No Contests

No Contests: Why They Worked in the Past but Not Today

A Brief History of No Contest Finishes

This begs the question: Why would they use these strategies for match outcomes? Historically, this is a tool that bookers have always kept in their repertoire. The best example of bookers using disqualifications and count-outs to their advantage dates back to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and its concept of the traveling Worlds Champion.

The NWA initially served as a union of wrestling promoters that allowed them to share and exchange talent in a way to increase their profit, marketability, and visibility throughout the bustling United States wrestling scene. Those promoters in the alliance were able to secure the services of some of the most talented wrestlers throughout North America by networking with other members of the NWA. The biggest draw of any NWA affiliated show, though, was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion.

The NWA Champion would travel from one affiliate to another in an attempt to bolster the card and lineup for one of the promoters. Typically, the champion would be booked on a show where a promoter wanted to outdraw one of their local competitors that weren’t a member of the NWA. It was a tactic that helped many NWA promotions thrive while most promotions outside of the Alliance suffered. While this system of utilizing wrestling’s biggest star and its biggest championship to elevate a promotion’s card seemed like a great way to own an area of the country’s wrestling audience, it certainly had its drawbacks.

To really sell their card, promoters would traditionally pit the NWA Champion against its top star. If a wrestler in the territory caught fire with the local crowds, everyone knew they would face the champion next time they came to town. For a promoter, though, this created a conundrum. No promoter would book their top star to lose to the champion, because it would diminish that star in the eyes of the fans that had paid to see them each and every week in that local arena. However, the committee in charge of the world title would rarely authorize the champion to lose unless that loss came at the hands of the next person in line for the title. Thus, promoters quickly realized neither person could definitively lose. There had to be a method to keep both wrestlers strong in the eyes of the fans.

No contests
Photo credit: WWE.com

This brings us to what we are seeing today in WWE’s women’s division. The old NWA promoters would devise all sorts of disqualifications, count-outs, and outside interference to ensure that no wrestler truly held a victory over the other. More often than not, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion would be a heel that would find a sneaky method to escape with the belt around their waist. Most notably, champions like Harley Race and Ric Flair became notorious for their nefarious actions while holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. WWE clearly sees these wrestlers as valuable commodities so they don’t wish for either person to lose clean. As such, they have created these scenarios in which neither wrestler has to suffer a pinfall or submission.

This should come as no surprise to anyone when you examine the WWE’s booking infrastructure. Of course, Vince McMahon is at the top of everything. McMahon’s father was once a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and saw how business was done when it came to keeping wrestlers strong. While Vince McMahon, Sr. utilized this strategy less than other NWA members, he would play the card when it seemed appropriate.

He used it sparingly, choosing instead to give his stars like Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund conclusive victories to help solidify their place at the top of the card in his World Wide Wrestling Federation shows that would often emanate from New York’s Madison Square Garden. Although the younger McMahon has booked some dominant champions over the years, he picked up some bad habits from his father and other people he viewed as peers over the years.

McMahon learned from one of his peers, Jerry Jarrett. Jarrett booked the Memphis Wrestling territory throughout much of its existence. The Memphis territory garnered acclaim and popularity for the controversy it created through its unique booking decisions. One of Jarrett’s favorite booking maneuvers was to have his top star, Jerry Lawler, drop the title to one of the promotion’s other top stars inciting a near riotous reaction from the live crowd. Then, immediately on the next show, Lawler would regain the championship to a raucous ovation from the Memphis fans.

This strategy of hot-shotting and short-term storytelling made Jarrett and the Memphis territory a lot of money over the years, and Vince McMahon paid close attention to the success that Jarrett had. Vince admired Jarrett’s booking philosophy so much that he began a working relationship with Jarrett and his United States Wrestling Association in 1992. Their relationship was so close that Vince McMahon told several people that Jerry Jarrett would be the man in charge of the World Wrestling Federation if McMahon were to be convicted in the infamous steroid trial of 1994.

The other person at the top of WWE’s creative totem pole is Bruce Prichard. Bruce Prichard’s first high-profile job in wrestling was when he worked for Paul Boesch’s Houston Wrestling promotion. Prichard worked his way up from a guy selling posters and t-shirts to a ring announcer and on-camera figure for Houston.

Boesch’s Houston Wrestling saw several high-profile stars cycle through the territory. Boesch had his own stars to promote in conjunction with these larger stars that would pass through from time-to-time. In order to keep everyone happy, he also implemented several unique finishes to make everyone look strong in the eyes of the fans in attendance. Eventually, Boesch sold Houston Wrestling to Vince McMahon, and Bruce Prichard quickly became a close associate of McMahon during his booking and creative meetings. Prichard took the lessons he learned from watching Paul Boesch and used them to help fuel WWE’s television product.

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