Cody Rhodes fondly recalls the years when his dad’s crashy/smashy world soared.
That was when Dusty Rhodes was a World Championship Wrestling star. “From 1995 to 2001, it was the highest-rated show on TNT …. It was a crazy time for wrestling,” Cody said.
Now this may be Crazy Time II. Suddenly, wrestlers are filling up our TV sets.
That peaks Friday, when WWE’s “SmackDown” — which was confined to cable for two decades – moves to Fox. It’s a chance for WWE “to be a part of this talented, sports-obsessed network,” said Charlotte Flair (shown here), who (like her dad, Ric Flair) has been a pro-wrestling champion.
“SmackDown” follows a big week for its competitors, with “Impact Wrestling” debuting Tuesday on AXS and “All Elite Wrestling” Wednesday on TNT.
That last one was organized by the wrestlers themselves. “We’ve got a really diverse group … different sizes, shapes, colors, genders, nationalities, sexualities, religions,” said Brandi Rhodes, Cody’s wife.
As a wrestler, she represents three of those. Compared to the old days (sweaty white hulks colliding), she’s a different gender (female), color (black) and size. The WWE once listed Andre the Giant at 520 pounds; Brandi (when she was a WWE wrestler named Eden) was 115.
That was when women were mere window dressing. “Back then, it was kind of like a catalog,” she said. “They would call (a modeling) agency and say, ‘Hey, do you have any athletic women?’”
She was chosen, as a former figure skater. Today’s WWE women have ranged from Flair (a former volleyball champion) to Ronda Rousey, who dominated mixed martial arts for four years.
Flair won eight WWE titles, before losing to Becky Lynch in a “Wrestlemania” main event. And even that was a sort of triumph, she said: “Main-eventing … is the pinnacle of the women’s evolution, which is not just going to stop there.”
That change has broadened wrestling’s audience. “There are a lot more women coming to WOW (Women of Wrestling) events,” David McLane said. He started GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) back in 2000, but his new version takes things “in a more athletic direction.”
There’s a catch in all this, of course: These athletes – MMA or volleyball or whatever – were in real competitions; pro wrestling is planned and scripted. “We get to control that cliffhanger,” Flair said.
Despite its fakery, wrestling has been popular … especially when TV is needy; consider:
— TV’s earliest days. The networks wanted action – but in a confined, easy-to-telecast space. In 1948, prime time had as many as four nights a week of real boxing and four night of fake wrestling.
— Basic-cable’s early days. The USA Network started in 1980, tried other sports … then soared with the WWF (now WWE) in 1985. By 1987, “Wrestlemania” was breaking records for attendance (93,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome) and pay-per-view revenue. Others jumped in, leading to the “crazy time.”
— And TV’s current troubles, as people use delayed-viewing or non-viewing. One remedy involves sports (real or fake), which are mostly viewed live. Fox now takes that to an extreme – nothing but football or wrestling, Thursdays through Saturdays in prime time, plus Saturdays and Sundays daytime.
But now there are plenty of others seeking that audience. USA and AXS each have two wrestling nights and TNT is back in the ring.
That started, Cody Rhodes said, when he linked with the Young Bucks duo. They did “our own self-financed and self-promoted show … last Labor Day weekend. (We) sold out in 29 minutes.”
Tony Khan (a Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner) stepped in as owner and set the TNT deal.
Dubbed “All Elite, the group added Chris Jericho, Kenny Omega, Nyla Rose and more. Brandi Rhodes became Chief Brand Officer and Cody shares the CEO role with Omega and the Bucks. The result, he said, is “a wrestling show by wrestlers for wrestling fans.”
Lots of wrestling
— Mondays: “WWE Monday Night Raw,” 8-11 p.m., USA
— Tuesdays: “Impact Wrestling,” 8-11 p.m. ET, AXS, rerunning at 11
— Wednesdays: “All Elite Wrestling,” TNT; and “WWE NXT,” USA, both 8-10 p.m.
— Fridays: “WWE Smackdown,” 8-10 p.m. Fox.
— Saturdays: “WOW – Women of Wrestling” and “New Japan Pro Wrestling,” 8 and 9 p.m. ET, AXS, repeating at 10 and 11 p.m. and midnight and 1 a.m.