Looking At WWE’s Forbidden Door

There continues to be a lot of talk about the “forbidden door,” a phrase originally coined at a New Japan media conference that became a much more common point of discussion in recent years with the shift of dynamics in the industry. I was extremely surprised when it was announced last week on Smackdown that Mickie James, the current Impact Knockouts champion, will be in the women’s Royal Rumble match at the end of the month. The announcement was just a day prior to the Impact “Hard to Kill” pay-per-view and while it probably didn’t prompt too many extra buys, it definitely had fans talking about the organization. It also seemed to play a factor in the company’s decision to put the Knockouts title match in the main event spot on the pay-per-view. It must be mentioned that while the effort was there, the KO title bout seemed to be a less impressive attempt to copy the weapons match from a recent edition of Rampage.

As we know, Vince McMahon has kept a tight grasp on intellectual property and copyrights for several years so why would they allow a champion from another organization to compete in one of the featured “premium events” of the year?

The answer could be as simple as the company needs more women to book in the Rumble match because there aren’t enough currently on the roster after dozens of releases over the past year.

The other possibility is a little more complex, but might offer some insight into the current WWE thought process. As much as some fans might be shocked with the mention of the Impact name on Fox, this isn’t really new territory for the promotion. Over the years, at various times, WWE had working agreements with other organizations, it just usually wasn’t a promotion in America, which reduced any conflicts of interest. Several lucha libre stars appeared in the 1997 Royal Rumble, and Shawn Micheals was a referee for an FMW main event with a Vader/Ken Shamrock cage match on the under card in 1999. Let’s not forget that ECW was paid by WWE after 2 Cold Scorpio’s exit from South Philadelphia to replace a record store sponsorship the group had, and ECW itself became almost an unofficial feeder system for the WWE at a time when the company needed the surplus of talent to fight WCW in the wrestling war of the 90s.

So, why would Vince McMahon be willing to book an Impact champion for the Royal Rumble?

In short, the public perception of the WWE in the view of the fans is very negative, particularly based on “budget cuts” while the company touts record-setting profits for its shareholders. Keep in mind, a huge portion of those releases were announced during the peak of the shutdown so the corporation that made the most money in its history fired dozens of talents at a time when there literally weren’t other options for pro wrestling. Obviously, the WWE could’ve kept all of those wrestlers under contract until after the shutdown and it truly wouldn’t have affected the profits. Quite frankly, the WWE often looks like a greedy corporation under the direction of Nick Khan, who seems to view wrestlers as just names on a paper or interchangeable parts of the WWE machine. Granted, the company also does a tremendous amount of wonderful charity work, but the point is, the narrative of the organization on social media is, wrestlers got fired while management raked in the money.

Sure, it’s definitely within the WWE’s right to release someone from their deal, but in the case of Alison Danger, she relocated to take a job at the Performance Center and was cut just a few months later. It’s ridiculous that the company would even offer her a job if there wasn’t some level of job security and she deserved better.

In some ways, welcoming Mickie James into the Rumble softens the WWE’s corporate image since it presents the possibility that the McMahon empire doesn’t want to just stomp out any alternative product just because it can flex its sports entertainment muscle to make things more difficult for another company. It will also help in the company’s upcoming lawsuit that was filed against them by MLW, which claims that management called Vice TV and insisted the station drop the league from its schedule. The fact that WWE is willing to work with Impact could be an example cited that it doesn’t attempt to block exposure for other groups. A side note, I have to say that while anything is possible in the over-the-top world of pro wrestling, I just don’t think Vince McMahon would concern himself with something on the level of MLW. McMahon is too smart to put himself into an anti-trust situation, and truthfully, why would it make a difference to the WWE what MLW does? It’s not as though MLW is a threat to the WWE, and in many respects, MLW is an indy promotion with television so I doubt anything major will result from the potential lawsuit.

Using the Impact crossover could just be something to add to the Jerry McDevitt playbook, but the more possible option is the chance to soften the company’s image, specifically when it involves Mickie James, who was sent her belongings in a trash bag after she was released. Mickie posted a photo of the package that was delivered and the executive responsible for it was fired. Putting Mickie James, who is still a great performer, in the Rumble is a way to patch up that mishap.

Finally, if adding Mickie to the match was strictly a way to get enough competitors for it, Impact is a “safe” option for the WWE to work with because Impact viewership is marginal at best. The WWE could plug Impact every week on Raw or Smackdown, and the vast majority of the viewing audience either wouldn’t have to the Axs channel on their cable package or have minimal interest in the product because of its niche presentation. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not meant as a jab against the Impact since there’s a solid roster, but last week’s episode garnered just over 100,000 viewers before the Hard to Kill pay-per-view so it’s just a realistic look at the status of the promotion. If I had to guess, I would say that this working agreement is probably a one-off scenario, but it will be very interesting to see if any other wrestlers from Impact are scheduled for WWE television in the next few months.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta