This fanpost is meant to produce conversation, is largely me spitballin', and was spurred by a post I saw which referred to ECW and the AWA as "minor leagues." That comment struck me as wildly incorrect, but as I thought about it, a few things came to mind:
A) Consider the thought of ECW and AWA as minor leagues. There's the matter of what a "major league" is, and in the post-Hulkamania era (or as WWE prefers, the "Wrestlemania Era"), that means a national TV deal and proper pay-per-views (PPV). Before that? It's blurrier.
Is it really incorrect to say ECW was a minor league? While it had a recognized world title (Apter Mags ftw!), a national TV contract, and produced PPV's, its small budget meant that it certainly served as a feeder league to WWE and WCW (Foley, Austin, Awesome, the Dudleyz, and Taz are the first who spring to mind.) However, ECW had a huge following and was important enough to get a corporate reboot in 2006. My inclination is to say that while a lower budget alternative, it was most certainly a "major league" promotion.
The AWA can, in no way, shape or form be considered a minor league. It was a significant, leading territory through the early 80's. In 1983, it had the hottest act in wrasslin. Because Verne Gagne was utterly ossified, the roster was pillaged in the mid-80's by Vince McMahon, who used the talent to go national, brother. AWA died an inglorious death and is memorialized through WWE-centric DVD's that give credit but take pains to the fact that AWA failed where Vince succeeded...just like Jim Crockett, just like Stu Hart, just like Fritz Von Erich, just like Paul Heyman and Ted Turner, and it seems as will Dixie Carter. It's true that McMahon won and on the strength of his vision and avarice, but to downplay the role of the luck dragons in his success is a fallacy WWE is happy to perpetuate. If Jim Crockett was better with money or Verne Gagne didn't push his son and was willing to put the title on Hogan...
B) WWE now controls the vast, vast majority of pro wrestling history. This is largely a result of its acquisition of tape libraries and its dominant market position. It seems as though a physical Hall of Fame will soon stand in Orlando, FL. Presumably, the comment which ignited this post was written through a prism of WWE-sanctioned history. Pro wrestling history is written through and with many layers of kayfabe, backbiting, and bullshit. Even Bret Hart's seminal tome is as much a narcissistic love letter as it is an incredible chronicle of pro graps history (though, as love letters go, Cyrano De Bergerac fell down upon his knees, bawling, and told the Hitman that he wished he could write like Bret Hart.)
WWE ought to create an intellectual counterpart to the Wellness Policy through the production a high quality oral history (DVD, coffee table book?) of the more sordid points in pro wrestling history in connection with WWE, and how they've been addressed. I do not expect this to happen. WWE has a natural interest in portraying itself as the big kahuna. The trouble is that it hasn't always been the case and, save for 83 weeks of WCW dominance that helps sell Monday Night Wars DVDs, WWE really doesn't care to acknowledge those times. Moreover, there is the incredibly dubious history of the wrestling business.I doubt we'll ever see a comprehensive overview of the Steroid Trials or a retrospective on Eddie, Benoit, and how their respective tragedies came to shape the pro wrestling business (who would buy a "The Rise of the Wellness Policy" DVD anyway?)
Pro wrestling is a perfect fit for oral history; the Round Table Series explored and proved that. While it would be uncomfortable, WWE should invest in a sort of ombudsman (even ESPN has one!), or at least some demonstration of a moral compass. Until WWE confronts its history, and the pro wrestling business's sordid history, everything will just be swept under the rug in the hopes that everything negative is forgotten or left to become double plus ungood thought. That might be an optimal corporate strategy for PR's sake, but it does a disservice to the genuine legacy of the wrestling business and it should be confronted in some way, if only to provide a proper channel for discussion and consideration a la baseball's Mitchell Report. I doubt that this will ever come to pass, but I think it would behoove WWE to consider this path as an intellectual counterpart to the existing Wellness Policy.
tl;dr: WWE needs to provide some form of critical introspective publicly available history to coincide with the physical Hall of Fame. Also, to make clear that there were other "major leagues" just as the Hall of Fame acknowledges the Federal League. Recognize anyone from the AWA roster?