At Global Force Wrestling’s press conference on May 6th, Jeff Jarrett announced a series of names that will be involved in upcoming live events and television tapings, which has sparked a lot of discussion and debate about what GFW has in store for the wrestling world.
To cut right to the chase, the only name announced that you need to pay attention to is Chael Sonnen.
The Bullet Club, The Killer Elite Squad, Chris Masters, PJ Black, Moose, Seiya Sanada, Thea Trinidad and Lei’D Tapa are midcard acts in the eyes of the public, and nobody will turn out in droves to see them on the first shows. They’re not money players by any stretch, but that’s fine, they’re there to shore up the card.
But Chael raises a lot of intriguing questions. First and foremost, it indicates a serious financial commitment to this project, because Mr. Sonnen isn’t cheap. But it’s a shrewd signing and indicates that Jarrett is well aware of the inherent need to appeal on a major league scale. For Global Force to succeed, they need personalities that can make a dent outside of the die-hard wrestling fan bubble, and Sonnen is an excellent pick-up.
After all, this is going to be a TV show. Successful wrestling television is driven by star power and a perception of wider relevance. Even at TNA’s highest point, they never got over that hump, and never felt important to the landscape of the wrestling business, partly because, well, it wasn’t. Not only that, but no matter who TNA brought in, and they spent a lot of money on top stars like Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy when they were still difference makers elsewhere, they were trapped in the soundstage in Orlando, where they couldn’t possibly look like anything but a distant second place.
It costs a lot of money to look major league. Lucha Underground burned through $20 million running out of a warehouse. Granted, their production for vignettes had to have been through the roof given the quality, and Jarrett’s ace in the pocket is Kevin Sullivan, a guy who has put together masterful videos and may be able to keep costs down. But there is a barrier of entry when it comes to the standards of what major league wrestling looks like for the casual fan, and that’s who Global Force needs to appeal to in order to be more than companies like TNA and ROH, who are struggling to gain a foothold in 2015.
Sonnen can potentially get a lot of eyeballs at first, and I have no doubt he’ll be wildly entertaining in the role of analyst. Ultimately, nobody watches wrestling for the commentators, but it sure can help perception on that all-important first impression. It’s been reported that Jim Ross is the guy they want alongside him, which would only be a further boon in that regard.
But the main questions are yet to be answered. The TV deal itself is crucial, the station and timeslot are of paramount importance to the short and long term ceiling of the company. I interviewed Jeff Jarrett for Squared Circle Gazette Radio last year, and was impressed when I questioned him on and off the air about the realities of running an alternative, particulary when I pushed him on the importance of television in wrestling, to which he said “sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make”. This certainly indicates an awareness that a Destination America type situation is not good enough, and he’s right to wait. But if they’re taping in a month or two it shows one of two things – either the deal is all but finalised and announced (in which case I don’t know what they’re waiting for), or nothing is finalised, and they’re using these tapings in Vegas as a pilot to shop around. Of the two, the second option is a daunting one, because then you have to go all-in to attract big stations, without a promise of a return.
In addition, the key stars, the money players, the difference makers – are yet to be set in place. The people many expected to be announced at Wednesday’s press conference, the Dudleyz, Carlitos and Johnny Mundos wouldn’t make a huge dent in the real world either. It begs the question of who or what there is out there to make this thing work.
Rey Mysterio is the obvious candidate. Built-up equity from years of WWE exposure without being tarnished. Price would be the only real issue here, and while we don’t know the budget, the signing of Chael and the push for Jim Ross would indicate they have money to play with. If so, Rey Mysterio as means to draw from the Hispanic or kids fan bases could be a key component.
How about Bill Goldberg? A guy that’s made rumblings about wanting to wrestle for a while now, he just wants it under the right circumstances, and as his surprising DVD sales last year showed (his DVD ended up with more units shipped than the Triple H and Ultimate Warrior DVDs combined), there is still a significant audience that is intrigued by the myth of Goldberg. It wouldn’t be the worst move in the world to put Goldberg on a Brock Lesnar style deal, get a few matches a year and some TV appearances to boot, and maximise the nostalgia and big-fight nature of his appeal. Betting the farm on him as a regular will likely have diminishing returns. Keeping him special and as a nostalgia act that doesn’t feel or look old may be worth considering.
In terms of impact, a lot of the bigger talent shifts in wrestling history are circumstantial. Hulk Hogan going to WCW when it looked like he was done with wrestling in America. Top guys in the big company leaving and being picked up in a heartbeat. Again, it takes big money to attract that level of star, but it’s what they need to do in order to land a guy with the ability to launch a new company in a vast entertainment landscape.
Far more interesting than the talent GFW announced on May 6th is the New Japan Pro Wrestling connection that we’ve known exists, and is evident in the announcement of the Bullet Club and the Killer Elite Squad. While I wouldn’t expect a full scale influx, there are certain New Japan stars that have the ability to crossover and connect to an American audience that they’d be foolish not to cherry-pick, should the opportunity arise.
Shinsuke Nakamura, for one, is not only an incredible wrestler, but has a unique charisma that would get over anywhere in the world. Without a doubt in my mind, with the proper marketing behind him, he could be a huge star in the States. The fact he speaks English certainly helps his cause, but you could easily use him as a key player with a long-term vision.
Kota Ibushi has never totally been my cup of tea with his no-selling style of wrestling, but he is incredible and a blast to watch, and has a look at certainly appeals to a different audience. Granted we’re using his home country as a sample, and there are cultural differences in play, but Ibushi’s recent push in main events in New Japan resulted in large throngs of females attending the shows. Again, it’ll all be about long-term marketing, but if you’re looking for pure talent, there’s something here.
The possibilities are endless taking into account Jarrett’s other connections, but you only get one first impression, and a company taking the “work in progress” approach won’t cut it in an environment where wrestling fans are more cynical than ever.
This isn’t even taking into account the way they do television, the booking style, and how they intend to use their time. But that’s a different story for a different day. So far, Jeff has been saying the right things, and early indications are he’s doing the right things. But there is still a lot we don’t know, and after two years of questions, Global Force Wrestling is finally on the clock.
The wrestling world is eagerly watching, hoping to be impressed.