Note: In wrestling parlance, a “popcorn match” refers to a low-stakes, humorous, or otherwise light-hearted match typically presented right after the intermission, while fans may still be making their way back from the concession stands. The match isn’t important enough to make fans jump out of the popcorn line and get back to their seats, so it doesn’t cut into concessions sales. We’ll use our Popcorn Matches to talk about non-WrestleMania happenings, dive into more obscure topics of interest to one or both of us, close-ups on particular wrestlers or trends in the business, etc. Is there something you’re wondering about that you’d like to see get the Popcorn Match treatment? Drop us a comment or an email!
For our first Popcorn Match, Rich thought it would be fun to dig into what else is happening in professional wrestling outside of the WWF around this time (i.e., up to 1991, contemporary with WrestleMania VII.)
With the growth of WrestleMania the WWF became more and more insular. Unlike the territorial promotions (Mid-South, WCW, Memphis, etc.) the WWF signed their performers to contracts with exclusivity clauses. When you were working for WWF, you couldn’t work elsewhere, even though you were still technically an independent contractor.
During the early WrestleManias, as it was until 2001, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was WWF’s main competitor, even though it was mainly regional and focused on the South. WCW was originally Georgia Championship Wrestling until it was purchased by Vince McMahon’s WWF in what would ultimately turn out to be a business failure, leading McMahon to change the promotion’s name to Championship Wrestling from Georgia (tricky!) and sell it off to Jim Crockett Promotions, after refusing an offer from Ted Turner. In 1988, Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions, which was close to bankruptcy, in the hopes of achieving the same type of national reach that McMahon had established with the WWF. His product was different and more traditional. His wrestlers fought under their real names (sorry, Hulk Hogan is not his real name) and their stories were based much more in reality and not so over-the-top. Gimmicks would be kept to a minimum (I admit, The Undertaker is a bit much). The rules were also stricter to keep a more of a traditional feel. For example, if you intentionally put your opponent over the top rope, you were disqualified. Wrestlers also could not jump from the top rope. This obviously appealed to an older, more traditionalist market. The WCW already had an established television spot on Saturday nights since the 70’s which provided a built-in audience.
Trying to keep up, WCW continued their Starrcade pay-per-views, but they never came close to WrestleMania’s buy-in, pageantry, or appeal. Starrcade actually predates WrestleMania! Their main success came with the free Clash of the Champions shows. If your parents wouldn’t buy you WrestleMania, you watched TBS at the same time to see Clash for free. But, if you weren’t from the south, you wouldn’t recognize the guys you saw, like Ric Flair or Sting. You wouldn’t recognize the tag teams of The Midnight Express or The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. Most of all, there’s this super popular stable called “The Four Horsemen” who would most likely be new to you.
As WWF expanded its pay-per-view offerings, so did WCW, with now familiar names such as Great American Bash and Halloween Havoc. By 1991, WCW was actually putting on more pay-per-view events than WWF and giving American audiences glimpses of Japanese wrestling.
What was possibly confusing to a non-southerner was that the WCW Champion was actually the NWA Champion. WCW didn’t get its own belt until 1991, and Ric Flair took it immediately with him when he absconded to the WWF. WCW was still part of the NWA until 1993 so they took advantage of having access to sharing regional talent across the south. Ole and Arn Anderson, Bruiser Brody, and Dusty Rhodes were showing up and giving southerners those dream matches they never thought they would see.
But, despite all this cool stuff, WCW just wasn’t really making the national draw that WWF had, for now. Soon, the Monday Night Wars and WWF would start to sweat.
A list of some of the performers we have seen who had been in NWA/WCW prior to being in WWF:
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
The Iron Sheik
King Kong Bundy
Kerry Von Erich
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan