Christmas came in early December for Alberta wrestling fans in the form of two match announcements for upcoming events outside of the Edmonton area. On January 11th, Michael Richard Blais will take on Pride in what’s being billed as an Alberta Indy Dream Match. The following night, former UFC fighter Mitch “Danger Zone” Clarke will face off with current RCW Heavyweight Champion Christian Strife for the first time ever. Both match announcements were cause for celebration in Alberta, not only due to the anticipation but due to the unique circumstances in which both matches will take place. Neither will take place in Edmonton; the Blais/Pride dream match will take place in Radway, Alberta with the aforementioned Clarke/Strife clash taking place in Bonnyville. Provincially, both matches are fantastic for the wrestling industry, but it does beg the question: why not Edmonton?
Well, the answer is simple.
Closed, Locked, and Bolted Shut
Exclusivity is everything in wrestling. At least, that’s the common line of reasoning, anyway.
It’s an understandable line of thinking, too, especially in the age of the internet. With so many different avenues to consume wrestling, there’s very little tethering a casual fan to any singular promotion. If a fan can simply wait to see their favourite wrestler elsewhere, why wouldn’t they? Losing a top performer hurts any industry, but it’s perhaps no more prevalent than in the world of sports, and by default, sports entertainment. Look at it this way: it’s not as though Connor McDavid sods off to play a few games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, is it? Even if it was, it would be a catastrophe if he was to get injured or somehow otherwise impact his play while in another team’s silks; look no further than Dominik Hasek playing – and subsequently getting injured – for the Czech national team at the 2006 Olympics. Again, it’s an understandable concern; if a promotion was to suddenly lose its top star due to an injury sustained elsewhere, it would be severely impacted for the foreseeable future.
However, there does have to be the differentiation between traditional sports and sports entertainment, and that second word is a key factor in why an open door policy is what’s, ahem, best for business.
Building a Brand
While random, the Triple H reference isn’t unwarranted. Over the past few years, Haitch has been primarily responsible for the influx of independent talent to the WWE. Many of the top talents in the promotion today cut their teeth on the independent scene prior to signing with the former-WWF; however, something that’s been slightly overshadowed in his tenure as COO has been a greater willingness to allow WWE talent to perform elsewhere. While still not quite an open-door policy, there have been numerous examples of WWE and NXT talent appearing on shows for different brands. Recently, both Fabian Aichner and the Street Profits not only appeared for EVOLVE, but became champions for the brand. In coming weeks, both Roderick Strong and Johnny Gargano will appear for the brand. Noam Dar recently appeared for ICW at last year’s Fear and Loathing iPPV. The policy even has an Alberta connection in itself, as Samoa Joe made one of his final independent appearances for the Prairie Wrestling Alliance only weeks prior to debuting in NXT.
It’s a remarkably savvy business decision; by getting established talents competing in different promotions, WWE gets a unique opportunity to showcase its brand in an area that it would otherwise have absolutely no influence. If you’re to look at it on an Albertan level, would it not make sense to have an established star from your own promotion appear elsewhere? WWE is blessed with unlimited opportunities to expose itself to a wider audience; the same can’t be said about Albertan promotions. Every opportunity to promote should be taken, and especially when it’s something as tangible as showing your best wrestlers off to the world.
The Talent Benefits:
While promotions themselves have a ton to gain from an open-door arrangement, the biggest beneficiaries are the talent’s themselves.
Like building any professional sports franchise, any promotion’s goal should be to develop and retain the most talented group of athletes and personalities to ensure long-term success. It seems simple, but fielding a better roster than your competitors automatically gives a huge advantage to your promotion or franchise. While it’s completely applicable to any professional sports team, the situation is exacerbated in professional wrestling. With storylines constantly fluctuating, injuries bound to occur and fans expecting a great performance every night, retaining your top stars is essential to any promotions success.it’s incredibly advantageous for a promoter to enforce a closed-door policy and essentially tie a wrestler to a singular promotion.
However, what’s the advantage for a wrestler? If one feels that it’s important for a brand to promote its talent, then it’s easy to argue it’s much more important for the talents themselves. After all, they’re the ones physically laying their bodies on the line each and every night; should they not benefit at least as much as a promoter? Yes, long-term security with one promotion is terrific, but the benefits of talent sharing far outweigh those of exclusivity.
First and foremost: competition breeds excellence. It’s a subject in the wrestling world that’s subject to some controversy, and rightfully so. Recently, the Edmonton Combat Sports Commission exempted professional wrestling from its ranks, making access to the Edmonton area easier than ever before for a fledgeling promoter. Many believe that opening the door to more talent and promotions in the Edmonton area would allow less-than-stellar individuals to open their doors in the area and, to quote the Young Bucks, “kill the business”. It’s a risk that even this writer must concede; new promotions are already starting to bubble in the area, and with any new business comes the chance of failure. It’s something that Edmonton can’t afford; admittedly, professional wrestling is something that many already look at with a slight amount of hesitation, and it doesn’t take much to lose faith in an entire industry. The promotions across Alberta all do excellent work, and I say that without any hyperbole whatsoever; however, all it takes is one proverbial rotten apple to spoil the whole bunch for everyone.
To this writer, however, it’s an essential step to ensure the long-term success of the industry in Alberta. Call me an optimist, but I prefer to look at the glass in this situation to be far, far more than half full. While there’s always the chance of rotten competition, one has to look no further than the Monday Night Wars to realize that competition can not only be necessary, but beneficial. In the late ’90s, both WCW and the then-WWF reached new heights, born in part due to the two promotions ruthless competition.
Perhaps most of all, it provided an environment where talent could flourish. The WWE was no longer the end all, be all of wrestling. Now, talent had a chance to not only select where they would work but actively have these promotions bidding for their services. While obviously not on as large a scale, wrestlers in Alberta would only benefit from increased demand for their services. Better compensation and an opportunity to showcase the high level of Albertan talent more often would only raise the profile of the individual wrestlers, but the entire independent wrestling scene in the province.
Wrestling is experiencing a boom period right now, and the Albertan wrestling scene has never been better. That being said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. If the province – and Edmonton specifically – wants to truly develop into a powerhouse on the worldwide independent scene, an open-door policy is a major step forward.