It’s days like today that wonder what keeps me going. What keeps others going…
A week ago, a young wrestler broke his neck during a match. I don’t know this man personally, but when something like this happens within our industry, it affects everyone. That could’ve easily been me and I ask, what for? I’ll jump around all over the place in this blog, but “Is it worth it?” will be the apparent theme I’m hitting on.
Fortunately the person in question will heal just fine after a few months of rehab. It could’ve been much worse. The pit in my stomach is the risk. The diagnosis could’ve been paralysis. Sure this could happen in all walks of life and does, so pro wrestlers are at no further risk than say a high school football player. However, our industry is typically full of adults, persons who have a passion that blindly leads us past the risks, whether financial, physical or mental.
My first thought was the young man worked in front of maybe a dozen fans, in a poorly built wrestling ring, and most likely didn’t get paid either. Then another thought hit me: how many of us work in broken down rings, in front of small crowds and for little financial gain? The purpose of my rambling is not to bash anyone, but to shed light on the great issue of “Is it worth it?”
I already knew many things about this business when I got into it; well for the second time, having been around enough shady human beings and con artists on my first go around. (I haven’t dug deep into that yet with my ongoing blog series, but I will.) The overall goal of any wrestler is to be the best they can be. For those with the drive, that would be working on the grandest stage, such as WWE, TNA or any of a number of worth promotions across Japan and Mexico.
Long ago, professional wrestling was a full time job. Those that wrestled, did so to make a living. Today’s wrestling only offers a select few an opportunity to do this full time and earn a paycheck doing so. I could make an educated guess that less than 10% of active wrestlers make a living at wrestling. 10% is probably too high. 1% might seem like a low figure, but somewhere in the lower single digits is where we are in the present climate.
Think about it. How many roster spots are there in WWE? 50? 60? That’s as many as a single NFL team. ONE NFL team. If you are lucky enough to make it, wrestlers are independent contractors, responsible for their own finances and expenses such as travel, food and lodging. They aren’t covered by company health insurance. They don’t have a union to represent them. Seldom are those that “made it” living the high life right away, and they could easily be chewed up and spit out within a year or two, a system that carries over from the old territory days, but differs as there’s only one or two “territories” to ply your craft in now.
Is it worth it? I can’t speak for everyone, but some have goals of making it to the big time and others just want to be GOOD. They do care, just like the generation before them, that worked on their craft as a full time job, even though it’s more like a second job, a part-time job. Wrestling doesn’t pay the bills, yet we are as devoted as ever to it.
Then there is another segment, where wrestling is a hobby. So-called wrestlers that treat the business like a weekend warrior. They spend no time on their craft. No attention is paid to their look. Tanning, gym time, purchasing presentable ring gear, studying video or ring training beyond the start of your career. (If any ring training was done in the first place.) It’s those hobbyists that have turned off the casual fan, insulting their intelligence with a poor display of “entertainment” and thus ruining a true professional’s ability to have said fans open their wallets.
Notice I said the word “business” above. Wrestling is a business. (Well it was a business.) If (strong word) I treated this as a business, I’d be deep in red ink. The concept is very simple to those who don’t treat this as a hobby. We spend money to do something we love. Money is blown on wrestling gear, usually multiple sets and new sets several times a year to enhance one’s appearance. Count the time and money spent on gyms, tanning, traveling on the road (fuel and tolls) food, supplements, hell even Neosporin or a bag of ice…
I know many of my colleagues claim to “make money” but we’re all lying to ourselves. With all of the examples I gave, just look at the crowds of people paying anywhere from $5-$10 a ticket, the amount of other wrestlers on the card that need paid and do the math. Wrestlers are losing their ass as much as promoters, yet we all still grind along, usually with a love/hate relationship (commonly referred to by some as the “mistress”.)
This is where I think about these things, taking a long shower, spending the time (and money) shaving and preparing in the morning for an event later in the evening. Haircuts, washing my gear, packing food, putting gas in the car, it seems to never end. All for a mere 5 or 10 minutes in front of a crowd, who can usually make those negatives wash away and make it seem “worth it”.
But is it? As another year wears on and the bones snap and crack, is that toll, aside from the financial, worth the risk? What of the time away from home, away from loved ones? What of those who aren’t fortunate enough to have time away from work, those that sacrifice far more? What keeps us going? Is it ego? Is it a drive of something else? I don’t think any of us can explain it. We say we love it, but we all know we are insecure individuals living in a world of make believe, where someone else makes the decision on who is a “winner” and who will just be an average Joe. It’s amazing that anyone ever makes it to the biggest stage, and when they do, can they look back on it and say… It was worth it?