I don’t think I’ll ever forget my discovery of studio wrestling. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually very young and so, wrestling television was really just one thing to me. It was a 2-hour show in an arena, unless you couldn’t sell tickets anyway, featuring matches and in-ring promos that were inevitably interrupted. There was a set or ‘titantron,’ whatever, it was all very loud and big matches would happen, even if often without their eventual PPV finish. That was wrestling television.
In fact, I’d often find myself confused at the calls for some variety. Onlookers would want something different from TNA, a more defined identity but to me, there was no alternative. Very simple situation, you just do RAW but in a smaller building with a different roster, easy! Well, that format is now probably furthest from my personal preference, as slowly but surely, I explore more and more of wrestling television’s roots. Perhaps this process sounds familiar to you and if it’s not, it probably will be one day.
For me, World Championship Wrestling was the route. Naturally, I hoped to experience the nWo and all that good stuff, wanted to feel that Monday Night Wars magic. Opting for insanity though, I decided that I’d start a little further back, leading me to WCW Saturday Night. You can’t really experience that programme without being inspired to travel another chapter or two though, as it’s a strange show. Saturday Night is indeed studio wrestling but it’s a cold product, one reliant on its famed past.
That time slot was wrestling history, with WCW’s flagship simply being the continuation of that tale. It started twenty years prior, with Georgia Championship Wrestling, eventually branding the programme World Championship Wrestling. That title was famously bought by Vince McMahon, failing to impress the already existing audience and then selling the time slot on to Jim Crockett Promotions. In terms of studio wrestling, that’s my personal comfort zone. That era especially encapsulates WCW’s beginnings, the red hot territory that’d soon become an ice cold national promotion.
Even still, it’s hard to explore one without the other. Some of those elements never erase, even if they fade through the many shifts in regime. The Four Horsemen being an obvious example, WCW’s iconic faction that remains relevant over thirty years later. Even if you’ve seldom seen studio wrestling, you’ve probably caught a Horsemen promo or two, their influence is too widespread to ignore. They aren’t just four, or in some cases three, elite talents though, they are an idea in general.
That faction embodied an era, a style and philosophy that’s so often referenced in reverence. Attempts at recapturing it never end either, though some are far more enduring than others. Nonetheless, that narrative never truly vanishes from WCW, as at least one puzzle piece is always present. It represents the promotion’s roots, even during times of change as the entire industry evolves, or devolves depending on your stance. That act drew me to those Crockett TVs, a truly magical product that considering what followed, still feels connected to more familiar times.
Stylistically, it’s just the latest version of traditional wrestling TV, but add Dusty Rhodes’ own special sprinklings and you already have something special. More than that though, it’s this fascinating dynamic in which the wrestling world is about to change and things are so good that really, none of these people could ever know it. Soon, Crockett’s glory days will conclude and its successor will pursue the grand, glossy nature of Vince McMahon’s WWF. In that sense, Saturday Night is a mere halfway house.
Nonetheless, my fascination with that time really was eye-opening but considering the landscape, it felt firmly cemented as a thing of the past. Then in 2019, the NWA changed that, resurrecting studio wrestling with their throwback flagship: Powerrr. Yes, awful name indeed but Powerrr would be the centerpiece of the promotion’s planned rebuild, a weekly studio show built on promo and personality, just like the good old days! Matches? Yes, there’d be some of those too but that wasn’t really the point, there are good matches everywhere these days.
Less than two years later, that above description probably feels mocking and perhaps it is. The NWA has lost so much goodwill since then, just making blunders at every turn and almost certainly sealing their likely fate as an industry afterthought. That doesn’t change my fleeting experience with Powerrr though, an incredibly flawed programme that based on season 1 and change alone, I’ll always remember fondly. For me, that was a reminder of how simple pro wrestling can be, or at least how simple I like it to be.
In any other setting, Nick Aldis vs. Tim Storm isn’t going to capture my imagination much but armed with a studio sincerity, that thing carries some weight. I know, I know, that’s awful silly considering the inevitable result but they hooked me, it was a classic tale that I could understand, enhanced by some fiery promos along the way. The two real stars of that show are now AEW standouts though: Eddie Kingston and Ricky Starks. Credit to Corgan and co for shining on light on those two, even if their usage may have caused more frustration than joy.
Kingston was a well-known veteran of course but I’ve realised since that in truth, many discovered him through Powerrr. The same certainly goes for Starks, who was much newer to a stage of even that scale. Those two sent a message in that setting though, absolutely stealing the show with every opportunity to talk, let alone wrestle. Honestly, their efforts left me wanting more elite talent at the podium, but I’m glad that they both ended up on international television, where they quite obviously belonged.
Powerrr seemed increasingly reliant on not only nostalgia but also, an overt self-awareness. It felt like they were regularly winking at the audience, as though this was some attempt at actual time travel. I don’t think that changed their path as frankly, this destination was coming regardless but even still, it did feel rather wasteful. Kingston, Starks and others showed that studio wrestling can still pack a punch, it just takes some commitment, no different to any other wrestling arena or scenario.
Strange take really, as I’d imagine that financially, the show has been an abject failure but for whatever reason, Powerrr only proved to me that the genre still has its place in pro wrestling. Does it have a firm ceiling above its head? Absolutely, but so does almost every brand, especially in a landscape as loaded as this. That doesn’t change my point though, which is that Powerrr struggles for many reasons and in my view at least, the format isn’t really one of them.
Unfortunately, I doubt that we’ll ever see another roll of this particular dice. Powerrr still lives of course but it just feels set in place now, devoid of any momentum and without a solution to solve it. Outside of that though, hard to see any other studio wrestling reinventions on the horizon. It seems as though AEW Dark could be headed in a comparable direction and that’ll certainly scratch an itch but it’s also the D-Show, we all know the reality of that situation.
I suppose that NXT is the actual answer, and has been for years now. It doesn’t quite feel the same but perhaps that’s the point, it’s an evolution of the concept and in NXT UK’s case, barely even that. Either way, we’ll always have the archives or I will at least, and my American friends will when the folks at Peacock finally want to add some good wrestling to their service!