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WWE Wrestlefest

The History Of World Wrestling Entertainment
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EARLY HISTORY

In 1915, Roderick James "Jess" McMahon, grandfather of current WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, co-promoted a boxing match between Jess Willard and Jack Johnson. In the fight, on April 5th, 1915, Johnson lost his title to Willard in Havana. A decade later, in 1925, McMahon joined Tex Rickard in promoting boxing events from the old Madison Square Garden arena in New York City, starting with the December 11th, 1925, light-heavyweight championship match between Jack Delaney and Paul Berlenbach. Jess McMahon's enterprise focused on promoting boxing and live concert/music events.

It was not until 1935, the same year that Jim Crockett Promotions was formed, that the McMahon family moved into the wrestling business. His son, Vincent Jess McMahon, began to take an increasing role in the running of the business, especially on the wrestling side. However, the McMahon family was not able to promote wrestling matches at Madison Square Garden due to Rickard's dislike of the sport.

This "no wrestling at the garden" policy lasted until 1948, when Joseph Raymond Mondt (better known as Toots Mondt), backed by millionaire Bernarr McFadden, managed to promote a wrestling show at the famous arena. Mondt's doing so was facilitated, in part, by the elder McMahon. Ray Fabiani, who helped Mondt take control of New York after the death of Jack Curley, was influential in drawing the younger McMahon into alliance with Mondt.

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Vincent J McMahon

CAPITAL WRESTLING CORPORATION

In January 1953, Jesse's son Vincent J McMahon and wrestling promoter Toots Mondt took control of the North Eastern United States wrestling circuit as part of The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). The NWA is a broad group of companies that recognised an undisputed champion, who went from wrestling company to wrestling company in the alliance and defended his title around the world.

McMahon's company was called Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). While originally running shows from the 2,000 seat Turner's Arena, the CWC would eventually control the territories of New England, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. It was able to do this after signing an agreement with WTTG Channel 5, in 1956, to air live CWC wrestling shows. These shows were then syndicated. Capitol dominated professional wrestling in the north eastern United States during the mid 20th century, when it was divided into strictly regional enterprises.

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WORLD WIDE WRESTLING FEDERATION

In 1963, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers was NWA Champion and his bookings were controlled by Mondt. The rest of the NWA were upset because Mondt rarely let Rogers wrestle outside of the north east. It was decided that Mondt and the CWC would part ways with the NWA, creating the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the process. Mondt and the WWWF wanted Rogers to keep the NWA title but Rogers didn't want to lose his $25,000 deposit on the belt; wrestling champions at the time had to pay a deposit to ensure that they would honor any commitments that came with the title. Rogers lost the NWA title to Lou Thesz in Toronto on January 24th, 1963.

In mid April, Rogers was then awarded the new WWWF title after the WWWF claimed he won a (fictitious) tournament in Rio De Janeiro. He lost the title to Bruno Sammartino a month later on May 17th, 1963 after supposedly suffering a heart attack shortly before the match.

The WWWF rejoined the NWA in 1971 and their world title was dropped to the status of a regional title.

Mondt (born in 1886) died in 1976.

The WWWF became the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979. The name change was purely cosmetic as the ownership and front office personnel remained unchanged during this period.

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WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION

WWF Goes National

In 1979, Vincent K McMahon formed Titan Sports, Inc. and in 1982 purchased the WWF from his father, Vincent J McMahon. After discovering at the age of 12 that the wrestling promoter was his father, Vince steadily became involved in his fathers wrestling business until the latter was ready to retire. The elder McMahon had already established the north eastern territory as one of the most vibrant members of the NWA by recognizing that pro wrestling was more about entertainment than sport. Against his father's wishes, McMahon began an expansion program that would fundamentally change the sport, and place both the WWF....and his own life.... in jeopardy.

Leaving the NWA for a second time was, in itself, not that big of a step; the AWA had long ago ceased to be an official NWA member, and just over a decade earlier WWWF itself had rejoined the NWA. But in neither case did the defecting member attempt to undermine, and destroy, the territory system that had been the foundation of the industry.

Other promoters were furious when McMahon began syndicating WWF shows to stations across America. McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast. He effectively broke the unwritten law of regionalism around which the entire industry had been based. To make matters worse, McMahon would use the income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to poach talent from rival promoters. Wrestling promoters nationwide were now in direct competition with the WWF.

According to several reports, Vincent Sr. warned his son: "Vinny, what are you doing?! You'll wind up at the bottom of a river!" In spite of such warnings, the younger McMahon had an even bolder ambition: the WWF would tour nationally. However, such a venture required huge capital investment; one which placed the WWF on the verge of financial collapse.

The future of not just McMahon's experiment, but also the WWF, the NWA, and the whole industry came down to the success or failure of McMahon's groundbreaking sports entertainment concept, WrestleMania. WrestleMania was a pay-per-view extravaganza that McMahon marketed as being the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.

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The concept of a wrestling supercard was nothing new in North America; the NWA had been running StarrCade a few years prior to Wrestlemania. However, McMahon wanted to take the WWF to the mainstream, targeting the general public who were not regular wrestling fans. He drew the interest of the mainstream media by inviting celebrities such as Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper to participate in the event. MTV, in particular, featured a great deal of WWF coverage and programming at this time, in what was termed the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection.

