For a substantial group of wrestling fans, 6:05pm is hallowed ground. For 6:05pm on TBS on a Saturday was the home to Georgia Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling, two of the lead shows for the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).
In front of a small studio audience at the famous TBS studios at 1050 Techwood Drive, Atlanta, some of the greatest feuds in wrestling history were played out to ecstatic responses: the Four Horsemen vs. Dusty Rhodes, Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A., Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine, and the Rock and Roll Express vs. The Midnight Express, to name but a few. The NWA studio show is sacred in the minds and hearts of long time wrestling fans, and only a brave or foolish person invokes it for contemporary use.
Since Billy Corgan bought the rights to the NWA in 2017, he has been very clear in what he sees the NWA as standing for: tradition and quality. He has also said on several occasions he is not rushing this. He has a long term plan, years not months, and he is sticking to it.
The last twelve months have been bumpy, it’s fair to say. The NWA had a massive boost in profile when current Heavyweight champion Nick Aldis traded the title with a certain Mr. Cody Rhodes. There was also much praise for their YouTube series, Ten Pounds of Gold, which took a kind of sports documentary realistic approach to promoting matches and wrestlers and furthering the NWA brand.
On the downside, their initial PPV under Corgan’s ownership, to celebrate the promotion’s 70th anniversary, saw substantial production issues, a partnership with Ring of Honor gave us the return of the Crockett Cup, but it also ended as quickly as it begun.
There were also questions about the depth of the NWA roster, as there only seemed to be a handful of regular performers – Aldis, Tim Storm, Colt Cabana, Eli Drake – surrounded by a cast of transients. Compared to the solid, substantial roster built by AEW and the consistent programming of MLW, the NWA seemed, well, a little bit amateur. For a promotion with such a rich history and pedigree, the gap between then and now was particularly evident.
So when the NWA announced its first Corgan-era TV show, NWA Power, to be aired on the company’s Facebook and YouTube channels at 6:05pm Eastern Time every Tuesday, filmed in a small studio just one block away from the site of the original TBS studios, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Would Power be a half-assed piece of nostalgia or would it manage to capture even a small piece of the excitement of the legacy set many moons ago on Saturday nights? Hell, failing that, would it just be a good, enjoyable show?
Thankfully, Power proved with its premiere episode to be an engaging, fast paced, energetic hour of old-school flavoured wrestling. Any nostalgic enterprise will always be at risk of having of its relevance questioned, but although I got tingles from the obviously loving lengths to which people had gone to recreate the feel of mid-eighties NWA TV, the quality of the performers, both in the ring and on the mic, made it clear we were in the modern day and not wistfully looking back at the Nature Boy. What exists between the production and the performers on Power is a sympathy of intent: to bring ‘old school’ into the modern world.
Take the studio set as a case in point. A lot of care and attention, from the interview desk to the various global flags to the ring aprons, has been taken to making the studio uncannily reminiscent of the classic Saturday TBS set-up (the flags especially are a nice touch). If you were churlish, you could argue that its too much attention, a love letter to yesterday that is irrelevant to the modern day.
Yet, there is an individual touch laid over the top of the studio that helps to differentiate then and now, a strong use of a blue colour scheme that the original NWA shows didn’t have and, if we’re being honest, gives Power a professional, sleek sheen that the NWA shows of the 70’s and 80’s didn’t have.
Take also the opening credits. They successfully evoke eighties bluster with quick cuts, use of neon colours, clever touches likes showing several wrestlers in small series of clips next to their names, so new viewers will know who’s who (a neat touch), and Dokken’s ‘Into The Fire’ giving a thrilling pumped up introduction to what we are about to witness. But while retro, it is not a copy. Go back to old 80’s episodes of World Championship Wrestling and see how shockingly old the intro seems: it would be easier to believe you were watching an intro from the 60’s or 70’s instead. Power instead plays with the idea of the 80’s and the distinction is an important one.
It proves the point: the nod to the past is not simple nostalgia but a signalling of intent. They want to use the past as a base to build towards a new future, one where a unpredictable, competitive storytelling meets hard-hitting ‘realism,’ with today’s wrestlers, as opposed to the more gymnastic, hybrid spectacle that is common amongst modern wrestling, as I’ve discussed previously. Jim Cornette on commentary, in a barbed dig at AEW, sniped “quote.” But within that he handily summed up NWA’s raison d’etre in a single, attention grabbing soundbite.
Understandably, there has been a lot of focus on the nostalgic presentation of the show. The argument has been made that running a small studio based wrestling show is pointless outside of reasons of wanting to recreate the past. The form has unfairly become entwined with the presentation.
It’s unfortunate that this is creating such a distraction, as beneath the window dressing, a more interesting argument is what could the format of a studio show offer to the modern wrestling fan, and what are the benefits?
