpentier to drop the belt for a third time in 1961 to Fred Blassie. The LA promotion would then secede from the NWA, promoting as the World Wrestling Alliance for seven years until rejoining in 1968.
It was around the time of Quinn’s walkout that a rift began to form between Muchnick and Minnesota promoter Gagne. After two years of trying to work out their differences, Gagne would walk away from the Alliance in 1960, with his newly-christened American Wrestling Association forming the second-largest promotion in the country, with himself as champion. One of the key issues in this rift was the scheduling of Thesz to regain his title in Minnesota despite the popularity of the then-champion Pat O’Connor.
Between 1960 and 1962, the Presidency of the NWA changed hands three times; Toronto promoter Frank Tunney had replaced Muchnick, and was in turn replaced by Fred Kohler, the main booker for new NWA Champion “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. In October 1962, Rogers beat Kowalski in a match promoted by Doc Karl Sarpolis in Amarillo, Texas. The success of this match led to Sarpolis being handed the NWA Presidency. In 1963, however, under Sarpolis’ stewardship, the NWA stripped the title from Rogers after a match in Toronto. This move angered Northeast promoter Vincent J. McMahon so much that he withdrew from the NWA, forming the World Wide Wrestling Federation, now the WWE, in it’s place. In April 1963, McMahon recognized Rogers as his first World Champion.
Although both McMahon and Verne Gagne promoted their own World Champions, both men continued to have representations on the NWA Board of Directors and exchange talent with the Alliance.
For the remainder of the 1960s and the 1970s, business for the NWA was more stable; the territory system was a success and the Alliance was producing stars at every turn with the rise of names such as Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. This success wouldn’t last, however, as the NWA bubble was about to burst. If the 1970s had been an undisputed boom period for the promoters in the Alliance, the 1980s would present a different proposition altogether.
The rise of cable television and video tape trading signalled major threats for the inter-regional territory system and would eventually pave the way for the death of the territories as fans began to see the plot holes and inconsistencies in storylines between the various regional promotions for themselves. With stars such as Flair and Rhodes now appearing on television nationally, their appeal in the regional markets was diminished when they appeared for live shows.
In 1982, Vincent K. McMahon purchased the World Wrestling Federation from his father and began to exploit this new trend in television viewing and raid his NWA competitors talent pools to turn his Northeastern territory into the first truly national promotion. To compete against this threat, the various territorial promoters, along with the AWA, attempted to co-promote shows under the “Pro Wrestling USA” banner. Disputes over money and power quickly caused this relationship to fall apart and it was Verne Gagne’s AWA who came out owning the shows weekly ESPN timeslot, which he used for his own weekly shows.
In 1984, the NWA’s Georgia Championship Wrestling was sold to Vince McMahon and merged into the WWF, with the company’s lucrative and long-running TV time slot on TBS being used to broadcast McMahon’s own wrestling shows. At that time (in an effort to hold off the threat of the WWF) Jim Crockett Promotions, the Charlotte, NC-based NWA affiliate decided to unify various NWA territories and attempt to ‘go national’ itself. Jim Crockett, Jr. - the company’s president - began to buy out the other NWA territories and simply let others die, absorbing their rosters into his own. Unfortunately this move, along with his failure to match the WWF’s aggressive marketing and merchandising campaigns, found Crockett facing bankruptcy. In 1988, Atlanta businessman Ted Turner bought out Jim Crockett Promotions and rebranded them as “World Championship Wrestling.”
With the backing of Turner’s endless financial resources, the territory finally grew to become a truly national promotion. With time, it became the key NWA territory and began to promote the JCP versions of the Tag Team, United States and Television Titles on a national basis alongside the World Heavyweight Title. Prior to this, only the World Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight belts had ever been recognized throughout the country.
Eventually, a situation arose where the NWA started needing WCW more than WCW needed the NWA and by the early 1990s the promotion was recognizing both the NWA and a WCW-branded World Heavyweight Title, signalling the beginning of WCW’s withdrawal from the NWA.
At around the same time, another significant NWA territory decided to withdraw. In 1986, Fritz Von Erich decided to make a big to turn his Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling into a national organisation in it’s own right. WCCW would co-promote the Memphis-based Continental Wrestling Association and form a working agreement with the AWA in a bid to try and take on WCW and the WWF, but this arrangement soon fell apart as a result of in-fighting amongst those involved. WCCW and the CWA would later merge to form the United States Wrestling Alliance, which continues to promote on a smaller-scale in the former CWA territories around Memphis and Nashville, leaving Texas without an NWA-Affiliate for the first time in the history of the Alliance.
Overseas, more defections rocked the NWA. The major Mexican promotion, Empressa Mexicana de Lucha Libre, was among them, as were the two major Japanese promotions, All Japan and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In the early 1990s, the NWA finally began to fall into disrepair and disarray. In 1991, WCW began to promote Ric Flair as the “WCW World Heavyweight Champion” at the same time that he was recognized as the NWA Champion. In July 1991, a dispute between Flair and WCW President Jim Herd led to Flair being fired and the WCW Title being vacated. Two months later, on September 8th 1991, Flair was also stripped of the NWA Title after appearing with it on WWF television, marking the final separation between the NWA and WCW Titles.
After the title was vacated, the NWA World Heavyweight Title lay dormant for over a year, until the NWA Board of Directors approved a tournament to be co-hosted by New Japan Pro Wrestling and WCW for the belt at NJPW’s G1-Climax event. That tournament was won by Japanese star Masahiro Chono and between 1992 and 1993 the belt would go on to be defended both in Japan and on WCW television alongside WCW’s own version of the World Title.
Tensions between the NWA and WCW continued to mount, reaching a breaking point over a variety of issues in the summer of 1993, not least a storyline intended to put the belt on Rick Rude. In September 1993, WCW finally and formally withdrew from the NWA, but retained ownership of the physical ‘Big Gold Belt’ that represented the champion, which they would go on to rename the “WCW International World Heavyweight Title.”
The NWA Championship was once again vacant and would remain that way until August 1994. Under the Presdency of Dennis Coraluzzo, a tournament for the belt was scheduled to be held under the auspices of the new NWA flagship promotion, Eastern Championship Wrestling. ECW had become the flagship by default, holding the most television exposure of the remaining territories. This sparked the most controversial moment in the history of the NWA, as the tournament was won by then-ECW Heavyweight Champion Shane Douglas, who shocked the world by throwing the NWA belt down, spitting on it and declaring it dead, saying he had no intention of being the champion of a promotion that had ‘died seven years earlier.’ He then went on to declare himself the ECW World
Heavyweight Champion, marking the secession of ECW from the NWA.
It was a crushing blow for the NWA. In an interview for ECW’s television show, Dennis Coraluzzo’s anger boiled over and he broke down in tears. With no flagship promotion and a World Heavyweight Title that had spent two of the previous three years vacant, many industry insiders declared the NWA dead.
In November of that year, one phone call would change the course of history…
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