Tom Sorensen

Why Fox is smart to pay $1 billion to air WWE’s slightly less popular wrestling brand

Wrestler Ric Flair and announcer Gene Okerlund work the crowd for a televised match in Charlotte in 1999. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Fox is about to pay the WWE $1 billion for the rights to “SmackDown,” the lesser of the WWE’s two weekly wrestling TV shows.
Wrestler Ric Flair and announcer Gene Okerlund work the crowd for a televised match in Charlotte in 1999. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Fox is about to pay the WWE $1 billion for the rights to “SmackDown,” the lesser of the WWE’s two weekly wrestling TV shows. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Hollywood Reporter reports – what else would it do – that Fox is about to pay the WWE $1 billion for the television rights to “SmackDown,” the lesser of the WWE’s two weekly wrestling TV shows. The deal would be for five years.

Good move by Fox. Almost every guy I know was once, or still is, a professional wrestling fan. The appeal is obvious. Unlike most sports, wrestling has blowouts only when it wants them. Also, the only wrestlers that say “no comment” are those that are told to.

I wrote about a wrestler that was very tough and very talented who spoke no known language. The wrestler’s wife was livid, and called the newspaper to say that her husband “fluidly” spoke, if I remember correctly, three languages.

Sorry. But in and around the ring, he spoke with only with his hands and his holds.

My kids loved professional wrestling. When I was a kid, I loved professional wrestling. When you were a kid, you loved professional wrestling. My granddaughter is 3, and I suspect she’ll love professional wrestling. I can see her: the “American Girl” versus “Barbie the Butcher.” (She owns both, although technically Barbie isn’t a butcher.)

Roles in the squared circle are easy for a kid to figure out.

If you aren’t good, you’re bad; and if you aren’t bad, you’re good. Wresting was, when I was a kid, like a Western. There was no gray, no middle ground. In wrestling, however, good guys did turn bad and bad guys did turn good. We were shocked, and we watched it all.

Charlotte was once the world headquarters of the National Wrestling Alliance. For an interview, you’d go to the studio off South Blvd. on Briarbend Rd., or to Bennigan’s near SouthPark. I wrote one column a week about the grapplers, and met people that still are friends, among them Ric Flair.

One afternoon I sat down with an alien from a different planet, and what we had was a failure to communicate. You sit down with somebody from another solar system, and see what you get. Even the wrestler that in real life spoke three languages couldn’t have reached the alien.

KidWaitsForFlair
Almost every guy I know was once, or still is, a professional wrestling fan. The appeal is obvious. Above, Hickory’s Tyler Martin, then 5, waits for a chance to see Ric Flair at Charlotte promotion in October 1998. Both Tyler’s legs had been broken in a truck accident earlier that month. Jeff Willhelm Charlotte Observer staff file photo

We all look for things we can share with our kids. Maybe the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Knights will move them. Maybe the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Discovery Place and ImaginOn will. Maybe they’ll be moved by all of the above.

For my brothers and me, and for so many of you, wrestling worked. Even now, I’ll meet somebody, and he’ll open a sentence with, “Remember when Wahoo McDaniel…” And I’ll say, “Man, you had to like the time that Nikita Koloff…” And another guy will say, “I liked Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin and Harley Race, but I loved the Andersons.” And I’ll tell them about eating barbecue in the great Abdullah the Butcher’s Atlanta restaurant.

Is “SmackDown” as good as the NWA was? I don’t think so, but if I were a kid now I, of course, would. And if my kids loved it, so would I.

When I’m home, I rarely intend to watch wrestling. But I’ll be running through the guide and I’ll see “SmackDown” and, yeah, I’ll give it a chance. There the grapplers are in the ring, muscular and tan and holding a microphone. The difference now is that when they talk they appear to speak a known language.

That’s too bad.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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