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Off the top rope-NWL wants respect big boys have lost

July 16, 1999|By BILL STERNER / Staff Correspondent

Without a doubt, one of the top entertainment industries in the world today is professional wrestling.

Need some facts?

Pro wrestling recently settled into a solid second place behind auto racing as the most watched "sport" entertainment with a whopping 12.8 share of the television market in America.

Those numbers don't begin to touch the choke hold that the WWF and WCW have on TV fans. Thirty-five million people shell out anywhere from $30-$50 for each pay-per-view wrestling event.

Remember, the industry is so big, that as one of its own lie dying in the ring after a terrifying accident, the match was completed in the harshest spirit of "the show must go on."

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So, why is it that the "big two" of this most lucrative business are probably facing a clouded future if things remain the same?

Because as in most professional sports today, wrestling is most readily forgetting how the industry was built - fan base.

For years, the key to wrestling's success was the fact that it was a personal sport where fans could get close to their heroes and easily identify with the various personalities. Wrestlers were real. They were the regular guy or girl who just happened to have that hardcore-actor attitude.

Over time, wrestling was relegated to a back alley. But as other pro sports - such as baseball, football and basketball - created millionaires that the everyday fan felt more out of touch with, wrestling regained its popularity.

But now, could the very spark that created the fire be the cause of Rome burning?

And are market analysts standing by simply fiddling?

"That very well could be the case," said John Rambo, National Wrestling League promoter and president of the House of Pain Wrestling League.

In fact, Rambo studied the situation and had his findings reported in the Suplex Media News, which is recognized as one of pro wrestling's top authorities on trends in the sport.

According to Rambo, who is known across the industry as a promoter who is honest and "above board" when it comes to the truth in pro wrestling, fans today are more educated and aware of the entertainment value of the sport than ever before.

So, what's the problem?

"The industry as a whole is still treating fans as if they are marks and wrestling is just some carnival event," Rambo said. "If things don't change, the fan base will shrink. We are not attracting new fans from different backgrounds."

In addition to being honest, Rambo is attacking the problem in his NWL/HoPWL shows.

"We need to respect the fans and the business," Rambo said. "What is wrong with letting the fans know what we do? Let them scrutinize what we do. Let them see what goes into these matches."

Rambo rates each wrestler's performance, including his own, each and every week in five categories - attitude, skill, showmanship, sportsmanship and match execution.

And Rambo is confident these tactics of honesty will increase the fan base and make the wrestlers work harder to give the best show they can.

But respect for a business that gives many entertainers a good living is what Rambo sees as lacking.

"Is what we see on TV today respectful, or would you say it is mostly disgraceful?" Rambo asked. "In the NWL, we plan on earning and keeping the respect due us and the fans."

And that sounds like a far cry from the outrageous and most often embarrassing storylines that dominate TV each week.

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The NWL faithful are still talking about the Jellomania matchup from last week between Fantasia and Kurt Keiser. In this first-of-its-kind match, Fantasia got the pin 11 minutes into the match after clubbing Keiser in the side of the head with a can of Redi-Whip.

Does that mean we are adding whipped cream to the list of devious devices that can be used in the weapons matches?

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Recently, the Suplex Media News ranked the top 100 independent wrestlers in the world. The magazine used the wrestlers' attitude, popularity, exposure and contributions to the sport as rating points for inclusion on the list.

Rambo was No. 8, but in typical style, the NWL champion deflected the praise.

"I'm not big on rating wrestling performers because the rating people don't actually see all the performers." Rambo said.

All that may be true, but local wrestling fans can't say argue that Rambo hasn't worked tirelessly to promote the sport in its most positive light.

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Upcoming NWL events

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., at the NWL Training Center, round two of the Tag Team Tournament.

Saturday, at the Armory in Woodstock, Va., five titles on the line in an NWL show to benefit the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.

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