The new formula of what McMahon deemed Sports Entertainment was a resounding financial success at the original WrestleMania. The WWF did incredible business on the shoulders of McMahon and his All-American babyface hero, Hulk Hogan, for the next several years, creating what some observers dubbed a second golden age for professional wrestling. However, by the 1990's the WWF's fortunes steadily declined as Hulk Hogan's act grew stale, hitting a low point in the wake of allegations of steroid abuse and distribution against McMahon and the WWF in 1994. McMahon was eventually exonerated, but it was a public-relations debacle for the WWF.

WWF THE NEXT GENERATION

The Monday Night War

Under Eric Bischoff, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the new name for NWA superterritory Jim Crockett Promotions after its purchase by Ted Turner, began using its tremendous financial resources to lure established talent away from the WWF. Beginning in 1994, these acquisitions included Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Lex Luger, "Razor Ramon" Scott Hall, "Diesel" Kevin Nash, and many others. In 1995, Bischoff upped the ante, creating WCW Monday Nitro, a cable show on Turner's TNT network, to directly compete with the WWF's flagship show, WWF Monday Night RAW. Eventually, on the strength of its newly-acquired WWF talent and the groundbreaking nWo storyline, WCW overtook the WWF in television ratings and popularity.

McMahon responded by stating that he could create new superstars to regain the upper hand in the ratings war, and at the same time tightening contracts to make it harder for WCW to raid WWF talent. Despite this, the WWF was losing money at a rapid rate. WCW's reality-based storylines drew attention away from the WWF's outdated (and childish) rock and wrestling-era gimmicks.

The Montreal Screwjob

The WWF/WCW feud reached a new level in 1997, when McMahon decided to force then WWF champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart out of the company. The previous year, Hart was offered a lucrative deal to jump to WCW. McMahon countered with an offer worth much less money, but for a 20-year term, and Hart agreed to stay. However, McMahon immediately regretted the deal. Claiming financial hardship, McMahon threatened to breach the contract and advised Bret to do his best to sign with WCW.

While Hart's departure was not a surprise, the WWF was concerned about the fact that the man about to leave was the WWF Champion. Earlier in the WWF/WCW feud, the WWF Women's Champion, Alundra Blayze, signed with WCW while in possession of the belt and threw it in a trash can on WCW Nitro (imitating a heavily publicized act by heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe). The WWF's worst nightmare was for Hart to appear on WCW Nitro while wearing the WWF belt. Bret promised that no such thing would ever happen and put an agreement in place that the announcement of his departure would be delayed until the belt could be transitioned to a new champion. However, McMahon was concerned that the word would get out and he sought a way to get the belt off of Hart before the deal could be announced on WCW Monday Nitro.

Hart used his contractual control over his booking in the last 30 days of his deal, which would end with that year's Survivor Series PPV in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He let it be known to WWF management that he would willingly drop the title, but not to rival "HBK" Shawn Michaels in Montreal. McMahon would deviate from the agreed finish of their match at Survivor Series to allow Shawn Michaels to win the title from Hart. This would set the stage for the turning point in the WWF/WCW feud.

McMahon used the backlash from the event to cast himself as the evil company owner "Mr McMahon" in WWF programming, a dictatorial ruler who favored wrestlers who were "good for business" over "misfits" like Stone Cold Steve Austin. This led to the Austin vs. McMahon feud, which was the cornerstone of the new WWF Attitude concept.

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WWF Attitude

Running with the momentum from the Montreal Screwjob, McMahon took the WWF in an edgier, reality-based direction he called WWF Attitude. Borrowing many of the exciting wrestling and storyline styles from then insurgent wrestling promotion ECW, the WWF Attitude Era was based largely on the growing popularity of the wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. Popular with the fans ever since winning the King of the Ring tournament as a heel in 1996, Austin's rough and redneck style won over enough fans that the WWF was forced to turn him into a fan favorite at Wrestlemania XIII in spring 1997 (in a rare double-switch in which the increasingly whiny Bret Hart turned heel after a legendary match between the two wrestlers). During the summer and fall of 1997, Austin enhanced his status as a rebel willing to challenge any authority by giving his Stone Cold Stunner finishing move to WWF announcer Jim Ross, then Commisssioner Sgt Slaughter, and eventually WWF owner Vince McMahon himself. Hints of the Austin/McMahon feud in WWF storylines began after Stone Cold won the 1998 Royal Rumble to become number 1 Contender for the WWF Title at Wrestlemania. McMahon said in a pre Wrestlemania press conference that it was not in the WWF's best interest to have Austin as champion. The relationship would deteriorate over the next few years of WWF programming.

