For many pro wrestling fans, WWE is the only game in town. Impact Wrestling is familiar, mostly because of AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. The same is true for Ring of Honor, due to Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens. New Japan is mentioned on WWE programming, thanks to Styles, as well as Doc Anderson and Luke Gallows.
But for the most part, WWE is it. Diehard WWE fans are probably not even all that interested in the territory days of the business, which were arguably the best era the industry has ever known. Jim Crockett Promotions, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Championship Wrestling from Florida may as well be grainy black and white newsreel footage at this point.
Those fans can't really be blamed for their ignorance. After all, a good many of them weren't even alive when Ric Flair was just the United States champion. Tommy Rich's bloody feud with Buzz Sawyer is barely mentioned these days, and the fact that The Legion of Doom was a stable before it was a tag team, is all but forgotten.
The truth is that fans don't necessarily need to know the history of the sport to appreciate it. That notion is akin to fans being required to know the history of the Minneapolis Lakers to now enjoy an NBA game. But that does not mean the past should be forgotten.
The old school days of pro wrestling represent some of the best ideas, most original gimmicks, and most historic matches of all time. It was an era of high drama, real action, and believable conflict. The most important aspect of those times was the ability of the talent to tell a story, and get over with the crowd.
Connecting to the audience was vital to a guy's staying power. If he could make the crowd believe in what he was doing, they would believe in him as a result. He took them along for the ride, and they loved every minute of it.
The harder he worked, the more they were drawn in. Suspension of disbelief was the key, and that was true not only for the matches themselves, but for the promos that accompanied them. Fans watched, they were sucked into the gritty real-world struggle before them, and they were moved to react.
When a modern day WWE crowd pops, it's for any number of reasons. A Superstar's surprise return, a heel pandering for a reaction, or an ugly championship belt; all of these typically garner a response from the WWE faithful.
But at one time, just the sight of Wahoo McDaniel walking down the aisle was enough to make the fans stand up and cheer. The Rock 'n' Roll Express could hardly get to the ring, thanks to the throngs of fans that just had to touch them. When NWA Senior Official Tommy Young held up the world championship at the start of a match, the fans applauded. They applauded the title belt.
Now pro wrestling is of course much different than what it used to be, and that is to be expected. The era of the dark and smoky arenas couldn't last forever, nor could the frequent bloodbaths that would occur on TV every other weekend. The medical care of today's talents has never been better; Band-Aids and Superglue are no longer the only options available.
However the lessons that can be learned from the territory days are definitely there, and the ironic part is that today's Superstars are very aware of them. Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes, and Terry Taylor are all backstage, and connect that era to the current one. The men and women of today's WWE are also very in tune with those that came before them, because they grew up with the business as well.
Pro wrestling, at it's core, is the simple story of good versus evil, and right versus wrong. Every storyline, angle, and match that's ever happened has spun off of that original idea, and the same will always be true. But the more that pro wrestling is defined as show business, the more that idea is lost.
Of course there's nothing simpler and easier to understand, than two workers getting into a ring and settling their differences. As long as that is the common thread in the industry, then there will always be stars that stand out, and there will always be matches that bring fans to their feet.
The territory days represent pro wrestling in its purest form, because it was simple. Today's product could benefit from an old school makeover, but that makeover will probably not come. Evolution, for better or worse, has happened and fans were powerless to stop it.
But today's wrestling only evolved because it had something to evolve from. The past should not be forgotten, as it defined a business that still thrives today. Good storytelling is the key, and that is the diehard pro wrestling fan's territory.