|What Has Gone Before
The CSWA's "New Season" has been filled with taped shows, preemptions, and tepid ratings. The CSWA itself has deevolved into faction warfare filled with invasions, intrusions and apathy. Even Sammy Benson has staged a walk-out.
BATTLE of the BELTS XVII finds itself set apart from the format of its previous brethren. The night used to be set aside for one-on-one matches with all the belts on the line. But this card is as far from that as possible.
CSWA owner Chad Merritt's brainchild, the card features two of the original CSWA veterans on top, to the dismay of many lower in the card. It also includes "team challenge" elimination tag matches... with teams that don't want to be paired together.
A quick rewind...
The GXW 'invasion,' which started by lurting then-CSWA World Champion Evan Aho to GXW television and attacking him, has faltered, turning into two factions: PLR redux, led by Kevin Powers, has changed its membership again, this time without former icons Eddy Love and Steve Radder. The GXW contingent is led by Dan Ryan, a man whose persuasiveness must be as large as his ego: Ryan was able to get former CSWA stalwart "Wicked Sight" Mike Plett to go Benedict Arnold on the league and his 'freaks.'
At the same time, another stable has joined up and tried to steal the GXW's thunder. The Intruders, made up of former World Champ GUNS, current Unified Tag Champs The Professionals, and lackey Pi, make for a powerful and interesting combination. The Pros seem to have bought in to GUNS' mission to 'tear down the CSWA brick by brick,' at least as far as it gets them the exposure and payday that they're looking for. The I's recent attempts to lure US Champion Shane Southern to their camp have failed. In fact, they backfired, as Southern teamed up with former World Champ Troy Windham to turn the tables on the Intruders.
Presidential Champion Tom Adler has returned to some of his old ways, reviving the <> Cutters under Maxwell Diamond. Along with Nathan Storm, Bishop and 'reporter' Eric Wright, the Cutters have attacked champion Mark Windham, beat down former opponent Tsunami, and been vocal about their opposition to the other factions. In fact, Adler has proclaimed himself the preeminent champion in the CSWA, and announced that he's the 'savior' the league is looking for, if only they'll do things his way.
Merritt's response to all this was to turn the pay-per-view lineup on its ear, first announcing that former four-time World Champion Hornet would challenge his former best friend Mark Windham for the CSWA World Title. The two have been with the CSWA since its first card in 1988, when they were best friends. They have met in the ring against each other four times in those 15 years, and only twice for the top title. The buildup has been odd, to say the least, for a pay-per-view Main Event. Windham's return to the top last year was stellar, but his motive is still unclear. He continues to talk about those in need of "The Awakening." Hornet, on the other hand, has become almost reclusive. He's been unwilling to discuss the match, or the status of his friendship with Windham, openly. Before FISH FUND XIII there was speculation that Hornet and Windham might pull one over on Evan Aho, as they did in the past on others. There have been no signs of that recently. But who knows? And what would they have to gain by pulling a stunt in the Main Event?
And what does Merritt gain by playing with the "team challenge" lineups? He's put Kevin Powers and Dan Ryan on the same team against their respective stablemates. GUNS and Troy Windham are on the same side as well, as are Shane Southern and Tom Adler. It's as if Merritt took every feud and forced the wrestlers to team up, to see if their desire for a chance to become the top contender to the World Title would win out over their antagonism. Is it to try and spike ratings? Is it to try and destroy factions? Or is it simply a chance for Merritt to flex his corporate muscle?
BATTLE of the BELTS is the beginning of a watershed moment for the CSWA. Five years ago, the CSWA celebrated its tenth anniversary by returning to the airwaves following the most controversial time in its history. Certainly no midgets have died recently, and no one's on trial, but from a business standpoint, this challenge could be just as tough. The CSWA's network contract is in jeopardy, as NCN has been forced to give partial refunds to advertisers unhappy with the sagging ratings. Merritt's ability to put on shows that draw has been questioned, along with his creative focus. As the road to the next ANNIVERSARY Celebration begins, the CSWA finds itself asking the same question as then: is it sink or swim?
Just as then, it's a question of desire. In the ring, in the boardroom, and in between: whoever wants it bad enough will prevail.