Industry Moves: Will WWE Buy ROH?

The wrestling world is buzzing after Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet broke the news that WWE has been in secret talks with Sinclair Broadcast Group since January about the potential acquisition of Ring of Honor. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer elaborated on the report stating that WWE made their initial inquiry about purchasing ROH back in August.

While there is no deal on the table as of yet, WWE’s plan of acquisition seems to include the tape library, talent contracts and closing down the company. This move indicates that WWE is attempting to completely monopolize the professional wrestling market in the United States.

WWE purchased WCW and acquired ECW’s assets in 2001 because all three companies were competing for the same audience. In 2017, groups such as ROH and Impact Wrestling are competing with WWE for talent due to sub-genres in wrestling being more pronounced and defined. 

Most fans enjoy the pop music flavor of Monday Night Raw while die-hard enthusiasts outright prefer grappling-based alternatives such as ROH and PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerilla). The latter part of the audience has grown to the point where smaller but popular promotions make just enough money to compete with WWE for talent.

The Young Bucks are the hottest tag team in the industry right now and recently signed a new two-year contract with ROH. The deal included a significant pay increase and the right to maintain their own merchandise and creative input in booking decisions. They are also allowed to work for both New Japan Pro Wrestling and PWG, which gives them more money and exposure.

WWE tried to sign The Young Bucks but couldn’t make the deal happen. They weren’t going to give creative control to an incoming act since that is a perk reserved for the John Cena’s of the world. They also weren’t going to give the Bucks free reign over their merchandise and work for other promotions…No, not on Vince McMahon’s watch.

For all of the dreams that every wrestler has ever had to become a WWE superstar, the reality is colder than expected. Sure, the top stars are rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, but the middle and bottom rung of the roster make decent money while navigating a strict corporate structure.

While I’ve never worked for WWE, I did work for several independent wrestling promotions where I pissed off the wrong person for something that I didn’t even know that I did. That sounds weird, right? The same thing occurs in WWE. For all the great things this business can offer, it can also be very, very petty in spite of itself.

If you work for Vince McMahon, it’s either his way or the highway. For talented free agents on the outside looking in, Vince’s way can sometimes make for a toxic work environment. The paycheck is nice, but you can’t put a price tag on a good piece of mind.

The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Will Ospreay, and others have found a way to make a comfortable living outside of the WWE and do it without dealing in major backstage politics and are able to take outside opportunities, such as interviews and roles in movie and television, without obtaining permission. Donovan Dijak is one of the hottest free agents in wrestling right now and he is the subject of a cover story on ESPN.com

Wrestlers outside of WWE are getting mainstream press, and that NEVER used to happen. WWE has met the demands of the hardcore audience with their developmental brand, NXT, but one hour a week is not enough to corner that market. Vince is not really that interested dedicating more time, money and resources to that facet of his fan base.

Buying wrestling promotions while locking up their talent is a sure fire way of ensuring that WWE is not just the standard in professional wrestling, but the only standard.

If WWE ends up buying ROH, it will leave a big void on the secondary wrestling market. Issues with talent contracts will also have to be addressed since wrestlers such as Will Ospreay are allowed to work for New Japan. Would WWE release Ospreay and immediately re-sign him for more money in an exclusive deal?

We’re living in interesting times. Everyone assumed that it would take the emergence of a company like WCW to compete with WWE. Instead, it’s a vocal and growing minority creating a divide that can no longer be ignored.

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