Marking The Territories-Wrestling’s Good Old Days

I have been a fan of professional wrestling for many years. My very first experience with it was shortly before 1986, when my father was watching television and he called me into the room to see a guy on the screen with a green tongue tearing apart the turnbuckle that held the ropes together. Wrestling fans will know that it was George “The Animal” Steele, and I was so shocked at what I was seeing that I had to see more of it. I became a weekly follower of wrestling after seeing Hulk Hogan on NBC’s “Saturday Night’s Main Event,” a show that took the place of “Saturday Night Live” a few times a year. The Match was Hulk vs. Don Muraco, and King Kong Bundy attacked Hogan during the match, which set up the main event for WrestleMania 2.
I have been actively listening to several Internet pod casts, especially Jim Ross and Chris Jericho’s weekly shows and made me long for the good days where territories still existed.
If you are not familiar with the pre 1990s wrestling, here is a little history. Every section of the country had territories that were branches of the major leagues. The WWE (the called WWF and before WWWF) had controlled places like Pittsburgh, New York, Ohio. The AWA (American Wrestling Association) was mainly in Minnesota and surrounding places. The NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) was in the Georgia, Carolina areas. Each league had a world champion. In the 1980s, the Big Three Champions were Hulk Hogan (WWF), Ric Flair (NWA), and Nick Bockwinkle (AWA). Although the NWA and AWA had other champions during this time (Rick Martel, Stan Hansen, Dusty Rhodes to name a few), these were the top three. Besides these big three leagues, there were smaller branches of the leagues, like Texas’s World Class, Mid South out of Oklahoma, and Florida. They had regional champions, but the world champion would also make visits to the territories to usually defend the belt against their top stars. In one case Ric Flair lost the NWA World Title to Kerry Von Erich (who later became the Texas Tornado in WWF in the 1990s), even though Flair regained it two weeks later after Kerry refused to go around the country and defend it outside of Texas.
The great thing about the territories was that wrestlers would not be diluted or overexposed, like today’s talent, where there is the WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor as the only major leagues in the U.S. For instance, Andre The Giant would be brought in for a time in New York and after a short run, be sent to Japan or another smaller territory, maybe Canada, so he would not be overexposed. He may return 6 months later for another run, and so forth,
Another example was the late, great Brusier Brody. He would be brought into the Texas area for a short feud that lasted 6 months and then leave the area so the fans would not get worn out. 6 months later, he would be brought back and sell out the arenas. The fans paid to see it; the promoters and wrestlers got paid more- a win for everyone (when the smaller territories would bring in a big name, especially the World Champion, all the wrestlers would benefit from a big pay day because they were paid by the gate back then, not like today’s stars that have guaranteed contracts).
Another aspect that made the territories great, as opposed to today’s product, was when a wrestler needed to work on his skills, either in the ring or on the promos, they could be sent to a smaller territory for development. Think of the WWE’s NXT system, but many more of them. If a wrestler, say from the NWA, was on television in Atlanta and needed to be smoother in the ring, he could be sent down to the Florida area for more training until he was called back to the Georgia area. Not only would that wrestler develop the skills they needed, the fans would be able to benefit from it as well, either from seeing them at their local arena monthly (as opposed to seeing them once a year), or seeing them on their local television station since most of the regional leagues had a local television deal. This was also great for dream matches for the fans. A fan could get to see gimmick wrestlers like Kamala fight Hacksaw Jim Duggan at the Mid South Arena, instead of maybe having to wait to see it on a PPV, like today’s product.
Seeing the World Champion was a treat as well. With the exception of recently, the WWE or TNA Champion would defend his title every week or at least wrestle every week. Very rarely did a fan see Ric Flair as NWA Champion wrestle (unless it was in a tag match or a swash match) on television, and if he did, it was a major treat. I have been a critic of having all these part timers in the WWE be given titles, and I am no way a Brock Lesnar fan, but having him hold the title will bring more honor to the title, due to the fact that he only will be seen on certain shows and not every week (although he’d be the first person I would send to a territory because he never did, and seem to never will learn how to sell a move). Another difference with Lesnar’s booking compared to Flair’s was that even though the champion wasn’t seen much on television besides interviews, they did appear at house shows, which we all know Lesnar will not be doing (on a ggod note though, it should elevate the secondary titles like WWE’s Intercontinental Title, which at one time had meaning).
I am glad I have many of the AWA, World Class, Mid South, NWA (which after defecting is confused with WCW) on video and youtube so I can watch the good old days. Not only were the storylines better than today’s product, but more entertaining because they were not the same 20 people on every week like today (which also makes me glad to watch when wrestling actually had managers).
I long for the days when territories were still around. (For the ending of the history lesson, the territories were all bought up when Vince McMahon Jr. bought them out, along with Ted Turner and had only two major leagues). Not only did they give us more product –you could watch some sort of wrestling show on television every day of the week- you had all around better athletes because of the training the talent received without the fans being bored of overexposure.
On a final side note, if you are a fan like I am, do check out Chris Jericho’s, Steve Austin’s, and Jim Ross’s pod casts on It is free and great interviews. I also advise Eddie Trunk’s show as well for your Hard Rock and other music interviews.


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