A pair of different topics this week with two unifying themes. One, they involve a certain “Old School” element. Two, they are both cases where I was wrong. I know, not something most people admit when spouting their views on wrestling these days.
Tony Schiavone: Comeback Of The Year?
I grew up with the classic Tony Schiavone & David Crockett hosted World Championship Wrestling at 6:05pm on TBS. Tony was always the straight man to Crockett’s excitable outbursts during matches and angles in the 80’s and into the 90’s he was seen as one of the best announcers in the game. However, the late 90’s saw him take a nosedive in the eyes of many. During a period where Jim Ross was establishing himself as THE voice of wrestling for millions, and Joey Styles was the cool alternative to traditional announcers, Tony started to come off as the guy that “didn’t care anymore” and was just cashing a check. It made me wonder if he was ever that good in the first place.
In hindsight, you can’t blame Tony for what happened as he was forced to sit at the Nitro desk and make sense of what was being put in front of him. It has been well documented how the announcers were often kept in the dark, with last-minute and in-show changes leaving them unsure of what to put over on the broadcast. It would have been enough to sap the passion out of anyone.
When I heard Tony was going to be joining the AEW announce team, I snickered. I’d heard some podcasts and interviews with Tony, and I had seen a little of his MLW work, but I was still unconvinced he would add much to the show. Well, I was wrong. Totally wrong. Absolutely, totally, unequivocally wrong. Tony had been nothing short of fantastic with his AEW work. In fact, it made me go back and check out some more of his MLW stuff. Far removed from the mess that was the final years of WCW Nitro, Tony Schiavone appears to not only have found his passion for wrestling again, he’s sharing it with the audience. He is every bit as good as I thought he was in the 80’s, and maybe even more.
NWA Powerrr (are all the r’s really necessary?): Alternative Old School
I remember Billy Corgan sneaking into ECW events, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and trying to be inconspicuous as he watched shows from the end of the aisle. He just absolutely loved wrestling. That said, I had a ton of doubt about his decision to try and resurrect the NWA in 2019. Billy is an adult, and certainly has made enough money in his career with the Smashing Pumpkins to gamble some on his love of wrestling. Still, the NWA? The name that meant so much until around 1991, and has since been stomped on, disregarded, downplayed and given more “resurrections” than Jason in the Friday The 13th movies? While some hardcores still held on to the tradition of the National Wrestling Alliance, it was hard to imagine anyone caring about it in a world of WWE, AEW, Impact, ROH and even NJPW pulling in American fans.
However, he’s done it… and in a fitting move given his musical style, he’s done it by being a true alternative product to what the other companies are offering. The alternative, in this case, is bringing back studio wrestling, which was a staple of many promotions for decades. There is something to be said about the energy of recording television in a small venue. The then-WWF did it for years in AG Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania. World Class was filmed at the Dallas Sportatorium. Pacific Northwest was at the Portland Sports Arena (a renovated bowling alley). However, there was even more charm in the studio wrestling of Jim Crockett Promotions at Techwood Drive and the long-running Memphis promotion at the WMC studios. Fans on one side of the ring, announcers and an interview set on the other. Yes, you didn’t get the roar of a “giant pop” but the vibe was just incredible.
Billy Corgan wanted that vibe, and he has managed to achieve it. From the flags hanging from the ceiling, to the throwback “NWA” on the ring apron, to the pacing of the show, it does what it can to give us that 80’s feeling. However, the men and women in the ring are not 80’s performers (well, with the notable exception of the Rock N’ Roll Express), and that is key in making sure fans know this is a “new” promotion with a familiar look, not an attempt to milk our feelings of nostalgia for a few dollars. I still have suspicions of the long-term future from a business perspective, but the simple fact that the NWA is getting so much attention and positive reviews in 2019 is a credit to Billy Corgan and his team. They’ve set themselves apart from the rest with a smaller scale, but a product just as entertaining as the rest.