Billy Corgan, when drawn on his motives, commented:
“The thing that sticks out in my mind about studio wrestling, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, was anything could really happen. You had people getting up very early in the morning, Saturday morning kid’s television, and it had a real feeling of chaos and anarchy. That really sold to me, as a fan, that there was an element of danger, and an element of ‘anything can happen’. I really to bring that back to professional wrestling, and I think that the NWA is the perfect vehicle to do that.”
In an era where WWE gets heavily criticised for their shows, the argument for an ‘anything can happen’ show seems mightily enticing. And Power delivered, having Jocephus come out to commentary out of nowhere shout and scream that he wanted Tim Storm, only for an unimpressed James Storm to appear instead and beat Jocephus all over the studio, including up in the audience, while referees and officials tried to separate them.
Later, as The Wild Cards engaged in a tense confrontation with Eddie Kingston and Homicide at the interview desk, Jocephus and Storm burst out into the studio again, beating in each other with wild abandon. A impromptu match saw Storm knock out and pin Jocephus in 5 seconds. Storm looked fierce, and he was over with the hot crowd. Mission accomplished.
It’s easy to forget that the NWA are not the only company to have presented a studio wrestling show before. I have seen some astute comparisons of Power with the classic Memphis and USWA TV show on WMC-TV, and the wild Storm-Jocephus brawl certainly wouldn’t have been out of place in the famous Studio Ten. More to the point, it was exciting, unexpected and really gave a convincing illusion of spontaneity.
Talking of spontaneity, the promos: wow. You can tell you have a motivated group of individuals wanting to knock it out of the park. No scripts here, and it showed in the quality of the promos. Nick Aldis, whose talking style I’ve always enjoyed on Ten Pounds Of Gold but not so much when he had a mic in the ring, gave a great impassioned speech where he put across how proud of being the NWA champion he was and he would do everything he could do to keep it. In the space of a few minutes, we understood exactly what Nick Aldis’ character was all about: pride, determination, and dangerous when cornered. There’s a lot of other wrestlers that could learn something from that promo.
Eli Drake, as usual, also gave a great showing on the mic, giving a swaggering cocky promo that shows why he was such a good signing for the NWA. In fact, I’d go so far to say, as long as they don’t rush it, that Eli Drake would be perfect as the figurehead for the company in the long run. I’ve seen comparisons with The Rock, and while I wouldn’t go that far, Eli Drake really does deserve to be a star. He has that X factor that Seth Rollins would kill for (possibly with a toolbox and a sledgehammer).
What of the wrestling itself? Whilst there was nothing mind blowing, I was never bored and the quality was consistent. There were a couple of squash matches, but this was balanced out by a Heavyweight championship main event from Nick Aldis and Tim Storm. It did what it said it would, which was to be hard hitting. I actually enjoyed the Eli Drake-Caleb Konley match, which worked a nice tightrope between old-school and modern wrestling. There was certainly enough of a balance between in-ring action and promo work to make for an enjoyable, well paced hour.
One unexpected success was the interview desk. Long time NWA fans will remember the likes of Gordon Solie, Bob Caudle and Tony Schivone holding court at the interview desk as grapplers with an axe to grind came to threaten, brag and confront.
Yet, in an era of long uninvited ring monologues that seem forced (certainly in WWE they are scripted) and unnecessary, the interviews at the desk on Power seemed to be a refreshing approach. There was a reason for wrestlers to come out and talk, they were being interviewed. Important points could be made via answering questions rather than forcing a point into a scripted narrow speech. Look at how Nick Aldis shot down questions to his valet Camille, suggesting dissent and a potential split in the future, all done through a few questions and answers, and not bashed through your head with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. By this point, I could certainly see positives of retooling the studio show for the modern era: the way interviews and promos were handled was energising, exciting and in the face of the present wrestling culture, fresh. Which is ironic for a so-called ‘nostalgic’ endeavour.
Because there is an argument here that I have not seen made elsewhere but it worth consideration. Even with the WWE Network’s extensive library, there is still many younger wrestling fans (say, for example, people who started watching WWE in the last ten years) who may be aware of the NWA but have not sat down and watched any of the old shows. Same with the USWA. In that case, they would not have seen a studio TV wrestling show before. Their idea of wrestling TV will most likely be a massive arena or alternatively the smaller environs of NXT.
A studio show, then, would perhaps not look old-fashioned to them as they have nothing to compare it to. It might, perhaps, look alien; it might also present them with an entirely different wrestling experience, perhaps one that will be preferable to them, or perhaps one that gives them another way of enjoying wrestling. Either way, the benefits to the industry of having more varied approaches to programming are obvious.
For me, I was impressed by this premiere episode, and I’m already looking forward to next week. The NWA revival has finally moved up a gear. More Power to them.