Historic Moments in Wrestling History: Vince McMahon breaks away from the NWA

How Vince McMahon took over the wrestling world

In a brand new series, Richard Hoy-Browne looks at the events which shook the world of wrestling. We kick off with the story of a young Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the son of a New York wrestling promoter, who had the aim of revolutionising the wrestling industry...
 

Context:
For many years, the National Wrestling Alliance was wrestling. It was the ‘sport’s governing body, made up of countless independent promotions across the world, each with their own territory to promote in. There were codes of conduct issued to protect the integrity of the NWA, such as agreements not to run shows in another NWA affiliate area and talent trades between promoters. The NWA World Heavyweight Champion was seen as the pinnacle of the wrestling business, and as such would make appearances across as many of the NWA territories as possible. Every year a NWA convention would take place where all the members would gather, elect the board of directors (who would vote on who would become NWA Champion) and discuss business. One of the members of the NWA was one Vincent James McMahon, whose son, Vincent Jr was looking to follow in his father’s footsteps in the world of wrestling promotion.

In 1979 Vince Jr founded his own company, Titan Sports Inc. The following year Titan would be incorporated into the WWF (having changed its name from WWWF), and in 1982 an ailing Vince Sr would sell his stock to his son, giving him full control of the company. What happened next would change the wrestling landscape forever.

The Breakaway from the NWA
Vince Jr had a vision, and that vision went against everything the NWA, its members and most importantly his father stood for – he was going to go national, then global. Seeing the potential cash windfalls of a national travelling wrestling organisation, as well as that of the as yet untapped merchandise markets and the blossoming cable industry, Vince Jr decided that it was the time to step away from the NWA, who he saw as narrow minded and behind the times. He withdrew the WWF’s membership of the NWA in 1983, setting the tone for what would follow.

Initially offering to buy promoters out of their territories (which was met with mostly resistance), McMahon would then decide to turn up the aggression – he would buy syndicated television programming on the stations that would be running the local wrestling show, and drive them out of business that way. With the cash starting to stream in from the success of this expansion, McMahon would further deplete the territories by raiding their top stars –Hulk Hogan, ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund, future Governor of Minnesota Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura,  ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and countless others saw the writing on the wall and joined the ever expanding WWF. There was, it seemed, no stopping McMahon Jr.

Vince McMahon: a man with a vision Vince McMahon: a man with a vision

While he had syndicated television across numerous markets, the death nail for the NWA would come with the advent of cable television. Having already purchased Southwest Championship Wrestling’s Saturday morning slot on the USA network, McMahon was looking to expand his viewing audience by buying programming on Ted Turner’s TBS ‘Superstation’ which would give him an unprecedented control over nationally televised wrestling in the United States. Seeing the threat from McMahon, Turner would refuse point blank to sell the timeslot which was at the time held by Georgia Championship Wrestling. Seeking an alternative path, McMahon would approach Jim Barnett and Jack and Gerry Brisco, the majority owners of GCW, about buying out their share of the territory. Having struck a deal, McMahon now controlled not only GCW but also its programming on TBS, and on July 14th 1984 Vince McMahon Jr appeared on TBS programming, introducing fans to his WWF product. The NWA was dead in the water.

What Happened Next?
Angered by McMahon’s actions, Ted Turner would offer alternative timeslots to other wrestling groups on TBS which alienated McMahon, who believed his deal gave him exclusivity on the network. A feud was born which would last nearly twenty years.

With the territories all but dead, Jim Crockett Jr would round up most of what was left and form World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Ironically, McMahon would end up selling the TBS programme slot back to Crockett for $1 million following terrible ratings.

WCW would fly the NWA flag until the early 90’s where it quietly dropped the link. The NWA still exists to this day but is of little consequence.

McMahon would go on to do ok for himself, creating the most successful wrestling empire the world has ever seen. However, as McMahon himself noted on more than one occasion, if he had told his father that he was going to go national before buying him out, he would never have been sold his father’s share. It is impossible to imagine what wrestling would look like today if he had been denied.

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