Yearning For The Territories
By Jamie Kennedy
For this piece, I wanted to open myself up to reveal some jealousy. This may strike you as a strange way to kick proceedings off, but it’s something that has niggled at me ever since I first began exploring wrestling beyond the WWF/WWE.
You see, having researched the subject quite substantially, I’m incredibly jealous of those old enough to have lived through the territorial days of pro wrestling. For those who have been lesser inclined to study these things themselves, I’m referring to the time before Vince McMahon Junior’s global expansion during the early-to-mid 1980′s – a happening which would go on to truly change the way the industry operated. Without boring anyone with severe detail, life was a lot different before WWF Superstars, Wrestlemania and all the other colourful, exciting stuff that came with the WWF revolution. Instead of the global brands we see today, each market of North Amercia and Canada had their own promotion, their own stars, their own champion and their own promoter.
As an example, Stu Hart up in Canada ran Stampede Wrestling. While various wrestlers from around the world would find their way to Stampede from time to time (often taking part in swap deals with other promoters, in order to keep a degree of freshness to the territory), the onus was very much on promoting the “homegrown” champion as the star of the company. Shows were advertised and carried out in a specific market, with strict boundaries limiting any given promoter putting on shows in another’s turf. Long story short, there were verbal agreements between the various companies which kept things friendly. The Vince McMahon known to wrestling fans today was the man to change all of that, as he began aggressively expanding his father’s New York territory, buying out the top stars of rivals and promoting shows in their market.
As an incredibly brief account of professional wrestling history, the above no doubt passes over an unbelievable number of intricacies and occurrences, but it should give those unwise to those days the general idea!
Back to the original point, I really do wish I could somehow invent a time machine which would whisk me back to that era, if only to attend a number of the countless shows on offer and live through the sights, sounds and smells of what is now a bygone time. Reading accounts from the likes of Bret “Hitman” Hart (in his wonderful book – “My Real Life In The Cartoon World of Wrestling”), Bobby Heenan and Bill Apter, it’s plain to see just how truly exhilarating a period the “territory” days were.
How I’d love to watch the Quebec City match between Killer Kowalski and Andre The Giant, in what was billed as the “Battle of the Giants” in 1972, or even see the Von Erich boys duke it out with Michael “P.S” Hayes and The Fabulous Freebirds (I’m aware the latter was most likely televised, but was nonetheless just a little bit before my time!).
Being able to see names such as Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers and Gene Kiniski wrestle would have been an unimaginable treat for such a fan of technical wrestling as myself. I can only picture the excitement of the crowds, long before they were smartened up to the ins and outs of the wrestling business, as they wondered just who would leave with their hand raised.
In many ways, through my involvement with Insane Championship Wrestling (www.InsaneWrestling.co.uk for more details), I’ve been fortunate enough to almost hark back to those days. Of course, ICW events are often taped, but there’s a real bite to the atmosphere about them which reminds me of what I think it must have been like back in those olden days. The crowds at ICW shows are smart, make no doubt about it, but they allow themselves to enjoy the action, get lost in the moment and for those few short hours….believe again. At the risk of sounding almost too passionate for such light reading, it’s incredible to watch from behind the curtain, and these are experiences I shall never forget throughout my career and life. The harmony between audience and performer is something ICW owner Mark Dallas and the various wrestlers booked by the company have managed to successfully foster, on a more than consistent basis.
Pro wrestling has changed naturally over time, obviously, but in some ways I wish it could go back to what it was before. The various pros and cons are there for mass debate (and definitely a discussion for another day), but it’s difficult not to dwell on the hubbub and adventure we could be missing in the modern era.
Now, back to the blueprints for that time machine…