Death Of The Territories
EXPANSION, BETRAYAL and the WAR that CHANGED PRO WRESTLING FOREVER
Synopsis: An in-depth look at wrestling's territory system before Vince McMahon took over.
Toronto, a major stop on the National Wrestling Alliance circuit dating back to 1949, was profoundly weakened by the death of Frank Tunney in 1983 and faced a steep decline in attendance. As it was, top-tier grapplers used to flock to Toronto to enjoy Tunney's world-renowned professionalism and fair payoffs. Following his death, the promotion was taken over by his son Eddie and nephew Jack, and continued to draw workers from Jim Crockett and eastern Canada, but the pool of wrestling talent was stretched thin in 1984, and Toronto suffered, like many other cities. With things coming to a head financially, the Tunneys had to make a decision, and perhaps their choice was easy.
The WWF had been on TV in the Toronto area since 1982, broadcasting from a Buffalo station, and was a known commodity to local fans. It also featured many former Toronto stars, guys like Roddy Piper, Greg Valentine, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jimmy Snuka who had appeared at Maple Leaf Gardens when the promotion was running high. These were the individuals people wanted to see live, and the Tunneys realized an agreement with the WWF was their option.
Many accounts of the history professional wrestling have mentioned how wrestling was a territorial system before Vince McMahon took over in the early 1980s and essentially swallowed these regional promotions whole. It's even been a very popular part of many WWE-produced documentaries over the past couple of decades. But what gets talked about far, far less are the territories themselves and how each found themselves in the position of being swallowed.
From Minnesota to Georgia, from Toronto to Calgary, and from Kansas City to Texas, each territory had a local flavor of their own that made them breeding grounds for Hall of Fame talent for decades to come. Tim Hornbaker's Death Of The Territories is part celebration of these regional promotions, and part explanation of their subsequent demise.
To hear the narrative from Vince McMahon or other WWE-produced sources, the demise of these territories was largely because they couldn't get along and/or see the big picture of how cable television would have impacted them. That may have been true in some cases, but it also discounts the tremendous success being had in regions such as Mid-South, where Bill Watts was packing huge crowds in at the SuperDome, and World Class Championship Wrestling, where the Von Erichs became a national phenomenon.
As Hornbaker points out, not all promotions were created equally, and despite many having success at various points, some began suffering from a downturn in the business, unreliable talents and overall financial difficulties that made a WWF takeover the only choice in some cases.
Of course, we get a window into how McMahon dealt with each territory, and not only the smaller ones, but the titans that were Jim Crockett Promotions and the American Wrestling Association. By the time the WWF took over programming on TBS, and then forged alliances with NBC and MTV leading to the first WrestleMania, it was evident that the tide had permanently turned in McMahon's favor.
This is probably not a book for everyone; if your knowledge of the wrestling wars are limited to WCW and perhaps AEW.... the content here may not necessarily hold your interest. But for those who want to take a deeper dive and see how things used to be in a pre-WrestleMania era, Death Of The Territories does a far better job explaining what happened than any WWE-produced documentary ever will.
Overall Rating: Oh Hell Yeah! This is a very detailed account of a largely-forgotten period in pro wrestling history and should be treasured.