It’s a strange corollary that despite poker handing out cash prizes only matched by boxing the game will always lie in the shadows of the giants of sport.
Poker will never hit the mainstream because we're unable to find a believable way of presenting our star cast to the watching public.
We have become World Wrestling Entertainment prior to the 1990s.
It’s a crying shame because poker contains all of the ingredients you need to leave the viewer shaking in his or her emotional boots.
We cannot deprive our viewers of this collage of commotion that has the power to shake the soul, and I believe the WWE has the antidote.
Hogan vs. Warrior Took WWE Supernova
In 1990, the WWE went supernova when Hulk Hogan stepped into the ring to fight The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6.
It was the first time that a worldwide audience got to see two well-liked champions facing each other in the squared circle.
For the first time in WWE history the viewer had no idea who would win. We were hooked.
At the same time the Warrior was kicking out from underneath the weight of Hogan’s big leg, Johnny Chan was carving a little piece of history at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), winning back-to-back main event titles in 1987 & 1988.
Then in 1989 a certain Mr. Phil Hellmuth Jr stopped him from winning an unprecedented three consecutive titles.
Chan and Hellmuth = Hogan and Warrior
Chan and Hellmuth were Hogan and the Warrior.
We might not have realized it back then, but we certainly know it now. It was titan versus titan.
Are we going to be waxing lyrical over Greg Merson v Jesse Sylvia, Pius Heinz v Martin Staszko or Jerry Yang v Tuan Lam in years to come? How many of you can even remember the names of the supporting cast?
Prior to the 90s, armchair-wrestling fans barely saw a top-quality match. Instead we were force-fed the Saturday Night Main Event where the stars would get to beat up a barrage of random nobodys.
If we were lucky we would get to see a main event between The Honky Tonk Man and the Brooklyn Brawler.
Remember Tuan Lam v. Jerry Yang? Didn't think so.
When poker fields were smaller, the titans would find their way to the arena with a high frequency. These days the fields are huge and luck has been handed the starring role.
Poker has turned into the Saturday Night Main Event. If we're lucky we may find one superstar at the final table, flipping for the big bucks with a group of random players we don’t care about.
Why would the mainstream want to watch that?
No Room for Paul Roma Anymore
Wrestling has no room for the Brooklyn Brawler and Paul Roma anymore. Every episode of Raw and Smackdown is full of the so-called superstars of sports entertainment.
The fans of wrestling are force-fed quality matches week in-week out. The customers are kept happy and they keep coming back for more.
The rise of Super High-Roller events in poker goes part of the way to achieving this goal. The higher the buy-in the more likely we are to see the stars of poker mixing it up with each other.
The TV exposure of WPT Alpha8 will be great for poker and it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Love him or hate him, fans want Phil.
I also believe that the PartyPoker Premier League is the best current format on the market for a poker tournament.
The top players in the game want to play in it, the league play off system is designed to appeal to the wider sporting audience, and the action is incessant.
It would be great to see a feeder system – perhaps using the Global Poker Index (GPI) – to grow this product even bigger.
What Customers Want, When They Want It
It’s also important to remember that in 1990 the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan were not the greatest technical wrestlers of their time. But they were what the public wanted.
The WWE is a business in the same way the EPT, WPT and WSOP are businesses.
All successful businesses are based on the same philosophy of giving the customers what they want, when they want it.
If poker is going to break into the mainstream then it needs to identify its Hulk Hogan v The Ultimate Warrior matches -- and then find a way to present them to the world.
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