The Attitude era kicked off in earnest at WrestleMania XIV, when professional boxer Mike Tyson appeared as a special guest referee for the WWF Title match between Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The highlight was the verbal confrontation between Austin and Tyson ending with Austin flicking off Tyson. Fans who purchased the pay-per-view were amazed by what they saw; this certainly was not the childish Rock and Wrestling era they still expected from the WWF. Many more fans who had not bought WrestleMania, including fans of WCW, tuned in to watch RAW the next day and in subsequent weeks. This was the start of the epic feud between "evil promoter" Mr McMahon and Austin. For the first time in 18 months, the edgier WWF would beat the weekly WCW Monday Nitro in the ratings.

Over the coming year, the WWF would see new fan favorites. The Rock would become one of the most popular professional wrestlers in history. Where earlier WCW's edgy WCW Vs nWo angle managed to almost lead the WWF to financial ruin, it was now becoming stale, and fans turned back to the WWF.

This change was not without critics. Many family groups were outraged at the graphic violence employed by the WWF. They, along with feminist groups, found the regular use of scantily clad women to attract viewers as offensive. One group, the Parents Television Council, waged a sustained boycott campaign against the WWF. However, the controversial new presentation made the WWF more appealing than ever to its core audience.

The death of Owen Hart

Tragedy struck on May 23, 1999, in Kansas City, Missouri. Owen Hart, as his "Blue Blazer" superhero character, was scheduled to make a dramatic appearance on that night's Over the Edge pay-per-view telecast, "flying" into the ring by being lowered from a harness attached to the roof of the arena. As Hart was being lowered into position in preparation for this entrance, his harness suddenly disengaged, sending him plummeting almost 80 feet to the ring below.

Those watching the pay-per-view telecast at the time were spared the sight because the director cut away to a pretaped interview just before the accident occurred. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. A stunned Jim Ross made the solemn announcement to the pay-per-view audience once word had reached the arena. The fans in attendance at The Kemper Arena were not informed of Owen's death. The decision to continue the event was (and still is) a controversial one.

The following night, the WWF dedicated its entire two-hour RAW telecast to Owen's memory, as various WWF performers and employees shared memories of their fallen friend.

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Business advances

On April 23, 1999, the WWF launched a special program known as SmackDown! on the fledgling UPN network. The show became a weekly series on August 24, 1999. It has remained UPN's most successful program overall ever since.

Off the back of the success of the Attitude era, on October 19, 1999 the WWF's parent company, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc., became a publicly traded company. WWF announced its desire to diversify into other businesses, including a nightclub in Times Square, film production and book publishing.

In 2000 the WWF, in collaboration with television network NBC, announced the creation of the XFL, a new professional football league, but the league had dismal television ratings and NBC pulled the plug after a year.

Acquisition of WCW

With the massive success of WWF Attitude, WCW's financial situation deteriorated significantly, and its newly-merged parent company AOL Time Warner looked to cut the division loose. In March 2001, WWF Entertainment, Inc. acquired WCW from AOL Time Warner for $7 million. During the final WCW Monday Nitro, McMahon (as the character Mr McMahon) took over the broadcast during the last half hour and Monday Night Raw was seen on TNT. Months later, McMahon and Bischoff reconciled their personal differences, and Bischoff signed with WWF to perform as the storyline General Manager of Raw.

Since WCW's peak in the late 1990s, wrestling fans had dreamed about a feud between the two promtions. The original plan was to have WCW "take over" RAW, turning it back into WCW Monday Nitro. However, many big-name WCW stars such as "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Kevin Nash, Goldberg, and Sting were still contracted to WCW's former parent company (McMahon decided not to buy them out), and all chose to sit out the duration of their contracts rather than work for McMahon for less money. The lack of major WCW star power, combined with McMahon deciding that WWF wrestlers generally should not lose to WCW wrestlers, ended the "WCW Invasion" storyline quickly. Even the inclusion of ECW wrestlers and trademarks did not save it.

Many people believe that the story would have gone much better if WWE and McMahon waited a couple of years, as many WCW and ECW superstars joined after the end of the WWF vs. WCW feud. The feud was a contributor to the company's decline in the ratings as well as in attendance and financially, athough the company to this day still has a profitable quarter.

Some people think the WWF Attitude era ended at the end of WrestleMania X-Seven (17) and others say November 2001 when WWF beat WCW. It is still a debate amongst wrestling fans.

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WORLD WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT

Following a lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund (also WWF), the Federation changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. It's parent company, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, also chose to adopt this name. The lawsuit dealt with the wrestling company's breaching of an agreement with the Fund over use of the initials "WWF" in the United Kingdom. Rather than attempt a financial settlement with the Fund, McMahon changed the name of the company. The logo was altered, and a promotional campaign called "Get The F Out" was used to publicize this change. Also, all verbal and visual references to "WWF" and the World Wrestling Federation logo from the "Attitude" era were edited out from old broadcasts. Some observers saw the new name as further acknowledgement by the company on its emphasis towards the entertainment rather than athletic aspects of professional wrestling.

Without WCW as competition, the WWE decided to split the promotion into two "separate" brands based on its two largest television shows, RAW and SmackDown! Under this "split brands" arrangement, each brand maintains a separate and non-overlapping roster of wrestlers, has championships exclusive to that brand (example: the WWE Championship on SmackDown!, and the World Heavyweight Championship on RAW), and is run by a different onscreen general manager.

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