For the first time in 17 years, WWE has legitimate competition to its spot atop the pro wrestling world.
As far as TV ratings go, WWE is still king and probably will be for a long time. But in terms of popularity, WWE is facing challenges it hasn’t seen since the Monday Night Wars with WCW and ECW in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Why, after such a long reign at the top, is WWE now finally starting to feel the pressure to deliver on a night-in and night-out basis? Two words: social media.
For as much bad has come with social media (trust me, there is a lot of bad), there’s equally as much good that has come from it. One of the good things is exposure to people, products and companies you may have never heard of before that end up becoming ingrained in the fabric of your life.
One of these products that has benefited from the advent of social media is wrestling. Specifically, independent wrestling. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat give a vehicle for companies to advertise their brand with little-to-no cost to them. By promoting their shows all over the internet, they’re able to attract more people to their shows and, in return, make more money to provide an even better product for the next show.
Not only has it helped the small guys, but it’s also helped elevate companies that were on the cusp of breaking through, but just needed that extra push. Two companies, Ring of Honor (ROH) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), have gone from “hardcore wrestling fans only” to mainstream success basically overnight. You can buy ROH and NJPW shirts now at Hot Topic. Something like that wasn’t even a thought ten years ago.
The power of the internet and social media has been gigantic for the growth of professional wrestling. It has connected fans from across the world, and exposed people to new styles of wrestling they didn’t know existed. Companies like Progress in the U.K., ROH in America and NJPW in Japan have all seen incredible rises in popularity due to social media exposure.
The culmination of this movement (so far) is the match that’s about to take play at NJPW’s yearly extravaganza Wrestle Kingdom 12. One of the co-main events features IWGP U.S. Champion Kenny Omega defending his title against future WWE Hall of Famer Chris Jericho. This whole feud started on Twitter, and now it’s culminating with one of the biggest matches in wrestling history. Omega, who went from superstar to MEGA STAR after last year’s Wrestle Kingdom match against Kazuchika Okada, has had a year unlike any other, constantly putting on classic matches that had people buzzing all over the internet. The original Omega-Okada match was so big, that even I had to go on YouTube and find that match to watch it. Now, Omega is getting set to wrestle a wrestling legend in the Tokyo Dome.
While we all know social media can be toxic at times, it has done a lot more good than bad. One of those goods is elevating non-WWE wrestling promotions to levels unseen before. WK12 sold an extra 10,000 seats because of a feud that started on Twitter. Think about that…